Lentis/Lockheed Martin F-35


An F-35A midflight

The Lockheed Martin F-35 is a family of advanced US military fighter jets that are currently in service. The three variants in the F-35 family are the F-35A, F-35B, and F-35C, each variant tailored for specific needs. The A variant is the most typical type of jet, with conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL). The B variant has short takeoff and vertical landing capabilities (STOVL), and is the most expensive of the variants. The C variant was designed specifically for aircraft carriers.[1] Currently, over 595 F-35s are in service worldwide.[2]

Originally, the F-35 was to be a single, highly versatile fighter, having three core capabilities: stealth, vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL), and supersonic flight.[3] The F-35B comes closest to the original expectations, being a supersonic STOVL stealth fighter.[4]

General CapabilitiesEdit


Stealth was a foundational part of the F-35's core design, governing the shape, internal weapons systems, and embedded components. The F-35 website claims that stealth is the foundation of survivability and lethality.[5]

Electronic Warfare

The F-35 is equipped with state of the art sensors and radars. It has active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars which can show enemies false targets or attack and jam their networks.[6]

Data Collection, Presentation, and Sharing

The ASQ-239 systems onboard the F-35 provides radar warning, targeting support, ground and airborne threat detection, and self-protection, helping to maintain the advantage in a combat environment. The F-35's automatic ground collision avoidance system uses GPS, terrain data, and spatial awareness to recognize when a jet is headed toward the ground or a mountain.[6]

The F-35 compiles all gathered information and presents it to the pilot, including the location, distance, direction, and a confidence measure for each determination.[7] The F-35 can also take pictures of its surroundings, allowing an F-35 pilot a 360° view, even peering through the airframe.[8] The F-35 can share threat and image data with nearby allies.[7]


The F-35 family of jets combines capabilities from its predecessors, which vary substantially between each legacy fighter.[3] Each fighter listed below is to be replaced by an appropriate F-35 variant.[9]

F-15 Eagle (Air Force)
  • Can perform at high speeds and altitudes (twin engine), 100-0 dogfighting record, operates in all weather conditions, and the main capabilities include air to air and air to surface.
  • The F-15C is mainly meant for air-to-air combat, while the F-15E serves more of a multi-role purpose. [10]
A-10 Thunderbolt II "Warthog" (Air Force)
  • Extreme maneuverability at low altitudes, short takeoff and landing, capabilities are mainly focused on close air support and ground attack, and is extremely durable. [11]
F-16 Fighting Falcon (Air Force & Navy)
  • Meant to be an upgrade from the F-15 Eagle, cheaper ($14.6 million) and lighter with an emphasis on maintenance and maneuverability. All weather and meant for multi-role, air-to-air and suppression of enemy air defense.[12]
F/A-18 Hornet (Marines & Navy)
  • Capabilities include air-to-air and close air support, as well as reconnaissance.[13]
F-22 Raptor (Air Force)
  • Offers stealth, revolutionary radar/sensor capabilities. It is highly maneuverable and meant for air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.[14]

Joint Strike Fighter ProgramEdit

The F-35 was a product of the Joint Strike Fighter Program. Conceived in 1990 by the Department of Defense, this program was created to find a versatile replacement for legacy fighters. To help offset the upfront cost of research and development, the JSF program received funding from many U.S. allies and NATO partner countries.[15]

Part of the JSF program was a competition, held in the late 1990s in which McDonnell Douglas, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing competed for the contract with experimental designs, and later experimental aircraft. Lockheed Martin's X-35 prototype won the contract was slated to become the F-35.[16]

After being awarded the contract, Lockheed Martin partnered with BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman, who are primarily responsible for many of the mission systems including rader, communication devices, and jamming equipment.[17][18] Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for the F-35 and is responsible for full system integration, managing the supply chain, and maintenance.[3]

Development and Rollout TimelineEdit

  • 1996: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, McDonnell Douglas proposed designs for the JSF program. [19]
  • 1996: Boeing and Lockheed Martin were awarded contracts to develop prototypes of their submissions as the X-32 and X-35 respectively.[20][21]
  • 2001: The JSF competition concluded and Lockheed Martin was awarded the contract to develop the F-35.[16]
  • 2006: The first F-35 test flight took place.[22]
  • 2011: Domestic deliveries of all three F-35 variants began.[22]
  • 2014: International debut.[23]

Lockheed Martin anticipates that the F-35 will be in service until 2070.[24]

Application of Economies of ScaleEdit

The JSF program sought to take advantage of economies of scale, the idea that as production increases, the per-unit cost decreases. This phenomenon is possible because there are two costs: a sunk cost and a per-unit cost. Sunk costs can primarily include research and development. Per-unit costs include the parts, labor, maintenance required to manufacture and support each jet. As the number of jets increases, that sunk-cost does not change and is spread out among all jets delivered.

