British Pilots currently training on the F-35B Lightning aircraft in MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina, have completed the first all British air to air refuelling sorties for the new stealth jets.

Flying off the east coast of the USA the pilots practised the manoeuvre of attaching to the RAF Voyager several times – including several times after night fell. This marks another significant milestone in bringing the stealth aircraft back to the UK later this summer say the MoD.

Today the programme is maturing rapidly, right now much of the activity around the jet is dealing with software bugs and testing to validate the software, with most of the physical testing being to do with weapons integration and the gradual scaling up of capabilities that comes with each new software block.

The jet is a quantum leap in capability, able to give the pilot as much information as only theatre commanders have previously had. While the primary value of the jet is in its sensor and networking capabilities, it is also valuable in that it’s able to perform many tasks designed to increase the lethality of not only itself but other assets, such tasks include the ability to co-ordinate small fleets of unmanned combat aircraft, guide weapons launched from other platforms (even warships), launch a wide-range of its own weapons and use it’s own radar to conduct electronic attacks.

A key element of 21st century air power is clearly working and smoothly implemented coalition operations, the F-35 provides a unique integrated air combat capability whereby coalitions of joint or allied F-35s can be supported in common. The F-35 was designed from the outset to bring these capabilities while also being interoperable across a coalition of air power.


  1. Cue the incoming tide of ‘but i thought they couldn’t fly’, ‘they won’t be able to fly off our carriers by 2020′, should have never retired the Harrier’ and ‘F 35C would have been better’ comments. In all seriousness though – beautiful aircraft that is going from strength to strength.

    • I don’t think they’ll be using the buddy system like in the past.. It would be wasteful use of a 100.000,000 pound aircraft..

      • (Chris H) Jassy Spik – well not if we convert the 4 early LRIP test and development mules to tankers. They have the basic software, will never see combat and will be redundant as trainer aircraft next year. Two per carrier with everything stripped out and a tank in bomb bay (doors not needed). Two underwing pylons used for the drogues and reels.

        We already own these assets that will be worthless and for a relatively low cost we could make them extremely useful bits of kit.

    • They are still having problems with the F35C’s So had we gone for that one we definitely would have none.. lol

      • We need the buddy system to give them longer range off the carrier where a voyager is not in range. Right now it is the only available option, until such time as the US gets the V22 being able to do the role.

    • in view of the ongoing issue on syria i wonder if a ‘snap’ SDSR COULD BE IN ORDER, AND HIGHLIGHT THE EMPTY SHELVES ON WHICH OUR FORCES ARE KEPT.

    • Great news.
      The way things are looking we might well need them sooner than 2020!
      Apologies for the grammar in the above post!!!
      Being able to delete, or even better edit would be a useful function to add.

  2. All these milestones matter. We’re getting there. I do agree with Dadsarmy though, UK F-35B buddy refuelling would be a good one to see ticked off too. And yes, landing on our carrier will be the big one. Once that’s done the only other milestones left that I can think of that I long to see are…

    1 – Rolling landing with max permitted load to prove and validate that capability
    2 – Standing up a full squadron onboard
    3 – Doing full capacity trials. That would presumably involve partnership with USMC to actually get enough F-35B to do that within the next couple of decades. I wonder if this exercise will be done and, if so, when.

    The one milestone that I’d be perfectly happy not to see is strike operations launched from the deck since for me these carriers are a very big and valuable case of “Si vis pacem, para bellum” and I definitely prefer to see peace not war but given the carriers’ operational lifespans I suspect they will see combat at some point.

  3. I just want too here an official announcement by the Government and the MOD that the UK will purchace all 138 F35B’s needed..

    • See SDSR 2015, although I don’t have a lot of faith. Unfortunately that’s as good as it gets insofar as assurance on numbers is concerned.

    • Depends on the timescale. The F35 will likely be available for purchase for at lest the next 25 years. I can easily see the U.K. needing all 138 to keep 3 Squadrons and an OCU going for 35 plus years. Or we could quickly go to 6 squadrons and a big OCU and need all 138 quickly.

  4. Hypothetical point/question(hopefully!): US/UK/Fr launch air & misslie strikes against Syria in response to Assads continued use of chemical weapons in the next week(though they may be fairly inneffective due to broadcasting that we would days before). Russia responds by launching conventional attacks on our armed forces & our few naval ships at sea. So how many would be needlessly vulnerable due to the stupid practice of “fitted for, but not equipped”? If the QE is at sea does she still has no CIWS & zero to defend against air or misile threats except chaff or flares. Are any AEW equipped Merlins in service aboard yet? Some of our escort warships may still have no ciws(Phalanx) fitted in the case of Daring class destroyers, in which case let’s hope the Aster SAMs are working perfectly on the day.
    So chickens could come home to roost despite the lessons being 36 years ago from the Falklands war. How quickly could missing essential weaponry be installed in an emergency?

    • luckily we are still a long way off Russia even considering a military attack. US lobs a few ineffective missiles at Syria and Russia will probably respond by stationing a few more military assets there and bombing a few American backed rebels and everyone will pat themselves on the back stating they have responded in kind.

      If a nightmare situation happened, realistically we are hopelessly under prepared.

        • I’m not sure it is as amateur as it looks. A lot of bluster but no instant reaction. I hate to say it, but Trumps postering around china appeared to work with getting North Korea semi in line.

          • p.s. we have also been down this road before, a year or so ago, a few missiles fired, to make it look like the west is reacting against the use of chemical weps and then no real follow through.

  5. Fantastic to see the F35b programme really coming together along with the new carriers
    We will soon see British fifth generation fighter aircraft flying from new British carriers.

  6. Not that it matters but they have wonderful silhouettes :o)

    Always need a bit of luck and we certainly got lucky with the carrier gap, but ‘ll take it.

    That luck in running defence so ‘thin’ looks to be rapidly running out. F-35 looks to be very promising and I hope MDP ups procurement to 2023. We’ll see.

  7. All the Russian pro Putin trolls said this plane would never fly . The Israeli air force say the flew right in and out of Russian air defence without being noticed !!

  8. Having been a Director of AirTanker since the Contract was signed to just over a year ago (now retired) to read this makes me very proud. I know how difficult and challenging these trials are and all the problems that can arise before something is given a Release to Service. So congratulations all concerned and well done! A reminder to everyone that the carriers will always be constrained with having to operate within range of a friendly air base because they will never be deployed to a hostile theatre of operations without accompanying P-8s. So if you have P-8s you’ll have Voyager. My regret is that the F-35s may never get Storm Shadow (no plans at the moment) or Brimstone, or NSM or LRASM. So only Paveway IV at the moment and if we are very lucky SPEAR III or SDB in future. So would have not taken part in Syria if we already had them flying off QE I now… Sobering thought, all that money spent and very limited capability….


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