There are three levels of international participation. The levels generally reflect the financial stake in the program, the amount of technology transfer and subcontracts open for bid by national companies, and the order in which countries can obtain production aircraft. The United Kingdom is the sole "Level 1" partner, contributing US$2.5 billion, which was about 10% of the planned development costs under the 1995 Memorandum of Understanding that brought the UK into the project. Level 2 partners are Italy, which is contributing US$1 billion; and the Netherlands, US$800 million. Level 3 partners are Canada, US$475 million; Turkey, US$195 million; Australia, US$144 million; Norway, US$122 million and Denmark, US$110 million. Israel and Singapore have joined as so-called "security cooperative participants" (SCP).
Some initial partner countries, including the United Kingdom, and Norway, Netherlands as well as Thailand, Indonesia and Israel, have wavered in their public commitment to the JSF program, hinting that the design goals are overambitious or warning that unless they receive more subcontracts or technology transfer, they will forsake JSF for the Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab JAS 39 Gripen, Dassault Rafale or simply upgrade their existing aircraft. Furthermore, F-35 export competitiveness has been hurt by international buyers finding either its export variant too costly per unit or "watered down". While the F-16E/F costs $50 million per export copy, the F-35 is likely to cost between $110–130 million. The exported F-35 versions will have the same configuration as the U.S. versions, according to Brigadier-Gen. David Heinz, program executive officer in 2009.
In 2001 Lockheed Martin claimed a potential market of 5,179 aircraft, including exports beyond the partner countries. The size of the market was instrumental in determining many of the cost calculations and economies of scale. More recent critical analysis has seriously questioned the assumptions made in estimating these markets and hence the resulting unit cost of the aircraft and its life-cycle costs as well. Congress may allow the US military to perform a "block buy" of 477 aircraft over 3 years, starting the cost/scale-spiral in a desirable direction. Several government officials, including Canadian Industry Minister Tony Clement, have used the production number of 5,000 as recently as September 2010 as an indication of the supposed benefit to industry in providing components and services for this large fleet. Analyst Kenneth Epps stated in November 2010: "The global F-35 market of "up to" 5,000 aircraft cited by Canadian industry and government officials is outdated and now greatly overstated. Realistically, the likelihood of worldwide F-35 sales is closer to the figure now given as the order total for the program partner countries, that is, "up to" 3,500 aircraft. The uncritical use of F-35 sales projections that are now almost 10 years out of date calls into question other claims made by officials about the F-35 program."
An issue that affects all the international partners in the F-35 involves access to the computer software codes for the aircraft. The F-35 relies heavily on software for operation of radar, weapons, flight controls and also maintenance. The US military has stated that "no country involved in the development of the jets will have access to the software codes" and has indicated that all software upgrades will be done in the US. The US government acknowledges that Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Turkey have all expressed dissatisfaction with that unilateral US decision. The UK specifically indicated they might cancel its entire order of F-35s without access to the coding, without which the nation will be unable to maintain its own aircraft. Allen Sens, a defence analyst at the University of British Columbia stated in November 2009: "What has happened is really quite unusual because we're talking about some of America's very close allies. You would have thought they could build in some maintenance codes that could be accessible to their allies." Sens indicated that the decision could be as a result of concerns about software security and also pressure from Congress to protect jobs in the US.
In December 2010 leaked United States diplomatic cables disclosed that the US State Department is actively engaged in marketing the F-35 internationally though diplomatic channels and that serious diplomatic pressure had been applied to Norway to buy the aircraft. Jeff Abramson of the Arms Control Association has said that the push to sell the F-35 is part of Obama's "national export initiative" which seeks to double America's export sales through increased arms sales.
European participation in the Joint Strike Fighter project has divided the countries and help preempt a European fifth generation jet fighter program, undercutting exports for their existing models.
In early 2012, after news leaked of a third restructuring of the program in three years, a parade of high-level visitors from the partner countries visited the United States to check on when they could get their aircraft. Ahead of the usual biannual meeting of military leaders in Australia in mid-March, the partner nations agreed to hold annual meetings at the political level.
In March 2014, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin Canada, Mike Barton, said "We’ve heard nothing about it impacting foreign interest," in reaction to General Mike Hostage, head of Air Combat Command, calling the aircraft irrelevant without accompanying F-22s.
As of April 2010 the United States intends to buy a total of 2,443 aircraft for an estimated US$323 billion, making it the most expensive defense program in US history.
In September 2010 the US purchase plans came under review over the rapidly escalating development and production costs of the aircraft. Initial estimates of US$50M per aircraft had increased to at least US$92M, with some US estimates indicating US$135M. US Undersecretary of Defence, Ashton Carter issued a memo in September 2010 requiring proposals on how to drive program costs down, stating "The Department is scrubbing costs with the aim of identifying unneeded cost and rewarding its elimination over time." In response Lockheed Martin has indicated that it is on "the path to achieving an average unit cost of about $60 million".
Also in September 2010 the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee indicated that the problems in the F-35 program were symptomatic of Pentagon mismanagement, pointing out "the lack of proper control in the defense budget process". The committee urged the Pentagon "to regain control over its budget". The committee also considered scrapping the entire program at that time, dissuaded only by the country's urgent need for new fighters.
New America Foundation defence analyst Bill Hartung has stated that the US government may try to reduce the overall costs of the program by reducing the number of aircraft it will procure. Hartung notes that this will increase the per unit cost for the international partners and also reduce the amount of business given to companies bidding on manufacturing contracts in partner countries as well.
