The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) is a joint, multinational acquisition program for the United States Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and eight cooperative international partners. It was created to replace various aircraft while keeping development, production and operating costs down. The objective is to develop a technically superior and affordable fleet of aircraft that would be capable of a wide range of missions in a variety of theaters. The program began in November 1996 with a 5-year competition between Lockheed Martin and Boeing to determine the most capable and affordable preliminary aircraft design. On October 26, 2001, the contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin, whose X-35 experimental aircraft outperformed Boeings X-32.
The JSF aircraft design has three variants: conventional takeoff and landing (F-35A), short takeoff and vertical landing (F-35B), and carrier-based (F-35C). The programs hallmark of affordability is achieved through a high degree of commonality among the variants; 80 percent of the parts are shared.
The F-35C naval variant will have a larger, folding wing and larger control surfaces for improved low-speed control, and stronger landing gear for the stresses of carrier landings. The larger wing area provides increased range and payload, with twice the range on internal fuel compared with the F/A-18C Hornet, achieving the same goal as the heavier F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The US Navy intends to buy 480 F-35Cs to replace the Hornets. It will also serve as a stealthier complement to the Super Hornet. The F35C is expected to be available beginning in 2012.