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F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lockheed Martin
F-35 Lightning II
Multi-Role Fighter

The F-35 was declared winner of the US Department of Defense Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) competition in 2001 when the Lockheed Martin X-35 was judged superior to the Boeing X-32. In 2006, the aircraft was named Lightning II in honor of the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and the English Electric Lightning that saw success in earlier eras.

The goal of the F-35 is to provide a family of three distinct variants of a multi-role fighter that use a 70% to 90% common airframe to reduce production and maintenance costs. The JSF is a joint program between the United States and United Kingdom, and several other international partners are also participating in the development effort. The primary customers dictating the design specifications for the various F-35 models are the US Air Force, US Navy, US Marine Corps, and UK Royal Navy. The overall design developed by Lockheed with partners Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems resembles a scaled-down F-22, but each F-35 variant is tailored to the specific needs of its operators.

The simplest and least expensive model is the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) version based on the X-35A. Intended primarily for the US Air Force, the F-35A is also likely to be purchased by a number of export customers. Italy and the Netherlands are Level II partners while Level III partners include Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, and Turkey. Both Singapore and Israel are also foreign military sales participants. The F-35 CTOL variant will be optimized for attack duties with a limited air-to-air capability to complement the F-15 and F-22.

The US Navy needs much the same capabilites in its F-35C carrier variant (CV) model based on the X-35C. This model is intended to complement the F-18E/F and give the Navy its first dedicated stealth attack aircraft. However, the F-35 CV is modified to meet more stringent range and landing requirements. The most obvious of these modifications is a 35% larger wing permitting a higher fuel capacity and providing greater wing area for improved lift at low speeds. Other changes to the F-35 CV version include larger fin and elevator surfaces, ailerons in addition to flaperons on the wing, enlarged control surfaces, a modified control system, strengthened landing gear, a catapult launch bar on the twin-wheel nose gear, an arrester hook, and a wing folding mechanism.

Perhaps the most critically needed F-35 variant is the most complex, the F-35B short/vertical takeoff and landing (STOVL) model based on the X-35B. This model is intended to replace the aging AV-8B and GR.5/7 Harrier II operated by the US Marines, Royal Navy, and Royal Air Force. The F-35B variant features a ducted lift fan located in an enlarged spine just aft of the cockpit. This fan takes the place of a fuel tank carried aboard the other F-35 models and is used to provide most of the lift needed for vertical flight. The main engine powers the lift fan and is also equipped with a unique swivelling nozzle that can redirect thrust aft for level flight or down for vertical flight.

Unfortunately, the complexity of the F-35 STOVL model has also caused development problems for the JSF program. The early design of the F-35B proved to be significantly overweight, and the program was delayed by over a year as engineers struggled to meet the ambitious performance and cost goals. The solution ultimately adopted was to reduce the size of the internal weapon bays in comparison to the other F-35 models. While the bays for the CTOL and CV variants are designed for 2,000-lb weapons, the largest weapon the F-35B can carry internally is the 1,000-lb GBU-32 JDAM. The vertical tails of the F-35 STOVL have also been shortened to reduce weight.

Design of the JSF has placed the greatest emphasis on advanced weapons concepts and affordability. One of the most sophisticated features common to the various Lightning II models is an integrated core processor that fuses information from all the aircraft's sensors into a single, coordinated view of the battlefield. Among these sensors is an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar with a synthetic aperture radar mapping mode to provide the pilot with far more precise search and targeting capabilites than exist in today's attack fighters. The F-35 is also equipped with an infrared search and track (IRST) system for air-to-air combat while advanced air-to-ground combat features include an electro-optical targeting system (EOTS) with a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) imager, a targeting laser, a laser spot tracker, and a CCD TV camera. The F-35's sophisticated software is capable of analyzing the information these sensors provide using an automatic target recognition and classification (ATRC) system to identify specific targets.

Other advances aboard the Lightning II include a speech recognition system that detects a pilot's spoken commands and operates various systems without the need to press buttons or flip switches. While stealth is also emphasized through the use of internal weapon bays and low obervable shaping techniques, sacrifices have been made to lower costs and ease maintenance. As a result, the F-35 is not as stealthy as the F-22 or B-2.

During the current system development and demonstration phase of the program, 14 F-35 aircraft are being built to perform flight tests leading to initial production. These Lightning II test aircraft include five CTOL, four CV, and five STOVL models. An additional eight ground test articles are being built for static testing, drop testing, and radar signature evaluation. Low-rate initial production is already underway in preparation for a full production rate goal of one aircraft per day by 2016.

