While researching exactly what the F-35 was, what benefits it brought and what features it had, i found a lack of informative and sourced descriptions available to read, this is my compendium of information i have found and compiled to give an accurate picture, everything i state is either directly sourced or within the sources listed. There is often competing information for certain aspects, I give weight to what pilots state is important and those who have relevant backgrounds or good information, i do not give credit to people who do not have the relevant backgrounds and either lack sources or misuse facts as well as those who use emotive language(usually a recourse to lacking knowledge on the subject), i would advise you to do the same.
If a link is no longer working it may still be accessible through http://archive.org/
For some of these videos, pay attention to the actual system demonstrations, ignore the narration/fancy graphics unless you want a laugh.
1) Distributed Aperture System(DAS) AN/AAQ-37 is 6 Electro-Optical sensors that watch a total 570 degrees, overlapping to provide safe 360 degree observation, they are positioned such that no part of the aircraft masks it’s 360 view. DAS provides automatic missile and aircraft detection, tracking & warning and integrates imagery to the HMD. Each aperture is interlinked to the ICP which runs the software algorithms that generates geo-registered threat reports and imagery which is then forward to either the HMD or Cockpit Display. DAS detects moving targets and has detected ballistic missile launches at 1,300km and detected tanks firing, the processing power of the ICP allows DAS to simultaneously track thousands of objects.
2) Gen III Helmet Mounted Display System(HMDS), All the information pilots need to complete their missions – airspeed, heading, altitude, targeting information and warnings – is projected on the helmet’s visor, rather than on a traditional Heads-up Display. Additionally, the F-35’s Distributed Aperture System (DAS) streams real-time imagery from six infrared cameras mounted around the aircraft to the helmet at near 20/20 vision acuity, allowing pilots to “look through” the airframe, a small strip at the bottom provides a 360 view, a compass/mini-map in the lower right corner and indicates the direction the pilot is looking. The helmet also provides pilots night vision through the use of an integrated camera, which because it’s FLIR isn’t as sensitive to bright lights. This helmet gives the pilot exceptional Situational Awareness which is the primary driver for engagement outcomes 80% of the time. Due to the precision required, padding inside the HMD is specifically molded to each pilots head shape. Current contracts have the price of the helmet at 301k which is slightly more than JHMCs. The HMD and DAS also par very well with the new generation High Off Bore missiles that can be targeted and launched at aircraft up to 90 degrees off bore and the Lock On After Launch feature will provide 360 degree missile engagement envelope.
Side Note: The Cockpit also features several advances, assembled by a team with 150 years of tactical aviation experience, it is dominated by two joint 10 inch by 8 inch Panoramic Cockpit Displays(PCD) with touch integration and extensive voice activation functionality, each PCD has an independent computer and can be subdivided into different modes. A few buttons do remain such as landing gear, electrical reset and engine on/off which work regardless of software. F-16/18/35 cockpits and a Norwegian comparison.
3) Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) AN/AAQ-40, a combined FLIR and infrared search and track, it features laser designation, laser spot tracker for cooperative engagements, air-to-air and air-to-ground tracking FLIR, wide area IRST and generation of geo-coordinates to support GPS-guided weapons. It will initially be able to share still images to troops, a Common Data Link(CDL) will allow the Video feed generated to be sent to ground troops over a Rover Network, they could even control where the camera is pointed and indicate to the Pilot where they want targeted, this functionality is planned for Block 4. There are other programs aimed at furthering this interaction between ground troops and CAS. The EOTS has a long range, able to discern windows apart in a Hotel 50 miles away.
4) AESA/APG-81 Radar, this radar is exceptional with an Active Electronically Steered Array(AESA) of 1,676 T/R modules and can do vastly more than old Passive Electronically Steered Array(PESA) radars, especially with it’s integration to the ICP. It can track more aircraft, create high def SAR maps and then automatically identify targets(ATR), use inverse SAR to detect and identify maritime objects, use passive bistatic detection methods, can jam radars in combination with ASQ-239, can be used in LPI/LPD mode where it scans at different frequencies and power rapidly to avoid detection or it can use “closed-loop tracking” where after detecting an aircraft it will only use the minimal power to keep track of the aircraft, it can use Non Cooperative Target Recognition to “Map” out aircraft to identify them or analyze their thrust signature. The F-35 also has color-weather radar for navigating thunderstorms, squall lines, and fronts and is a first for fighters. The APG-81 won the David Packard award for it’s resistance to jamming. Here’s a simulation video.
