The Interview: Lockheed Martin Talks F-35
Image Credit: Wikicommons

The Interview: Lockheed Martin Talks F-35


After publishing A ‘Stealth’ Showdown in South Korea, which detailed the various aircraft vying for South Korea's FX-III prize, we were flooded with questions regarding the various competitors. We have reached out to Boeing (see interview here), Lockheed Martin, and Eurofighter to answer the most popular questions you asked over email, social media, and our comments board.

The Diplomat's Harry Kazianis spoke with Lockheed Martin's F-35 Campaign Director Korea Randall Howard regarding the entry of the F-35 in the FX-III competition.

(Editor's Note: We are awaiting a reply from Eurofighter.)

1: The Diplomat recently ran a featured story concerning South Korea's FX-III fighter competition. Our readers were very excited concerning the entry of the F-35. We received multiple emails, comments and requests for more information. One of the more repeated questions was a history of the project.  How did the program come about? What are some of the goals of the program?

The F-35 Program is a family of 3 highly common aircraft designed to replace the aging 4th generation fighters across the U.S. Air Force (USAF), U.S. Navy (USN), U.S. Marine Corps (USMC), and eight partner nations.  Building upon the lessons learned from the F-117, B-2, and F-22, the F-35 is a highly supportable and affordable multi-role stealth fighter capable of operating in heavily defended airspace while simultaneously providing air-to-air, air-to-surface, electronic attack, intelligence/surveillance/reconnaissance, and command and control capabilities.  
The three variants include a Conventional Take-off and Landing (CTOL) aircraft, a Short Take-off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft, and a Carrier Variant (CV) aircraft.  The international partnership includes the United Kingdom, Italy, The Netherlands, Turkey, Australia, Canada, Norway, and Denmark.  Following the competitive selection of the Lockheed Martin F-35 design in October 2001, each of these nations signed agreements with the U.S. for participation in the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase of the program, and later also signed an agreement for the Production, Sustainment, and Follow-on Development (PSFD) phase of the program.  Over the next 20+ years in the U.S., the F-35 is scheduled to field 1,763 CTOL aircraft for the USAF, and 680 STOVL and CV aircraft for the USMC and USN.  Within the international partnership, the program of record includes more than 700 CTOL and STOVL aircraft.  Six of the eight partner nations have placed their initial orders with initial deliveries ranging from 2012 – 2015.  Beyond the partnership, Israel and Japan have signed agreements with the U.S. for their initial orders.  Both of these nations will begin taking deliveries in 2016. 

2. The F-35 obviously has some major competition from various competent and modern fighters such as the F-15 SE and the Eurofighter. In what ways does
the F-35 stand out? How, in your view, is the F-35 superior to the competition?

The F-35 is the only available Very Low Observable (VLO) stealth fighter.  VLO stealth must be designed into the aircraft from the very beginning.  It cannot be retrofitted into an existing 4th generation aircraft.  For the F-35, this means a full load of internally carried combat fuel and weapons, imbedded sensors, a curved/diverterless intake that hides the face of the engine, aligned leading and trailing horizontal/vertical edges, and a digital/computer controlled design that allows the aircraft to be manufactured and assembled to a very tight and exacting outer mold line tolerance.  These designed-in characteristics help to reduce the overall radar cross section of the F-35 and allow that signature to be maintained at a fraction of the cost compared to legacy stealth aircraft.  

Inside the stealth vehicle, the F-35 has the most advanced array of sensors and mission systems ever integrated into a fighter aircraft.  Using the more than 9 million lines of software code resident on the F-35, the data collected from the APG-81 AESA radar, the electro-optical targeting system, the electro-optical IR missile warning distributed aperture system, and the highly precise emitter detection and location data is fused together and presented to the pilot to provide him/her with unmatched 360 degree situational awareness.  Finally, the data collected from one F-35 is shared with other F-35 aircraft across a high bandwidth stealthy data link, ensuring every pilot in a flight of F-35 aircraft has the same tactical view of the battlespace.  The corresponding cooperative battle engagement capability changes the dynamics of the air battle and allows the F-35 to dominate the battlefield, even in the most demanding threat environments that will face the U.S. and allied nations over the next 30+ years.  In short, the F-35 provides a quantum leap in capability over competing fighter aircraft.

3. The F-35 is considered by many as 5th generation fighter. It would compete presumably against a field of 5th generation fighters developed by Russia, China and possibly others. How is the F-35 prepared to compete against such airframes of the future?

