Commandant, Lockheed Martin unveil F35-B Lightning II

–Think F/A-18 speed and maneuverability, AV-8B forward deployment, F-22 stealth, and astonishing avionics,” said Dan Crowley, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and F-35 program general manager.

–Flexibility — that is the beauty of this aircraft,” said Commandant Gen. James Conway. –The flexibility that the STOVL variant of the F-35 will add to the contemporary Marine Air Ground Task Force is amazing,” Conway said.

–Our service must have two-fisted capability,” said Conway. The F-35B’s ability to operate from amphibious ships, runways or unimproved surfaces combined with its speed and stealth will deliver that capability in Iraq, Conway said.


  1. In Iraq? When is this thing actually slated to start entering service? 2012 or so? If we still need advanced stealth STOVL aircraft in Iraq in 2012 then we are in big trouble.

  2. Iraq’s air defense will still be US in 2012. The IqAF does not plan to field their first fighters until then. That means Air Groups will continue to rotate into Iraq long after the ground forces are reduced to airfield security and preposition sets. Reality. Unless you want US to give Iraq to Iran on a platter?

  3. I didn’t think the speed and maneuverability of an F/A-18 was anything to shout about. They had to make some compromises to get the landing and takeoff speed down for carrier operations. An F-16, F-15, F-14 or F-22 is (as far as I know) superior in terms of speed (incl. acceleration as well as top speed) and maneuverability. That said I’m sure the STO/VL version of the F-35 will be a spectacular improvement over a Harrier, but I’m worried that the land/carrier versions won’t be particularly good dogfighters. Not that they will probably see a lot of such action… we hope.

  4. I think this is the only version of the F-35 worth having. They should scrap the rest. Of course, the rest of the variants are necessary to ensure the program can be dragged out longer.

  5. Oh do not worry about the F-35’s air to air combat capability. It won’t have one. Well not for a while yet. You see the F-35 is not just a plane, its a flying computer system. That said, the computer system is not done – so no computer system, no capability. Buried in all to double-speak, we are actually going to enter into production a plane that cannot actually fight. Even when the computer system is supposed to be ‘fully complete’ then work will begin on those pesky mission modules. One module that is really fun is the automatic IFF module. (You know the one that worked so well with the patriot batteries that shot anything down within range) ‘JSF’s expected performance is largely dependent on demonstrating software that supports vehicle, mission system, and other capabilities. The program plans to develop over 19 million lines of code–substantially more than the lines of code needed for the F-22A. The software is planned to be developed in five blocks. The first block is scheduled for completion in 2006, and the last block is scheduled for completion in 2011. At the time the program enters low-rate initial production, the program will have completed less than 35 percent of the software needed’ http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-06-356 And in line with Defen’s view of governmental contracts… ‘According to program officials, the uncertainties inherent in concurrently developing, testing, and producing the JSF aircraft prevent the pricing of initial production orders on a fixed price basis. Consequently, the program office plans to place initial production orders on a cost reimbursement basis. Cost reimbursement contracts provide for payment of allowable incurred costs, to the extent prescribed in the contract. Such contracts are generally used only when the uncertainties involved in contract performance do not permit costs to be estimated with sufficient accuracy to use any type of fixed price contract. Cost reimbursement contracts place substantial risk on the buyer–in this case DOD–because the contractor’s responsibility for performance costs is minimized or reduced.’

  6. Why do you feel that it is the only version worth having? The space that the lift jet occupies is valuable space for more fuel. The lack of more wing means that it can not carry more than a few stations of stores… Do we need a new version of the harrier? no! Do we need a replacement for the F-16/F-18jr. ? yes! but, we need more tankers, bombers, lifters ten fold over a new attack/fighter.

  7. HerkEng, the problem as I see it is that the F-22 isn’t going to cost much more than the F-35 while it is IMO a significantly more capable plane. The F-35 price keeps inflating and I think it’s already beyond the ‘cheap’ plane it was suppose to be (i.e. a replacement for F-16/18s as the cheap part of the cheap/expensive mix). The problem of course is that the F-22 can’t carry much in the way of A-G ordinance internally. But I reckon for the cost of the F-35 program that could have been solved… I also have a feeling F-35s are going to end up carrying a lot of external ordinance operationally anyway, or at least drop tanks.

