F-35 Lightning II Profile

Lockheed martin have a fair few jets of fame under their wing such as the F-117 Stealth, the F-22 Raptor, and of course the memorably F-16 Fighting Falcon, but the aeronautics division of the company are currently ushering in a new jet, the F-35C Lightning II,  as part of the fifth generation of fighter jets as classified by the United States Air Force. Though the F-35C model's very first taste of the skies was back in December 2006, the F-35C is just being introduced to major air forces including the USAF, the Royal Navy, and of course, the Royal Air Force. With its three variants, all-weather stealth capabilities, and its ability to perform well in ground attack, air defense, and reconnaissance missions this is a fighter jet worth talking about.

F-35 Lightning II

F-35 Lightning II Specifications

Variants

Because of the different basing requirements involved in maintaining air, land, and sea-based defence in the modern age, the F-35 Lightning II comes in three different variants, each shaped by the slightly different stationing requirements that each will be subject to.

F-35A

The F-35A is designed for conventional take-off and landing and can therefore be used in the traditional manner with runway-based takeoff/landing. As a result of this, the F-35A is the most prevalent variant of the F-35 and will be used by the air forces of many allied nations such as Israel, Japan, Australia, Canada, Denmark, and many more. The F-35A is also the only variant of the Lightning II that carries an internal cannon, which is a whopping 25mm 4-barrel gattling gun in case you were wondering.

F-35B

This particular model is designed for short takeoff and landing and therefore perfect for being stationed in a variety of environments that would otherwise limit the F-35A. Essentially this means the F-35B can perform takeoff and landing procedures with the extremely limited space available at some air bases as well as air-capable vessels operating at sea. More impressively, this variant can also perform takeoff and landing on conventional runways as well.

The F-35B's capabilities are made possible by the Rolls Royce Liftsystem, a trademarked piece of technology that allows the vertical propulsion of the aircraft, coupled with an engine that has the ability to swivel on a 90 degree axis. In practise, this simply means the ability of the aircraft to rise vertically into the air during take-off as well as land by coming to a lateral stop in the air whilst it is gently lowered down by the rotated engine - this is most impressive to watch, which you can do so in the video shown below).

The space required for the hardware that allows the F-35B to perform vertical take-off and landing however means that the internal weapon bay in this aircraft is limited in size, as is its fuel capacity - in both cases the F-35B lags behind the F-35A variant. Refuelling in this variant is through the probe and drogue refuelling system rather than the boom method used in the F-35A. 

F-35C

The vast majority of the defensive capability of the United States lies in its fleet of aircraft carriers, and for this reason you'll find a great quantity of the F-35C variant of the Lightning II in the United States Navy. The F-35C marks the first time a stealth aircraft has been available for use at sea.

Because of the way in which the F-35C will be used and the limitations of taking off/landing on an aircraft carrier, this variant possesses larger wings and also a sturdier landing gear than those found in the other variants. The robust nature of the landing gear means that the F-35C is therefore suitable for catapult launches (see video below for some impressive launches as well as a very short landing towards the end of the video)

Note the foldable wing-tips on the F-35C as well: this allows the aircraft to be stowed with greater ease in the limited space available on the many aircraft carriers on which it will be stationed.

F-35 L:ightning II's Role in the Royal Navy and RAF

Though it is primarily the United States Air Force that have seen a great number of this model enter into its service, the F-35 Lightning II also has a significant role to play in the Royal Air Force of Great Britain. As is frequently made abundantly clear - particularly with events such as Russian Fighter Jets being intercepted by the RAF as recently as January 2015 - the modern world simply demands that a major power possesses the technical and technological capability to defend itself, and the F-35 Lightning II plays a significant role in fulfilling this requirement.

The Lightning II is set to work alongside the current Typhoon FGR4 aircraft already functioning as part of the RAF's fleet, though this isn't going to see full integration until 2018. The Lightning II's ability to launch from a variety of different base types as well as carry a significant weapons payload and remain undetected whilst not allowing any potential threats to go undetected are the main reasons why the jet has been chosen to form part of the UK's aerial defence network.

The F-35 (the F-35B variant in particular)  is also set to enter into the Royal Navy's fleet, with the short takeoff and landing abilities being ideal for launching off the many aircraft carriers of the UK's naval forces.

The precise demand for the F-35 Lightning II for the Royal Navy and RAF totals 48 planned units of the aircraft. However, as it stands currently, there are only 4 F-35Bs being tested for these United Kingdom forces, with plans to order another 4 of the aircraft - quite a lot fewer than the eventual goal of 48 units for the future!

