The F-35 Fighter Is Now Oozing with More Incredible Firepower

F-35 Fighter U.S. Air Force Image
January 18, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: F-35F-35 Stealth FighterMilitaryRoyal Air ForceNATOAviation

The F-35 Fighter Is Now Oozing with More Incredible Firepower

The F-35 Lightning II is receiving the legacy system that first entered service in the 1980s, and which is currently integrated on the F-16C Fighting Falcon.

New Weapons to be Employed on the RAF's F-35s - It was almost three years ago, in March 2021, that the UK's Ministry of Defence announced it would cut its order of the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II by 65 percent. The UK Royal Air Force saw its purchase decline from a planned 138 to just 48 of the short/vertical takeoff and landing (S/VTOL) variant of the fifth-generation stealth fighter.

At the time, it was announced that the order was scaled back in favor of the still-in-development Tempest fighter that is the centerpiece and manned component of the UK-led Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP), an international partnership involving Japan and Italy.

Yet, even as development continues for the sixth-generation optionally-manned aircraft, it seems that the UK is reversing course on the F-35B Lightning II. 

While the UK may not be receiving any additional F-35s, it was announced this month that both the Meteor air-to-air missile and the SPEAR 3 cruise missile will be integrated on the RAF's Lightning IIs by the end of the decade.

"The UK Lightning Force currently operates the Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile (AMRAAM), the Advanced Short Range Air to Air Missile (ASRAAM) and the Paveway 4 precision guided bomb. By the end of the decade both Meteor and SPEAR 3 will also be integrated to UK F-35s," said James Cartlidge MP, Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) in response to a query from John Healey MP, Labour defence spokesman.

According to the UK Defence Journal, the Meteor is a Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVR AAM) system that developed by MBDA. It was developed as part of a joint coalition that includes the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden working together to provide access to technology and expertise across those nations. British F-35B jets were to be equipped with Meteor missiles by the ‘middle of this decade’ originally.

F-35 in HARM's Way

It isn't just the UK's F-35s that will see new weapon integration. It was also reported this month that the United States' Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) awarded a $97.3 million contract to aerospace giant Lockheed Martin to integrate the AGM-88 HARM (High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile) on the F-35A/B/C aircraft, to include procuring associated incidental hardware for the United States Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Foreign Military Sales (FMS) customers, and non-Department of Defense (DoD) participants.

The F-35 Lightning II is receiving the legacy system that first entered service in the 1980s, and which is currently integrated on the F-16C Fighting Falcon. The AGM-88 HARM is a tactical, air-to-surface anti-radiation missile designed to home in on electronic transmissions coming from surface-to-air radar systems. The air-launched missile be employed to detect, attack and destroy a radar antenna or transmitter with minimal aircrew input, as a proportional guidance system that homes in on enemy radar emissions has a fixed antenna and seeker head in the missile’s nose.

F-35B Fighter

The platform was originally developed by Texas Instruments as a replacement for the AGM-45 Shrike and AGM-78 Standard ARM system. Production was later taken over by Raytheon Corporation after it acquired the defense production business of Texas Instruments.

The upgraded variant – the AARGM – is already employed on the F-35A/B/C, as well as the F/A-18C/D/E/F Super Hornet its variant, the E/A-18G Growler aircraft.

More Than 1,000 F-35s Now Operational

The fifth-generation stealth multirole fighter recently reached a significant milestone, with Lockheed Martin announcing that it had completed production on the 1,000 F-35 Lightning II. Apart from older fourth-generation aircraft, including the F-15 Eagle and the Sukhoi Su-27 (NATO reporting name "Flanker"), few modern combat aircraft have reached a "four-figure" production run.

Only 195 F-22 Raptors were produced, including eight test and 178 production aircraft, while Russia has manufactured only around three dozen Sukhoi Su-57s (NATO reporting name "Felon"). There is speculation that Beijing has produced as many as 250 Chengdu J-20 Mighty Dragon fighters (NATO reporting name "Fagin"), but all those aircraft combined are barely half the number of the F-35.


There are also more F-35s in service than all other stealth aircraft combined.

According to the F-35 Joint Program Office, the Lightning II has accumulated more than 773,000 flight hours spread out across 469,000 total sorties, while the stealth fighter is now operated or will be adopted by more than a dozen allied and partner nations around the world. 

Author Experience and Expertise: Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu. You can email the author: [email protected].

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