First production F-35 takes to the skies! - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 2 March 2011

First production F-35 takes to the skies!

I know that many of you out there are no supporters of my years-old suggestion to scrap the MMRCA tender... and my more recent one to make up India's medium-term requirement of fighters with the ground-attack oriented F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). A favourite argument made by JSF nay-sayers was that this aircraft is many years from production.

For them, I post below a press release from Lockheed Martin. Ahem!

Lockheed Martin Flies First Production F-35 Stealth Fighter

FORT WORTH, Texas | The first production model of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II made its inaugural flight today in preparation for delivery to the U.S. Air Force this spring. The jet will head to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to support developmental testing shortly after the Air Force takes delivery.

“The aircraft was rock-solid from takeoff to landing, and successfully completed all the tests we put it through during the flight,” said Lockheed Martin Test Pilot Bill Gigliotti. “The Air Force is getting a great jet that represents a huge leap in capability, and we’re looking forward to getting it into the hands of the service pilots in just a few more weeks.”

During the flight, the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) F-35A variant, known as AF-6, underwent basic flight maneuvering and engine tests. Test Pilot Gigliotti took off from Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base at 3:05 p.m. CST and landed at 4:05 p.m. The jet will continue flight tests in Fort Worth for about a month before it is accepted by the Air Force.

The F-35A CTOL variant – designed to meet U.S. Air Force requirements – is also the primary export version of the Lightning II. The air forces of Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Norway and Israel will employ the F-35A.

Deliveries of the F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing variant to the U.S. Marine Corps also begin this year, while deliveries of the F-35C carrier variant to the U.S. Navy start in 2012. Seventeen F-35s have entered testing since December 2006, and have logged more than 650 flights and numerous ground tests.

The F-35 Lightning II is a 5th generation fighter, combining advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations and advanced sustainment. Lockheed Martin is developing the F-35 with its principal industrial partners, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems.


  1. Rahul(Kolkata)2 March 2011 at 01:58

    Congrats Ajai,your stand on F-35 stands vindicated today....I was on your side on F-35 and India although I was and am not in favour of scrapping MMRCA deal for F-35. Both should be purchased simultaneously(heard the other day that MMRCA figure will ultimately go up to 260). So break it into 126(MMRCA)+134(F-35). Do away with the costly deal to upgrade Mirage and invest that money on F-35 if money is a constraint. It will give interests in the long run. The world has moved from Mirage 2005 to Rafale. If it is a problem of too many platforms, think of F-35 as a substitute of Mirage.And MOD,plz plz do away with this mentality that there will be a question of going back on Sukhoi 50 and Russia if India joins the F-35 programme.

  2. I am with BROADSWORD family since April 2008, so i think, i should clarify my personal stand.

    I don't object scraping M-MRCA, in fact i would rather like to see it happen in favor of LCA MK-2. But personally, i don't favor F-35 for following reasons.

    (a) No matter which part of century we are living in, we can't depend on Americans on this scale.

    (b) F-35 will be nothing other than 'Kill Pill' for AMCA. And my personal opinion is that India simply can't afford to get back to post Marut - pre LCA era... Without guaranteed service entry AMCA is not moving anywhere beyond drawing table. IAF and MOD(babus) will never allow ADA to develop it as TD.

    I accept that spoken reasons are very general and you can hang me dry for it but thats what i feel.

  3. great news..a giant leap from the legacy of f15's &16' it to our scenario-even if we sign the MMRCA contract now we will get the aircrafts after 36 months...& on the other hand JSF is ready for induction...
    after 5 years these 4.5th gen fighters would make less sense as the Chinese have also unveiled their 5ht gen fighter & i really believe that they can make it operational before the PAK-FA/FGFA.

    good job MOD!!

  4. Arguments I found against f-35 on internet.

  5. Ajaiji, please don't beat up the dead horse again. There is not enough enthusiasm on either side to take such deal forward.

  6. So you are saying limit the MMRCA to 126 jets instead of exercising option for a total of 200 later,invest in the F 35 ( Sign all agreements with the US , which is likely to be the case in case Super Hornet gets through).

    I wouldn't want that generally, can't help.

    Still on the question of production.

    Even if we start right now, do we see this Jet entering service with the IAF before 2015.

    That is a concern with Dwindling numbers in the IAF.

    Also, almost no TOT ?

    Wondering what IAF is planning about, for general preparedness with a senario where it needs to take it's 4th gen or 4thgen ++ against a F 35, Not interms of US or otherwise but about capability.

    For that matter against the J 20 ( atleast no one would have any concerns on that statement :) ).

