How Stealthy Is Your F-35?


2011 PARIS AIR SHOW — One of the most interesting parts of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter press conference on Tuesday had to do with the degree of stealthiness possessed by export versions of the JSF. Namely, is the company watering down the low-observable characteristics of planes bound for non-DoD buyers?

The question was raised toward the end of the presser by an Italian journalist who referenced an “Australian source” postulating online that JSF partner nations are getting F-35s that aren’t as stealthy as the American fleet. At first, it seemed like he was asking a ridiculous question, that is, until USAF and Lockheed officials offered answers that didn’t exactly swat down the question.

Here’s what they said when the journalist asked if this source’s writings are true:

“The partners are all in the process of defining the requirements on the airplane don’t know who the source on the Australian internet is but I don’t think he’s inside the program office so I don’t believe he probably has visibility into everything that’s going on with this airplane,” said Lockheed’s Tom Burbage (TITLE) in his most obvious attempt to shoot down the question. From here, things got vague. “But I can tell you that the airplane is highly capable and it’s being built by a consortium of nine nations and they all have equal access to all the information on the program.”

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. C.D. Moore, the Pentagon’s deputy JSF program manager then chimed in saying:

“I would only add that the core requirements, the technical requirements that have been laid out in the program and our ability to meet those requirements…the low very observable characteristics, the low radar cross section, we’re achieving that; so when we think about lethality, survivability with the weapons with the very low observable capability, with the agility, maneuverability the sensor suit, it’s a combination of things that makes a weapons system effective. SO, instead of trying to speculate about what someone said about the weapons system in the press, all I can tell you is we have every intent of meeting the key performance parameters of the aircraft designated by our partners and the U.S. services and they’ve determined what capabilities are necessary for future war fighting needs.”

At this point, Aviation Week’s Amy Butler called both out on the vague answers saying it didn’t sound like either had “unequivocally said no.”

To which Moore responded:

“It’s certainly a hypothetical and speculative question until you understand the context of the question,” said Moore in response to Butler. “All I can tell you, Amy, is that based on the capabilities we’ve determined technically that are required to make this a formidable weapon system over the next 50 years, we’re going to deliver those capabilities. Anything like that that would have been conjectured b y somebody outside of the program as making one of our capabilities less than what it needs to be is purely speculative, and when we establish the requirements we don’t do that in a vacuum so we understand technically what the system needs to do from our vantage point and we believe that we’re going to meet all of those and we expect it will be a formidable weapon system to meet all of our needs.”

So, there you have it. Moore kinda, sorta tried to say the Aussie report was bunk but didn’t really. Saying the plane is going to meet everyone’s needs doesn’t exactly give the definitive yes, export jets will be less stealthy than American ones or no, all JSFs have the same degree of low-observable tech aboard.

Now, it could be that the airframe itself is as stealthy for all customers. However, things like avionics, sensor and communications emissions controls and IR signature reduction tech may be different for American F-35s than they are for foreign jets. However, with interoperability being one of the main selling points for the jet, wouldn’t it make sense for everyone to be using the same avionics, sensors and comms gear?

I’ll try to post the audio of this exchange later.


    Some countries may designate that their jets use black boxes made in their country or from a supplier they prefer. The operastive word is “may”. The Israeli typically modify their aircraft to use Israeli industry avionics, ie F-15, F-16. They also strip down the jets to remove some avionics, etc that they feel are unncessary in such a small country. The Japanese have their own aircraft industry which build the F-2, T-50, etc to their specs and use their nation’s equipment. One might assume if they buy the F-35 that some swaps may occur.

  • Mastro

    The Eurotrash version looks good at airshows and flypasts.

    They are completely invisible in combat operations- because they are back home while their pilots have a 6 week vacation.

  • Guest

    it’s just like that obnoxious TV ad for CAPITAL ONE credit cards,

    “What’s inside YOUR wallet ???”

    everything depends upon the bottom line. Money is our false god.

  • Drake1

    What do you expect when you have attack dogs like Aviation Week’s Bill Sweetman going off half cocked without all the fatcts?

    JSF people know that Sweetman and Air Power Australia (the Australian source) types are out to get them, so they are parsing their words carefully.

  • OliSki

    No Variety is always an advantage hypothetical what happens if a particular sensor or communication suite is compromised it would be more difficult and monetarily draining to compromise a variety.

  • Tom

    It’s not really a surprising question, one of which LM can expect to answer more often now that the F-35 is getting closer to full-blown production.

    Imagine a Kung Fu master who’s trying to teach a group of young disciples. Is he going to teach them everything he knows, or keep a few things up the sleeve just in case one of these guys go rouge and topple him? How smart is that in this dog eats dog world?

  • roland

    Add modified YF-23’s with big load, vertical landing and vertical takeoff capability for defense

    • blight2

      You love the YF-23, don’t you?

    • Gregory Savage

      That big plane isn’t doing a vertical take no way.

  • Matt

    This Australian source is probably Air Power Australia.

    • blight2

      Probably in their best interest to ensure an Aus F-35 isn’t inferior to an American one.

