The Pentagon is working with industry to explore the possibility that bomb, missile or laser-armed F-35s could destroy an attacking nuclear-armed Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) targeting the US, potentially bringing a new dimension to existing defenses.
The idea would be to use F-35 weapons and sensors to detect or destroy an ICBM launch during its initial “boost” phase of upward flight toward the boundary of the earth’s atmosphere.
“We are excited about the concept,” a Senior Pentagon official told Warrior Maven.
The F-35, officials explain, could use a “kinetic” solution wherein it fires upon and destroys a launching ICBM — or a “sensor” solution where it “cues missile defense systems,” locating or stopping attacks earlier than might otherwise be possible.
”We are now looking at how we could close the kill chain on that process,” officials familiar with the ongoing exploration told Warrior Maven.
One senior DoD official explained that the prospect of F-35 missile defense would likely hinge upon key intelligence information; should there be an indication or concern regarding a possible enemy launch, F-35C-armed carriers or other F-35s in the vicinity could use speed, stealth and sensor technology to find, ID and destroy an ICBM.
The prospect of using an F-35 for this purpose introduces a range of defensive possibilities not yet part of the Pentagon’s missile defense arsenal. For instance, an F-35 could fire air-to-ground bombs or missiles to explode the ICBM during or just after launch. An F-35 might also use lasers and electronic warfare to incinerate, jam or disable the flight trajectory of an attacking ICBM. If an ICBM guidance system, or propulsion mechanisms were interfered with, an ICBM might be thrown off, heading into the ocean or an uninhabited area less likely to cause damage.
Also, a group of F-35s could potentially form some kind of networked “relay system” using the Multi-function Advanced Data Link (MADL) to deliver threat information across a fleet of aircraft in position to warn US missile defense systems.