Tag Archives: Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II

Photo: Lockheed Martin F-35's first mission with external weapons

On Feb. 16, 2012, an F-35A aircraft from Edwards AFB, California, flew for the first time with external weapons.

Although no weapons were delivered during the sortie, the payload of the Joint Strike Fighter’s Conventional Takeoff and Landing (CTOL) variant in this test mission included two AIM-9X air-to-air missiles on the outboard wing stations, two internal 2,000-pound GBU-31 GPS-guided bombs and two AIM-120 AMRAAMs (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles) inside the two internal weapon bays.

The F-35 had also four external pylons that can carry 2,000-lb air-to-ground weapons.

The 5th Generation multirole fighter is designed to carry up to 18,000 pounds on 10 weapon stations featuring four weapon stations inside two weapon bays, for maximum stealth capability, and an additional three weapon stations on each wing.

Image credit: Lockheed Martin by Paul Weatherman

Along with the B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant, the CTOL one was selected by Italy to replace the Air Force’s Tornado and AMX bombers.

F-35 unaffordable? No problem, here's your Plan B: the (unstealthy) F-16V

Lockheed Martin took the opportunity to wow the crowds at the Singapore Air Show and unwrapped its latest version of the legendary F-16 Fighting Falcon: the F-16V variant. The upgrades include a new glass cockpit, a new mission computer and data-link architecture, as well as a brand new active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.

The latest in a long line of versions including the Block 60 aircraft (developed for the United Arab Emirates), the new F-16V would be the highest spec F-16 available and, although Lockheed Martin has not disclosed it yet, it would be assumed that some of the features from the previous most advanced versions would still be available (conformal fuel tanks etc.)

Lockheed Martin also said that elements of the upgrade would be available to older models as an upgrade program so the new AESA radar could make its way into older aircraft and sales of the ‘V’ version would be aimed at existing operators.

So, countries that cannot stretch to the costs of buying and running the F-35 have a cheaper alternative especially if they already operate older versions of the F-16.

Details about the new cockpit layout, the embedded software and the specifications of the radar have not yet been unveiled. However the F-16V will be fully interoperable and able to exchange data with the F-22 and the F-35. But it will not be stealth.

Lockheed Martin’s Press Release doesn’t mention customers but could be pitched at the USAF (thus the need to exchange data with the F-22) as an unstealthy gap filler until large numbers of F-35s start entering service.

This could also be an admission that the initial estimates of F-35 sales are going to be nowhere near what they were projected; in this case, we could consider the F-16V a “Budget”version of the F-35.

Richard Clements for TheAviationist.com

Image credit: Lockheed Martin

Italy has decided: F-35s to be cut by more than 30 percent.

More technology, less personnel and only 90 F-35s: this is the outcome Italian Defense spending review.

On Feb. 15, the long awaited Italian Defense spending review was finally presented to the Parliament by the Minister of Defense Giampaolo Paola.

“Long awaited” because the review was supposed to shed some light on the future of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II in Italy: Rome’s commitment to the program (as a Level 2 partner with 2.5 Billion Euro already invested and an original envisaged requirement for 131 planes) is important to keep the troubled and costly stealth multirole jet affordable.

The reform seeks to balance the spending for personnel, operations and investment, to ensure the future financial sustainability and operational effectiveness of the armed forces. In simple words: cuts to personnel and programs with the long term goal to cover the personnel spending with half the allocated budget (worth 0.9 percent of the GDP) and use the remainder between operations (including training and maintenance) and procurement (25 percent each) of advanced technologies.

Therefore, along with the reduction by 43,000 people to abate the current 70 percent of the overall defense budget for spending on military personnel, the review has led to the revision of the some important programs. First of all, the much criticized F-35 program.

Accordingly, 41 aircraft will be scrapped leaving the Italian Air Force and Navy with only 90 F-35 in the A and B version. The latter, recently removed from probation, will replace the Navy’s AV-8B+ Harrier II on board the Cavour aircraft carrier as well as the Air Force’s AMX, both involved in the recent Air War in Libya.

“The F-35 program was reviewed. Nevertheless it remains a major commitment in terms of technology, technology transfer to the industry and employment” Di Paola said few days after placing the first order for three F-35s.

Digital mock-up by Al Clark

Italy buys its first three F-35s. With a shocking announcement: "a JSF will cost less than a Eurofighter Typhoon"

On Feb. 7, 2012, Gen. Claudio Debertolis, head of the agency that is responsible for the procurement of new armaments, has announced that Italy has already ordered the first three Lockheed Martin F-35s.