    MMRCA still waiting....What happened to the two week time that was given on starting the price negotiations....

  7. Military Genius2 March 2011 at 04:55

    Bah! Not a patch on the AMCA ;-)



  10. It must be nice to be paid in Dollars.

  11. Looking at china's J20 accompanied with 1000's of fighters a mix of PAKFA,F35,AMCA is the only answer.
    Su30MKI,MMRCA,Mirage will only delay full fledge chinese invasion.. with these fighters we cannot win war with CHINA...
    We require, PAKFA,F35 (CTOL & VTOL) and AMCA.
    Rather than going for LCA MK2 the whole synergies should be applied to AMCA & UCAV.
    If MOD is really thinking of CHINA along with MMRCA they should initiate F35 procurements.
    But the most important factor we still lack is a credible missile delivery system.
    India is doing a lot , but this lot is not planned & sufficient for current situation.

  12. Ajai,

    You are back with your F-35 rants again!

    "A favourite argument made by JSF nay-sayers was that this aircraft is many years from production."...and I always thought the favorite argument against F-35s have been the unpredictable whims of american policy makers. Gosh darnit, I should have said that 'production' thing.

  13. This only proves that the proposition to make us a partner in the programme a month ago was a joke... a sugar pill to fool people into being part of developing something cutting edge. Indigenous development is the only answer with the 'RIGHT PLAYERS' in India. I say right players because we know some can get up to speed pretty quickly with technology without trying to reinvent the wheel or 'borrowing' technology for the wheel and then calling it indigenous. My point here is reverse engineering is ok if you can not only master the current technology but then improvise[Jugaad] it.

  14. The skeptics do not doubt the ability of Lockheed to produce an airframe. However a production representative and operationally capable airframe (to cost and on time) is another matter...

    See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil on this one!

  15. Really not convinced at all that F35 will be usable much in a 2 front war where we have pak. Any idea how much its gonna cost to get 100+ F35 plus Amerikaan weapons + support it(even if some dreamer believes that US would apporve its use in a two front war against Pak)? We simply cant afford it. Spend the same amount on an indigenous offering and you will get far better value for money product(not to mention the flexibility of using any weapon in your inventory within the size/weight limit). Like for now if you are talking about gripen as a contender in MMRCA etc. being better than LCA - just count 2.5 LCAs or LCA MK 2s against each Gripen(cost wise) - then who has the advantage? Desi will always benefit from Indian juggad and will have little or no strings - not to mention the amount of forex we save and the number of jobs we create. To make this a success, we also have to give HAL a stick to force faster production - say 20-40 a year(JSF will have 365 planes rolling out in a year at full production rate i.e. 1 plane a day!)

  16. Ajay,
    Being an MKI pilot my self I have don't see the point of inducting the JSF.
    I don't know what fascinates you so much with the JSF. It had nothing the IAF need, not to mention birds like the EF-2000 or Rafale provide far better value and capability compared to the JSF.
    Fg 0ff - IAF No2 sqdrn

  17. Another one of those "Sell and destroy indigenous plans"(AMCA). Avoid it by all costs.

  18. LCA had LSP a/c flying in 2007 with IOC at 2011 beginning. On the same note, the IOC for JSF is supposedly 2015 while this sounds more like the LSP equivalent/stage. A stealth fighter flying without crucial armaments is nothing much to be worried about for the enemy.

  19. Rahul(Kolkata)3 March 2011 at 02:27

    @ Anonymous...
    3 March 2011 14:50

    Thank you sir for coming here and posting. Assuming that you are really from IAF and not an imposter out to represent IAF,I had always wanted to knew about the viewpoints of someone from IAF(they are the most knowledgable on this subject) on this topic.....As for Ajai's fsacination, he has detailed out the need for JSF in his earlier article here "Scrap the MMRCA deal, go for F-35". Although I must say I don't agree with all his points, some of his points merits consideration like "Eternal love of IAF towards air superiority fighters". Even IAF chief had suggested his love for air superiority birds saying that if he had the money he would fill up IAF with them. I am a layman who only follows defence news and must admit I have no idea in aircraft engineering. So with that background, I had wondered whether there will be anyone from IAF who can negate Ajai's points one by one with simple counter points especially from strategic perspective. I am waiting for my dream to come true........

  20. HI Ajai, seems Eurofighter typhoon is completely useless as per British-

    Eurofighter Typhoon: It's EVEN WORSE than we thought
    commentRetweetFacebookRAF gets just 107 jets – and new budget trainwreck looms

    Please do highlight to some of the people that u know

  21. The Second Prototype Of T-50 FGFA Made it's Successful Maiden Flight.

    Some one was telling me that India is forced to buy Russian equipment. If India refuses, the Russians stop providing service. There is no facility to service the MKI engines in India. It has to be sent back to Russia with a minimum waiting time of 6 months.

