A letter from the Minister of State for Defence Procurement sets out the status of the UK’s F-35 fleet.

The letter from James Cartlidge MP, Minister of State for Defence Procurement, to Jeremy Quin MP, Chair of the House of Commons Defence Committee, covers several key points regarding the development and operational status of the UK’s F-35 Lightning Force.

Here’s a summary.

  • Full Operating Capability (FOC) Declaration: The FOC for the first phase of procurement (Tranche 1) is set for no later than 31st December 2025, with 33 out of the first 48 aircraft already delivered.
  • Squadron Developments: The second front line squadron, 809 Naval Air Squadron, was recommissioned at RAF Marham on 8th December 2023 and is working towards its Initial Operating Capability scheduled for 1st December 2024. The squadron, like the rest of the Force, will be jointly operated by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Royal Navy (RN).
  • Operational Contributions: The Lightning Force continues to support NATO, particularly in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, with UK F-35Bs undertaking long-range missions and integrating with other partner nations’ forces. Operation FIREDRAKE in 2023 highlighted the F-35Bs’ capabilities through various tasks and exercises aboard HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH, showcasing interoperability with other nations.
  • Developmental Testing: A period of testing was conducted in October 2023 aboard HMS PRINCE OF WALES to expand the operating envelope for F-35B aircraft on UK Queen Elizabeth Class Carriers, aiming to formally approve expanded operating limits and procedures.
  • Costs: Despite global inflation and foreign exchange challenges, the initial procurement remains within budget, with a notable decrease in aircraft price from 2014 to 2022, albeit with an expected slight increase for upcoming lots due to inflationary pressures.
  • Capability Milestone Timeline Progress: The letter highlights the growth and maturation of the Force, including recruitment and training efforts for engineers, pilots, and instructors. However, it notes a temporary delay in aircraft deliveries due to software instability with Lockheed Martin’s Technical Refresh 3, which is not expected to impact the FOC declaration.
  • Future Developments: Discussions are underway for the procurement of an additional 27 F-35 aircraft in Tranche 2, aimed at enhancing the UK’s Carrier Enabled Power Projection capability and increasing the fleet to 74 aircraft by 2033, with funding for this phase secured under an approved option.

Here’s the letter in full.

“JAMES CARTLIDGE MP
MINISTER OF STATE FOR DEFENCE PROCUREMENT

Dear Jeremy,

I am providing an update on the continuing growth and capability delivery of the F-35 Lightning Force. Since I wrote to your predecessor in July 2023, the declaration of Full Operating Capability (FOC) for the first procurement phase (Tranche 1) has been agreed as occurring no later than 31 Dec 2025. The first 48 aircraft continue to be produced as scheduled, with 33 aircraft received to date. The second front line squadron (809 Naval Air Squadron) was stood up in a re-commissioning ceremony at RAF Marham on the 8th December 2023. 809NAS will continue to work-up readiness throughout 2024, ahead of its Initial Operating Capability scheduled for 1 Dec 2024. As across the Force, 809NAS will be jointly operated by the RAF and RN.

Operations

The Lightning Force continue to provide a key component of the UK contribution to NATO in response to Russia’s continued illegal war and occupation of Ukraine. In 2023 UK F-35Bs have undertaken long-range missions from RAF Marham; supported by Voyager tankers, seamlessly integrating with our own 4th Generation Typhoon, and fighters from other partner nations, to form a potent force mix.

Carrier Strike 2023, Operation FIREDRAKE, was undertaken between 11 September and 10 November 2023; eight aircraft, pilots and supporting personnel boarded HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH and undertook a range of operational tasks, joint exercises, and Defence engagement with other nations. Initially, they engaged in Joint Expedition Force (JEF) activities, working with Norway, Sweden and Finland, after which they undertook Large Force Employment activity with the Royal Netherlands Air Force. The final element of the deployment was under NATO direction, where NATO interoperability was demonstrated alongside Estonian, Latvian and Polish military forces.

In our last report we advised that a period of developmental testing using Joint Program Office (JPO) Integrated Test Force F-35Bs on HMS PRINCE OF WALES had been deferred to autumn 2023, following HMS PRINCE OF WALES serviceability issues. This period of testing successfully took place in October 2023 with the intent to expand the embarked operating envelope for all F-35B aircraft onboard UK Queen Elizabeth Class Carriers and Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landings for the platform; the trials have formed the evidence base towards formal approval aimed to expand operating limits and authorise those procedures in an updated Royal Navy, Ship Air – Release.

Programme Costs

Initial procurement (Tranche 1) expenditure has remained within its cost approval envelope, with almost all funds committed. Global inflation and foreign exchange currency (FOREX) challenges have been the key themes of the previous 18 months. The aircraft price has reduced by 32% over the period 2014 to 2022. However, it is anticipated that the price of each aircraft in LOTs 15-17 will increase marginally by around 6%. This is predominately due to increasing manufacturing costs associated with inflationary pressures. Inflation and FOREX continue to be a concern to the Programme, as do the recent savings pressures levied across the department.

