F-35: The "F" Stands for "Future"

By Kent, John | Air & Space Power Journal, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

F-35: The "F" Stands for "Future"


Kent, John, Air & Space Power Journal


IN LATE 2005, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) will rocket down the run-way near Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth, Texas, plant and lift into the air for the first time. The event will signal the beginning of an ambitious flight-test program designed to validate the effectiveness of the world's most advanced multirole fighter. Between now and then, engineers and program managers will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that schedules are met, costs are minimized, and a mature weapon system is delivered that meets or exceeds customer expectations.

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 goals for the F-35 are lofty: 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 F-35 family tree branches into three distinct variants. The conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) F-35A will replace F-16s and A-10s in the US Air Force. It will complement the F/A-22 Raptor air-dominance fighter as a nine-G-rated aircraft with an internal 25 mm gun mounted on the left intake shoulder and a combat radius of more than 600 nautical miles (NM). This model-and all F-35 variants-will have two internal weapons bays, each capable of carrying a 2,000-pound precision-guided munition and a radar-guided AIM-120 air-to-air missile. Current requirements calling for 1,763 aircraft will make the F-35A the most-produced variant.

The short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B will replace the aging AV-8B Harrier STOVL attack jets (which have also proven increasingly difficult to support) of the US Marine Corps, as well as its F/A-18s. The F-35B will have a stealthy, belly-mounted 25 mm missionized gun pod and a combat radius of more than 450 NM-nearly two times that of legacy STOVL strike fighters. A shaft-driven lift fan, in combination with a vectoring rear exhaust nozzle, gives this fighter the ability to take off in short distances, accelerate to supersonic speeds in level flight, and land vertically. Thanks to the lift-fan system, the F-35B's total vertical lifting thrust is about 39,700 pounds (the aircraft weighs about 30,000 pounds)-more than 14,000 pounds greater than the engine alone would produce without the lift fan. The F-35B will be the world's first operational supersonic STOVL aircraft. The Marine Corps currently plans to deploy 609 F-35Bs.

The F-35C carrier-based (CV) variant will complement the US Navy's F/A-18E/Fs and replace F-14s and earlier model F/A-18s. The wings (with folding tips) of the F-35C will span nine feet more than the wings of the F-35A and F-35B models. Like the F-35B, it also will have a stealthy, missionized 25 mm belly gun. The combat radius on internal fuel will be greater than 700 NM-again, more than twice the range of the aircraft it is designed to replace. The Navy's current plans call for 480 aircraft. The United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence has chosen the F-35B to replace its Harrier GR.7s and Sea Harriers for the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. The United Kingdom's current plans call for 150 aircraft.

Led by prime contractor Lockheed Martin, along with principal partners Northrop Grumman and BAE SYSTEMS, the F-35 team is crafting an exceptionally lethal, survivable, and supportable next-generation strike aircraft. …

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