The UK has achieved Initial Operating Capability (from land) of the F-35 Lightning fleet. This means that in theory, the fleet can be used in combat.

IOC is the state achieved when a capability is available in its minimum usefully deployable form.

A tweet from Northrop Grumman seems to have beaten any official announcement, that tweet is displayed below. However, IOC (Land) was expected at this time anyway.

Recently, the 17th F-35B for the UK was delivered. 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 run brings us to the total of the first batch of aircraft, 48.

It is hoped that 138 F-35 aircraft will have been delivered by the 2030s. Around 2023, the Ministry of Defence have indicated that the UK will have 42 F-35 aircraft with 24 available as ‘front-line fighters’ and the remaining 18 will be used for training (at least 4-5 on the OCU), be in reserve or in maintenance.

The Lightning Operational Conversion Unit, No. 207 Sqn, will stand up at RAF Marham on July the 1st, 2019, followed by a second operational unit, 809 Naval Air Squadron (NAS), in 2023.

The last of the initial batch of 48 Lightnings is expected for delivery in January 2025, by which time a schedule for the remaining 90 aircraft, and the formation of further squadrons, will likely be in place.

F-35B is expected to reach IOC (Maritime) in 2020.

20 COMMENTS

  1. If by chance we do see F35A’s equipping at least two RAF squadrons, could they be manufactured in a shorter time frame? Personally, I believe that such a plan would have to wait until all F35B’s have been delivered, before the option of purchasing A’s could be considered. If that is the case, I doubt any A’s would be in service before 2028 at the earliest?

    • Not necessarily before all Bs are delivered. An additional order of As could be done. To sport up delivery we should negotiate to build them here on licence; would increase our numbers and create thousands of jobs as well as preserving our aviation design and manufacture industry

  2. If the RAF requires some F-35’s for long range deep strike missions, why not fund adaptations to the F-35B, such as removable lift-fan and drop-in fuel tank, also stealth drop tanks for all types. Extra fuel tanks for the F-35B would extend it’s range.
    The F-35B can be used conventionally by the RAF instead of STOVL. So maybe 12-24 F-35B’s could be adaptations, and the rest of the 138 committed to, are standard F-35B’s.
    I am aware that the bomb-bay is being lengthen a bit for Block 4 F-35B procurements.
    so the RAF need to take the decision to fund adaptations to the F-35B now.
    This option would be much cheaper then procuring a whole new type of aircraft!

    • Meirion X – why waste time and money making a bespoke version of the ‘B’ as you describe when either the ‘A’ or the ‘C’ would give the same advantages ?

      • The F-35A has a lot of difference from the F-35B, It will require another whole Training Unit(OCU), and logistics network, this could add £100’s millions, before actual combat aircraft.

        • Bearing in mind the A,B and C are variants of the Same Aircraft I wouldn’t have thought training and logistics would pose much of a problem,its been done before with the Tornado GR1/4 and F2/3,Harrier GR3/5/7/9 and Sea Harrier FRS1/2,if your idea was successful it would pose the same challenges you describe too.

    • Why not just buy the cheaper F35A model, the RAF need that model so they can fly better from land, and we need two adition squadrons and they should be A models for flexibility,

    • The next gen engine will add range and power. Unfortunately RR are left out of this US funded program. with more power, stealth tanks would be an option but the B’s problem is also weapon bay size. For deep strike you also want long range stand off weapons for which the B will be limited due to weapons bay size.

      The best option would be to have an agreement with US to lease some F35As or Cs at short notice should anything go pear shape and the UK had a stand alone deep strike requirement.

    • The range issue is irrelevant as we use tankers on all active missions so buying the A model with only 4 squadrons planned is stupid as it destroys flexibility.
      Given we only plan to have 9 active fast jet squadrons we need to keep the flexibility of deployment as the priority and the B model is best for this.

  3. The F35 was never designed for deep strike missions and does not have the features necessary for success in that role.
    As with claims made for Joint Strike Fighter air combat capability, claims made for the Joint Strike Fighter concerning the penetration of I.A.D.S. equipped with modern radars and SAMs are not analytically robust, and cannot be taken seriously.

    The F22 was/is the aircraft designed for that job and is a true stealth aircraft.

    • F22 is an air dominance fighter not strike it has a limited capability in that role.F35 is a strike aircraft by design and is optimised for this role not air dominance.
      It is currently the best type to penetrate well defended airspace and the UK version equipped with spear 3 is probably the best full stop at this.

  4. Stick to the plan and procure as many F35Bs as exchange rates allow. The UK doesn’t have the budget to dabble in As or Cs. One standard, one supply chain will lead to reduced costs in the long run.

  5. I think an F35A buy should be resisted as this would detract from the numbers that may be available for carrier opperations. This would reduce the power of the carrier force. It would also reduce the VTOL fexibilility on land.

    Leave deep strike to cruise missiles and drones. This would also reduce human losses on these dangerous missions.

    It is time we all thought Unmanned for deep strike.

    Rob N

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