Tokyo sent F-2 aircraft to identify targets of the USAF B-1B bomber

In a conspicuous endeavor to forestall China from escalating its militarization of the islands or engaging in belligerent acts, Japanese and US assault aircraft are collaboratively patrolling the South China Sea. The formidable formation is comprised of four US Air Force F-15s and a commanding B-1B bomber, bolstered by a Japanese F-2 fighter jet.

Tokyo sent F-2 aircraft to identify targets of the USAF B-1B bomber
Photo by Jerry Gunner

The integration of a bomber-fighter combination, such as a high-speed F-2 identifying targets for a B-1B bomber, represents a unique form of deterrence. This scenario is particularly pertinent if the F-2 is required to engage in air threats or operate over hostile territory. The crux of the matter, arguably, hinges on the degree to which US and Japanese aircraft can establish real-time airborne networking. This emerging form of connectivity is of paramount importance for maximum operational efficiency and effectiveness in the face of potential threats. 

The establishment of high-speed command and control connections among diverse military aircraft from various nations represents a potential paradigm shift in multinational operational capacity. If enhanced B-1B datalinks were to seamlessly interface with the advanced command and control or targeting technology present in an F-2, it would undeniably broaden the spectrum of deterrence options and significantly elevate the capacity to form extended formations.

The US-Japanese assault and observation system

Provided effective networking is established within this type of formation, it could engender an immense strategic advantage in regions like the South China Sea, a location where potential targets or antagonistic activities are presumably scattered over extensive ocean expanses. The Spratly Island Chain, an area of intense dispute, is comprised of islands distanced by enormous tracts of ocean, each potentially harboring high-value targets or adversary operations that would be of significant interest to the combined US and Japanese air forces.

Launched off the blueprint of the General Dynamics F-16, the Mitsubishi Japanese F-2 showcases a remarkable fusion of speed and range, capable of achieving velocities of Mach 2 and traversing distances over 500 miles. First taking to the skies in 1995 before entering operational service in 2000, the F-2 stands as a relatively contemporary addition to the air combat landscape, in comparison to its precursors, the F-15 and F-16. Notably, this advanced aircraft comes fully equipped with a comprehensive arsenal of air-to-ground and air-to-air weaponry, underscoring its formidable military capabilities.

Marked by a wing area that is a substantial 25 percent larger, the F-2 stands out in its class. It incorporates composite materials, an innovation that significantly reduces the rate, and it is equipped with an advanced Active Electronically Scanned Array [AESA] radar system. It is noteworthy to mention that, as reported by Aviation Week in a 2019 essay, the F-2 was among the pioneering fighter jets to be fitted with an AESA radar, setting a precedent in aerial warfare technology.

The F-2 was accompanied by four F-15s, aircraft that originated from the 1980s. These have undergone significant enhancements, transforming them into a distinct, contemporary class of aircraft. Equipped with advanced computing systems, radar technologies, weaponry, and avionics, they now bear little resemblance to their original design.

The B-1B poised to soar beyond the 2030s

To maintain the relevance, efficacy, and viability of the B-1B for the foreseeable future, until an adequate number of B-21s are commissioned, the military service has significantly expanded the operational capacity of this aircraft. This strategic move is reflective of the Air Force’s long-term planning and commitment to combat readiness. 

Rockwell B-1B Lancer supersonic variable-sweep wing, heavy bomber
Photo credit: Wikipedia

In an era of rapid technological advancements and escalating military challenges, the B-1B has undergone a comprehensive overhaul in recent years. This sweeping upgrade has endowed the aircraft with a ground-breaking capability – the ability to carry hypersonic weapons. This transformative addition underscores the Air Force’s unwavering pursuit of innovation and adaptability in the face of evolving threats.

In a significant overhaul, the Air Force has ingeniously reconfigured the weapons bay of the B-1B, a strategic move that has expanded its internal weapons-carrying capacity from 24 to a remarkable 40. This meticulous enhancement in the bomb bay not only facilitates the B-1B’s ability to carry hypersonic weapons but also considerably broadens its targeting possibilities. Furthermore, the transformation significantly amplifies the speed of attack and expands the range, thereby adding a new dimension to its operational capabilities.

Recognizing the prolonged operational life of the B-1B, the Air Force has astutely incorporated a contemporary integrated battle station within the B-1. This sophisticated addition comprises advanced cockpit displays and datalinks, thereby enhancing in-flight connectivity and offering substantial improvements in the aircraft’s combat capabilities.

The advanced targeting technology under discussion has been meticulously engineered to seamlessly integrate with a Fully Integrated Targeting Pod. This sophisticated system harmoniously links video feeds, cockpit targeting displays, and pod controls with fire-control systems and advanced targeting mechanisms. This integration demonstrates a marked evolution in precision strike capabilities. 

In addition to this, the system has been enhanced through the inclusion of a cutting-edge Bomb Rack Unit. This innovative addition has the potential to augment the system’s firepower significantly. A notable enhancement is a 60-percent increase in the capacity for 500-pound class bombs. This upgrade underscores a substantial leap in the system’s destructive capabilities, thereby reinforcing its tactical advantage on the battleground.

The B-1 bomber, making its first appearance in a combat scenario during Operation Desert Fox in 1998, proceeded to deploy an astounding number of JDAMs throughout the prolonged conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. This was a demonstration of its formidable capabilities in modern warfare.

Designed for supersonic performance, the B-1 is capable of achieving speeds of up to MACH 1.25. This impressive velocity can be sustained at altitudes as high as 40,000 feet, with the aircraft’s maximum operational ceiling extending even further to 60,000 feet. This heightened elevation, paired with its rapid speed, provides the B-1 with strategic advantages in various combat scenarios. 

The B-1’s comprehensive arsenal is another testament to its military prowess. The aircraft is equipped with a broad spectrum of bomb types, including but not limited to, a series of Joint Direct Attack Munitions [JDAMs] such as the GBU-31, GBU-38, and GBU-54. In addition to these, the B-1 is also capable of launching the Small Diameter Bomb-GBU-39, further diversifying its offensive capabilities.


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