Lightning II was the nickname, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was meant to be the new kid on the block in an arena of aging fighter and strike aircraft. Varying versions of the craft are slated for use by the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.
However, its development, under way by Lockheed Martin Corp. for more than a decade, has proven problematic. Expense, design flaws and proprietary issues related to its technology have all hampered progress. As such, none of the fighters have yet entered service, and none are expected to do so before 2012. In 2001, Lockheed Martin won the largest military contract on record, worth as much as $200 billion, to build the Joint Strike Fighter. The United Kingdom is making a contribution toward the development, as the craft is slated to be used by its Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. Other countries helping to bring the F-35 to fruition include Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey and Canada.
Each of the services will receive a slightly different version of the F-35 tailored to their individual needs: The Air Force design, for example, allows for a conventional takeoff and landing, while the Navy design will be suitable for landing on and taking off from an aircraft carrier. For the Marine Corps, the design provides for a short takeoff and vertical landing.
The single-seat, single-engine aircraft contains a large internal weapons bay, a design that makes it more streamlined and stealthy, while a 25mm cannon, also internal, gives pilots the ability to fire on targets from higher up and farther away.
Using satellite communications, the aircraft will have the capacity to find and fire upon targets on the ground, even those that are moving. The data gleaned by the system also can be conveyed to the pilot’s helmet visor for easy viewing.