5) AN/ASQ-239 “Barracuda”. While most aircraft carry crutch Electronic Warfare(EW) systems, the F-35’s was designed from the outset for integration, able to operate not just with other components within the aircraft such as the APG-81, it can operate with other F-35’s over MADL to perform EW operations together. The AN/ASQ-239 is an evolution of the F-22’s AN/ALR-94 which is described as the most complex and costly avionics piece on the F-22, the Barracuda has twice the reliability and is a quarter the cost of the ALR-94, as well as being able to reduce the 30 sensors on the F-22 to 10 sensors, it has demonstrated the ability to detect and jam the F-22’s radar. It’s able to precisely geo-locate emission locations hundreds of kilometers away, further then it’s radar can see and from there the APG-81 can be slaved to that data track and then detect and track the object with a very narrow beam, increasing power and detection on target while decreasing detection by other aircraft. At close range or against targets using Jammers it is capable of narrowband interleaved search and track(NBILST) against aircraft which provides precise range and velocity that can then be used by a missile without need of the APG-81, allowing 360 degree targeting of aircraft. The Barracuda can refer to it’s data-banks of known emissions and identify the source vehicle or store it for future classification. Other features are false target generation and range-gate stealing, offensive EW is possible, a towed RF decoy is also a part of the package as is MJU-68/B Flares, the counter measure dispenser’s can be seen from behind. The F-35 will also feature “cyber attack” capability.
6) The Communications, Navigation and Information(CNI) system. The CNI uses Software-defined radio (SDR) technology, SDR uses reconfigurable RF hardware and computer processors to run software that produces a desired waveform, the CNI can manage over 27 different wave-forms. One of the new wave-forms is the MultiFunction Advanced Data Link(MADL) developed for the F-35 which has a very high data(video streaming etc) transfer rate and is very hard to intercept or jam, giving the aircraft “stealth” communications, it also acts in a Daisy Chain fashion to operate over wide areas with numerous nodes(other F-35s). The F-35 will have LPI/LPD Link-16 capability as well. With it’s full suite of communications It can give information to another aircraft enhancing their situational awareness, this allows an F-35 that has expended it’s munitions to continue to act as an AWACS, furthering network centric warfare. If an F-35 see’s a ballistic missile it can give that information to a naval vessel who can send an SM-6 after it with the F-35’s targeting data, extending the range of AEGIS, or it can provide geo-coordinate data on a vehicle somewhere and guide in artillery GPS shells/rockets or missiles(tomahawks) etc. With the AESA radar the communications system can send or receive very large amounts of data very quickly.
7) Integrated Core Processor(ICP), Blocks and Code. At the core of the F-35 is the Computer systems, this is where all the information that every system gathers comes together and is fused then presented to the pilot. This computer system is designed to be very easy to upgrade and up to date, the power system was also designed to handle future loads as well as the use of fibre optics for high data transfer rates. The Code for the F-35 comprises 8.1 million lines, Block 1 had 76% of the code, Block 2 had an additional 6% that enabled basic avionic and weapon functionality, Block 2B is ongoing with version 2BR5, only data clean up is left and the USMC intends to declare IOC with Block 2. Block 3i will be next which the Air Force will go to IOC with, afterwards Block 3F will follow, the USN requires Block 3F for IOC. 98% of that coding is developed and in the labs, and 89% is currently flying. The estimated delay on Block 3F is 4-6 months without making changes but is within the buffer and will be ready for USN IOC. The F-35 also has very strong cryptographic security, only the US has the ability to modify the source code, but aircraft owners will be able to change geographic data.
