The F-35 is designed to work with most legacy weapons.
And the F-35 with the internal fusion engine will allow a whole new approach to the development and use of weapons, which is discussed in an accompanying white paper.
Legacy 4th generation fighters must load all of their weapons externally which directly impacts aerodynamic performance (agility) and radar cross-section (RCS).
In fact, any strides made to reduce airframe RCS are lost. 5th generation have the option of loading stores internally.
Legacy 4th gen fighters must carry external fuel tanks in order to overcome the drag penalty of the external ordinance.
The F-35 does not need external fuel tanks for two reasons:
1) the airframe was specifically designed to carry significant amounts of internal fuel and,
2) there is no aerodynamic drag from internal ordinance.
A 4th gen fighter is unable to safely penetrate denied airspace. This is airspace for which the threats are able to dominate entirely against the 4th generation.
5th gen fighters are able to penetrate denied airspace.
The internal ordinance of an F-35 is approximately that of an F-16 loaded “wall to wall.”
Because the weapons are internal, the F-35 has a much longer combat range fully loaded or significantly longer loiter time in the area of interest.
In the permissive environment, the F-35 holds another advantage over the F-16: payload. The F-35 has 11 hard points and can carry about three times the stores load.
This picture shows an F-35A model with a full compliment of internal stores.
You can see two air-to-air missiles and two 2000lb class bombs. This loadout, which is all internal, is about 5000lbs.
Internal carriage means ZERO impact on radar cross section and ZERO aerodynamic drag.
An F-16, fully loaded, with external stores carries just over 5000lbs.
Because the load is external, the radar cross sections is severely impacted as well as having a significant hit to aerodynamic performance.
The weapons within the blue cone can be carried internally in the F-35.
The weapons with orange color font will be certified for carry in the SDD phase of the program.
Block 2 weapons carriage and release will be conducted this year. By the end of block 2, AIM-120 and JDAM will be certified.
The orange font indicates the weapons, which will be certified in this phase of the program.
The black font weapons can all be carried by the F-35, but full certification, SEEK EAGLE, will not have been completed.
On day 1, when stealth is of primary importance, the F-35s will probably be loaded internally.
Here you see two AMRAAMs and two 2000lb JDAMs. The weapon weight is approximately 5200lbs.
When stealth is less important, there are 11 hard points on the airplane, which allow about 18,000lbs of ordinance to be carried.
A full compliment of air-to-air missiles could notionally be up to 14.