Defence Secretary Michael Fallon today announced that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has reached agreement in principle on an order for the first production batch of four Lightning II stealth combat aircraft – which will operate from both the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers and RAF land bases.
A formal contract is expected to be placed within weeks for the F-35B aircraft, which form part of the MOD’s investment in Lightning II over the next five years to procure an initial 14 of these multi-role fifth generation aircraft, together with the necessary support arrangements and infrastructure.
Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, said:
“Today’s announcement is a major step forward. The Lightning II will equip the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force with a highly advanced multi-role stealth combat aircraft, operating from both our new Queen Elizabeth class carriers and land bases.
“These aircraft will form part of the first UK-based squadron of F-35s, which will take up station at RAF Marham in 2018. This programme is also bringing substantial industrial benefits to the UK, providing thousands of skilled jobs in the UK aerospace industry.”
Bernard Gray, the MOD’s Chief of Defence Materiel, said:
“I am delighted that this agreement prepares the way for the first batch of operational combat aircraft. It ensures the MOD remains on target for achieving both operational capability from land bases and the start of flying trials aboard the carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2018.”
Air Commodore Mark Hopkins, Senior Responsible Owner (SRO) for Lightning II, said:
“Lightning II will be a genuinely transformational aircraft when it enters service with the RAF and the Royal Navy. With highly advanced sensors, systems and weapons, this fifth generation stealth aircraft will offer a quantum leap in terms of capability and, alongside Typhoon, will offer the UK flexible and adept Air Power for the foreseeable future.
“As the first batch order for aircraft to form part of our first operational squadron, this marks a very significant milestone in this programme.”
It is anticipated that the contract will be finalised in the coming weeks, which will allow deliveries of the aircraft, within the contract, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, to commence from mid-2016.
The aircraft provide an important step on the path to rebuilding the UK’s carrier strike capability. They feature short take off and vertical landing (STOVL) and the latest stealth and intelligence surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) technology.
- The UK has already taken delivery of three F-35B jets to date, which are based at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, US, and an order was placed for a fourth UK aircraft in September 2013 which will be delivered early in 2016. These are for test and evaluation. The UK’s first operational Squadron will transition to RAF Marham in Norfolk in 2018, which will become their Main Operating Base.
- The agreement is part of a larger contract award which will be let by the Joint Strike Fighter Program Office (JPO), based in Washington DC, with Lockheed Martin, and will procure a total of 43 aircraft for the Programme across six nations.
- Significant UK sub-contractors to the programme include BAE Systems, Cobham, GE Aviation, Honeywell, Martin Baker, MBDA, Qinetiq, Rolls-Royce, Selex Galileo, Ultra Electronics & EDM Limited.