The F-35 Lightning II marks the pinnacle of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program, a venture that promises a new multi-role fighter with huge advancements in existing technology. As the F-35 Lightning II continues to undergo rigorous testing, specifications are slowly being declassified, and a recent document from the Defense Technical Information Center gives us confirmation of several specs, as well as the first official look at the aircraft’s hidden weapons bay.
f-35 lightning iii in flight testing
F-35 Lightning II JSF
The single-seat, single-engine design of the F-35 is the successor to Lockheed Martin’s experimental X-35. The development of F-35 Lightning is being lead by Lockheed Martin, and also involves Northrop Grumman, and BAE Systems. The program includes 9 international partners; The United States, United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Australia. Israel and Singapore has also joined the program as Security Cooperation Participants.

Multi-Role Capabilities

The diverse multi-mission capabilities of the F-35 include Air-to-Air; Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance; Electronic Attack; Air-to-Surface; and Command &Control. To fully satisfy the JSF multi-role requirements, the F-35 comes in three main variants.
f-35 lightning 2 in flight test 2
Multi-Role F-35 Lightning II

The Carrier Variant 9CV) features a larger wing and horizontal tail area, probe and drogue refueling, strengthened landing gear and tailhook, added wingfold and ailerons, and a centerline gun pod with 25mm gun.
The Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) refuels in-flight through the same mechanism, and features and added lift fan, roll posts, a 3-bearing swivel nozzle.
The Conventional Take-Off and Landing (CTOL) variant also features in-flight refueling, but this time by way of a door/boom in the middle of the craft. This version comes equipped with an internal 25mm 4-barrel Gatling gun.

Speed and Performance

The F-35 Lightning II promises the ‘speed and performance of the F-16 F/A-18 fighters’ achieved by using either Pratt & Whitney F135 or General Electric/Rolls Royce F136 engines. Although the craft is heavier than other fighters, the modern engines deliver more thrust, internal weapons and curved diverterless inlets (or buried engine) decrease resistance, and internal fuel increases endurance. Top speed of the F-35 is over Mach 1.6.
`f-35 lightning 2 ground testing
F-35 Lightning 2 Ground Testing

Stealth Capabilities

Stealth capabilities are one of the fundamental factors in the design of the F-35 Lightning. The aircraft’s shape, edge alignment, hidden weapons bay, as well as its low emission radars, low observable seams, and a reduced signature nozzle, all work together to reduce the aircraft’s radar signature.
The F-35’s Electrical & Optical Tracking System (EOTS) – the only 360 degree spherical situational awareness system – and the Infra-Red Search and Track (IRST) system warn the pilot of any incoming threats ‘as well as providing day/night vision, fire control capability and precision tracking of wingmen/friendly aircraft for tactical maneuvering.’ [Northrop Grumman]


The F-35 can carry a whole array of internal and external weapons. In the image below you can see the hidden weapons bay carrying two AMRAAM missiles and two 2000-pound JDAM bombs. In total the F-35 Lightning II can carry a combined payload of 18K lbs. Full list of compatible ordinance below.
f-35 lightning 2 hidden weapons bay
Hidden Weapons Bay

  • GBU-32 JDAM 1,000-lb
  • GBU-12 Paveway II 500-lb LGB
  • GBU-31 JDAM 2,000-lb
  • AGM-154A/C JSOW Glide Bomb
  • GBU-38 JDAM 500-lb
  • Brimstone/Joint Common Missile
  • GBU-31 JDAM 2,000-lb
  • AIM-132 ASRAAM
  • UK 500# PGB: Under development
  • Phase I SDB: Under development

f-35 lightning 2 weapons carriage
Weapons Carriage

  • GBU-10 Paveway II 2,000-lb LGB
  • GBU-24A/B Paveway III 2,000-lb LGB
  • GBU-16 Paveway II 1,000-lb LGB
  • MK-83 BLU-110 LDGP 1,000-lb LDGP
  • MK-83 BSU-85 HDGP
  • MK-84 2,000-lb LD/HDGP
  • MK-84 BSU-50 Ballute 2,000-lb HDGP
  • GBU-12 Paveway II 500-lb LGB
  • MK-82 500-lb LD & HD
  • CBU-99/100 Rockeye II
  • Cluster Munition
  • AIM-132 ASRAAM
  • GBU-38 JDAM 500-lb
  • AGM-158 JASSM
  • MXU-648/CNU-88 Baggage Pod
  • AGM-154A/C JSOW Glide Bomb
  • GBU-31 JDAM 2,000-lb
  • AIM-9X Sidewinder
  • GBU-32 JDAM 1,000-lb
  • BDU-57/58/60
  • GBU-31 JDAM 2,000-lb
  • Missionized Gun
  • Brimstone/Joint Common Missile

f-35 lightning 2 weapons stations
Weapons Stations

The F-35 also comes equipped with our favorite, the General Dynamics GAU-22/A Gatling gun – ‘a 3,000 SPM four barrel derivative of GAU-12’
f-35 lightning 2 gatling gun
GUA-22/A Gatling Gun

The CTOL version features an internal installation with ‘181 rounds linear linkless feed system’
The STOVL and CV are fitted with a missionized pod and 220 rounds helical feed system.

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