The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a family of single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole fighters. The fifth-generation combat aircraft is designed to perform ground attack and air superiority missions. It has three main models: the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant, the F-35B short take-off and vertical-landing (STOVL) variant, and the F-35C carrier-based Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) variant. On 31 July 2015, the United States Marines declared ready for deployment the first squadron of F-35B fighters after intensive testing.[ On 2 August 2016, the U.S. Air Force declared its first squadron of F-35A fighters combat-ready The F-35 descends from the X-35, the winning design of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. An aerospace industry team led by Lockheed Martin designed and manufactures it. Other major F-35 industry partners include Northrop Grumman, Pratt & Whitney and BAE Systems. The F-35 first flew on 15 December 2006. The United States plans to buy 2,663 aircraft. Its variants are to provide the bulk of the crewed tactical airpower of the U.S. Air Force, Navy and the Marine Corps over the coming decades. Deliveries of the F-35 for the U.S. military are scheduled until 2037 with a projected service life up to 2070.
The United States principally funds the F-35 JSF development, with additional funding from partners. The partner nations are either NATO members or close U.S. allies. The United Kingdom, Italy, Australia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Turkey are part of the active development program; several additional countries have ordered, or are considering ordering, the F-35.
The program is the most expensive military weapons system in history, and has been much criticized inside and outside government, in the U.S. and in allied countries. Critics argue that the plane is “plagued with design flaws”, with many blaming the procurement process in which Lockheed was allowed “to design, test, and produce the F-35 all at the same time, instead of… [identifying and fixing] defects before firing up its production line”. By 2014, the program was “$163 billion over budget [and] seven years behind schedule”.[ Critics also contend that the program’s high sunk costs and political momentum make it “too big to kill”. F-35 development started in 1992 with the origins of the Joint Strike Fighter program and is set to culminate in full production in 2018. The X-35 first flew on 24 October 2000 and the F-35A on 15 December 2006. The F-35 was developed to replace most US fighter jets with variants of one design common to all branches of the military. It was developed in cooperation with a number of foreign partners, and unlike the F-22 Raptor, intended to be available for export. Three variants were designed: the F-35A (conventional take off and landing, CTOL), the F-35B (short-take off and vertical-landing, STOVL), and the F-35C (carrier-based CATOBAR, CV). Despite being intended to share most of their parts to reduce costs and improve maintenance logistics, by 2017 the design commonality was only 20%. The program received considerable criticism for cost overruns during development and for the total projected cost of the program over the lifetime of the jets. By 2017 the program was expected over its lifetime (until 2070) to cost $406.5 billion for acquisition of the jets and $1.1 trillion for operations and maintenance. A number of design deficiencies were alleged, such as carrying a small internal payload, inferior performance to the aircraft being replaced particularly the F-16, and the lack of safety in relying on a single engine, and flaws were noted such as vulnerability of the fuel tank to fire and the propensity for transonic roll-off (TRO or “wing drop”). The possible obsolescence of stealth technology was also criticized.