Unit price: 80 million USD.

Talking to the lower house’s defense commitee, Debertolis explained that these first planes will cost more than the rest of the fleet since costs are going to decrease as the program, currently in Low Rate Initial Production,  continues. The Italian high rank officer is particularly optimistic, as he believes that the unit price will be around 70 million each (Lockheed Martin estimates 65M USD for the F-35A and about 73M USD for the F-35B), less than the 79 million USD currently paid for the Eurofighter Typhoon and much less of the 121 million USD per aircraft anticipated in 2011.

Quite surprising, since unit price is one of the JSF partner’s main concern, but possible, considering also that the Typhoon has just lost India’s mother of all tenders based on price.

Although there’s no official commitment yet, the initial requirement for Italy foresaw 131 examples (69 conventional take-off and landing F-35As and 62 of the short take-off and vertical landing variant F-35Bs). Debertolis confirmed that determining how many aircraft Italy will purchase is not a current task, since it will depend on the Defense Budget Review. Nevertheless, even if the number of aircraft will be much lower than the initial 131, the MoD will work to make sure that the industry will get the expected compensation.

Italy is working on stretching deliveries and slowing purchase  “a much easier task than that with the Eurofighter program, since the F-35 procurement is modular therefore delays don’t imply increasing costs” Debertolis said.

Furthermore with the recent Eurofighter defeat in India, Italy is going to stop working on the Typhoon and “divert” part (if not all) of its workforce towards the F-35, being assembled at the Cameri FACO (Final Assembly and Check Out) facility.

Finally, Debertolis has confirmed that Italy will have both A and B variants, with the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) ones serving both the Air Force and the Navy, that will use them on the Cavour aircraft carrier.

In spite of the widespread criticism surrounding the program and the global financial crisis it looks like the F-35 has, if not a bright future ahead, at least good chances to survive the austerity measures of the new Monti’s technocratic cabinet.

Image credit: Lockheed Martin


The F-35 unable to meet South Korea's fighter competition requirements?

On Jan. 30, South Korea released a request for proposal for a next generation fighter plane that the ROKAF (Republic of Korea Air Force) is going to procure within the so-called F-X stage III.

Given the recent reports (later denied by the company), according to which Boeing has stopped development of the modifications for the F-15 Silent Eagle, the project saw the Lockheed Martin F-35 as the favorite choice. So far.

Two of the “must have” requirements included in the RFP may be a bit of a problem for the F-35. In fact, Seoul’s future combat plane has to fly at Mach 1.6 or faster and has to field external weapons on pylons.

The projected top speed of the F-35 is mach 1.6 which is the bare minimum required but as of writing has not been accomplished yet and, being a stealth plane, the Joint Strike Fighter was designed to carry weapons internally.

Lockheed Martin’s director for the F-35 Korea campaign Randy Howard spoke to the Korean Times and said that “the F-35 is designed to carry weapons internally. That’s what it does, and that’s why it is stealthy” although he did concede that if Korea insists on external weapons his company would simply customise the aircraft to Seoul’s needs.

The F-35 has 6 hard points to carry external weapons but this capability would not be ready for when the Koreans want to test out the aircraft during the June – September 2012 time frame. However, Koreans expect to recive US government assurances that the fighter will indeed meet both selection criteria, if not before June, at least once development has been completed.

Image credit: Lockheed Martin

Similar concerns don’t seem to disturb the other two F-X contenders. The above mentioned Silent Eagle is a modification of an existing model which already meets all of the requirements as does the Eurofighter Typhoon, recently defeated by the Dassault Rafale in the Indian MMRCA competition.

Noteworthy, the Eurofighter Typhoon is the only non-stealthy aircraft in the South Korean competition that, initially, featured the radar-evading capability as one of the tender’s mandatory requirements (later lifted to have more choice).

Next months will tell us whether Boeing will be able develop the Silent Eagle in time, Lockheed Martin will convice Seoul that the Lightning II can meet all the requirements or Eurofighter will walk away with the $7.62billion contract.

There could even be a fourth option in that Korea sticks with what it knows and orders a further 60 F-15Ks like those that have recently taken part to the Red Flag 12-2 at Nellis AFB.

Watch this space, by October all could have been revealed.

Written with The Aviationist’s Editor David Cenciotti

Image credit: Tony Lovelock