The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a single-seat, single-engine, stealth-capable military strike fighter, a multi-role aircraft that can perform close air support, tactical bombing, and air superiority fighter missions. The F-35 has three different models; one is the conventional takeoff and landing variant, the second is short takeoff and vertical-landing variant, and the third is a carrier-based variant.
The F-35 is descended from the X-35, the product of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. Its development is being principally funded by the United States, with the United Kingdom and other partner governments providing additional funding. It is being designed and built by an aerospace industry team led by Lockheed Martin with Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems as major partners. Demonstrator aircraft flew in 2000, with the first flight on 15 December 2006.
The JSF program was created to replace various aircraft while keeping development, production, and operating costs down. This was pursued by building three variants of one aircraft, sharing 80% of their parts:
The F-35 is being designed to be the world's premier strike aircraft through 2040. It is intended that its close and long-range air-to-air capability will be second only to that of the F-22 Raptor. Specifically the F-35’s requirements are that it be: four times more effective than legacy fighters in air-to-air combat, eight times more effective in air-to-ground battle combat, and three times more effective in reconnaissance and suppression of air defenses. These capabilities are to be achieved while still having significantly better range and require less logistics support than legacy aircraft.
The contract for System Development and Demonstration (SDD) was awarded on 26 October 2001 to Lockheed Martin, whose X-35 beat the Boeing X-32. DoD officials and British Minister of Defence Procurement Lord Bach, said the X-35 consistently outperformed the X-32, although both met or exceeded requirements. The designation of the fighter as "F-35" came as a surprise to Lockheed, which had been referring to the aircraft in-house by the designation "F-24".
There are three levels of international participation. The levels generally reflect the financial stake in the program, the amount of technology transfer and subcontracts open for bid by national companies, and the order in which countries can obtain production aircraft. The United Kingdom is the sole "Level 1" partner, contributing US$2.5 billion, about 10% of the development costs under the 1995 Memorandum of Understanding that brought the UK into the project. Level 2 partners are Italy, which is contributing US$1 billion; and the Netherlands, US$800 million. Level 3 partners are Canada, US$440 million; Turkey, US$175 million; Australia, US$144 million; Norway, US$122 million and Denmark, US$110 million. Israel and Singapore have joined as Security Cooperative Participants (SCP).
Some of the partner countries have wavered in their public commitment to the JSF program, hinting or warning that unless they receive more subcontracts or technology transfer, they will forsake JSF for the Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab Gripen, Dassault Rafale or simply upgrade their existing aircraft. Norway has several times threatened to put their support on hold unless substantial guarantees for an increased industrial share is provided. Despite this Norway has signed all the Memoranda of Understanding, including the latest one detailing the future production phase of the JSF program. They have, however, indicated that they will increase and strengthen their cooperation with both competitors of the JSF, the Typhoon and the Gripen.
The UK became increasingly frustrated by a lack of U.S. commitment to grant access to the technology that would allow the UK to maintain and upgrade its F-35s without US involvement. This is understood to relate mainly to the software for the aircraft. For five years, British officials sought an ITAR waiver to secure greater technology transfer. This request, which has the blessing of the Bush administration, was repeatedly blocked by U.S. Representative Henry Hyde, who said that the UK needed to tighten its laws protecting against the unauthorized transfer of the most advanced U.S. technology to third parties.
BAE Systems CEO Mike Turner complained that the US had denied his company access to the aircraft's source code. On 21 December 2005, an article in the Glasgow Herald quoted the chairman of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee as saying "the UK might have to consider whether to continue in the programme" if no access were granted. Lord Drayson, Minister for Defence Procurement, took a firmer stance during a March 2006 visit to Washington: "We do expect the software technology transfer to take place. But if it does not take place we will not be able to purchase these aircraft," and he said there was a 'Plan B' if the deal fell through. This may have been the development of a navalized Typhoon.