F-35 Lightning II Design

Aircraft enthusiasts will already know that the F-35 has its origins in the X-35, but if you look at the design of the aircraft you will also notice similarities to the F-22 Raptor, also the brainchild of the Lockheed Martin. In fact, the F-35 is pretty much the same design save for being noticeably smaller in size and possessing a single-engine setup instead of twin-engines; the aircraft is quite obviously inspired by the Raptor in many respects.

In terms of the design of the aircraft's systems, it is adept at detecting and possessing the capacity to destroy surface-to-air missile hardware that awaits it. The aircraft has impressive processor power that allows for early and accurate target recognition as well as the swift and accurate destruction of ground targets with its weapons. However, the F-35's close and long range air-to-air combat capabilities still fall behind that of the aforementioned F-22 Raptor, though the F-35C is touted by Lockheed Martin to be capable of replacing the F15C and D jets' air superiority functions and the ground attack functions of the F15E Strike Eagle, all in the USAF.

Cockpit

The cockpit's design entails a panoramic cockpit display that extends the full width of the glass panel that sits on the front of the cockpit. Many of the interactions with the hardware are facilitated by the DVI, a system that allows speech recognition in order to issue commands. Also notable is the helmet-mounted display system, which isn't particularly new or innovative in the traditional sense, but this does signify the first instance of a jet being designed with deliberate omission of a HUD (head-up display) in a very long time.

Other items in the cockpit are more familiar, such as the HOTAS side-stick controller and the ejection seat, a Martin-Baker model US16E.

F-35 Lightning II

Weapons/Armament

Having not mentioned the weaponry that the F-35 is capable of sporting yet, you may be inclined to think that this jet isn't as dangerous as Lockheed Martin makes it out to be - this would be a mistake. There isn't a standard weapons setup for the F-35, but suffice it to say that this model has two internal weapons bays and a total of four weapon stations (hardpoints), each of which are capable of mounting pylons for missile attachments.

The two outermost weapon stations can carry either AIM-132-ASRAAM or AIM-9X Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles for aerial targets. The plane's remaining pylons can hold a variety of weapons including AIM-120-AMRAAM BVR (Beyond Visual Range) AAM, the Joint Standoff Weapon, guided bombs, and more. Unfortunately, the attachment of these additional weapons comes at the expense of the plane's stealth and will cause the aircraft to be more visible on the radars of other aircraft.

It should be noted that the F-35A possesses the GAU-22/A, which is a four-barrel variant of the GAU-12 Equaliser Cannon. The cannon is mounted internally within the F-35A but must be mounted externally in the other variants. A number of other weapons  can also be adapted to fit the F-35 including the MBDA Meteor air-to-air missile and the Naval Strike Missile.

Stealth Capability

The materials used in the construction of the F-35 as well as the physical profile of the F-35's cross-section ensures that it has an extremely low profile when being subjected to radar detection. The aircraft differs from the fourth generation fighters because it was specifically designed to have very-low-observable features. The aircraft's infrared signature and also its visual signature is also designed to be extremely low-profile in nature. Critics of the F-35 have noted that the aircraft is more visible from directions other than the front, whereas the visibility of the F-22 is said to be considerably lower from a wider range of angles.

Avionics and Other Hardware

The F-35 is fitted with a multitude of sensors and hardware that afford it its situational awareness capabilities. The AN/APG-81 AESA radar is the F-35's main sensor, working in conjunction with the Electro-Optical Targeting System which is mounted on the nose. The AN/ASQ-239 Barracuda system that the aircraft possesses was developed specifically for this family of planes and provides detection sensitivity many times more pronounced when compared to previous generations of radar warning receivers. Passive infrared sensors are also present on the F-35.

Going back to the helmet-mounted display system's implications: this hardware allows the targeting and destruction of enemy aircraft without the aircraft being required to be facing its target. The plane's sensors are able to track targets from any direction, regardless of the orientation of the aircraft at any one time. This means that a pilot's line of sight isn't a limiting factor when engaging targets since the helmet-mounted display feeds information about the target directly to the helmet-mounted display so that appropriate action can be taken.

What the helmet-mounted display system means for the deployment of weapons is a higher success rate since the system can be used in conjunction with high off-boresight weapons (such as modern heat-seeker missiles) in order to hit a target even if the plane is facing in the opposite direction to the target.

Production Costs

Seeing the price of these kinds of machines always puts things into perspective, and this is no exception with the F-35. The prices for the F-35 differ according to the variant, but the A is the cheapest at $98 million, beaten by the B which is $104 million, and a staggering $116 million for the F-35C. Bear in mind that these costs do not include the engine and are correct as of early 2015. The official F-35 website will display the latest costs as well as updates about the aircraft as time goes on.