FACT: The F-35 Is Actually Three Different Fighter Jets

David Axe

Key Point: The F-35 is not one, but three distinct airplanes.

The U.S. Senate some time ago confirmed what an Air Force general hinted at in February 2016 — and which should have been obvious for years to close observers of U.S. air power.

The Joint Strike Fighter program is not developing one, common warplane for the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps and the air arms of America’s closest allies.

No, the Joint Strike Fighter is actually three different plane designs sharing a basic cockpit, engine and software and a logistical network. The Air Force’s F-35A, the Marines’ F-35B and the Navy’s F-35C should, in all fairness, be the F-35, F-36 and F-37.

“Despite aspirations for a joint aircraft, the F-35A, F-35B and F-35C are essentially three distinct aircraft, with significantly different missions and capability requirements,” the Senate stated in its version of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2017.

Before the act becomes law, the Senate must reconcile its NDAA with the House of Representative’s own version of the same bill— and Pres. Barack Obama must sign it. The F-35 language could change or disappear in coming months.

The Senate’s assertion comes just three months after U.S. Air Force lieutenant general Christopher Bogdan, head of the JSF program office, told a seminar audience that the three F-35 models are only 20- to 25-percent common, mainly in their cockpits.

It’s “almost like three separate production lines,” Bogdan said, according to Air Force magazine. A real joint fighter, the program boss said, is “hard” because each branch is adamant about its requirements. “You want what you want,” Bogdan said.

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