By selecting a single contractor to develop all three variants, and thus maximizing commonality between each variant, the Department of Defense sought to take full advantage of economies of scale with the F-35.[25]

Cost and Schedule OverrunsEdit

By the end of the 2000s, the cost of the F-35 program had grown out of control. Development cost and time were double their initial estimates in 2009 [26], and per-plane cost had risen 89% by 2010.[3] In 2011, the program was put on a two-year probation in order to curtail the extravagant spending.[27]

At $89 million per plane and $44,000 per hour in the sky, the costs of the F-35 add up quickly.[3] The program is expected to cost $1 trillion over its 60-year lifespan, approximately $7,000 per taxpayer.[3]

The Failures of "One Size Fits All"Edit

The predicted economies-of-scale benefits of producing three planes under a single program were overshadowed by the complexities this approach introduced. Combining the requirements of the Air Force, the Marines, and the Navy resulted in a plane that was suboptimal for any one branch.[3] Ultimately, the three variants diverged significantly from each other, and a study by RAND estimated that starting from a single base design was more expensive than starting with three separate designs would have been.[28]

The most egregious example of this misjudgment was the weight problem with the F-35B. Lockheed Martin developed this variant for the Marines based on the initial F-35A variant for the Air Force. The Marines, however, required heavier features such as internal weapons bays, and the design exceeded its target weight by 2000 pounds.[28] The necessary redesign to correct the problem set the program back 18 months.[3]

Lessons in Contractor AccountabilityEdit

The F-35 program suffered from insufficient DoD accountability over Lockheed Martin.[3] Christopher Bogdan, who became the executive officer of the Air Force F-35 program in 2012, sharply criticized the Pentagon's relationship with Lockheed Martin, claiming that "all of the major decisions, whether they be technical, whether they be schedule, whether they be contractual, were really all being made by Lockheed Martin, and the program office was just kind of watching."[3] Bogdan worked to fix this by increasing oversight and working more closely with Lockheed Martin in addressing the F-35's problems.[3]

Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter increased Lockheed Martin's accountability by implementing a cost incentive: for every dollar spent over an agreed-upon target cost, the contractor would bear half the cost, and for every dollar saved under the target, the contractor would keep half of the savings.[26] This approach aligned the incentives of the taxpayer and the contractor, resulting in per-plane costs dropping by two-thirds during the 2010s.[26]

Military-Industrial-Congressional ComplexEdit

Former Senator John McCain was a harsh critic of the F-35 program, and had pressured Carter for improvement, saying, "How am I supposed to support the DoD budget the way you want when the voters are reading about this kind of thing?"[26] Dan Grazier, of the Project on Government Oversight, says, "It’s no accident that there are more than 1,500 suppliers for the F-35 program, and they’re spread out to almost every state. That means that there’s basically a veto-proof constituency bloc on Capitol Hill for the F-35 program, so it becomes very difficult for members of Congress to really criticize this program."[3]

F-35 development continued despite steep cost overruns, which may be attributed to an iron triangle known as the military-industrial-congressional complex. Representatives in Congress seek to maintain support from F-35 suppliers; the Pentagon seeks to maintain funding from Congress; contractors seek to avoid heavy Pentagon regulation. Lockheed Martin may have set up a wide supplier base to leverage these dependencies, creating a program that was "too big to fail" and securing the company's position in the iron triangle.[28]

For more information, see the Lentis chapter on the military industrial complex.

Potential Chapter ImprovementsEdit

The Pentagon initially took a hands-off role in the development of the F-35. A deeper investigation into this decision and its current and future ramifications would be a valuable addition to the chapter.


  1. https://www.f35.com/about/variants
  2. https://www.f35.com/assets/uploads/documents/F-35_Fast_Facts_-_December_2020.pdf
  3. a b c d e f g h i j k l https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/21/magazine/f35-joint-strike-fighter-program.html
  4. https://www.f35.com/about/variants/f35b
  5. https://www.f35.com/about/capabilities/stealth
  6. a b https://www.f35.com/about/capabilities/electronicwarfare
  7. a b https://www.lockheedmartin.com/en-us/products/f-35/f-35-capabilities.html
  8. https://www.f35.com/about/capabilities/helmet
  9. https://www.f35.com/about
  10. https://www.diffen.com/difference/F-15_vs_F-16_Fighting_Falcon
  11. https://www.wearethemighty.com/mighty-tactical/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-a-10-thunderbolt-ii/
  12. https://www.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/104505/f-16-fighting-falcon/
  13. https://www.public.navy.mil/airfor/csfwp/Pages/F-18.aspx
  14. https://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/f-22-raptor-capabilities-and-controversies-019069/
  15. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/weapons/RL30563.pdf
  16. a b https://www.nytimes.com/2001/10/27/us/lockheed-wins-200-billion-deal-for-fighter-jet.html
  17. https://www.baesystems.com/en-us/product/f-35
  18. https://www.northropgrumman.com/what-we-do/air/f35-lightning/
  19. https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bs-xpm-1996-10-20-1996294058-story.html
  20. https://www.boeing.com/history/products/x-32-joint-strike-fighter.page
  21. https://crgis.ndc.nasa.gov/historic/Test_473:_Boeing_JAST_Inlet_II
  22. a b https://www.f35.com/about/history
  23. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-lockheedmartin-fighter/exclusive-u-s-set-to-approve-international-debut-of-f-35-fighter-sources-idUSBREA2O20C20140325
  24. https://www.flightglobal.com/lockheed-f-35-service-life-extended-to-2070/120105.article
  25. https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monograph_reports/MR1362/MR1362.ch2.pdf
  26. a b c d https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2019/07/how-we-tamed-f-35s-spiraling-costs-and-created-model-controlling-waste/158344/
  27. https://www.aviationtoday.com/2018/09/04/f-35-program-update/
  28. a b c https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/a21957/wtf-35/