On 6 January 2011, United States Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates announced that the Defense Department will cut the number of planes the military will buy from Lockheed Martin in the next two years because of "significant testing problems" which could lead to a costly redesign of the F-35B that the program could not afford during federal budget cuts. "If we cannot fix this variant [F-35B] during this time frame and get it back on track in terms of performance, cost and schedule, then I believe it should be canceled," Gates said in a statement.
The United States Department of Defense was planning to buy 14 F-35Bs in fiscal year 2012 and 25 the following year. Instead, six will be bought next year and another six in fiscal year 2013. Over the next five years, the Marine Corps will receive 50 F-35s, down from a planned 110. The number of Navy F-35Cs and Air Force F-35As will also be reduced. The Navy total was reduced by seven jets over the next five years, with most of the cuts in fiscal year 2016, while the number of Air Force jets was decreased by 57 over the next five years. Only 19 jets are slated for delivery next year.
The current plan is that the Marine Corps will purchase 340 of the F-35B and 80 of the F-35C, while the Navy will purchase 260 of the F-35C. The five squadrons of Marine F-35Cs will be assigned to the Navy carrier air wings while the F-35Bs will be used on amphibious ships and ashore.
In March 2011, Vice Admiral David Venlet, the chief of the F-35 Joint Program Office, testified at a US congressional committee that the F-35A procurement cost estimate will be $126.6 million per aircraft, including $15 million for the engine.
By the end of March 2011 the voices in the US calling for the end to the F-35 program were increasing in volume. Dominic Tierney of The Atlantic pointed out the whole program cost is now forecast to exceed US$1T, more than the annual GDP of Australia. He noted, "Money is pouring into the F-35 vortex.... An internal Pentagon report concluded that: "affordability is no longer embraced as a core pillar." In January 2011, even Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a champion of the aircraft, voiced his frustration: "The culture of endless money that has taken hold must be replaced by a culture of restraint"." Tierney further noted that the F-35 is an old Cold War–concept aircraft intended for a war between major powers, and is no longer useful in the 21st century with its asymmetric warfare. He concluded: "It's hard to square the military largesse with our rampant debt."
In April 2011 Winslow Wheeler, a former US advisor to both Republican and Democratic senators, employee of the General Accounting Office and now with the Center for Defense Information in Washington, criticized the F-35's price and performance. "This airplane is nothing to write home about," he stated, it is "a gigantic performance disappointment". Wheeler said: "As an American, this program should be terminated immediately. It's unaffordable and the performance is unacceptable already. We need to start over and form a competitive fly-before-you-buy selection."
In April 2011 the USAF listed "a more affordable JSF" as its top acquisition priority.
On 20 May 2011, Senators on the Armed Services Committee asked Ashton Carter to report on alternatives should the F-35 program fail to delivery timely affordable capabilities, after Carter said that there were no good alternatives to the F-35.
Retiring Defense Secretary Bob Gates has said that troop pay, benefits, and numbers may need to be cut to pay for the F-35 cost overruns.
While the 2012 defense department Selected Acquisition Report shows the USAF purchase of 60 to 80 aircraft per year from 2016 to 2030, the USAF's goals for total numbers of fighter aircraft could be met by maintaining the 48 aircraft per year purchase rate of 2017. The increase in production rate would leave the USAF with 300 more aircraft than planned for in 2030.
On 29 November 2012, the Pentagon reached an agreement on Lot 5 of the F-35 program, buying 32 aircraft. Lot 5 contains 22 F-35As, 3 F-35Bs, and 7 F-35Cs. The contract deal was rushed to protect them from possible sequestration cuts. However the JSF was noted as one of major programs that would suffer cuts if the house of representatives fails to follow the Senate's lead in passing a bill to resolve the United States fiscal cliff. Lot 6 was awarded on 28 December 2012. The contract is for 18 F-35As, 6 F-35Bs, and 7 F-35Cs. Deliveries of the Lot 6 order will begin in mid-2014. Lot 6 included the 31 aircraft for the U.S., plus 3 F-35As for Italy and 2 F-35As for Australia. As of 30 July 2013, Lockheed has delivered 67 F-35s from the first five production lots, with 28 still on order. On 30 July 2013, Lockheed agreed to reduce prices on Lot 6 by 4 percent compared to Lot 5, and will reduce the price of Lot 7 by another 4 percent. Pricing for Lot 5 took one year of negotiating, while Lots 6 and 7 took six months. Lot 6 prices are $100.8 million for the F-35A, $108.5 million for the F-35B, and $120 million for the F-35C. Lot 7 deliveries for 35 aircraft will begin in mid-2015, and includes 19 F-35As for the USAF, 6 F-35Bs for the USMC, 4 F-35Cs for the USN, 3 F-35As for Italy, 2 F-35As for Norway, and 1 F-35B for the U.K. Lot 7 prices are $96.8 million for the F-35A, $104.2 million for the F-35B, and $115.2 million for the F-35C. Full-rate production for the F-35A is expected at $80–90 million per unit. A deal for Lots 6 and 7 was officially finalized on 24 September 2013.
By March 2014 due to budgetary constraints the US Navy indicated that it would buy only 36 F-35Cs instead of 69 between 2015-20. The USAF will also defer the purchase of four F-35As in 2015, while Marine Corps orders will not change. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel further indicated that the number of F-35s to be funded between 2014-19 could be further reduced unless Congress revokes the automatic budget cuts programmed for FY2016 and later by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013.
