The F-35 descends from the X-35, the winning design of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. An aerospace industry team led by Lockheed Martin designed and manufactures it. Other major F-35 industry partners include Northrop Grumman, Pratt & Whitney, and BAE Systems. The F-35 first flew on 15 December 2006. The United States plans to buy 2,663 aircraft. Its variants are to provide the bulk of the crewed tactical airpower of the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps over the coming decades. Deliveries of the F-35 for the U.S. military are scheduled until 2037 with a projected service life up to 2070.
The United States principally funds the F-35 JSF development, with additional funding from partners. The partner nations are either NATO members or close U.S. allies. The United Kingdom, Italy, Australia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Turkey are part of the active development program; several additional countries have ordered, or are considering ordering, the F-35. Turkey, as an industrial partner, is the sole source supplier for several parts used in the F-35: Vice Admiral Mat Winter, F-35 programme director, told Janes reporters on 1 October 2018 that Turkey's industrial base "provides multiple parts on every F-35", including US F-35s.
As the largest and most expensive military program, the F-35 is the subject of much scrutiny and criticism in the U.S. and in other countries. In 2013 and 2014, critics argued that the plane was "plagued with design flaws", with many blaming the procurement process in which Lockheed was allowed "to design, test, and produce the F-35 all at the same time, instead of… [identifying and fixing] defects before firing up its production line". By 2014, the program was "$163 billion over budget [and] seven years behind schedule". Critics also contend that the program's high sunk costs and political momentum make it "too big to kill".
In 2018, the F-35 was used in combat for the first time, as the Israeli Air Force's F-35I became operational, had been flown "all over the Middle East", and had carried out the plane's first combat airstrikes in the world on two different battlefronts.
F-35 development started in 1992 with the origins of the Joint Strike Fighter program and is to culminate in full production in 2018. The X-35 first flew on 24 October 2000 and the F-35A on 15 December 2006. The F-35 was developed to replace most US fighter jets with variants of one design common to all branches of the military. It was developed in co-operation with a number of foreign partners, and unlike the F-22 Raptor, intended to be available for export. Three variants were designed: the F-35A (CTOL), the F-35B (STOVL), and the F-35C (CATOBAR). Despite being intended to share most of their parts to reduce costs and improve maintenance logistics, by 2017, the design commonality was only 20%. The program received considerable criticism for cost overruns during development and for the total projected cost of the program over the lifetime of the jets. By 2017, the program was expected over its lifetime (until 2070) to cost $406.5 billion for acquisition of the jets and $1.1 trillion for operations and maintenance. A number of design deficiencies were alleged, such as carrying a small internal payload, inferior performance to the aircraft being replaced, particularly the F-16, and the lack of safety in relying on a single engine, and flaws were noted such as vulnerability of the fuel tank to fire and the propensity for transonic roll-off (wing drop). The possible obsolescence of stealth technology was also criticized.