The National Audit Office have released a report titled ‘Carrier Strike – Preparing for deployment’, the report examines the MoD’s management of the programme since 2017 and the risks towards achieving Carrier Strike’s full capabilities.

It should be noted that numbers right now are exactly where they’re expected to be and inline with the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review.

2 F-35B in LRIP run 3, 1 F-35B in LRIP run 4, 1 F-35B in LRIP run 7, 4 F-35B in LRIP run 8, 6 F-35B in LRIP run 9, 3 F-35B in LRIP run 10, 2 F-35B in LRIP run 11, 2 F-35B in LRIP run 12 6 F-35B in LRIP run 13, 8 F-35B in LRIP run 14 and 7 F-35B in LRIP run 15. This brings us to 42 in 2023.

The next year and next run brings us to the total of the first batch of aircraft, 48.

What’s the issue?

According to the National Audit Office:

“The Department has not yet made funding available for enough Lightning II jets to sustain Carrier Strike operations over its life. From 2015, its intention has been to buy 138 Lightning II jets, which will sustain Carrier Strike operations to the 2060s. The Department initially ordered 48 jets but has not yet committed to buying any more.

In response to wider financial pressures, it will also receive seven of the 48 jets in 2025, a year later than planned. Since we reported in 2017, the approved cost of the Lightning II project has increased from £9.1 billion to £10.5 billion (15%), reflecting approvals for capability upgrades, integration of UK weapons and sustainment costs.

There will be further cost approvals to upgrade the existing fleet with new software and weapons, and there is a continued risk of cost increases due to exchange rate fluctuations. The Department plans to reassess the number and type of Lightning II jets that it needs in the Integrated Review, but its ability to use Carrier Strike will be constrained if it has fewer jets than planned.”

Background to the report

Carrier Strike provides the ability to launch fixed-wing aircraft from a ship to undertake a range of military tasks. It is central to the government’s plans for the country’s armed forces and the first step towards Carrier Enabled Power Projection (CEPP), which is the government’s ambition to be able to respond to conflicts and support humanitarian relief efforts anywhere in the world at short notice.

Carrier Strike will be based around two Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers – the largest warships ever built for the Royal Navy – together with Lightning II jets, which are being bought through the United States Department of Defense’s international programme. The Ministry of Defence (the Department) is also buying a new airborne radar system, Crowsnest, to help protect a carrier strike group. Depending on the type of deployment, the carriers will be accompanied by at least one destroyer, an anti‑submarine warfare frigate, and ships for support and resupply.

Content and scope of the report

According to the National Audit Office:

“Since 2011, we have reported four times on the Department’s progress on Carrier Strike. Our early reports covered the decisions about the type of carrier and jets that the Department bought. In 2017, we highlighted that the phase to 2020 would be crucial and there was little room for manoeuvre in the delivery schedule. In this report, we examine how the Department has managed the programme since 2017 and how it is addressing the risks towards achieving the full capabilities of a carrier strike group. We set out:

  • the background to Carrier Strike and what the Department has achieved since we last reported (Part One);
  • the Department’s progress in managing the elements of the programme that are still needed to provide the full Carrier Strike capabilities (Part Two); and
  • how the Department is addressing the challenges to achieving its ambitions for Carrier Strike (Part Three).

Our report focuses on the Department’s approach to addressing the risks to achieving the capabilities of Carrier Strike. We do not evaluate the military or wider capabilities that Carrier Strike will provide, or the plans for its operational use.”

You can read the report here.

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Hi folks hope all are well
As ever with such reports, some facts mixed with an alarm that may not exist. Just read the BBC’s news report on this, which reads with some intelect, however, I think the main stream media will make fun and belittle the navy as usual with very little facts.

Daniele Mandelli

We know they haven’t ordered enough yet. They’re ordering them over a long period. What’s new?

It is blindingly obvious to me that 138 will not be ordered, just as 250 Typhoon never materialised.
I’m happy with 60 B myself. Less than you’d hope but there you go.

I think the last paragraph is key. They don’t comment on their capability, just their procurement.

So, actually, it’s proceeding as planned. Does 7 aircraft delivered late effect the 2 squadron build up?


