The Lockheed F-35 Lightning II is a fifth-generation fighter development of the United States that incorporates new and learned stealth technology and practices with advanced computer processing and systems through a "budget-friendly" modular approach. The intended project goal (then under the name of Joint Strike Fighter) was to develop a single airframe capable of serving the multiple required roles of the primary armed services within the US Department of Defense - namely the United States Air Force (F-35A), the United States Navy (F-35C) and the United States Marine Corps (F-35B) as well as the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy services (both taking the F-35B model) of the British Ministry of Defense (MoD). The F-35 is currently being developed into three distinct airframes to reflect their respective uses with each design revolving around the same single-engine, single-seat approach. In any of the forms, the F-35 will remain a potent supersonic (Mach 1.0+ capable) fighter with lethal strike capabilities reportedly unmatched by anything else in the modern skies. While the Lockheed F-22 Raptor is intended as a fifth-generation "stealthified" air superiority fighter, the F-35's sorties will center more on the infiltration role and in dealing with accurate ground strikes through use of guided munitions and drop bombs, advanced airborne real-time reconnaissance and in radar-suppression sorties charged with the destruction of enemy "eyes-to-the-skies" - all this while retaining potent air-to-air capabilities.
If Lockheed succeeds in the design of the STOVL variant (F-35B), the Lightning II will become the first supersonic STOVL fighter ever produced. if the entire F-35 project fulfills all of its intended goals, the Lightning II will be the most advanced fighter design ever and will surely usher in a new age of powered flight.
The F-35 is intended to be an "affordable" fighter platform, hence the development of one airframe for the three distinct tasks. The aircraft is afforded a complex battlefield management system that allows it to receive and track real-time information and allow the pilot and system to react accordingly while transferring this information to other allied forces. The aircraft is said to provide for easier maintenance, especially in terms of taking care of the sensitive stealth components and skin. Throughout its design, the F-35 has incorporated an array of radar-defeating/absorbing measures that include a specialized mix of construction materials, coatings, angular edges and internally-based antenna probes to minimize profile from any direction.
Countries involved in the F-35 program (alongside the United States and United Kingdom) include Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, Netherlands, Norway and Turkey. Each are expecting to receive operational F-35s into service at some point. Each nation is rated by partner levels in the development. The UK remains the top partner as a Level 1 contributor. Italy and the Netherlands are Level 2 partners while Canada, Turkey, Australia, Norway and Denmark are Level 3 partners. Israel and Singapore have signed on as "Security Cooperative Participants" (SCP).
Planned quantities of the respective aircraft model for each country is as follows: USAF (1,763); USN/USMC (680); RAF/RN (138); Italy (131); Netherlands (85); Turkey (100); Australia (100); Norway (56, up from the original 48 as of June 2009); Denmark (48); Canada (80). Norwegian F-35s will be replacing their fleet of aging F-16 Fighting Falcons. Italian F-35s will see final assembly at Cameri Air Base. Cost estimates for individual F-35 units are as follows (FY2002): F-35A ($40 million+); F-35B ($60 million+); F-35C ($60 million+). The end price will surely be higher by 2012 dollars.
The Joint Strike Fighter Program
The Joint Strike Fighter program was started on November 16th, 1996 as a US attempt to develop a next-generation airframe capable of replacing a variety of dedicated fighter and fighter-bomber types in the US inventory. The new design would have to replace such proven performers as the Lockheed/General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon, the Fairchild Republic A-10 Warthog, the carrier-based Boeing/McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet and the McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II (the latter also covering the British Harrier developments in the Harrier GR.Mk 7 and GR.Mk 9). No small task considering the respective successes found by each aircraft throughout the world.
