The order of 17 new F-35B Lightning aircraft will be delivered between 2020 and 2022, say the Ministry of Defence.

The UK government say it has committed to procure a total of 138 aircraft over the life of the programme. The UK has already taken delivery of 17 F-35Bs.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“I am delighted to confirm that we are doubling the size of our F-35 force into a formidable fleet of 35 stealth fighters. This is another massive order in the biggest defence programme in history. Our military and industry are playing a leading role in the F-35 programme.

We are now building this game-changing capability that will soon be ready for frontline action. This programme is set to bring an immense boost of £35 billion into the British economy, and it will be welcome news to our firms that many more jets are now set for production.

The 17 jets being ordered are part of a $6 billion contract for 255 aircraft being built for the global F-35 enterprise.

CEO of Defence Equipment and Support, Sir Simon Bollom said:

“As the largest operator of F-35s outside of the US, the acquisition of 17 more Lightning aircraft underscores our commitment to the programme. This new contract demonstrates how our Armed Forces are equipped by DE&S with the latest equipment and support.”

74 COMMENTS

  1. Great! In the spirit of UKDJ’s announcement a while back to add more analysis and comment to stories a couple of obvious questions spring to mind that I think would be worth editing the article to add answers to. My questions are…

    1 – Is this in any way a change to the previously announced buying schedule (an acceleration for instance) or is it simply confirmation that we are implementing the previously announced plan as per the schedule?

    2 – Are these 17 all from a single LRIP or is this the U.K. booking and paying for slots across a number of upcoming LRIPs?

    • I think its just the government repeating themselves. I doubt the schedule has changes from what was previously published. I doubt orders could even be moved forward unless someone cancelled theirs or there was an urgent operational requirement like Argentina just invaded the Fawklands this morning, can we please have 17 F35s before Christmas.

  2. Good news, although I still think that 4 squadrons is too few. Unless they will be larger squadrons comprised of around 18 planes each.

    138 over the lift of the program should easily be able to field 5 squadrons totalling 60 planes, I’d have thought. We have 7 frontline squadrons from 150 Typhoons.

    I also think that we should buy some Hawk 200s for lower end duties such as close air support. It’d boost airframe numbers and in low intensity conflicts could give ground forces CAS without diverting Typhoons or F35, allowing them to focus on more important strike and air to air combat missions.

    They’re also cheap and could buy 10 for the price of a single F35.
    7 frontline squadrons of Typhoons
    5 frontline squadrons of F35s
    3-4 squadrons of Hawk 200s.

    I’d see stage 1 of a major conflict using the F35s to attack radar and SAM defences. Stage 2 using Typhoons and F35 for strike missions against airfields, military bases, etc, and stage 3 using Hawks to support our ground forces while the Typhoons and Lightnings take on the meatier roles.

    • A small number of heavy bombers would be nice for stage 2 and could offer an export market if created at an affordable price. As far as I can see it is not something anyone offers for export.
      Let’s do a stealth Vulcan 2 I say!

      • Problem is heavy bombers are expensive, stealth ones even more so. We could be paying billions for a single squadron of planes that can only perform a single role: bombing.

        As our air force is so small we need all assets to be multirole instead of single use. That’s more for countries like the US who can still afford them.

        I’d also argue that the only real advantage of a heavy bomber these days is increase range, but we have decent sized aerial refuelling tanker fleet so that negates the need.

        • I think when used correctly they could actually save money in the long run. There were some interesting papers I read after the attack on Libya that highlights how much more efficient stealth bombers were than using strike aircraft when attacking things like airfields. A single (or two) B-2s could safely neutralize an airfield on its own, aside from a few tanker top offs on its round trip around the atlantic. Similar attacks by strike aircraft needed around 40 aircraft to have the same effect! First you had the actual strike aircraft, which could only carry a few munitions along with their drop tanks, then you had electronic support aircraft providing jamming, then SEAD aircraft, fighter aircraft providing cover and quite a few tankers to support all of that. contrast that to a single B-2 carrying 80 500 lb bombs or 16 2000 lb ones. The B-21 is expected to cost somewhere around 400 million, I don’t know if the US will offer that for export or not but I think bombers are ideal for a lot of missions and it may be a good idea to purchase a few. Maybe purchase those instead of the trident replacement and go the cruise missile route as nuclear deterrent.

