Navy Lightning moves ahead


f35c.jpgLockheed Martin press release:

The U.S. Navy’s F-35C Lightning II carrier variant has completed its Air System Critical Design Review (CDR), a significant development milestone that verifies the design maturity of the aircraft and its associated systems. The review was conducted June 18-22 at Lockheed Martin [NYSE: LMT] in Fort Worth, and involved officials from Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), the Joint Strike Fighter Program Office, the F-35 international-participant nations and the F-35 contractor team. Completion of the CDR is a prerequisite for the F-35C to move into Low Rate Initial Production.

There has been talk of cutting the Navy’s version of the Lightning. The US Navy is the only customer for the carrier variant, as everyone else will want either the conventional version or the STOVL version. As things stand right now it sure seems like the Navy has fallen by the wayside in long-term aviation planning, and cutting the F-35C would be another nail in the coffin.

F-23, anyone?


  1. From what I understand, they spent a lot of time trying to get this version of the airplane to fly slow enough to trap. I don’t know what they ended up doing to it to get it there. Wouldn’t that have been ironic if they couldn’t get the airplane to trap on a carrier and the Navy had to use the VTOL variant? How would they have justified their big carriers then? I don’t know why they were having such a big problem flying slow. Perhaps the design of the intake doesn’t make a very good vortex strake. Usually a vortex strake angles out from the fuselage as it goes aft. Possibly they were trying to avoid adding that angle for stealth reasons. In all the pictures I’ve seen, the outboard endge of that intake area is parallel to the buttline plane.

  2. Dfens: Is that the reason for the increased wing area on the C model? To stay in the air at carrier take-off and landing speeds?

  3. I suppose it is part of it, but remember the Navy variant is generally heavier because it needs additional structure to handle the cat and trap loads and beefier landing gear to handle loads produced by slamming into the deck.

  4. Is it too late to change the name ‘lightning II’? Bird names are much cooler. I’m thinking the -F35C Mallard Duck -F35B Pigeon -F35A Mockingbird

  5. Couple of items: 1. The F-35C is the only variant with the ailerons at the tips, providing greater area for the flaps with the larger wings. It is a controllability @ low(er) speeds issue. 2. The larger wing provides the F-35C with (theoretically) more range and ability to carry more payload than the B variant, especially since it isn’t dragging along a second engine used only part of the time. 3. Those big deck carriers provide the flexibility for a wide variety of aircraft, not a hybrid airwing of just VSTOL jets and helos. That’s why the Fench went with catapults for their version of the next carrier. Think of the enhanced operations by being able to launch/recover something like, oh, an E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and the C4I capabilities that will add to the mix. Or how about a UCAV-N? EA-18 Growlers? Super Hornets (they’ll be around for a while after the F-35C hits the fleet – if it does). Even absent a full up airwing, the big deck can be used in an AFSB mode like kitty Hawk was during OEF, carrying SOF helos and a self protection/limited strike package. Just some food for thought… :) -SJS

  6. The ailerons at the tips also provide more roll authority, especially at low speeds. The larger wing does not provide greater range. The grreater wing area is not needed for higher speed flight and only provides more drag. If it wasn’t needed for the low speed regime, it wouldn’t be that big. Not to be too picky, but it isn’t actually a second engine that the B variant is carrying along, just a fan, but the point is still well taken.

  7. It is truly sad to see just how irrelevant the surface Navy is trying to make itself. Super Carriers with 2nd rate birds and no plans for a future. Destroyers costing as much as carriers with the firepower of frigates. If the F-35C fails (which seems likely given some up coming budget crunches) Where does the Navy go? The Hornet is not the answer, and the F-35C was nothing more then a Hornet replacement. (Not a front line fighter) I am just having visions of 2020 as the Chinese storm the shores of Taiwan. Our carriers launch their flocks of Super Hornets into the buzz saw of Su-35’s.

  8. Iran’s entire command and control infrastructure was destroyed today by 6 pigeons…’ C’mon, that headline would ROCK! Wait, James, are you saying the F35 STOVL or F35C is not a great plane? I’ll trust your (or anyone’s) superior knowledge, but I thought these things were F22 lites and cool as hell. Was I mislead?