No Small Task - Replacing the Cold War Heavy-Hitters
The General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon had proven itself in countless conflicts beginning with actions in the Middle East by 1981. The F-16 was a lightweight aircraft equally capable of air superiority and ground strike. It maintained a healthy capability of mounting a variety of munitions to suit the many field requirements in regards to target type. This multi-faceted performer went on to become a staple of US allies from South America to the Middle East and Europe to the Pacific. As of this writing, production numbers of this aircraft have already surpassed 4,400 examples - the first being introduced in 1978.
The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt was a highly unique aircraft charged with the destruction of enemy armor at low-speed and low-altitudes. The system was built for survival at these low-levels and, therefore, was in some ways manufactured as a "flying tank" complete with cockpit armoring, elevated engine nacelles (to protect each engine from ground fire) and the ability to withstand a good deal of battlefield punishment. The aircraft could stay afloat with one engine completely blown away from the fuselage. Beyond the capability to carry a large ordnance load of missiles (air-to-air and air-to-ground) and bombs (conventional and guided), the A-10 was most noteworthy for her nose-mounted, 7-barreled 30mm Avenger Gatling cannon. The A-10 was debuted in 1977 and produced in 715 examples including a two-seat Forward Air Control (FAC) version.
The F/A-18 Hornet was derived from the YF-17 "Cobra" demonstrator, a design that lost out to the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon to become the USAFs next lightweight fighter. The US Navy, however, found interest in the aircraft and the revised (and larger) F/A-18 Hornet was selected to replace the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, A-6 Intruder and A-7 Corsair II on all US carriers. The system was a multi-role performer at heart, capable of taking on the air superiority role of the Tomcat while providing the capability to tackle the strike roles of the Intruder and Corsair IIs before it. The F/A-18 Hornet has since proven a successful addition since its inception into service in early 1983 and has been evolved into the two-seat ultra-capable F/A-18E/F "Super Hornet".
The McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II (and its British counterparts the GR.7 and GR.9) were modernized versions of the original Hawker Siddeley Harrier VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) multi-role, close-support "jump jets". The AV-8B was developed for the Marine Corps "going it alone" while the British pursued other interests, eventually coming back to the program and becoming a junior partner. The history of the Harrier made it one of the most dangerous and complicated aircraft to fly but also made it one of the most unique battlefield components - with jet fighter-like performance wrapped around helicopter-like capabilities.
It was this impressive stable of Cold War developments that the Joint Strike Fighter project sought to replace.
The F-35 was the aircraft born out of the US Joint Strike Fighter program. For the next five years, Boeing's X-32 faced off against Lockheed's X-35 (Northrop Grumman/McDonnell Douglas was another program contended). The program required the construction of two Concept Demonstration Aircraft (CDA). Computers were used in predicting the data garnered from the CDA aircraft and the final decision was capped by pages of proposals with promises detailing the aircraft maintenance requirements and construction needs. The winner of the program was eventually decided on October 26th, 2001.
Though both aircraft seemed to fit the requirements, the Lockheed submittal was selected ahead of Boeing's in that it consistently bested the Boeing design enough to earn the victory and was seen as a "lesser" financial risk in the long run. The X-32 also used a more conventional "vectored-thrust" approach, similar to that as employed in the Harrier, to complete its vertical and take-off approaches. The Northrop Grumman/McDonnell Douglas design employed an interesting Lift-Plus-Lift/Cruise methodology similar to that as found on the Soviet Yakovlev Yak-38 "Forger". The Lockheed team settled on a dedicated lift-fan system positioned just aft of the cockpit as well as a rotating rear engine exhaust nozzle to accomplish the same balanced result - with both propulsion units deriving lift power from the main engine. Lockheed's patented lift fan, though a new and untested, was deemed a more reasonable long-term approach. The lift-fan concept held some distinct advantages that the X-32's thrust vectoring system did not - primarily, the lift fan offered cooling for the downward-thrusted air, meaning that the chance of hot exhaust gasses re-entering the engine was minimized. Additionally, the space required for the lift-fan drive system was a benefit to the X-35A and X-35C designs as in more internal fuel. Since the USMC was more interested in a short-range, quick-react aircraft to begin with, range was a limitation that could be overlooked on the STOVL version of the X-35.