In April 2015 the US Navy indicated that it was looking at purchasing additional F-18 Super Hornets to fill in a gap in aircraft in service forecast as a result of increasing delays in the F-35 program.
In December 2006 the United Kingdom announced that it would acquire 138 F-35Bs for the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy.
The UK became increasingly frustrated by a lack of U.S. commitment to grant access to the technology that would allow the UK to maintain and upgrade its F-35s without US involvement. For five years, British officials sought an ITAR waiver to secure greater technology transfer. Although this had the support of the Bush administration it was repeatedly blocked by U.S. Representative Henry Hyde, on the grounds that British laws were insufficient to prevent unauthorised transfer of U.S. technology to third parties.
On 27 May 2006, President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that "Both governments agree that the UK will have the ability to successfully operate, upgrade, employ, and maintain the Joint Strike Fighter such that the UK retains operational sovereignty over the aircraft." In December 2006, an agreement was signed which met the UK's demands for further participation, i.e., access to software source code and operational sovereignty. The agreement allows "an unbroken British chain of command" for operation of the aircraft. The UK was still considering an unspecified "Plan B" alternative to buying the Joint Strike Fighter.
In 2007, the Ministry of Defence placed orders for two Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers to operate the F-35B variant. On 2 May 2008, however, the Washington Post reported that an Inspector General's report chided the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Security Service for failing to ensure that BAE Systems was exercising appropriate controls over access to sensitive technologies, while both BAE and Lockheed Martin denied that any technology had been compromised.
On 18 March 2009, Defence Secretary John Hutton announced the MoD had agreed to purchase three test F-35Bs, and on 22 December 2009 financial approval for the purchase of the third aircraft was given.
On 26 January 2010, following over 18 months of simulator training, Squadron Leader Steve Long completed a test flight becoming the first British active duty pilot to fly the F-35.
Speculation mounted in 2009 that the UK government would switch from the F-35B to the F-35C model, with its greater range and payload. The UK would require fewer F-35Cs and save about $25 million for each aircraft ordered. In October 2010, press reports suggested that the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government were considering reducing the order for the F-35 from 138 to a currently unspecified but lower number as of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review. This was confirmed by a MoD spokeswoman in 2012. The proposed cuts would also close RAF Lossiemouth, chosen as the main operating base for the F-35. On 19 October 2010 Prime Minister David Cameron announced in the Strategic Defence and Security Review that the UK would procure an unspecified number of F-35Cs, to fly from a Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier, instead of the F-35B. This change would require the aircraft carrier to be equipped with catapults and arresting gear.
In January 2012, British Defence Minister Philip Hammond visited the United States to seek clarification about the impact of the new American military strategy on the availability of the F-35 for Britain's new carriers. In May 2012, Hammond announced that the UK coalition government had reverted to the previous government's plan to operate the F-35B STOVL variant, due to rising estimated shipbuilding costs associated with the F-35C, and an earlier estimated in-service date for the F-35B. In July 2012, Hammond stated that an initial 48 F-35Bs would be purchased to equip the carrier fleet, but a final figure of F-35 purchases would not be decided until the Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2015 — it was also suggested that the UK may later purchase F-35A variants to replace the country's Eurofighter Typhoon fleet.
In November 2015, the Chancellor George Osborne announced that the UK will order the full original total of 138 F-35 aircraft to equip the Royal Navy's two new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers. The aircraft will also be used by the Royal Air Force over time, and be one of the replacements for the Panavia Tornado. It was stated that at least 24 of the aircraft would be available by 2023 for use on board one of the navy's aircraft carriers, thus leaving more time for testing and training before it becomes operational. It is expected that all 138 F-35 aircraft will be in service by the 2030s. At least one permanent F-35 squadron will stand up sometime around 2018, but this is expected to increase to two or three squadrons in the 2020s. The F-35 will be one of the two main fast jet aircraft operated by the UK, the other being the Eurofighter Typhoon.
Italy is the second largest JSF contributing partner after the UK. In October 2008, the Italian government outlined a requirement for 131 F-35s for the Aeronautica Militare and Marina Militare, consisting of 69 F-35As and 62 F-35Bs. Under this plan the Italian Navy would have received 22 F-35Bs while the Air Force would get 69 F-35A and 40 F-35B STOVL version aircraft. The Navy plans to use the F-35Bs on the new Cavour STOVL carrier.
Alenia Aermacchi will be the second source supplier of the wing box. Under the terms of agreement Alenia Aeronautica is slated to produce more than 1,200 wings for the F-35 for the nine partners, United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Turkey, Australia, Canada, Denmark and Norway. Other participation in the program includes work on the electro-optical targeting system, on the electronic-warfare suite, ejection seat, radio, 25 mm gun and DAS systems, performed by Leonardo-Finmeccanica's companies. Avio participated in both the Pratt & Whitney F135 and General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136 powerplant programs.
On 7 October 2008, Italy announced it would not participate in initial F-35 testing and evaluation, and will not purchase test aircraft.
Italy's Air Base of Cameri will be the only Final Assembly and Check Out/Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul & Upgrade (FACO/MRO&U) facility outside the US, for the final assembly of F-35s to be delivered to Italy and the Netherlands, with an estimated cost of $775 million. The FACO could also operate as a regional F-35 maintenance and support center. As of 2015, there are 800 Italians and 30-40 LM personnel at Cameri.
On 24 November 2010, Guido Crosetto said that Italy was reconsidering its purchase of the STOVL F-35B, in light of the UK's withdrawal from that variant. (The UK government later reversed their decision to switch from F-35B to F-35C.)