Very little is known at this time about the Russian and Chinese fighter development programs.  What is known is that both nations are aggressively pursuing their programs in an effort to field those aircraft as soon as possible.  The F-35 is more than 11 years into the development of the air system and simultaneously delivering production aircraft.  Today, more than 40 F-35 aircraft have been fielded and more than 150 F-35 aircraft are in production flow.  The combination of VLO stealth and the integrated/fused mission system data is a highly complex and time consuming process.  The F-35 is well ahead of the platforms from these two nations in both regards.  The fact that both Russia and China are developing the PAK-FA, J-20, and J-31 is further proof of the value and need for the F-35.

4. What types of missions can the F-35 be expected to perform? What do you consider the airplanes greatest strengths overall? How much is stealth an important asset to the airframe of the F-35?

VLO stealth is a critical element of the F-35 and will be required to operate in threat environments that the U.S and allied nations will face over the next 30+ years.  As noted above, the combination of stealth, integrated/fused sensors and mission systems that provide unmatched 360 degree situational awareness, and a high bandwidth stealth data link will allow the F-35 to penetrate heavily defended airspace at will and cooperatively dominate the battlespace.  This provides proactive strategic deterrence for nations operating the F-35.  That deterrence allows the F-35 to hold strategic targets of interest at risk on a 24/7 basis, despite the complex defensive systems that have been put in place to protect those targets.

5.  Considering the cost of the aircraft, upgradeability is important as threats and threat environments can change throughout the planes lifespan.  How upgrade friendly is the aircraft?

You are exactly correct.  The threats that we face today are not the same threats that we will face tomorrow.  Those threats are both improving and proliferating.  The F-35 program has been designed with this reality in clear view.  In the same way that the F-16V aircraft is vastly improved over previous F-16 aircraft, the Block 3 capabilities that represent the Initial Operational Capability will be expanded upon over the life of the F-35.  These technology refresh upgrades are already planned for on the F-35 program, and will occur on a recurring basis throughout the life of the program.  For participating nations, the opportunity to participate in these upgrades represents a tremendous benefit.  On smaller programs, the proportional cost of the non-recurring engineering effort to integrate upgrades can be prohibitively expensive for any given customer.  Comparatively, on a large program such as the F-35, the corresponding cost for a customer with a relatively small fleet will be significantly lower.  Moreover, because the F-35 is the foundation for tactical air power for the U.S., the partner nations, and Israel and Japan going forward, should Korea select the F-35, they can be confident that the necessary upgrade investments will be made to ensure the continuing technological superiority of the F-35 throughout its life.

March 16, 2014 at 21:31

The F35 was never originally designed as a 5th generation air superiority fighter, only as a ground attack aircraft once the F22 had acquired air dominance. Once the Obama administration decided it would no longer buy any further F22′s due to their crazy cost per unit, Lockheed and the US armed forces only had the F35 to fall back on. In the formers case, to make $’s, and in the laters because there was no other option available!! Terrific! So now we have a fighter that has been described as: Can’t shoot, can’t climb and can’t run!’ Why? Well it can only carry 4 missiles internally to ensure any so-called stealth potential, (The Sukhoi carries 10), it’s flight ceiling is around 40-50k ft whereas the Sukhoi is around 50-60k ft, and once it exhausts it’s four missiles, it’s top speed is only Mach 1.6 whereas the Sukhoi’s is 2.2 Mach so it can be run down. In exercises against allied. Sukhoi’s there have been reports that fighting against f35′s is like shooting ducks in a barrel!! The other thing to consider is that Russian ground and aircraft radars have significantly improved to the point where they can more easily detect stealth aircraft. Oh yeah, one last thing, Russian supplied AA missiles have a longer range than western ones eg he who shoots first usually wins! What an amazing mess this is, which is dressed up as some kind of wonder plane. Would you really buy the F35 with questions such as these hanging over it? My interpretation of a,n f35 based upon this info? An expensive target.