Capability Milestone Timeline Progress

Following the successful stand up of 809NAS in December 2023, Force growth will continue to mature and build our frontline squadrons’ capabilities out to December 2025. Force growth remains an actively managed issue. We have already implemented the first increased recruitment of the required engineering workforce across the RN and RAF. The Operational Conversion Unit continues to graduate F-35B pilots into the Force at a sufficient rate. Additionally, the Force has trained a new tactical weapons instructor and 6 flying instructors, which has provided additional instructor depth. However, Lockheed Martin has currently suspended aircraft release post-production as they have experienced software instability during developmental testing of Technical Refresh 3, the next pan-platform software upgrade. We are aware of the current short-term delays to UK aircraft deliveries. At this time, it is not assessed to impact the scheduled FOC declaration at the end of 2025.

Beyond FOC, deliveries of ‘Tranche 2’ will start and the next significant operational capability development will occur towards the end of the decade, with UK weapons

(METEOR and SPEAR 3) being fielded on the UK’s front-line. UK and JPO negotiations regarding the ‘Tranche 2’ buy of a further 27 F-35 aircraft are going well. This next procurement phase is expected to complete the internal approvals process during summer 2024. It will realise our long-term ambition to deepen Carrier Enabled Power Projection capability and will bring the UK fleet up to 74 aircraft, allowing us to create a third front line squadron by 2033. Funding for this next phase has been ringfenced under an approved ABC Option.”

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George has a degree in Cyber Security from Glasgow Caledonian University and has a keen interest in naval and cyber security matters and has appeared on national radio and television to discuss current events. George is on Twitter at @geoallison
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Patrick Anthony Goff
Patrick Anthony Goff (@guest_820426)
21 days ago

So in ten years (2033?) we might have enough to kit out one carrier in a war. Pretty poor show if the RAF wants a few. We need 200 to give two carriers an operational air wing each plus a couple of squadrons of the RAF, training machines, spares and allow for losses… and yesterday

Ian
Ian (@guest_820434)
21 days ago

The carriers are designed around an assumption of 36 F-35s to sustain 2 sorties per day each. While the ships can carry more aircraft this doesn’t necessarily translate into a greater sortie generation rate ,and in any case they also need space for helicopters. They are not going to be putting anything approaching 74 aircraft on one carrier because there would be no point.

Ben Coe
Ben Coe (@guest_820748)
20 days ago
Reply to  Ian

The 74 was for 2 carriers. I think they meant 72 – ie the design 36 per carrier.

Hugo
Hugo (@guest_820435)
21 days ago

200 would undermine tempest, and generally the rate of delivery is going to be slow because of the demand for them. But more than 74 should be looked at to give sufficient numbers for the carriers, let alone the RAF.

Steve R
Steve R (@guest_820829)
20 days ago
Reply to  Hugo

I think 90 would be a decent number.

90 would allow for 5 operational squadrons (60 aircraft) plus an 8-plane OCU, 3 for testing, plus 19 spare airframes.

A perfect amount would be 120:

  • 7 operational squadrons (84 aircraft – 3 squadrons RAF, 4 FAA)
  • 10-plane OCU
  • 3-plane test squadron
  • 23 spare airframes.

But I fully accept that this is fantasy fleets.

IKnowNothing
IKnowNothing (@guest_820491)
20 days ago

It seems like the idea of an mainly F35 air wing is gone now. Instead they seem to be looking at a mix of F35 and drones. What that means in terms of balance and numbers I have no idea though, but the original figure of 36 F35s is probably not the goal they would even want to aim for now I’d think.

Jim
Jim (@guest_820513)
20 days ago
Reply to  IKnowNothing

The USAF is now working on a ratio of two drones for every 1 F35 block IV and NGAD it operates. It would be crazy to envisages the QE class operating an all F35 wing of 36 aircraft in the next decade. Mixed air wings are definitely the way to go, much cheaper much more capable.

Mark B
Mark B (@guest_820621)
20 days ago
Reply to  Jim

Agreed. If they can get 2 drones per F35 working then in a short period that could be upped to 5,6,7 or 8. That could be a lot of fire power with just half a dozen F35s.

Jim
Jim (@guest_820512)
20 days ago

No aircraft carrier on the planet carries more than 20 fifth generation aircraft. Just because QE class can carry 36 doesn’t mean it has to and it’s certainly does mean it would not be useful in a war. When those 36 projected F35 were being designed for in the late 90’s the envisaged JCA was a light weight Harrier replacement. Due to cancelations in programs like the F22 and the technological develops the F35 we ended up with its far more lethal and way more capable than people could have imagined when they were designing the QE class. 24 F35’s… Read more »

Mark B
Mark B (@guest_820622)
20 days ago
Reply to  Jim

The UK is pretty damn good in my humble opinion.

ChariotRider
ChariotRider (@guest_820626)
20 days ago
Reply to  Jim

Nicely, put Jim.

Cheers CR

Rudeboy
Rudeboy (@guest_820770)
20 days ago
Reply to  Jim

Just to correct you….

No aircraft carrier except the QE Class will carry more than 16 5th Gen aircraft (F-35).

USN is only planning on fielding a maximum of 16 F-35C on CVN. The America Class LPH will not exceed 16 either.