In early February 2012, Corriere della Sera reported that the Italian purchase would be cut back to 100 to 110 aircraft, but the defense ministry said at that time that no decision had been made. On 15 February Defence Minister Giampaolo Di Paola announced that Italy would cut its F-35 order by 41 aircraft from the initially announced 131 to 90 as a result of the country's sovereign debt crisis.
On 26 June 2013, Italy's ruling parties agreed to again seek parliament approval before advancing further in the program. Parliament approved a six-month review of the program by a vote of 381 to 149. On 16 July 2013 the senate agreed to allow the existing purchase to go through, but said they would review any further purchase. The first F-35A assembled in Italy flew from Cameri on 7 September 2015.
The Netherlands had plans to acquire 85 F-35As for the Royal Netherlands Air Force. The aircraft will replace an aging fleet of F-16AMs. The Dutch government had expected that the costs would be €5.5 billion for the initial purchase and €9.1 billion for 30 years of service, which comes down to a lifetime cost of about US$215 million per unit. On 19 November 2007, in the Dutch Parliament, the Secretary of Defence was questioned about the JSF delay, technical problems and rising costs. However, on 29 February 2008, the executive council of the Dutch government decided to go ahead with the purchase of two test aircraft, and a memorandum of understanding was signed. On 7 September 2008 Dutch television show "Reporter" reports that counter orders are lagging behind compared to promises and that an active lobby by the Royal Netherlands Air Force has manipulated the Dutch government into participating in the project.
In 2010, the Dutch parliament voted to cancel its order for the first test series. Because there was only a caretaker government at that time, Defence Minister Van Middelkoop stated he can and will not honor the wishes of the parliament, but that the next government should decide on the issue. The next defence Minister Hans Hillen planned to continue the purchase in the face of budget cuts that will see thousands of defense employees go as well as the sell off of Dutch military aircraft and ships, in order to maintain Dutch industrial participation in the F-35 program. On 20 April 2011 the newly elected Dutch parliament reversed the vote by its predecessor and voted to purchase a second test F-35.
In December 2010, Defence Minister Hans Hillen said that he had "great difficulty" with a cost increase of 20% over what the Netherlands had budgeted and that he would work with the UK and Norway on the issue.
On 8 April 2011, the Netherlands agreed to buy a second test aircraft, and signed a deal to purchase it at the end of the month. Later that month, Dutch defence minister Hans Hillen suggested that their purchase level would be lower than 85, as the plan was to replace F-16s on a one for one basis and Dutch F-16 numbers had already dropped to 68. Lockheed was confident that the Netherlands will purchase the full order of 85 F-35 fighters. However, the Dutch Minister of Defence announced in March 2013 that the test programme would be stopped until further notice and that the purchase of the F-35 was not at all certain. The two F-35s on order will be placed in storage until a decision is made.
Considerations of some Dutch politicians to buy alternatives such as Saab AB's Gripen, Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet or the EADS Eurofighter, caused the US DoD to suggest (in April 2013) these options would cost more in the long run. In 2013 the Netherlands Court of Audit found that increasing per-unit costs of the F-35 had driven the number of aircraft that could be afforded below the minimum level needed to fulfill NATO requirements. In September the Dutch government stated a commitment to replace the F-16 with F-35. The anticipated number is 37, and the budget is 4.5 billion euros ($6.01 billion) for the warplanes and an additional 270 million euros per year in operating costs.
On 17 September 2013 the Dutch government announced that it will purchase 37 JSF fighters for a purchase price of around 4.5 billion Euros.
In January 2014, the Dutch defence and foreign affairs ministers revealed that their F-35s could be used for delivery of nuclear weapons. The previous year Parliament support no nuclear role for the F-35 and the ministers still support disarmament, but they say the Netherlands still has a nuclear role "for the time being" due to their role within NATO.
Australia is participating in the F-35's development, and expects that overall, 72 or more F-35As will be ordered to replace the Royal Australian Air Force's (RAAF's) F/A-18 Hornet aircraft. The government of Australia announced that it would buy into the F-35's development on 22 June 2002. This decision ended the competition to replace Australia's F/A-18 and F-111 aircraft before it formally began, with other aircraft manufacturers being advised that it would not be worth submitting proposals. The government argued that joining the F-35 program at an early stage would allow Australia to influence the F-35's development, provide the government with information on the aircraft's suitability, and generate savings of over $600 million if an order for F-35s is eventually placed. Australia formally signed up to the F-35 "systems development and demonstration phase" as a Level 3 participant on 30 October 2002.
In 2002, the Howard government ignored military advice that it was too soon to join the F-35 program, and directed the "Air 6000" program to settle on the JSF. The expected cost was $28 million per fighter in 1994 US dollars.
In November 2006, declaring satisfaction with the F-35's progress to date, the government gave 'first-pass' initial approval to the project under which F-35s will be acquired, deferring to late 2008 a decision on whether to actually order the aircraft. Following this initial approval, on 13 December 2006 Australia signed the JSF Production, Sustainment and Follow-on Development Memorandum of Understanding, which commits Australia to the next phase of the F-35's development. In October 2006 the deputy chief of the Air Force, Air Vice Marshal John Blackburn, publicly stated that the RAAF had considered suitable aircraft which could be acquired if the F-35 was delayed, but that such aircraft were not believed to be necessary on the basis of the F-35 program's progress at the time. Concerns over the F-35 delivery schedule developed in Australia during 2007. In February the defence minister announced that a risk mitigation strategy, which involved obtaining F/A-18F Hornets, was being developed to prevent a gap in the RAAF's air combat capability if the F-35 program was delayed. This strategy was adopted, and an order for 24 F/A-18Fs was announced on 6 March 2007. The first aircraft was delivered in 2009 and the first squadron was declared operational in December 2010.