On 27 May 2006, President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that "Both governments agree that the UK will have the ability to successfully operate, upgrade, employ, and maintain the Joint Strike Fighter such that the UK retains operational sovereignty over the aircraft. Despite this, concerns were still expressed about the lack of technology transfer as late as December 2006. Nevertheless, on 12 December 2006, Lord Drayson signed an agreement which met the UK's demands for further participation, i.e., access to software source code and operational sovereignty. The agreement allows "an unbroken British chain of command" for operation of the aircraft. Drayson said Britain would "not be required to have a US citizen in our own operational chain of command". Drayson also said, however, that Britain is still considering an unspecified "Plan B" alternative to buying the Joint Strike Fighter.
On 25 July 2007, the Ministry of Defence confirmed that they have placed orders for the two new aircraft carriers of the Queen Elizabeth Class that will allow the purchase of the F-35B variant. On May 2, 2008, however, the Washington Post reported that an Inspector General's report chided the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Security Service for failing to ensure that BAE Systems was exercising appropriate controls over access to sensitive technologies, while both BAE and Lockheed Martin denied that any technology had been compromised.
Canada's rationale for joining the JSF project was not due to an urgent need to replace Canada's fleet of CF-18 Hornets; instead it was driven primarily by economics. Through Canadian government investment in the JSF project, Canadian companies were allowed to compete for contracts within the JSF project, as there were fears that being shut out from industrial participation in such a large program could severely damage the Canadian aviation industry. Joining also allowed Canada access to information regarding the F-35 as a possible contender when Canada eventually does plan to replace the CF-18 Hornet fleet. Improved interoperability with major allies, allowed the DND to gain insight on leading edge practices in composites, manufacturing and logistics, and the ability to recoup some investment if the government did decide to purchase the F-35.
As a result of Canadian government investment in the JSF project, 144 contracts were awarded to Canadian companies, universities and government facilities, for a combined contract value of US$490 million for the period 2002 to 2012, with an expected value of US$1.1 billion from current contracts in the period between 2013 and 2023, with a total potential estimated value of Canadian JSF involvement from US$4.8 billion to US$6.8 billion.
A Letter of Intent (LOI) was signed between TAI and Northrop Grumman ISS (NGISS) International on 6 February 2007. With the LOI, TAI becomes the second source for the F-35 Lightning II center fuselage during the JSF Signing. The number of center fuselages to be produced by Turkish Aerospace Industries will be determined depending on the number of F-35s Turkey will procure and the number of F-35s to be produced worldwide. The LOI represents a potential value in excess of $3 billion. Northrop Grumman currently produces all F-35 center fuselages at its F-35 assembly facility in Palmdale, California.
TAI of Turkey is one of the two international suppliers to Northrop Grumman (the other being Denmark). On 10 December 2007, the Turkish Aerospace Industries, Inc. (TAI) was authorized by the Northrop Grumman to commence fabricating subassemblies for the first two F-35 production aircraft. The subassemblies – composite components and aircraft access doors – will be used in the F-35 center fuselage, a major section of the aircraft being produced by Northrop Grumman, a principal member of the Lockheed Martin-led F-35 global industry team.
It is also anticipated that TAI after 2013 will also produce 100% of the F-35 under license from Lockheed Martin Corporation, as was also the case with the F-16 Fighting Falcon program Peace Onyx I and II. Turkey also intends to incorporate in the distant future several Turkish designed and manufactured electronic systems into the F-35 platform.
In May 2005, the Australian government announced that it would delay its planned 2006 decision on buying the JSF to 2008, and thus past the term of the government of the day. Australia, like the UK, has insisted it must have access to all software needed to modify and repair aircraft. Analysis conducted by the Royal Australian Air Force has determined that the F-35 "is the most suitable aircraft for Australia's needs".