  9. Kevin – Always be true to your own judgments. IMO – the F-35 program is basically a disguised subsidy / ripoff. The program was deliberately designed to be too big to cancel. After the procurement debacles in the 90’s (See the A-12, Super Hornet, Comanche, Crusader,F-22, B-2)The services caught the ‘joint’ acquisition bug. Basically they sold Congress on the idea that joint purchases actually save money by reducing redundant spending. To date the truth of that belief has been sadly lacking, but the idea is eternally trumpeted on scads of power point presentation. The F-35 is actually less capable then the aircraft it purports to replace. (F-16, A-10) In terms of range, firepower and maneuverability. The stealth aspect of the F-35 is red herring. First off it has frontal stealth only, meaning from the rear, and sides, its stealth aspects are limited. Secondly, when in ‘stealth mode’ (no external weapons) its bomb/missile capasity is minimal. When not in ‘stealth mode’ payload capacity is inferior to other fighters. The big selling point for the F-35 is its cost. It was supposed to be a ‘low cost’ follow on to the high cost F-22. Current price estimates put the F-35 in the 120 million plus range. That is a guess, as F-35’s will not go online till 2012 or so. By way of comparison you can get a F-15K, today for 100 million. The F-15K outclasses the F-35 in virtually every conceivable way (by wide margins). The F-16/ block 60 also outclasses the F-35 comes in around 90 million per. As for the F-35 replacing the A-10 – there is only laughter. The real issue with the F-35; is its stealth ability so great as to cover for the decrease in absolute capability. Especially in an era where the advancements in missile technology can turn an obsolete fighter like the MIG-21 into a viable air defense fighter. Additionally, how likely is it that such a stealth capability will be used in conflicts. Moreover, in the event that the US takes on a top flight opponent – would the F-35 but is in it’s stealth role? More likely, stealthy cruise missiles, and B-2’s armed with 80 JDAMS, would be used vs high threat targets, not limited aspect F-35’s.

  10. Oh come on, James. The Chinese will never storm the beaches of Taiwan. The Taiwanese will give up long before it comes to that. They know we don’t have the balls to back them in a real fight. Hell, look at how we’re getting sand kicked in our face in the surrogate fight in Iraq. At some point you’ve got to walk the walk and we haven’t since WW2. Even in end of that war we should have marched those damn commies out of Europe back to the borders of mother Russia, and we didn’t. We should have backed Chang Kai Shek against Mao too, but we didn’t. We’ve been paying for it ever since too. The only F-35 worth having is the VTOL version, and Lockmart is going to do everything they can to get it cancelled. That’s why they tried to pare down to just one engine supplier. The F-119 derivative engine will never power the VTOL airplane. It’s not a true variable cycle engine. Fortunately the Marines probably still have the political clout to get their way, even though they wasted a lot of it on the V-22.

  11. I would never have suggested that an F35 could replace an A-10 (my favorite aerial vehicle) since it has such a different role to play, but your comment about an F35 being beaten by an F15K or even an F16 is spooking me. And your comments on stealth… is this true? Because I can understand a weak yet stealthy jet pounding the enemy for a few days, then unstealthing itself once the danger is gone, to bring in the big guns. I CAN’T understand it if their stealth is compromised from different angles. Isn’t that what doomed the 117 pilot in Kosovo? Again, are you SURE an F-15 or F-16 could take one of these more often than not, or even ‘ever’?

  12. The F-35 has more than single aspect stealth. It would do very well against F-15s and F-16s because it would have the first look, assuming there was an AWACS around to ping the other planes and relay their positions to the F-35. I think the point James was making was that in most operations against most enemies the currently operational fighters really take it to the enemy. They carry much more ordinance and are more than up to the job of taking out their fighters too. Part of the problem with not building the F-22 and F-35 is the fact that they take 25 years to develop. If you stop the programs now, can you wait another 25 years? What will China and Russia be doing during that time? But then that is waste, fraud, and abuse creating its own need too, which is more than a little frustrating.

