The United States military’s most expensive war machine

The US military’s most expensive weapons system ever built is almost ready for combat – 14 years after Lockheed Martin earned the contract to produce America’s fifth-generation stealth fighter jet.

According to Business Insider, the jet programme – which consists of three versions of the F-35 Lightning II aircraft – will cost the US $391 billion (R5.2 trillion) over the next 50 years, with the first jets due to see action in September 2016.

The country’s Department of Defence expects a fleet of 2,457 F-35s during this time – all of which are coated with a radar-absorbing material that makes them invisible to enemy radar.

F-35 variants and specs

There are three versions of the F-35: The F-35A, F-35B, and F-35C.

The A is a conventional-takeoff multi-role stealth fighter; the B is a short-takeoff/vertical-takeoff fighter made to operate in tough landing environments; and the C is a carrier-variant, made to work on aircraft carriers and at sea.

The F-35C experiences the fastest launch when operating on an aircraft carrier, going from 0-240km/h in 2 seconds when catapulted along the 100m runway.

The F35-A’s top speed is 1,930km/h, with a range of 2,200km and a max altitude of 15,000m. The jets can be armed with air-to-air, air-to-surface, and anti-ship missiles.

They also pack a 25mm 4-barrel gattling gun, and can be loaded with multiple types of ground bombs.

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The United States military’s most expensive war machine