The designation of "F-35" was appointed to the new Lockheed production design.
Securing the X-35 contract for Lockheed was no small feat and there was plenty of finance at stake. With all options exercised, the X-35 program (and subsequent F-35 production) could net the firm some $200 billion dollars. Engine maker Pratt & Whitney was also onboard, receiving a $4 billion dollar contract for its part in the powerplant development and production. Not content to side idle, the British stepped in and invested $2 billion of their own money into the project, with the hopes of securing their first 5th generation - and first stealth - fighter.
The project also included major contributions from Northrop Grumman and British Aerospace (BAe).
The production F-35s were born out of three prototypes - the first being the X-35A produced out of the Skunk Works facility at Palmdale. The X-35A completed its first flight on October 24th, 2000, and was then transferred to Edwards Air Force Base for its rigorous trials including in-flight refueling runs and beyond the speed-of-sound flights. After 27 flight tests concluded on November 22nd, 2000, the vehicle was delivered back to Palmdale for conversion into the X-35B STOVL variant prototype. X-35C actually became the second aircraft constructed while the X-35A-X-35B conversion was taking place. Serving as a "back up" to the more complicated X-35B development, the X-35C was actually made ready to accept the lift-fan assembly should the X-35B find itself lost to accident or some other major complication. The first production F-35 Lightning II achieved first flight on December 15th, 2006. The first F-35A wrapped up flight testing at Edwards Air Force Base on October 23rd, 2008. Supersonic flight was achieved soon after on November 13th, 2008.
X-35B achieved first flight on June 24th, 2001, and accomplished a complete sustained hover cycle. In the end, the prototype accounted for 18 vertical take-off operations and no less than 27 hover landings. The production STOVL F-35B began its flight testing phase in 2008. The first F-35B (STOVL variant) achieved first flight on June 11th, 2008. The second F-35B known as BF-2 completed its first flight on February 25th, 2009 and its first aerial refueling exercise via probe and drogue on August 13th, 2009.
The carrier X-35C went airborne for the first time on December 16th, 2000. The X-35C then underwent a series of rigorous mock carrier landings to test out the validity of the modified airframe. The X-35C proved a pleasant beast to fly and excelled in the low-level, low-speed approaches the US Navy was looking for in their new aircraft. The X-35C completed testing by way of 73 total flights on March 11th, 2001. The production F-35C (USN variant) was revealed on July 28th, 2009 with an expected first flight some time during the remainder of 2009. The F-35 test program completed its 100th flight on June 23rd, 2009.
Per Lockheed, the F-35B for the USMC is expected to be delivered sometime in 2012 - the earliest of the three variants. The USAF is expected to take on deliveries of its F-35As sometime in 2013. The US Navy's F-35Cs are expected to be delivered in 2015. In the end, the lifespan of the airframe is estimated to last past the year 2030, perhaps even closer to 2040.
The F-35 features an Electro-Optical Distributed Aperture System (DAS) that will simultaneously inform the pilot of the battlefield situation from every angle of his aircraft. The aircraft will be able to single out and coordinate enemy aircraft in the sky as well as air-to-air and surface-to-air missile launches directed against the F-35. Explosions on the ground will also signal detection within the aircraft. Levels of automation has been implemented in the both the STOVL and conventional landing variants to help ease workflow. The aircraft will also supply enhanced pilot vision for both day and night sorties. The system was developed by Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control with Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems.
Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control and Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems has also geared up to provide the F-35 pilot with an all-new Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS). The EOTS is set to supply the F-35 pilot and his mount with the ability to detect and track targets from greater ranges out with a high level of accuracy. This will make the Lightning II one of the most - if not the most - deadly fighter ever to take the skies. The EOTS system is fitted to the underside portion of the nose assembly.
