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Joint Strike Fighter


F-35B Lightning II - Joint Strike Fighter

The Joint Strike Fighter, which is being built by Lockheed Martin as the F35, will be known in UK service as the Joint Combat Aircraft (JCA) and is planned to replace the RAF and RN’s Harriers. 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, the F35B, will be a stealthy, multi-role, all-weather, day & night, fighter/attack air system, designed to operate as a Short Take-off and Vertically Land (STOVL) aircraft from land bases and from the next generation of aircraft carriers. 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 conduct deep strike missions, into contemporary Integrated Air Defence Systems, against a myriad of target sets. Moreover, by conducting robust Integrated Air Operations, JSF will support friendly ground forces with close air support, long-range interdiction, anti-surface warfare and tactical reconnaissance. The aircraft will offer many advantages over legacy platforms: very low oberservability, supersonic flight, improved survivability, internal and external weapons carriage, 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 signature-reduction 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 has the ability to carry a range of weapons internally, rather than external carriage as displayed in current fighters. However, when operating in a permissive environment, an array of weapons can be carried on external pylons.

The main radar system is a newly developed, electronically scanned array multi-function radar with synthetic aperture and moving target indicator capabilities. Targeting information can also be supplied by an electro-optical system, which provides long-range detection and precision targeting by employing thermal imaging, laser tracking and marking, and a 3600 infrared system. The aircraft’s systems will also provide navigation, missile warning and infrared search and track capabilities. All this affords the UK, for the first time, a truly tactical ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) asset.

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 the General Electric / Rolls Royce Fighter Engine Team. 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 fighter technology and will give it a true multi-role air system that will surpass the majority of other weapons systems in production today, or envisaged in the foreseeable future. Coupled with the Typhoon aircraft, JCA will keep the RAF at the cutting edge of military aviation.


In 1996, the UK began the formal procurement process to examine options for a Future Carrier Borne Aircraft (FCBA), to succeed the Royal Navy’s Sea Harrier from 2012. However, in the 1998 Strategic Defence Review White Paper, it was confirmed that the RN and RAF Harrier forces would be combined into a new Joint Force 2000.

Therefore, the FCBA requirement was widened to include replacement of the RAF’s GR9 and T10 ground attack Harriers from around 2015, thus providing the UK with a joint land and sea based expeditionary air-power capability. To reflect this change, the programme was renamed Joint Combat Aircraft (JCA) in 2001. JCA is to replace current Joint Force Harriers with a multi-role fighter/attack aircraft.

The US Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) has been identified as having the best potential to meet the requirement, resulting in signature of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in January 2001 to enter the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) Phase of the JSF programme as a Level 1 partner. The UK has thus committed some £1.4Bn to the US programme, while approximately £600M will be spent on non-SDD work. This was in the light of successful UK participation in the Concept Demonstration Phase of the JSF programme, which involved test flying 2 development aircraft types, the Boeing X32 and the Lockheed Martin X35. This flight test programme supported an extensive assessment of the ability of each contractor to develop and deploy a family of advanced strike aircraft to meet the requirements of the US Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps and the UK. Following the conclusion of this source selection process, it was announced in October 2001 that Lockheed Martin had been selected as Prime Contractor to take the programme forward. The UK participated fully in source selection.

It was announced on 30 September 2002 that the Short Take-Off Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant of JSF has been selected to meet the requirement, in preference to the Conventional Carrier (CV) variant. The decision has been welcomed by UK industry.

Associated Equipment

JCA is closely associated with the CVF programme and there are also strong linkages with the Maritime Airborne Surveillance Capability (MASC) programme and also with the RAF’s Future Offensive Air System (FOAS).


On entry into service with the RN and RAF, JCA will be required to operate in all weathers, day and night missions for air defence of the fleet and of ground forces and for the offensive air support of ground forces, ranging from close air support to long-range air interdiction, as well as anti-surface warfare and tactical reconnaissance.

Key attributes of JCA in comparison to current Joint Force Harriers include:

  • Supersonic

  • Improved survivability

  • Internal and external weapons carriage

  • Improved supportability

  • Increased range relative to Harrier



It is currently anticipated that the total procurement cost of JCA will be up to £10Bn depending on the number of aircraft required and the variant selected. Subsequent costs will be determined by whatever through life support strategy we decide to adopt. This makes it one of the Defence Procurement Agency’s largest acquisition programmes over the next two decades

Major Milestones/ISD

  • 2001 SDD MOU Signature

  • 2001 Source Selection decision

  • 2002 Variant Selection decision2

  • 2010 First aircraft delivery

  • 2012 In Service Date


The current planning assumption is for up to 150 JCA.


The SDD contract with Lockheed Martin was signed in October 2001. Its overall value is some $20Bn (£15Bn).

UK industry has extensive involvement in the JSF programme. BAE Systems is teamed with Lockheed Martin while Rolls Royce is involved in providing STOVL-specific items of propulsion equipment. Other elements of the UK aerospace industry will also provide key components for the JSF.

A prime contract has also been awarded to Pratt and Whitney to develop the main engine for JSF (F135). An interchangeable engine (F136) is being developed by General Electric and Rolls Royce, as a downstream competitive alternative to the F135


The UK is the only Level 1 partner with the US in the SDD Phase of the JSF programme. Other international partners at Levels 2 and 3 are the Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, Canada, Norway, Australia and Turkey.

Photo Copyright BAe Systems


SELEX GALILEO - JSF Laser Designator/ Receiver developed for Lockheed Martin, forms integral sub-system within electro-optical targeting system of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

ULTRA ELECTRONICS CEMS - Ultra electronics provide printed circuit board assemblies

TRaC - EMC Testing


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