Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The F-35 Lightning II

At an unveiling ceremony a couple of weeks ago; Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England congratulated the team that built the stealth-technology fighter, and said the aircraft will serve far into the future. "The F-35 Lightning II will be the centerpiece of airpower in the 21st century for America and our allies," England said.

In addition to Britain, the consortium of countries that will field the aircraft includes Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Australia, Norway, Denmark and Canada.

The Lightning II will be "the most sophisticated, affordable and capable" aircraft of all time "and the very best fighter ever built," promised Ralph Heath, president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., the lead contractor for the F-35 development program.

The F-35 is most-expensive weapons procurement ever undertaken by the U.S. military. Contracts worth about $30 billion, out of an estimated total U.S. government cost of $276 billion, have been issued so far to Lockheed and other contractors.

As Air Force Gen. Michael Moseley let out the worst-kept secret in Washington, the Lightning II name, a giant video screen behind him disappeared into the stage floor, revealing the stealth gray F-35, bathed in spotlights and also shrouded in smoke. "What a fantastic looking flying machine," Moseley said. "Today, we collectively put the enemies of peace and freedom on notice. Their defenses are obsolete."

The F-35 is supposed to eventually replace many of the combat aircraft now used by the U.S. and its allies. It is designed to be stealthy -- hard to detect with radar -- speedy, maneuverable and loaded with modern weapons. Three versions are planned: the F-35A version is designed for conventional takeoffs and landings, and will be used by the Air Force. It will replace the F-15, F-16 and A-10. The B variant has vertical lift capability, and will be used by the Marines as a replacement for the AV-8B Harrier. The C variant will be for carrier launches and will ultimately replace the Navy's F-18s.

Rep. Kay Granger, a Fort Worth republican, argued against critics who say there's little need for a new generation of expensive fighter jets in the conflicts U.S. forces are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraqi terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, killed by U.S. bombs, "found out the F-16 could make a house call," Granger said, adding that U.S. forces already have a name for his successor. "They just call him 'Next.'"

Source: Military.com

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