An F-35 Lightning has carried out trials armed with UK-built weapons, showcasing the major role that the UK plays in the supersonic aircraft and bringing it a step closer to operations on the frontline.

Defence Minister Stuart Andrew revealed that a British F-35B Lightning jet reached the landmark milestone whilst he was on a visit to the Defence Electronics and Components Agency (DECA) in Wales earlier in the week.

The MoD say that the Welsh site is set to become a global repair hub for the cutting-edge aircraft, providing crucial maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade services for F-35 avionics, electronic and electrical components, fuel, mechanical and hydraulic systems.

The jet, which was flown by a British pilot from RAF 17 Squadron, took to the skies from Edwards Air Force base in southern California for the momentous flight carrying ASRAAM air-to-air missiles.

Defence Minister Stuart Andrew said:

“The F-35 Lightning fleet has moved another step closer to defending the skies and supporting our illustrious aircraft carriers with this landmark flight. Exceptional engineering from the UK is not only helping to build what is the world’s most advanced fighter jet, but is also ensuring that it is equipped with the very best firepower.

This flight by a British pilot, in a British F-35 jet with British-built weapons is a symbol of the major part we are playing in what is the world’s biggest ever defence programme, delivering billions for our economy and a game-changing capability for our Armed Forces.”

The trials were the first-time UK weapons have flown on a British F-35, and represent a key part of the work-up towards Initial Operating Capability in December.

The ASRAAM missiles are built by MBDA in Bolton. ASRAAM stands for ‘Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile’. The missiles will enable pilots to engage and defend themselves against other aircraft ranging in size from large multi-engine aircraft to small drones.

British companies are building 15% by value of all 3,000 F-35s planned for production. It is projected that around £35 billion will be contributed to the UK economy through the programme, with around 25,000 British jobs also being supported.

63 COMMENTS

    • They need to get on top of these problems and quickly.

      Specifically on the F-35B, the DOT&E reported delays in flight testing because of the need for test-unique tail coatings to prevent overheating the horizontal tails at high-airspeed test points; the need to repair unanticipated cracks in the main landing gear and structural frame; and engine restrictions. The structural test article “had so many repairs (that) it was no longer representative of the production aircraft.” A new test article is required, and in the meantime, the DOT&E warns that the F-35B may not achieve the advertised service life of 8,000 hours.

      The B-model’s tire-life is well-below expectations, with no remedy yet identified. F-35B pilots have been losing situational awareness during night landings on aircraft carriers because of deficiencies in the night vision camera that is used with the Gen III helmet. The air refueling probe tips “are breaking too often,” according to the report.Specifically on the F-35B, the DOT&E reported delays in flight testing because of the need for test-unique tail coatings to prevent overheating the horizontal tails at high-airspeed test points; the need to repair unanticipated cracks in the main landing gear and structural frame; and engine restrictions. The structural test article “had so many repairs (that) it was no longer representative of the production aircraft.” A new test article is required, and in the meantime, the DOT&E warns that the F-35B may not achieve the advertised service life of 8,000 hours.

      The B-model’s tire-life is well-below expectations, with no remedy yet identified. F-35B pilots have been losing situational awareness during night landings on aircraft carriers because of deficiencies in the night vision camera that is used with the Gen III helmet. The air refueling probe tips “are breaking too often,” according to the report.Specifically on the F-35B, the DOT&E reported delays in flight testing because of the need for test-unique tail coatings to prevent overheating the horizontal tails at high-airspeed test points; the need to repair unanticipated cracks in the main landing gear and structural frame; and engine restrictions. The structural test article “had so many repairs (that) it was no longer representative of the production aircraft.” A new test article is required, and in the meantime, the DOT&E warns that the F-35B may not achieve the advertised service life of 8,000 hours.

      The B-model’s tire-life is well-below expectations, with no remedy yet identified. F-35B pilots have been losing situational awareness during night landings on aircraft carriers because of deficiencies in the night vision camera that is used with the Gen III helmet. The air refueling probe tips “are breaking too often,” according to the report.
      https://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/defense/2018-02-02/f-35-development-availability-and-reliability-problems-remain-testers-say#

    • No the link you posted was during SDD testing, with US test aircraft. This article is about the first UK owned jet carrying UK weapons

    • No, that link you posted was UK weapons integration flights on US test aircraft. This article is talking about the first flight of UK owned aircraft with UK weapons on board

    • No, the link you posted is UK weapons on US test aircraft. This article is talking about UK owned F-35s carrying UK weapons for the first time

    • Interesting to note the range vs combat radius of the F35B
      Range: 900 nmi (1,700 km) Combat Radius: 505 nmi (935 km).