QE or PoW with 24 or 26 F-35B is really a unique capability…

Pity they’ll only have the weapon capability of a Typhoon Tranche 1 until 2033 though….(Asraam, Amraam and LGB…but no gun and an inferior targeting system…).

Gareth
Gareth (@guest_820869)
20 days ago
Reply to  Rudeboy

Would be good to get a commitment to integrate airborne anti-ship missiles onto the F35b’s as well. SPEAR’s ok I guess but doesn’t have the 500+ km range of e.g. the Joint Strike Missile (NSM’s air-launched cousin).

Obviously it would be great if we could get LRASM but the UK government is probably too stingy for that. I know about the future air-launched missiles such as FCASW but the problem with those is that they don’t exist yet, and may never do so, judging on the MoD’s past performance, and we kind of need an air-launched maritime strike capability now.

John Hartley
John Hartley (@guest_820949)
19 days ago
Reply to  Gareth

The UK needs stand off weapons for its F-35B. Block 3F F-35A are cleared for JSOW-C, perhaps it could go under the wings of F-35B? The Americans are working hard to get LRASM & AARGM-ER on all marks of F-35 as soon as they can. Don’t know if that is only for block 4. LRASM & AARGM-ER for UK F-35 would greatly increase their clout.

FormerUSAF
FormerUSAF (@guest_821053)
19 days ago
Reply to  Rudeboy

Yes, what is the rationale re RAF bon-utilization of cannon onboard F-35B? Cost saving measure? Tactical doctrine of employment? Other? Just curious…🤔

FormerUSAF
FormerUSAF (@guest_821054)
19 days ago
Reply to  FormerUSAF

… non-utilization…🙄

John Hartley
John Hartley (@guest_821167)
19 days ago
Reply to  FormerUSAF

I suspect HM Treasury demanded savings & the RAF offered to not buy gun pods, as its least worst option. A shame as they would be handy for warning shots.

FormerUSAF
FormerUSAF (@guest_821299)
18 days ago
Reply to  John Hartley

Additionally, cannon would be quite convenient, if forced into a close quarters dogfighting scenario. Cannon would be presumably preferable to throwing rocks. 🤔😉

Geo
Geo (@guest_820428)
21 days ago

Still poor stuff in terms of numbers and especially timescales…….been poor since initially promising much

Geoff Roach
Geoff Roach (@guest_820429)
21 days ago

So a third line squadron by 2033. What a farce.

Paul42
Paul42 (@guest_820437)
21 days ago

Too much in the way of land based operations and not enough maritime ops actually deployed in strength on the carriers, the role for which they were originally procured Looks like Joint Force Harrier all over again!

Frank62
Frank62 (@guest_820782)
20 days ago
Reply to  Paul42

I’d like to see the FAA restored to sole naval command with its own, not shared aircraft.

Mark P
Mark P (@guest_820919)
19 days ago
Reply to  Frank62

To be fair so would I, with the RAF also keeping their hand in flight deck operations but I fear it would be more costly for not a lot of gane

Cripes
Cripes (@guest_821136)
19 days ago
Reply to  Frank62

Problem is, how could the RN afford its own F-35 fleet? It has no budget for fast jet aircraft. The F-35s are all being paid for from the RAF”s miniscule equipment budget, which is why they can’t afford any more Typhoons and can only afford to upgrade 40 with the ECRS radar. The RAF’s air power is being seriously eroded by the need to provide F-35s for the RN. This is the guile of HMG and the Treasury. By not providing funds to replace Tornado and Harrier, we get a compromise aircraft in very small numbers, which are quite inadequate… Read more »

Baz Melody
Baz Melody (@guest_820444)
21 days ago

Any government wanting to get serious about defence of the nation needs to look at what we need, not what we can afford. Yes there will be a compromise but what we get as the British Military as a whole is not good enough. 74 A/C sounds good but when you take in maintenance and other factors you could end with less that 40 available for front line use. I spent a lot of time with the Harrier and Tornado so understand what you actually get as opposed to what we have on paper. F35 will be no different.

Hugo
Hugo (@guest_820469)
21 days ago
Reply to  Baz Melody

Well yeh the number of active squadrons compared to number of AC is pretty telling, 74 for 3 frontline technically a 4th training. Certainly not enough

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli (@guest_820489)
20 days ago
Reply to  Hugo

Seems a similar ratio to me, to when we had 165 Tornado F3, in 7 Sqns.
I’m happy with 74, taking into account UCAV hopes and Tempest.
What I’m not happy with the the time scale.
Around 20 years is it? From 1st delivery to a 3rd front line Sqn. How long did the F3 force take, don’t recall now.