  8. Yeah, James, they could have developed the VTOL version, which is the most complicated of them, and it would then be easy to develop the rest. This way they are able to hire the maximum number of people and drag the program out as long as possible. When you make profit on development, why ever stop? Hell, if I told someone I’d give them $100/hr for as long as it took to dig a ditch in my front yard and another person I’d give them $400 to dig the same size hole, which one do you think would get done first? Anyone or any country that does business as stupidly as we do deserves to be ass raped. We need a lot of new aircraft. Our F-15s, tankers, and cargo transports are literally falling out of the sky. How well is this method of buying them working out for you?

  9. Dfens: I just posted this after a different comment of yours on a different post, but I’ll repeat it here: Cut it out with the vulgarity. You can get your point across without resorting to such coarse language. Please read the MO Comments Police in red, above.

  10. Funny, I guess my age is showing….I remember EXACTLY the same hand-wringing and breast-beating back in the ’70’s that I’m hearing here regarding the ‘cheap’ F-16 and its ‘new’ fly-by-wire system. Cost skyrocketing…no longer the ‘cheap’ partner to the F-15. Too complex…issues with the computer programs. Too vulnerable to battle damage…computer failure = lost plane. Etc., etc., yada yada yada, blah blah blah….. Anybody care to argue that the F-16 was a waste of money and we would have been better off with a handful more F-15s (which was one of the arguments I heard)? Or that it hasn’t repaid its investment many times over? And I seem to remember a lot of people saying the same things about the F-22, and now its, ‘…a significantly more capable plane’ than the F-35, which is funny considering the other comment of, ‘enter(ing) into production a plane that cannot actually fight’. So what are we comparing, anyway? I personally think I’ll just wait a bit more, let the rest of the inevitable bugs get worked out, and see just what it really does in the real world. Just like the F-16 program (and the A-10, F-15, F-18, ect., etc., ad infinitum).

  11. …..but then again, what with the wing spare fatigue problems cropping up with the F-15, which is after all a DECADES old design, maybe we should just band aid the fleet and forget new designs. ‘Cause it just cost to much. And we KNOW new designs are gonna fail, don’t we (’cause everything ain’t perfect the first time out)? We can keep ’em in the air forever, can’t we? And they’ll NEVER be outperformed by newer designs, will they?

  12. I’ve always felt like the Eurofighter was the true successor of the F-16 as the F-22 is the successor of the F-15, in the sense that it is small, high-tech, versatile but not totally focused on air dominance like the F-22. So, hum, yeah, I see the relationship between the Eurofighter and F-22 like the one that the F-16 had with the F-15. So I think the F-35 is a big waste of money. I hope i made some sense. =P

  13. I’ve always felt like the Eurofighter was the true successor of the F-16 as the F-22 is the successor of the F-15, in the sense that it is small, high-tech, versatile but not totally focused on air dominance like the F-22. So, hum, yeah, I see the relationship between the Eurofighter and F-22 like the one that the F-16 had with the F-15. So I think the F-35 is a big waste of money. I hope i made some sense. =P

  14. I know what you mean Vitor. edward_m, fair enough, maybe it will turn out to be great.. I do like the F-16.. but the thing is, the F-16 was designed by a visionary who kept strict control over the program to avoid it becoming a bloated mess. I remember reading that he specifically kept the spare room inside the airframe small so that others wouldn’t be tempted to jam yet more and more equipment in there… I don’t think there is a similar visionary behind the F-35 is there? It seems to me like a ‘designed by committee’ airframe and as such I think it will end up being a jack-of-all-trades, ace-of-none. Whereas the F-16 was more like an ace-of-some-trades, jack-of-the-rest. In short the difference between the two programs comes down to a gut feeling I have, based on the passion of the respective designers. That and I don’t understand why they didn’t just license production of Rafales/Eurofighters to flesh out the high/low mix with the F-22, and concentrated on improving the F-22 (e.g. a ‘strike raptor’ variant). You are right, time may prove me wrong, and I hope it does. But I have a bad feeling about this…

