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Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II

F-35 Lightning II
Gray fighter aircraft flying in a clear blue sky with sea coast below.
An F-35C Lightning II, marked CF-01, conducts a test flight over Chesapeake Bay in February 2011
Role Stealth multirole fighter
National origin United States
Manufacturer Lockheed Martin Aeronautics
First flight 15 December 2006
Introduction F-35B: 31 July 2015 (USMC)[2][5][6]
F-35A: Q3 2016 (USAF)[7]
F-35C: 2018 (USN)[8]
Status In initial production and testing, used for training by the US, UK, and Netherlands[9][10][11]
Primary users United States Air Force
United States Marine Corps
United States Navy
Royal Air Force
Produced 2006–present
Number built 115 as of November 2014[12]
Program cost US$1.3 trillion (Overall including inflation), US$59.2B for development, $261B for procurement, $590B for operations & sustainment in 2012[13]
Unit cost
F-35A: $98M (low rate initial production and not including the engine, full production in 2018 to be $85M)[14][15]
F-35B: US$104M (low rate initial production and not including the engine)[14][15]
F-35C: US$116M (low rate initial production and not including the engine)[14][15]
Developed from Lockheed Martin X-35

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a family of single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole fighters undergoing final development and testing by the United States. The fifth generation combat aircraft is designed to perform ground attack, aerial reconnaissance, and air defense missions. The F-35 has three main models: the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant, the F-35B short take-off and vertical-landing (STOVL) variant, and the F-35C carrier-based Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) variant. On 31 July 2015, the first squadron was declared ready for deployment after intensive testing by the United States.[19][21]

The F-35 is descended from the X-35, which was the winning design of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. It is being designed and built by an aerospace industry team led by Lockheed Martin. Other major F-35 industry partners include Northrop Grumman, Pratt & Whitney and BAE Systems. The F-35 took its first flight on 15 December 2006. The United States plans to buy 2,457 aircraft. The F-35 variants are intended to provide the bulk of the manned tactical airpower of the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps over the coming decades. Deliveries of the F-35 for the U.S. military are scheduled to be completed in 2037.[22]

F-35 JSF development is being principally funded by the United States with additional funding from partners. The partner nations are either NATO members or close U.S. allies. The United Kingdom, Italy, Australia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Turkey are part of the active development program;[23][24] several additional countries have ordered, or are considering ordering, the F-35.

The program is the most expensive military weapons system in history, and it has been the object of much criticism from those inside and outside government — in the US and in allied countries.[25] Critics argue that the plane is "plagued with design flaws," with many blaming the procurement process in which Lockheed was allowed "to design, test, and produce the F-35 all at the same time, instead of ... [identifying and fixing] defects before firing up its production line."[25] By 2014, the program was "$163 billion over budget [and] seven years behind schedule."[26] Critics further contend that the program's high sunk costs and political momentum make it "too big to kill."[27]

Development

JSF program requirements and selection

The JSF program was designed to replace the United States military F-16, A-10, F/A-18 (excluding newer E/F "Super Hornet" variants) and AV-8B tactical fighter and attack aircraft. To keep development, production, and operating costs down, a common design was planned in three variants that share 80 percent of their parts:

  • F-35A, conventional take off and landing (CTOL) variant.
  • F-35B, short-take off and vertical-landing (STOVL) variant.
  • F-35C, carrier-based CATOBAR (CV) variant.
Engineer handling a metallic scale model of jet fighter in wind-tunnel
An F-35 wind tunnel testing model in the Arnold Engineering Development Center's 16-foot transonic wind tunnel

George Standridge, Vice President of Strategy and Business Development for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, and a naval aviator who flew the F/A-18 Hornet in both the U.S. Navy and the Naval Reserve, predicted in 2006 that the F-35 will be four times more effective than legacy fighters in air-to-air combat, eight times more effective in air-to-ground combat, and three times more effective in reconnaissance and Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses – while having better range and requiring less logistics support and having around the same procurement costs (if development costs are ignored) as legacy fighters.[28] The design goals call for the F-35 to be the premier strike aircraft through 2040 and to be second only to the F-22 Raptor in air supremacy.[29]

The JSF development contract was signed on 16 November 1996, and 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. Although both aircraft met or exceeded requirements, the X-35 design was considered to have less risk and more growth potential.[30] The designation of the new fighter as "F-35" is out-of-sequence with standard DoD aircraft numbering,[31] by which it should have been "F-24". It came as a surprise even to the company, which had been referring to the aircraft in-house by this expected designation.[32]

The development of the F-35 is unusual for a fighter aircraft in that no two-seat trainer versions have been built for any of the variants; advanced flight simulators mean that no trainer versions were deemed necessary.[33] Instead F-16s have been used as bridge trainers between the T-38 and the F-35. The T-X was intended to be used to train future F-35 pilots, but this might succumb to budget pressures in the USAF.[34]

Design phase

Based on wind tunnel testing, Lockheed Martin slightly enlarged its X-35 design into the F-35. The forward fuselage is 5 inches (130 mm) longer to make room for avionics. Correspondingly, the horizontal stabilators were moved 2 inches (51 mm) rearward to retain balance and control. The top surface of the fuselage was raised by 1 inch (25 mm) along the center line. Also, it was decided to increase the size of the F-35B STOVL variant's weapons bay to be common with the other two variants.[30] Manufacturing of parts for the first F-35 prototype airframe began in November 2003.[35] Because the X-35 did not have weapons bays, their addition in the F-35 would cause design changes which would lead to later weight problems.[36][37]

The F-35B STOVL variant was in danger of missing performance requirements in 2004 because it weighed too much; reportedly, by 2,200 lb (1,000 kg) or 8 percent. In response,

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