      Also its maximum G rating.

      Whereas the F-35A is stressed to 9 g, the F-35B’s stress goal is 7 g. As of 2014, the F-35B is limited to 4.5 g and 400 knots. The next software upgrade includes weapons, and allows 5.5 g and Mach 1.2, with a final target of 7 g and Mach 1.6.[332] The first test flight of the F-35B was conducted on 11 June 2008.

      • “Interesting to note the range vs combat radius of the F35B – Range: 900 nmi (1,700 km) Combat Radius: 505 nmi (935 km).”

        How can the combat radius ever be greater than half the range? Surely the combat radius must be enough to get there and back plus some allowance for whatever loiter/strike time is assumed. Am I missing something here?

        • (Chris H) Julian – I think by ‘range’ Nigel means the range with all available on board tanks excluding A2A refuelling. Or Ferry Range. Combat Radius is with no external tanks.

          • Thanks Chris H but that would make the figures even more strange. It would be saying that with external tanks and no AAR an F-35B can fly 900 nm point to point hence (ignoring a tiny bit of fuel used for the turn) it could also fly to a point 450 nm away from the origin and then immediately turn around and return to the point of origin. According to the numbers quoted for combat radius however if you then remove those external fuel tanks i.e. give it a lighter fuel load, it can actually now fly out to 505 nm from the point of origin (55 nm further than it could in ferry configuration), turn and come back to the point of origin. Either I’m missing something here or there is something wrong with the numbers.

    • 2024

      The aircraft is nigh on useless until then in my opinion, the ASRAMM doesn’t fit in the internal weapons bay it’s on a hard point I believe.

      The F-35 is a BVR fighter, so until it gets its principle air to air weapon (meteor) it wont ever be put in harms way.

      • The AMRAAM-D is a BVR missile, according to wikipedia its range is >180km so F35 will be more than capable of engaging at long distance before 2024.

  1. “The MoD say that the Welsh site is set to become a global repair hub for the cutting-edge aircraft, providing crucial maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade services for F-35 avionics, electronic and electrical components, fuel, mechanical and hydraulic systems.”

    Seen as Turkey looks set to be kicked out of the F35 program, any chance the UK pulls its finger out and starts pushing to relocate the Turkish F35 Engine refurbishment plant to the UK.

  2. ASRAAM is underated in my opinion. Although the official range is quoted at 25km, it is claimed it can kill a target at 50km which matches Sky Flash from a previous generation.

    Export orders have been few, with most nations opting for the AIM9x or IRIS-T.

    Their is a question mark how it would cope with an agile high speed target, which maybe the reason it lacks those export orders.

    It has provided the basis for CAAMM, so a UK success story.

  3. (Chris H) We can expect more ‘News’ as the QE gets to those first momentous fixed wing trials. And I am not too fussed if it is a rerun of a rerun as long as it keeps the know nothing media as well as Joe Public taxpayer aware of the importance of what has been going on for a long time now. And more importantly how close we are to delivering the whole thing. IOC for 617 at Marham in December!

    My concern is about maintenance. OK DECA in Wales will maintain “avionics, electronic and electrical components, fuel, mechanical and hydraulic systems” as briefed here:

    https://www.gov.uk/government/news/british-armed-f-35b-lightning-jet-takes-to-the-skies

    But: Who will maintain the P & W engines (supposedly Turkey) and the airframes (supposedly Italy)? Are we really going to send crucially important equipment to a hardline regime that has a distant relationship to democracy? And while I applaud the Italian involvement in Tempest does this mean we will be shipping aircraft to the EU, with whom we may well have a very fractious relationship thanks to their arrogance in negotiations, for repairs and maintenance we are perfectly capable of doing here? After all we designed and now manufacture the whole rear end of the airframe here!

    • How in Gods name is Turkey a better place for engine maintenance with all the UK’s expertise in this field?

      Politics really stinks!

      We put the money in as a Tier 1 partner we should be getting preferential treatment.

      If not the UK a northern European nation that can be relied upon, Norway, Holland, for example.

      Why did they give it to Turkey? Where was the catch? Trying to counter Russian influence with the S400 purchase?