Geoff Roach
Geoff Roach (@guest_820492)
20 days ago

I think my thoughts over the last few years have finally come home to roost. I get no pleasure from saying it. I wold rather have been proved wrong. So by the end of the year we will have two squadrons of 8/10/12 aircraft for two carriers and the RAF. Considering the numbers being delivered elsewhere it beggars belief.😡

Joe16
Joe16 (@guest_820547)
20 days ago
Reply to  Geoff Roach

I know it’s frustrating. But all of these aircraft currently being delivered are going to need to go back to the US in the next year or two for the required upgrades to allow Block IV roll out, unless I’m mistaken. Which means all these Belgian, Dutch, Polish, etc. aircraft will be out of action at additional costs to their operators for a 6-12 months. Unless those nations are content to fly just with AMRAAM, Sidewinder and JDAM capability (I can see the Belgians and the Dutch doing just that, in fact). I’d rather wait for another 9-12 months to… Read more »

Geoff Roach
Geoff Roach (@guest_820577)
20 days ago
Reply to  Joe16

Whichever way we look at it Joe we will soon have have the smallest air force of all the leading western nations and we are not talking about a new F35 squadron, the third, until 3033. It is pathetic.

Geoff Roach
Geoff Roach (@guest_820578)
20 days ago
Reply to  Geoff Roach

Sorry. I meant 2033. Mind you I might have been right the first time. 😇

Joe16
Joe16 (@guest_820591)
20 days ago
Reply to  Geoff Roach

Haha, please don’t be a prophet..! I don’t disagree with the overall analysis, although to be honest I’d rather stand up another typhoon squadron than a 4th F35 one. 74 aircraft for 3 operational squadron + 1 training, including an operational reserve for covering maintenance and (God forbid) losses sounds about right. Some smaller countries may be ordering fewer, or even similar amounts for the same or more squadrons. But they aren’t going to be operating them away from home shores like we will. Buying another 12-15 T3/4 Typhoon with AESA2 would give us much better/wider capability at a lower… Read more »

Robert Blay
Robert Blay (@guest_820645)
20 days ago
Reply to  Joe16

Typhoon is just as expensive. Without the 5th gen capability.

Joe16
Joe16 (@guest_820681)
20 days ago
Reply to  Robert Blay

Through life, including the maintenance, I think advantage swings to Typhoon there. A lot of those high costs were early Tranches, I understand that operational costs are a lot lower these days. They also have more hard points, but will still be packing high end situational awareness and electronic warfare/attack functionality via the AESA2 radar. F-35 also stands no chance of being able to carry FC/ASW or the future hypersonic weapon internally, if it ever gets it (I really hope it does), so Typhoon has that going for it too. I fully agree that full fat 5th Gen it is… Read more »

Paul T
Paul T (@guest_820694)
20 days ago
Reply to  Joe16

I can’t remember who posted it but there was an interesting tweet the other month comparing costs – it said that the Sustainment ( operational and maintenance) costs of Typhoon dwarf those of F35b which is saying something because the F35b number includes procurement, whereas all Typhoons have been delivered.

Rudeboy
Rudeboy (@guest_820777)
20 days ago
Reply to  Paul T

Under Project TyTan the RAF has got the flying costs per hour of a Typhoon down to late model F-16 levels…thats far below F-35.

Joe16
Joe16 (@guest_820804)
20 days ago
Reply to  Rudeboy

For some reason I can’t reply directly to Paul, but basically what you said.

Paul T
Paul T (@guest_820823)
20 days ago
Reply to  Rudeboy
Steve R
Steve R (@guest_820838)
20 days ago
Reply to  Robert Blay

Contributes more to UK industry, though, and Typhoon can carry far more weaponry than F-35, with cheaper maintenance costs.

Robert Blay
Robert Blay (@guest_820958)
19 days ago
Reply to  Steve R

Nearly 20% of every single F35 built, all three varients, all orders to every nation comes from the UK. It is worth billions in revenue and skills. Tempest is more likely to see the light of day because of the 5th gen manufacturing experience we now have. I’m not knocking Typhoon. It’s a fantastic aircraft. But it isn’t as simple as payloads, etc. And with external stores, F35B can carry 6 PW4, 2 ASRAAM, and 2 AMRAAM. Typhoon never carries more than 4 PW4. It can carry 6, but it has to lose the external drop tanks, limiting endurance. Typhoon… Read more »

Last edited 19 days ago by Robert Blay
Geoff Roach
Geoff Roach (@guest_820693)
20 days ago
Reply to  Joe16

I agree with you. As I have said many times here, if we are going to be so slow as anticipated, now being proved correct, I think we should build the RAF around the Typhoon including an E.W . version, perhaps with the Germans. The f35’s could then be used for the carriers. If we don’t look to do something like this we are not going to be able to achieve either goal.

Joe16
Joe16 (@guest_820798)
20 days ago
Reply to  Geoff Roach

Yes, a 2-seater EW platform would make sense to me too

Geoff Roach
Geoff Roach (@guest_820973)
19 days ago
Reply to  Joe16

👍

Meirion X
Meirion X (@guest_824036)
8 days ago
Reply to  Joe16

A full squadron is more than just 12 aircraft! It includes reseve airframes for operational, attrition and a war-time reserve. To procure a full squadron of Typhoons, you looking at least 20
aircraft. They are operationally rotated to redistribe airframe hours.

