The F-35 Lightning II is a family of single-seat, single-engine, stealth-enabled fighter jets now undergoing testing and final development. The new jets are scheduled to enter service late in 2015. The F-35 represents the fifth generation of combat aircraft for the U.S. armed forces, designed to perform ground attack, reconnaissance, and air defense missions.
The F-35 Lighting II is being designed to replace the F-16 and A-10 for the air force, the AV-8B for the marine corp., and the FA-18 for the navy. The single-engine design enabled a lighter aircraft which then can carry a larger payload. By creating one aircraft design, the F-35 costs about one-third as much as an F-32 Raptor.
Even so, there are three main models of the new fighter: the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant, the F-35B short take-off and vertical-landing (STOVL) variant which suits the needs of the Marines, and the F-35C carrier-based CATOBAR (CV) variant for the Navy.
The F-35 is descended from the X-35, which was the winning design of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program, initiated in 1993. It has been designed and is being built by an aerospace industry team led by Lockheed Martin. Other major F-35 industry partners include Northrop Grumman, Pratt & Whitney and BAE Systems.
The first F-35 took flight on December 15, 2006. The United States plans to buy 2,443 aircraft. The F-35 variants are intended to provide the bulk of its manned tactical airpower for the U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy over the coming decades. Deliveries of the F-35 for the U.S. military are scheduled to be completed in 2037.
F-35 JSF development is being principally funded by the United States with additional funding from other nations. The partner nations are either NATO members or close U.S. allies: the United Kingdom, Italy, Australia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Turkey are part of the active development program. Several additional countries have ordered, or are considering ordering, the F-35.