Why F-35 fighter jet operations from aircraft carriers rely heavily on JPALS

The US Navy has equipped its nuclear-powered aircraft carriers with the Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS) to ensure easier and safer landing of military aircraft.

Although the Navy declared the technology operational on May 4, 2021, the system has been in place on various U.S. amphibious assault ships since 2016.

JPALS is an all-weather aircraft carrier landing system equipped with real-time differential correction of the Global Positioning System (GPS) signal and augmented by a local area correction message transmitted to the user via secure means.

A pilot attempting to land will obtain an accurate three-dimensional position by comparing the current position derived from the GPS with the local correction signal via an Instrument Landing System (ILS) type display. This makes difficult landing maneuvers reliable, easier and safer.

Ensuring a safe landing

Landing a fighter jet on an aircraft carrier is a complex process, which only a trained pilot can attempt. Fighter jets generally have to make a sharp turn over the ocean to line up directly with the deck of an aircraft carrier before descending on their final glide slope approach to landing.

The problems are magnified if there are high winds, rough sea conditions, or if it is done in the dark of the night.

File Image: F-35

Pilots follow a light on the carrier bridge, known as a Fresnel lens, to achieve alignment as they reduce speed, align the nose of the jet, and lower on the carrier bridge.

If the lens is properly “centered” pilots can approach to land, otherwise they may need to readjust for another pass. With JPALS, the process has become much easier now as this system “integrates with air traffic control and shipboard landing system architectures” to facilitate accurate landings, according to the Navy.

The system was developed by Raytheon Intelligence & Space, an American multinational aerospace and defense conglomerate. The US Navy awarded Raytheon a $ 235 million contract for 23 units of the company’s JPALS system.

Raytheon claims that JPALS can accurately guide planes on the decks of aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships in all weather conditions, including fog and heavy rain. The system can help aircraft land on pitching and rolling ships in rough waters, up to Sea State 5 conditions, which include waves up to 6 feet high.

“JPALS has reached a historic milestone, which supports our requirement to provide, operate and sustain a navy by emphasizing our primary roles of sea control and power projection,” said Commander Jeff Dugard , Director of the Agency for Standards and Assessment of Airspace and Air Traffic Control. reported as saying.

F-35-crash
File Image: F-35B

PMA-213 Program Director Captain Kevin Watkin said: “The achievement of JPALS IOC is a positive reflection on the hard work, innovation and resilience of a dedicated team of government and industry professionals who have developed and deployed this critical capability for combatants.”

Besides the US Navy, JPALS is also used by the US Marine Corps aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth of the British Royal Navy and is also installed on the ITS Cavour, an Italian aircraft carrier, the flagship of the Marina Militare , to support their F-35 squadron. .

Denis Donohue, Vice President of Communications and Airspace Management Systems at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, said: “The Cavour JPALS is the first system to be permanently installed on a foreign vessel. JPALS will add important mission capabilities for our allies and international partners who fly the F-35. “

Main features of JPALS

Security: As the system has so far been used exclusively by defense establishments, security is of paramount importance. Thus, the ground system uses a discrete and secure data link only received by aircraft equipped with JPALS.

Blanket: The total range of the system is 200 NM (nautical mile). The surveillance system becomes operational from 60NM and precision landing guidance starts at 10NM.

Precision: A single expeditionary JPALS can handle 50 simultaneous approaches to multiple touchdown points within 20 NM of the ground station.

Rapid deployment: The JPALS expeditionary system is portable. The system can be up and running in under 90 minutes with just two people.

Versatility: It is designed for operations in all weather, rough terrain and harsh environments.

Landing on aircraft carriers

The dangerous and high-risk process of landing jets on aircraft carriers at sea dates back many years. When the first F-35C landed aboard the USS Nimitz off the coast of California in 2014, a pilot explained that the aircraft carrier’s landing was a “controlled crash,” meaning it involved a some force and pressure in a small collision.

F-35B-Japan
A US Marine Corps F-35B performs a vertical landing on the Japanese ship Izumo on October 5, 2021.

The system has been significantly improved in recent years with the advent of a series of innovations to include night vision technology, improved navigation avionics and, in the case of the F-35 fighter jet, a software called Delta Flight Path.

This system brings computer automation to the landing process to greatly aid pilots as they attempt to stabilize on approach.

What are Russia and China working on?

Russia is currently overhauling its Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier. The nearly 30-year-old giant, which has seen many ups and downs over its long life, is now being upgraded to match its US counterparts.

The overhaul and upgrade of Admiral Kuznetsov is expected to be completed in the first half of 2023. The avionics, flight deck with springboard, electrical equipment and power plant will be replaced. The carrier will also receive a new, fully domestic take-off and landing control system, with air power on board remaining the same.

China-Carrier
File Image: Chinese Operator

China is also working on building its own aircraft carriers. The Type 002 is the first domestically produced aircraft carrier that was launched on April 26, 2017. In February 2017, China began construction of a Type 003 class aircraft carrier.

Type 003 will have a displacement of about 85,000 tons and will be about the size of the Ford-class ships of the US Navy. It was reported in early 2021 that the first ship would be launched in the same year, with construction of a second ship in this class having already started.

On November 10, 2021, Bloomberg reported that “China is three to six months away from launching its third aircraft carrier,” citing a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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