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F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Lightning II

The F-35 program, which began in 2001, is 70 percent over initial cost estimates, and years behind schedule, but top US officials say it is now making progress. Lockheed is developing the F-35 for the Marines, Air Force and Navy, and eight countries that helped fund its development: Britain, Canada, Australia, Norway, Italy, Turkey, Denmark and the Netherlands. Israel and Japan have also ordered the jet.

Der Speigel, citing classified documents leaked by former US intelligence agent Edward Snowden, reported 18 January 2015 that hackers affiliated with the Chinese government stole "many terabytes" of sensitive military information including plans of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) – the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. The stolen data contained details of the stealth fighter's "radar systems which are used to identify and track targets; detailed engine schematics; methods for cooling exhaust gases; and "aft deck heating contour maps".

The Pentagon had admitted previously that cyberattackers made repeated attempts to hack into its database targeting the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter military program, and accused China of the intrusions. Both the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin Corp, the jet's designer, asserted that no "classified information" was stolen during cyberattacks.

The U.S. Defense Department confirmed 08 January 2015 that the F-35 aircraft's 25mm GAU-22 weapon system is on track to go operational in two years. The announcement follows reports that the General Dynamics weapon system was delayed until 2019.

The software for the F-35’s primary gun, a 25-mm rapid-fire cannon, won’t be ready to install until at least 2019 despite the fact that the jet is expected to be on the front line by the end of 2015. “There is no software to support it now or for the next four-ish years,” said one Air Force official affiliated with the F-35 program told the Daily Beast 31 December 2014. It “is slated for release in 2019, but who knows how much that will slip?” The Pentagon has had to ground F-35s more than a dozen times due to problems with the plane’s Pratt & Whitney-made engine. Another issue is that the stealth jet is actually easy to detect.

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.

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
  • More expensive in procurement cost than 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.

The US Defense Department operational test and evaluation annual report warned that ongoing software, maintenance and reliability problems with Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35 stealth fighter could delay the Marine Corps' plans to start using its F-35 jets by mid-2015. This latest report by the Pentagon's chief weapons tester provides a detailed critique of the F-35's technical challenges, and focuses heavily on what it calls the 'unacceptable' performance of the plane's software. The report forecast a possible 13-month delay in completing testing of the Block 2B software needed for the Marine Corps to clear the jets for initial combat use in 2015.

On 30 September 2013, the Department of Defense Inspector General released a report entitled "Quality Assurance Assessment of the F-35 Lightning II Program." The report concluded that the F-35 Program did not sufficiently implement or flow down technical and quality management system requirements to prevent the fielding of nonconforming hardware and software. This oversight was said to have the potential to adversely affect aircraft performance, reliability, maintainability, and ultimately program cost. In addition, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company (Lockheed Martin) and its subcontractors did not follow disciplined AS9100 Quality Management System practices, as evidenced by 363 findings, which contained 719 issues. According to the DODIG, the Joint Program Office did not: Ensure that Lockheed Martin and its subcontractors were applying rigor to design, manufacturing, and quality assurance processes; flow down critical safety item requirements; ensure that Lockheed Martin flowed down quality assurance and technical requirements to subcontractors; establish an effective quality assurance organization; or ensure that the Defense Contract Management Agency performed adequate quality assurance oversight. In addition, the Defense Contract Management Agency did not sufficiently perform Government quality assurance oversight of F-35 contractors. The DODIG report came as the US Navy's Strike Fighter Squadron One Zero One (VFA-101) hosted a rollout ceremony for the F-35C, the Navy's variant for carrier operations, at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida on 1 October 2013.

It was the opinion of the DODIG in its September 2013 assessment that the F-35 Joint Program Office should ensure compliance with AS9100 throughout the F-35 supply chain; ensure that Lockheed Martin approved all design and material review board changes and variances with Government concurrence; perform process proofing of all critical processes to include first article inspections; modify its contracts to include a quality escape (defined as a nonconforming material that had entered the product, supply chain, or proceeded beyond the acceptance process) clause to ensure the Government did not pay for nonconforming product; assess the impacts and risks to all delivered aircraft for all findings; implement an aviation critical safety item program that met the requirements of Public Law and DoD policy, which would include flow down of requirements for a critical safety item program to Lockheed Martin and its subcontractors; assess the impacts and risks to all delivered aircraft for critical safety item deficiencies; perform technical and quality assurance requirement flow down and verification throughout the F-35 supply chain; establish an independent quality assurance organization, which had the authority and resources to enforce the AS9100 standard and F-35 product quality; revise the Defense Contract Management Agency memorandum of agreement to include explicit quality assurance oversight requirements; and ensure that Defense Contract Management Agency was performing quality assurance oversight commensurate with product criticality. DODIG recommended that the Defense Contract Management Agency in turn provide a comprehensive quality assurance oversight plan for Joint Program Office approval to be included in the memorandum of agreement and audit the execution of the quality assurance oversight plan throughout the F-35 supply chain.

On 23 August 2013, the Joint Program Office and the Defense Contract Management Agency responded to the DODIG findings and recommendations in the report. The Joint Program Office agreed with 8 recommendations, partially agreed with 2, and disagreed with one. The Defense Contract Management Agency agreed with one recommendation and partially agreed with the second. The Joint Program Office stated that it did not have the resources to perform process proofing of all critical processes nor had the responsibility or resources to perform requirement flow down verification throughout the F-35 supply chain. However, DODIG disagreed because it was the Joint Program Office’s responsibility to ensure contractual compliance to prevent nonconformances. It was also the responsibility of the Joint Program Office to update the contract if the requirements were deficient. In addition, the DODIG included along with the report a Notice of Concern it had sent to the JSF Program Executive Office in April 2012, which said that on average, at final assembly each aircraft had 200+ corrective actions requiring rework or repair. The letter added that the quality management system at LMA's Fort Worth, Texas Plant and the integrity of the F-35 product were jeopardized by a lack of attention to detail, inadequate process discipline, and a “we will catch it later” culture.

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