Last edited 8 days ago by Meirion X
Joe16
Joe16 (@guest_824084)
8 days ago
Reply to  Meirion X

Agreed- although I’d point out I said 12-15.
I would agree that, in some instances, 20+ aircraft might be the right number to give you a 12-aircraft squadron. But that would be dependent upon the size of the fleet you already operate. Given the numbers of T2/3 airframes we already have, I don’t think we need to add 8 or even more aircraft to the pool on top of the 12 “headline strength”. 3, maybe 4, sure. But personally I don’t think more than that. I’m not military though, so I may well be completely wrong!

Robert Blay
Robert Blay (@guest_820643)
20 days ago
Reply to  Geoff Roach

But the capability is on another level. Strike. Its In a league of its own. And only F22 comes close to its A2A capability.

Rudeboy
Rudeboy (@guest_820776)
20 days ago
Reply to  Joe16

It won’t be the next year or 2….

More like 2028 onwards…because they will need the engine upgrade as well to give them additional cooling…

Joe16
Joe16 (@guest_820801)
20 days ago
Reply to  Rudeboy

In terms of the F135 engine and finding a successor you mean? I haven’t kept up with that to be honest, but hopeful that RR might get another bite at the apple. I imagine it’ll be another contest between P&W and GE though, maybe with RR to make it look like the US is interested in international competition.

Rudeboy
Rudeboy (@guest_820807)
20 days ago
Reply to  Joe16

The F-135 needs an upgrade to provide additional power, and crucially cooling, for Block IV. GE are proposing the new adaptable engines for the A and the C variant, they claim that it could work on the B as well (but take that with a pinch of salt). The frontrunner is P & W’s upgrade to F-135, it replaces a section of the engine to give more thrust, efficiency and in conjunction with Collins Aerospace’ PGMU unit far more cooling. This is likely what will be chosen… But P & W have a horrible record on delivery of F-135….and its… Read more »

Joe16
Joe16 (@guest_820824)
20 days ago
Reply to  Rudeboy

Thanks, hadn’t realised that Block IV was in doubt completely without the new/updated engine.

Rudeboy
Rudeboy (@guest_820843)
20 days ago
Reply to  Joe16

More correctly the ability to take advantage of the Block IV capabilities that is at risk. Additional EW etc.

FormerUSAF
FormerUSAF (@guest_821062)
19 days ago
Reply to  Geoff Roach

Are you referring to deliveries of F-35s of all variants, or other equipment? Because all F-35s produced since last summer are currently stored at LM facilities in Texas. JSF has embargoed delivery of any a/c until assured Tranche 3 hardware/(and especially software) is reasonably stable. OMG, the plan du joir is to release a truncated “training only” version of the software by end of 3rd qtr CY24, w/ release of a fully combat capable version sometime in CY25. Kid thee nought, this is the serious plan of the JSF/LM brain trust! That milestone should permit the development of the first… Read more »

Geoff Roach
Geoff Roach (@guest_821732)
17 days ago
Reply to  FormerUSAF

Indeed, my friend. I’m regarded by some here as a moaner but this who;e project worries me. Western air forces are relying on a terrific “flies well on paper” areoplane but it is constantly beset with delays and embargoes, software and technical faults and painfully slow entry into service. I understand that the U.S. Treasury is now looking at the funding of T3 and T4 because of costs. God help us if this goes wrong. Thank you for your thoughts. 😉

Hugo
Hugo (@guest_820494)
20 days ago

the sharing with RAF is the issue, 3 squadrons would be ok for carriers but its not only for the carriers.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli (@guest_820497)
20 days ago
Reply to  Hugo

Agreed. Leaves little for RAF Strike as Typhoon force has so many demands for its time.
In an ideal world these would all be FAA, but the RN doesn’t have the budget or people for that.

Jim
Jim (@guest_820514)
20 days ago

Agreed

Robert Blay
Robert Blay (@guest_820641)
20 days ago

First delivery of the F3 was late 86. F2 from 84. The 7th frontline sqn formed in 92 I believe. 23 sqn then disbanded in 93/4.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli (@guest_820673)
20 days ago
Reply to  Robert Blay

Thanks mate. Only 6 years. The long drag timescale is the problem.

klonkie
klonkie (@guest_820698)
20 days ago

Hi DM

I recall the F2/3 programme also had its share of development issues. Whilst still waiting on the new Foxhunter radar, the early F2 models operated with concrete ballast instead of the radar.

The timescale is indeed the issue , almost a glacial pace.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli (@guest_820750)
20 days ago
Reply to  klonkie

Nicknamed Blue Circle I recall!

klonkie
klonkie (@guest_821024)
19 days ago

cheers Mate 👌

Robert Blay
Robert Blay (@guest_820731)
20 days ago

Yes. But the F3 entered service woefully underdeveloped. And took a long time to get were it should have been from the start. Didpite the slow start for F35B.For once, capability and the aircrafts overall performance isn’t the issue.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli (@guest_820751)
20 days ago
Reply to  Robert Blay

Morning pal. Yes, I’ve no issues whatsoever with the aircraft, just the current number and timescales.

But I can accept the reasons why and be proud of what we have.

Rudeboy
Rudeboy (@guest_820780)
20 days ago
Reply to  Robert Blay

When was it actually, truly operational though….