F-35 orders remain a matter of debate, but current plans call for the US and UK to purchase approximately 2,600 aircraft. The US Air Force originally planned for 2,036 F-35A aircraft but reduced its requirement to 1,763 in 1997. This total remains the offical requirement though the Air Force has unofficially indicated its order may be reduced to between 1,000 and 1,300 aircraft. Some number of these may also be F-35B models as the Air Force has expressed a requirement for up to 250 STOVL aircraft for close air support missions. Such a purchase would likely assist in reducing unit cost and improving the stability of the STOVL program, which has often been targeted for possible cancellation.

The US Navy and Marine Corps have also begun closer joint operations of their combat aircraft wings in part to reduce the need for new aircraft. The Marines originally requested 642 F-35B models while the Navy planned for 300 F-35C variants. In 1997, these figures were refined to 609 for the Marines and 480 for the Navy for a total of 1,089 F-35 aircraft. As of 2004, that total had been reduced to 680 aircraft. The purchase includes 260 F-35C carrier-based planes for the Navy plus 80 F-35C and 340 F-35B STOVL airframes for the Marines.

Like the Marines, the Royal Navy may split its order between the F-35 STOVL and F-35 CV models since the F-35C could potentially be operated aboard the UK's large aircraft carriers due to enter service in the 2010s. The total UK order has shrunk from 150 to 138 to 50 aircraft and will now only be purchased for the Royal Navy to operate on a single aircraft carrier. The Royal Air Force has opted to replace the Harrier with Typhoons rather than the F-35.

In addition to US and UK orders, the potential exists for over 2,000 F-35 sales to export customers. The international partners currently involved in the program have expressed tentative plans for nearly 600 aircraft. Australia has ordered 14 and expressed an ultimate need for 100. Israel has ordered 20 with an option for 75 more. Italy is interested in up to 131 planes (including 22 F-35B models for the Navy), Turkey is considering 116, the Netherlands 85, Canada 60, and Denmark and Norway may buy 48 apiece. The F-35 program is encouraging international partners to commit to firm orders as soon as possible. Convincing the partners to do so may prove difficult, however, given past development delays that have driven up costs and pushed service entry back from 2011 to 2013. These delays may cause international partners to instead order competing aircraft like the Gripen or Eurofighter Typhoon that are already in production. Norway has threatened to pull out of the program over workshare concerns, and Israel's involvement was suspended for several months in retaliation for possible technology transfer to China. Regardless, export sales are expected to be strong and F-35 production will likely last until at least 2030. Other potential export customers include Brazil, Finland, Greece, Japan, India, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, and Taiwan.

Data below subject to change as more information becomes available
Last modified 16 March 2011

First Flight (X-35A) 24 October 2000
(X-35B) 23 June 2001
(X-35C) 16 December 2000
(F-35A) 15 December 2006
(F-35B) 11 June 2008
(F-35C) 6 June 2010
Service Entry

(F-35A) planned for about 2013
(F-35B) planned for about 2014
(F-35C) planned for about 2014

CREW: one: pilot


(F-35A) $45 million [2004$]
(F-35B) $60 million [2004$]
(F-35C) $55 million [2004$]
average unit cost estimated at $77 million [2008$]
average unit cost estimated between $89.5 million and $112 million [2010$]

Wing Root unknown
Wing Tip


Length (F-35A) 50.5 ft (15.4 m)
(F-35B) 50.5 ft (15.4 m)
(F-35C) 50.8 ft (15.5 m)
Wingspan (F-35A) 35.0 ft (10.7 m)
(F-35B) 35.0 ft (10.7 m)
(F-35C) 43.0 ft (13.1 m)
(F-35C) 29.83 ft (9.1 m) folded
Height (F-35A) 15.0 ft (4.6 m)
(F-35B) 15.0 ft (4.6 m) (?)
(F-35C) 15.5 ft (4.7 m)
Wing Area (F-35A) 460 ft² (42.7 m²)
(F-35B) 460 ft² (42.7 m²)
(F-35C) 620 ft² (57.6 m²)
Canard Area

not applicable

Empty (F-35A) about 22,500 lb (9,980 kg)
(F-35B) about 23,500 lb (10,660 kg)
(F-35C) about 24,000 lb (10,885 kg)
Normal Takeoff unknown
Max Takeoff about 50,000 lb (22,680 kg)
Fuel Capacity internal:
(F-35A) 18,500 lb (8,390 kg)
(F-35B) 13,325 lb (6,045 kg)
(F-35C) 19,625 lb (8,900 kg)
external: unknown
Max Payload

(F-35A) 13,000 lb (5,895 kg)
(F-35B) 11,000 lb (4,990 kg)
(F-35C) 17,000 lb (7,710 kg)

Powerplant (F-35A/C) one Pratt & Whitney F135 turbofan
(F-35B) one Pratt & Whitney F135 turbofan and one Rolls-Royce/Allison shaft-driven lift-fan
Thrust (PW) about 35,000 lb (155 kN)
(RR) about 18,000 lb (80 kN)

