F-35 LIGHTNING II FIGHTER

April 18, 2015


If you follow my postings you know I love to fly and got my pilot’s license when I was fifteen.  Due to FAA regulations, I had to wait until I was sixteen before I could fly solo.  I logged quite a few hours during my fifteenth year but with a rated pilot in the right seat.  A digital of the type aircraft I flew is given as follows:

Piper Tri-Pacer

As you can see, most would call this a puddle-jumper.  It got me there and I had a good time doing it.

We go from fairly unsophisticated to the cutting-edge when we look at the F-35 Lightning II.  Let’s take a look.

PROGRAM:

The F-35 Lightning II Program (also known as the Joint Strike Fighter Program) is the Department of Defense’s focal point for defining affordable next generation strike aircraft weapon systems for the Navy, Air Force, Marines, and our allies. (The word affordable is now in question since there have been significant cost overruns for the entire program.)  The F-35 will bring cutting-edge technologies to the battle space of the future.  The JSFs advanced airframe, autonomic logistics, avionics, propulsion systems, stealth, and firepower will ensure that the F-35 is the most lethal, supportable and survivable aircraft ever to be used by so many war fighters across the globe.   Digital photographs of the fighter are given as follows:

F-35 Fighter

F-35 Fighter(2)

Someone once said, “ if it looks like it will fly—it will fly”.  This aircraft definitely looks like it can fly and intended for the US Navey, US Air Force and the US Marine Corps.

The JSF will fulfill stated Service needs as follows:

  • U. S. Navy First day of war, survivable strike fighter aircraft to complement F/A-18E/F
  • U.S. Air Force Multirole aircraft (primary-air-to-ground) to replace the F-16 and A-10 and complement the F/A-22
  • U.S. Marine Corps STOVL aircraft to replace the AV-8B and F/A-18 as their only strike fighter
  • United Kingdom Royal Navy & Royal Air Force STOVL aircraft to replace Sea Harriers & GR.7s as a supersonic strike fighter
  • Other Countries Potential JSF customers include current operators of F-16, F/A-18, and AV-8B

INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION:

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program is an internationally oriented program consisting of partnerships with a number of countries. See below for links to the transcripts of the signing ceremonies of the official partnership of each of the programs cooperating partners: United Kingdom (signed 17 Jan 2001 for $2B)

Italy (signed 24 Jun 2002 for $1B)
Netherlands (signed 17 Jun 2002 for $800M)
Turkey (signed 11 Jun 2002 for $175M)
Canada (signed 7 Feb 2002 for $150M)
Australia* (signed 31 Oct 2002 for $150M)
Denmark (signed 28 May 2002 for $125M)
Norway* (signed 20 Jun 2002 for $125M)

A quick look at the various suppliers relative to companies and countries contributing resources may be seen as follows:

VENDORS AND MAJOR CONTRACTORS

CAPABILITIES:

Stealth. The F-35 is designed as a stealth counterpart to the F-22 Raptor air dominance fighter and one that can share “first day of the war” duties against defended targets although it can’t perform air-air or SEAD/ “Wild Weasel” missions to the same standard. The F-35 has a larger single engine instead of the Raptor’s twin thrust-vectoring F119s, removing both super-cruise (sustained flight above Mach 1) and super-maneuverability options. The F-22A is also a much “stealthier” aircraft from all angles, and independent analysis and modeling has concluded that the F-35’s stealth will be weaker from the sides and the rear. Even so, the F-35 is a big improvement over existing ‘teen series’ fighters, and a step above Generation 4+ options like the F/A-18E/F Super HornetEurofighterRafale, and JAS-39 Gripen.  This fact is considered by the DoD to be a drawback.

Engine. The F-35 was designed to offer interchangeable engine options. That has been an important feature for global F-16 and F-15 customers, improving costs and performance, while providing added readiness insurance for dual-engine fleets like the USAF, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, etc. Pratt & Whitney’s lobbying eventually forced GE & Rolls-Royce’s F136 out of the F-35 program, and made their F135-PW-100 engine the only choice for global F-35 fleets.  A special F-135-PW-600 version with Rolls Royce’s LiftFan add-on, and a nozzle that can rotate to point down, will power the vertical-landing F-35B.

The US military had better hope that an engine design problem never grounds all of their fighters. While they’re at it, they should hope that both performance and maintenance contracts remain reasonable, despite the absence of any competitive alternative.

Sensors. The Lightning II will be equipped to levels that would once have defined a high-end reconnaissance aircraft. Its advanced APG-81 AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar is smaller and less powerful than the F-22A’s APG-77v1; but still offers the strong AESA advantages of simultaneous air-air and air-ground capabilities, major maintenance & availability improvements, and secure, high-bandwidth communications benefits. The F-35 also shares a “sensor fusion” design advance with the F-22, based on an even more extensive sensor set embedded all around the airframe. Both planes will be able to perform as reconnaissance aircraft, though the F-35 will have superior infrared and ground-looking sensors. Both fighters will also have the potential to act as electronic warfare aircraft, though not to the same level as the Super-Hornet’s EA-18G Growler derivative.

