F-35 jets will start arriving at their new home early next month, the Defence Secretary has announced.

Gavin Williamson confirmed the imminent arrival of the F-35 Lightning stealth jets to RAF Marham in Norfolk during an event at RAF Coningsby to mark the 75th anniversary of the famous Dambusters raid of World War II.

The aircraft are due to fly across the Atlantic Ocean from the United States with several air-to-air refuelling serials. They will be flown by members of the newly reformed 617 Squadron which flew, and was immortalised by, the Dambusters mission in 1943.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“75 years ago the Dambusters pushed the boundaries of what was possible. That same spirit of innovation continues today as the Dambusters of today prepare to fly the world’s most advanced fighter jet in the skies over the UK.

Just like those Lancasters which played such a vital role in the Second World War, the F-35B Lightning is based on great British design, operating with futuristic technology to adapt to an increasingly dangerous world.”

Today’s 617 Squadron is currently training with the UK’s F-35 Lightning jets in America before they start flying to the UK two months ahead of schedule. This provides a good opportunity for support staff to do extra training on the road to the jets being ready for operational service by the end of the year.

617 Squadron’s Commanding Officer, Wing Commander John Butcher, said:

“I have the great privilege of leading a jointly manned Squadron made up of the best engineers, mission support personnel and pilots from the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.

The original Dambuster Squadron did not know what their mission was going to be until the last moment. Yet they had to make sure they were ready and that is as true for us today. The spectrum of missions we can undertake in the F-35 will be huge and we have to make sure we are ready to do whatever is asked of us.”

The MoD has so far committed to 48 jets but has expressed an intent to purchase 138 of the aircraft, whether or not that is financially feasible remains to be seen.

The Public Accounts Committee calculated an equipment plan funding deficit of at least £4.9bn and potentially as much as £20.8bn over the 10-year £179.7bn equipment budget.

The Ministry of Defence has put its faith in the Modernising Defence Programme to solve its affordability issues and to prepare for the continued challenges of a ‘fast-changing defence landscape’, including the UK’s capabilities for cyber, chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and electromagnetic attacks. The report released today however is highly sceptical that the Modernising Defence Programme will be able to return the Department to a balanced position. The report also warned that the equipment plan contains “no headroom” and leaves the UK “increasingly dependent on international allies”.

According to the report, which can be found here:

“The Department faces a significant affordability gap in its Equipment Plan for the next 10 years, but is unable to determine the size of the gap, thereby reducing its ability to make informed decisions about our national defence. 

There is an affordability gap of at least £4.9 billion in the Plan, rising to a potential £20.8 billion if all identified financial risks materialise and no savings assumed in the Plan are achieved. Financial risk has increased since last year, and while the Department acknowledges that the affordability gap is in the billions of pounds, it is unable to quantify the size of the gap with any degree of precision. We are concerned by the Department’s vagueness and reluctance to acknowledge its full exposure, and by the Department seeming to question the accuracy of its own numbers when giving evidence.

The Department says it is confident that at end of the Modernising Defence Programme, with cost information anticipated in autumn 2018, it will have a “strategically affordable” Plan, but is unable to articulate clearly how this will be achieved.”

An MoD spokesperson said:

“We are committed to delivering large, complex and technologically challenging defence programmes as part of our £180bn plan to give our military the very best equipment. We recognise financial risk comes with that, but the potential affordability gap highlighted by this report reflects an unlikely, worst-case scenario in which all possibilities materialise. 

We are on track to meet our £16bn savings target and will also review these recommendations as part of our Modernising Defence Programme, which aims to strengthen our armed forces in the face of intensifying threats.”

Britain is unlikely to reduce the number of F-35 jets it intends to order however, according to Lockheed Martin.

Peter Ruddock, chief of Lockheed Martin UK said:

“I think if anyone was looking at where to make savings, the F-35 would be a long way up the list and maybe close to the top of the list. Therefore I am quietly confident that we will see F-35 being delivered in the numbers that we anticipate for some time to come.”

27 COMMENTS

  1. All coming together nicely. Well done all.

    How disappointed am I going to be with the MDP? Not long to wait.

    • It will be great to see them at RAF Marham early. And the first F35b will soon on the deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth. It’s a big year.

  2. How far are they from being operational? In theory could the RAF station 4 in Cyprus if they wanted to, or is there still a couple more years of training required by pilots/ground crew before they can be deployed.

    • Initial operating capability from land will be established late this year into early next year but land based operational deployments are still a couple of years from now I guess. Initial operating capability from sea will also come around the same time after flight trials this year on HMS QE but full operational deployment isn’t ready to be established until 2020/2021 when QE deploys on her maiden operational deployment. If ISIS are still a threat when the Tornados retire then my guess would be the slack being taken up by Typhoons instead of F 35. Can’t risk losing one to the Russians or the Syrians until they are fully ready for combat.

      • Hope someone from the Mail online sees this and reports it, hopefully to finally lay to bed the”no Planes” chant! To those of you who have not had the privilege have a look at any UK Defence related article in the Mail and in particular the comments section!
        Truly frightening stuff

      • Chris – luckily (or advantageous) to us I think the Israeli Airforce will iron out any bugs and give us a few pointers in respect of operating over Syria.

