It’s no secret that the F-35 has had severe cost and schedule issues.

The F-35 programme has gone through serious teething problems, problems also experienced by the majority of complex aircraft flying today such as the F-15, Typhoon or any other modern combat jet.

The biggest issue for the project continues to be the fact it is the most expensive military weapons system in history owing to the sheer scope of the programme but that being said, aircraft costs are now coming down and will soon be similar to the cost of many aircraft it’s replacing.

Today the programme is maturing rapidly, right now much of the activity around the jet is dealing with software bugs and testing to validate the software, with most of the physical testing being to do with weapons integration and the gradual scaling up of capabilities that comes with each new software block.

The jet is a quantum leap in capability, able to give the pilot as much information as only theatre commanders have previously had. While the primary value of the jet is in its sensor and networking capabilities, it is also valuable in that it’s able to perform many tasks designed to increase the lethality of not only itself but other assets, such tasks include the ability to co-ordinate small fleets of unmanned combat aircraft, guide weapons launched from other platforms (even warships), launch a wide-range of its own weapons and use it’s own radar to conduct electronic attacks.

A key element of 21st century air power is clearly working and smoothly implemented coalition operations, the F-35 provides a unique integrated air combat capability whereby coalitions of joint or allied F-35s can be supported in common. The F-35 was designed from the outset to bring these capabilities while also being interoperable across a coalition of air power.

Two networks are core to this operability: the Link-16 and the new Multi-Function Advanced Datalink (MADL). These systems allow the F-35 to communicate with nearly all current and future NATO assets.

Link-16 is currently utilised by most existing platforms fielded by NATO members and will allow F-35 to integrate seamlessly into a coalition force structure.

MADL will complement the current networks as NATO’s first high bandwidth, low probability of detect and intercept connection. The fundamental design features of MADL enable all NATO F-35s in a deployed coalition to communicate within an Anti-Access/Area Denial environment.

The potential for cooperation between the United Kingdom and coalition forces all using the F-35 variants is significant, in terms of coalition warfare the F-35 further increases the situational awareness of all parties to a greater extent than anything flying today, resulting in a quantum leap in capability for coalition forces.

Such is the aircrafts sensor and data fusion capabilities, a small number of F-35s could provide the UK and her coalition allies with situational awareness within defended airspace where platforms such as E-3 AWACS and E-8 JSTARS would be unable to operate.

F-35s could find and designate priority targets within defended airspace for a less stealthy fleet to attack from a relatively safe distance, further enhancing coalition capability.

The F-35s value is not only in its stealth or combat capability, it’s also in the flying sensor network it creates in the battle space.

The ability of the F-35 to drastically improve the combat capability of other assets was demonstrated recently when an F-35 and Aegis Weapon System worked together during a live fire exercise, with the F-35 passing sensor data to another platform which then engaged the target.

The exercise was the first live fire missile event that successfully demonstrated the integration of the F-35 to support Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air and represent a very promising exploration into the interoperability of the F-35 with other naval assets.

The F-35 will drastically increase the situational awareness of the forces with which it will deploy and for the UK, where deployed numbers may be a concern, it represents a fantastic way to enhance combat capability in any coalition or national effort.

It is my opinion that the F-35 will drastically increase the situational awareness and combat capabilities of the forces with which it will deploy and for the UK, where numbers may be a concern, it represents a fantastic way to enhance combat capability in any coalition or national effort.

There is no denying that jet is overbudget and behind schedule compared to original estimates but an incredibly capable platform is emerging and one that I believe will shape the future of air combat.

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“Link-16 is currently utilised by most existing platforms fielded by NATO members and will allow F-35 to integrate seamlessly into a coalition force structure.”

“most existing platforms” apparently doesn’t currently include our Wildcats though…



Good article – but unless the UK ups its combat capability to 200+ aircraft then we have a problem 8 active squadrons (of 16 aircraft) of F35 alongside a further 8 active Squadrons of Typhoons is the minimum force the UK should have. I would also like to see us have a further 8 Squadrons of Gripen instead of the hawks but that is wishful thinking on my part. This isn’t fanciful thinking on my part, historically we have had a harrier force for the Navy as well Typhoons and Tornados for the airforce and our trainers have been hawks… Read more »

Mattis 2016

You make a point that always amazes me. The USMC is larger and more capable than any NATO Allies Aed forces. Except for the uK and FR nuclear deterrent the USMC packs more lethality and capabilities and is smallest of Americas military Branches.

Also agree with your Force structure needs. What UK doesn’t seem to understand but has been changing is how much your 2010 QDR scared the stuffing out of the US. The U.K. Unilaterally disarmed and dismantled.


It scared the stuffing out of us also. I think there was and still is a pro-EU-integrationist agenda working within the MoD and government generally. The thinking clearly being if we all reduce but merge our spending and capabilities and operate as one, we will have a far stronger force. The argument is won by continually degrading our forces in peacetime, which people tend to agree with and then claiming it is too expensive for any one nation to operate and re-build in times of instability. This is evidently the case and so the integration of the armed forces into… Read more »


Main question is whether the gun pods on the f35b’s impacts their radar signature or not. The US found in vitnam, that relying only on missiles didn’t work. If it does, then their main advantage is removed and they would be effectively limited to intel roles, until such a time that the enemies air assets are removed.

Mattis 2016

I does. It’s also useless a sop to CAS. If U.K. Is concerned about having gun capabilities you need to plane on a few wings of the A model. For B you are better off carrying extra AIM120 & 9x for a2a.


I thought that too, but missile tech has come on a long way since then I mean nam is over 40 years ago, an what jet on jet encounters since then, to my knowladge have been mid to long range encounters. Except over Falklands but they were missile kills there anyway. The F35 has not been designed to dog fight and if it comes up against a Russian air supremacy fighter and it’s at a range that it’s gun pod could be utilised the 35 would be toast anyway. So if an 35 is equipped with a Pod it would… Read more »


Have a gander at this brief video.

And even with a gun pod, the Lightning will have a far lower RCS than anything Russian will have in the coming decades.

Their big lumps will always be at the massive disadvantage of being seen first.


Ignoring no one outside the military really know how stealthily they really are for a moment.

Having a lower radar signature is not enough. If they are visible they are visable, since jets are normally visable way before they come into missile range.


That is a mighty fine eyeball you have there Steve to be able to see a jet from 100+kms away!

Mark L

In the Falklands all the air to air kills were by missile, cannons didn’t come into it Steve.

John Kemp

Believe one Pucarra kill was by flare…….
The harrier had no missiles at the start of the engagement and had exhausted its cannon rounds at the Pucarra.
In desperation the pilot fired a flare and the Pucarra pilot ejected thinking the flare was a missile.

An Englishman in Austria

The Pucara kill was a pure guns kill by CMDR Ward 3 passes 1st one damaged right wing 2nd left engine 3rd pass damaged cockpit and upper fuselage after this Major Carlos Tomba ejected as the plane was doomed… Also with regards a gunpod on the F-35 there are times you may need it over an AAM for example putting shots across the bow of a suspected aircraft amongst others…

Mr Bell

The gun pods on f 35b have been designed to not repeat not increase radar cross section. They are top rate and many US arforce personnel think the F35b and A variants with gun pod will likely replace the A10 tank buster in the close air support/ antiarmour role (especially if fitted with Brimstone missiles) I agree with Paceman in that we need more than 48 F35bs in service at any one time ideally need 6-8 squadrons or 96 jets + training and OCUs to provide a maximum surge capacity of 2x 36 F35b carrier air wings. This would still… Read more »


If the gun pod doesn’t increase radar cross section then that seems to bode very well for stealthy drop tanks. How big is the gun pod? Maybe they could even use the same tooling/moulds as are being used for the gun pod housing, with holes filled in of course, for drop tanks. That might get the cost down. It would certainly reduce design costs and risk since designing a low RCS item is quite complex I think. For F-35Bs doing stealthy strikes, which by definition would only be carrying internal weapons and so would have the wing hardpoints available, that… Read more »


So the F-35 does not deserve the flak. In fact it is quite the opposite.
Strange though that this plane gathers so much hatred. It seems that every corporate America opponent, Yankee haters, Russian lover feels compelled to criticize the F-35.
Why? Is this due the a particularly efficient Russian counter propaganda? The internet viral efficiency? Or just plain stupidity? I can’t remember any program being so heavily criticized.

David Southern

Off all the critisism which has been given to the F35 I think an important point has been missed by the UK tax payer; we have for only a small amount of investment, access to a world class aircraft for which we are able to deploy independently of the Americans and modify to our requirements with weapon systems from the UK. Also, we have a large stake in the manufacturing and maintenance program supporting thousands of UK jobs. In my opinion we have a very good deal.


So basically one strategy could be to have a fairly limited number of expensive F35s as the modern Pathfinder Force, and a whole load of other cheaper aircraft (including unmanned) to do the damage.


A bit similar to the stop-gap Tornado / Typhoon pairing.


Or going back even further the proposed Tornado F3 / Hawk pairing as interceptors Vs Soviet bombers


In the UK context, the Lightning will be doing it all.

The Tornado’s will be retiring & the Typhoons are and never will be as capable in the A2G role.

Mike Saul

The F35 will dominant the skies for 50 years or so, there is simply no alternative to this aircraft.

The long and painful gestation period is nearly over, those nation that procure the F35 will benefit.

I hope the UK buys it’s 138 aircraft, with a split buy of A and B variants.

Don Bacon

“right now much of the activity around the jet is dealing with software bugs and testing to validate the software” That’s true, but also — the system needs to enter initial operational test & evaluation, jointly run by US UK Netherlands and Australia, but the project leader has testified that they can’t have 23 aircraft ready for the start of IOT&E by early next year. — the F-35s currently have over 200 “highest priority” necessary hardware modifications to be applied, many of them serious like bulkhead mods, and doubtless there will be more hardware faults uncovered in operational testing. –it… Read more »

Mike Saul

The long and painful gestation period is nearing its completion. One wonders if back in 2000 they knew how much this was going to cost and the time delays they would have cancelled JSF and thought of a different solution for the US armed forces.

But we are where we are and I have no doubt the F35 will dominate the sky’s for the 50 years in one form or another.


The problem is there has been no high end air combat for decades and so no one really knows how they would play out in 2017, its all guess work. Of course the western view will be that the f35 will walks the floor with anything else out there, because no chance anyone in the military (who brought the plane) or the industry (who made the plane and is profiting from it) is going to admit otherwise, even if the f35 was completely useless they would argue it was the best in the world and so us outsiders just have… Read more »


I remain unconvinced by the overall package. The design philosophy failed from the start, three variants of the same aircraft wasn’t realisable. The design should have attempted to harmonise three different designs where possible. In the end we have a highly compromised aircraft designs, compared to what could have been, which have cost an enormous sum to develop. Plus I fear putting all our eggs in a single, stealth basket is a recipe for disaster. 50 years is a long time and technology and the fusion of technologies will only gather pace. Combinations of existing technologies (VLF radar, IFR, Laser)… Read more »


The plane cost $38bn to develop.

when you get the most basic number wrong, why consider the rest?


Wasn’t the 1t number flagged around as the overall cost of the project for the US including the several thousand jets that they have ordered.


It was a silly exercise that had no precedent and no reason for its existence & always is expressed without the context that it was cheaper than the status quo! – All Development costs. – All procurement costs – All upgrade costs – All usage costs including parts…. but also munitions and fuel! as if they can be known 5 decades hence! – And on top if this, it was all added to a guessed inflation rate of 2.4% per year…. out until 2065! Here’s a Forbes article that explains it better and why the “1.5trn” fighter is the stupidest… Read more »


Nathan both VLF Radar and Laser are high power demands, power requirements mean weight, so where do you get long loiter, cheap drones with these requirements. Without relying on the technology (Stealth) that you put so little faith in, how does this front line of now not so cheap drones stay out of range of things like the Meteor Missile? If that isn’t long enough range, then how long before someone in the US dusts of the blueprints of the Phoenix AIM 54, that had a 190km range back in the 60’s, at mach 5 does that count as hypersonic?… Read more »

Nick Bowman

I am old enough to remember the development. Of the F16; the “electric fighter”. Much was made of its then revolutionary fly-by-wire systems. Many of the early prototypes crashed. I knew the widow of one of the test pilots. She sued the USAF and won only to lose on appeal. The point is that there were doubters and detractors everywhere. They just made the 4000th plane…

John Kemp

So it isn’t an air superiority fighter, its a USB port for everyone else? Bet the MoD guys were a little disappointed when they heard that. Perhaps it needs a new name. Not fighter because that implies dogfighting, perhaps then attack should be its desig? There are always going to be situations when they get to knife fighting range, so having the manoeuvrability of B-52 isn’t going to be much use, and who says it will be a Russian they will be up against? Even so the PAK 50 seems capable. China is advancing all the time t he J… Read more »


The Major issue, for the west is having the poltical will to keep the services to a certain level, the UK populace have created a revered being of the NHS, that will now always gobble up all resources before the military get a look in, aging populations ever increasing aid and welfare budgets all depress the military spending, which is why F-35 wont be abailable in numbers 🙁