The Pentagon has awarded Lockheed Martin a multimillion contract to develop a new F-35 stealth fighter jet variant.
A New Variant of the F-35? What We Know
According to a Department of Defense press release published on December 27, Lockheed Martin has been awarded a contract for engineering and other related activities in order to design and develop a new variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.
“Lockheed Martin Corp., Fort Worth, Texas, is awarded a $49,059,494 cost-plus-incentive-fee-contract that provides engineering and other related activities in support of the design and development of a Joint Strike Fighter aircraft variant tailored for an unspecified Foreign Military Sales (FMS) customer,” the Pentagon announced.
The new variant is for an unspecified foreign customer, and the contract is worth a little more than $49 million, with a delivery date of 2026.
“Work will be performed in Fort Worth, Texas (77%); Redondo Beach, California (14%); Orlando, Florida (6%); Baltimore, Maryland (1%); Owego, New York (1%) and Samlesbury, United Kingdom (1%), and is expected to be completed in December 2026. FMS funds in the amount $49,059,494 will be obligated at time of award, none of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year,” the press release added.
Although the contract says that Lockheed Martin is to develop a new “Joint Strike Fighter variant,” it won’t be a new aircraft altogether. Right now, there are three versions of the 5th generation fighter jet.
The F-35A is the conventional take-off landing variant that is used or will be used by most of the current and future customers. The F-35B is the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) version specifically designed for the United States Marine Corps but also used by the British Royal Navy and Italian Navy. Closing the list is the F-35C, which is the aircraft carrier version of the stealth fighter jet.
In addition to the structural differences among the three versions of the F-35s, the biggest difference is their “G Force” capacity, which is used in air combat. At 9g, the F-35A can withstand the highest, followed by the F-35C with 7.5g and the F-35B with 7g.
These, however, are pretty much the same aircraft but designed to be deployed differently. A new variant would cost billions of dollars to develop and would be redundant. So, the contract is most likely designed to develop peculiar adjustments for the needs of a specific customer, much like the F-35I “Adir” variant developed for the Israeli Air Force.
F-35: Great Capability
The F-35 is a 5th generation stealth multi-role aircraft with the capability to conduct six mission sets: Strategic Attack, Close Air Support, Air Superiority, Electronic Warfare, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR), and Suppression Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) and Destruction Enemy Air Defense (DEAD).
Fifteen countries are operating or intend to operate the aircraft (the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada, Japan, Israel, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Poland, Singapore, Belgium, South Korea, Netherlands, and Finland).
Currently, 13 countries operate more than 700 F-35s stealth aircraft from about 27 bases worldwide. The U.S. military alone is planning to purchase about 2,500 aircraft of types, with 1,700 F-35As for the Air Force, 350 F-35Bs for the Marine Corps, and 270 F-35Cs and 70 F-35Cs for the Navy and Marine Corps, respectively.
1945’s New Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.