Robert Blay
Robert Blay (@guest_820837)
20 days ago
Reply to  Rudeboy

Are we still talking about the F3? Gulf War stage1+ mods made a big difference. And the introduction of stage 2 radar and link 16 from around 92 onwards. Towed radar decoy from 94 i think. It became vastly more capable with the introduction of ASRAAM from 2002, and again with the full mid course guidance AMRAAM capability from early 2004.

Rudeboy
Rudeboy (@guest_820775)
20 days ago

74 is not really the right number….

Because it includes the 3 non combat capable ITF aircraft that will likely be retired in the early 30’s…plus it includes the oldest combat capable jet, BK-03, that will likely not be worth upgrading to Blk IV due to cost.

Realistically we’re looking at a fleet of 70 F-35B at full Block IV Lot 19 standard by 2033…if it all goes to plan….

First operational squadron able to fire Meteor, Spear etc. will not arrive until 2030/31 realistically…again if everything goes to plan…

Cripes
Cripes (@guest_820895)
20 days ago

The long and weary procurement timetable is largely down to the limited budget available. The aircraft are being paid for by the RAF from its fast jet equipment budget. I cannot see any RN budget for the F-35. About 35% of that budget is available for new aircraft, which means the service can only afford 6 or maybe 7 per year. At that rate, under normal circumstances, it would take 6 or 7 years to get the final 40 aircraft planned, which takes us to 2030 or 2031. That will of course be slowed down while LM grapples with its… Read more »

Suffolk Flyer
Suffolk Flyer (@guest_820576)
20 days ago
Reply to  Baz Melody

This is the problem when you buy into unaffordable long term projects. Support to two RN carriers was never going to be deliverable within the limits of UK defence expenditure. Not even mentioned here is our inability to provide the frigates required to defend the carriers.

Peter S
Peter S (@guest_820612)
20 days ago
Reply to  Suffolk Flyer

Exactly. When the carrier decision was made in 2004 ( contract signed in 2008) I knew and said it would do massive harm to our overall defence capability. RN leaders deluded themselves that once the carriers were ordered, any government would have to increase escort numbers to protect them. Instead numbers of destroyers, frigates, submarines, support vessels have been cut, in large measure to pay for the carriers and the never-ending computer glitch that is the F35. The harm was not limited to the RN. Instead of delivering the affordable replacement for F16, F18, A10 and Harrier, F35 acquisition and… Read more »

Robert Blay
Robert Blay (@guest_820647)
20 days ago
Reply to  Peter S

The usual rubbish Peter.

Meirion X
Meirion X (@guest_820676)
20 days ago
Reply to  Robert Blay

💯 Misguided as ever!

klonkie
klonkie (@guest_820697)
20 days ago
Reply to  Robert Blay

Hi Robert
Regarding Peter comment ” We should instead repurpose one of the carriers to an amphibious support role. This could also act as a reserve carrier when the single strike carrier is unavailable.”

Now I may well be incorrect, however I recall prior to the 2010 defence review, that was the general plan for the QE carriers?.

Robert Blay
Robert Blay (@guest_820733)
20 days ago
Reply to  klonkie

That idea was proposed, but soon dropped as both carriers will be capable of operating Apache, Chinook, Merlin Mk4 when needed alongside the carrier strike role. And the whole idea of having two carriers is so one is available 365. The drip feed maintenance we see reduces longer refits. And will improve overall availability. Hope you are keeping well mate. Good to hear from you. 👍

klonkie
klonkie (@guest_821025)
19 days ago
Reply to  Robert Blay

Thanks for the insights Robert, always good reading your commentary ! All is well with me thanks and trust you are also well.

I mentioned to Daniele we finally got RAF Top Gun on the telly here in NZ. Great viewing, respect to all at RAF Lossiemouth.

Robert Blay
Robert Blay (@guest_821102)
19 days ago
Reply to  klonkie

Yeah, it was a pretty good series that. I enjoyed it too. Did you get the show about the QE class on the 2021 deployment?

klonkie
klonkie (@guest_821336)
18 days ago
Reply to  Robert Blay

No Mate , but I will make an effort to see if I can stream it. Thanks for the heads up!

Robert Blay
Robert Blay (@guest_821376)
18 days ago
Reply to  klonkie

Some of it might be on YouTube. Have a good one mate.

Meirion X
Meirion X (@guest_820678)
20 days ago
Reply to  Peter S

You have such limited memory span!
Without the carrier procurement, there would be No T-45s!

Two QE class are needed to alternate deployment schedules.

Jonathan
Jonathan (@guest_820912)
19 days ago
Reply to  Peter S

But, what would be the point of a high end escort fleet without carriers…without an expeditionary force…naval aviation and amphibious..what are the escorts for exactly? Ending carrier aviation in the RN would end it as a blue water navy.

Meirion X
Meirion X (@guest_824175)
7 days ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Sorry I seemed to have missed this comment! 100% agreed.

