The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a fifth-generation, single-seat multirole fighter jet with stealth technology. A true multirole fighter, it is able to undertake both air and ground assault missions, as well as reconnaissance tasks. It has three distinct variants: the F-35C, a carrier-based version; the F-35B, a short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) version; and the F-35A, which takes off and lands in a conventional manner.
The Lightning II is derived from the Lockheed Martin X-35, which was the end result of the Joint Strike Fighter program. Joint Strike Fighter was an international effort between the US and its closest allies, and as such the F-35 is more of a collaborative project than many comparable fighter jets. The international consortium of companies working on it is headed up by Lockheed Martin.
As of early 2013, the F-35 is still not in active service. It first flew in 2006, but currently in limited production only. When it is eventually introduced, the US Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force plan to purchase 2,443 F-35s, replacing the majority of the US military’s current fighter contingent. The other Joint Strike Fighter nations also have options on the F-35, with the UK, Italy and Canada amongst those who may elect to take the plane on.
The F-35B is particularly notable for its propulsion system. This STOVL variant of the plane is fitted with the Rolls Royce LiftSystem, a specially designed nozzle on its Pratt & Whitney F135 engine which allows it to angle thrust directly downwards in a similar way to the now-obsolete Harrier GR8. The LiftSystem is significant in that it renders the F-35B the first supersonic STOVL plane. However, the complexities of the system mean that the F-35B has a fuel capacity one third less than the conventional takeoff F-35A.
The F-35 is armed with a General Dynamics GAU-22/A Equalizer gatling cannon, and can be further equipped with a range of missiles and bombs on its 6 wing-mounted and four internal hardpoints. Compatible weapon systems include the AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missile, the AGM-154 JSOW air-to-surface missile, the JSM anti-ship missile and the B61 nuclear bomb.
Maximum speed: Mach 1.6+ (1,200 mph, 1,930 km/h) (Tested to Mach 1.61)
Range: 1,200 nmi (2,220 km) on internal fuel
Combat radius: 584 nmi (1,080 km) on internal fuel
Service ceiling: 60,000 ft (18,288 m) (Tested to 43,000 ft)
Rate of climb: classified (not publicly available)
The Lockheed Martin / Boeing F-22 Raptor is a fifth-generation fighter jet, currently in service with the United States Air Force (USAF). It is notable for being the first fifth-generation fighter to reach active service, as well as the USAF’s first supermaneuverable production aircraft. Concieved as an aerial superiority fighter, the F-22 incorporates stealth technology to increase battlefield survivability, and can also take on electronic warfare and surface strike roles if required. It was principally built by Lockheed Martin, with Boeing acting as a secondary contractor to provide part of the plane’s airframe and on board systems. Production ended in 2011 to make way for the forthcoming F-35 Lightning II.
The F-22 is powered by twin Pratt and Whitney F119 turbofan engines, each generating 23,500 pounds of thrust. This figure increases to over 35,000 pounds with afterburner engaged, and gives the Raptor a supercruise speed of Mach 1.82. The aircraft has a range of over 1,600 nautical miles, which can be extended to 1,840 with the addition of external fuel tanks. It is armed with a 20mm M61A2 Vulcan gatling cannon, and has four hardpoints under its wings. Most of the F-22’s armament is stored inside the fuselage of the aircraft in an effort to improve its stealth characteristics. It can be fitted with either air-to-air missiles, including the AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-120 AMRAAM, or small bombs such as the JDAM or GBU-39. The hardpoints can be used to increase weapons loadout or to carry 600 gallon external drop tanks.
The Raptor is currently only operated by the USAF, due in no small part to US Congress placing a ban on all F-22 exports. The Japanese government has expressed an interest in using the aircraft in its Replacement-Fighter program, but as of 2013 no move has been forthcoming. Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department would all need to ratify the sale if it were to go ahead.
195 Raptors were produced between 1996 and 2011, including eight test aircraft. With a cost per unit of $150 million, the total F-22 program is estimated to have cost around $66.7 billion. The aircraft’s cost was a major factor in the decision to end the Raptor program, as the replacement F-35 is a considerably cheaper option.
At altitude: Mach 2.25 (1,500 mph, 2,410 km/h) [estimated]
Supercruise: Mach 1.82 (1,220 mph, 1,963 km/h)
Range: >1,600 nmi (1,840 mi, 2,960 km) with 2 external fuel tanks
Combat radius: 410 nmi (with 100 nmi in supercruise) (471 mi, 759 km)
Ferry range: 2,000 mi (1,738 nmi, 3,219 km)
Service ceiling: 65,000 ft (currently restricted to 44,000 ft, sans vests) (19,812 m)
Rate of climb: 40,000+ ft/min (200 m/s)
Wing loading: 77 lb/ft² (375 kg/m²)
Thrust/weight: 1.05 (1.26 with loaded weight & 50% fuel)