The F-35 is about to get a lot more lethal in air-to-air combat
Lockheed Martin has developed a new weapons rack meant to give the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter a boost in firepower without sacrificing stealth, the defense contractor announced May 1, 2019.
The fifth-generation stealth fighters today carry four AIM-120 radar-guided air-to-air missiles, but the new weapons rack — Sidekick — will allow the aircraft to hold an additional Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile in each of the aircraft's two internal weapons bays, Lockheed's F-35 test pilot Tony "Brick" Wilson said at a media briefing, according to Seapower Magazine.
That would raise the number of Amraams the F-35 can carry to six from four, giving the fighter more to throw at an enemy fighter or drone in air combat.
An F-35A Lightning II test aircraft during a live-fire test over an Air Force range in the Gulf of Mexico on June 12, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Michael Jackson)
The F-35 stores weapons internally to maintain stealth. Presently, a strictly internal loadout allows the fighter to carry up to 5,700 pounds of ordnance.
Internally, the planes can carry a full set of Amraams or a mixture of air-to-air missiles and air-to-surface Joint Direct Attack Munitions.
The aircraft can also operate in "beast mode," a combined internal and external loadout that allows the F-35 to fly into battle with up to 22,000 pounds of weaponry — but this configuration degrades the jet's stealth advantage.
Three F-35C Lightning II aircraft over Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach on Feb. 1, 2019.
(U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon E. Renfroe)
Lockheed's new Sidekick weapons rack will reportedly be available for the Air Force F-35As and Navy F-35Cs but not the Marine Corps F-35Bs. These planes have smaller weapons bays because of a lift fan needed for short takeoff and vertical landing, a requirement for operations aboard US amphibious assault ships.
The F-35 program office first mentioned efforts to add capacity for another Amraam in each weapons bay two years ago. "There's a lot of engineering work to go with that," the program's director explained at the time, according to Air Force Magazine.
Speaking with reporters May 1, 2019, Wilson said the "extra missiles add a little weight but are not adding extra drag." He also said the F-35 had the ability to eventually carry hypersonic missiles should that capability be necessary.
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