8) Autonomic Logistics Information System(ALIS) and Maintenance, ALIS receives Health Reporting information while the F-35 is still in flight, the system, with 5 million lines of code, enables the pre-positioning of parts and qualified maintainers on the ground, so that when the aircraft lands, downtime is minimized and efficiency is increased. This system is the most delayed part of the JSF program and is encountering significant software issues but has a strong potential to enable much higher sortie rates and reduced ground maintenance requirements. The F-35 has complex health management system’s throughout the aircraft and engine. The F-35 also has closed-loop Electro-Hydrostatic Actuators that require no maintenance for their entire lifetime, this feature also has the benefit of avoiding the need for manual reversion after suffering damage. The F-35 has a 200hp gas turbine engine for starting the main engine, for environmental controls and emergency power if the engine were to fail.
9) Stealth, reportedly at 0.006m² to 0.001m² RCS or -30 dBsm(from 2005, newer comments state it’s smaller then an F-22), it has a vastly reduced detection range, what this does is reduce the enemy’s reaction times, allows the F-35 to operate outside of a targets engagement range and enables it to “first look, first shot, first kill” which sets the initiative of the fight in the F-35s favour. An F/A-18E/F has about 0.5m² RCS, if it was detected at 100nm the F-35 would be detected at 25nm. Stealth increases the effectiveness of Jamming. The F-35’s stealth is also much more maintenance friendly than previous aircraft, notably with the stealth coating cured into the skin. Another aspect of Stealth is the Thermal Signature, the F-35 incorporates lessons from the LOAN program for reduced engine RCS & thermals as well as advanced air bleeding and using the fuel as a heat sink.
10) Performance. The F-35 was designed with “F-16/F-18 like” qualities, for the difference between those planes refer here. To get a good idea of the F-35s maneuverability through unclassified means we can use three different methods, first is pilot comments; the F-35 is remarked by Col De Smit of the RNLAF as “turns like an F-16 with pylon tanks; but it climbs, descends & accelerates like a clean F-16” also to note is the F-35 has more fuel then an F-16 with pylon tanks. This also conforms with Lt Col Lee Kloos of the USAF who said “The F-35′s acceleration is “very comparable” to a Block 50 F-16.””Again, if you cleaned off an F-16 and wanted to turn and maintain Gs and[turn] rates, then I think a clean F-16 would certainly outperform a loaded F-35″”But if you compared them at combat loadings, the F-35 I think would probably outperform it.” Captain Morten Hanche states these points in his blog as well.
The second is Aerodynamic modeling which largely confirms the pilot quotes and allows us to make several more assumptions. At Sea Level it encounters relatively more drag(due to it’s “stubby” body) and has slightly worse performance then an F-16 but at high altitude(30k-57k) the penalty for this lessens out drastically. Carrying weapons on other aircraft significantly worsens their performance through the drag of the weapon and pylon whilst the F-35 is affected only by the weight, this makes the F-35 superior in combat loadings. F-16s and regular Hornets also require fuel tanks and pods(ECM, Targeting etc) to reach the same range/capabilities as the F-35, all of which increase drag and reduces hard-points for munitions.
The third is through extrapolation of the KPPs which reinforces our above statements, therefore we can conclude; The F-35A’s sustained turning compared to a Block 50 F-16C is worse at low/clean profiles, equal/better at high/combat profiles. Subsonic acceleration and climb rate is the same/better as a clean/combat F-16 and transonic acceleration should be similar to a combat loaded F-16.
A small detail is that compared to the F-16, the F-35A with “full war equipment” can cruise 10-15k feet higher without afterburner and cruise 50-80 knots faster, all of this additional energy is imparted on missiles.
The F-16 is limited to 26 degree Angle of Attack while the F-35 can pull 50 degrees(tested up to 101), the same as the F/A-18’s, the F-35 will have “superb low speed handling characteristics and post-stall manoeuvrability” similar to the F-18 and much better then the F-16. The F-35A has been tested to 9.88G with a design load of 9G, B & C are 7/7.5G, for reference the F-16 is also 9G while the F/A-18 is limited to 7.5G. Certain external stores will reduce the limits on AoA, G-force and max speed on all aircraft. Captain Morten Hanche describes the AoA difference and how it affects fighting here.
Combat Radius is 613nm which includes carrying 2 Aim-120s and 2x2k JDAMs over a combat profile mission, this is further then most aircraft it’s replacing, at optimal cruise range is about ~1700nm, max speed is 700KCAS or Mach 1.6 and it can supercruise at mach 1.2 for 150nm.
Payload is a standard 8 tonnes/18k pounds internal & external over 10 hard-points, an additional center-line hard-point can carry the Multi-Mission Pod or Gun Pod. The F-35 has 2 internal bays that can carry an AIM-120 and a ≤2,500 pound bomb or 4 SDBs or an additional AIM-120(2 in Block 4) in each bay for a total up to 2.2 tonnes/5k pounds. The F-35Bs bomb rack is limited to ≤1,500 pounds. The F-35 can carry many legacy munitions externally and several internally and a few weapons are being designed specifically to fit inside weapon bays such as the Joint Strike Missile, SDB II, SOM, JAGM and some future form of the maturation programs; Joint Dual Role Air Dominance missile and Triple Target Terminator missile.
The F-35A will posses an internal cannon(B/C will use a Pod) of 25mm caliber, the GAU-22/A which is 38% more accurate then the M61 Vulcan on Legacy jets and the same accuracy as the GAU-8 on the A-10, in addition it will have a cockpit programmable fire control system that accounts for the effects of wind and aim wonder on long-range air to ground employment opportunity. The GAU-22/A will have Armor Piercing High Explosive rounds, the combination of increased accuracy and more lethal munitions allows for a smaller ammunition storage for the same kill chance, the F-35A will have 180 rounds(Pod is 220), down from 511 on Legacy aircraft, which will probably provide 4-5 bursts.
11) Costing. Cost is a big contentious point for the F-35 but is often misrepresented with inflationary figures in $Then Year out to 2065, if we account for inflation the JSF program will cost a total $917 Billion in $2012 dollars, this is for development, procurement and sustainment out to 2065 of 2,443 aircraft. Development and Procurement is $59 and $257 Billion respectively, another 3.9 Billion for Construction and Operations & Sustainment is $597 Billion $2012. These estimates include Cost Growth Above Inflation over the 55 years as well as a mid-life upgrade and subsystems(ECM, EOTS etc) that legacy aircraft don’t include, there are also many factors in CAPE/GAO reports that is questionable such as depot level maintenance and removal rates, the latest SAR also doesn’t include newer data such as the Cost War Room that is set to save $41 Billion. JPO maintains an O&S cost of 535 billion. Production starts off in Low Rate Initial Production(LRIP) slowing ramping up to Full Rate Production(FRP) in 2018 and up to 120 aircraft per year in 2022, the prices for each lot decrease‘s as economies of scale increase and as more efficient production techniques are learnt.
Cost increases, there is a lot of confusion over the exact increase due to the issue of cutting aircraft and delays causing inflation to affect the amounts. In 2001 the SDD started with the idea of 2,866 aircraft and 35 billion in development but no baseline was approved, in 2003 the first baseline was approved at 2,457 aircraft(13 dedicated to testing) and 45 billion development. The original prediction was 177 Billion in $2002, this is 226 Billion in $2012 based on Bureau of Labor Statistics, the current estimate is 323 Billion in $2012, this means the program is 43% over the predicted amount when accounting for inflation, this has been declining since 2009 high of 345 Billion. Of this increase apparently 40% of it is accountable to Lockheed faults, 22% for Pratt & Whitney and the rest is Government changes either in requirements(war spares) or how to estimate costs.
The F-35 will have an individual 30 year operational life with production out to 2038 for a total 2,457 aircraft. The F-35 is replacing 1,200 F-16’s, 254 F-15C/Ds, 340 A-10’s, 100 Harriers, 662 Hornets and not scheduled to replace 200 F-15Es, 565 Super Hornets and 114 Growlers.