  • jackjack

    Now Amy, aciting in a professional way followed up and posted
    “I did ring Joe Dellavedova on this question. He said he did indeed mean stealth — including all of its elements, such as RCS, thermal, visible, etc. This question keeps coming up and the JPO is saying without wiggle room it seems that there is no inequality when it comes to stealth on the US JSF versus the partners’ JSFs.”

    I think this puts it to bed, till next time LOL

    I take from DT’s transcript that he was more bent on saying the f-35 will reach its KPP ‘stealth’ in the production plane
    but even this should tell us, are any of the partners complaing over stealth ? UK/turkey are on code access, but not degraded stealth
    “But I can tell you that the airplane is highly capable and it’s being built by a consortium of nine nations and they all have equal access to all the information on the program.”

  • snafu352

    jj, nothing you say puts anything to bed lol.

  • RunningBear

    The LO is ok until you roll down the window and stick your head out!

    Don’t add something that doesn’t work.

  • Mark O’Connell

    >.< everything*

  • jamesb

    Cats outta the bag, eh?

  • John Moore

    If thats true then I don’t see any future partnerships working out.

  • jsallison

    Sounds like classic acquisition toad powerpointspeak. And you wonder why they can’t do anything on time and under budget?

  • Roland

    Aircraft X-37-2C Fighter, Ace Combat Zero: ADF-01 and Ace Comabt Zero: X-02 are also great stealth figter jets.

  • Tim

    I bet the orders for this crock of ***** are halved in the next three years as the the UCAV programmes start to mature .

    The basic fact is the F22 and JSF are a leap to far in tech that by the time are fully operational will be superseded by the UCAVs .
    The eurofighter will stand as the last fighter that delivered bang for buck.

    • blight

      Eurofighter will be the last “bomb truck” fighter, whereas the last of the manned fighters will need to be stealth to penetrate radar and SAM infested airspace. UCAVs will be dependent on satellites or motherships or some other means to remotely control them, since autonomous aircraft are still a long ways away.

    • Michael Ross

      The Eurofighter delivered bang for buck??? You’ve got to be joking. One of the worst managed dragged out and overpriced projects we’ve ever been involved with, as well as a complete waste of resources as it duplicates far cheaper existing tech such as modern F16 variants and most of the orders have been cancelled. As for UCAVs superseding the next generation of fighters that is speculation NOT fact and there is certainly nothing in development that could come close. One day it may well be true but as of now a UCAV airforce is in the realms of science fiction.

  • Alexander

    Im an Australian who reads allot on defence and I have read this before the article said that the US would have the Highest Teir of stealth, then the UK would have a second Teir then all partners after that would have a third Teir, Im sure it was from a more reputable source than APA, im thinking it was either a kokoda foundation paper on the ammount of F35 squadrons australia needs or a publication by the ASPI on the F-35 cannot remember tho.

  • Roland

    This is one cool design stealth figter jet.

  • Matt

    Hopefully the US desnt give the partner nations full stealth or full capablities in general. Anybody remember Venezula and Iran?

    • blight


      • Mastro

        I’m a little more concerned about Turkey- when we let them on board they were pretty tight with us- but now they are playing footsie with Iran and Russia.

  • Oudin

    I think must be same quality for stealthy with partner no different between us n’ partner is mean all for one or one for all but i think lockmart’s make different stealthy.

  • james

    Short answer is : Yes the non=American F-35’s will have degraded stealth. The non-American F-35’s will contain a high percentage of non-American made parts. The fabrication of stealth materials, techniques, and coatings cannot by law be transferred to third countries except where certified by the President. Only England has such a certification.

  • james
  • FtD

    US is treating their so called ‘partner’ with contempt by keeping ‘special’ items up their sleeves. i honestly hope Isreal or Australia will develop more advance stealth coating & embarass US…..

  • Simon

    People please! There is a very good reason why the US Congress has barred the DOD from selling the F-22 Raptor to anyone else but the US Military. The F-22 has all aspect stealth with an RCS sufficient to enable it to survive against any IADS present today. The F-22 is a true 5th generation fighter plane with super cruise and thrust vectoring. The F-35 whilst having stealth built in to its design from day one has been designed also for the “export market” so it was never going to be anywhere near as “radar evading” as the F-22 (despite what the PR people at Lockheed may think) Both Australia (and Japan especially) would love to be able to purchase Raptors instead of F-35’s but they will never be sold them. The F-35 is a “compromise” airplane at best and foreign nations would be far better spending their money on stealth UCAV’s which are the way of the future anyway. Gen. Moore’s claim that the F-35 will be a formidable weapons system for the next 50 years has to be one of the most exaggerated statements by a senior US military official I have ever heard.

  • Yoron

    So, Eurotrash was it :)

    Well, Gripen has run rounds around F16, and whatever those big boys have used in competitions, as Red Flag for example, even when disallowed to use their own peer to peer datalink. Using it to it’s full extent a Gripen can go in as a hole in the space, no visible electronics, getting a ‘actively updated radar image’ through other units, not necessarily airborne either, then shot as well as direct the missile. And with meteor finally online no aircraft can expect itself excluded.

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