What is the F-35 Lightning II, and why do we need it?

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. As new threats to freedom emerge, it is more important than ever for U.S. and allied fighter fleets to have the F-35—the world's only 5th Generation, international, multirole aircraft, capable of countering current and future threats.

How do the different variants of the F-35 compare? Why do we need the variation?

The three variants have similar performance characteristics, and are mainly distinguished by their different basing requirements. All three are supersonic, Very Low Observable stealth fighters that share the same avionics—the most powerful and comprehensive ever on a fighter. The F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant is designed to operate from conventional runways, and is the only version to carry an internal cannon. The F-35B model has short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) capability, enabling it to operate from small ships or austere bases near front-line combat zones. The F-35C carrier variant has a more robust structure and landing gear to handle the stress of catapult launches and arrested recoveries, and larger wings and control surfaces for the precision handling required for final approach to the ship.

The variation between models allows customers to achieve service-specific mission capability, while still taking advantage the economies of scale that result from the parts and processes that are common to all three variants.

What makes the F-35 "5th generation?"

A 5th generation fighter has advanced stealth, exceptional agility and maneuverability, sensor and information fusion, network-enabled operations and advanced sustainment. Advantages of 5th generation technology include greater survivability, situational awareness, and effectiveness for warfighters, as well as improved readiness and lower support costs. The F-35 is a true 5th generation fighter, with stealth designed as part of the aircraft from the beginning.

What other planes will the F-35 replace?

The F-35 will replace the F-16, F/A-18, EA-6B, F-111, A-10, AV-8B, Harrier GR.7, Sea Harrier, AMX and Tornado. The F-35 can operate autonomously or alongside these 4th generation aircraft and the 5th generation F-22 Raptor as allies transition to 5th generation fighter fleets to enable coalition operations.

How do the F-35's capabilities significantly differ from the 5th generation F-22?

While both fighters can accomplish air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, the F-35 was designed as a true multirole fighter. Its advanced sensors and information fusion combine with network-enabled onboard systems to provide the F-35 pilot with unprecedented situational awareness, while denying the same to the enemy.

Do advanced aircraft like the F-35 help us to combat terrorism?

Yes. With 5th generation aircraft like the F-35, advanced capabilities and technologies help deter our enemies' evolving threats. In addition, the aircraft's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities allow pilots to collect and distribute information that is critical to anti-terrorism efforts. The F-35 can share that information with allied aircraft, ships and troops on the ground to help coordinate forces to combat terrorism.

What specific missions is the F-35 uniquely suited for? And, are there environments the F-35 is particularly not suited to?

The F-35 Lightning II is suited for air-to-air; air-to-ground; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; electronic warfare and command-and-control roles. As a 5th generation fighter, the F-35 brings the advantage of Very Low Observable stealth to each mission.

Since the Lightning II has three variants, it can operate in virtually any battle situation, from paved runways to aircraft carriers to roads and austere bases. No other fighter has the versatility and combined capabilities of the multirole F-35.

Where are F-35 flight tests taking place, and how are they progressing?

Flight tests are currently under way at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. All three F-35 variants are currently in flight test. We continue integration and verification testing of the follow-on generations of F-35 software systems on the Cooperative Avionics Test Bed (CATBird) aircraft, and in our ground-based laboratories. We also built six ground-test F-35s to verify structural integrity and a full-scale radar-signature test model.

The U.S. Air Force has also begun Developmental Test and Evaluation at Edwards and Nellis Air Force Bases.

How are the advanced systems of the F-35 tested?

Concurrent with ongoing flight tests, engineers and scientists test F-35 mission systems with a network of advanced laboratories. In addition, the Cooperative Avionics Test Bed (CATBird) aircraft integrates all of the F-35's mission systems onto a modified 737 so engineers can monitor and measure in-flight performance.

What types of tests are used to ensure the F-35 meets all safety requirements?

Each component of the F-35 is tested separately to ensure it meets requirements to keep warfighters safe. In addition to verifying the individual components, the systems are integrated into ground and flight test vehicles, which are rigorously tested as well. Ground tests examine strength of materials, resistance to environmental extremes and protection from enemy fire. With each flight test, the Autonomic Logistics system in the aircraft monitors structural and electrical components to ensure they continue to operate properly, which also contributes to pilot safety.