Baz Melody
Baz Melody (@guest_820906)
19 days ago
Reply to  Suffolk Flyer

Agree with you 100%. People have no idea how much support is required to support 1 RN Carrier. It needs a lot of protection, as former RAF I am in favour of Carriers as I undertook a lot of time on them whilst on Harriers. But the Gov need to be aware that when you want us to help out in any sort of capacity it comes with limitations in this day and age.

klonkie
klonkie (@guest_821027)
19 days ago
Reply to  Baz Melody

Hello Baz, were you in the service in ’82 during the Falkland conflict?

Baz Melody
Baz Melody (@guest_821105)
19 days ago
Reply to  klonkie

Hi Klonkie, no too you for that, joined in 89.

klonkie
klonkie (@guest_821337)
18 days ago
Reply to  Baz Melody

Cheers Baz – thank you for your service.

Meirion X
Meirion X (@guest_824181)
7 days ago
Reply to  Baz Melody

👏

Meirion X
Meirion X (@guest_824174)
7 days ago
Reply to  Suffolk Flyer

Without the carriers being procured, the RN would certainly Not had any T-45’s procured. So No AAW/AAD escorts for the Red Sea, etc! Just bog standard GP frigates ordered instead.

Paul42
Paul42 (@guest_820756)
20 days ago
Reply to  Baz Melody

It should be noted that the UK has not officially confirmed it will not purchase the intended number of 138. All this business with Tempest and wanting block IV is part of the problem! For all intents and purposes, there is no guarantee Tempest will even make it to a flyable prototype, its all hype and millions being poured into a ‘British’ project – so sounds good, whilst as per usual we waist huge sums of money. We should just get on and purchase F35Bs as quickly as possible

Rudeboy
Rudeboy (@guest_820781)
20 days ago
Reply to  Paul42

If you bother to read the latest GAO report from the US about F-35 you would not have that opinion….

We’re lucky that we’re never going to buy the full 138…because right now the programme is a total fiasco.

Gunbuster
Gunbuster (@guest_820836)
20 days ago
Reply to  Rudeboy

But its a fiasco we get 15% of in production so it aint all bad…

Rudeboy
Rudeboy (@guest_820844)
20 days ago
Reply to  Gunbuster

‘We’ is doing some heavy lifting there though…

British companies are….but the MoD has long since given up on their old line of 15% in the UK…because it never stacked up.

RR LiftSystem is built in Indianapolis
MB seat assembled in US at their facility there…
BAE Systems EW work is all in the US…
Survitec do all the survival gear in the US…

Basically the main element in the UK is the rear fuselage at BAE in Samlesbury, coding/dev work at Samlesbury and sub-components…but its nowhere near 15%…probably more like 5-7% over all F-35.

Robert Blay
Robert Blay (@guest_821377)
18 days ago
Reply to  Rudeboy

LM confirmed the percentage had increased to closer to 20% of value from UK production. Every single rear fuselage for every single F35 order around the world is built in the UK. Plus, there are many other components. Ejection seat. The defensive aids system is BAE Systems, for example. The lift fan is RR.

Rudeboy
Rudeboy (@guest_823674)
9 days ago
Reply to  Robert Blay

Please re-read my post….apart from the Rear Fuselage built at Samlesbury everything else on your list is built overseas….by UK companies, but not in the UK.

RR build the LiftSystem in Indianapolis, not the UK
Martin Baker make the Ejection Seats in their US facility
BAE make the EW system exclusively in their US business, which is ‘chinese walled’ from their UK business..
Even Survitec make the aircrew survival gear in the US…not the UK

Robert Blay
Robert Blay (@guest_820839)
20 days ago
Reply to  Rudeboy

The pilots and engineers don’t say that though. They say they wouldn’t want to go to war in anything else. People vastly underestimate the aircrafts capability, the sheer complexity of the project, and deliver what many thought was not achievable at all. An affordable 5th gen all aspect stealth strike fighter in three varients.

Rudeboy
Rudeboy (@guest_820845)
20 days ago
Reply to  Robert Blay

Will they still be saying that if someone asks them to engage a top end SAM site with PWIV though? From 20nm range at most….

Because that’s all they’ll have for the next 10 years….

Everyone was saying that Typhoon Tranche 1 wasn’t well equipped enough in terms of weapons 10 years ago….it had a gun, Asraam Block V and lower, Amraam and a LGB with GPS/INS (Enhanced Paveway II) and Litening III.

Meanwhile with F-35B we get the same for the next 10 years….

Only without a gun and an inferior targeting solution….

Robert Blay
Robert Blay (@guest_820874)
20 days ago
Reply to  Rudeboy

The vast difference between F35 and any Typhoon varient is survivability and sensor fusion. Regardless of weapons. Typhoons will not be committed on the first night of war against a integrated air defence system. F35 would be used. Along with F22, B21(when it is in service), B2s and cruise missiles, and drones. That is the difference. SPEAR3 will add another level of capability, know doubt about that. But even with PWIV, which is the most widely used and flexible weapon over the last 15 years, is still very deadly. And A2A, only the F22 can match its BVR capability.

Marked
Marked (@guest_820972)
19 days ago
Reply to  Robert Blay

Absolute bollocks. The f35 will be in detection range before it’s within paveway range.

And a2a 🤣. A typhoon can currently engage a threat at ranges the f35 pilot can only dream of. Then fly home without coming into an enemies weapon range.