Stealth lessons learned since the flying days of Lockheed's F-117 Nighthawk have been evolved to a high degree in the F-35 Lightning II. The engine nozzle has been developed as a "stealth-friendly" axisymmetric component to further the aircraft's anti-radar characteristics while maintaining the smallest possible signature and overall profile.
Northrop Grumman Space Technology was charged with producing the modular F-35 avionics suite. Data sharing for the F-35 pilot will allow him to relay information to air- and ground-based allies as needed. The Lightning II will be setup with a satellite datalink allowing for Beyond-Line-of-Site (BLOS) communications as well as web-enabled logistical support. The communications suite was developed with the program's foreign partners to ensure a robust and adaptable system between each country's unique production aircraft.
The Lightning II will be fitted with a multi-mission AN/APG-81 series Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar system developed by Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems. The system will reportedly supply the F-35 pilot with an added level of situational awareness never seen in a fighter cockpit before as well as be able to detect, track and engage targets on land or in the air at far-reaching ranges than previously available. The radar can be set to act as a passive radar receiver.
The Distributed Infra-Red System (DIRS) is a collection of six internal sensors mounted about the aircraft airframe. What these infra-red implements do is provide an image of the aircraft's surroundings directly into the highly-advanced helmet donned by the pilot. This technology will allow the pilot to "see through" his aircraft at the world around him in infra-red, providing full 360-degree situational awareness.
The inlets of the F-35 have been made as diverterless fixtures. This approach has helped in producing a lighter overall assembly with no moving parts compared to the complex arrangements as found on conventional modern aircraft. These intakes are identifiable by their bulge along the fuselage side to spill off turbulent boundary layer air that builds up along the sides of the intake lips.
A Helmet Mounted Display System (HMDS) has found its way into the F-35. Developed by Vision Systems International LLC, the new helmet is billed to be the most advanced such system ever devised. The helmet will negate the need for the cockpit to fit a conventional Heads-Up Display (HUD) system and instead deliver critical mission and systems information directly to the helmet visor. The aircraft need not even be facing the target to track and engage it thanks to this special setup. The cockpit will be dominated by a single large 8"x20" panoramic Multi-Function Display System (MFDS) fitted across the top of the instrument panel. The projection display will be powered by fast processing capabilities and relay real-time information and high-resolution motion imagery to the F-35 pilot. The cockpit will also support Direct Voice Input through a speech recognition system and be fitted with a Martin-Baker US16E ejection seat (becoming common across all three F-35 production variants). Flight control will be through a conventional HOTAS setup with a left-side throttle and a right-side flight stick. Adaptability of the onboard systems is key and, as such, is highly-configurable to the mission at hand - be it air superiority or ground strike.
Primary propulsion for the F-35 is supplied by the Pratt & Whitney F135 turbofan series. A second powerplant - the upgraded F136 - is also being developed but this under a joint General Electric and Rolls-Royce branding. The F135 is an afterburning turbofan system delivering 25,000lbf on dry thrust with up to 42,000lbf on full afterburner. The engine resides within the middle and rear portion of the fuselage. Performance results have netted the F-35 a top speed of Mach 1.67 and a ceiling of up to 60,000 feet. The rate-of-climb remains classified as of this writing. G-limits vary based on variant model with the A-model receiving a 9g limit rating, the B- and C-models with a 7.5g-limit rating. Recent cost cuts have threatened the future of the improved F136 engine, however, so its disbursement in production aircraft remains to be seen. The F136 was consistently appeared on the chopping block for American politicians, only to live another day.
