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    HomeMilitaryThe F-35 Lightning II: Successes, Setbacks, and Future Prospects in Contemporary Warfare

    The F-35 Lightning II: Successes, Setbacks, and Future Prospects in Contemporary Warfare

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    The fifth-generation multirole stealth fighter, called the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), is notable for its agreements with the United States Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy, as well as pledges from NATO allies and other international partners.

    Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning IIs Joint Strike Fighters at Eglin AFB, Fla.” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    The F-35 was developed to substitute the Air Force’s A-10, F-16, and potentially F-15, the Navy’s F/A-18, and the Marine Corps’ F/A-18 and AV-8.

    Goodbye Edwards, (Lockheed Martin F-35 ‘Lightning II’ ‘Joint Strike Fighter’s’ depart), hello Nellis.” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    supply chain issues and other factors mean the U.S. F-35 fleet did not meet the Department of Defense’s (DoD) 70% “mission capable” rate for 2020 – meaning nearly a third of the fleet was incapable of flying any kind of combat mission.

    CAMP SPRINGS, MD, USA – SEPTEMBER 19, 2015: Visitors could check out the F-35 Lightning II, from a distance, during the 2015 Joint Base Andrews Air Show held at Joint Base Andrews in Camp Springs Maryland.

    “Full mission capable” rates, meaning missions against threats requiring the full capabilities of the aircraft, lagged even further behind DoD targets.

    The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Lightning II, built by Lockheed Martin, takes off for its first flight on Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas, Dec. 15, 2006, during a test of the aircraft’s initial capability. The U.S. Defense Department and eight o ther allied countries have contracted Lockheed Martin as part of the JSF program, which was designed to maximize efficiency and minimize the life cycle, costs of a future multi-role fighter jet. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class D. Keith Simmons) (Released)

    With a fleet size of 283 jets delivered to the U.S. Air Force and a total of 655 jets to the U.S. and its partners as of June 2021, the F-35 program represents a substantial investment.

    Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter on a Left Hand Base Leg to the Final Approach of RWY 3L or 3R at Luke AFB” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    The procurement delays and persistent deficiencies observed during testing have compelled the services to procure additional legacy aircraft, further escalating the program’s costs.

    061215-N-8053S-229
    Fort Worth, Texas (Dec. 15, 2006) – The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II, built by Lockheed Martin takes off for its first flight to test the aircraft’s initial capability at Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth. The US Defense Department and eight other allied countries have contracted Lockheed Martin as part of the Joint Strike Fighter program, which was designed to maximize efficiency and minimize the life cycle, costs of a future multi-role fighter jet. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class D. Keith Simmons (RELEASED)

    Safety concerns also shadow the F-35. Ejection seat tests conducted in 2015 revealed alarmingly high probabilities of death or injury for certain pilot weight classes.

    Lockheed Martin F-35 ‘Lightning II’” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    Despite design modifications, an internal Air Force report from 2017 disclosed that unresolved flaws could potentially lead to pilot fatalities over the program’s lifetime.

    Silent partner: ALIS, F-35 logistics system” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    The aircraft has not been immune to structural and software issues, limiting its performance in certain conditions.

    Luke AFB selected as candidate for Belgium Lockheed Martin F-35A Lighting II ‘Joint Strike Fighter’ Training” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    Specifically, the F-35A’s machine gun accuracy and problems with the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) have been points of contention.

    The DoD scrapped it in 2020 for a new cloud-based system called Operational Data Integrated Network (ODIN).

    ODIN’s development ran into similar problems and has since stalled after funding for it was cut in the DoD’s FY21 budget.

    An Australian Lockheed Martin F-35A ‘Lighting II’ at Luke AFB” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    The cost per unit ranges from $110.3 million for the F-35A to $135.8 million for the F-35B, excluding nearly $1.3 trillion in estimated life cycle costs over 66 years.

    These figures underscore the F-35 as the most expensive weapons system in U.S. history.

    F-35 Lightning Drops a Paveway II Laser Guided Bomb” by Defence Images is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

    A 2021 Government Accountability Office report said there is a widening gap between projected life cycle costs for the F-35 and what the services say they can afford.

    Relevant articles:
    35 Joint Strike Fighter: Costs and Challenges, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation
    The F-35: Analysis of Cost, Performance, and Efficacy, flyajetfighter.com
    F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: More Actions Needed to Explain Cost Growth and Support Engine Modernization Decision, Government Accountability Office (GAO) (.gov), Dec 12, 2023

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