AMU Editor's Pick Homeland Security Intelligence Terrorism

Is the F-35 Ready to Defeat ISIS?

By Dr. Monique M. Maldonado
Contributor, In Homeland Security

America’s largest acquisition to date, the F-35, still faces production delays, scheduling mishaps, and over-budget costs, yet it seems to be successfully progressing.

Prime contractor Lockheed Martin continues to make progress on one of the world’s most expensive warfighting system of the 21st century. Ironically dubbed as America’s affordable, fifth-generation asset, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is a multi-variant stealth aircraft that was supposed to save the United States and its security partners millions in acquisition costs. Initially set with a $300 billion budget in 2001, the JSF program is nearing $400 billion, which causes a dilemma regarding the future of America’s most innovative asset to protect national security.

Despite the JSF’s constant delays, service departments are confident that the program will remain on its current timeline. According to the F-35 Program Executive Officer, Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan, all variants will successfully complete their milestones over the next three years. General Bogdan stated on Lockheed Martin’s website, “I believe the aircraft design and technological capabilities of the F-35 are sound and the Joint Program Office will deliver on our commitments to meet service timelines.” Lockheed Martin also supported General Bogdan, remaining confident that the fighter will meet its goals.

Reportedly, the Marine Corps successfully completed its initial operating capabilities testing on the F-35B in December 2015. The Air Force’s F-35A variant will complete its IOCs by the end of this year, and the F-35C for the Navy is projected to complete IOCs no later than February 2019. IOCs seem to be probable with “confidence,” but what about the current threat? Will the F-35 be ready to defeat today’s frontrunner on terrorism?

The Post 9/11 World

Since 9/11, international terrorism has increased more than ever. Innovation, technology and funding have made terrorist groups self-assured in their abilities to instill fear, force their radical ideologies and promote propaganda through social media to increase their recruitment. With nearly 30,000 fighters from 90 countries, the biggest concern is that Westerners are now supporting ISIS’s reign on promoting Islamic radicalism around the world. Last year, the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper reported that at least “180 Americans have tried to go fight in Syria, but it remains unclear how many of those were attempting to join ISIS.” The group is now the frontrunner of terrorism, instilling global fear to sustain their objectives.

ISIS presents many challenges that the world has not faced. As the most lucrative terrorist group in the world, ISIS continues to grow, making it more difficult to defeat them. Authors Sekulow, Ash and French of “Rise of ISIS” reported that the group has a net worth of $2 billion and growing daily. With unlimited access to capital, a large support system and dumbfounding recruitment, ISIS stands to be inexorable and greater to its former faction, al Qaeda.

[Related: Does American Legacy Aircraft top the F-35 in Counterinsurgency Operations?]

Today, ISIS’ actions are targeting U.S. military operations in the Middle East, causing American operatives to retaliate. With ISIS on the United States’ radar, there has been much speculation on how to defeat them. In October 2015, President Obama sent 50 troops to Syria for boots on the ground operations, according to Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt of the New York Times. Secretary of Defense Dr. Ash Carter supported the President’s decision and stated, “We’re prepared to do a great deal because we have the finest fighting force the world has ever seen.” He also stated that the United States has to put more boots on the ground for support and advice if the anti-ISIS coalition ever expects to liberate Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city controlled by ISIS.

Boots on the Ground

While ‘boots on the ground’ seemed to be a solid plan, others are concerned that it is not the answer. In 2015, Reuters conducted a poll that showed 76% of Americans did not want troops deploying to Syria to fight ISIS. Astonishingly, 65% did not even want small operations conducted to defeat the terrorists, stated Forbes contributor and Chief Operating Officer of Lexington Institute, Loren Thompson.

Instead of committing U.S. troops with a vague military strategy and a lack of governmental support from Syria, having boots on the ground would seem like another 9/11 waiting to happen. However, experts believe air power is the answer to defeating ISIS’ large-scale operations. ISIS controls Mosul and holds a stable base in Raqqa, Syria. The group also controls over half of Syria’s oil resources, making millions per day on their black-market operations. A unique operation such as airpower warfare is needed to not only send a message to ISIS, but also to destroy its operations and help Iraq and Syria to regain their cities.

The F-35 Has Potential to Defeat ISIS

The F-35 has significant potential to impact ISIS’ operations in Iraq and Syria. One of its primary capabilities is its low observability, or stealth technology, which is a great advantage against ISIS. What stealth operations cannot do, the jet’s electronic warfare suite can surely get the job done. In addition, the F-35 has Synthetic Aperture Radar, a system that creates two or more dimensional objects and finds specific targets.

The F-35 fighter was built as the fifth-generation aircraft to protect national security and maintain air superiority in the 21st century. Though IOCs are promising and the timelines are in sight, the jet is still not ready for today’s war against ISIS. Marcus Weisgerber of Defense One reported that the F-35B variant is the only jet considered “combat ready,” but it is not ready to complete all missions the jet was created to do.

Until the F-35 program is fully operational, America will continue to use fourth-generation assets—if that is the solution to defeat the war on ISIS. Whether it is air power or boots on the ground, ISIS is continuing to grow and becoming more dangerous.

The F-35 should be the answer to ISIS’ demise. But will current aircraft be deployed with its current capabilities?

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