First reported by Sea Power Magazine on May 1, Lockheed Martin has announced a new internal missile rack for the F-35A and C dubbed ‘Sidekick’. The new rack holds three missiles per side, instead of the standard two, which brings the F-35’s internal payload from 4 AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM) to 6. The F-35B will not be able to receive this upgrade due to the smaller weapons bay which was a result of the B’s lift-fan system.

F-35A Lightning II aircraft on the taxiway (Credit: Paul Holcomb/U.S. Air Force)

Lockheed Martin had mentioned the upgraded racks in the past but confidence in the system actually materializing was low among many journalists.

The announcement came at a Lockheed Martin press briefing from Cmdr. Tony ‘Brick’ Wilson, one of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 test pilots. According to Cmdr. Wilson, the project was researched, developed and funded entirely from within the company.

F-35A looking sharp on a wet morning. (Credit: Unknown)

The ability to carry 6 AMRAAMs internally plus a further two AIM-9X’s in the internal side bays, puts the F-35 in a better position than the F-16 as the F-16 can only carry 6 AMRAAMs if it uses all of its missile rails for that single missile type. Adding close to medium range AIM-7’s or AIM-9’s would drop the total AMRAAM capacity to 4. There is also more drag, especially when drop tanks are added. With two wing tanks, the payload drops to 4 missiles in total which is half of the F-35’s internal capacity and still less fuel.

F-35 in beast mode, fully loaded for air-to-air. The only difference is there are now two more slots internally for AMRAAMs. This would bring the total payload to 14 AMRAAMs and 4 AIM-9’s for a total of 18 missiles. (Credit: Lockheed Martin)
Dutch F-35A in ‘beast mode’ for close air support (Credit: Frank Crebas)

The F-35A can carry 18,500 lbs of fuel internally. With 6 AMRAAMs and 2 AIM-9’s, the total payload would come in at 20,886 lbs. Combined with the F-35A’s airframe weight of 29,000 lbs, we arrive at 49,886 lbs, which still leaves room for 20,114 lbs of external stores for ‘beast mode’.

The good news just keeps stacking up for the F-35 and Lockheed Martin in-general as far as program progress goes.

F-35A Squadron Print. Available for purchase at Aircraft Profile Prints