These sensors are connected to a lot of computing power, in order to create single-picture view that lets the pilot see everything on one big 20″ LCD screen and just fly the plane, rather than trying to push buttons, switch views, and figure it all out at 6g. As part of that sensor fusion, the F-35 will be the first plane is several decades to fly without a heads-up display. Instead, pilots will wear Elbit/Rockwell’s JHMDS helmet or BAE’s HMSS, and have all of that information projected wherever they look. JHMDS is both a strength that adds new capabilities, like the ability to look “through” the plane’s floor, and a single point-of-failure weakness.

Maintenance. The F-35 has a large number of design features that aim to simplify maintenance and keep life cycle costs down. Since operations and maintenance are usually about 65% or more of a fighter’s lifetime cost, this is one the most important and overlooked aspects of fighter selection.

Stealth aircraft have always had much higher maintenance costs, but the F-35’s designers hope that new measures can reverse that trend. Some of the plane’s stealth coatings are being baked into composite airplane parts, for instance, in the hope that customers will need fewer “Martians” (Materials Application and Repair Specialists) around to apply stealth tapes and putties before each mission. Technical innovations like self-diagnosing aircraft wiring aim to eliminate one of the toughest problems for any mechanic, and the fleet-wide ALIS information and diagnostic system is designed to shift the fleet from scheduled maintenance to maintenance only as needed.

Despite these measures, March 2012 operations and maintenance projections have the F-35 at 142% O&M cost, relative to F-16s, and subsequent reports have risen as high as 160%. It remains to be seen if the advantages of F-35 innovations manage to fulfill their promise, or if projections that they’ll be outweighed in the end by increased internal complexity, and by the proliferation of fault-prone electronics, come true. That has certainly been the general trend over the last 50 years of fighter development, with a very few notable exceptions like America’s F-16s and A-10s, and Sweden’s JAS-39 Gripen.

SPECIFICATIONS:

The specifications for this fighter are really impressive.  As you can see, it can fly at MACH 1.6 and pull a survivable maximum of 9.0 Gs.   It also is capable of carrying a huge array of weapons.  The complete package is given below.

SPECIFICATIONS

COCKPIT:

The F-35 features a full-panel-width glass cockpit touchscreen “panoramic cockpit display” (PCD), with dimensions of 20 by 8 inches (50 by 20 centimeters). A cockpit speech-recognition system (DVI) provided by Adace I has been adopted on the F-35 and the aircraft will be the first operational U.S. fixed-wing aircraft to employ this DVI system, although similar systems have been used on the AV-8B Harrier II and trialled in previous aircraft, such as the F-16 VISTA.

helmet-mounted display system (HMDS) will be fitted to all models of the F-35. While some fighters have offered HMDS along with a head up display (HUD), this will be the first time in several decades that a front line fighter has been designed without a HUD.   The F-35 is equipped with a right-hand HOTAS side stickcontroller. The Martin-Baker US16E ejection seat is used in all F-35 variants. The US16E seat design balances major performance requirements, including safe-terrain-clearance limits, pilot-load limits, and pilot size; it uses a twin-catapult system housed in side rails. The F-35 employs an oxygen system derived from the F-22’s own system, which has been involved in multiple hypoxia incidents on that aircraft; unlike the F-22, the flight profile of the F-35 is similar to other fighters that routinely use such systems.  The cockpit is a pilot’s dream (or nightmare).

COCKPIT

COSTS OVER-RUNS:

The cost of the U.S. Defense Department’s most expensive weapons program, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, declined by 1 percent in the past year to $391 billion while lawmakers remain concerned about its software.

The estimated price tag to develop and build 2,457 F-35 Lightning II fighter jets includes $326.9 billion for air frames and $64.3 billion for engines, according to newly released figures from the Pentagon. The combined amount is $4.5 billion, or 1.1 percent, less than an estimate of $395.7 billion released in March 2012.

The decline was attributed in part to revised labor rates charged by the prime contractor — Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin Corp. — and its subcontractors, according to the Defense Department.

The F-35 is among a Pentagon portfolio of 78 weapons programs projected to cost a total of $1.66 trillion. That’s a 2.7 increase in cost from last year’s projection of $1.62 trillion for 83 systems. Despite the modest rise, none of the programs were flagged for having significant cost overruns.

The figures were released the same week a Republican-led subcommittee in the House of Representatives voted to require that Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, create an independent panel to review the F-35’s software development and submit a report on its status to congressional defense committees by March 3, 2014.

The House Armed Services’ tactical air and land forces subcommittee, led by Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, included the language in its draft of the 2014 defense authorization bill, which sets policy goals and spending targets for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

Kendall himself has said the amount of code still needed to be written creates “some risks” and Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the service’s F-35 program manager, has said he’s concerned the slow pace of software development may delay the delivery of the most lethal version of the fighter jet beyond 2017.

That model of the aircraft, known as 3F, is designed to be equipped with a suite of internal and external weapons, including the GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition, laser-guided Paveway II bomb, Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile and infrared Sidewinder missile.

The Pentagon in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 plans to spend $8.4 billion to buy 29 F-35 Lightning IIs, including 19 for the Air Force, six for the Marine Corps and four for the Navy, according to the budget request released last month. The plane is designed to replace such aircraft as the F-16, A-10, F/A-18 and AV-8B.

CONCLUSIONS:

This is a marvelous piece of technology but it is tremendously expensive.   It is obviously designed to consider “wars of the future”, where they may be fought and who just might be the enemy.  This one is too big to fail and the program, in some fashion, will go to fruition.

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