Game Changer

The future ability of F-35 pilots to see entirely around the stealthy fighter aircraft via the electro-optical distributed aperture system that Northrop Grumman is designing will be revolutionary, Pete Bartos, Northrop’s marketing director for combat avionics systems, said Tuesday. “With DAS, maneuverability is irrelevant” in aerial engagements, Bartos told reporters during a briefing at AFA’s Air & Space Conference. DAS is a series of six sensors spread around the F-35 airframe that give the pilot complete situational awareness around the aircraft with “no airframe restrictions,” he said. The pilots get the visual picture around the aircraft via a helmet-mounted display. Among its roles, the DAS architecture will provide advanced early warning of missile and aircraft threats, tracking of inbound surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles, cuing of aerial targets, and day/night navigation. Because of its ability to see the threats from far out, the F-35 pilot will be able to fire their air-to-air missiles and then evade potential dangers, without the need to duke it out at closer quarters with an adversary in scenarios where attributes like thrust vectoring and extreme agility would be necessary for the F-35 to prevail. Northrop is flying DAS on a company-owned testbed aircraft; it will be incorporated on the F-35 CATBird flying avionics testbed at some point and fitted onto upcoming F-35 test aircraft. Bartos said DAS has growth potential, such as providing EO ground moving target indication and ground targeting capability.