The F-35 Lightning II has its share of concerns, particularly regarding its lack of
acceleration, especially in the trans sonic speed range, lack of super
cruise capability, prominent radar signature for a stealthy aircraft,
lack of maneuverability, due to its width producing drag, plus a high wing loading,
small internal payload, necessary when operating in stealth mode, vulnerability to lightning strikes, and from small arms fire if operating as a ground support
aircraft. It has been called a flying gas tank that will be unable to defend
itself against missiles or modern fighter aircraft.
The vulnerability of stealth design aircraft to
detection became readily apparent when one was downed and a second
damaged beyond repair by surface to air missiles, when detected by radar
over Yugoslavia. Recently China has announced its new radar, said to
be able to detect the F-22 Raptor. The effectiveness of the F-35 stealthy design will very much depend on
whether the technology of the aircraft stays ahead of its competitors. It may be
that the only way to find out is in actual combat when going up
against the latest detection systems.
A better designation for the Lockheed F-35 may be A-35 (A for attack).
When comparing it to other aircraft, it is somewhat like a supersonic
version of the recently retired F-117 bomber with regard to its dated
stealth capabilities, lack of trans sonic acceleration and
maneuverability. However, that aircraft carried 5,000 lbs. of ordnance
vs. 4,000 lbs. for the F-35 A and C models, or 2,000 lbs. for the F-35 B
model, when flown under maximum stealth conditions. In comparison, the
U.S. produced F-15 Eagle carries some 24,000 lbs. of ordnance.
A major problem of the F-35 is its fuselage width. During the early jet age, engineers found that where an aircraft's
fuselage and wings came together produced a large amount of drag at trans sonic
and supersonic speeds. With the discovery, manufacturers began
designing jet aircraft with narrow fuselages, particularly where it and
the wings joined. The principle that calls for narrowing of the
fuselages is known as "area rule".
All three Lockheed F-35 models share the same fuselage design. Due to the
model B having to accommodate a lift fan, the fuselages had to be made
wider, violating the "area rule". The resulting drag effects acceleration, and burns more fuel, lowering the range of the airplane.
The designers of the F-35 have incorporated some "lifting body"
design into the aircraft, where the fuselage itself provides lift to
make up for the aircraft's small wing area and works to lower drag.
However, according to Lockheed's program manager, Tom Burbage, "it is a simple matter of physics"
that due to the cross-sectional area of the F-35, the aircraft can not
match the performance of the aircraft that it supposed to replace.
Due to the space taken by the lift fan, the internal weapons payload must be smaller, and the fuselage can only
accommodate a single engine. The fuselage design of the F-35, to accommodate the lift fan, also blocks the pilots view to "check his six".
U.S. Air Force and the manufacturer say that the sensors of the F-35,
plus its cameras, that scan all around the aircraft, can "more than compensate"
for the lack of rearward vision. Yet, as of the date of this article,
the video images available to pilots lack the resolution of the naked eye.
It was originally intended that, as a cost savings measure, the government
would purchase the F-35 before it was flown or tested. It was also
intended, as a cost saving measure, that 80 percent of aircraft parts
would be the same on all three models. However, the U.S. GAO tells us that
all 63 of the first aircraft that were delivered, which the government
paid for, were priced at about US$1 billion over budget. Furthermore,
none of them are available for combat without major rebuilding.
In February of 2105 the Air Logistics Complex located at Hill AFB in Ogden,
Utah, received a pair of F-35B aircraft. They were there for depot-level
modifications to bring them to IOC (Initial Operational Capability) as defined
by the U.S.M.C. Work performed on both aircraft took a total of 24,000 hours.
The actual cost of the work was not reported.
Thousands of lines of code still need to be written and tested before
they can fly actual combat missions. This will take more time and cost U.S.
taxpayers millions of dollars more. Also, the models only have about 25
percent of their parts in common, and are, in fact, three distinct aircraft.
Recent revelations by the Pentagon show the F-35 slow in acceleration during transonic speed flight tests and experiencing
shaking during supersonic maneuvering. It has also been unstable during slow speed maneuvering.