The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a family of single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole fighters undergoing final development and testing by the United States. The fifth generation combat aircraft is designed to perform ground attack and air defence missions. The F-35 has three main models: the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant, the F-35B short take-off and vertical-landing (STOVL) variant, and the F-35C carrier-based Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) variant. On 31 July 2015, the first squadron was declared ready for deployment after intensive testing by the United States.
The F-35 is descended from the X-35, which was the winning design of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. It is being designed and built by an aerospace industry team led by Lockheed Martin. Other major F-35 industry partners include Northrop Grumman, Pratt & Whitney and BAE Systems. The F-35 took its first flight on 15 December 2006. The United States plans to buy 2,457 aircraft. The F-35 variants are intended to provide the bulk of the manned tactical airpower of the U.S. Air Force, Navy and the Marine Corps over the coming decades. Deliveries of the F-35 for the U.S. military are scheduled to be completed in 2037 with a projected service life up to 2070.
F-35 JSF development is being principally funded by the United States with additional funding from partners. The partner nations are either NATO members or close U.S. allies. The United Kingdom, Italy, Australia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Turkey are part of the active development program; several additional countries have ordered, or are considering ordering, the F-35.
The program is the most expensive military weapons system in history, and it has been the object of much criticism from those inside and outside government—in the US and in allied countries. Critics argue that the plane is “plagued with design flaws,” with many blaming the procurement process in which Lockheed was allowed “to design, test, and produce the F-35 all at the same time, instead of … [identifying and fixing] defects before firing up its production line.” By 2014, the program was “$163 billion over budget [and] seven years behind schedule.” Critics further contend that the program’s high sunk costs and political momentum make it “too big to kill.”
This program cost the tax payer $1.508 trillion (total with inflation), $55.1B for RDT&E, $319.1B for procurement, $4.8B for MILCON, $1123.8B for operations & sustainment.
On 21 April 2009, media reports, citing Pentagon sources, said that during 2007 and 2008, spies downloaded several terabytes of data related to the F-35’s design and electronics systems, potentially compromising the aircraft and aiding the development of defense systems against it. Lockheed Martin rejected suggestions that the project was compromised, stating it “does not believe any classified information had been stolen”. Other sources suggested that the incident caused both hardware and software redesigns to be more resistant to cyber attack. In March 2012, BAE Systems was reported to be the target of cyber espionage. BAE Systems refused to comment on the report, although they did state, “Our own cyber security capability can detect, prevent and rectify such attacks.