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F-35 centerpiece for international partnership

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Sept. 28, 2006) -- The F-35 Lightning II aircraft brings new capability to the Air Force, but also serves as a centerpiece for international cooperation.

During the Air Force Association's 2006 Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition here Sept. 26, Brig. Gen. Charles R. Davis, deputy program executive officer for the F-35 Lightning II program office said the F-35 has been great for coalition-building among partner nations.

"If you think about a coalition that covers that much of the globe, that can operate fairly seamlessly between each other -- that is a very powerful tool for all the nations involved and presents a new dimension in warfighting capability," he said. "We are only beginning to think about what that brings to our partners and allies."

In addition to the United States, the F-35 program has eight other partners. Those partners include the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Australia, Norway, Denmark and Canada. Additionally, both Israel and Singapore have come aboard as security cooperative participants.

"We are finding out that the F-35, a tool of the Department of Defense, is becoming a tool of the Department of State," General Davis said. "The discussions we are having with these countries, amongst the U.S. services, about budgets and interoperability and technology sharing and everything, has really pushed the comfort zone of the DOD about how it brings allies into acquisition programs. This is a very unique aspect of (the F-35)."

General Davis said after the F-35 begins operations, he believes even more nations will want to come on board. Many will want to replace their ageing F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft, as the Air Force will do. More than 4,000 F-16s have been sold to allied nations.

"We do look at the possibility the F-35 will expand beyond the partnership," General Davis said. "That is where we would like to take the program. To open up the opportunity to put the F-35 in a lot of countries."

The F-35 will be produced in three variants, including a standard-take-off-and-landing version, a short-take-off-and-landing version and a carrier variant for use by the Navy. The F-35 will fly both suppression of enemy air defenses and destruction of enemy air defenses missions. Additionally, it can fly counter-air, strategic attack, close air support and defensive counter-air missions.

"(The F-35) provides a very broad range of flexibility to combatant commanders out there," General Davis said. "If you think about the fact you can launch a day-1 platform off either a Marine amphibious ship, a United Kingdom amphibious ship, certainly a Navy carrier, or a base in Europe, the United States or Asia -- that is a lot of capability and flexibility to the combatant commander that he does not have now. This is going to be a big benefit of what (the F-35) will bring to the arena once we start to field it."

General Davis said the Air Force will have initial operational capability on the F-35 in 2013. Right now, the United States military will purchase about 2,400 F-35s. Partner countries will purchase 500 to 600 total.