The UK’s 17 (Reserve) Test and Evaluation Squadron, tasked with operational testing of the F-35B, report that trials for night ops are going well.
The squadron is responsible for the test and evaluation of the F-35B Lightning II and according to the RAF “for bringing the UK’s first 5th generation combat air platform into Royal Navy and Royal Air Force frontline service.”
This joint RN/RAF Squadron is based at Edwards Air Force Base, California where they conduct operational tests of the F-35B in collaboration with the US Services.
It is expected that the UK will build a front-line fleet of four F-35 squadrons with each squadron having 12 jets. A fifth unit, an operational conversion unit, will also operate 12 aircraft.
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 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.
- 1 Operation Conversion Squadron will also be formed.
— 17 (R) Squadron (@17RSqn) August 12, 2016
The UK will have an operational fleet of around 63 aircraft 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, Air Commodore Harvey 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 programme is progressing at a steady rate with the Royal Air Force recently starting in-flight refuelling clearance trials of its Voyager tanker with the F-35.
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 Marine Corps are planning a more powerful escort force to support it, according to Admiral Scott Swift, head of Pacific Fleet, as reported by the Marine Times.
The F-35B has already flown from American assault ships as part of a series of tests, which largely went well.
Additionally, F-35 unit costs have been going down with each successive lot of aircraft and will continue to do so.
17(R) Sqn have three F-35B jets based in the US, we understand that these jets will likely never leave the US.