F-35 Deal: Lockheed Martin Wins Contract To Provide New Version Of F-35 Stealth Jet To Unidentified Ally

Lockheed Martin has won an almost $50-million contract to provide “engineering support” to a variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for an unspecified foreign nation, the Pentagon has said.

“Lockheed Martin Corporation [of] 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 Department of Defense said in a release on December 27.

The DoD said more than three-quarters of the work on the contract will be performed in Fort Worth, Texas with another 14% at Redondo Beach in California.

Small quantities of work will be further carried out in Orlando, Florida (6%); Baltimore, Maryland (1%); Owego, New York (1%), and Samlesbury, United Kingdom (1%), the release added.

A British F-35B taking off from the HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier. (via Twitter)

Work on the project is scheduled to take five years and is expected to be completed in December 2026. The F-35 has three variations, all of which are single-seat jets.

The F-35A has a standard takeoff and landing mode (Air Force), whereas the F-35B has a short takeoff/vertical landing mode (Navy/Marine Corps) and the F-35C is a carrier-based variant, exclusively for the US Navy. Both the F-35B and F-35C can operate from an aircraft carrier.

The $50 million contract that Lockheed Martin won could be for some modifications on the F-35B variant, which is operated by America’s allies such as the UK and Italy besides the US Marine Corps.

According to the Lockheed Martin website, there are eight international program partners — the US, United Kingdom, Italy, Netherlands, Australia, Norway, Denmark and Canada. Among many FMS partners, Japan and Singapore are also in the process of procuring F-35Bs from the US.

F-35B Stealth STOVL Jet

The F-35B is the world’s first stealth aircraft with supersonic speeds and STOVL capability. The aircraft was designed and developed by Lockheed Martin. 

The F-35B underwent a Critical Design Review (CDR) in 2006, and it was declared STOVL capable in December 2007. It was then examined for the STOVL capability from 2009 until its maiden flight in April 2012. The aircraft, which has a maximum takeoff weight of 27,216 kilograms and can hit Mach 1.8 speeds, is powered by Pratt & Whitney Turbofan engines.

The F-35B is 4.6 meters tall, 15.4 meters long, and has a 10.6-meter wingspan, just like the other two F-35A and F-35C variants. Its smart munitions include two Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM),  two AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM) and a 1,000-pound precision air-to-surface munition.

F-35B – Lockheed Martin

The F-35B’s engine is efficiently connected with a shaft-driven STOVL propulsion system designed by Rolls Royce Defense, which can provide over 20,000lbs of thrust. Doors mounted above and below the vertical fan open as the fin spins up for vertical lift of the aircraft. 

The F-35B is outfitted with Northrop Grumman’s AN/APG-81 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) multi-functional radar. It also includes the AN/AAQ-37 Distributed Aperture System (DAS), Barracuda AN/ASQ-239 electronic warfare system, MADL communication system, and missile warning system.

The aircraft is equipped with a refueling probe on the right side of the front fuselage for mid-air refueling. The aircraft’s primary engine features a three-bearing swiveling exhaust nozzle, which is augmented with two-roll control ducts on the inboard section, which, along with the vertical lift, provides STOVL capability.

Countries With F-35B Aircraft

The US Marine Corps currently has 80 F-35B fighters in operation, organized into five squadrons, and plans to buy 353 more in the future. The F-35B fighter jets are also operated by the United Kingdom.

The EurAsian Times had earlier reported that one of the UK’s F-35B fifth-generation aircraft slipped from the aircraft carrier’s ski jump and crashed into the ocean last month.  

With the loss of the plane, the UK now has 23 F-35Bs. Twenty-one planes had been delivered, with three still being tested and evaluated in the United States. Though the British have stated their intention to buy 138 F-35 stealth fighters from Lockheed Martin, worries over the F-35’s high operational costs have led to talk of decreasing the order.

The first F-35B crash took place in September 2018 in Beaufort, South Carolina, while the second occurred just over a year ago in Southern California. The F-35Bs involved in both incidents belonged to the United States Marine Corps. 

Italy initially ordered 131 F-35 fighter jets, but in 2012 cut the order to 90. There are 60 F-35As and 30 F-35Bs among the 90-aircraft fleet. The 30 STOVL aircraft will be balanced between the Navy and Air Force, with each receiving 15. 

In November 2021, an Italian Air Force F-35B landed on the deck of Cavour, the Italian Navy’s aircraft carrier, for the first time, ushering in the long-awaited joint operations by two services.

Another US ally, Japan, has a requirement for 42 F-35Bs out of a total of 157 F-35s it is procuring. It has already ordered eight STOVL jets, which will be delivered starting in 2024.  The latest Japanese defense budget has allocated funding for a further four aircraft in the 2022 fiscal year.