    The only 2 real contenders for the MMRCA is the Eurofighter and the F 18.

    Eurofighter, being in a development stage, is likely to create more industrial partners in India. If they bag the MMRCA, it will be a major boost for their programme.

  22. Hi Ajay ,
    I think you are in the pay of american arms companies , and that is the reason u promote them

  23. The F-35 is still American and geo-political realities preclude India from buying American, period. Sure its probably the best plane around. India still needs a MMRCA. Developing one would have been the best, but reality wins again, because we can't develop one in time. So, lets see what we get from the MMRCA deal. Cheers!

  24. Hardpoints: 6 × external pylons on wings with a capacity of 15000lb (6800kg) and 2 internal bays with 2 pylons each for a total weapons payload of 18000lb (8100kg).

    So 2 internal bays may carry only 8100-6800= 1300 Kg of armaments.

    If this is correct, then the stealth weapon load capacity of F-35 is only 1300 Kg i.e. slightly better than Mig-21.

    Obviously the 6800kg of strike weapon load had to be fired under unstealthy conditions which may not augur well especially for the requisite role of the F-35.

    At the best it is a mediocre A/C for its perceived role with single engine and M=1.6, which could have been an option in absence of FGFA and AMCA.

    However it is a versatile tool to keep the FGFA, AMCA and MMRCA under constant pressure.

  25. Sir, why are you obsessed with f-35.
    It does not provide india with any capabilities actually used in combat.

  26. Let the new situation unfold itself and we may find new customers like Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Bahrain, Qatar and Iraq etc vying with each other for purchase of the things like MMRCA and F-35/18/16 etc.

    Then we may have to review the situation.

    This highlights the importance of indigenous projects like Tejas mkI & II etc.

  27. @ Annonymous from No 2 Sqdn,


    good to have a IAF youngster here. You are from the Oorials right?

    So tell me what is the feeling in your sqdn? Do you think IAF is adequately focused on the strike role and do we have enough strike aircraft - remember Mig 27s have serious engine problems (even after the DARE avionics upgrade) and an old airframe and Jaguars have an old airframe and the engine upgrade program doesnt seem to be happening? I think Col Shukla's case is that the JSF will give us great stealth strike capability and given our depleted sqdn strenght, lack of infrastrucure in the east and our very deplted arty thats whats needed to win against the Chinese and even against PAK. Do you think that stealth is not an essential game changer in these strike scenarios?

    Btw another question Ive always wanted to ask. Why on earth do we like 2 pilot planes when we have such a shortage of pilots and massive pyramid and career progression issues in our armd forces?


  28. Rahul(Kolkata)5 March 2011 at 05:01


    5 March 2011 04:13

    Are you an IAF oldtimer? Are you a supporter of JSF? Could you plz provide the rationale for IAF's eternal love affair with air supeority birds?

  29. Any airframes that rollout of the JSF pridcution lines have to satisfy the US requriements, and the allies requirements before they become available to India.. So it is still a longway from "production for India".. By the time those becomes available - FGFA will have been inducted.. No point of JSF "with strings attched".

  30. Hi All,
    I am from the 'Winged Arrows' not from 'Oorials'. I have spoken to a lot of seasoned pilots, they all say that the JSF is not what IAF needs, we need more Multirole + Air Superiority aircraft's which the JSF is not.
    Most of the missions we fly require the aircraft to have a high degree of multirole flexibility unlike the US airforce which has specialized aircraft for their mission.
    A friend of mine participated in the MMRCA evaluation, he said although the US jets are good they have an expensive maintainenece cost.
    Also they were pretty impressed by the Eurofighter's capabilities, do vaguely remember them saying that EF was far better than the competitors by a big margin compared to the US planes.
    Fg 0ff - IAF No2 sqdrn

  31. Had read this BW article long back but posting the link to it only now.

    F35 might be flying today but becomes military worthy only in 2016.

    Budgetary allocations are likely to have been cut already and if the trend continues, might get cut in future too. Not good news for any aircraft which is touted to be the world's most advanced.

    Whatever Lockheed might, F35 is not ready, YET and has its own set of sceptics in US armed forces, let alone India.

  32. Rahul(Kolkata)7 March 2011 at 03:59

    @Fg 0ff - IAF No2 sqdrn and all other IAF officers in awe of air-superiority/multi-role fighters:

    Your cricket team full of all-rounders can win you matches against Kenya/Canada but you need a Tendulkar/Zaheer to bail you out of an Australia match........

