Marines Need Special Lightning Rods to Shield Their F-35s In Japan from Storms

Among a number of residual issues that remain with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the matter of the jet’s defenses against lightning strikes, or lack thereof, continues to be a particularly vexing issue. For the U.S. Marine Corps and its F-35B variant, thunderstorms are still such a problem that the service is buying special portable lightning rods to help shield the jets when they’re parked outside at bases that otherwise don’t have the necessary infrastructure, which includes Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan.

On Aug. 8, 2018, the Marines announced plans to purchase 14 lightning rods through a sole-source contract to LBA Technology, Inc. of Greenville, North Carolina. According to the contracting notice, which the service posted on FedBizOpps, this is the only company that makes systems that the U.S. Military’s main F-35 Joint Program Office has approved for use with the aircraft.

“Since the F-35 as a composite type aircraft does not provide inherent passive lightning protection, the lightning rods being requested are needed for deploying aircraft to any expeditionary airfield in support of combat operations or training exercises that do not support all lightning protection requirements for the F-35B,” the Marine Corps said in its justification for giving the deal straight to LBA. “Based upon extensive research from the F-35 Joint Program Office, this is the only lightning rod that meets the established program requirements.”

However, there is a far more serious issue linked to the Joint Strike Fighter’s main fuel tank. Combined with the aircraft’s lack of inherent lightning strike protection, it is difficult and complicated to make the fuel system “inert” once the plane is on the ground.

What this means is that there is a distinct potential for a build-up of both oxygen and fuel vapors inside fuel tank that could be dangerous by itself. If a bolt of lightning were to hit a non-inert plane on the ground, there could be an increased risk that it would set off an explosion or cause a fire. 

Source: The Drive
Date: Aug 23, 2018