Following the 2007 Australian Federal Election, the new Australian Labor Party Government launched an inquiry into the replacement of the RAAF's air combat capability. The party had expressed concerns over the F-35's adequacy while it was in opposition, and proposed acquiring F-22s to replace or supplement the RAAF's F-35 force. An approach was made to the U.S. Government for F-22s in early 2008, but was not successful as these aircraft are not available for export. In April 2008 it was reported that the air combat review had found that the F-35 was the most suitable aircraft for Australia. In 2011 leaked documents revealed that the review and the attempt to purchase the F-22 were simply to satisfy domestic politics in Australia and no serious consideration had been given to any aircraft other than the F-35.
In October 2008 it was reported that the Australian Government may order 75 F-35s instead of the 100 originally (and still officially) planned, due to the impact of the global financial crisis and a large long-term funding gap in the Defence budget. The Government's Defence white paper released in April 2009 argued for a purchase of up to 100 F-35s, however.
There has been much debate in Australia over whether the F-35 is the most suitable aircraft for the RAAF. It has been claimed that the F-35's performance is inferior to Russian-built fighters operated by countries near Australia (such as the Su-27 and Su-30 in Indonesia), that it cannot meet the RAAF's long-range strike requirement, and that further delays to the F-35 program may result in the RAAF experiencing a shortage of combat aircraft. The RAAF has stated that it believes that the F-35 will meet Australia's needs, and both of Australia's major political parties currently support the development and purchase of the aircraft (though differences remain on the deadline and the number of aircraft). Former defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon has charged the defence chiefs with an obsession for the JSF.
On 21 August 2009, it was reported that the RAAF would get two F-35s for testing in 2014 and that the initial squadron would be delayed until 2017. On 11 September 2009, Air Marshall Mark Binskin said that a fourth squadron of F-35s for the RAAF would be imperative.
On 25 November 2009, Australia committed to placing a first order for 14 aircraft at a cost of A$3.2 billion, with deliveries to begin in 2014. However, in May 2012, it was announced that the purchase of twelve F-35As from the initial order were being deferred to 2014 as part of wider ADF budget cuts in order to balance the Federal Government budget for the 2012-13 financial year. Two F-35As from the initial order are in production and are still expected to be in Australian service in 2014 for testing and evaluation.
Air Marshal Geoff Brown, the Chief of Air Force, has said that "anything less than 100 JSFs severely limits the options available to government and only provides a boutique capability", and that the fighter is necessary for the RAAF to be able to keep up with the aircraft other air forces in Australia's region are expected to operate in the 2020s.
The construction of the Canberra class amphibious vessels for the Royal Australian Navy has led to suggestions from some quarters that the RAN should procure a number of the F-35B STOVL version to operate from these ships. However, while cross-decking with other nations may well occur, the RAN has stated that the operation of Australian fixed wing aircraft is unlikely. In 2014 Defence Minister David Johnston said that the government was considering the purchase of F-35Bs to use aboard the ships. Tony Abbott directed that the team developing a new defence white paper consider the issue. This assessment found that the cost of modifying the ships to operate F-35Bs would be very high, and the idea was rejected before the completion of the White Paper.
On 23 April 2014, Australia confirmed the purchase of 58 F-35A Lightning II fighters in a US$11.5 billion deal. The 58 fighter order is the second tranche of the Australian Defence Force's Air 6000 Phase 2A/2B new air combat capability (NACC) project, with a previous order of 14 F-35s being the first tranche. The 72 F-35s will replace the RAAF's fleet of 71 F/A-18A/B Hornets and supplement the country's F/A-18F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler fleets. The first four F-35s are to be delivered to Australia in 2018, with IOC being reached in 2020. A Phase 2C tranche of the plan is to purchase 28 more planes to replace the Air Force's 24 Super Hornets. Although Super Hornets were bought as a bridging capability until the arrival of the F-35, delays in the JSF program will keep the Super Hornets and Growlers flying for 20 years, with a decision regarding Phase 2C deferred until the early 2020s. The purchase will be in line with previous defense budget planning.
Australia's first F-35A, designated AU-1 by Lockheed and A35-001 by the RAAF, made its first flight on 29 September 2014 at the company's Fort Worth, Texas facility, flying for two hours. AU-1 and AU-2 will be transferred to the USAF training school at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona in early 2015. RAAF F-35s will remain at Luke AFB until 2018, when they will be delivered to Australia for national-specific operational test and evaluation work.
Australia started an A$950 million program in 2015 to provide better security for its F-35 bases.
Canada has been involved in the Joint Strike Fighter Program from its beginning, investing US$10 million to be an "informed partner" during the evaluation process. Once Lockheed Martin was selected as the primary contractor for the JSF program, Canada elected to become a level 3 participant, along with Norway, Denmark, Turkey and Australia. An additional US$100 million from the Canadian Department of National Defence (DND) over 10 years and another $50 million from Industry Canada were dedicated in 2002, making them an early participant of the JSF program.
On 16 July 2010, the Canadian government announced that it would buy 65 F-35s to replace the existing 80 CF-18s for $16B (with all ancillary costs included) with deliveries planned for 2016.
