Lockheed Martin built the F-35 with integrated stealth to safely navigate the most heavily contested airspaces on earth, but if the situation calls for it, the F-35 can blow its cover and go "beast mode."
Jeff Babione, general manager of the F-35 program, told reporters at Lockheed Martin's DC area office that at different stages in a conflict, the F-35's different potential weapons load outs suit it for different missions.
Down to the ten thousandth of an inch, the exterior of the F-35 has been precisely machined to baffle radars. This means holding 5,000 pounds of bombs internally, and only opening up the bomb bays at the exact moment of a strike to stay hidden.
The stealth makes it ideal for penetrating defended airspaces and knocking out defenses, but after the careful work of surface-to-air missile hunting is done, expect the F-35 to go beast.
"When we don't necessarily need to be stealthy, we can carry up to 18,000 pounds of bombs," said Babione. "Whether it's the first day of the war when we need the stealth, or the second or third … whenever the F-35 is called, it can do the mission."
Lockheed Martin's F-35A aircraft displays its weapons load-out at Edwards Air Force Base in California. | Lockheed Martin photo
The fifth-generation joint strike fighter, first announced in 2001, intends to bring the military a family of aircraft that can take on multiple roles, including air-to-air combat, air-to-ground attacks, and providing unparalleled intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities.
Though the F-35's production has been plagued by cost and schedule overruns, the US Air Force and Marine Corps' variants hit initial operational capability in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Currently the US Navy is battling a nose gear issue with its variant of the F-35 that could delay operational capability until 2019.