It’s the most advanced fighter jet ever put in the air, its designers says, but for years the F-35 has been under attack as the Pentagon’s trillion-dollar troubled child. Now, the next-generation plane is finally getting the chance to show what it can do: the F-35 is finally being put through its paces in real world conditions after years of delays, cost overruns and questions about its fitness for modern warfare.
The U.S. Navy gave journalists a rare chance to see its version of the single-seat F-35 being tested for battle.
This round of tests, called “fleet integration,” is designed to prove these F35s – priced at $120 million dollars each- will work well with other jets in the thick of battle.
Lockheed Martin won the chance to develop the plane, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, in the early 2000s, imagining a radar-evading craft—combining unparalleled firepower with advanced electronics to meet the growing threat from China and Russia.
But the project has been plagued with obstacles ever since. A recent watchdog report found almost a thousand technical issues to be fixed—everything from an advanced helmet that may hinder a pilot’s vision…. to a stealth-coating that might melt in the heat of supersonic flight.
But the Navy is hoping the years spent fixing these problems will finally pay off.
Sometime next year, the government will decide whether to move to full production of the F-35. That would mean an investment of about 400 billion dollars over the next decade to provide fighters not only for the United States but for its allies around the world.
If the Navy’s F-35 passes its final tests, its first deployment could come in 2021.