Yes agree nothing new really. Of course nothing in caperbilty or kill ratio. This would be too positive for the masses to comprehend, you can imagin the general public seeing the words “kill” is that what the Royal Navy and RAF do?
I would say around 75/80 bs would be fantastic, this would allow some extra slack for refurbishment when future technology arrives and general maintenance, with a dozen left as a ready reserve if possible, what do you think you experts?

Meirion X

I wondered if it is possible to lease F-35Bs until the new version Block 4 is available to buy?
And maybe with a option to buy upgraded models?

Meirion X

I mean to procure lessed F-35Bs.


Block 4 won’t be bought. Announced recently.

Nigel Collins

So what happens to ASRAAM and Meteor? Interesting. Looking like 2026 or later? “Block 4 breaks down into the following improvements: * New weapons. Block 4 will support the Stormbreaker smart glide bomb (formerly known as Small Diameter Bomb II) and allied weapons such as the UK’s ASRAAM and Meteor missiles, Turkey and Lockheed Martin’s Standoff Missile (SOM-J), and the Kongsberg/Raytheon Joint Strike Missile, a new missile capable of land attack and anti-ship missions. Electronic warfare and communications updates. The F-35 will receive 11 radar and electro-optical updates and 13 electronic warfare updates, allowing the jet to detect enemies sooner… Read more »

Nigel Collins

I posted this in another thread. “The costs of the Block 4 upgrade are managed through the F-35 Joint Programme Office and, as one partner in the multinational F-35 programme, the UK is not in a position to share detailed cost information,” the minister said.” Block 4 will not be finalised until at least 2024/5 so what now? “The Block 4 upgrade – a modernisation of the relatively new stealth fighter’s software and hardware – was initially to be delivered by 2024, but now will not be handed over until 2026, according to a report released by the Government Accountability… Read more »

Glass Half Full

What was stated by Jeremy Quin, Minister of State for Defence Procurement in answer to a question …

“The F-35 Block 4 upgrade has been included in the U.K. F-35 programme budget since its inception. Decisions on the number of aircraft to be upgraded will be made on the basis of military capability requirements.”

So some may not be upgraded. Most will have to be upgraded to support Meteor, SPEAR, SPEAR EW and future UK weapons such as FC/ASW.

Daniele Mandelli

In that region George. 75 to 90.

I expect less, which is why I’m quite prepared for just 12 more B to get 60. With more later, much later.

Carrier Strike has many components, from the F35, to the carriers themselves, the escorts, and the RFA. Many of these are in place so we really should not be beating ourselves up over this like we always do.


Many thanks for the reply and very informative. I and no doubt others on this site just get fed up with the negative press that comes with such reports when the NAO publish regarding defence matters,
and conveniently leave out positive aspects, which is typical of the mainstream press.

As a side issue related to the number of F35b: 48 Royal Navy the remainder to the RAF? Over a period of time I’ve lost count of total UK numbers of F35b. Can you pleas advise.
Many thanks

Daniele Mandelli

Evening George. I agree with you, there are always positives. There are others more knowledgeable than me where F35 is concerned, but I think we have 18 at present. HMG has committed to 48 so far. They will all be RAF owned assets, they are not RN assets. The Lightning Force, despite the aircraft being owned by the RAF, is joint, with RN personnel. The second front line squadron will be a Naval Air Squadron. 209 NAS. I myself would have all F35B owned by the Fleet Air Arm, but this is where we are. I would also purchase some… Read more »


Hi Daniele, many thanks for such a comprehensive reply much appreciated. So RN Fleet Air Arm is rotary assets only now, which I suppose is the remains of the reorganisation after the HarrIer was withdrawn under the Cameron 2010 SSDR.
As you and others on this site mention, I would be surprised if the UK has a total of 148 F35 B.
Have a great weekend
George was


Sorry should be 138 F35b. Wishfull thinking I supose!

Daniele Mandelli

Hi again George.

In front line roles, yes. If we are being picky there are Hawks in what was the FRADU unit, now 736 NAS, a handful of Grobs for basic in 727, and Avengers in 750 NAS.

In the wider defence training pipeline some fixed wing squadrons also have a NAS numberplate, like 703 at Barkston. But MoD don’t even own those assets, so hardly FAA.

Sad isn’t it.

Gavin Gordon

I’d anticipate the RAF would already be getting excited over the Tempest project. If so, and depending on its likelyhood of coming to fruition, I’d think they’d be tempted to scrub the idea of many more F35s. Bad news unless Tempest was capable of operation on our carriers. Food for thought?