November 29, 2012 at 19:19

In both Korean and Japanese case the F-35 is more of a political acquisition rather than truly strategical or economical. For instance, in Japan, the traditional aerospace giant like Mitsubishi HI loose a lot in the contract by not having a real chance to contribute to teh program and to enjoy from extensive technology transfer from the project. In case of buying the Typhoon for instance, the local industry would have had a great technological transfer oppotunities and also would have had chance to produce the aircraft! From Korean point of view though, if looking the geopolitical implications of a possible scenario against the North, Korean jets would engage  in furball very fast, not having chance to utilize the F-35's anyways overhyped 'stealth' characteristics that have been compromised many times already. In my opinion, the wisest thing to do would be to by the Typhoon or F-15SE class platform with the latest electronics and avionics, AND retaining the outstanding aerodynamic performance of the platform to hold an upper hand while closing in to a turning fight (which is almost impossible to avoid in the scenario). F-35 just don't have the thrust-to-weight ratio/wing loading to provide the required 'upper hand' there. Again, too many compromises had to be done while incorporating the 'stealth' characteristics…Also, due to the same reasons, the missile carrying capability of the F-35 is rather limited. Typhoon and F-15 with integrated systems and outstanding performance + huge missile toting capability + relatively cheap price in comparison to the F-35 would provide better overal security environment for Korea and even to Japan (not even to mention the economical effects!)

TV Monitor
November 29, 2012 at 07:20

Australia has no plans to have carriers. Korea doesn't plan to have carriers until 2025 at the earliest, and what they have on the roadmap are 40~50,000 ton full carriers, not SVTOL carriers and won't be operating near Korea, but in the South China Sea instead to protect the shipping lane.
As for Japan, there is an ambiguity about Japan's intentions. The biggest issue is the crushing debt load of the Japanese government at 240% of GDP. Then there is the article 9 of the Peace Constitution, which either have to be struck down or reinterpretated before Japan could have carriers.

November 29, 2012 at 04:52

Getting their F-35s from Japan's FACO is not a requirement as they could easily opt for the Italian FACO or the one in the US.  The only cost increase would be in local labor and transport costs.
A FACO is not a requiremet for regular maintenece either, only the occational major upgrades (every 6 years or so) and they could still choose the Italian or American FACO.

November 29, 2012 at 02:18

Interesting. I'm most interested in the B model personally. With so many allied nations with small carriers and even larger carriers like the Queen Elizabeth class it seems these very large and time consuming ships will be depending on the F-35B to have any claim on actually being a carrier. The US should share some of the load with allies and this will also help deter adversaries with a greatly bulked up alliance. As China seems determined to confront the US all of us will be better off with more friends that are far better armed. Japan, South Korea and Australia could greatly add to their contribution to our common defense by using F-35Bs on their small carriers. Not to mention the B's will greatly increase our own small carrier's capabilities. If our allies used the Bs on their carriers we would have at least six extra carriers we don't have today. It just seems smart in times of cutbacks to share the burden with allies that are eager to help.

TV Monitor
November 29, 2012 at 01:03

It is too late for Randall Howard to market the F-35 as press report confirms it is now a two-way horse race between the F-15SE and the Eurofighter Typhoon. What Mr. Howard has not told the Diplomat during his interview is that his company held a press conference in Korea urging the Korean government to delay the selection by several years with a promise of better pricing in the future than is possible now, which confirms that Lockheed knows it is going to lose the Korean contest and is trying to delay the announcement in order not to impact the F-35 sales in Canada and in Europe, which are debating an exit from the JSF program.
Another thing that Mr. Howard doesn't seem to understand that the "compatility" with Japan's F-35 is a negative selling point, not a positive seling point, in the Korean contest. The Korean airforce F-35s would require to be maintained in Japan where the FACO is located. That sales term is impossible to accept for the Korean military with Japan being Korea's second biggest security threat after China due to the ongoing territorial disputes. The F-15SE and the Typhoon will be maintained in Korea and do not share this problem. Boeing and EADS CASA understand this and they never mention Japan in their marketing, but Mr. Howard doesn't.

November 29, 2012 at 00:57

In an era where the opposition will be flying stealthy fighter jets made by China or Russia; Western countries can take theri chances with existing Gen 4+ fighters like the F-15, -16 and -18 knowing that these jets will most likely to be destroyed very easily which leaves buying the F-35 as this is the "only" western 5th Generation fighter jet on the market. Another possibility is to buy fleets of the existing Gen 4+ aircraft and configure them to function like UCAVs where each would be controlled by a pilot on the ground.

November 29, 2012 at 00:53

The Chinese will copy it and mass produce it, then sell it cheaply to whoever wants to buy it.

Share your thoughts

Your Name
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief