The plane that is currently scheduled to replace the aging F-16 as the air superiority mainstay of the USAF, and to complement the F-18 of the United States Navy. The UK wants some too.

The Boeing X-32 and the Lockheed X-35 are to be the two contenders for this lucrative role, and their prototypes are being tested this year.

You can read all about it at the program's home page:

I find it somewhat interesting that they have what seems to me a low cost requirement: $28 million for your basic model, to $38M for an Aircraft Carrier-ready version.

EDITOR'S NOTE: a now-deleted writeup modified this one with the following: The F-16 is the U.S.'s current multirole fighter and the F-22 is going to replace the aging F-15 as the next generation air superiority fighter. The JSF, Super Hornet, and the F-22 will work together like today's F-16, F-14 and F-15 do.

The X-32A (Boeing) and the X-35A (Lockheed Martin) are both in the running to be the next US strike fighter multi-role aircraft. The two manufacturers are competing for the contract to build an aircraft that can be used by the USAF, Navy, and USMC. The winning design is expected to the three services as a fighter/strike aircraft that can meet the needs of each branch while keeping costs to a minimum. The shared airframe will reduce maintenance and upkeep costs by making spare parts more easily accessible. Both companies claim at least an 80% commonality among the different variations.

The USAF version will be a conventional takeoff and landing that will replace the F-16 and the A-10 Thunderbolt II while complementing the F-22 Raptor.

The Navy wants an aircraft carrier based strike fighter to complement the F-18 and replace the A-6, which is already out of service (and doing a great job as a man-made reef off the coast of Florida).

The USMC wants a short takeoff and vertical landing fighter to replace the AV-8B Harrier and the F-18 Hornet.

Each aircraft looks like the little brother to the F-22, featuring a combination of stealth technology and traditional design. Each plane is a delta wing, much like the late 1970's and 1980's Saabs. They are both sleek aircraft, I would want one in my driveway.

We can expect a decision by the DOD sometime in 2001

As soon as I find out the version that gets the contract I will post it here and create a dedicated node. Any relevant information can be sent to me for posting. In the mean time enjoy

All information courtesy of Air and Space magazine, January 2001.

Update As you probably know by the other writeups in this node, the X-35 won the contract and is now in production as the F-35 Joint Tactical Strike Fighter. I still don't know what name the aircraft will be given (Raptor, Eagle, etc.)

The Joint Strike Fighter contract is the largest defense contract in history: at least $200 billion will be spent to purchase three thousand planes from the winner in the coming decade, not to mention money from foreign interests like the RAF. The new fighter is expected to cost in the range of $34 million to $46 million.

As of this writing, Pentagon is scheduled to make the final cut this Friday, Oct 26, 2001. The Pentagon has said this is a winner take all contract, so while the winner will be assured financial prosperity for several decades, there's a possibility that the loser may be forced out of the fighter market completely. However, according to NPR, the government says that both Boeing and Lockheed-Martin have existing contracts that'll keep them producing military planes to the end of the decade. There is also speculation that the loser may still be asked to help with production of the new fighter by either the government or the winner itself.

Also according to NPR, the buzz in Washington is that Lockheed-Martin's X-35 looks like the Pentagon's favorite at this time, not in small part due to its track record with the F-22, whereas Boeing had to start from scratch. Many military analysts say that Lockheed's design is less innovative and therefore less risky, which have historically been traits that the Air Force leans toward. The Air Force will be receiving the largest number of the new plane, so they naturally have the loudest voice in deciding upon the final design. However, Boeing spokespeople were confident that they have a very good chance because of the financial efficiency they've acheived, claiming a 50% reduction in assembly cost and a 35% reduction in labor cost over normal prototype standards for the first X-32 protoype, and another 35% reduction in labor costs for the second prototype built. In fact, Boeing is so confident they'll win that they've already readied the coffee pots and computers for the new hires they'll be taking on when they do. Of course, the real winners will be the different branches of the military, who will be presented with thousands of the most versatile, stealthy, reliable aircraft ever produced.

I would actually agree with The Custodian about the Lockheed's innovation in the propultion area. Although both fighters have engines that derive from the F119/F-22 engine core, they utilize different nozzle designs. The X-35's design combines a center-mounted lift fan which complements a rear-facing engine nozzle that can actually swivel to point downwards, and even a few degrees forward!
Based on a purely aesthetic evaluation, I'd lay my money on the Lockheed-Martin entry (the X-35A) being accepted. It does, indeed, look like a smaller F-22. The Boeing version, on the other hand, looks quite a bit like a hungry cow, with an extremely large under-nose air intake and high-mounted delta wing that give it a bit of a 'pregnant' appearance. As of the first week of July, 2001, both models have demonstrated some form of vertical flight. The X-32 has performed ASTOVL flights, and the X-35A has made several VTOL 'push-ups' to varying heights. Both companies, naturally, have released promotional videos onto the Internet with (what else?) Top Gun-derivative soundtracks (in some cases, a direct rip).

Some other notable facts about the two competing designs. The Boeing version uses a fairly conventional directed-thrust system like the one found on the AV-8B Harrier to achieve powered lift flight; the main engine thrust is vented down and ducted thrusters in the wingtips and nose stabilize and control the plane. The Lockheed-Martin entry, on the other hand, uses a lift-fan system, in which engine thrust is used to spin large downward-facing fans to provide lift.

The lift fan is a bit of a gamble. Past attempts at workable lift-fan systems have never been able to extract a thrust ratio high enough to make it worth the losses incurred by the mechanical workings of the fans. Lock-Mart is betting that they will be able to make it work by widespread use of advanced materials technology (composites, mostly) for the fans and mechanisms. They claim that the lift-fan system is lighter than the ducted thrust mechanisms found on the X-32, at around 3,000 lbs for the ducted thrust and 700 lbs for the lift fan; however, Boeing has countered by pointing out that the X-35A's engine is heavier by approximately 2,500 lbs, negating any difference.

Sources: Aviation Week, CNN, Boeing and Lockheed-Martin web pages

One small dispute with ApoxyButt's writeup. While it is true that Lock-Mart has F-22 experience, it is not true that their entry is "less innovative" - at least not in terms of design. The ASTOVL version of the Lockheed prototype generates vertical thrust using lift fans, which would mark the first time lift fans have been used in a mass-produced military aircraft. Like the AV-8B Harrier and Yak-36 Forger, the Boeing JSF prototype utilizes ducted thrust, using directional nozzles and vanes, for vertical lift. This latter is a known and deployed system.

It may be that the innovation referred to is contained in the production plan from Boeing; the cost savings trumpted by Boeing (see ApoxyButt's writeup for more) do result from less-than-traditional manufacturing methods.

To tweak Karma Debt's writeup as well, it appears that the contract figure is for roughly $200 billion, not $300 billion...and remember, a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you're talking real money!

Today, it was announced that Lockheed-Martin will build the Joint Stike Fighter. And, for the discounted price of only $300 billion, they will design and build 3,000 of this fighter aircraft. The main reason that they were selected over Boeing was that their design was considered less risky. It has been speculated and is likely that some of the work will be contracted out to Boeing.

Lockheed-Martin plans to build the Joint Strike Fighter at their Fort Worth, Texas plant and they anticipate that this will create an additional 4,500 jobs.

Custodian, thanks, you are right.. some typos can cost a lot. Besides, what's $100 billion between friends.

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