US F-35 fighter dubbed 'Lightning II'
Washington, July 8: The stealthy F-35 Joint Strike Fighter being developed by the United States and eight other countries is to be named the ''Lightning II,'' in homage to two earlier renowned fighters.
The supersonic F-35 is being built by a team led by Lockheed Martin Corp. at a cost of 6 billion. It is the costliest U.S. weapons program ever.
''The F-35 Lightning II will be the centerpiece of airpower in the 21st century for America and our allies,'' Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England said at a ceremony yesterday that also included the public's first look at the Air Force version of the plane.
The F-35's name echoes that of the sleek World War Two-era Lockheed P-38 Lightning, which scored the most aerial victories of any U.S. fighter in the Pacific.
English Electric, which later become BAE Systems, built a supersonic twin-engined jet in the mid-1950s that was also called Lightning. It could reach speeds of 1,500 miles per hour and remained in service until 1988.
U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley announced the name at the ceremony at Lockheed's Fort Worth, Texas plant, saying the F-35 represented the fruit of over a hundred years of flight and aerial combat.
Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed is the prime contractor developing three variants of the single-engine plane.
''The F-35 Lightning II will carry on the legacy of two of the greatest and most capable fighter aircraft of all time,'' said Ralph Heath, president of Lockheed's aeronautics unit.
Britain's BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman Corp. are Lockheed's key subcontractors on the F-35 program.
Partner countries on the new fighter are Britain, which has committed 2 billion dollar to the effort, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Australia, Norway, Denmark and Canada.
England said the project would strengthen ties and make it easier to fight together in the future.
''It is a key foundation for true jointness among our military services and it is further catalyzing interdependence with close international friends and allies,'' he said.
The United States and its partners last month agreed in principle to a long-term plan for how many fighters they would buy, but they are still working out details of a technology-transfer plan crucial to completion of the deal.
The draft pact includes statements of intent by the non-U.S. countries to buy a total 710 planes. The United States plans to buy 2,443, the first of which is due to be delivered to the U.S. Air Force in 2009.
The F-35 is designed to replace a wide range of existing aircraft, including the AV-8B Harriers, A-10s, F-16s, F/A-18 Hornets and Britain's Harrier GR.7s. The first F-35 is due to have its inaugural flight later this year, possibly by the end of October.