Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the most expensive acquisition in military history and one of the most controversial. Currently seven years behind schedule and $167 billion over budget, the F-35 program could cost over $US1 trillion over its lifetime.
Despite that, the U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy are sticking by the F-35 program, partially because the Air Force and Marine Corps have no alternatives, but also because of the great promise that the F-35 shows.
The F-35 evolved out of the Joint Strike Fighter competition, which was aimed at building a next-generation aircraft that could replace a range of fighter, strike, and ground attack aircraft, in 1996.
The Pentagon has bought 29 F-35s this year. It has requested funding to buy an additional 34 aircraft for the 2015 fiscal year.
At the same time, Boeing has been loudly criticising the F-35’s stealth vulnerabilities in an attempt to get the Navy to buy more of its radar jamming champion EA-18G Growlers to support the Joint Strike Fighter.
The F-35, developed by Lockheed Martin, is meant to replace a range of fighter, strike, and ground attack aircraft.
In development for more than a decade as part of the Joint Strike Fighter program, it is the single most expensive military procurement in U.S. military history and could have a lifetime cost of more than $US1 trillion.
The F-35A is being purchased by the U.S. Air Force. It is the smallest variant of the F-35 and is intended to replace both the F-16, a multi-role fighter aircraft, and the A-10, a close air support plane.
The F-35B is slightly larger than the F-35A, but it can perform a short takeoff and land vertically, like a helicopter. The U.S. Marine Corps plans on replacing the F/A-18 Hornet, a multi-role fighter, and the AV-8B Harrier II, a ground-attack aircraft, with the F-35B.
The F-35C is the Navy variant of the F-35, and it has been designed to function with the landing hooks and catapults on an aircraft carrier. It also has the longest range of any of the variants. The Navy intends for the F-35C to replace its F/A-18 Hornet fleet.
The design of the F-35 was based partially on Lockheed Martin's F-22, a fifth-generation stealth supersonic supermaneuverable fighter aircraft. The F-35 has more advanced stealth as well as a broader range of capabilities.
Recent increases in Russian radar technology could render the F-35's stealth outdated, however, due to the plane's tail. The tail fins scatter particles in the very high frequency electromagnetic spectrum that could be detected by certain radar technologies. The VHF spectrum is commonly used for FM radio transmissions and air traffic control communications.
The F-35 does come with a radar jammer, but the jamming capability is isolated to the X-band of the electromagnetic spectrum, rendering it useless against radar detectors that work in other wavelengths.
Boeing has pounced upon this failure of its competitor to urge the Navy to buy more Boeing EA-18G Growlers, which are the undisputed champion of radar jamming.
Growlers are specially built for use in electromagnetic warfare. Boeing believes they could complement the F-35's lack of total stealth by jamming all hostile electromagnetic signals.
A key selling points of the F-35 is its state-of-the-art cockpit, which provides pilots with enhanced situational awareness.
The F-35's helmet is linked up to a series of cameras across the body of the aircraft. This enables the pilot to look around the cockpit and see directly through the cameras at the world outside.
Six passive infrared sensors distributed across the body of the aircraft can alert the pilot to incoming missiles, pinpoint a missile launch location, track approaching aircraft, and replace traditional night vision goggles in a 360 degree circle around the F-35.
The F-35's augmented reality overview is run by a computer system called ALIS, which contains all the sensitive mission information.
ALIS can also ground a plane in case any mechanical problems are detected before takeoff. Worryingly, ALIS could conceivably be hacked, causing an F-35 to become bricked and inoperable.
There are also concerns that Chinese hackers could have stolen sensitive information relating to the F-35's design, eroding its tactical advantage.
In terms of weapons, every F-35 contains six external pylons for mounting weapons along with two internal bays containing two pylons each. Armaments within the F-35 depend upon the variety.
F-35s can carry a mixed combination of air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, anti-ship missiles, and a mixture of cluster, guided, and even nuclear bombs.
F-35s have reached speeds as high as Mach 1.61 in testing and have a maximum combat radius of 584 nautical miles on internal fuel.
There have been recent concerns over the cracking of the bulkhead in the F-35B during stress tests, prompting the possibility of further modifications to the plane.
International partners for the F-35 include Canada, the U.K., Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, Denmark, Norway, Israel, and Singapore. The different levels of being a partner are based upon financial contributions to the project.
(image url='http://static.businessinsider.com/image/530cdcc96bb3f7c13e69e8d5-1200-924/a-10-warthog-firing-missile-1.jpg' alt='A-10 Warthog firing missile' link='lightbox' size='secondary' align='right' clear='true')
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