          • I’m still not sold on heavy bombers.

            An airfield can be neutralized by a single Typhoon or F35 with one or two Paveway bombs aimed at the runway(s).

            Blow a hole on the runway and the enemy planes can’t take off. Cheaper, and they can then take on any aircraft who come up to defend it or aid an allied aircraft coming under attack from enemy aircraft in the vicinity.

            4 F35s or 6 Typhoons for the cost of a single B21.

        • The USAF will fly the B-52 until 2050, making it it a hundred years old. The Vulcan could have done the same thing, with upgrades in avionics, engines, structural reinforcement, probably reduction in crew to 4 or even 3. With a long-range ASM, it could sat out of range of many adversaries air defenses. (Think Argentina).

      • there are two b1b bombers in storage for future regeneration at the AMARG facility in arizona google amarg inventory 600 f-16’s in reserve plus over 200 f-15’s and 18’s the u.k should seek a dal to procure a lot of this stuff. two b1b’s would mean the u.k could resurrect bomber command.

        • 2 B1b bombers wouldn’t resurrect bomber command though. We’d need at least a dozen; say 6 as a frontline squadron, two for OCU and then the other 4 as spares.

          I don’t think we need heavy bombers though.

      • There’s been discussion in the US about the bomb truck concept, the stealth fighters seek out and select targets the bomb truck then delivers stand off weapons. I believe the B52 will take this role in the future and hence why its getting new engines = more range and loiter time.

        The concept make a lot of sense, you need less front line stealth airframes.

      • T.S -in the day’s before Stealth existed the Vulcan Bomber was supposedly hard to detect by Radar.Imagine a copy made now with modern materials, manufacturing techniques, engine’s and avionics,I’m sure the Blueprints must still exist somewhere ☺

    • Steve, I like the idea regarding Hawks. I would perhaps suggest Gripen E as a lower cost ‘ Jaguar’ type replacement.

      Three Squdrons of Gripen E’s would be a great asset, highly complimentary to the force structure and fully interoperable with F35 and Typhoon.

    • There’s already Hawk squadrons that play the enemy in war games ect and for testing ships and ground units. 100 squadron I think, but they are also a training squadron but do the atack role pretty good…

  3. I was thinking of fast air but I agree, yes. A few more Apaches wouldn’t go amiss.

    With regards to the Hawk I think it’s daft that we build this plane in the hundreds and sell abroad but don’t use ourselves outside of fast jet training and aggressor squadron.

    They’re only £18million each and could buy 10 for only slightly more than a single F35.

    4 squadrons totalling 48 planes plus 30 spares would be £1.4 billion: the cost of only 10 F35s.

    I’d never say buy those instead of F35 or Typhoon but could certainly add to the aircraft fleet.

    • Could they survive in a modern combat environment though?
      I’d like to see us design our planes in families rather than one off airframe types. All developed alongside each other using the same r&d to save money and create a range of planes which share similar design cues and technologies.
      For instance:
      Mini Tempest – scaled down airframe, simpler electronics and single engined to sit in the Hawk to F16 range
      Tempest – out and out air superiority fighter, twin engines, all singing and dancing as planned now.
      Carrier Tempest – stovl or stobar version
      XL Tempest – scaled up quad engined long range version with 2-3 times the weapons load of the standard for heavier bombing.
      Idea would be sharing same stealth, scalable airframe, same engine, same avionics with scalable plug in systems, shared weapons management system.
      This family approach could be quite tempting for other nations, who could buy into a scalable multi plane type package but with training and maintenance cost savings due to the all the shared elements.
      We get multiple cutting edge airframe types for different purposes at a hugely reduced development cost (over developing separately), and a hugely marketable range of products to suit most needs.

      • The Hawks can carry AMRAAM and ASRAAM so they’d be able to defend themselves and I think they’d do better than an A10 would in a modern war.

        I really love your idea of having a single common design and multiple forms of Tempest! Would save money ultimately and would be a great export assert.

        We should do that with ships and subs as well. Develop a single sub design with both SSN and SSBN versions.

        • and ssk conventionals one astute at£1.4 billion, or 14 gotland class conventional s at£100 million, the navy would love 14 more boats for the same cost.

