F-35 Lightning II Stealthy Multi Role Fighter Aircraft of United States – Lockheed Martin – Joint Strike Fighter Program

F-35 Lightning II Stealthy Multi role fighter aircraft of United States is manufactured by Lockheed Martin. The F-35 was the product of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program.

F-35 Lightning II Stealthy Multi Role Fighter Aircraft of United States - Lockheed Martin - Joint Strike Fighter Program

The Lockheed Martin’s F-35 multi-role fighter (also known as the Lightning II) was a contender for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program, which was intended to replace existing aircraft types with a common fighter. The JSF concept was introduced by the US Air Force. Aim of this program was to combine conventional fighter aircraft for the Air Force, catapulted ship-borne aircraft for the US Navy and short take-off-and-vertical-landing fighter for the US Marine Corps.

   The Lockheed Martin’s proposed aircraft was previously known as the X-35 and it won competition against the Boeing X-32. From 1997 its development has been shared with Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems. The first X-35A prototype was rolled out in 2000 and made its maiden during the same year. Development of this aircraft was principally funded by the USA, with the UK and other partner governments providing additional funding.

However development of this fighter was plagued by constant cost overruns. In 2015 a short take-off and vertical landing version of the F-35, the F-35B, reached initial operational capability with the US Marine Corps. During the same year full-rate production of the F-35 commenced. A conventional take-off and landing version, the F-35A, entered service with the US Air Force in 2016. A carrier-based F-35C version reached initial operational capability with the US Navy in 2019.

The US military planned to obtain over 2 440 of these aircraft of all types. These will replace the AV-8B, A-10, F-16 and F/A-18 warplanes. However due to cost overruns it is likely that fewer new aircraft will be obtained. In 2015 the first F-35 aircraft was delivered to the Italian Air Force. It was the first production aircraft delivered outside the United States.

The F-35 will be exported to Australia, Canada, Denmark, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, South Korea, Turkey, United Kingdom, and possibly some other countries. However some operators ordered relatively small number of these multi-role fighters due to its impressive price tag. In 2020 Lockheed Martin delivered its 500th F-35 fighter.

   The generic F-35 has a configuration similar to that of Lockheed Martin’s own F-22 design, however it is slightly smaller and has one engine. Aircraft with a single engine is less expensive to produce and to service, but at a cost of reduced weapon load and performance. The F-35 exploits stealth technology, which reduces its radar cross-section and makes it harder to detect for radars. Currently it is one of the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world. Only the F-22 Raptor is more capable. Also the F-35 is the second true 5th generation fighter after the F-22. Latest Chinese and Russian fighters such as Chengdu J-20 or Sukhoi Su-57 can not match the F-35 in terms of technology.

   Two different afterburning turbofan engines were developed for this multi-role fighter. The Pratt & Whitney F135 was developed from F119 engine, used on the F-22 Raptor. It competed against an advanced General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136 engine. Eventually the Pratt & Whitney engine was selected. So far it is the most powerful fighter engine ever developed.

There are 2 different variants of this engine, including conventional variant for F-35A and F-35C fighters and a modified multi-cycle engine for F-35B Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) fighter. Interestingly Rolls-Royce company developed vertical lift systems for both Pratt & Whitney and General Electric designs. The Lightning II is capable of cruising at supersonic speeds.

   The F-35 multi-role fighter can perform on air defense missions, close air support and tactical bombing. It can carry up to two air-to-air missiles or two air-to-ground weapons in its internal weapon bay. The F-35 fighter is compatible with AIM-120 AMRAAM, AIM-132 ASRAAM, JDAM, JSOW, Brimstone, WCMD, MBDA Meteor, and some other missiles. Additional missiles, bombs or fuel tanks can be attached to external hardpoint. Wing tip pylons can also carry AIM-9X Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles. However external weapons are carried at the expense of being more detectable by radars.

   Only one version of the F-35, the F-35A has got an internally mounted 4-barrel 25 mm cannon and 182 rounds of onboard ammunition. The F-35B and -C versions can carry an external pod with the same cannon and 220 rounds of ammunition. This external pod has stealth features.

   The F-35 is stuffed with the most advanced systems. Its key systems include a multi-function Active Electrically-Scanned Array (AESA) that combines radar, electronic warfare and communications functions and a conformal array imaging infrared sensor. Data from the various sensors is fused on the pilot’s advanced helmet-mounted display system.

   This multi-role fighter has an in-flight refueling capability.

   Aircraft is proposed in three main variants, including the F-35A, -B and -C. Initially it was planned that these variants will share around 80% of their parts to keep development and production costs low. This also would require less logistic support. However it turned out that by 2017 the design commonality was only 20%. So basically there is little use of this commonality. As it eventually turned out the US would rather adopt 3 different types of aircraft for various branches of the US military instead of this generic aircraft.

   Development program of the F-35 was plagued by constant cost overruns. Low-rate initial production aircraft had a unit price of around $94 million to $122 million per aircraft, depending on the version. It was planned that a full-rate production F-35A aircraft will cost around $80-85 million. As example the F-22 Raptor stealthy fighter costs around $150 million per aircraft.

F-35 Variants

F-35A is a conventional take-off and landing aircraft. It is a land-based model for the US Air Force. It is the smallest and lightest version of the F-35. Also it will be the most numerous version of the F-35. The F-35A is the only version of the F-35 with a built-in GAU-22/A four-barrel 25 mm cannon. It is powered by a Pratt & Whitney F135-PW-100 engine.

In the US Air Force service the F-35A will replace the A-10 and F-16 warplanes. It outperforms the F-16 lightweight multi-role fighter in terms of stealthiness, range, payload, avionics, survivability, and matches it in terms of maneuverability. Initial squadron of F-35As was combat ready by the end of 2016. This conventional take-off and landing version will be exported to a number of countries.

 F-35B is a short take-off and vertical landing aircraft. This model was originally developed for the US Marine Corps, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. This fighter is powered by a Pratt & Whitney F135-PW-600 engine. Connected to the engine via a drive shaft, a Rolls-Royce lift fan behind the cockpit provides around half the thrust required for hovering flight. The lift fan results in lower power settings, and cooler exhaust temperatures and velocities. The F-35B achieved initial operational capability with the US Marine Corps in 2015. It replaces the older F/A-18 series multi-role fighters and AV-8B close support aircraft used by the US Marine Corps.

 F-35C is a carrier-based aircraft. It is the US Navy’s variant, which features a larger wing and control surfaces (fin & elevator) than the other variants. It is fitted with ailerons, a strengthened landing gear, arrestor hook and a reinforced airframe to absorb catapult launches and arrested landings. It is powered by a Pratt & Whitney F135-PW-400 engine. Both Royal Navy and US Navy X-35B/Cs will have folding wings. It was planned to become operational with the US Navy in 2018. It will replace in service the older US Navy’s F/A-18 series multi-role fighters.

   F-35I is an F-35A with Israeli modifications. This multi-role fighter is fitted with Israeli electronic warfare system. It can use Israeli missiles and bombs. Israel ordered 50 of these fighters out of 75 planned. Deliveries began in 2016. This fighter became operational with the Israel Air Force in 2017. Soon after its introduction the Israeli F-35 fighters were used against targets in Syria. These attacked targets that were close to Russia’s military bases. However Russia’s most capable air defense systems, including the S-300 and S-400 could not destroy any of the Israeli F-35s.

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