The F-35 also makes use the Lockheed Martin-patented Shaft-Driven Lift Fan (SDLF) to achieve vertical flight. The Lockheed lift-fan of the F-35 was built by Rolls-Royce Corporation of Indiana. The entire lift-fan system is made up of the fan itself, a clutch, two Roll Posts (wing-mounted thrust nozzles for roll control) and the drive shaft connecting the lift-fan to the powerplant while also working in conjunction with the Three Bearing Swivel Module (3BSM) - that is, the thrust vectoring nozzle at the tail of the aircraft. The lift-fan is powered by a two-stage turbine on the engine and works in conjunction with the downward vectored rear exhaust port and Rolls Posts to achieved a balanced lift cycle. The lift fan can generate up to 20,000lbs of lift (almost half of the vertical flight thrust), also providing cooling for downdrafting air compared to previous STOVL offerings. Air flow through the fan is controlled via variable inlet guide vanes.
The Variants - Beginning with the Base F-35A
The F-35 is being developed into three distinct variants for their respective operators. This should go on to prove a cost-cutting gesture as parts commonality is said to be somewhere near 80% across all three airframe types. The avionics suite is said to be near 100% common across the three airframes. Some parts used in the construction also closely resemble others and are referred to as "cousins" in commonality. The program has also stressed that the current F-35 build will be more easily upgradable than previous mounts as new technology comes online, again helping to drive down long term costs of operating, maintaining and upgrading the machine.
The F-35A is the conventional take-off and landing variant, or "CTOL", primarily for use with the United States Air Force but also representing the base export model. The F-35B will be a Short-Take-Off and Vertical Landing variant (STOVL) primarily for the United States Marine Corps and Royal Air Force and Royal Navy while the F-35C will become a conventional yet navalized form for use on aircraft carriers - this known s CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) - solely for use by the United States Navy.
The F-35A will feature an unrefueled range of 1,200 miles without external fuel tanks. The system will be armed with the standard internal 25mm GAU-22/A cannon. All munitions options will be primarily held in internal weapons bays that can house both air-to-air or air-to-surface ordnance or a mix of both. Air superiority armament will center around a pair of AIM-120C AMRAAM medium-range air-to-air missiles. Ground attack support will be made up of a pair of 2,000lb GBU-31 JDAM guided bombs with support for the carrying of up to 8 x GBU-38 bombs as well as current generation TV/laser-guided air-to-surface missiles, guided bombs and munitions dispensing bombs. External weapons pylons will be optional and fitted for sorties where stealth is not a mission requirement. Overall munitions-carrying capability will be limited to 18,000lbs of ordnance. The F-35A features a wing span of 35 feet with an overall length of 50.5 feet and a wing area of 460 square feet. Internal fuel is listed at 18,498lbs.
The STOVL F-35B
The F-35B is noted as the first aircraft of its kind to successfully combine the benefits of stealth technology with the benefits of STOVL capabilities. This will make the F-35B unique amongst any aircraft in history and allow the fighter to land and take-off from virtually any surface on the planet including moving naval ships and unprepared rough airfields and roads. This will further allow the F-35 to operate close to the front lines and deliver its potent payload against entrenched or advancing enemy forces with little limitation in operational range. Inherent range of this F-35 variant is reported from Lockheed to be around 900 miles on internal fuel stores alone. Standard armament will center around a pair of AIM-120C AMRAAM medium-range air-to-air missiles for self-defense. Ground strikes will be amplified by the carrying of 2 x 1,000lb GBU-32 JDAM guided bombs. Like the F-35A, the F-35B will make use of internal bomb bays for ordnance. Additional munitions options will include air-to-surface missiles, munitions dispensers, 6 x GBU-38 bombs and guided bombs. The 25mm GAU-22A Gatling cannon will be fitted into an external pod that will itself feature "stealth" capabilities to maintain the aircraft's low-profile signature. As in the F-35A, the F-35B can also make use of optional underwing external hardpoints to expand upon its mission lethality. Overall munitions-carrying capability will be limited to 15,000lbs of ordnance.
