By 2023, the UK is hoping to be able to deploy 24 British F-35Bs at sea if required in the event of ‘a national emergency’.
Former First Sea Lord, Lord West of Spithead, asked in a written question:
“To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the statement by the Prime Minister on the Integrated Review of Foreign, Defence, Security and Development policy on 19 November (HC Deb, col 495), how many F-35B combat aircraft could be embarked in a national emergency on each of the two new carriers by 2023.”
Baroness Goldie, Minister of State for the Ministry of Defence, answered:
“It has been longstanding policy that by bringing two aircraft carriers into service we will ensure that there will always be at least one carrier available 100 per cent of the time, either at sea or in port at very high readiness to deploy. The Carrier Enabled Power Projection (CEPP) programme remains on track to deliver the second operational squadron of F-35 by December 2023. This will provide two squadrons (a total of up to 24 aircraft) available to embark as directed by operational tasking.”
This has been planned for some time now.
Vice Admiral Jerry Kyd, former commander of HMS Queen Elizabeth, previously commented on the initial deployment and the gradual increase in air wing numbers some years ago:
“We’re constrained by the F-35 buy-rate even though that was accelerated in SDSR in 2015, so initial operating capability numbers in 2020 are going to be very modest indeed. We will flesh it out with helicopters, and a lot depends on how many USMC F-35s come on our first deployment in 2021. But by 2023, we are committed to 24 UK jets onboard, and after that it’s too far away to say.”
Around 2023, the Ministry of Defence have indicated that the UK will have 42 F-35 aircraft with 24 being ‘front-line fighters’ and the remaining 18 will be used for training (at least 5 on the OCU), be in reserve or in maintenance.