About the F-35

The Multi-variant, Multirole 5th Generation Fighter

The F-35 Lightning II is a 5th Generation fighter, combining advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations and advanced sustainment. Three variants of the F-35 will replace the A-10 and F-16 for the U.S. Air Force, the F/A-18 for the U.S. Navy, the F/A-18 and AV-8B Harrier for the U.S. Marine Corps, and a variety of fighters for at least ten other countries.

The Lightning II is a single-seat, single-engine fighter aircraft designed for many missions with advanced, integrated sensors built into every aircraft. Missions that were traditionally performed by small numbers of specialized aircraft, such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and electronic attack missions can now be executed by a squadron of F-35s, bringing new capabilities to many allied forces.

The F-35 is developed, produced, and supported by an international team of leading aerospace companies. As the prime contractor, Lockheed Martin continues its 100-year history of aircraft research and design with the Lightning II. Principal partners Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems build the center and aft fuselages, respectively. Northrop Grumman also brings its expertise in carrier aircraft and low-observable stealth technology to the F-35 program and supports logistics, sustainment, modeling and simulation and mission planning. BAE Systems contributes a rich heritage of capabilities, including short takeoff and vertical landing experience, advanced lean manufacturing, flight testing and air systems sustainment. Pratt & Whitney builds the F-35's F135 propulsion system, the world's most powerful fighter engine.

Why the F-35?

Maintaining air superiority is essential to preserving global security and stability. The F-35 is designed to defeat today's most advanced threat systems both in the air and on the ground, as well as those expected to emerge in the decades to come. The ongoing advancement of fighter aircraft designs around the world reinforces the importance of the F-35’s advanced capabilities and technologies. Enabled by global partnerships, the F-35 offers unprecedented capability and supportability across the spectrum of military operations.

U.S. and allied fighter fleets are getting smaller and older. Since 1990, the U.S. Air Force fighter inventory has been cut in half and current Air Force fighter aircraft are, on average, more than 25 years old. Numerous militaries around the world also need to recapitalize their aging fighter fleets with modern, more capable aircraft. The F-35 was designed to recapitalize allied fighter fleets and counter emerging threats.

An advanced, affordable fighter. Enabled by global partnerships, the F-35 offers unprecedented capability and supportability across the spectrum of military operations. The F-35 was designed as an affordable 5th Generation fighter, taking advantage of economies of scale and commonalities between the three variants. Costs are continually driven out of the F-35 program. Since the first operational F-35 was produced, the price has dropped 55 percent. The program is committed to ensuring price for the latest procurement of jets cost less than the previous lot.

What is a "5th Generation" Fighter?

A 5th Generation fighter has advanced stealth, exceptional agility and maneuverability, sensor and information fusion, network-enabled operations and advanced sustainment. 5th Generation technology provides greater survivability, situational awareness, and effectiveness for pilots, as well as improved readiness and lower support costs. As a true 5th Generation fighter, the F-35 has stealth designed in as part of the aircraft from the beginning.

The F-35 and the F-22 are both 5th Generation fighters featuring advanced stealth, integrated avionics, sensor fusion and superior logistics support. The F-35 also delivers additional 5th Generation features, such as multi-spectral sensors, interoperability and modernized avionics.

The F-35 and the F-22 are the world's two premier fighters, but there are some differences between the aircraft. The F-35 is optimized to be a multirole fighter, with the ability to perform air-to-air, air-to-ground and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. While the F-22 is superior to the F-35 in air-to-air missions, the F-35’s air-to-air capability is superior to all other fighters. The F-35 is better than any other fighter aircraft, including the F-22, for air-to-ground strike missions. 

Learn more about F-35 capabilities

“When a 5th Generation fighter meets a 4th Generation fighter — [the latter] dies.
We can't just dress up a 4th Generation fighter as a 5th Generation fighter; we need to get away from that conversation.” 
General Mark Welsh, Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force