Earl Howe, Minister of State for Defence and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, has suggested that a change in F-35 variant may be on the cards after the first 48 F-35Bs.
Thye information comes to light in answer to a written question in the House of Lords asked by the Marquess of Lothian:
“To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they remain committed to the purchase of 138 F-35B jump–jets for the Royal Navy.”
Answered by Earl Howe
“As part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2015, we reaffirmed our commitment to procure 138 F-35 Lightning II aircraft.
The first tranche of 48 aircraft will be of the F-35B variant, which will be jointly operated by the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, and capable of operating from both land and the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers. The decision on the variant of subsequent tranches of Lightning will be taken at the appropriate time.”
The structure of the Lightning force is now somewhat clear.
- 17(R) Squadron is currently based at Edwards Air Force Base in the US and fills role of F-35B Operational Evaluation Unit.
- 617 Squadron will be based at RAF Marham and will be the first operational British F-35 unit in 2019.
- 809 Naval Air Squadron will also be based at RAF Marham.
- 2 more unnamed frontline Squadrons are to be established.
- 207 Squadron as the Operation Conversion Unit
This information comes from Air Cmdr. Harvey Smyth, the commander of the U.K.’s Lightning Force, as told to reporters at a conference in London last year.
In 2015, the UK government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review confirmed a planned order of 138 F-35s, with 23 of them to be available for carrier duties by 2023. The UK will have an operational fleet of around 63 aircraft according to Smyth, which is less than half of the total number of F-35’s that the UK has agreed to purchase
However, as reported by AviationWeek, Smyth pointed out that “the total number would cover attrition replacements and the so-called sustainment fleet, which is defined as additional aircraft required to sustain the fleet to its out-of-service date as well as to cover maintenance. Other UK combat aircraft also have large sustainment fleets.”
The F-35B’s maiden deployment is set for late 2017 and it’s bound for the Western Pacific. The jet will deploy aboard an amphibious flattop and the US Navy are planning a more powerful escort force to support it, according to Admiral Scott Swift, head of Pacific Fleet, as reported by Marine Times.