Can something that purports to do everything really excel at everything? Or to put it another way, will the F-35 Lightening II defy the Phillips Brooks adage “To be good for everything is to be good for nothing”? And at what eventual price? And how many will actually be made and for whom?
No fighter in the history of military aviation comes close to the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter – a truly transformational weapon system that provides quantum leaps in survivability and lethality.
• Provides the United States and allied governments with an affordable, stealthy 5TH generation fighter for the 21st century
• Brings stealth capability that is integrated throughout the aircraft with embedded antennas, aligned edges and special coatings and materials
• Meets multiple service requirements with a single-engine supersonic multirole fighter
• Conducts air-to-air and air-to-ground combat missions simultaneously with near impunity
• Carries a comprehensive sensor package that integrates vast amounts of battlespace information with allied forces in the air, on the ground, at sea or in space
The single-engine F-35 Lightning II will be manufactured in three variants:
• Conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) for the U.S. Air Force
• Carrier variant (CV) for the U.S. Navy
• Short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) for the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.K. Royal Air Force and Royal Navy
With greatly increased reliability and ease of maintenance, the F-35 joins the world’s only other 5TH generation fighter, the F-22 Raptor, in defining the ultimate in fighter performance.
September 8, 2008: A would-be watchdog growls at Lockheed Martin…
The DoD currently plans to spend more than USD 10 billion to produce fewer than 100 F-35s per year at peak production. USAF leaders would like to increase the production rate and add in a few more F-22s. That plan is irresponsibly unaffordable (which contributed to the recent departure of the Secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force Chief of Staff). The unaffordability will become even more obvious when the unavoidable F-35 cost increases emerge. The inevitable reaction, just as in past programmes, will be a slashing of annual production, the opposite of the increase the air force needs to address its inventory problems. The DoD fix is simple: test the F-35 less and buy more copies before the testing is completed. Two test aircraft and hundreds of flight-test hours have been eliminated from the programme, and there is now a plan to produce more than 500 copies before the emasculated testing is finished. This approach will not fix the programme but it will help paper over the problems and make the F-35 more cancellation proof in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill.
It gets even worse. Even without new problems, the F-35 is a ‘dog.’ If one accepts every performance promise the DoD currently makes for the aircraft, the F-35 will be: “Overweight and underpowered: at 49,500 lb (22,450kg) air-to-air take-off weight with an engine rated at 42,000 lb of thrust, it will be a significant step backward in thrust-to-weight ratio for a new fighter. ” At that weight and with just 460 sq ft (43 m2) of wing area for the air force and Marine Corps variants, it will have a ‘wing-loading’ of 108 lb per square foot. Fighters need large wings relative to their weight to enable them to manoeuvre and survive. The F-35 is actually less manoeuvrable than the appallingly vulnerable F-105 ‘Lead Sled’ that got wiped out over North Vietnam in the Indochina War.
With a payload of only two 2,000 lb bombs in its bomb bay – far less than US Vietnam-era fighters – the F-35 is hardly a first-class bomber either. With more bombs carried under its wings, the F-35 instantly becomes ‘non-stealthy’ and the DoD does not plan to seriously test it in this configuration for years. As a ‘close air support’ attack aircraft to help US troops engaged in combat, the F-35 is a nonstarter. It is too fast to see the tactical targets it is shooting at; too delicate and flammable to withstand ground fire; and it lacks the payload and especially the endurance to loiter usefully over US forces for sustained periods as they manoeuvre on the ground. Specialised for this role, the air force’s existing A-10s are far superior.
September 19, 2008: A promptly issued rebuttal…
Other erroneous allegations about the program were recently made in a letter distributed and written by industry-watchers Winston Wheeler and Pierre Sprey.
“It’s not clear why they attacked the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program,” said Tom Burbage, Lockheed Martin executive vice president of F-35 program integration. “It is clear they don’t understand the underlying requirements of the F-35 program, the capabilities needed to meet those requirements or the real programmatic performance of the JSF team.”