Now what about relative to other aircraft? Development is pretty pricey, at 55 billion its more than the F-22 at 42 billion, and the Euro-fighter and Rafale are about 30-25 billion respectively, the LRS-B is estimated to cost 24 billion, the B-2 cost about 37 billion.
How about aircraft unit costs? Unit Costs are often compared to older aircraft, this is not accurate as aircraft are always becoming more expensive as complexity and demands increase resulting in more highly capable, albeit expensive aircraft.
In $2012 dollars the F-35A is 76/86(lowest/average) million over it’s production run, the F-35B/C is 94/109 million. The F-16 Block 52 is likely 73 million, A Super Hornet is 63/79 million, a Growler is 64/72, the Gripen E/F is around 80-85 mil, the Rafale C is 87mil and M is 100mil, the Eurofighter T3 costs 110 million in $2012, the F-22 115/181 million These costs are UNRF. Unit costs are often confused between Unit Recurring Flyaway(basic airframe + engines + avionics), Unit Non-Recurring Flyaway(+ mission/weapon systems, ancillary and equipment), Procurement Unit Cost (+Spares), and Program Acquisition Unit Cost (+Development costs), it is important to compare the same cost measure. It is also very important to ensure calculations are made in same year dollars as inflation can rapidly change apparent pricing.
Also to remember is the aircraft lifetime, the Super Hornet is rated for 6,000 hours years where as all F-35s are 8,000 hours, to add more hours to the Super Hornet is called a SLEP and costs 28 million for 3,000 hours. The Eurofighter is rated for 6,000 hours and Rafale 7,000 hours, the F-22 is 8,000 hours, as is the F-16.
How about cost per flying hour?
The F-35A flies 250 hours(higher capability simulators replace some flying hours)per year at the cost of $32.5k per hour, cost of $8.1 million per year. An active F-16 flies 316 hours per year at a cost of $8.2 million per year and 26k per hour, the F-16 does not include pods(Fuel, ECM, Targeting) required to reach similar capability as the F-35. The F-16s cost is also increasing as it get’s older and will soon eclipse the F-35As. It’s important to compare the same type of cost, there is Operational Cost Per Flying Hour and the Variable Cost Per Flying Hour which is considerably lower.
An interesting exercise is the comparison of the F-22 to the F-35 projects. The F-22 started with an APUC of $35 million $1985 which is $70 million in $2009 in 2009 the APUC was $160 million with notable performance cuts and delays. Same goes for the F/A-18 although a much less risky program it still encountered significant issues such as a 50% price increase, schedule slippage, questionable performance etc. This GAO report was highly critical of the F-16 in 1977.
The F-35’s development timeline is also relatively moderate. The Rafale started development in 1982 and introduced in 2001(19 years). The Euro-fighter started in 1983 and was introduced in 2003(20 years). The Raptor started in 1986 and entered service in 2005(19 years). The PAK-FA, an evolutionary aircraft, started in 2001 and will be introduced in 2017(16 years). The Gripen started development in 1979 and was introduced in 1998(19 years). The Hornet was a redesign of the YF-17(9 years) from 1975 to 1983(8 Years) from which the Super Hornet evolved from 1992 to 2000(8 years). The F-35 in comparison to all of these started in 1996 with USAF IOC in 2016(20 years). Whatever happened to the four year aircraft?
12) Variants, There is an A version, the Conventional Take Off and Landing, the B version, a Short Take Off and Vertical Landing and C the Carrier Variant. The JSF designers were able to accommodate each of these with “virtually no scars” on the CTOL variant in regard to ship suitability.
The STOVL variant‘s fan system is exactly where some of the CTOLs(and CV’s) fuel tanks are, by sacrificing fuel(24% less), weapons storage(1,000 pound bombs instead of 2,000 but still 4 SDB2s), heavier weight(3,000 pounds) and some slight fuselage changes it’s able to utilize a fan driven lift system. The F135 CTOL/CV engine produces 28k/43k(dry/wet thrust). The STOVL engine produces 27k/41k, in STOVL mode 5,025 pounds is diverted to the LiftFan which then produces 18,575 pounds of lift another 3,400 pounds is split between each of the Roll Posts and the engine itself produces 18,575 pounds of lift for a total 40,550 pounds of lift.
