Farnborough Air Show

F-35 Packs a Punch

 - July 13, 2016, 9:45 AM
Not all of the F-35’s planned weaponry will be carried in its internal bays.

The F-35 is sleek and stealthy, thanks to internally-carried weapons, but that limits the operational payload and the jet’s air-to-ground capability, correct? To some extent, that is true, but here’s an alternative view. “It’s a bomb truck, capable of carrying 14,000 pounds–that’s 3,000 pounds more than my F-18s,” said Lt. General Jon Davis, head of aviation for the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC).

In fact, the F-35 has seven external weapons stations (see diagram). Their use is not part of the initial operating capability (IOC) for either the USMC F-35Bs or the U.S. Air Force F-35As. But a total of nine weapons are being qualified on the Lightning II as part of the system design and development contract that ends next year. More will likely be integrated in a follow-on contract for Block 4 software and capabilities, which has not yet been fully finalized.

Since Raytheon is the premier provider of weapons for the F-35 Lightning II, it’s not surprising to find a graphic display of them on the wall of the company’s pavilion here at the Farnborough Airshow. A half-scale rendering shows an AIM-120 Amraam air-to-air missile on the door of an internal weapons bay. Nestled within the bay are four SDB (small diameter bomb) IIs, the second version of this weapon and the first in the world to offer a tri-mode seeker (GPS, MMW IR, and laser). A GBU-12 laser-guided 500-pound Paveway II bomb, and an AIM-9X air-to-air missile, are shown on external pylons.

Three of these four Raytheon weapons are being qualified now, but SDB II would not come until Block 4—although it is at the top of Lt. Gen. Davis’ wish list. The SDB I made by Boeing and offering only GPS guidance, will be available on F-35As next year. Boeing also provides the GPS-guided GBU-31 and GBU-32 bombs that are already being carried internally by F-35s. The former is a 2,000-pound weapon whereas the latter is 1,000 pounds. The F-35B has smaller internal weapons bays that can only accommodate the GBU-32 (and the GBU-12).

Three other F-35 weapons can be seen in the Raytheon display here. One is Raytheon UK’s Paveway IV dual-mode 500-pound bomb, going onto the UK’s F-35Bs. Another is Raytheon’s Joint Stand Off Weapon (JSOW), slated for the U.S. Navy’s F-35Cs. The third is the Norwegian Joint Strike Missile. The maker Kongsberg is teamed with Raytheon for its integration onto Norway’s F-35As.

Not part of Raytheon’s display is the rival short-range air-to-air missile to the AIM-9X. This is the MBDA Asraam, which is going on to the UK’s F-35Bs. The UK is also looking for integration of the MBDA Meteor BVRAAM and the MBDA Spear smart bomb—but not until Block 4.