Here are the facts:
• The F-35 is a racehorse, not a “dog,” as Wheeler/Sprey suggest. In stealth combat configuration, the F-35 aerodynamically outperforms all other combat-configured 4th generation aircraft in top-end speed, loiter, subsonic acceleration and combat radius. This allows unprecedented “see/shoot first” and combat radius advantages.
• The high thrust-to-weight ratios of the lightweight fighter program Wheeler/Sprey recall from 30 years ago did not take into consideration combat-range fuel, sensors or armament, which dramatically alter wing loading, thrust-to-weight ratios and maneuverability. We do consider all of this in today’s fighters.
• The F-35 has the most powerful engine ever installed in a fighter, with thrust equivalent to both engines today in Eurofighter or F/A-18 aircraft. The conventional version of the F-35 has 9g capability and matches the turn rates of the F-16 and F/A-18. More importantly, in a combat load, with all fuel, targeting sensor pods and weapons carried internally, the F-35’s aerodynamic performance far exceeds all legacy aircraft equipped with a similar capability.
• When the threat situation diminishes so that it is safe for legacy aircraft to participate in the fight, the F-35 can also carry ordnance on six external wing stations in addition to its four internal stations.
Other important facts:
• External weapon clearance is part of the current F-35 test program.
• The government has already proven that no other aircraft can survive against the 5th generation stealth that only the F-22 and the F-35 possess; it is impossible to add this stealth to fourth-generation fighters.
• The F-35’s data collection, integration and information sharing capabilities will transform the battlespace of the future and will redefine the close air support mission. The F-35 is specifically designed to take advantage of lessons learned from the F-117 stealth aircraft. Unlike the F-117, the ability to share tactically important information is built into the F-35, along with stealth.
• F-35 is developing, testing, and fielding mature software years ahead of legacy programs, further reducing development risk. The F-35’s advanced software, already flying on two test aircraft with remarkable stability, is demonstrating the advantages of developing highly-common, tri-variant aircraft. The software developed span the entire aircraft and support systems including the aircraft itself, logistics systems, flight and maintenance trainers, maintenance information system and flight-test instrumentation.
• Rather than relying exclusively on flight testing, the F-35 is retiring development risk through the most comprehensive laboratories, sensor test beds, and integrated full-fusion flying test bed ever created for an aircraft program. Representing only 25% of our verification plans, still the F-35’s flight test program is comparable in hours to the combined flight test programs of the three primary U.S. aircraft it will replace.
• The F-35 is one aircraft program designed to replace many different types of aircraft around the world – F-16, F/A-18, F-117, A-10, AV-8B, Sea Harrier, GR.7, F-111 and Tornado – flown by 14 air forces.
• In addition to 19 developmental test aircraft, the F-35 is producing 20 fully instrumented, production-configured operational test aircraft. No program in history has employed this many test vehicles.
“Simply put, advanced stealth and sensor fusion allow the F-35 pilot to see, target and destroy the adversary and strategic targets in a very high surface-to-air threat scenario, and deal with air threats intent on denying access — all before the F-35 is ever detected, then return safely to do it again,” said Burbage.
October 11, 2008: Italy opts against F-35 fighter early phase role
Italy’s decision to steer clear for now would not affect planned yearly increases in F-35 production quantities, said Cheryl Amerine, a Lockheed Martin spokeswoman.
Officials at the Italian embassy in Washington had no immediate comment. Amerine said she did not know the reason Italy had opted against taking part in the operational test and evaluation phase.
November 13, 2008: F-22’s Fate Left to Obama Administration
The Pentagon tossed Lockheed Martin a $50 million lifeline for the F-22 Raptor fighter jet Wednesday but left the next administration a plan that calls for ending F-22 purchases to speed production of the F-35 joint strike fighter.
originally posted December 2008