Here's Why The F-35 Is Going To Be The Allied Fighter Of The 21st Century

Photo: Lockheed Martin

It’s no secret that spiraling F-35 development costs have made the aircraft the most expensive weapons project ever; it’s a project that’s become almost too big too fail.Japan’s announcement that it is buying 42 F-35s gives a much needed credibility boost to Lockheed, which continues to reel from a string of serious problems outlined by in a November 2011 Pentagon report obtained by the Project on Government Oversight.

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All told, for 20-years of service, Japan expects to pay about $1 billion a year for its fleet of F-35s, and many potential buyers are questioning whether it’s worth it. The Lockheed fighter is great for penetrating enemy defenses undetected, doing its thing and getting back to base safely — all reasons that make the jet a sensible purchases for potential buyers like South Korea and India.

But Australia has committed to the F-35, and Singapore is slated to give its final decision in October, and as Trefor Moss at The Diplomat points out, both countries have far greater defensive needs than the F-35 may provide.

Canada has signed on for the F-35 to replace its fleet of CF-18s, with Britain, the Netherlands, Italy and Israel also vocalizing their intentions to snatch up the fighter for their troops.

With the list of buyers and potential buyers continuing to grow, the threat of a budget cut on the program from the U.S. is diminished and the likelihood that Lockheed will remedy the planes faults improves. The only question that remains is how long this will take.

Buyers have a choice of three configurations for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. While all three share 80 per cent of their parts the variations are:

  • F-35A, conventional take off and landing (CTOL) variant.
  • F-35B, short-take off and vertical-landing (STOVL) variant.
  • F-35C, carrier-based CATOBAR (CV) variant.

Lockheed promises the F-35 will be four times more effective than contemporary fighters in air-to-ground combat, three times more effective in reconnaissance and suppression, with better range, improved support, and equal costs.

Regardless of which configurations allies choose or how long it will take to get them, the F-35 likely has too many countries, that have invested too much, to ever let it fail.

Three models: CTOL: conventional takeoff and landing, STOVL: short takeoff vertical landing, CATOBAR: catapult Assisted Take Off Barrier Arrested Recovery

The Air Force will buy 1,763 conventional models and the Navy will take 680 short takeoff and carrier models

Britain, Canada, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Turkey, Italy, and Austria will contribute $4.8 billion apiece to development and intend to purchase 700 aircraft

Israel became the first foreign buyer, when it placed a $2.75 billion deposit to buy 19 F-35s, intending to purchase 75 of the fighter jets over time

Other interested countries include Singapore, South Korea, Finland, Spain, Greece, and Belgium

At just over 50-feet long, the F-35 hits Mach 1.6, has a range of up to 1,200 nautical miles, and can carry 18,000 pounds of weapons

The Pentagon says it will cost about $1 trillion to maintain and operate the F-35 over the next 50-years

Lockheed officials say operating and maintaining the F-35 will cost about half the amount to maintain older fighters

Including research and development the cost of each F-35 now stands at about $304 million

The F-35 is named after the World War II twin-prop Lockheed P-38 Lightning

Pentagon sources say that in 2007 and 2008 hackers stole several terabytes of F-35 development data, potentially allowing enemies to create defenses against the system

In February 2010 the government withheld $614 million to Lockheed over delays and cost overruns

The final configuration of the F-35 isn't expected to be complete until 2018

The F-35 is only one component in the US arsenal

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