UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


F-35B Joint Strike Fighter

The UK government is planning to spend £12bln [$18 bln] on 138 F-35 fighter jets, as part of a new defense strategy it announced on 23 November 2015. Chancellor George Osborne told the BBC that as a result of the government's new Strategic Defense and Security Review, by 2023 the UK will have 24 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, and two new aircraft carriers.

On 30 June 2016 the first of Britain's new supersonic 'stealth' strike fighters touched down in the UK for the first time. The F-35B Lightning II jet was flown by RAF pilot Squadron Leader Hugh Nichols on its first transatlantic crossing, accompanied by two United States Marine Corps F-35B aircraft from their training base at Beaufort, South Carolina. The combined US/UK team of aircrew and engineers are here in the UK to demonstrate just what the 5th generation state of the art aircraft can do, flying at the Royal International Air Tattoo and Farnborough International Air Show over the next few weeks. The aircraft are due to enter service with the Royal Navy and RAF from 2018.

The Royal Air Force and Royal Navy planned to operate 138 F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing aircraft, and the first two were delivered to the U.K. in 2012. These aircraft support training at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., where British pilots and maintainers are embedded with the U.S. Marine Corps and their fleet of F-35Bs. The third U.K. F-35 would be delivered to Eglin in 2013.

The decision on the overall number of aircraft will not be made until the next Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) in 2015. The original planning assumption for up to 140 aircraft is not expected to be realised. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond confirmed in July 2012 the UK will order 48 aircraft (including the four test aircraft) with further numbers to be confirmed in the 2015 SDSR. The Government attracted criticism for its decision in 2010 to select the the F-35C CTOL over the F-35B VSTOL variant originally chosen by the previous Government, and again for reverting back to the original F-35B VSTOL choice two years later. The Ministry of Defence acted quickly once it realized, in early 2012, the extent to which its 2010 decision to procure the carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) had been based on immature data and flawed assumptions. In May 2012, the Department announced that it was reverting to procuring the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the fighter. This produced a 3 year delay (from 2020 to 2023) to the Departmentís planned carrier variant option delivery, arising between the 2010 and 2012 decisions. The decision taken in May 2012 to use the STOVL variant rather than the Carrier variant will not affect the number of aircraft to be deployed on the Carrier. Twelve aircraft will be routinely on board the carriers with a potential surge to 36 aircraft if required.

The United Kingdom has played integral role on the Joint Strike Fighter since the programís earliest days. Even before a final aircraft concept was chosen, British engineers and test pilots were making their mark on what would become a revolutionary capability. Under the desert sky at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., British test pilot left onlookers awestruck as he took the X-35B prototype out for its first flight on June 23, 2001.

A mere four months later, after witnessing the aircraftís impressive performance, U.S. and U.K. defense officials announced Lockheed Martinís concept would go on to become the Joint Strike Fighter. In the years since, the F-35 has continued to evolve. Itís advanced stealth, sensor fusion, exceptional maneuverability, unmatched interoperability, and intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance capabilities will provide the U.K. with a tactical airpower advantage for decades to come.

As the programís only Level 1 partner, the United Kingdom has garnered tremendous economic benefits from the F-35. British industry will build 15 percent of each of the more than 3,000 planned F-35s, generating significant export revenue and GDP growth. The program is projected to create and support more than 24,000 jobs across every region of the United Kingdom.

As of May 2013 Britain was buying 48 new F35 jump jet Joint Strike Fighters - or Lightning IIs - but may rethink plans for a further 90. The aircraft already on order will serve the new Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier, which is under construction and due to see the first of the Lightning IIs fly from its deck in 2018, ahead of operational service in 2020-23. But the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told Sky News he could not commit to a further 90 planes which were originally proposed as they were dependent on "politics, money and the state of the world." He also said it was "dependent on what is not yet clearly known, what the mix between manned fighter jets and unmanned aircraft is going to be."

In December 2018, Air Command declared initial operating capability for flights from land. This means it can deploy Lightning II jets held at very high readiness from RAF Marham and conduct operations with suitably qualified and trained personnel. The Department signed off this declaration despite identifying 67 exceptions and problems with the global support solution.13 However, these have not prevented the Department from conducting its first operational deployment in June 2019 and undertaking sea trials in October 2019, when it flew Lightning II jets from the carriers for the first time.

The Departmentís decision to buy 138 jets will enable it to support a continuous Carrier Strike capability to the 2060s. However, it has not yet decided whether to purchase more than its current commitment of 48 jets. Air Command is assessing its future force mix Ė including the number and type of Lightning II jets it needs Ė as part of its Combat Air Strategy. The Department will then consider options as part of the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy. Purchasing more jets will create additional financial pressures over the next 10 years as the Department has only set aside funding to 2025-26 to buy 48.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 30-06-2021 12:06:04 ZULU