Leveraging capability: A study of the interoperability of fourth- and fifth-generation NATO fighter aircraft
In many respects, the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is the future of NATO airpower. The United States Military plans to procure 2,456 aircraft. Seven additional NATO allies plan to purchase a combined total of 478, and it is likely that other members will add to this tally. As only the second fifth-generation type to enter service, the F-35 provides a step-change in capability over existing fourth-generation ‘legacy’ aircraft. The F-35 should be viewed by the NATO allies as an opportunity to advance the fighter capability of the entire alliance. Adoption of a standardized gateway platform, combined with the development of CONOPS tactics that leverage the strengths of the F-35 as well as the frequent kinematic and weapons-load advantages of legacy platforms, will permit members of the alliance to develop a highly integrated, full-spectrum aerial fighter capability. Interoperability of fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft at the technical and tactical levels should be a first-order NATO focus.