American stealth F-35 allows modification for remote piloting

The war in Ukraine, as well as the analysis of military experts about future wars, gives a serious advantage to unmanned aerial vehicles. The so-called drones are already starting to become preferred because they are efficient and save human lives.

F-35 Lightning II fighter jet
Photo by Lance cpl. Jose S.Guerrero Deleon

Against the background of this fact, as well as the development of combat aircraft in recent years, questions related to future military operations logically arise. One of them makes perfect sense – could Lockheed Martin’s F-35 become a remotely piloted aircraft?

Nowadays anything is possible – at least that’s what the military engineers show us. But is it effective? Let’s follow the whole idea.

Designed to be human-piloted

The longer answer is that the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet was designed from the ground up to be piloted. At the same time, however, American engineers have left a “hidden but wide open door for them” to turn the F-35 into a drone.

The F-16, for example, is designed to be a manned aircraft and cannot be remotely piloted. However, the Air Force is retrofitting its older F-16s to be remotely piloted for use as aerial targets, a role previously performed by the F-4. To do this, the F-16 had to be significantly modified from its original configuration.

F-35 RPA

To modify the F-35 into a remotely piloted aircraft [RPA], several key changes would need to be made. One of the most important modifications would involve installing a robust and reliable communication system that allows for seamless control of the aircraft from a remote location.

This would require the integration of advanced communication circuits and technologies that can transmit and receive real-time data, commands, and video feeds.

Additionally, the F-35’s existing flight control systems would need to be adapted to accommodate remote control inputs, which would involve modifying the aircraft’s avionics and flight control software.

Autonomous capabilities

It's a mess: Heavy flight training leaves the UK without F-35 pilots
Photo credit: The Drive

Another crucial aspect of converting the F-35 into an RPA would be the inclusion of autonomous capabilities. This would involve upgrading the aircraft’s onboard systems to enable it to perform various tasks without constant human intervention.

For example, the F-35 would need to be equipped with advanced sensors, such as radar and cameras, that can provide situational awareness and enable the aircraft to make independent decisions based on the surrounding environment. Additionally, the aircraft’s navigation and guidance systems would need to be enhanced to support autonomous flight and mission execution.

The cockpit

The F-35’s existing cockpit would also require significant modifications to accommodate remote piloting. The physical controls, such as the joystick and throttle, would need to be replaced with electronic interfaces that can be operated remotely.

This would involve redesigning the cockpit layout and integrating new control systems that can accurately translate the pilot’s inputs into commands for the aircraft.

Furthermore, the cockpit would need to be equipped with advanced displays and interfaces that provide the remote pilot with essential flight information and situational awareness.

EW or cybersecurity

In terms of cybersecurity, converting the F-35 into an RPA would necessitate the implementation of robust security measures to protect the aircraft from potential cyber threats. This would involve strengthening the aircraft’s communication systems and ensuring that they are resistant to hacking or unauthorized access.

Additionally, the onboard systems and software would need to be hardened to prevent any potential vulnerabilities that could be exploited by malicious actors.

Cybersecurity would be a critical aspect of the modification process to ensure the safe and secure operation of the remotely piloted F-35.

British F-35 crashed due to one of the F135's air intake blank
Photo credit: UK MoD

Acceptable risk, but unnecessary

Maybe, anything can be done. But is it necessary? The short answer is no – the F-35 should not be remotely piloted. Here’s the long answer:

Remotely controlled aircraft are susceptible to enemy electronic warfare measures. Simply jamming the radio frequency transmission can endanger the aircraft. This is an acceptable risk for a cheaper drone, but not for a 5th generation fighter such as the F-35, which currently costs 78 million per aircraft.

I.e. the F-35 with remote control is limiting who is allowed to control. If an enemy managed to circumvent your security and gain control then it would be really bad.

Waiting for the Day

When that day comes, and it almost certainly will, the plane will not be remotely piloted. This will probably never be standard on expensive aircraft. Instead, the plane’s internal AI will fly itself and decide when to kill.

The internal AI of the aircraft, also known as the Artificial Intelligence Processor [AIP], is a critical component of the aircraft’s advanced avionics system. It is responsible for processing vast amounts of data collected from various sensors and systems onboard the aircraft.

The AIP uses advanced algorithms and machine learning techniques to analyze this data and make informed decisions in real time. These decisions can range from optimizing flight performance to identifying and prioritizing targets for engagement.

Spotted: Turkish KAAN stealth also with inverted canopy as on F-35
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

The functions of the internal AI in the aircraft are multi-faceted. One of its primary functions is to assist the pilot in situational awareness by providing real-time information about the aircraft’s surroundings, including threats, friendly forces, and mission objectives.

The AI helps the pilot make sense of complex and rapidly changing scenarios, enabling faster and more effective decision-making. Additionally, the internal AI also plays a crucial role in managing and coordinating the various systems and subsystems of the aircraft, ensuring optimal performance and mission success.


To counter electronic jamming or electronic warfare [EW] threats, the internal AI of the aircraft employs a combination of defensive measures. Firstly, it utilizes advanced electronic warfare systems that can detect and identify electronic threats, such as radar jamming or communication interference.

Once a threat is identified, the AI can dynamically adjust the aircraft’s electronic countermeasures to disrupt or deceive the enemy’s electronic systems. These countermeasures can include jamming the jammer, emitting false signals, or rapidly changing frequencies to avoid detection and tracking.

Furthermore, the internal AI of the aircraft is designed to adapt and learn from new electronic warfare tactics and threats. It can analyze patterns and behaviors of enemy electronic systems to anticipate their next move and develop effective countermeasures.

This adaptive capability allows the aircraft to stay ahead of emerging electronic warfare technologies and maintain its effectiveness in hostile environments.


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