Since I wrote the aerospaceweb.org pages referenced in intelgurl's original post, I wanted to correct a few misconceptions about the F-35 I've seen
in this thread.
Gun: The Air Force's CTOL variant is the only version with an internal gun. However, it is not the Mauser 27-mm cannon that many have mentioned.
Lockheed originally hoped to install that gun, but Boeing purchased the rights to manufacture it in the US. In what was probably an act of vengeance
for losing the JSF contract, Boeing charged such an exorbidant price for the Mauser cannon that Lockheed decided to scrap the idea altogether. The
GAU-12 25-mm cannon will be carried instead. The GAU-12 may not be as powerful as the Mauser cannon, but it at least carries more ammunition rounds.
The Navy and Marines have both decided not to carry an internal gun in their planes to save cost and weight. Both planes will instead be able to
carry a special gun pod on a centerline pylon in between the two weapons bays. The pod will carry the same GAU-12 cannon but with a larger ammo
supply. Supposedly, the gun pod will be stealthy enough that it will not significantly impact the radar cross section of the plane, though I have yet
to see how this feat will be accomplished. You can see more details about the gun and other weapons features of the F-35 at this page:
Stealth characteristics: In order to save costs and make the plane easier to maintain, sacrifices have been made in the F-35's stealth
characteristics. In other words, the F-35 is not as stealthy as it could be. I've been told that the plane has a radar cross section "an order of
magnitude" greater than the F-117. The aircraft is still very difficult to detect by radar, but it is not as good as the F-117, B-2, or F-22. You
can read more about radar cross section here:
Maneuverability: The F-35 will probably not be as maneuverable as the F-16 it replaces, but will be more than adequate since the plane's primary
role is ground attack rather than air-to-air combat. However, you may be surprised at just how agile the F-22 is for a plane its size. I didn't
believe it until I saw it in action, but the F-22 can turn circles around the F-16. The F-22's advanced control system and integrated thrust
vectoring have produced maneuverability that is truly remarkable.
Production Run: Officially, the Air Force plans to buy 1,736 CTOL models, the Navy up to 480 CV models, the Marine Corps up to 609 STOVL models, the
RAF 90 STOVL, and the Royal Navy 60 STOVL. However, those numbers are all very much in doubt. The Navy was forced into the JSF program kicking and
screaming. Even though the service has no true stealth aircraft (the F-18E/F is remarkably good though), the Navy has never liked the program since
it feels like it is being forced to accept an Air Force plane. In particular, the Navy prefers aircraft with two engines for greater reliability.
Both the Navy and even the Air Force would be willing to abandon the F-35 in a heartbeat if funding limitations were to threathen their favorite
planes--the F-18E/F and F-22. Both services prefer these planes because they are larger, have more range, can carry more payload, and (most
importantly) have more room for growth in the future. The only US service that is absolutely desperate for the F-35 is the Marines since their
Harriers are not likely to last much longer. The Harrier has proven to be the most accident-prone and maintenance-intensive combat plane in the US
arsenal, and the Marines are very eager to send them into retirement. Further complicating matters is the fact that all three services face
signifcant funding constraints, and it is likely that the JSF production numbers listed above will be cut significantly as a result. The Navy and
Marines combined their air wings last year, and they will almost surely cut their total F-35 purchase as a result. Another impact of that realignment
is that the Marines will probably receive a mix of CV and STOVL models. The conventional aircraft will most likely be flown by Marine pilots based on
Navy aircraft carriers while the STOVL wings would be based on land and aboard amphibious assault ships. The Air Force also recently hinted that its
F-35 buy will be cut, but I haven't heard by how much. Things aren't much better in the UK where there are also rumors of cutting back on F-35
buys. There are also suggestions that the UK might cut back on the STOVL version and buy some cheaper CTOL or CV variants instead. Some of these
could potentially be based on England's next-generation aircraft carriers that will be much larger than the current Invincible class.
Unit Cost: The ultimate goal of the F-35 program was to develop a plane that could be bought in large enough quantities to keep the cost per plane
relatively low. The original estimate was around $35 million apiece, though it's already up to at least $50 million each. Given recent development
problems at Lockheed, difficulties amongst the international partners who are fighting over production rights, and the likely cutbacks in production
described above, I've seen estimates as high as $75 to $100 million each. The aircraft should still be much less expensive than the F-22, but it
will almost surely be a costly plane in its own right.