Max Level Speed at altitude: at least Mach 1.5
at sea level: unknown
Initial Climb Rate unknown
Service Ceiling unknown
Range (F-35B) 1,080 nm (2,000 km)
(F-35C) 1,620 nm (3,000 km)
Endurance unknown
g-Limits (F-35A) +9.0 / -3.0

Gun (F-35A) one 25-mm GAU-12 cannon
(F-35B) one external 25-mm GAU-12 gun pod
(F-35C) one external 25-mm GAU-12 gun pod
Stations four hardpoints in two internal weapon bays plus six external hardpoints
Air-to-Air Missile (internal) AIM-120C AMRAAM, AIM-132 ASRAAM
(external) AIM-9X Sidewinder, AIM-120B/C AMRAAM
Air-to-Surface Missile (internal) AGM-154 JSOW, Brimstone
(external) AGM-65 Maverick, AGM-88 HARM, AGM-158 JASSM, Storm Shadow
Bomb (internal) up to two GBU-12 Paveway laser-guided, up to two GBU-31/32/38 JDAM, up to two CBU-87/89 cluster, up to two CBU-103/104/105 WCMD
(external) GBU-10/12/16/24 Paveway laser-guided, GBU-31 JDAM, Mk 82/83/84 GP, CBU-99/100 Rockeye II cluster
Other various transport pods

JSF Joint Strike Fighter designation originally given to the F-35 program
JCA Joint Combat Aircraft designation for the F-35 program used by the United Kingdom
X-35 Fighter demonstrator variants used to flight test and validate the advanced technologies of the F-35
F-35A Multi-role conventional takeoff (CTOL) fighter based on the X-35A but with a slightly lengthened fuselage and modified tail surfaces, developed for the US Air Force and equipped with an internal gun, infrared sensors, and a laser designator; USAF plans to buy 1,763 but announced in December 2004 that this total may be reduced
F-35B Multi-role short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) fighter based on the X-35B intended for the US Marines and UK Royal Navy and equipped with a lift fan located in an enlarged spine behind the cockpit, an external gun pod rather than a fixed internal gun, and smaller internal bays; USMC plans to buy 340 while UK plans to purchase 60 for the RN and 90 for the RAF have been cut to 50 for the RN, Italy also plans to buy 22 for Navy use
F-35C Multi-role carrier variant (CV) fighter based on the X-35C and similar to the F-35A but with larger wings for increased fuel capacity plus slats as well as larger horizontal tails and control surfaces for better low-speed landing performance, strengthened structure and landing gear for carrier landings, and removal of the internal cannon in favor of an optional gun pod on the centerline station; US Navy plans to buy 260 and USMC 80
F-35D (?) Proposed model for the USAF similar to the F-35B but emphasizing short-takeoff and landing (STOL) rather than STOVL operations, would feature a revised propulsion arrangement based on the General Electric F136 engine and use the larger wing of the F-35C to increase fuel capacity and range, also to be equipped with an internal cannon and an Air Force-style refueling probe; USAF expressed interest in over 200 of this variant for close air support but it was quickly cancelled due to increased development costs and reduced commonality with the F-35B
F-35I Proposed Israeli variant identical to the F-35A but with potential to integrate Israeli-specific systems in the future; initial order for 20 in negotiation during 2010 with Israel stating an ultimate requirement for at least 75
EA-35 Lockheed Martin proposal for a two-seat dedicated electronic attack variant of the F-35, the primary interest came from the US Marine Corps needing a replacement for the EA-6B Prowler; not developed in favor of incorporating electronic attack capabilities into the standard F-35 variants


not yet in service


Australia (Royal Australian Air Force)
Israel, Tsvah Haganah le Israel - Heyl Ha'Avir (Israeli Defence Force - Air Force)
United Kingdom (Royal Navy)
United States (US Air Force)
United States (US Marine Corps)
United States (US Navy)





  • Airforce Technology F-35 site
  • Air Vectors F-35 site
  • Flug Revue X-35 site
  • Lockheed Martin F-35 site
  • Miller, David, ed. The Illustrated Directory of Modern American Weapons. London: Salamander Books, 2002, p. 108-111, Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
  • Müller, Claudio. Aircraft of the World. NY: Muddle Puddle Books, 2004, p. 230-233, Lockheed Martin X-35A/C Joint Strike Fighter, Lockheed Martin X-35B Joint Strike Fighter.
  • Spick, Mike. Brassey's Modern Fighters: The Ultimate Guide to In-Flight Tactics, Technology, Weapons, and Equipment. Washington, DC: Brassey's, 2000, p. 136-139.
  • Taylor, Michael J. H. Brassey's World Aircraft & Systems Directory 1999/2000. London: Brassey's, 1999, p. 122-124, Lockheed Martin (Northrop Grumman and British Aerospace) Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).
  • US Military F-35 site

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