        • “The Hawks can carry AMRAAM and ASRAAM” –

          No they can’t, only T1A were wired to carry munitions in UK service. The only guided missile cleared on the type was the AIM9L.

          • If you mean Wikipedia a long list of smart munitions including Sea Eagle and Sting Ray torpedoes are listed as weapons that can be carried by the Hawk 200. Frankly it is utter nonsense, more wishful thinking and some over enthusiastic interpretation of long defunct British Aerospace sales brochures than anything close to the truth.

            Of the three operators of the 200 Series they have only ever carried the ADEN gun pod, Sidewinder-L/M/P, unguided bombs, unguided rocket pods, AGM-65 Maverick, GBU-12 and various cluster munitions.

            The 200 series is not even marketed anymore, it is basically an early generation export orientated variant of the TMK1 marketed at operators of the Strikemaster and similar types with the AN/APG-66 radar from an early block F-16A/B.

            To get a modern equivalent would require a version of a late generation Hawk, it would be entering a saturated market with plenty of equivalent and superior light fighter options available.

            The Hawk 200 series was a niche product.

          • I believe its more flexible than the Textron Scorpion. The Scorpion uses off the shelf parts but I don’t think you can swap the engine modules from 1 to 2 or the wings. Aeralis uses a common core fuselage with option for engine modules and wings.

            I really hope they get the interest and funds to get a demonstrator flying. They state its cheaper than even the TX from Boeing which is under $20m if so they should get orders.

        • the typhoon and f 35 are infinitely more useful for the nations defence another bunch of hawks wouldn’t be able to perform at the level to repel a major attacking air force

          • They wouldn’t be intended for that.

            The Hawks’ role would be close air support of our ground forces, suppression of enemy ground forces, like the A10 of the Harrier did.

            They’d be sent in once our Typhoons and F35s have cleared the battlefield of enemy aircraft and fixed SAM sites to support our ground forces. Lower end of the scale to free up Typhoons and Lightning for strike missions and air to air combat.

          • “Lower end of the scale to free up Typhoons and Lightning for strike missions and air to air combat.” –

            It wouldn’t free up Typhoon and Lightening just cut their funding.

            What do you propose to be cut from the defence budget to pay for this?

  4. Old news.

    We had committed to 48.

    I saw the headline and thought these were the first of the additions.

    The MOD are masters at repeating things and acting like it’s a bonus.

    • Much as I love this site I do think UKDF should put this into context rather than just regurgitating what seems to be misleading propaganda that HMG produces by repeating previous announcements as if they were new initiatives. I thought there was an article on UKDF a few months back saying just this, that they were going to do more than just cut and paste MoD press releases and add some extra value going forward. This is a case where just a coup,e of extra sentences to say it’s not actually new but confirmation of expected progress against the previously announced buy schedule. I do realise that this site is run by volunteers and it does take time to chase sources and get clarification so maybe the aspiration stated in that previous article has simply turned out to not be practical across all articles where the volunteers have limited time.

      By the way, it’s not just the MoD who are masters of “repeating things and acting like it’s a bonus”. The Treasury has been a master of reannouncing “x billion for such and such” as if it’s new money when it’s actually the same announcement as a previous one. Gordon Brown was a master of that when he was in No 11. He also had the trick of making it slightly more subtle by announcing something like £25bn more on something or other where only a couple of bn was new money and all the rest from a bunch of previously announced funding initiatives. Luckily the BBC used to do a pretty good job of directing the numbers and highlighting any sleight of hand but the mainstream media don’t care about defence much so MoD announcements don’t seem to get the same press scrutiny.

      Thanks to everyone who helped clarify that this is not anything genuinely new or extra.

  5. Here’s me thinking we were getting 17 more than already planned! I should have known better by now! We aren’t getting them quick enough either , 17 will take 4 years! That’s crazy!

    • Only way we get more than planned is if Gavin Williamson gets his Christmas wish and defence gets a few billion a year more added to the budget.

      If we got something approaching 2.5% then we could potentially be looking at more. I wouldn’t hold my breath though.

