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The F-35 Lightning II -- The Future of Air Combat

A Stealth Bomber and Fighter Jet


August 27, 2013 - An F-35 Lightning II short take-off/vertical landing aircraft hovers prior to landing on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp.
Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

Despite the high cost and global politics involved in its development, the F-35 Lightning II aircraft remains the next generation fighter plane of choice for militaries around the world.

Two Aircraft In One  

The F-35 Lightning II – also known as the Joint Strike Fighter – is a combination stealth bomber and fighter jet that promises to revolutionize the future of air combat. The aircraft is being designed and built by a consortium of aerospace and defense companies such as Lockheed Martin Corp., Northrop Grumann Corp. and BAE Systems.

Expected to be in full production by 2014, the development of the F-35 Lightning II is being overseen by the U.S. Defense Department at a cost of $300 billion – making it one of the most expensive military initiatives in history. Lockheed Martin has stated that, once complete, the aircraft will function as the world’s premier combat aircraft through the year 2040. In the United States, the F-35 Lightning II will replace several aging and increasingly outdated military planes – including the F-16 and F/A-18 fighter jets.

Foreign Countries Planning to Purchase the F-35

Many of the United States closest allies are planning to use the F-35 Lightning II to upgrade their air combat capabilities. Several foreign countries have invested money in the aircraft’s design and development phases. Countries that are invested in the F-35 Lightning II include Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, and Turkey. Combined, these foreign countries have contributed $4.4 billion in the aircraft’s creation. Of that amount, nearly half – $2 billion – has come from Britain. Several Asian nations have expressed interest in the F-35 Lightning II program, including Singapore.

The Government of Australia has committed to buy a total of 100 F-35 Lightning II aircraft at a cost of $16 billion (Australian dollars), and plans to use the next generation combat plane to replace its F-111 bombers and FA-18 fighter jets. In Canada, the country’s defense department has been involved in the aircraft’s development from the start. To date, the Government of Canada has invested $150 million in the aircraft’s development. Canada’s Air Force will use the F-35 Lightning II to replace its fleet of CF-18 fighter jets – many of which are now more than 20 years old.

Foreign governments have been attracted to the impressive capabilities of the F-35 Lightning II, and also want to ensure that their next generation combat planes are capable of integrating with the aircraft of their closest allies – notably the United States, which remains the world’s leading military power. This is especially true of countries such as Britain and Canada, which are involved in strategic military alliances with the United States such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and, in the case of Canada, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

Capabilities and Multiple Roles

Some of the more impressive capabilities of the F-35 Lightning II include the ability to travel at supersonic speeds; the latest stealth technology to keep it off enemy radars; advanced targeting systems; and a full suite of cutting edge weapons – including a 25 millimeter cannon, air-to-air missiles, and 2,000 pound bombs. The development team is also building in the capability to carry a nuclear bomb onboard the aircraft.

The U.S. Defense Department has stated that the F-35 Lightning II will be able to perform many different functions such as air support, strategic bombing campaigns, and air defense missions. Once operational, the F-35 Lightning II will come in three different models that will allow for conventional runway takeoffs and landings; shorter length takeoffs and vertical landings; and takeoff and landing onboard aircraft carriers.

Development of the F-35 Lightning II has experienced some delays and been the subject of political wrangling in Washington, D.C. and among foreign governments. However, industry analysts see these troubles as growing pains that will be corrected by Lockheed Martin and the other design team members. To date, the F-35 Lightning II has been test flown by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps, and Britain’s Royal Air Force.

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