On Sept. 12, at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, a new frontier in Navy Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) was achieved. A simulated AEGIS Baseline 9 configured ship engaged a low flying cruise missile target with an SM-6 missile, based solely on targeting data provided to the ship by the sophisticated sensors carried by a Marine Corps F-35B. This test is yet another example of how the Surface Force and its Marine Corps partners are extending operational horizons, distributing lethality, and increasing offensive fire power.
The NIFC-CA program has been making steady progress for several years, and carrier strike groups have deployed with the capability since March 2015. However in those strike groups, the elevated sensor was an E-2D linked back to the ship in a Cooperative Engagement Capability network. In essence, this lethal capability was limited to CSG operations by its reliance on the E-2D.
In this recent test, the elevated “sensor” was the F-35B, which relayed its data back to the test “ship” through the Multi-Function Advanced Data Link (MADL). This test hints at the promise of future Surface Force lethality, in that F-35B configured LHA’s or LHD’s will not only be able to employ those aircraft in traditional ground support roles, but will now be able to sense, target, and destroy low-flying cruise missiles or strike aircraft far beyond the horizon.
Consequently, AEGIS Baseline 9 ships, equipped with SM-6 missiles, like the one used in this test will be able to accept fire control data from any variant of the F-35 in the future. This will allow for long-range surface-to-air engagements when part of a traditional CSG, as part of an “up-gunned ESG” Adaptive Force Package alongside our Marine Corps partners, or even as part of a Joint integrated fire control engagement with U.S. Air Force F-35A’s providing the target location.