  6. Pity we can’t increase the buy rate especially as the Italians are slowing down their orders. I suppose In the long term we will have the more up to date blocks. But when you have large carriers and the raf very busy in Syria it’s a negative in what is good news. I don’t like the term massive order though as 17 is a drop in the ocean (considering this is about 10% of the supposedly planned 138) also the usmc will have more than us on their own- the mod needs to get some perspective I think

  7. The problem with hawks (high/low mix) is that the pilot still has to be as skilled and fully trained especially for cas and although typhoons and f35s are expensive they are more likely to get aircrews home (supersonic, greater redundancy, DASS etc.). The hawks would need large investment in dass etc. The government can easily write off the more expensive equipment, but the scrutiny and propaganda from losing a pilot is more serious. I can only see a UCAV being a cheap end alternative platform otherwise the government will be accused of using the snatch land rover of the sky if a hawk is lost.
    Furthermore you either have 1) 2 planes per pilot 2) have a two tier pilot system. There are problems with either:
    what highly trained pilot is going to say leave the typhoon at home I am taking the hawk today! And if they get shot down? Oops I should have taken the typhoon?
    Also will the hawks pay for themselves if an addition to the inventory? The hawks would need large investment in dass etc. As Syria is showing larger aircraft can carry out 8 hour missions with large amounts of small smart bombs therefore they are a force multiplier and could work out cheaper than a hawk. The other problem maybe if the enemy knows it is your tactic to use high end and then low end the air defence systems are likely to hide until the low end comes out to play.

    CAS is highly specialised and I would not like to have a lower trained pilot in the sky if I were troops in contact and also what are the pilots of the hawks going to do whilst the sky/ground is being cleared (if it is you can get every manpad and mobile sam). There would also be extra wages and costs. Examples of harrier and a10 are not really good both are bigger and carry greater payload – the harrier has already been assessed as not being capable in the modern environment and the a10 is built like an absolute tank and purposely built for CAS etc. even then the USA has looked to retire it due to concerns about subsonic speed.

    Maybe in extremely low threat environments Africa etc. but then you could use tucanos in that situation?

  8. F35B is probably a game changer for the RAF.
    We dont need bombers, we need T26 with 32 strike cells each, to complement our astute’s which do our saturation bombing (if we were to do such a thing again).
    Hawk and Gripen are great in their own ways, but we need to concentrate on F35B, Typhoon, Tempest and for helicopters, Chinook, Merlin and Apache. Better to have critical mass of great platforms than low numbers of multiple platforms.

    A UK squadron should be 16 aircraft (4 operational, 4 High readiness, 4 Medium readiness/Training,4 low readiness/maintenance).

    The USMC is going to have 400 F35’s, the UK needs a combat ability that is similar to that of the USMC, but I would settle for 8 Squadrons (128) F35B, 4 Sqdns of Typhoon and 16 Sqdns of Taranis (controlled by F35B).

    As for Apache I would buy 8 squadrons (especially given their current price) absolute bargain.

    • Only thing I disagree on is the numbers.

      I think 8 squadrons of Typhoons
      5 squadrons of F35s
      4 squadrons for CAS. Either Hawk, Reapers or Taranis.

      Typhoon is going to be the main workhorse of the RAF for the next 25 years. Lower range, bigger payload and cheaper.

          • Yeah these numbers seem better, more lower cost bomb trucks that can do routine air policing too (typhoon) with smaller number of higher end lightnings during carrier strike, all augmented by drones and Apache for cas and coin.

            I’d go 6 lightning (2 carrier, 2 raf, 2 ocu/maintenance/training) that can surge to 3 on queen Elizabeth. If necessary two squadrons on each carrier if needed both to create redundancy. 72 aircraft plus a few spares (saying that the production run is long and we might just be able to buy additional aircraft if we lose any due to accidents or from allies in the event of losses in action).

            I’d go 8 operational typhoon squadrons (another two in training, ocu and maintenance) to act as raf workhorse and ensure we use lightning for what only it can do. Then retire chally and go bigger on Apache and drones like pacman.

  9. Apache Is Half the price of the Westlands, Finemechanica, Leonardo offering Yet we will only have @50 to replace the original 60 odd , If we’re lucky. ( please excuse the Spellings but i’m In a stage of my life where I don’t actually Give a Flick ).

  10. Considering what is going on at the minute polictically and the constant delayed mini SDSR, I will take a firm orders as a huge positive. I wasn’t expecting any new confirmed buys on anything until mid to late next year once the dust has settled a bit on brexit and policticains stop mass in fighting and return to the job we voted them to do of running the country.

