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The Joint Strike Fighter program was created in 1993 as an effort to create a next-generation combat plane primarily for use by the United States and United Kingdom governments, though Italy, Canada, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Turkey have contributed smaller shares of money to the project in exchange for technology. Originally the project was a competition between the Boeing X-32 and Lockheed Martin X-35. The Lockheed Martin fighter won the competition, and its X-35 experimental fighter will go into production as the F-35 Lightning II.
The F-35 Lightning II is the one of the most recent and advanced multi-role military fighters the world has seen. Demonstration aircraft, such as the X-35, flew as early as 2000, but the first production models did not take flight until 15 December 2006. The total cost of the program is estimated at over $40 billion US Dollars (USD), and the procurement of 2,400 fighters for the US military will cost over 2,400 planes is expected to be an additional $200 billion USD.
The F-35 Lightning II is a single-seat aircraft that is designed to outperform the F-16s which it will eventually replace. At about $85 million USD per unit, the F-35 Lightning II is slightly smaller, less expensive and less lethal than the F-22 Raptor, a dual engine fighter developed exclusively for use by the United States Air Force. The F-35 Lightning II sports a single engine and has a range of 1,400 mi (2,200 km), with a top speed of above Mach 1.8.
Being a multi-role aircraft, the F-35 Lightning II is able to perform close air support, tactical bombing, and air-to-air fighting capabilities. One variant of the F-35, the F-35B, is capable of short-takeoff/vertical-landing using a powerful lift fan. This function is designed to let it replace the Harrier Jump Jet. It was the experimental X-35B that was the primary cause of Lockheed Martin's victory in the competition - the craft was able to take off in 500 feet, go supersonic, and land vertically - something that the Boeing's fighter was unable to achieve.
Along with the F-22 Raptor, the F-35 Lightning II will be a key tool used by the NATO powers to achieve air superiority in the early 21st century. It may even be the first military fighter to be equipped with directed energy weapons, such as solid state lasers and high-power microwave beams. Its 20MW power plant will make this feasible.
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