        • (Chris H) Daniele – Final Assembly Line for Europe goes to Italy plus airframe maintenance and repair, Engine maintenance goes to Turkey. What do we get as the only Tier One Partner? We manufacture some 15% by value in parts and ship them to the USA, Italy and Japan. Everything else is what we need for UK F-35s. We will provide nothing post manufacture.

          Magic.

      • The best solution for us would be for the Turkish engine facility to be moved to the UK so that we not only have in-country servicing for our own engines but also get business from servicing the engines for other countries. That might yet happen but if for some crazy reason the service centre stays in Turkey (which I find hard to imagine) what would stop the UK from setting up its own service centre here for our own aircraft anyway? As a tier 1 partner I assume we have access to the necessary information to be able to do the servicing and would P&W really refuse to sell us parts?

        It might also be that, if we did that, other countries would see the same issues as we see in using the Turkish facility and boycott it in favour of our facility instead. Since, if the total buys stay at the numbers currently proposed for each European country including us, we will have the highest number of aircraft over the life of the project so should have the best critical mass to start up our own operation. The only other European country that is planning to big enough purchase to make a decent stab at it is Italy I would have thought (a planned buy of about 90 in total I think, a mix of As and Bs).

        What’s the plan for where lift fan servicing for the F-35B is to be done by the way?

  4. Turkey has been a F35 partner since 1999 and was to receive 100 plus F35A aircraft.

    If you want a global project then you have share around the workload, but sharing that workload has political risks.

    Turkey has chosen a political path which no longer makes a trusted partner in the F35 project or as a member of NATO in general.

    • Agreed, they where one of the largest export partners after the UK. I don’t see the political situation changing anytime soon and despite contractors lobbying to keep them on board I think politic’s will push them out.
      Also their decision to purchase S400 really didn’t go down well with the US due to the risk of Russia gathering tracking data on the F35.
      It could be a big win for BAE is Turkey puts more investment into their own domestic F16 replacement.

    • And would the wests cyber, ECM and EW capabilities not render them useless?

      Russia has quite an area to cover. Even the mighty Voskaya PVO coukd not defend everywhere and concentrated around Moscow, the Kola Peninsula, and a few other places. Elsewhere their defences were thin or non existent.

    • Doubt it. Russian S400 systems defending key sites in Syria did not detect or engage Israeli F35s taking out Syrian, Lebanese or Hezbollah targets.
      The S400 did not even intercept a single Tomahawk launched at Syria.
      It is all Russia hyperbole. I think the quality of Russian military hardware is nothing for the Westto worry about for the next 10 years. The Chinese though are a different proposition as they build most or all of the world’s high tech gadgets.

  5. I still don’t get why there is no integration of current air to ground attack missiles. As a paper tier 1 partner, why weren’t integration of British missiles part of the design work.

    The first squadron is meant to stand up this year and will have zero capability to do anything useful, it makes no sense. Yes in theory they could do air defence work, but the typhoon is just so much better at that role.

  6. My money is on developing longer range (standoff) missiles like JASSM along with platforms that can deliver them in greater numbers. Current stealth designs will i’m sure become outdated within the next 10yrs.

    Replacing the ageing B1B will be on the cards at some point, so a joint project with the USA on a four engined design of Tempest? and the current version clearly of it might be a very interesting concept?

    Typhoon is already upgrading its senser suits to counter future threats and with the inclusion of conformal fuel tanks amongst other things like thrust vectoring, improved engine performance, (7% more fuel efficient) and root extension kits will free up two more hardpoints to launch this type of weapon from.

    Its counter stealth capabilities will improve dramatically now that we have the F35 here to test it against!

    New lower observable UAV’s like Magma will quickly replace what is already an aging platform like the F35’s so I see little point in wasting large sums on it.

    UAV’s will also require cats & Traps to launch from the QE carriers, so again a joint development of these with the USA would also be money well spent.

    Just a thought!

  7. The problem is we have no idea how stealthy they really are, and considering that almost certainly in their lifetime they will never be used against a peer or near peer opponent, we will never find out.

    If they turn out not to be as stealthy as advertised, then their would be a lot of questions, considering their limited pay load.

    • Great post Helions, exactly what i’ve been saying all along.

      Why invest in a dated platform when you can upgrade Typhoon sort to mid term and invest in Tempest/Magma for the future.

      “It is one of several options being shopped to the U.S. military and allies as Lockheed explores how it might upgrade its combat jets to counter Russian and Chinese threats anticipated by military officials in the coming decade, according to people with direct knowledge of the plan”.

      Cheers indeed!!!

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