Matt C

Sigh. Shades of Scimitar and Sea Vixen.


thanks for the article. Read an incredibly poorly worded one in the BBC this morning, which I didn’t understand what they were talking about, then read a slightly more comprehensive one in the telegraph, but was still lacking much detail.

What this feels like to me is someone within the circles of power releasing this information to try and drum up support for something, more funding perhaps?

The first QE carrier is due to be ready by end of 2020, and it will have planes on for its first deployment.


I think all these criticisms coming through are a build up to justifying bringing the MOD under the control of the foreign office. I have seen this mentioned a few times in the last couple of days.


To be honest I don’t think that would happen. First of all I don’t think the MOD and FCO are as close in purpose and function as the FCO and DfID, and second, it would be a much bigger task – the MOD has way more personnel and a much bigger budget than DfID. Who knows though I guess.

r cummings

The only news here is that the F-35 programme is now pretty much on target. There is just enough time and budget to procure all 138 F-35s by 2034, a year before Tempest production is meant to start. However, the Fast Jet budget can only afford 7 F-35Bs a year at a total cost of £650m. At that rate, it would be 2036 before production is complete, making Tempest 2-3 years late. This is where the F-35A enters the picture. At £62m each – a third less than the B – you can buy 10 a year for less than… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

I believe 48 to be too few for Carrier Strike. If the UK is to field a forward fleet of 617 Sqn and 209 NAS, plus the OCU, the OEU, and a depth fleet of those in maintenance, or reserve, then 48 is not enough. Having invested in these vessels, they should be equipped properly. Otherwise what was the point. It’s no use us now debating what should, or could, have happened, big carrier or small, cats and traps or not, this is what we have, this is what the RN decided on, they are fantastic assets and need the… Read more »

Glass Half Full

I agree Daniele. 48 F-35Bs total to last for the next 40-50 years seems a rather optimistic life expectancy for the airframes in order to maintain carrier strike. There is also minimal organic capability to surge numbers, especially if some aren’t upgraded to Block 4. In addition, if we switch to F35A then we are going to need to accelerate boom re-fueling conversions on the tankers. We may need to do it anyway for P8s and Wedgetail, but if only for these aircraft it could be put off until the PFI is due for renewal in 2035 when we might… Read more »

John Clark

With steady top up buys, I can see the number rising to 90 over the next 20 years or so. I have to say that any increase in defence spending is extremely unlikely for the foreseeable future. With whispers of not getting ‘sentimental’ about old capabilities in the forthcoming defence review, we can virtually guarantee that Albion and Bulwark are for the shop. They don’t feature in the blurb about the new Commando force structure for example. In fact, they specifically state that beach assault is a thing of the past and delivering a company strength force by air from… Read more »

Meirion X

The problem with Airborne Commando Strike, is the Weather! Seaborne strike not affected as much I read, unless the UK procures VM22s?

Meirion X

So imagine the PoW with a deck full of VM22s! Does anyone know if they are more robust then the chopper in windy weather?

Glass Half Full

No incoming from me on either point! I can see 90-100 F35B to maintain carrier capability through the 2060’s which is the stated intention, reiterated in the NAO report. The NAO report also reiterated the 2013 estimate of whole life for 48 F35B to be through to 2048, so we clearly need significantly more than 48 to get to a 50 year carrier life by the late 2060’s. From what I am reading, Albion and Bulwark and other large amphibious ships are considered to be increasingly vulnerable to future weapons in their close in shore role, particularly to developments in… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

John. I agree with you. THATS the point! IF money saved from a capability removed is invested in increasing a new one I’m for it. Who here would bemoan losing LPDs but gaining a few squadrons of helis, some T31 some UAV, securing both carriers, fleets of automanous sub surface systems, and so on. Unfortunately, usually what happens is that increases cannot be judged as the money is going on intell wizardry, ISTAR, SF, and Cyber. All of which are important. And much if which is classified. Cuts somewhere should ALWAYS be balanced with increases to other capabilities. And that’s… Read more »

Meirion X

As I have said before, helo operations are more susceptible to the prevailing weather conditions, then landing craft!