Right now uk f35 is a 21st century fighter with 1990s weapons.

And no amount of burying your head in the sand fantasizing about sensors changes that.

Robert Blay
Robert Blay (@guest_821115)
19 days ago
Reply to  Marked

Every aspect of that comment is wrong. On every level. A Typhoon can’t engage anything, if it can’t track it. An F35 will have weapons in the air before the Typhoon pilot even knows he is being engaged.

Cripes
Cripes (@guest_820879)
20 days ago
Reply to  Baz Melody

You are correct about the proportion of.frontlinr aircraft in the fleet. Generally it is 50%. This is not very well understood by laymen or even those more interested in defence. A frontline squadron of 12 aircraft will generally have 3 additional aircraft.on site to cover for those in maintenance and a further 3 in storage aka war reserve. Then there is an attrition reserve, to cover expected losses through accidents and mishaps during the fleet’s lifetime. Then there is an OEU.for trials and tests, 2-3.per squadron for pilot training in the OCU and, in a fast jet Wing, generally 2… Read more »

klonkie
klonkie (@guest_821026)
19 days ago
Reply to  Cripes

Hi Cripes

From my air force days, your arithmetic on fighter sqn strength is spot on! 12 front line operational , 3-to 4 in maintenance !

Michael Hannah
Michael Hannah (@guest_820544)
20 days ago

Great, excellent wonderful, now can we please get real over the Typhoon fleet. Eg not retire the T1s or retire them and replace them with T4s

DP
DP (@guest_820548)
20 days ago

Do we foresee a 2nd F-35 base by the time we are up to 74 aircraft? The current split for Typhoon is roughly 50:50 between Lossiemouth and Conninsby is it not, but this accounts for around 130 aircraft in the current fleet, so roughly 65 per base. It makes a lot of sense to have all 74 F-35 on one base, access to stores, maintenance, training facilities etc. but from a ‘tactical’ and diversionary perspective, would a 2nd base make sense? Dare I say it, Yeovilton? Thoughts anyone?

Geoff Roach
Geoff Roach (@guest_820575)
20 days ago
Reply to  DP

We’ll probably have found a reason to get rid of all the Typhoons by then. 😏

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli (@guest_820606)
20 days ago
Reply to  DP

No HAS at Yeovilton.
The station needs HAS complexes, a suitable SSA, access to the Exolem PS system, and a host of other infrastructure to support fast jets.
For me, Leeming or take Leuchars back into the RAF.

Baz Melody
Baz Melody (@guest_820846)
20 days ago
Reply to  DP

When we started closing bases and consolidating our fleets it makes financial sense. But does it make Military sense? My answer would be no, as you have all your eggs in one basket, BZN runway is a classic example and has been a major issue and caused the entire AAR & transport fleet to operate from locations other than BZN, Costing the taxpayer money which is not accounted for. Not only that all you need is one well placed device or a launched munition and that unit/base is closed and you have no way of getting those assets to other… Read more »

Robert Blay
Robert Blay (@guest_821117)
19 days ago
Reply to  DP

The current planned fleet of 74 will sit nicely at RAF Marham. But if we do expand beyond 74, then I think a 2nd operating base would be on the cards. Most likely RAF Leeming. Or maybe an agreement with the USAF at RAF Lakenheath.

ABCRodney
ABCRodney (@guest_821448)
18 days ago
Reply to  DP

Even in peacetime there are always aircraft on deployment elsewhere so they are effectively dispersed. But for normal peacetime usage having the central base at Marham makes sense as it now has the specialised maintenance facilities needed for F35.
In wartime it’s another story and there are several non operational bases that still have working runways and the all important HAS.
Honington, Leeming, Leuchars, Kinloss and there are still HAS down at the former base at St Mawgan. So lots of places to safely hide them away.

Coll
Coll (@guest_820607)
20 days ago

Is Tranche 4 still on the books once it has started production?

Grizzler
Grizzler (@guest_820648)
20 days ago

Not enough for a comprehensive functionality – not if its to be shared.
4 front line squadrons should be the aim – 96 aircraft I think someone on here postulated would be the number required to provide that .
As previously highlight the decided military doctrine should drive numbers- not just finance I mean we did that with the carriers ironically.

and that goes for all forces/equipment BTW – I’m not suggesting fantasy number merely we should dentify a reasonable capability requirement and accomodate that properly.

Fat chance

Dave
Dave (@guest_820753)
20 days ago

Too few and too late, we need more and need them now, but then sunak and the other idiots in charge think the rich needs tax cuts more than the rest of us need defending

Ex_Service
Ex_Service (@guest_820772)
20 days ago

74 is not 138.

Though in fairness to HMG, most western governments are piss poor at preparing of the next major global conflict.

Have to blame Joe Public, with no major conflict requiring service to one’s country – including the ultimate sacrifice indescriminately – they cannot hold governments accountable as they know no different. Ignorance is bliss 😉

David Owen
David Owen (@guest_821130)
19 days ago

Pity they have not included the A version of the 35 for the raf 50 planes would be a game changer a and bs together