  15. The F-35 started out to be an update of the F-16. Basically a stealthy F-16, but then politics, contractor greed, and pentagon ever growing requirements came into play. The goal was for the F-35 to be light figher/bomber, but just as the everything for all people fighter design of the 60’s (See F-111) capability creep kept making the plane heavier and heavier. If they kept the plane light, that monster engine it had could of given it supercruise and F-16 light maneuverability. The F-35 now is heavy weight with a single engine, so now its F-18 like maneuverability. That is not good, as current and project Russian jets can fly rings around an F-18. This means the only hope for the F-35 is in its electronics and stealth. The result is a fighter that will be just as or nearly as expensive as the F-22, but not nearly as capable as the F-22. To be honest, with the development of stealth pylons for the F-22 (So you can carry wing mounts & keep your stealth) the F-22 will exceed every projected F-35 capability. As I have said before, the F-25 will be the first ‘next’ generation fighter that is actually less capable then its predecessors. Its single engine design means that it will have an large IR signature and its stealth is optimized in the frontal arc vs certain classes of radars common to fighters. This means that AESA equipped AWAC’s should be able to detect it from all aspects. Interceptors even if their radars fail, can pick up a F-35 with IRS or their radars if they are in the rear arc. What we are really buying with the F-35 is a really expensive avionics suite. The plane itself is nothing special. We can take off the shelf tech, and create a Golden Eagle that can do everything an F-35 could and then some. The line is already up and ready. We could replace the ‘old’ F-15 with new Golden Eagles right now, and at 2/3rds the cost of new F-35’s that will not be functional till 2013-14 at the earliest. We could then use the savings to buy another hundred or so F-22’s. Lets get down to some basic truths. Unmanned planes and missiles are best for taking out high value targets. Stealth lets you penetrate air defenses, but once they are down, it does you no good. I personally the F-23 would of been a better choice, but now that we have it, we should build as many F-22’s as possible and support the F-22’s with non-stealthy but capable fighter bombers.

  16. Remember, the P-51 Mustang was the cheaper alternative to the P-47 Thunderbolt. Sometimes you get more than what you pay for. But very seldom.

  17. Oh, Lets not forget the crazy idea about the F-35 replacing the A-10. That will be tragicomical to see.

  18. Very good points made, but a few things…… Nicholas: I understand your reasons for your doubt, and in some ways I agree, but a few thinks to think about. 1)The F-35B is for the Marines: they’re looking for a replacement for the Hornet, and more telling, the Harrier, and that means STOVL. Is a lift fan, dead weight until you need it, the answer? Well, since no one has ever fielded an operational one, I don’t know of anyone qualified to answer that. If we look at results so far, then bear in mind that the F-35B took off in less than 500 feet , went supersonic, and landed vertically during the final qualifying Joint Strike Fighter flight trials. At least that says that Lockheed got the basics right. I personally like thrust vectoring, which is a proven tech, but supersonic flight is out if we go that road (unless you want to throw a LOT of money at the problem). I also don’t like less fuel, but the Marines tactical requirements are different, and they’re already use to the Harriers short legs anyway. Since they operate from assault ships, range is not the big concern for them. AND, don’t forget that the lift fan takes the PLACE of fuel, so are we really any heavier? 2)The F-18 is as, if not more maneuverable than the F-15 at low speeds (under mach .08), and I don’t hear anything bad said about the Eagle. The F-35B is going to be a fighter/bomber (emphasis on BOMBER), with the Navy providing the air superiority with the F-35C, which, although heavy (carrier t/o and landing modes) is still extremely agile. While the Marines are expected to dogfight if needed, thats not there primary objective. 3)Don’t forget that this is the B model, and that the A and C models do not have a lift fan, and are just as maneuverable as the F-16. Which brings me to…. 4)The reason we’re looking at the F-35 as the F-16 replacement is based in the very reason you gave for the F-16 being a better designed aircraft. It has no room for improvement without a radical redesign. Ever notice the LANTIRN pod mounted on the intake? And ECM/ECCM pods taking up stores space? The F-16 was designed from the start as air-to-air, and as such it has handed the F-15 its butt in every Red Flag. The only reason it never got the chance to do what it was designed to do was the impact it would have had on F-15 procurement. In fact, back in the ’70s, the YF-16 was NEVER tested against the F-15 for that exact reason. Afraid to make the big bad Eagle look like an expensive luxury. As far as the computer problems, I don’t see them as the big problem that some do: we’ve had program problems with every computer dependent aircraft thats come down the pike. Anyone remember the great video of the YF-16 doing that sever ‘porpoising’ before it slammed onto the runway, gear up? Or when the F-22 did the exact same thing? Don’t hear about that anymore, do we? It’ll get fixed, its just going to take some time. (and money, money, money) James, I’m sorry, but the F-35 is NOT an upgrade to the F-16. Its a replacement. Vitor, you are right on the money about the A-10….if the F-16 couldn’t replace it, how could the F-35, in any form? I just wish they would restart production of the A-10: Fairchild got it right in one, its the best anti-tank ground attack ship out there at this time. Do I sound like I’m defending the F-35? Well, maybe a little. I see great potential, but right now, without any combat ready planes in squadron service, thats all it is, potential, and like the Major said in the movie 12 O’clock High, ‘I’d like to see our client win his case’.