The Carrier Variant has a large wingspan and tails, ailerons and strengthened structure, trade-offs are lower acceleration and max speed, benefits are larger fuel storage, better loiter time, tighter turn radius and allows it to perform carrier landings at very slow speeds and more steadily. The Carrier variant will have a smaller Spot Factor than the Super Hornet, 1.11 vs 1.24 relative to legacy Hornets.
Procurement numbers can be found in the Fast Facts.
Combat mode = Internal Stores + full fuel.
|Length(ft)||Width(ft)||Wing Area(ft)||Empty Weight(lb)||Internal Fuel(lb)||Combat Radius(nm)||Wing Loading (Empty/Combat,ft)||Thrust/Weight (Empty/Combat,lb)||Instant/Sustained turning|
13) Design Philosophy, the F-35 originates in the STOVL Strike Fighter(SSF) program around the single engine with a driveshaft driven fan system. The first design had highly swept wings which produced unstable pitch up at even moderate Angles of Attack and was abandoned, the next design had canards and no horizontal tail, this was optimized for supersonic flight. The USAF was interested in replacing the F-16 with another single engine aircraft and it was demonstrated that a conventional variant could be easily made by removing the lift fan & drive-shaft then substituting them with a fuel tank, this was met with approval and the Common Advance Lightweight Fighter(CALF) program was born. With the addition of 4 new ground-attack missions emphasis changed from a fighter with strike capability to a strike aircraft with some fighter capability, this was reinforced by the Gulf War in which most Iraqi aviation assets were destroyed on the ground, stealth and BVR missiles were more mature and the advent of high-off-boresight missiles reduced the need for maneuverability. The weapon bays were enlarged to carry 2,000 pound bombs at the price of increased wave drag, and the canards were replaced with horizontal tails and the aerodynamic center was shifted forward, this resulted in greater sub/transonic performance at the expense of supersonic performance. In addition each variant is highly different, using common parts where possible but otherwise using cousin or unique parts where necessary to tailor each variant to their respective roles. To accommodate the lift fan for the STOVL version it uses an entirely unique neck area that has a significant bulge which the A and C does not have. STOVL only has a minor impact on the other variants through the necessity of bifurcated inlet ducts(which come with stealth benefits) and a required lighter weight to keep commonality high.
We can get a good idea of how different mission sets result in different aerospace designs by comparing the F-22 and F-35. The F-22 and F-35 both carry the same amount of fuel, the F-35A/C has a preferred range of >600nm while carrying 5k munitions due to basing and targets in Iraq and Iran, the F-22 has a more relaxed combat radius of around ~500nm with only AA missiles because it’s role is primarily air superiority. The F-35A/C has to carry 2,000 pound bunker busters and cruise missiles while the F-22 only carries 1,000 pound bombs. The F-22 is vastly larger 62 long, 44.6 wide, 16.8 high vs the smaller F-35 at 51.4 x 34 x 14.2, the larger size of the F-22 gives it a better Sears-Haack aerodynamic profile reducing it’s wave drag allowing it to reach a very high top speed, the F-35 on the other hand focus’s on the Area Rule giving it good transonic performance. The F-35s width is slightly more than an F-18s and is dictated by it’s engine and weapons bay lengths. To have a side-by-side weapons bay like the F-22 that carries 2x2k munitions and 2 AA missiles the aircraft would need to be significantly longer, more than the F-22 because of it’s large single engine(5.16m to 5.59m) and longer bay (3.7m to 4.1m) requirements, this would make the aircraft much heavier, degrading performance and increasing cost. Therefore we can conclude that the F-35s focus on stealthy strike missions and affordability is the primary driver of it’s aerodynamic profile.
Thermal Management [Broken]
If you wish to see recent news on the F-35 this is a good feed.
Please do keep in mind the journalism that surrounds any complex subject.
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Thanks to everyone at F-16.net for their tireless research and information gathering, a large majority of all this can be found somewhere on their forums.