This is a Lockheed Martin rendering of what an F-35 equipped with a drogue chute will look like operating from slushy and icy fields in the great frozen north. Norway is the prime customer for this system, but other Joint Strike Fighter customers, such as Canada, or even those countries that want to operate the jet from roadways, could also benefit from the system.

In regards to countries who will operate the jet from short or slick runways on a regular basis, some proponents of the F-35 have pushed for the procurement of the F-35C, the Navy's version of the troubled Joint Strike Fighter family. The F-35C's much more robust landing gear and carrier operations rated tail hook would allow the jet to use an arresting cable for short field operations regularly, something the Marines are now doing in the Pacific, and that Canada has done for years. This would give these services a lesser form of the F-35B's short field capabilities, without the handicaps of the B model's price, smaller weapons bay and shorter range.

The F-35C's bigger wings would also allow for lower landing and takeoff speeds along with more fuel for greater range. The issue is that the F-35C is currently running many tens of millions of dollars more than the F-35A, and cost remains a huge factor for cash strapped air forces, although the capability enhancements that the "Charlie" model offers are palpable to say the least.

Currently, the F-35A will be available in different sub-configurations depending on the customer nation's requirements. Some will order it just as the USAF does, others will demand a hose and drogue aerial refueling probe and/or a drogue chute system. The F-35B and C already have this form of aerial refueling apparatus, but not the drogue chute, so additional testing will be needed for these 'hybrid' sub-types of the standard F-35A model. Even Israel's F-35As will have unique electronic warfare systems, software and data-link systems. The point being that in the end not all F-35As will be created equal.

Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com

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