    • while we speak bigger budget, what about the submarine fleet? in particular the return to conventional submarine? see small swedish sub sinks u.s fleet the gotland submarine, was deemed so good the yanks leased them! 100 million each, you could get 14 of them for the price of 1 astute. what do the forces want quantity or vastly overpriced bells and whistles? the retiring collins class of the R.AN , CONSIDERED TO STILL BE A HIGH END CONVENTIONAL SUBMARINE, ALTHOUGH BASICALLY A REVAMPED BRITISH UPHOLDER CLASS. MAY BE WORTH A 2ND HAND PUNT, whats more, they’re already built.

      • The part of the puzzle you didn’t think about is manning. We need a certain number of astutes as conventional subs only excel close to shore, then the question is where to put the money considering the limited number of sailors. Is it better to have 1 astute or 1-2 conventional (about the same number of sailors)

        • i’m interested in how much effort will be put into recruitment, the ‘i was made in the royal navy advert is as bad an effort that could be made, truly abysmal

        • take for example the gotland class, they have crews of less than 50 even the DRAFTEES COULD CREW OF A CONVENTIONAL BY DRAFTING TRAINEES FROM EACH FINISHING TRAINING COURSE I’VE ALWAYS BELIEVED THAT TRAINING ESTABLISHMENTS SHOULD HAVE THEIR RECRUITS PRE DRAFTED TO SHIPS HIGHLIGHTED BY THE r.n TO SHIPS DECREED AS PRIORITY FOR CREWING.

  11. 33 F35 delivered or on order. That’s more than the total number of Sea Harriers available to the Fleet Air Arm during the Falklands War. Worth pointing this out every time one of those ‘carrier with no aircraft’ comments comes up.

  12. ITS THE SAME RECURRING QUESTION DO WE WANT NUMBERS OF SHIPS OR ONES WITH THE LATEST UNPROVEN BELLS AND WHISTLES ‘ I’D PREFER NUMBERS OF VESSELS.

      • Leave the inshore stuff to the rest of nato, let’s add value to the alliance deterrence of Russia by of focusing on SSN. Now I know it’s not popular but I’d scrap dreadnought, build another five astute and put nuclear cruise across the fleet. I know the it’s a step down from platinum to silver deterrent (ssbn, icbm, cruise, bomb) but enough of a deterrent in my view, allows us to recapitalise our conventional forces and with the number of platform that could deliver a nuclear strike it would still b hard to stop.

  13. As the only interest I have in aircraft is those that fly from the deck of a ship I will leave the RAF limited in my comment.
    Preferably I would like to see traps installed on to the carriers, cats I’ll leave to the future. The reasoning for this is simple first it means that American and if need be French aircraft can land, but it would also give the option of the F35C if need be. I suspect that the C version would be able to use the ski jump with a reduced payload.
    People have spoken about Taranis, this is a platform if the UK goes ahead with it that could be very useful to the RN for deep strike missions, anti radar missions, reconnaissance missions and air-to-air refueling. Again they could with vector thrust engine nossels could use the ski jump.
    As for cats well hopefully in the future the electro-magnetic cat can be installed into the ski jump giving a combined weight-lift-thrust output.
    What would also help the RN is if the bloody wings on the F35B would fold, so could that be fixed, please.
    Merlin with Crows Nest is a good interim possibly for the next 20 years but as the surveillance world get more and more complicated there will be a point where either an advanced Osprey will be needed or a twin engined turbo prop of some kind will be required to carry the amount of equipment. Again this would be a case for a future installation of cat and traps, I can almost see the situation where the QEs would be extended, eg a new lift section aft of the forward superstructure put in place giving three lifts.
    Does the RN need a CAS aircraft NO does the RAF need one, I think so, attack helicopters will find life difficult in the close support role if the enemy has fast combat aircraft in the area, the old Harrier was good in this role and it is a pity that we did not develop this aircraft concept further. And no the F35 B is not a development of the Harrier but more a development of the YAK 38.
    I have also noted the argument about bombers, when I was younger I wanted to know why we never took Concord, but two rotational bays and inserted them into Concord for cruise missiles. do we have the finances for a bomber such as the B2 No could we afford a B1 concept probably but for the limited production run of possibly two squadrons the development cost would be to high. Unless of coarse we build a supersonic airliner and convert it.

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