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F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) is a fighter plane currently in early development by Lockheed Martin. The primary customers are the United States armed services, but the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia and Turkey are also participating in the program.

The F-35 JSF

The JSF is a multi-role attack and fighter aircraft designed to replace the aging F-16 Fighting Falcon, F/A-18 Hornet, A-10 Thunderbolt II, F-111 Raven, Sea Harrier and GR7 jets. It will complement the USAF's high-end F/A-22 Raptor air superiority fighter and the U.S. Navy's F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

The planes are being constructed in three different variants to suit the needs of various users -- a conventional take-off and landing aircraft (CTOL) for the US Air Force; a carrier based variant (CV) for the US Navy; and a short take-off and vertical landing[?] (STOVL) aircraft for the US Marine Corps and the Royal Navy.

Critics of the program maintain that the F-35 suffers from ill-defined design goals; that it has insufficient internal fuel and weapon capacity to make a capable replacement for dedicated bombing aircraft; that its inability to supercruise limits it as an air defence platform, and that it is almost certain to suffer lengthy development delays and cost over-runs -- meaning that interim types will have to be purchased to fill the gap between the end of useful life of existing fleets and the introduction of the F-35. Several nations, however, already have sufficient confidence in the design to have committed substantial sums to become minor players in the JSF manufacture team.

The program's advocates see the JSF as an opportunity to break out of the decades-old pattern of U.S. military aircraft procurement: instead of a traditional per-service design approach, the JSF is being developed jointly by the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. This allows an estimated 80% commonality between the JSF variants for the different services, lowering aircraft and service costs. Additionally, JSF is the first U.S. aircraft program to consider cost as independent variable (CAIV). In earlier programs, the aircraft cost has been a dependent variable -- additional features have always increased the aircraft cost. Such design changes aren't being allowed during the JSF development.

So far, as of late 2002, the program has stayed surprisingly close to its target cost of $28m for the cheapest Air Force variant. If the JSF eventually meets its cost targets, it will be the first U.S. military aircraft since World War II to do so.

The construction contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin (after Boeing's X-32[?] lost the bid) in October 2001, and the planes are expected to enter service in 2008.

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