The F-35B is the most unique of the three F-35s. It incorporates the lift fan system, this positioned just aft of the cockpit. The fan is put into action when the pilot sets the aircraft into vertical flight mode for either take-off, hover or landing flight actions. The lift-fan works in conjunction with the positional aft thruster duct which itself is positioned at a downwards angle provide upwards thrust when in the vertical. The lift-fan acts as a counter-balance for the power emitted from the rear jet exhaust while also supplying cooler air into the hot jet wash being generated by the engine nozzle. The engine powers the lift fan via a drive shaft from the front of the engine. Twin Roll Posts control balance and rolling in much the same way the Harrier's vertical flight "puffer" jets worked through its ducted wings and fuselage points. The lift fan is seen in operation when a pair of dorsal and ventral doors are opened. Another set of panels just aft of the lift fan is also opened to provide the needed mass flow to the auxiliary engine. Many moving parts are required to work in unison for the F-35B so it will be interesting to see how the aircraft fends once in operational service. The primary customer of the F-35B is intended to be the USMC, Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and the Italian Navy. The Royal Air Force and Royal Navy have had much success and experience in the fielding of their Cold War-era Harrier jump jets.
The F-35B features a wingspan of 35 feet, a fuselage length of 50.5 feet and a wing area of 460 square feet. Internal fuel is listed at 13,326lbs. It is reported that Lockheed consulted with people at the Russian Yakovlev aircraft firm and purchased some relatable data during the development of the F-35B. Yakovlev had some experience with developing STOVL flight in their limited-production Yak-38 "Forger" for the Soviet Navy and the experimental Yak-141 "Freestyle", also meant for the Soviet Navy.
The Navalized F-35C
The navalized F-35C will become the US Navy's first stealth aircraft when it is inducted into operational service. Past attempts at such an aircraft have come up fruitless (as in the McDonnell Douglas/General Dynamics A-12 Avenger II and the Rockwell XFV-12). As a navalized version of the base F-35, the F-35C will be launched via steam catapults already serving 4th Generation fighter aircraft such as the F/A-18 Hornet. Retrieval will be via conventional arrestor hook-and-wire fielded across the carrier deck. The F-35C will sport a revised and reinforced undercarriage and internal structure for the rigors of carrier operations as well as a larger control surfaces for better low-speed, low-level performance). Folding wings also differentiate this model from the other two F-35s and serve to decrease valuable storage space on America's carriers. Range is expected to be about 1,200 miles on internal fuel alone. Like the other F-35s in the series, the F-35C will also make use of the AIM-120 AMRAAM medium-range air-to-air missile as well as 2 x 2,000lb GBU-31 JDAM guided bombs. 8 x GBU-38 bombs will also be a part of this Lightning II's forte and all ordnance will be stowed within internal bomb bays. Additional armament will include current air-to-surface guided missiles, conventional bombs, munitions dispensers and guided bombs. Munitions-carrying capability will be limited to 18,000lbs of ordnance. Like the F-35B, the F-35C will also mount its 25mm GAU-22A series cannon in an external pod fitting. Measurements of the F-35C include a span of 43 feet, a length of 50.8 feet and a wing area of 620 square feet. Internal fuel is listed at 19,624lbs.
At the time of this writing, the US Navy will be the sole operator of the F-35C variant. It remains to be seen whether this variant will be made available for export to other navies as very few actually operate the large-surface carriers today. Nations such as the UK and Italy usually operate smaller, less-expensive conventional types, capable of fielding the STOVL version of the F-35 instead, as they did with their previous Harriers.
