F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Lightning II
On 6 March 2012, the USAF launched its first test flight of the F-35A from Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. A potential fuel leak finding caused the precautionary end of the sortie at 15 minutes versus the 90 minutes scheduled to be airborne to complete the operational check flight. Pilots and maintainers were to meet to discuss the problem.
JSF is a joint, multinational acquisition program for the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and eight cooperative international partners. Expected to be the largest military aircraft procurement ever, the stealth, supersonic F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (F-35) will replace a wide range of aging fighter and strike aircraft for the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and allied defense forces worldwide. The program's hallmark is affordability achieved through a high degree of aircraft commonality among three variants: conventional takeoff/landing (CTOL), carrier variant (CV) and short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft. Innovative concepts and advanced technologies will significantly reduce weapon system life-cycle costs while meeting the strike weapon system requirements of military customers. Procurement is planned to continue through 2026 and possibly beyond. JSF aircraft may well stay in service until 2060 or longer.
The program began in November 1996 with a 5-year competition between Lockheed Martin and Boeing to determine the most capable and affordable preliminary aircraft design. On 26 October 2001 the Pentagon announced that Lockheed-Martin had won the largest military contract ever, a possible $200 billion competition to build the Joint Strike Fighter. Air Force Secretary Jim Roche said on the basis of strengths, weaknesses and degrees of risk of the program that the Lockheed-Martin team was the winner on a "best- value" basis. He said Lockheed-Martin was a clear winner over the team led by Boeing. Total cost of the contract to enter the systems development and demonstration phase is $19 billion. Pratt and Whitney has a $4 billion contract to design and build propulsion systems for the craft. The British will contribute $2 billion to the program.
Lockheed-Martin teamed with Northrop Grumman and British Aerospace on the project. Pete Aldridge, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, said that both teams "met or exceeded the performance objectives established for the aircraft and have met the established criteria and technical maturity for entering the next phase of the program."
The Lockheed Martin X-35 was chosen over the competing Boeing X-32 primarily because of Lockheed's lift-fan STOVL design, which proved superior to the Boeing vectored-thrust approach. The lift fan, which is powered by the aircraft engine via a clutched driveshaft, was technically challenging but DoD concluded that Lockheed has the technology in hand. The lift fan has significant excess power which could be critical given the weight gain that all fighter aircraft experience.
Lockheed Martin Corp. is developing the F-35 at its fighter aircraft plant in Fort Worth, where the new stealth warplane is expected to provide about 9,000 jobs over the next three to four decades. Northrop Grumman Corp. is to build the F-35's center fuselage in California and BAE Systems the aft body in England.
For much of the free world's military forces, the F-35 represents the future- a new family of affordable, stealthy combat aircraft designed to meet the twenty-first-century requirements of the US Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, as well as the United Kingdom's Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. The program is truly international in its scope and participation: Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Denmark, Australia, and Norway recently joined the F-35's system development and demonstration (SDD) phase. All SDD partners will be active in the F-35's development process and stand to gain economically from the program.
The JSF aircraft design has three variants: conventional takeoff and landing variant for the Air Force, aircraft carrier-suitable variant for the Navy, and short takeoff and vertical landing variant for the Marine Corps, the United Kingdom, and the Air Force. These aircraft are intended to replace aging fighter and attack aircraft currently in the inventory.
Historically, the 1970s saw development and production of many outstanding aircraft which comprise much of today's U.S. fighter inventory. The combination of service-life exhaustion and escalating threats will require all three services to slowly retire their current fighter aircraft. The British Royal Air Force Harriers and Royal Navy Sea Harriers - aircraft that first flew more than 30 years ago - are encountering similar problems. The F-35 JSF will affordably replace the aging fleets, while also supporting the existing and expanding roles and requirements of F-35 JSF customers.
