|"YOUR MISSILES ARE SHOWING!"|
By carrying its weapons inside, the F-35 Lightning II presents a slippery shape when armed instead of carrying a bunch of dangly bits about. Just like a speed skater's skin-tight suit. Hanging all of these bombs, missiles and whatnot are surely going to slow down any fighter aircraft to crop-duster like speeds... Right?
Internal weapon bays aren't the only way to reduce a weapon's drag, however.
|Cue the tuba...|
|And the French horn...|
|Typhoon with a full load.|
Now let's look at a Typhoon fitted similar to the F-35 pictured.
|4 AMRAAMs and a Sidewinder|
|Typhoon with conformal MBDA Meteors.|
|F-15C showing off conformal AMRAAMs missiles, with Sidewinders on pylons.|
|F/A-18 showing off two conformal Sparrows.|
|Rafale with two wingtip Mica missiles and two conformal Mica missiles. (Plus bombs, fuel tanks, and a Damocles pod)|
There's another, similar way of storing missiles without the need for complicated weapon bays or draggy pylons...
|Semi-recessed Sparrow missile on a F-4 Phantom II.|
Semi-recessed storage goes a step further and actually contains part of the missile inside openings in the aircraft's fuselage. Much like conformal storage, there is a certain limit to the type of weapon that can be fitted (you can't put a AIM-9 Sidewinder in a slot made for a AMRAAM). This is why the AIM-7 Sparrow, AIM-120 AMRAAM, and MBDA Meteor all look so similar, so they can be mounted on the same conformal or semi-recessed station.
|RAF F-4 with 4 semi-recessed Sparrows, Sidewinders, and a gun pod. Notice how the fuel tanks and gun pod add the most bulk.|
|The F-101 Voodoo carried its Falcon missiles semi-recessed in a rotating pallet with extending launch rails. A novel, if complicated, method.|
|F-106 with open missile bay.|
Of course, when it comes to stealth, internal carriage is practically a must. The radar evading shape of a stealth aircraft must be maintained. Since shape is such an important factor in an aircraft's "stealthiness", one cannot simply design a stealthy missile and attach it to a stealthy fighter.
|An F-22 says "AHHHH!"|
Weapon bays are great for keeping an aircraft stealthy and sleek. They do have a few trade-offs however. For one, there is the added complexity of opening doors, trapeze systems, and the like. There is also the limitation of size. Any weapon going into that bay needs to conform to a certain size. For example: While the Typhoon, Rafale, and Gripen will all have the ability to carry the MBDA Meteor missile, the F-35 will need to wait for a "clipped wing" version.
There is also the fact that, no matter what payload the aircraft is carrying, it needs to carry this weapon bay "box". The very shape of the aircraft is dictated by this box.
Imagine shopping for a vehicle. You're an outdoorsy type, so you want a vehicle capable of carrying your bicycle, camping gear, and other stuff. Your first impulse is to get something with lots of cargo space, like a minivan, a pickup truck, or a big SUV. While they all do a good job carrying what you need to bring on a weekend getaway, none of them get particularly good gas mileage, and driving them to work during the week will be a pain. Certain items, like kayaks, still don't fit, and bringing home the Christmas tree every year results in your upholstery getting covered in sap and pine needles.
And for those days when you just need to commute to work, maybe pick up a few groceries? You simply leave the roof rack off.
I don't know about you, but I'll take simplicity and flexibility over big, boxy, and complicated.