The intention to sign a sole-sourced, untendered F-35 contract and the government's refusal to provide detailed costing became one of the major causes of a finding of contempt of Parliament and the subsequent defeat of Stephen Harper's Conservative government through a non-confidence vote on 25 March 2011. This directly led to the F-35 purchase becoming an issue in the 2011 federal election, in which Harper's Conservatives won an increased number of seats to form a majority government.
On 19 October 2015 the Liberal Party of Canada under Justin Trudeau won a large majority in part on a campaign promise to not purchase the F-35, but instead an aircraft more suited to Canada's defence requirements. However, the new Defence Minister has refused to rule out the F-35 in a new procurement competition.
Denmark has joined the Joint Strike Fighter program as a Level 3 partner, and the Royal Danish Air Force is considering the replacement of 48 of its aging F-16 fighters with F-35As.
Denmark's MPs were not expected to vote on a purchase of the F-35A before 2014, and were considering alternatives such as the JAS 39 Gripen NG and the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, while the consortium behind the Eurofighter Typhoon withdrew in 2007.
A RDAF F-16BM (ET 210) is stationed at Edwards AFB for flight testing of the F-35. The Danish test pilot Lieutenant Colonel Casper Børge Nielsen is part of the Joint Strike Fighter programme.
On 13 March 2013, Denmark restarted their selection process for 30 new fighter aircraft. Candidates include the two-seated F/A-18F Super Hornet, and Eurofighter Typhoon, with the F-35A remaining as a candidate.
On 9 June 2016, the Danish defence committee agreed to purchase 27 F-35As to succeed the F-16. The price tag is 3 billion USD.
In September 2016, Boeing, the builder of the F/A18E/F Super Hornet, indicated that they would take legal action against the Danish decision to buy the F-35A, indicating that data used was flawed.
Norway participates in the F-35 program as a Level 3 partner in the system development and demonstration phase, with a view to enabling its industry to compete for industrial opportunities. Norwegian National Deputy Rune Fagerli, the country's sole representative on the Joint Strike Fighter program, told SPACE.com that the Norwegian Royal Ministry of Defence has pledged $125 million in preparation to replace a fleet of F-16 jets that have about 12 years left of operation. "By getting involved here on the ground level, we can try and address the needs of Norway into this capable fighter early," said Fagerli, a colonel. For example, Norwegian F-16s are fitted with drag chutes because of wet, slippery runways. Likewise, international cooperation to aircraft development could also yield aircraft from cooperating nations that fit well together during combat. Fagerli also mentioned that Norwegian pilots currently fly missions over Afghanistan in F-16s alongside Danish and Dutch aviators.
Norway has several times threatened to put their support on hold unless substantial guarantees for an increased industrial share is provided. Despite this Norway has signed all the Memoranda of Understanding, including the latest one detailing the future production phase of the JSF program. They have, however, indicated that they will increase and strengthen their cooperation with both competitors of the JSF, the Typhoon and the Gripen. Norway has delayed a decision on the purchase of four training F-35s until later in 2011.
The F-35 was evaluated along with JAS 39 Gripen by the Norwegian Future Combat Aircraft Capability Project as a replacement for the F-16s currently in-service. On 20 November 2008, the government released a statement saying it will support buying F-35s for the Royal Norwegian Air Force instead of the Gripen NG. The government's reasoning for choosing the F-35 over Gripen was that only the US aircraft supposedly fulfilled the operational requirements, and that it was allegedly offered at a more competitive price than the Swedish fighter. This has been strongly criticized by Saab, saying that Norway made errors when calculating the cost for Gripen NG vs the cost for the JSF.
The Norwegian Air Force has decided to develop the Joint Strike Missile for the F-35 and other aircraft.
In December 2010 leaked United States diplomatic cables revealed that the USA decided to delay a request by Sweden for an AESA radar for the Gripen until after Norway had announced their decision to buy the F-35. The same cables indicated that Norwegian consideration of the Gripen "was just a show" and that Norway had decided to purchase the F-35 as a result of "high-level political pressure" from the US. Following the successful sale of the F-35 to Norway, US officials compiled a "lessons learned" memo that included a list of tactics for future sales to other countries. These included using the active involvement of the local US embassy and its ambassador to market the aircraft, coordinating sales strategies with Lockheed Martin and using diplomatic events to specifically talk about the F-35. These events could include ambassadorial luncheons with national people of influence as invited guests. The documents indicate that US officials were attempting to make the sale "without appearing to bully or attempt to force a decision."
In June 2011 the Socialist Left party called for a probe into the rising costs of the jets.
Like Canada, Norway also needs to use satellite communications for operations north of the Arctic Circle, a capability not to be delivered with the first batch of aircraft.
On 24 November 2011, Norwegian officials estimated the life cycle costs for 52 F-35A to be $40 billion, in a hearing in the House of Commons of Canada.
On 14 June 2012, Norway placed an order for its first two aircraft, after receiving a promise of American support for the JSM on the JSF.
On 22 September 2015, the first Norwegian F-35A was rolled out in Fort Worth, Texas. The first two examples for Norway are scheduled to be delivered to the Royal Norwegian Air Force later in 2015, and will be based at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, where they will be used for Norwegian and partner country pilot training.
On 12 July 2002, Turkey became the seventh international partner in the JSF Project, joining the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, Denmark and Norway. On 25 January 2007, Turkey signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for involvement in F-35 production. The Turkish Air Force is planning to initially order 116 F-35A "CTOL/Air Force versions" at a reported cost of $11 billion. In October 2009, Murad Bayar, head of the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, has said that Turkey may increase its order to 120 aircraft instead of purchasing Eurofighter Typhoons.
