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Lets talk about the F-35

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I used the search function, didn't find anything, so, lets stir up this can of worms.


Personally, I find it to be a very cool aircraft. I believe it to be very capable, and a great piece of engineering. Its unit cost (thanks to mass production) is not even that much higher than 4th gen aircraft (program cost on the other hand....).

The F-35B in particular is an amazing piece of machinery... but I could say the same things about the space shuttle, and indeed there are many parallels: too expensive, particularly program cost vs marginal launch cost, the entire program was very political, and a great piece of engineering to accomlish something that... really shouldn't have been tried to have been accomplished....


Joint Navy-Air force fighters have been done before (not just in the US). The RAF operated the spitfire, and RN the seafire. The RAF operated the harrier, and the RN the seaharrier. The USN operated the F4 phantom, and the USAF also operated the F4. The USN operates F-18s, while other nation's air forces operate F-18s.

A fighter that performs well from airfields or CATOBAR carriers is not too technically challenging, and has been done before with much success (The F-111 notwithstanding).


But a STOVL fighter is a very specialized thing, and the F-35 has made a lot of sacrifices to achieve STOVL capabilities. The fusalage on all variants is wider than it needs to be, because just one version fits a lift fan. The F-35 A and B's wingspan was dictated by the elevator width on assault ships... the navy version simply needed a bigger wing that folded (should the USAF version have used the C's wing instead of the B's?). Overall dimensions and weight was limited by the need for the STOVL version to have the VL capability (granted, that does also ensure a good TWR for A2A capabilities of the F-35).


That's a lot of compromise for what is by far the least common variant of the F-35. In retrospect, wouldn't it have made sense to separate the STOCL fighter to another program?

There was a proposed F-22N /naval version... wouldn't it have been easier to make something like (but not actually) an updated F-22 with carrier capabilities than what we got with the F-35?


The USAF is getting less than what it could have, and not such a big leap over the F-22 (once the F-22 gained ground attack capabilities).

The USN is getting a but less than what it could have, bit it is a big leap over the F-18.

The USMC is gettingthe best aircreaft it could, and is an absolutley massive leap over the harrier.


Yet in terms of numbers built, it goes A>C>B, so the aircraft model that is most compromised is the most manufactured.

Am I right/wrong/ missing some point entirely?


Will foreign purchases of the B model make it more abundant than the C model? Allied navies (the royal Navy in particular) absolutely need the B model, as harriers retire with no other replacement... (only the French operate a decent naval aircraft, and could use the C model).

Is that alone enough to justify it? despite foreign sales of the A model too?

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Indeed STOVL airframes has to be different from that with usual takeoff/land. Combining this and the fact that STOVL version isn't even planned to be produced in the same quantities as 'land' or 'carrier'-type a question comes: was it really necessary to make a common airframe for all three types? Does it really save any costs?  I suppose it would be much cheaper to engineer two types of airframe (one common for land-based and carrier-based and another for STOVL) with some common elements between them than one airframe suitable for all the types of take-off. Especially when there won't be so much STOVL planes produced.

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On 8/27/2020 at 11:02 AM, Ex3B said:

the F-35 has made a lot of sacrifices to achieve STOVL capabilities


I would say that's the wrong way of apportioning "blame" regarding the F-35 becoming what it has become. Rather the F-35B/JSF has had to make changes out of its scope in order to become a larger tri-service project.

The project began on the basis of a USMC+UK requirement for a STOVL jet, and the USAF was persuaded that a version without the lift system would be suitable enough for their light fighter requirements. All the earliest concept drawings from the 1990s are with USMC and RAF/RN STOVL aircraft.

Over the years, the US cancelled other projects that would have been more suitable for the USAF and USN's specific needs MRF, A/F-X etc. etc. and through necessity those have fed in to a set of increasing requirements for the whole JSF program.


All things being square, you would have had:

USMC with F-35 (probably more rudimentary than it is)

USAF with F-22, MRF

USN with A/F-X


The problem is that they tried to morph a project initially dictated by the USMC's requirement into the kind of USAF/USN project you mentioned. The US could have merged MRF with A/F-X in parallel to, or at the expense of F-35 development. But the USAF decided to work with the Marines requirements before the Navy's (I imagine the USAF saw an opportunity to maybe take control of the Marines project, where it would be more difficult against the political clout of the Navy), and before long you had all three services trying to force three different aircraft projects in to one.

It's not the case that the USMC requirements were "tacked on", so it cannot really be said that sacrifices were made from the project's initial conception in order to accommodate STOVL.

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