John Clark

The ideal replacement guys, for Albion and Bulwark ( going with heliborne assault) would be two 25,0000+ ton Helicopter carriers and some serious amphibious lift in the Chinook class. Obviously, not going to happen, we must make use of the QE class and hopefully a new generation of flexible, re-rollable support ships capable of operating helos in a reasonable number. We do need greater flexibility and the LPD’s and Challenger 2’s are extremely vulnerable to the axe. As raised, the need to reinforce Norway and fight in that hostile environment, is the main reason the Royal Marines have just about… Read more »

Meirion X

Still does Not solve the problem of long range Commando strike.
Also why waste money on a limited size and range helo carrier (LHD)?

John Clark

Afternoon Meirion, The answer to the range issue isn’t unresolvable within our budget, Chinook has the lift and the range, the HC-4 Merlin has the ability to have the AAR probe installed .. It shouldn’t be beyond the whit of man to give the Chinook a tanker capability. I understand the downwash could be a serous issue to work around, but it shouldn’t be unresolvable. Failing that, the obvious solution is a multi roll V-22 buy. Re the Helicopter carrier. I’m not thinking LHD, I’m thinking dedicated, lean manned light carrier design, capable of carrying 25 helos and 850 Marines… Read more »

Meirion X

I like the idea of a V-22 buy John! About 22km altitude, 1200km range is good.

Meirion X

Sorry, a mix up with feet for km, the altitude is about 22000 ft or 6700m.

John Clark

The V22 would be a massive force multiplier for the RN Carrier capability.

I would go as far to say that if the RN received a batch of say 20 COD optimised V22s, equipped for roll on, roll off AAR/COD/AEW systems, I would trade Albion and Bulwark.

Probe equip the Chinook and Merlin HC4 (replace the tired Puma with 25 more HC4’s) and the Marines would be ready for their new air assault role….

Daniele Mandelli

Remember those 16 Chinooks reported last year? Could they be involved?

Meirion X

I very much agree with You, especially with no UK refueling capability for F-35A!


Does The new carriers have any Electronic warfare suite? To help with self protection? It’s surely just as important as Kinetic self defence protection… why don’t we add sea ram! Seems so crazy we won’t spend an extra few million to protect billions in jets and ship! Escorts won’t get 100% of every threat including new gen anti ship missiles.

Daniele Mandelli

Sure they do. Some here have already briefly alluded to it, not something that is widely advertised as much is classified.


Ah right, thanks

Meirion X

Sea Ram is a short range infra-red guided missile.
It is a Heat seeker!
I don’t think this missile work well on a carrier with F-35Bs vertically landing!

Robert Blay

They have some very clever EW equipment, that can really spoil the bad guys day, and if a carrier has to use it’s own self defence weapons, then all is probably lost. Nothing moves within 500 miles of the carrier without us knowing about it.

Nigel Collins

On a side note, any updates on the RAF Typhoons new Radar?

Airbus to provide E-Scan radars for German and Spanish Eurofighters
by Gareth Jennings

Airbus has been contracted to develop, deliver, and integrate electronically-scanned (E-Scan) radar sets for German and Spanish Eurofighter combat aircraft.


Nothing concrete. Seems that an eventual AESA upgrade on Typhoon is in complete shambles and an ongoing saga for the last decade. Germany and Spain now planning to get Hensoldt AESA, however Hensoldt have no aircraft AESA or experience in this field. So they will need to develop an aircraft AESA, but what is the realistic timeframe to develop, test, finetune and fit on planes? Seems years away and 2023 announcement is delusional imo. Then you have Italy which own Leonardo which is currently in testing phase of its AESA on the Gripen E and to be fitted on Kuwait… Read more »

Nigel Collins

Many thanks,

Yet another piece of the jigsaw missing for the time being anyway!


The glass will be half full. I do not think the Government has the will to do QE/PoW/F-35B carrier strike properly. For 48, you need 52, as the first 4 are early lot & not worth upgrading. Then there is no point having these jets unless you give them a wide range of weapons. The RN F-35B are missing a few gunpods & a heavy stand-off weapon. They lack a means for extra range, such as drop tanks or V-22 AAR.
Then there is the whole question of enough, well armed escorts & support ships.

Christopher Allen

Isn’t the ‘A’ variant cheaper, if so, buying the more limited B variant for the RAF seems nonsensical. So not outright buying just over 150 F35Bs could he a good decision assuming they actually are interested in getting F35As, of course.