The Air Force's F-35A version of the craft is a conventional takeoff and landing airplane to replace the F- 16 Falcon and A-10 Thunderbolt II. It will partner with the F-22 Raptor. The Marine Corps, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force need and want a short takeoff and vertical landing aircraft, dubbed the F-35B. The Marines want new aircraft to replace their AV-8B Harriers and F/A-18 Hornets. The British want to replace Sea Harriers and GR.7 Tornado fighters. The Navy's F-35C version of the plane is a carrier-based strike fighter to complement the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. It will replace earlier versions of the F/A-18 as well as the A-6 Intruder, which already has left the inventory.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will be:
- Four times more effective than legacy fighters in air-to-air engagements
- Eight times more effective than legacy fighters in prosecuting missions against fixed and mobile targets
- Three times more effective than legacy fighters in non-traditional Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance (ISR) and Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses and Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD/DEAD) missions
- About the same in procurement cost as legacy fighters, but requires significantly less tanker/transport and less infrastructure with a smaller basing footprint
The program's objective is to develop and deploy a technically superior and affordable fleet of aircraft that support the warfighter in performing a wide range of missions in a variety of theaters. The single-seat, single-engine aircraft is being designed to be self-sufficient or part of a multisystem and multiservice operation, and to rapidly transition between air-to-surface and air-to-air missions while still airborne. To achieve its mission, the JSF will incorporate low observable technologies, defensive avionics, advanced onboard and offboard sensor fusion, and internal and external weapons.
Plans call for the F-35 to be the world's premier strike aircraft through 2040. It will provide air- to-air capability second only to the F-22 air superiority fighter. The plane will allow the Air Force forces to field an almost all-stealth fighter force by 2025. The Navy and Marine variants will be the first deployment of an "all-aspect" stealth airplane.
The goals for the F-35 are ambitious: to be a single-pilot, survivable, first-day-of-the-war combat fighter with a precision, all-weather strike capability that uses a wide variety of air-to-surface and air-to-air weapons- and that defends itself in a dogfight. The F-35 program emphasizes low unit-flyaway cost and radically reduced life-cycle costs, while meeting a wide range of operational requirements. The stretch in combat radius means that the pilot can operate with reduced dependence on air refueling and can have significantly greater time on station for close air support or combat air patrol missions.
Survivability, a cornerstone of F-35 design, is enhanced foremost by the aircraft's radar-evading properties. Stealth capability, available for the first time in a multirole fighter, will minimize the threat to the pilot during operations in heavily defended areas. The aircraft also is configured with advanced countermeasures to reduce the effectiveness of enemy defenses.
Integral to the aircraft's low-observable equation is the large internal-weapons bay. When stealth is not required, the F-35 also can carry wingtip air-to-air missiles and up to 15,000 pounds of external ordnance mounted on underwing pylons. A pneumatically powered ordnance-release system replaces the traditional cartridge-powered equipment. This new design greatly reduces maintenance requirements. The internal 25 mm cannon will enable pilots to engage targets from higher altitudes and longer range.
The F-35's mission systems are designed to return the pilot to the role of tactician and to increase combat effectiveness dramatically. Next-generation sensors will provide the pilot coherent and fused information from a variety of onboard and off-board systems. Sophisticated data links will connect the aircraft to both ground-combat elements and airborne platforms. In addition to fighter-to-fighter data links, the F-35 will be equipped with satellite-communications capability for both transmitting and receiving.
The aircraft's onboard sensor suite is optimized to locate, identify, and destroy movable or moving ground targets under adverse weather conditions. This all-weather capability is achieved with the aircraft's advanced electronically scanned array (AESA) radar built by Northrop Grumman. The AESA enables simultaneous air-to-ground and air-to-air operations. It can track moving ground targets and display them on a radar-generated terrain image, enabling precise target location relative to terrain features. These instruments, coupled with off-board sensors, will make the F-35 capable of all-weather close air support under the most demanding conditions.
An internally mounted electro-optical targeting system (EOTS) is installed in the nose of the F-35, enhancing both air-to-ground and air-to-air capabilities. The EOTS will provide long-range, high-resolution targeting-infrared imagery; laser-target designation; and battle-damage-assessment capability. This system will provide pinpoint weapons-delivery accuracy for close air support and deep-strike missions.
A distributed-aperture-infrared sensor system will provide full spherical infrared coverage around the aircraft. In addition to providing warnings of missile launches, information from the system can be displayed on the pilot's helmet visor, permitting the pilot to see "through" the airplane's structure in all directions, and eliminating the need for night-vision goggles. This system will dramatically increase the ability of the F-35 to conduct any type of mission at night.
The F-35 team is crafting an exceptionally lethal, survivable, and supportable next-generation strike aircraft. Compared with the aircraft it will replace, the F-35 will provide significant improvements in range, payload, lethality, survivability, and mission effectiveness. Uniting stealth with advanced mission systems and high maneuverability, the F-35 will bring revolutionary twenty-first-century capabilities to the battle space.
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