The plan is that the F-35 will be produced under license in Turkey by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI). TAI is one of the two international suppliers to Northrop Grumman (the other being Terma in Denmark). A Letter of Intent (LOI) was signed between TAI and Northrop Grumman ISS (NGISS) International on 6 February 2007. With the LOI, TAI became the second source for the F-35 center fuselage. The number of center fuselages to be produced by TAI will depend on the number of F-35s Turkey procures and the number of F-35s produced worldwide. On 10 December 2007, TAI was authorized by Northrop Grumman to commence fabricating access doors and composite parts for the first two F-35 production aircraft. These components are used in the F-35 center fuselage, a major section of the aircraft being produced by Northrop Grumman, a principal member of the Lockheed Martin-led F-35 global industry team.
Northrop Grumman currently produces all F-35 center fuselages at its F-35 assembly facility in Palmdale, California. After 2013, TAI will assemble the F-35 under license from Lockheed Martin Corporation, as was the case with the F-16 program.
By January 2011 there were indications that Turkey was reconsidering its participation in the F-35 program and its procurement of the aircraft. Political friction between Turkey and the US resulted in the US refusing to ship or delaying shipments of F-16 parts to Turkey over relations with Israel and Turkish officials are concerned that similar problems will make F-35 production and support of the 100 F-35s it has planned to buy non-viable. Rising costs in the F-35 program are also a factor and Turkey is considering developing its own fighter instead in cooperation with other nations. However Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul, has said that Turkey may buy as many as 116 of the Joint Strike Fighter.
Turkey, like other partner nations, has complained about the United States refusal to share the software source code for the F-35. On 24 March 2011 Turkey announced it is placing its order for 100 jets on hold due to the ongoing source code refusal issue. Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül said that the negotiations for access to the F-35 source codes, including codes that can be used to control the aircraft remotely, had not yielded "satisfactory results" and that under these conditions Turkey could not accept the aircraft.
In April 2012, Turkey suggested that program costs could be reduced by outsourcing more production to Turkish defense and aerospace companies, which operate with lower labour costs compared to their counterparts in the U.S. and other partner countries of the project.
Despite the software dispute, Turkey agreed in principle to order two F-35As in January 2012. However, this decision was postponed during the SSIK meeting in January 2013 due to the technical problems with the aircraft and the uncertainties over the rising costs. Turkey's first F-35s are now due to be delivered in 2017, as opposed to 2015. On 6 May 2014, Turkey approved an initial order for two F-35s after a 15-month delay. They will be manufactured in the Block 3F configuration. Turkey is to take delivery of 10 aircraft per year after they enter service in 2018, with 100 F-35s total on order. The country has invested $195 million in the program since 1999 and total program cost is expected to reach $16 billion.
In January 2015 Turkey ordered a further four F-35s, for a total of six.
In 2003, Israel signed a formal letter of agreement, worth almost $20 million, to join the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) effort for the F-35 as a "security cooperation participant" (SCP). The Israeli Air Force (IAF) stated in 2006 that the F-35 is a key part of IAF's recapitalization plans, and that Israel intended to buy over 100 F-35A fighters at an estimated cost of over $5 billion to replace their F-16s over time. Israel was reinstated as a partner in the development of the F-35 on 31 July 2006, after Israeli participation was put on hold following the Chinese arms deal crisis. Israel will buy 20 initial examples of the F-35A, with a total of 75 fighters desired.
In February 2003, Singapore joined the JSF program's System Design and Development (SDD) Phase, as a Security Co-operation Participant (SCP). It was speculated that Singapore could be buying up to 100 F-35s. In late 2013, Singapore said they were in "no particular hurry" to buy the F-35, and that they were focusing on upgrading their F-16s in the near-term.It was speculated that Singapore has specific interest in acquiring the F-35B STOVL variant due to the use of road bases adjacent to airfields, most shorter than 8,000 ft (2,400 m). It was speculated that the F-35B could also prove useful if the Endurance-class ships were converted to Landing Helicopter Docks. In August 2016, the speculation ended with Singapore announcing it has placed on hold any decision to buy up to 12 F-35.
Initial production orders to date.
How many aircraft each customer is planning to buy eventually. Japan
Japan's arms export ban has kept it out of the development phase of the F-35 project, which has contributed to the decline of its arms industries so Japan is considering an off the shelf purchase of the F-35 with no national industrial participation. Lockheed Martin has offered final assembly of the Japanese F-35s to Japanese industry, along with "maintenance, repair and upgrade capability". In October 2011 Lockheed upped the amount of workshare to be offered to the Japanese to include manufacture of major components and engine assembly. This is because the United States government has now allowed Lockheed to reveal confidential technologies to Japanese firms.
On 20 December 2011 the Japanese Government announced that it intended to purchase 42 F-35s for approximately US$8 billion, with initial delivery to begin in 2016 to replace its existing F-4 Phantom II aircraft. In order to fully participate in the program, the Japanese government is loosening their weapons export ban. May 2012, a notification to Congress, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency outlined the details of the proposed Foreign Military Sales (FMS) deal, sale of 42 Lockheed Martin F-35A fighter aircraft to Japan at $10 billion.
