The JCA will place the RAF at the forefront of fighter technology and will give it a true multi-role air system that will surpass the majority of other weapons systems in production today.
The Joint Strike Fighter, which is being built by Lockheed Martin as the F35, will be known in UK service as the Joint Combat Aircraft (JCA). Although Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor, the UK is a Level 1 partner with the US and a number of British companies, including BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce, will have extensive involvement in building and developing the aircraft. The UK version will be a stealthy, multi-role, all-weather, day & night, fighter/attack air system aircraft that can operate from land bases and both current and the next generation of aircraft carriers. This will give the UK a world-beating land-based and sea-based joint expeditionary air power capability well into the middle of the century. When the JCA enters service, it will be able to conduct deep strike missions, into contemporary Integrated Air Defence Systems, against a myriad of target sets. Moreover, by conducting robust Integrated Air Operations, JSF will support friendly ground forces with close air support, long-range interdiction, anti-surface warfare and tactical reconnaissance. The aircraft will offer many advantages over legacy platforms: very low oberservability, supersonic flight, improved survivability, internal and external weapons carriage, increased range and easier supply and maintenance.
The JCA design applies stealth technology techniques and, to minimise its radar signature, the airframe has identical sweep angles for the leading and trailing edges of the wing and tail, and incorporates sloping sides for the fuselage and the canopy. As a further signature-reduction measure, the seam of the canopy and the weapon-bay doors are saw-toothed and the vertical tails are canted at an angle. To achieve the smallest signature possible the aircraft has the ability to carry a range of weapons internally, rather than external carriage as displayed in current fighters. However, when operating in a permissive environment, an array of weapons can be carried on external pylons.
The main radar system is a newly developed, electronically scanned array multi-function radar with synthetic aperture and moving target indicator capabilities. Targeting information can also be supplied by an electro-optical system, which provides long-range detection and precision targeting by employing thermal imaging, laser tracking and marking, and a 360 degree infrared system. The aircraft’s systems will also provide navigation, missile warning and infrared search and track capabilities. All this affords the UK, for the first time, a truly tactical ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillence, Target Aquisition and Reconnaisance) asset.
Early production aircraft will be powered by a Pratt and Whitney F-135 turbofan engine.
The JCA will place the RAF at the forefront of fighter technology and will give it a true multi-role air system that will surpass the majority of other weapons systems in production today, or envisaged in the foreseeable future. Coupled with the Typhoon aircraft, JCA will keep the RAF at the cutting edge of military aviation.
UK military personnel will work alongside their US counterparts in an initial operational test and evaluation programme for the aircraft.