The Express Online, amazingly, has published an article on their website with claims “new F-35 jets still can’t fly”, this is embarrassingly incorrect for the newspaper as they can indeed fly.
The cost of the F-35 Block 4 upgrade programme has quadrupled since August, according to the latest estimates that emerged during a March the 7th congressional hearing in the US. The upcoming block, Block 4, is about incorporating a large number of additions and a number of new capabilities. It was always going to cost more given that it adds more.
This upgrade has nothing to do with the original specification covered in Block 3F which is on-track. The aircraft certainly can fly and they’re flying operationally with the United States already, something the Daily Expressed seemed to recognise as it removed the article from its website after we objected.
Defence commentator Seb Haggart tweeted:
The damage being done to UK defence here is shocking with lies and wrong information. Here is a picture of a F35b leaving a US amphibious assault ship last night on exercise. They fly! pic.twitter.com/BxemS9bIE8
— Seb Haggart (@sebh1981) March 13, 2018
Wing Commander Scott Williams, who will become Officer Commanding 207 Squadron when it reforms in the summer of 2019, responded:
A headline and contradictory sub-para. Genius!
— Scott Williams (@scottmox) March 13, 2018
UK declared the Block 3F software would be needed for IOC a long time ago. UK weapons are therefore in 3F as they’d be early to need otherwise and would have occupied 2B and 3i test & code for US wpns and their IOCs respectively.
— Scott Williams (@scottmox) March 13, 2018
Also mentioned in the article, a cached version of which can be found here, is something quite strange:
“Although 14 of this initial order have been built by American aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, the planes are still sat in the United States and are lacking new software required to allow them to communicate with older aircraft.”
A couple of points here. The first, it’s 15 jets now. The second, them being in the United States isn’t some kind of blunder, it’s part of the plan. British jets are currently in the states as part of the pooled training and development programme for the type and will be moving to the UK later this year when ready.
The Pentagon estimates it will cost nearly $16 billion to furnish the fleet of F-35 jets with new capabilities, a US lawmaker said on Wednesday, citing information provided by the Pentagon on the programme. Modernisation costs would be split between $10.8 billion for software development and $5.4 billion for deploying the updates and other procurement in support of the modernisation efforts, Representative Niki Tsongas said at a hearing of a subcommittee of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, citing the information provided by the Pentagon.
Vice Admiral Mathias Winter, the head of the F-35 Joint Program Office which administers the program, provided some detail on the modernisation program.
“Continuous enhancements and improvements will be made to increase capabilities that make the F-35 more lethal and survivable.”
The $16 billion figure represents the outer limit of the modernisation costs. Commenting on the latest upgrade, a spokesman said:
“The F-35 programme remains on track and within budget, providing a game-changing capability for our armed forces. We continue to drive down costs with every purchase.”
Wing Commander Scott Williams said earlier in the year about the jet:
“My first flight in the F-35B was incredible and certainly exceeded expectations. On take-off, the responsiveness and power of the engine were extremely impressive and the jet accelerated rapidly without afterburner. Once airborne, I was immediately struck by how smooth and agile the aircraft was to fly, and how seamlessly its sensors and mission systems gave me the information I needed – a real testament to the aircraft’s design. There were many airborne exercises to get through but I can confidently say that the Lightning does a great job of easing the workload in the cockpit and is a real pleasure to fly.”
This summer F-35s and personnel of 617 Squadron will arrive at RAF Marham. They will then undergo an intense phase of training to be able to declare a land-based Initial Operational Capability by the end of the year. The Lightning OCU, 207 Squadron will follow and occupy new buildings adjacent to the new Dambusters facilities at the Norfolk base in due course.
“We’re not just training pilots on the OCU. Cutting-edge facilities being built at RAF Marham, including our ‘School House’, will train engineers and ops support personnel destined for the Lightning Force. Next year we take what we’ve learned in the USA to the UK and re-form a historic squadron that will begin training all our future Lightning sailors and airmen. It’s a significant and exciting challenge.”
In the UK, 207 Squadron will initially operate five to six aircraft and within about two years have a full complement of eight F-35B. Until then UK personnel will remain an integral part of VMFAT-501, ‘Warlords’, the sole US Marine Corps F-35B training squadron. Commanded by a USMC Lieutenant Colonel, the UK provides a third of the unit’s manpower and a significant number of its instructor pilots.
“That’s a great relationship. Every day, US and UK personnel are flying and engineering each other’s aircraft in one large ‘pool’, which is brilliant” said Wg Cdr Williams.
“Ultimately, it means the UK and USMC can train faster than would otherwise be possible, and we learn a great deal more from each other’s experiences of operating this new jet.”
At the moment, Lightning engineers and mission support personnel are trained at Eglin AFB, Florida. The engineering personnel also use synthetic trainers and learn on equipment that is a step change from what they were taught on at RAF Cosford as Wg Cdr Williams explained:
“When you start peeling back what’s in this aeroplane it’s definitely next-generation stuff, right down to piping conduits and how your repair defects. There are some real engineering improvements from the ‘old school’; it’s a huge jump for the guys and girls on the team.”
One of the innovations of F-35 is the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) which gives F-35 operators the ability to plan, maintain and sustain the aircraft’s systems. Wg Cdr Williams:
“The engineers pull off the joint technical data from the ALIS system and it tells them ‘if this happens, this is how you fix it’. They follow the process and ALIS ticks the aircraft as ready to fly. When all the ticks are completed the aircraft can be released for flight. In so many ways it’s a different way of doing things that we’ve done for Tornado, Harrier and, to an extent, the Typhoon as well. The F-35 is certainly a game-changing capability for the UK but it wouldn’t happen without a team of dedicated Airmen, Sailors and Marines who work hard every day toward the mission. It’s a huge privilege to be part of that.”