In 2012 it was reported that the F-35s purchased after FY13 would include Japanese parts. In 2013, the Japanese government decided that since Japanese companies would merely function as subcontractors that these parts would be exempt from the usual weapons export ban. In August 2013, it was confirmed that Japanese companies will manufacture 24 components of the F-35 related to the engine and radar. Mitsubishi Electric will manufacture 7 components of the radar, and IHI Corporation will manufacture 17 fan and turbine components of the engine. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries will also be included in some form in the manufacturing of the rear fuselage, wings, and undercarriage, which will allow Japanese industry to gain a greater understanding of low-observability stealth technology and manufacture. While four F-35As ordered in 2012 will be finished products, the two to be ordered in 2013 will have Japanese manufactured components. Technological insights gained from the manufacture of components related to stealth will most certainly be applied to the development of the indigenous Mitsubishi ATD-X.
In 2014, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries pressed for a Japanese government subsidy to manufacture F-35 parts for export.
The first four aircraft will be assembled in Texas, with the remainder built in Nagoya.
In July 2014, Japanese Minister of Defence Itsunori Onodera unveiled plans to replace nearly 100 F-15Js not slated for upgrade with F-35s.
In September 2014 the Japanese government announced that it will develop its own stealth fighter, a design that will outperform the F-35. Harukazu Saito, chief of staff at the Air Self-Defense Force, stated, "We can respond more quickly to an unpredictable situation that might happen to our fighters if they are made domestically than in the case of foreign-made fighters, and we can operate domestically made fighters more smoothly." South Korea
South Korea was considering the F-35, among several other competitors, for its F-X Phase III fighter program. South Korean officials had indicated that the F-35 would only be available for delivery after 2018, but Steve O'Bryan, Lockheed's vice president for F-35 business development, said that Lockheed can deliver the F-35 to South Korea by 2016. Some Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) officers have oulined possible missions for the stealth fighter, such as surprise raids deep into nuclear armed North Korea. Lockheed has refused to allow ROKAF pilots access to the aircraft to test it prior to the selection, however simulations available to South Korea are more extensive than the processes used by other customers, such as Israel and Japan. In August 2013, the F-35 was essentially eliminated from the competition when the American foreign military sales process prevented Lockheed Martin from offering a price that did not exceed South Korea's budget for the program, leaving just the Boeing F-15SE Silent Eagle within the nation's budget. Lockheed Martin responded that it would work with the American government to continue to offer the F-35 to South Korea. The defense ministry rejected the award and said a new competition would be held to "secure military capability in line with recent aviation technology developments." In November 2013, the Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff Council recommended purchasing 40 F-35A as North Korea seemed to have difficulty dealing with radar-evading aircraft. On 27 January 2014, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration said that a contract for the 40 aircraft would be reviewed and, once approved, signed in September. With deliveries planned to begin in 2018, South Korea would benefit from the scale of F-35 production at the time. With full-scale production having begun, the Unit Recurring Flyaway (URF) cost of one F-35A is expected to be $80–$85 million, which includes the aircraft, avionics and mission systems, the engine, logistics support, and a flight simulator. Through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) agreement and past budget issues, the cost projection may be likely to rise. South Korea's formal selection of the F-35 purchase was finalized on 24 September 2014. South Korea is the third FMS country to procure the F-35A after Israel and Japan. Belgium
In 2009 Belgium suggested that they might buy some F-35s in the 2020s. Finland
The Finnish Air Force has expressed its interest in the F-35, and other "advanced aircraft", as the replacement for its F-18C Hornets. Major General Lauri Puranen said in June 2015, "These five fighters are Eurofighter, French Dassault Rafale, American Boeing Super Hornet or Lockheed Martin JSF F-35, and Swedish JAS Gripen. All of these are possible and we don’t have a favorite." The selection process is expected to begin in 2017-18 with a decision by 2021. Greece
Lockheed Martin offered the F-35 to Greece's Hellenic Air Force as a replacement for F-4E Peace Icarus 2000 and F-16C/D Block 30 aircraft in 2009. Poland
On 6 February 2014, the Polish Ministry of National Defence set out a budget in which its interests include buying 64 fifth-generation multi-role fighters that will not include the previous F-16 Fighting Falcon deals. Possible options are reportedly 64 F-35 fighters from 2021 to replace the MiG-29s operated by the Polish Air Force, however another plan includes purchasing 48 F-35s as soon as 2017 to respond to the Russo-Ukrainian Conflict. Romania
The Romanian Ministry of Defence has expressed interest in buying the F-35 for its air force sometime after 2020. Saudi Arabia
The Saudi Defence Ministry is said to be keeping all the options open to buy more fighter jets, including notably the Boeing F-15 Silent Eagle and the Lockheed Martin F-35 JSF (Joint Strike Fighter). Spain
The Spanish Navy aircraft carrier Juan Carlos I (L61) is adapted to carry JSF and AV-8B Harrier. JSF Program Executive Officer, Air Force Major General Charles Davis, said in 2008 that discussions had been held with Spain, which could eventually lead to the F-35B replacing the Spanish Navy's EAV-8B Harrier fleet. In 2014 Spain decided to extend the lifespan of the Harriers to beyond 2025 as funding was not available to replace the type. Taiwan (Republic of China)
Taiwan has requested to buy the F-35 from the US. However this has been rejected by the US in fear of a critical response from China. In March 2009 Taiwan again was looking to buy U.S. fifth-generation fighter jets featuring stealth and vertical takeoff capabilities. However, in September 2011, during a visit to the US, the Deputy Minister of National Defense of Taiwan confirmed that while the country was busy upgrading its current F-16s it was still also looking to procure a next-generation aircraft such as the F-35. This received the usual critical response from China. United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates requested information about a possible sale of F-35s in 2010, however the United States delayed responding for months.