Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has announced that British F-35 Lightning jets are ready to be deployed on operations around the world, marking a major step forward in combat capability.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) described it as “a huge landmark” in what has been “the biggest defence project in history”.
The Defence Secretary made the announcement in a brand-new hangar at RAF Marham, which he opened today along with a new state-of-the-art training centre for F-35 pilots. This is part of over £550m being invested in the Norfolk base.
Mr Williamson said the UK was moving “into a new era outside the EU”, but that the F-35 shows “our commitment to a role on the world stage [is] clear to both our allies and our enemies”.
“The incredible F-35 jets are ready for operations, a transformed Typhoon has the power to dominate the skies into the 2040s and we continue to look even further into an ambitious future. The RAF has long shown Britain at its great and global best, and today it lifts our nation to even greater heights.”
There are currently 17 aircraft in the RAF F-35 fleet, with 18 more in build or on order. The UK has committed to purchasing 138 F-35 Lightning aircraft over the life of the programme.
2019 will see the F-35 pilots and ground crew to train in the new centre, which features state-of-the-art simulators, classrooms, and physical aircraft mock-ups. The Ministry of Defence says the facility provides “a real-life training environment replicating the challenges that both pilots and crew will face” on operations. Pilots already based at RAF Marham can now take advantage of four “full mission simulators”.
Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier described the “significant step”, saying “our F-35s are now ready to deploy on operations and, alongside our combat-proven Typhoon, offer a step-change in our ability to employ air power around the world”.
Mr Williamson also announced that the Typhoon has been integrated with three new weapons: Stormshadow, Brimstone and Meteor. These new capabilities allow the Typhoon to take over from the Tornado ground attack aircraft which will retire later this year. The Typhoon entered service in 2003 and is planned to remain until “at least 2040”.
The RAF trialled the interoperability between its Typhoon and F-35 aircraft last year, which it says proved “the effectiveness of both platforms when operating alongside one another”.
There are currently 17 aircraft in the RAF F-35 fleet, with 18 more in build or on order. The UK has committed to purchasing 138 F-35 Lightning aircraft over the life of the programme. pic.twitter.com/WZ7ppM8TM5
— Henry Jones (@hthjones) January 10, 2019