        • (Chris H) Paul T – Given the way the IDF have acted this week I am not sure we should be taking any instructions or advice from the Israelis about our military or Foreign Policy affairs.

          We have conducted our actions against ISIS (and even the Syrians) with due diligence, attention to collateral damage reduction and a policy of better returning weapons unused than causing unnecessary death and injury. We are highly respected for that. To be in any way associated with the Israeli way of doing things would quickly damage a hard earned reputation gained over decades.

          • That’s twice in one week I agree with one of your comments Chris 🤔

            Makes a change I suppose.

  3. There’s an echo in here.

    MDP sitting out the financial mess we are In?

    SDSR10 then SDSR15 were supposed to do that.

    HMG repeat themselves pattit fashion.

    Unless there is an uplift in spending and the financial risks turn out less than feared MDP results only in cuts which will be spun as a modernisation. Clues in the name. We’ve been here before it’s an old trick of the MoD.

    Meanwhile F35 and 7th SSN order excellent of course.

    Now can we have some cheaper assets too please?

      • An increase in the RM Commando’s and the long suffering Army would also be in order as well…

        Cheers!

        • Increase! I’d settle for left as is and LPDs retained.

          Army needs extra Combat Service and Combat Service Support units. It has paper Brigades of infantry battalions without any support whatsoever. For that i blame the cap badge mafia and government sensitive to the outcry of losing famous names.

    • I’m still immensely frustrated by the lack of any real information on the design and timescales but I’d add the fact that the MARS SSS project is at last moving forward is another bit of recent good news to add to your “excellent of course” list Daniele.

  4. We do not need cheaper assets unless we are advocating for a big expansion on Apache Es which are surely the best bung for bucks weapon system in the world.
    We need more high quality kit that is qualitatively superior to Russia.
    I would say another 48-76 F35Bs in active service
    9 more Poseidon MPAs
    2-3 more astute class
    A replacement for Ocean
    Retain all river class
    Order at least 10 Type 31 frigates
    That would sort out a lot of problems. The budget hole would easily be filled by moving strategic deterrent and armed forces pensions handed back to the treasury and central government to fund. As they previously were before Cameron and Osbourne. These 2 items should Not be on the defence budget.

    • Agree with all that of course but I’m trying to be realistic.

      Apart from a major u turn in government attitude and removal of Successor from core which I cannot see happening I see that list, correct as it may be, as simply a fantasy.

      I do however think it is possible to spend our money better and at least try to ease our depth issues by getting some medium spec kit in and using it to take pressure off the high end assets.

      Your 10 T31 an obvious example of this and I really think achievable. Extra Apache for that cost too, and a follow up of 48 ish F35 also likely.

      I cannot see how they will not save billions at a stroke cutting the desire for 138.

    • (Chris H) Mr J Bell – No matter how you arrange the chairs or where you put them you only have so many chairs. Moving a budget out of one pot into another does not magically create new money and a new budget in that original pot does it?

      Unless the Government stops spending on one budget area there is (as was said in 2010) ‘No More Money’. However when we do eventually leave the EU that will stop Government spending on the EU worth some £13 Bn a year minimum. Now some will need to be applied to agriculture and fishing industries and other post Brexit costs but it also doesn’t include all the EU Common External Tariff money we all pay on non – EU imports which then goes off to Brussels. So maybe a budget that would provide more than 3 QE Carriers a year gives us hope. But don’t hold your breath ….

  5. Excellent news about the F35s. I look forward to seeing them on UK soil.

    Some fantasy fleet stuff going on above. Be realistic, funding what we are currently expecting is going to be tough, even with an increase in the MOD budget. There will not be further Astutes, T26s, P8s beyond what has been announced. Best hope for expanding the fleet is the T31. If its credible and value for money then we may see further orders. Beyond that if we get everything else as expected bar a reduction in the F35B order then I will be happy (ish).

    • Exactly. Let’s hope what we have asked for is delivered and we get a modest uplift in things like T31 and hopefully some personnel.

  6. Looks like today UK will only get 49 x F35 too expensive to buy look like UK is look at the Euro Fighter

  7. Hi Paul P ~: Just read the same might as well sale the two carriers cannot land Typhoons on the carriers cannot but any different aircraft due to no cats and traps. looks like the carriers will end up like Invincible carrier two aircraft each

    • How so as it is only intended to use 1 carrier in Strike role?

      If HMG will not spend extra and we are left with 1 carrier in Strike role with 24 fifth generation jets, 12 Merlin, and assorted other helicopters that’s a massive uplift to what we had, more than most, same as France, and should be celebrated.

      2nd carrier if surged due to war operates whatever can be put on it. Commando Merlins, Wildcats, whatever.

      Or we buy all F35 and scrap half the military in upcoming MDP.

      What do we choose? Fact. HMG will not spend the money. Alternative. Corbyn. Will he spend the money? Dreamland if people think so.

  8. These 138 F-35s are not the force strength numbers, but the total aircraft bought over the in-service lifetime of UK F-35s. I hope I’m wrong as 100+ front line F-35s in service would be fitting for the UK.
    Forgive my ignorance, but what does “MDP” mean?

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