  19. I think the biggest problem with the idea of replacing F-16s with F-35s is not capability, but price. The F-35 is not going to be a cheap plane, even in large numbers, when total project costs are considered. The number of F-22s being procured was slashed due to cost overruns etc. and I don’t think it ended up with its price inflated as badly as the F-35 will. Which will end up being a better deal? I guess if the F-22 isn’t going to get sufficient stores carriage for A/G it’s a moot point, but I would like to see it get an upgrade because the F-15E worked so well. Then maybe it will end up making more sense to pay a little more and get the extra capabilities compared to the F-35A.

  20. edward_m – You make some good points and to be honest, I hope you are correct. At this time, however, I think you may be tad long on optimism. Upgrade vs replacement? Don’t see much of difference. That said, its not going to be a 1 for 1 replacement. In any event, its clear to me that the F-35 was meant to be the low of the high low mix of the F-15/F-16 combo. So the F-22 is the F-15 upgrade and the F-35 is the F-16 upgrade… The STOVL version is only real version of the F-35 that I think is really worth the cost. I am not sold on the lift fan concept, especially in the light of Falkland’s conflict showed how effective thrust vectoring can be. Your insight on the F-16 is very telling and misleading. The F-16 was designed to be dogfighter with a secondary ground attack capability. That said, history has shown that the F-16 design is far from limiting the planes expandability. The F16I is light years ahead of the original F-16. The success of the F-16 is predicated on its simplicity of its initial purpose. Its easier to modify a success then it is to modify a failure into a success. As for the F-35C being as nimble as a F-16? unless the laws of physics have changed in the last few years, that is not going to happen. As for a F-18 being more maneuverable then a F-15 at low speed? That is a ‘duh’ statement. The F-18 is a carrier lander, it has to be more maneuverable. That said, assuming the F-15 pilot elects not to confine his speed to at or around his stall speed, the F-15 has it all over the F-18. The F-35 because of its total system integration and stealth design will have much harder time to incorporate advances. Taking 5-6 years to program your basic combat model does not give me confidence that upgrades are going to be quick and easy. Because the operating system is proprietary, we going to be hamstrung in incorporating civilian sector advances and new weapons systems chiefly because the pool of qualified programmers is going to be small. All that aside – here is my greatest problem with the F-35. It portents to be the everything fighter/bomber. So for any single mission its is horribly overbuilt. History has shown that planes developed from the ground up to be the all everything plane, end up being second rate craft. The best fighters built in the post war era – The F-14, F-15, F-16 and the A-10. Each a specialist in a particular field. They can do a lot more, but they are masters in their element. Finally,I really hate it being the only game in town. If the F-35 fails, we are screwed with no real options. There is no way to cost manage this program. Not only are we locked into this program, so are most of our allies. Basically this program is unkillable. At least with the F-16 program, if it tanked, we at least had the F-18 to fall back on.

  21. When it takes 25 years to develop a fighter, then if any of them fail, you’re screwed. The VTOL version of the F-35 is the only one that brings anything new to the table. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the only one we need. The rest of them will be less capable than the F-22 at about the same cost/lb, so what’s the point? The YF-23 would have made a great light attack bomber if stretched, but I don’t think Boeing will ever let that happen. I still say that’s the real reason Harry Stonecipher got fired. I’ve never ever seen a Boeing big shot get fired for boinking a suborinate. Hell, it’s pretty much par for the course there. In the end, though, we are in an unsustainable mode of weapons production. We cannot keep the country safe with the current skyrocketing development and production costs and decades long development schedules. Then when most of what we get for that money is marginally better than what it replaces, it’s nuts.