    Hope I am clear with what I intended to mean.

  33. Hi Rahul,
    First off please do not compare cricket matches with the AF planes. They are 2 very different things. Lets assume that India did go for the JSF, then we would have to face a lot of issues like 1) Buying US hardware whose spares will be banned if US just feels India is wrong. 2) You need to support the JSF in attack missions with another air superiority plane. 3)The plane is single engined hence more prone to loss in case of engine failure. 4)All US planes (even when compared to EF) need a lot of ground equipment to support operations. 5) The plane is not even ready for use by the USAF and US navy. 6)It has stealth but poor maneuverability. 7)There is nothing so special that the JSF can do which the MKI or EF or Rafale can not do. 8)F-35's stealth will not hide it completely from the radar, it will probably give you a few minutes to get closer to the enemy without being detected, compared to other planes. 9) Not all missions require stealth, the MKI I fly has a huge radar cross section. Not a big issue which u cannot live with. 10) If u wanted a dedicated ground attack plane a far better option would be the SU-34 bomber.
    Fg 0ff - IAF No2 sqdrn

  34. No Rahul, Im not an IAF old timer.

    Not sure that the IAF has a love affair with air superiority. Remember that it was in a strike role that one of IAFs greatest successes came ..hunters defeating Paki armour at Longewala in 1971 - that famous pic of the desert crisscrossed by retreating Paki tank trawls is proudly displayed at messes and at Air HQds! And they did buy Mig 27s and Jaguars.

    The mix between strike and airsuperiority is a complex affair and there are many views and Im not competent to comment further on this issue. I just wish we arrest our depleting sqdn strength beofre its too late.


  35. Rahul(Kolkata)8 March 2011 at 04:22

    @Fg 0ff - IAF No2 sqdrn

    Hi Sir,
    Thanks for your clarification. If indeed Su-34/Rafale is a better option than JSF as IAF feels, we must go for it. Mine and probably Ajai's base point for this debate was not acting as a middleman for F-35 but to understand the rationale for IAF's eternal love for air-supeiority fighters(Typhoon, if it wins MMRCA will again be an air-supeority fighter with limited ground attack capabilities till Tranche 3.Even RAF admits it. So they are adequately focussing on JSF also). I personally don't believe in the concept of so called multi-role fighters who can carry out all activities with equal ease.We all are multitasking in today's fast paced world but a day only has 24 hours. We need a deep penetration strike bomber as capable as MKI to avoid helplessness in Kargil like scenarios wherein we took 12 days to convert our Mirages from air defence fighters to bombers....Future transgression may not allow us this time. My points in favour of JSF had been these:
    1)It shuts down the F-35 option for Pakistan permanently.
    2)A strong message will be sent out to our ADA/DRDO guys that we have a plan B in place in case AMCA goes the LCA way.
    3)Presence of an American fifth gen fighter will increase the discomfiture index of our chinese friends by a notch...They have flown the Sukhoi's and may get an idea as to what FGFA may look like from their own experience and their Russian friends. But they will not get an iota of idea about JSF.
    4)Whatever Hu Weirdong, vice chief of PLAAF may say about service date(2017-2019) of J-20,mark my words; it will be in service around 2013-2014. And they have multiple(only god knows how many exactly) such programmes(Snowy Owl, J-14 etc) underway. So why should we be satisfied only with FGFA and AMCA and that too when AMCA is still a good bedside dream. I and all sane person don't believe in the 2020 service date of AMCA given by DRDO.
    5)Just to let you recall,IAF was not very happy with MKI's when it first came along. When it integrated French and Israeli avionics did IAF became happy. So to ridicule the F-35 which is still at the nascent stage would be wrong.We can join the JSF programme and modify the same as per our operational needs.
    6)I personally don't think CISMOA and all those nonsense stuffs would come in our way of acquiring the JSF's. Even IAF/MOD may believe this in private; otherwise why did they allow American companies in MMRCA deal?
    7)And to all those who believe that JSF will be a death knell for AMCA. What have the 2 programmes got in common? Nothing..As long as the government and IAF is not rigid with the 39.5 squadrons figure, there is place for both.

    Having said that,plz let me assure you and all our IAF servicemen that we(all citizens of India) take pride in IAF and if IAF believes it doesn't require the JSF to win future wars, then fullstop....However we will be at more peace of mind if IAF decides to look adequately at its bomber/strike aircraft fleet....

    Rahul Samanta.


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