- The top US defence contractor Lockheed Martin has unveiled a new weapons rack meant to increase the internal air-to-air missile carrying capacity of the F-35.
- The new weapons rack – Sidekick – is designed to allow the fifth-generation fighters to carry an additional AIM-120 Amraam in each of its two internal weapons bays, increasing the weapons capacity to six from four.
- The Sidekick weapons rack is intended to give the F-35As and F-35Cs mainly flown by the Air Force and Navy a firepower boost without sacrificing stealth.
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Lockheed Martin has developed a new weapons rack meant to give the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter a boost in firepower without sacrificing stealth, the defence contractor announced Wednesday.
The fifth-generation stealth fighters today can carry four AIM-120 radar-guided air-to-air missiles, but the new weapons rack – Sidekick – will allow the aircraft to hold an additional Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile in each of the aircraft’s two internal weapons bays, Lockheed’s F-35 test pilot Tony “Brick” Wilson said at a media briefing, according to Seapower Magazine.
That would raise the number of Amraams the F-35 can carry to six from four, giving the fighter more to throw at an enemy fighter or drone in air combat.
The F-35 stores weapons internally to maintain stealth. Presently, a strictly internal loadout allows the fighter to carry up to 5,700 pounds of ordnance.
Internally, the planes can carry a full set of Amraams or a mixture of air-to-air missiles and air-to-surface Joint Direct Attack Munitions.
The aircraft can also operate in “beast mode,” a combined internal and external loadout that allows the F-35 to fly into battle with up to 22,000 pounds of weaponry – but this configuration degrades the jet’s stealth advantage.
Lockheed’s new Sidekick weapons rack will reportedly be available for the Air Force F-35As and Navy F-35Cs but not the Marine Corps F-35Bs. These planes have smaller weapons bays because of a lift fan needed for short takeoff and vertical landing, a requirement for operations aboard US amphibious assault ships.
The F-35 program office first mentioned efforts to add capacity for another Amraam in each weapons bay two years ago. “There’s a lot of engineering work to go with that,” the program’s director explained at the time, according to Air Force Magazine.
Speaking with reporters Wednesday, Wilson said the “extra missiles add a little weight but are not adding extra drag.” He also said the F-35 had the ability to eventually carry hypersonic missiles should that capability be necessary.
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