Defense Department officials on Wednesday said their examination of the F-35 aircraft for missile defense uses is just the first of several options and that hypersonic defenses will not be limited to one phase of flight.

Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), said they are not trying to shoot for the moon but examine what already-deployed resources can contribute to missile defense capabilities, including the F-35.

Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II at the 2018 Paris Air Show. Photo: Lockheed Martin

The F-35 has an “outstanding sensor suite” and the opportunity to use kinetic weapons while deployed in larger numbers “in just about any AOR we’re in”, Greaves said at a Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance event. AOR refers to an area of responsibility.

While the agency is not making any decisions yet on if the F-35 can be useful as a sensor platform, interceptor launcher, or both, Greaves said it has “great potential to fulfill a portion of the missile defense mission.” The agency’s eventual decision will depend on results of the F-35 review and eventual tests of systems.

The Defense Department will conduct a six-month study on options to use F-35 to help with boost-phase missile defense, DoD officials said during the unveiling of the Missile Defense Review (MDR) last week (Defense Daily, Jan. 16).

Greaves said the F-35 will be looked at as just one of several currently deployed resources overlapping with the MDA areas of responsibility. While the F-35 is the first option looked at as potentially useful for missile defense, MDA may later look at other platforms as well.

Greaves was unwilling to give any cost estimates for these kinds of MDA tests. When the department decides to provide cost estimates they want to make sure it understands all of the factors and assumptions so they put out credible numbers, without over promising.

He also addressed the MDR’s review of hyperosonic defense. The MDR said a study will look at identifying resources, testing, and personnel requirements to defend against hypersonic projectile threats.

Greaves wouldn’t discuss specifics but said “we know where we need to focus.” He noted the review will move beyond just looking at midcourse or terminal intercept and will also look into boost or glide phases defense.

John Rood, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, underscored the change in this review to cover not only ballistic missiles, but also cruise and hypersonic defense. He said the larger defense focus plus expanding coordination with allies is a central component of where missile defense is moving.

Rood was tight-lipped on what changes caused various delays to the report, but admitted there were some revisions once he joined the administration in early 2018 and said there is always time to get these types of things right.

He said this kind of length review with many stakeholders sometimes requires additional revisions.