Unfortunately, no news this week that I could find, so instead I will be talking about the F-35 and how it has in many ways, failed the system and is set to be a sub-par compromise to the F-22.
The F-35 Lightning II strike fighter has been designed and built by Lockheed Martin and is a single engine stealth strike fighter. Lockheed Martin has been contracted to produce 2300 of these jets for $1.6 trillion over the next 40 years.
The F-35 is the end product of the JSF project, and has 3 variants, shown above. The A version is the standard air force version, the B version is designed for the Marine Corps and British Navy, it is designed to take off and land like a helicopter. This is called a VTOL variant. The C version has larger wings and tail fins, and is designed to be used on aircraft carriers.
The story of the F-35 begins in the early 90’s. Back in those days, America had two fighter jet programs. The first was called Common Affordable Lightweight Fighter or CALF. CALF was a US Marines project to produce a stealthy VTOL Airplane. What is VTOL? VTOL is an abbreviation for Vertical Takeoff/Landing, this means a VTOL plane can swivel it’s engine and take off or land like a helicopter. The US Marines and the UK Navy needed VTOLs since their Aircraft Carriers were too small to carry conventional planes. You don’t need to be an engineer to figure out that making a plane that can hover like a helicopter is very tricky. VTOL airplanes are also heavier, wider and more expensive than their regular counterparts, for example, the British Harrier jump jet carries very little weaponry, and cannot fly at supersonic speeds.The second project was the Joint Advanced Strike Technology. JAST was supposed to be an Air Force stealth attack Jet with enough air combat ability to defend itself.
In the 90’s, JAST and CALF were merged into a single project called the Joint Strike Fighter program. This was a bad idea because firstly this is forcing one design to perform too many different jobs, lots of compromises were made. Secondly, VTOL planes sacrifice performance to have the ability to hover? Even the F-35A and C version, which can’t hover, carries with them the problems that VTOL has brought. To dumb it down, the F-35B passed it’s performance sacrifice to it’s siblings just so they can stay in the same family.
Boeing and Lockheed Martin, the two biggest defence businesses in the US, both submitted a design to the government. The two companies were given the thumbs up to build prototypes. Both prototypes were required to be VTOLs. This is the F-35’s first big problem. The F-35B is the basis of the other two designs, even though the F-35A is the main/standard version. Instead, the F-35A is simply a modification of CALF/F-35B, and as mentioned before, this meant that VTOL problems from the F-35B were passed onto the F-35A.
This was Boeing’s design. This X-32 had a huge air intake and was nicknamed the pelican.
Lockheed Martin’s X-35 was a sleeker and more conservative design. This was chosen as the winning design for the JSF program. Firstly because the X-35’s engine arrangement was less risky, and secondly because the production process was seen as being simpler. Overall the X-35 did pretty well in testing, problem is that this prototype lacked resemblance to the proportional F-35s. Because the X-35 was so different from the F-35 (It didn’t have weapons bay doors and avionics equipment), engineers had to estimate the final specifications of the F-35. The production F-35A is 8% heavier and 13% more expensive than original estimates. Bombs and missiles are placed inside the F-35 to avoid being detected by radar. There are a total of four weapons pylons, each could carry an AIM-120 missile or 1000lb (453 kg) bomb. Additional weapons can be carried on the wings, although this compromises stealth.
All F-35s uses the F135 engine, most powerful engine to ever be installed in a fighter airplane. It generates a mind blowing 190kN/43,000lb of thrust with the afterburner. The F135 is based off the F119 engine used on the F-22 Raptor. To hover, the engine nozzle of the modified F135 engine for the F-35B points downwards to push up the rear of the plane, the a shaft from the engine drives a fan in the from to lift up the front of the plane. Two small nozzles at the sides help balance the F-35B. The jet exhaust is so hot that the US Navy has to rebuild their ship’s decks to prevent the steel from bending. Sailors are also issued new earmuff to protect them form ‘the thundering 152 decibel roar’.
The JAST and CALF programs were combined into the F-35. The reason behind that was to save money by increasing the number of commonly used parts. A F-35A costs 92 million USD (75 million GBP), without it’s 22 million USD (18 million GBP) engine. The total cost to buy a F-35C is now around 160 million USD total (130 million GBP).
Here is a graphic showing all of the specific problems of the F-35 in more detail. If I was to sit here listing all the problems I would be here all night!
In conclusion, the US forced one design, which was actually 3 separate designs, to do so many different jobs that it had a mental breakdown. We then relied so heavily on hi-tech radar and stealth that someone actually forgot how to design a fighter jet. The end of the F-22 is also a bad thing for the F-35, as when engineers were designing the F-35, America’s finest combat aircraft, the F-22 was still in production. Now that the F-22 production has been cut, the F-35 have to bore the brunt of future air combat. Nobody can cancel the F-35/JSF project anymore. There are simply so much money behind it and so many nations (13) that depend on the F-35 for their future. There is no Plan B ‘if’ the F-35 fails, the F-35 is suppose to be Plan A-Z.
F-35A in testing. Note the bulge on the side for the gatling gun.