The Joint Strike Fighter, which is being built by Lockheed Martin as the F35 Lightning II, will be known in UK service as the Joint Combat Aircraft (JCA) and will replace the RAF and RN’s Harriers from 2012. Although Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor, the UK is a Level 1 partner with the US and a number of British companies, including BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce, will have extensive involvement in building and developing the aircraft.
The UK version will be a multirole fighter/attack aircraft designed to operate as a STOVL aircraft from land bases and from the next generation of aircraft carriers being built for the RN. This will give the UK a world-beating land-based and sea-based joint expeditionary air power capability well into the middle of the Century. When the JCA enters service, it will be able to operate in all weathers, by day and by night, for defence of the fleet and for the offensive air support of ground forces. This support will range from close air support to long-range interdiction, as well as anti-surface warfare and tactical reconnaissance. The aircraft will offer several advantages over the Harrier: supersonic flight, improved survivability, internal and external weapons carriage, an increased range and easier supply and maintenance.
The JCA design applies stealth technology techniques and, to minimise its radar signature, the airframe has identical sweep angles for the leading and trailing edges of the wing and tail, and incorporates sloping sides for the fuselage and the canopy. As a further signaturereduction measure, the seam of the canopy and the weapon-bay doors are saw-toothed and the vertical tails are canted at an angle. To achieve the smallest signature possible the aircraft will have the ability to carry a range
of weapons internally, rather than carried underneath the aircraft as in current fighters.
The main radar system will be a newly developed, electronically scanned array multi-function radar with synthetic aperture capabilities. Targeting information will be supplied by an electro-optical system, which will provide long-range detection and precision targeting by employing thermal imaging, laser tracking and marking, and a forward-looking Infrared system. The aircraft’s systems will also provide navigation, missile warning and Infrared search and track capability.
Early production aircraft will be powered by a Pratt and Whitney F-135 turbofan engine, but there are plans for subsequent aircraft to be offered with a choice of an interchangeable F-136 engine being developed by General Electric. Vertical lift and hover will be achieved by means of a Rolls-Royce developed lift-fan system. Doors installed above and below the vertical fan open as the fan powers up to provide vertical lift. This vertical lift is used in conjunction with the main engine exhaust nozzle at the rear of the aircraft, which swivels down from the horizontal to provide the required lift. The JCA will place the RAF at the forefront of aviation technology and will give it a multi-role aircraft that will
surpass any aircraft or weapons system in production today, or envisaged in the foreseeable future. Coupled with the Typhoon F2, which is now entering service, it will give the RAF an air-power capability second to none.