Though the F-35 retains much of the same design philosophy and outward appearance of Lockheed's other 5th generation product (the F-22 Raptor) it is a wholly individual design. It is a smaller and somewhat slower design (less than Mach 2-capable) fitting a single Pratt & Whitney engine though it is refined for the ground strike role comparable to the F/A-18 Hornet and the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The fuselage features angular sharply-tapered edges. The cockpit is situated behind a short nose assembly housing the radar and interestingly sports a forward-hinged two-piece canopy. Seating is for one pilot and no HUDs system tops the forward instrument panel. Intakes are fitted to either side of the fuselage and are slanted to help promote a lesser intrusive forward and side signature. Wings are large-area, high-mounted assemblies with greater sweep along their leading edge and less sweep along the trailing edge. Wings are clipped at the tips and set at about the middle of the airframe. The split intakes feed the single engine housed in the bowels of the fuselage. The jet pipe ends in a single exhaust ring positioned aft. The empennage consists of a pair of outward-angled vertical tail fins with clipped wingtips while the horizontal planes (also clipped at the tips) are fitted at and well past the exhaust ring, giving the F-35 a very unique top-down/bottom-up profile. The undercarriage is retractable and made up of two main single-wheeled landing gear legs recessing into the fuselage sides and a single-wheeled nose landing gear leg recessing forwards under the cockpit floor. Another defining characteristic of the F-35 is the lack of conventional probes and vanes (with the exception of the nose-mounted one), these being held internally to help promote stealth.
Standard armament for the F-35A will be the GAU-22/A four-barrel 25mm cannon with 180 rounds afforded to the system. The F-35B and F-35C will both feature this same cannon but in an externally-mounted pod and with 220 rounds for the gun. The pod will feature stealth capabilities to not expand the signature of the F-35 airframe. To comply with its stealth requirements, the F-35 will primarily house its ordnance in internal bomb bays. Six optional external underwing pylons will provide the bulk of the weapons payload carrying capability (three stations to a wing with the outboard-most stations reserved for the AIM-9X Sidewinder missile). With the F-35 being more-or-less an international development effort, attention has also been given to making the Lightning II capable with the latest (and some upcoming) munitions available in the UK and NATO arsenals.
The F-35 Lightning II is the spiritual successor to the Lockheed P-38 Lightning. The P-38 was a memorable ace-making, twin-boom propeller-driven design seeing combat action in World War 2 across Europe and the Pacific. It is reportedly twice as load as a McDonnell Douglas/Boeing F-15 Eagle at take-off and double that noise during landing actions. Anyone that has heard the F-15 knows just how load the double engine setup can be. However, Lockheed was quick to state that the new F-35 is no more louder than the F-16. This remains to be seen (and heard).
The Indian Air Force may be a potential future F-35 user as might the Indian Navy (for the F-35B). It is though that a Lockheed sale of the F-35 to India is tied to a contingency of India purchasing some F-16 Fighting Falcons first (Lockheed no owns the General Dynamics F-16 brand). Other possible operators may someday be Finland, Brazil, Spain, Greece and South Korea. The US has refused sale to Taiwan for obvious Chinese-related political reasons. As a contributor, it is believed that Israel will eventually field at least 100 F-35A models to replace their aging F-16s in service.
Some potential customers have bypassed the $65 million+ cost of the F-35 Lightning II in favor of advanced 4.5th Generation fighters like the French Dassault Rafale, the Swedish Saab JAS 39 Gripen and the European consortium Eurofighter Typhoon - each capable aircraft in their own right.
If all of what is being reported by Lockheed, its supporters and media releases comes to pass, the F-35 Lightning II will be one exceptional fighter/fighter-bomber platform. It is intended to be leaps ahead of the competition in both air-to-air and air-to-ground roles as well as a superb reconnaissance platform when used in the role. Its stealth capabilities should prove the system highly potent and able to best most any defense in the modern world today. The costs of operating the three-in-one airframe should allow more procurement of the type in the future but this might be wishful thinking at best. It is said that the new F-35 will be cheaper to buy and maintain than the current crop of Cold War fighter-bombers in the US stable. This, however, is a hard fact to believe considering the amount of technology and resources tied to the F-35 project. If anything, such statistics and measurements are nothing more than a sales tool. Time will only tell just what kind of a platform the F-35 will truly be. And until the system is involved in some protracted conflict somewhere on the globe, its lethality will only read well on paper and online reports.