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The F-35 JSF in all its glory
Lockheed has proposed a JSF that fly by remote control

Lockheed Martin’s new single-engine F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the latest Swiss Army Knife of fighter aircraft for the US military.  The plane, which is destined to replace the F-16, AV8-B, A-10 and F/A-18, will be available in three variants:

  • F-35A: Conventional Take-Off and Landing (CTOL)
  • F-35B: Short Take-Off Vertical Landing (STOVL)
  • F-35C: Carrier Based Variant (CV)

Lockheed is now proposing a fourth variant that it has been working on for the past two years. The design proposal is for an unmanned version of the F-35 that could operate as a hybrid -- that is, it could be configured to either fly by remote or if need be with a human pilot in the cockpit. Many have stated that the F-35 would be the last manned fighter jet for the Air Force as the military has been pouring more and more dollars into unmanned combat systems. Lockheed's proposed unmanned J-35 would bridge the gap between the past and the future of aerial combat. From the Washington Post:

The Pentagon, looking to save money, has accelerated spending on unmanned systems since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. This year, it allocated $2 billion for unmanned aircraft and millions more in the supplemental budget, compared with $363 million in 2001. The figure is projected to reach more than $3 billion by the end of the decade. What has resulted is a hodgepodge of unmanned vehicles, such as small, bomb-seeking robots that can be carried in a backpack, and airplanes that provide surveillance for days at a time. The systems have become bigger and more expensive in recent years, such as the Predator, built by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., and the Global Hawk, which has a 134-foot wingspan, comparable to the Boeing 737.

Lockheed has been playing second fiddle to other names in the industry, namely Boeing, when it comes to unmanned aircraft. The price tag of the F-35 program has also ballooned from $201 billion to $276 billion. The price increase along with the government's increasing fascination with unmanned drones is probably why the initial order for 2,000 planes could likely drop significantly in the near future.





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