There has been debate in Australia over whether the F-35 is the most suitable aircraft for the RAAF. Some media reports, lobby groups and politicians have raised doubts that the aircraft will be ready in time to replace the RAAF's aging fleet of General Dynamics F-111 strike aircraft and McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet fighters. Some critics say the more expensive F-22 Raptor or the Eurofighter Typhoon may be better choices, both offering better range, dogfighting capability, and supercruise at a cost that may not be much more than the F-35 – claims that as of July 2006 are being examined in a parliamentary inquiry.
In a statement released in early August 2006, then-Australian Defence Minister Dr. Brendan Nelson revealed that while the F-35 still had governmental support, Australia is starting to investigate other possible aircraft should the F-35 prove to be unfeasible. In October 2006, the deputy chief of the Air Force, Air Vice Marshal John Blackburn, publicly stated that the RAAF had ruled out the purchase of interim strike aircraft to cover any delays to the F-35 program and believed that the F-35 was suitable. However, on 6 March 2007, Dr. Nelson announced the Australian Government would purchase 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets from Boeing to fill the gap left by the retiring F-111 strike aircraft at a cost of potentially AU$6 billion. Nonetheless, Dr. Nelson continued to endorse Australia's purchase of the F-35. Speaking on Australian television in March 2007, Dr. Nelson stated that 5% of the capability of the F-35 is classified, claiming that, "that's the five percent that really counts.
On 13 December 2006, Minister Nelson signed the JSF Production, Sustainment and Follow-on Development Memorandum of Understanding. This agreement provides the cooperative framework for the acquisition and support of the JSF over its life. Australia is expected to purchase 100 F-35As at a cost of approximately AU$16 billion.
However following the election of a Labor Party government in the 2007 federal election the new government ordered a review of the RAAF's fighter procurement plans, including the purchase of the F-35. This review will include an evaluation of the F-35, advanced derivatives of the MiG-29 and Su-35, as well as the F-22's suitability for Australia, with the Defence Minister stating that "I intend to pursue American politicians for access to the Raptor".
In March 2008 the Royal Australian Navy was reported to have requested that the government purchase a third Canberra Class ship to utilize for fixed wing carrier operations and F-35B STOVL aircraft. The government was reported to be unlikely to approve this request, however.
The F-35 is one of the aircraft types being evaluated by the Norwegian Future Combat Aircraft Capability Project as a replacement for the F-16s currently in-service.
On 3 September 2007, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi announced the purchase of a squadron of F-35s which Israel will begin receiving in 2014. However, U.S. defense officials later agreed to allow Israel to receive the fighters as early as 2012. The price of each F-35 is expected to reach $70-80 million.
The Jerusalem Post reports the Pentagon has agreed to supply the F-35A variant to Israel as early as 2012, instead of in 2014 or 2015. This would make Israel one of the first nations to receive the aircraft, and very possibly the first foreign nation. Previous objections to Israel’s installation of its own technology in the F-35 — as it has done with every US fighter it has received — were also reportedly overcome. At present, the only Israel technology in the standard version will be the JSF HMDS helmet mounted display system, designed in cooperation with Elbit Systems. Israel also asked to manufacture F-35 aircraft locally at a 1:2 ratio, but the reports did not indicate whether that request was granted. On 30 September 2008, the US DoD reported that Israel has requested to purchase 25 F-35As with options to buy up to 50 F-35As or F-35Bs.
The Brazilian Air Force recently has added the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to the list of aircraft under consideration for its relaunched new fighter procurement, called F-X2. The F-35 replaces the F-16, which was in contention for the previous F-X BR program, shelved in 2003 and finally abandoned in 2006.
The F-35 appears to be a smaller, slightly more conventional, one-engine sibling of the sleeker, two-engine F-22 Raptor, and indeed drew elements from it. The exhaust duct design was inspired by the General Dynamics Model 200, a 1972 VTOL aircraft designed for the Sea Control Ship. Lockheed teamed with the Yakovlev Design Bureau, developer of the Yakovlev Yak-141 "Freestyle", in the 1990s. Stealth technology makes the aircraft difficult to detect as it approaches short-range tracking radar.
Some improvements over current-generation fighter aircraft are:
A helmet mounted display system (HMDS) will be fitted to all models of the F-35. While some fourth-generation fighters (such as the Swedish JAS 39 Gripen) have offered HMDS along with a head up display (HUD), this will be the first time in several decades that a front-line tactical jet fighter has been designed to not carry a HUD.
The main sensor on board the F-35 is its AN/APG-81 AESA-radar, designed by Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems. It is augmented by the Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) mounted under the nose of the aircraft, designed by Lockheed Martin and BAE. Further electro-optical sensors are distributed over the aircraft as part of the AN/AAS-37 system which acts as missile warning system and can aid in navigation and night operations.
The LiftSystem is composed of a lift fan, driveshaft, clutch, 2 roll posts and a "3 Bearing Swivel Module" (3BSM). The 3BSM is a thrust vectoring nozzle which allows the main engine exhaust to be deflected downward at the tail of the aircraft. The lift fan near the front of the aircraft provides a counter-balancing thrust. Somewhat like a vertically mounted turboprop within the forward fuselage, the lift fan is powered by the engine's low-pressure (LP) turbine via a driveshaft and gearbox. Roll control during slow flight is achieved by diverting pressurized air from the LP turbine through wing mounted thrust nozzles called Roll Posts.
The F-35B lift fan achieves the same 'flow multiplier' effect as the Harrier's huge, but supersonically impractical, main fan. Like lift engines, this added machinery is just deadweight during horizontal flight but provides a net increase in payload capacity during vertical flight. The cool exhaust of the fan also reduces the amount of hot, high-velocity air that is projected downward during vertical takeoff (which can damage runways and aircraft carrier decks). Though complicated and potentially risky, the lift system has been made to work to the satisfaction of DOD officials.
The F-35 includes a GAU-22/A four-barrel 25 mm cannon. The Cannon will be mounted internally with 180 rounds in the F-35A and fitted as an external pod with 220 rounds in the F-35B and F-35C.
Internally (current planned weapons for integration), up to two air-to-air missiles and two air-to-ground weapons (up to two 2,000 lb bombs in A and C models; two 1,000 lb bombs in the B model) in the bomb bays. These could be AIM-120 AMRAAM, AIM-132 ASRAAM, the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) — up to 2,000 lb (910 kg), the Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW), Small Diameter Bombs (SDB) — a maximum of four in each bay, the Brimstone anti-armor missiles, Cluster Munitions (WCMD) and High Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARM). The MBDA Meteor air-to-air missile is currently being adapted to fit internally in the missile spots and may be integrated into the F-35. The UK had originally planned to put up to four AIM-132 ASRAAM internally but this has been changed to carry 2 internal and 2 external ASRAAMs.
At the expense of being more detectable by radar, many more missiles, bombs and fuel tanks can be attached on four wing pylons and two wingtip positions. The two wingtip pylons can only carry AIM-9X Sidewinders, while the AIM-120 AMRAAM, Storm Shadow, Joint Air to Surface Stand-off Missile (JASSM) cruise missiles and 480 gallon fuel tanks can be carried in addition to the stores already integrated. An air-to-air load of eight AIM-120s and two AIM-9s is conceivable using internal and external weapons stations, as well as a configuration of six two thousand pound bombs, two AIM-120s and two AIM-9s. With its payload capability, the F-35 can carry more air to air and air to ground weapons than legacy fighters it is to replace as well as the F-22 Raptor.
Some public figures such as Dr Jensen in Australia, and American combat aircraft expert Pierre Sprey, have expressed concern over the aircraft's combat capabilities with specific regard to radar visibility, weight to power ratio, turn rate, and flammability. The concerns about the F-35's performance have resulted in part from reports of simulations undertaken as part of the development program showing Russian Sukhoi fighters comprehensively defeating the JSF.
Dr. Jensen when first raising this simulation result also suggested it is inferior to current and superseded aircraft already in service around the world. It has been argued that the F-22 is a superior air combat aircraft and that Australia would be better off pursuing this aircraft in light of the concerns over the performance of the F-35. As a result of these issues the Australian defence minister, Mr. Fitzgibbon, has ordered a formal briefing from the ADF in relation to the computer simulation.
The F-35 has also come under criticism in the USA regarding its performance most of which has been dismissed by the Pentagon and manufacturer.
The USAF has conducted an analysis of the F-35's air-to-air performance against all 4th generation fighter aircraft currently available in the international market, and has found the F-35 to be at least 400% more effective. Maj. Gen. Charles R. Davis, the F-35 program executive officer has stated that the F-35, "enjoys a significant Combat Loss Exchange Ratio advantage over the current and future air-to-air threats, to include Sukhois," which are currently the most advanced fighter aircraft being flown by the Russian, Indian, and Chinese Air Forces.
On 3 May 2007, an electrical problem consisting of electrical arcing inside a hydraulic control box forced the aircraft to make an emergency landing. It was grounded until 7 December, when test pilot Jon Beesley flew a 55-minute test flight.
A unique feature of the test program is the use of the so-called Lockheed CATBird avionic testbed, a highly modified Boeing 737-330, inside of which are racks holding all of F-35's avionics, as well as a complete F-35 cockpit.
On 31 January 2008 at Fort Worth, Texas, Lt Col James "Flipper" Kromberg of the U.S. Air Force became the first military service pilot to evaluate the F-35, taking the aircraft through a series of maneuvers on its 26th flight.
On 11 June 2008, after extensive ground testing, the first F-35B (STOVL version, designated BF-01) made its maiden flight at Fort Worth. The flight, which featured a conventional takeoff, was piloted by BAE Systems' test pilot Graham Tomlinson.
The F-35A is expected to match the F-16 in maneuverability, instantaneous and sustained high-g performance, and outperform it in stealth, payload, range on internal fuel, avionics, operational effectiveness, supportability and survivability. It also has an internal laser designator and infrared sensors.
The F-35B is the short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the aircraft. Similar in size to the A variant, the B sacrifices some fuel volume for a vertical flight system. Vertical flight is by far the riskiest, and in the end, a decisive factor in design. Like the AV-8B Harrier II, the B's guns will be carried in a ventral pod.
The F-35B was in danger of missing performance requirements in 2004 because it weighed too much — reportedly, by 2,200 pounds (1,000 kg) or 8 percent. In response, Lockheed Martin added engine thrust and shed more than a ton by thinning the aircraft's skin; shrinking the weapons bay and vertical tails; rerouting some thrust from the roll-post outlets to the main nozzle; and redesigning the wing-mate joint, portions of the electrical system, and the portion of the aircraft immediately behind the cockpit.
The RAF and Royal Navy plan to use this variant to replace their Harrier GR7/GR9s. The U.S. Marine Corps intends to purchase 340 F-35Bs to replace all current inventories of the F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B Harrier II and EA-6B Prowler in the fighter, attack, and electronic warfare roles.
The F-35C carrier variant will have a larger, folding wing and larger control surfaces for improved low-speed control, and stronger landing gear for the stresses of carrier landings. The larger wing area allows for decreased landing speed, increased range and payload, with twice the range on internal fuel compared with the F/A-18C Hornet, achieving much the same goal as the heavier F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
The US Navy will be the sole user for the carrier variant. It intends to buy 480 F-35Cs to replace the F/A-18A, -B, -C, and -D Hornets. The F-35C will also serve as a stealthier complement to the Super Hornet. On 27 June 2007, the carrier variant completed its Air System Critical Design Review (CDR). This allows the first two functional prototype F-35C units to be produced. The C variant is expected to be available beginning in 2015.
The first major film appearance of a representation of a F-35B was in Live Free or Die Hard (released as Die Hard 4.0 or Die Hard 4 outside North America) in 2007. The film used a combination of a full-scale model and CGI to significantly dramatize its hovering ability using the lift fan.