  13. Kevin – from Has a very good analysis comparing contrasting the F-22 vs F-35. ‘The JSF is thus a radically different aircraft to the F-22A, in its primary design aims, capabilities and performance. Against its mid 1990s role definitions, the JSF is a very good fit, but with the evolution since 2001 toward persistent battlefield strike tactics, the JSF falls short in both fuel capacity and weapon payload.’ On the beauty of having a ‘Joint’ aircraft ‘The common thread running through all of the US service roles is a primary strike optimisation, reflected in the avionics and airframe design of the aircraft. Single service roles have been clearly traded down to achieve commonality. The JSF will not provide the payload-radius of the Navy A-6/A-12A deep strike aircraft, nor will it provide the relative agility advantages of the Air Force F-16A against its original Soviet opponents. The aircraft has a more complex and expensive avionic suite than would be required for any of the single service roles, as it rolls all three requirements into one package. The JSF’s stealth capabilities are more narrowly optimised than those of the F-117A and F-22A, reflecting the need to survive mobile battlefield and littoral defences rather than penetrating an Integrated Air Defence System in depth’ JSF is not a true supersonic craft. Unlike the F-22A which is designed around supersonic agility, the JSF wing trades away supersonic performance to maximise subsonic cruise/loiter efficiency – classical bomber optimisation rather than air combat optimisation…The JSF trades away high altitude supersonic engine performance to achieve better cruise and loiter burn, and extract as much thrust as possible at lower altitudes, essential for its primary design role of battlefield strike. What its bomber optimisation means ‘Like the F-15, the F-22A can be swung to strike roles without sacrificing its supersonic performance, but the JSF’s wing and engine optimisations preclude it from ever achieving high supersonic performance, vital for running down supersonic opponents like the Su-27/30, or supersonic cruise missiles, or supersonice cruise missile launch platforms like the Tu-22M3 Backfire’ On the JSF Stealth ‘The stealth design optimisations of the F-22A and JSF also differ markedly. The deep penetration and air dominance roles of the F-22A dictated all aspect capability, resulting in the expensive edge aligned thrust vector nozzle design, which provides good ‘wideband’ frequency capability. The JSF is optimised for best stealth in the forward sector, sharing general airframe shaping rules common to the F-22A. The notable difference is in the serrated edge circular nozzle of the JSF, which is clearly optimised for best performance in the X and Ku-bands, typical of fighter radars, SAM/AAA tracking systems and missile seekers. To achieve lower costs the JSF accepts notable aft sector stealth limitations, especially when tackling deep or layered air defences with fighter threats – an acceptable tradeoff for shallow littoral and FEBA area battlefield strikes against predominantly short range mobile air defence systems.’

  14. Yes, the round exhaust nozzel does compromise the stealth from the rear quarters. Every time I’ve noticed that I’ve thought surely it wouldn’t be part of the final design, but I guess it is. As we’ve talked about before, the F-16 could be as stealthy at a much lower cost if they’d step up to doing the few modifications that need to be done. Instead they’ve opted to rip off the US taxpayer with yet another full up development.

  15. My rule of thumb with fighters. If it is a ‘joint’ project, just say no. Historically, the no compromise specialist fighters have turned out to be the best. See the F-15,F-16,F-14,F-86, A-10—- The joint fighters? F-111, F-4 (I know many love the F-4, it was a great bomber but not that good of a fighter), F-105 thud. Trying to serve to many masters generally means you can do a lot but, generally suck at each thing. Of course my rule of thumb fails in extreme cases – The F-104 ‘lawn dart/widow maker’ being a prime example. I just have McNamara on the brain. Whenever I hear F-35, my brain screams F-111 that all service fighter!

  16. The F-104 was a hell of a fighter, but it was one that pilots had to learn to fly. If they’d had electronic flight controls in those days, it would have been much more docile. The laminar wing was a technological marvel. The German Air Force used them forever. There were some weird flight effects due to the gyroscopic properties of the engines. When the engine was at a high thust setting it would fly one way and then another at a low setting. I avoided the F-35 program not so much because of its ‘joint’ designation, but because of its size. Making these ‘joint’ programs is just one more way to make them bigger to give them more political clout. The bigger they are, the more they screw over the US taxpayer. Unfortunately the small programs suffer so badly under all the rules and regulations put in place by law makers who claim they will tame the big programs. Usually all they do is encourage them.