Lockheed Martin’s F-35 multi-role fighter (also known as Lightning II) is a competitor to the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program, which is intended to replace existing aircraft types with regular fighters. The JSF concept was introduced by the U.S. Air Force. The goal of the program is to incorporate conventional fighters for the Air Force, aircraft delivered to ships for the U.S. Navy and short take-off-and-vertical-landing fighters for the U.S. Marine Corps.
Lockheed Martin’s proposed aircraft was formerly known as the X-35 and 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 launched in 2000 and made its debut that same year. The development of the aircraft was in principle funded by the United States, with the United Kingdom and other partner governments providing additional funding. But the development of these fighters was plagued by constant cost overruns. In 2015 the F-35’s short takeoff and vertical landing version, the F-35B, achieved initial operational capability with the U.S. Marine Corps.
The generic F-35 has a configuration similar to Lockheed Martin’s F-22 design, but is slightly smaller and has a single engine. Single-engine aircraft are cheaper to produce and service, but at the cost of load reduction and weapon performance. The F-35 exploits stealth technology, which reduces radar cross-section and makes it harder for radar to detect. It is currently 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. The latest Chinese and Russian fighters such as the Chengdu J-20 or Sukhoi Su-57 cannot 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 the F119 engine, which was used on the F-22 Raptor. It competes with the advanced General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136 engines. Finally the Pratt &Whitney engine was selected. It is by far the most powerful fighting machine ever developed. There are 2 different variants of this engine, among others conventional variants for F-35A and F-35C fighters as well as modified multi-cycle engines for F-35B Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) fighters. Interestingly, Rolls-Royce developed vertical lift systems for Pratt &Whitney and General Electric designs. Lightning II is capable of traveling at supersonic speeds.
The F-35 multi-role fighter can perform 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 weapons space. The F-35 fighter is compatible with the AIM-120 AMRAAM, AIM-132 ASRAAM, JDAM, JSOW, Brimstone, WCMD, MBDA Meteor, and several other missiles. Additional missiles, bombs, or fuel tanks can be mounted into external hardpoints. The wingtip mast can also carry the AIM-9X Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missile. But external weapons carried at the expense of more can be detected by radar.
With only one version of the F-35, the F-35A has an internally installed 25 mm 4-barrel gun and 182 rounds of onboard ammunition. The F-35B and -C versions can carry external pods with the same cannon and 220 rounds of ammunition. This external pod has stealth features.
The F-35 is filled with the most advanced systems. Its main systems include a multi-functional Active Electrically-Scanned Array (AESA) that combines radar, electronic warfare and communication functions and conformal array imaging infrared sensors. Data from various sensors are combined on an advanced display system mounted on the pilot’s helmet.
This multi-role fighter has in-flight refueling capabilities.
The aircraft was proposed in three main variants, including the F-35A, -B and -C. It was originally planned that this variant would share about 80% of its parts to keep development and production costs low. It will also require less logistical support. But it turns out that in 2017 the design similarity was only 20%. So there’s basically a little bit of use of these similarities. It turns out that the U.S. would rather adopt 3 different types of aircraft for different branches of the U.S. military than these generic aircraft.
The F-35’s development program was plagued by constant cost overruns. Low-level initial production aircraft have a unit price of about $94 million to $122 million per aircraft, depending on the version. It is planned that the full-level production F-35A will cost about $80-85 million. For example, the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter costs about $150 million per aircraft. But in 2020, the export sale of 50 F-35 fighters was announced to Saudi Arabia with an estimated value of $10.4 billion. It generates $208 million per aircraft. Though this price may also include training and service costs. An F-35 helmet alone is said to cost $400,000 and each helmet is designed to fit only a single pilot’s head as it will be designed to have a head-up display with the pilot’s eyes.
The initial contract was supposed to cost $1.5 trillion since it began in 1996 over 50 years. The current contract is seven years behind schedule and exceeds the $163 billion budget.
The F-35A is a conventional takeoff and landing aircraft. It is a ground-based model for the U.S. Air Force. It is the smallest and lightest version of the F-35. Also it will be the most numerous versions of the F-35. The F-35A is the only version of the F-35 with a built-in 25 mm four-barrel GAU-22/A gun. It is powered by pratt &whitney F135-PW-100 engines. In U.S. Air Force service, the F-35A will replace the A-10 and F-16 fighters. It outperforms the F-16’s lightweight multi-role fighter in terms of stealth, range, payload, avionics, survivability, and matches it in terms of maneuverability. The initial squadron of F-35As is ready for combat by the end of 2016. This conventional takeoff and landing version will be exported to a number of countries.
The F-35B is a short takeoff and vertical landing aircraft. The model was originally developed for the U.S. Marine Corps, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. The fighter is powered by Pratt &Whitney F135-PW-600 engines. Connected to the engine via a drive shaft, the Rolls-Royce lift fan behind the cockpit provides about half the thrust needed to hover through the air. Lift fans result in lower power settings, as well as cooler exhaust temperatures and speeds. The F-35B achieved initial operational capability with the U.S. Marine Corps in 2015. It replaces the older F/A-18 series multi-role fighter and av-8B short-range support aircraft used by the U.S. Marine Corps.
The F-35C is an aircraft carrier-based aircraft. It is a variant of the U.S. Navy, which has larger wings and a control surface (fin &lift) than any other variant. The aircraft is equipped with ailerons, reinforced landing wheels, retaining hooks and a reinforced fuselage to absorb stalled catapult launches and landings. It is powered by pratt &whitney F135-PW-400 engine. Both the Royal Navy and U.S. Navy X-35B/Cs will have folding wings. It is planned to operate with the U.S. Navy in 2018. It will replace the U.S. Navy’s older F/A-18 series multi-role fighter.
The F-35I is an F-35A with Israeli modifications. The multi-role fighter is equipped with Israeli electronic warfare systems. It could use Israeli missiles and bombs. Israel ordered 50 of these fighters out of 75 planned. Deliveries began in 2016. The fighter entered service with the Israeli Air Force in 2017. Soon after its introduction, Israeli F-35 fighters were used to strike targets in Syria. It struck targets close to Russian military bases. But Russia’s most capable air defense systems, including the S-300 and S-400, cannot destroy Israeli F-35s.