F-35 stealth fighters ‘suppressed’ by Russian electronic warfare; Missiles fail to hit target – local media claim: Last month, Russian-state media widely circulated videos of what is believed to be an Israeli F-35 failing to counter strong electronic suppression.
According to media sources, an Israeli F-35I Adir could not hit its intended target during military exercises due to Moscow’s electronic warfare systems.
Although this claim seems implausible for a variety of reasons, electronic warfare remains an important pillar of the Kremlin’s strategic military and defense approach. In fact, Russian forces are increasingly using jamming and interception capabilities amid the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Recent reports suggest that Russia was able to thwart arguably the most advanced fighter jets on the planet, posing an indirect threat to Ukraine.
According to a defense analyst for the Eurasian Times, videos broadcast by Russian-state media outlets showed an “air-to-ground ammunition, allegedly fired from an F-35, which missed its target.” Which the website claims is due to electronic warfare interference from Russian systems.”
While this claim is questionable at best, it highlights the F-35’s potential vulnerability to cyber warfare attacks. The fifth generation stealth fighter is a powerhouse and is largely enabled by advanced technology and weapon systems. The inclusion of highly sophisticated computerized systems increased the jet, but it also exposed it more than its less-tech predecessors.
The jet’s Autonomous Logistics Information System (ALIS) is one of the F-35’s unprecedented features. It enables operators around the world to share the same critical platform data. Lockheed Martin, the American manufacturer of the F-35, describes the information system as the backbone of the airframe. “ALIS is integral to maintaining and operating the F-35,” Lockheed Martin said in accompanying literature. “It is a systems-of-systems approach to fleet management that combines maintenance, supply chain and ongoing information into one management tool to support all F-35 operations.”
While the highly advanced ALIS makes it easy for ground technicians to identify and service problems with the fighter, it also has the potential to make the jet vulnerable to cyber attacks. According to Global Defense Technology, a Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies outlined the downfall of ALIS: “The great concern about ALIS is that it is so interconnected and has data from all F-35 users globally. What pulls it together is that there are too many entry points for a potential hacker to get in there.” The director of the Air Force F-35 Integration Office reflected this rhetoric in a later statement: “This is a software-based aircraft, and any software-based platform is going to be susceptible to hacking.”
False claims by F-35 Russia are common
Despite legitimate concerns surrounding the F-35’s susceptibility to electronic warfare attacks, Russia’s claims cannot be verified. Additionally, Israel’s fleet of F-35I fighters has been the subject of dubious claims in the past. In 2017, a story circulating suggested that an Israeli F-35 was hit by a Soviet-made S-200 missile fired by the Syrian Defense Forces. In response to this claim, Israel’s Defense Forces (IDF) insisted that an anti-aircraft missile hit one of its fighters, but the strike was unsuccessful.
Although the questionable nature surrounding Russia’s claim that it interfered with the functioning of an Israeli F-35 fighter, Moscow has recently employed its electronic warfare capabilities extensively. Since late February, the Kremlin has launched a massive offensive on Ukraine. Regional news reports have indicated that Russian forces are increasingly disrupting Ukraine’s military communications while simultaneously jamming its navigation systems. While Moscow did not use its cyber capability at the start of the invasion, industry experts and the Pentagon predicted that “the full scope of Russia’s electronic warfare capabilities” may eventually be tolerated.
The Associated Press reported that Moscow may have waited to employ the full force of its cyber capabilities because it only has poorly trained technicians who may not be aware of how to use the technology properly. Retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, a former US Army commander for Europe, told the Associated Press, “What we are learning now is that the Russians eventually turned it down because it was interfering with their own communications. ”
Even though Moscow may have begun to use its cyber arsenal more frequently and effectively, the narrative that its electronics systems were capable of intercepting the F-35’s missile launch remains unverified. The Kremlin may broadcast this story to spark the belief that its cyber arsenal is more advanced than that of the Ukrainian forces.
maya carlin is a Middle East defense editor with 19FortyFive. He is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. He has subpoenas in several publications including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel.