By Lee Tae-hoon
Officials of Lockheed Martin say that the F-35 Lightning II is a game changer in 21st century warfare where most nations are trying to reduce their defense budgets amid a volatile economic climate.
They claim that the F-35 is the only fighter jet available on the market with all-aspect stealth, first-look, first-shot, first-kill capabilities at an affordable price to purchase and sustain over the next few decades.
"The F-35's very low observable (VLO) stealth feature revolutionizes the way pilots engage or fight adversaries," said David Scott, director of the company's F-35 international customer engagement office.
He made the remarks against claims from its rivals, EADS and Boeing, that the F-35's stealth capability may become obsolete as the latter's Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars or other advanced radars can detect the stealth aircraft upon the opening of its internal weapons bay to fire a missile.
"They are saying that it is not valuable to detect somebody at a long range, but it is," Scott argued.
"It allows you to have a better situation awareness of the battle, allowing you to determine whether you close in and fight, disengage, swing around and come in from the side or from the back where the enemy cannot see you."
The F-35 is currently capable of carrying a full complement of 8,278 kilograms of fuel and four AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM) internally. Lockheed Martin claims that its research shows the F-35 has the capability to carry up to six AMRAAMs internally.
According to a calculation by a senior EADS radar expert, the Captor-E, which will use 1,426 T/R modules and is scheduled to be integrated onto the Eurofighter Typhoon in 2015, is capable of recognizing the F-35 at around 59 kilometers away.
He acknowledged that the chance is high for the F-35 to detect and fire missiles first against fourth-generation jets, such as the Eurofighter or Boeing's F-15, but claimed that the latter are capable of dodging missiles and successfully counterattacking at such a long range.
His calculation shows that the F-35's APG-81, which allegedly has 1,400 T/R modules, will be able to recognize the Eurofighter or semi-stealth fighter at 120 kilometers or farther based on the assumption both radars have the same capability.
In this regard, Scott said that an advanced fighter might be able to lock on to the F-35 momentarily upon its launching of a missile, but will not be able to keep track of it due to the latter's inherent low observable stealth design and as it would be busy dodging the missile for survival.
"Once the F-35 opens its weapons bay and fires a weapon, the enemy may be able to see something for a moment, but it disappears again," Scott said.
"Being detected doesn't mean that you are being tracked and targeted with weapons. Now they know you are out there. They don't know where you are and will be busy avoiding the missile you just launched."
Stephen O'Bryan, Lockheed's vice president for F-35 business development, claims that it is unrivaled in air-to-surface capability, and is second only to the F-22 in air-to-air capability.
"Using U.S. Government analysis tools and highly accurate and classified data, the F-35 has been shown to be six times more capable in air-to-air engagements than any fourth Generation aircraft," he said.
Low price to purchase, sustain
O'Bryan stressed that the average unit recurring flyaway cost of the F-35 will be approximately $65 million when measured in 2010 economics.
"The economies of scale, coupled with the benefit of commonality, represent the opportunity for great savings for Korea regarding F-35 operations and support costs when compared to the other FX-III competitors," he said.
O'Bryan noted that though it does not account for annual inflation projections, the $65M price tag includes much more than some media often speculate.
"It includes the engine and all mission systems such as the APG-81 AESA radar, internally mounted targeting system, electronic attack and warfare systems, self-protection systems, infra-red missile warning system, communication and navigation equipment, and the helmet mounted display that is also used as a night vision system."
He said that many of the mentioned systems are added on to the price of fourth-generation aircraft.
8,000 hour stealth guarantee
Randy Howard, Lockheed Martin's director of the Korea F-35 Campaign, said that the F-35 was designed from the very beginning to be VLO and its stealth coating is resilient enough that the aircraft's radar cross section will not suffer after numerous day-to-day operations.
"You can even take a knife and hardly scratch the finish of the F-35," he said.
"Given what we know, it comes with a guarantee of the radar cross section at the end of 8,000 flight hours. It's essentially guaranteed to be a VLO for the life of the aircraft."
Howard said even if there is a scratch, there is a tool that allows mechanics to quickly find the impact of the scratch and whether it needs to be fixed.
"It is twice as cheap in maintaining the aircraft to remain as a VLO compared to the F-22. It is significantly supportable, cheaper and better than the F-22," he said.
"It is a 21st century tool for 21st century aircraft to maintain VLO."
Howard added that the techniques and tools that maintain VLO will be locally trained so that it will be easier to maintain.
He also stressed that the F-35 provides an inherent capability to collect intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data and perform many of the command and control functions found on traditional high value but vulnerable assets.