July 7, 2006

F-35 fighter dubbed “Lightning II”

By Andrea Shalal-Esa

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - 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 $276 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 on Friday 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 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.