The 13th F-35B for the United Kingdom has been delivered by Lockheed Martin.

It is believed 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.

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.

The variant to be used by the United Kingdom, the F-35B, is already less than Typhoon which has an estimated flyaway cost of around $141m.

According to a press release:

“The price reduction for the air vehicle was 8 percent and when adding in engine and fee, the overall total jet reduction is 7 percent. This is the largest F-35 contract ever for 90 jets, a more than 40 percent increase from LRIP 9 for 57 jets.”

The US Department of Defense and Lockheed Martin have reportedly reached an agreement in principle on the lowest priced F-35 run to date marking the first time the price for an F-35A has fallen below $100M.

The F-35A is expected to cost $85 million, less than any fourth-generation fighter ‘in the 2019-2020 timeframe’ with the other two F-35 variants also reducing significantly in price.

Jeff Babione, Lockheed Martin’s programme manager for the F-35, told reporters that the cost of the F-35 will drop to about $85 million by 2019, something also reiterated in a recent statement regarding price-concerns raised by US president-elect Donald Trump. This is understood to be thanks to efficiencies and cost-cutting manufacturing technologies. The B and C variants are also steadily reducing in cost and are expected to match it.

By contrast, the US Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter aircraft comes in at $98.3 million (2016 flyaway cost.

Jeff Babione said:

“We think that price with this capability will be unbeatable. You’ll be able to afford a fifth-generation airplane for what would be a fourth-generation price for anything else offered in the free world. The Lockheed/BAE/Northrop Grumman contractor team is hyper-focused on reducing the price of the airplane. It is a fact this program is over budget from 2001’s baseline. It’s just true. We will never underrun that number.

We will never save that money. It’s gone. What matters is since that time, what’s happened to the cost on the program? It’s gone down, not gone up. Judge the program today, not where it’s been, but where it is and where it’s going.”

The initial operating capability for carrier strike, which is scheduled for December 2020, will consist of one carrier, one squadron of Lightnings and Crowsnest airborne early warning and control helicopters.

Earl Howe, Minister of State for the Ministry of Defence and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords said during a debate in the House of Lords:

“My Lords, the initial operating capability for carrier strike, which is scheduled for no later than December 2020, will consist of one carrier, one squadron of Lightnings and Crowsnest.”

Captain Jerry Kyd, commander of HMS Queen Elizabeth, commented last year on the initial deployment and the gradual increase in air wing numbers:

“We’re constrained by the F-35 buy-rate even though that was accelerated in SDSR in 2015, so initial operating capability numbers in 2020 are going to be very modest indeed. We will flesh it out with helicopters, and a lot depends on how many USMC F-35s come on our first deployment in 2021.

But by 2023, we are committed to 24 UK jets onboard, and after that it’s too far away to say.”

21 COMMENTS

  1. Aircraft numbers delivered going up as costs are coming down.
    Next year will be an important year for the UK F35 fleet, the first flights from HMS Queen Elizabeth and the standing up of 617 Sq at Marham.

  2. Certainly on the face of it, all seems positive. Rising numbers coupled with new weapons and Block 4 maturity in the pipe line … Looks dangerously like good news for a change!

  3. Somehow the Government’s policy of delaying purchase (and allowing the USMC to have the first big bites at F-35B production) seems to be the right one. We got the 4 test & evaluation aircraft and added our training aircraft as needed and will have the right numbers when the QE is ready to take them.

    • Suspect more luck than judgement but we need all the luck we can.

      Think F-35 is going to be a worldie which will amplify Typhoon, carrier and associated weapons programs.

      Any news on Taranis?

  4. Morning
    This is good news, with hopefully more frames to follow as the pace increases and more pilots and maintainers get out through the system.
    Let’s hope this is not the start of the slight of hand activities that will start to mask the “rebalancing of resources to better align to the future threats, whilst painful for some are necessary. With a growing defence budget and £178bn investment in defence etc.”

    Just as an aside – since when did the delivery of a single a/c make so much “news”?. We know we Are getting 48, we know the schedule – it’s not earth shattering news.

    • I think because the program has been given so much stick ( not by me though ) and the costs are so eye watering, every single aircraft is a major asset in our much smaller armed forces.

  5. I agree with Lee H. We know all the details in this article already. Some real news would be a final commitment to the size of the active F35B force once the known 48 active aircraft are in service. All 3 service chiefs state minimum number needs to be 90+ so we can have a QE carrier in max surge mode (36-48) F35Bs onboard and retain a decent number for other RAF or Army support operations.
    An active fleet of just 48 is not enough.
    good to hear costs per aircraft continue to drop though.

  6. Doubt we will get 138.

    Cut order to 90 odd as suggested above and buy Taranis instead to make up the remainder.

    Got to be better than salami slicing yet again.

    But as alluded to elsewhere HMG will always make sure MoD eats itself rather than cutting juicy contracts to industry.

    • Afternoon Daniele
      Frontline
      4 Sqn @ 12 a/c per Sqn (operational fleet) 1.5 CR pilots per a/c
      48 a/c and 72 CR pilots

      Support
      1 Sqn @ 24 a/c (OCU) >24 CR pilots
      1 Sqn @ 12 a/c (operational trials/evaluation (OTE)) 1.5 CR pilots per a/c
      36 a/c and > 42 CR pilots

      Operational total
      Aircraft 84
      CR pilots > 114

      Reserve @ 15% above fleet
      Total a/c Yr 1 FOC circa 100 airframes

      Taranis
      The man in the loop argument will never go away. Autonomous aircraft where the decision to fire a weapon that will result in the loss of life is removed from the human and placed with the machine where its decision making is based on algorithms and logic tables is a huge leap. Technology is the enabler but to get to that you need People and Process first. Currently we select the people and train them the process to use the technology IAW guidelines that are defined as Rules of Engagement that are agreed by ministers within the boundaries of the law.
      Besides – if I was an adversary of Taranis I would look to take control or disrupt communications to it which is a lot easier when no human is there to override the interference.

      • Taranis being operated via a pilot in an F35 is the way to go with backup remotely.

        The F35 could secure the airspace and stand off sending the Taranis to execute the mission. that is my dream for both as it gives the UK a real force multiplier.

  7. It should have been a condition of the deal that we build our own F35s, like most countries do when buying military aeroplanes.

    • This is too big a project for us to build alone Stephen. As it is we supply c15% of everyone sold worldwide.

      Current confirmed orders over 3000, equivalent UK whole build contribution 450, our actual final buy, 138 (supposedly)

  8. I think we should be a bit bold here as a country and if LM want some good PR and are willing to sell us 48 in the next run at $85m then we should bite their hands off.

    Win / Win in that they get the kudos of a large international order and we get a great price and much needed numbers quicker.

    Surely worth a go – I mean a deal is a deal and we are not on our last legs financially. It will also secure UK jobs and perhaps we can manoeuvre LM to make the UK the maintenance centre instead of/alongside Turkey.

    We need to be doing things like this now – before Brexit.

        • Perhaps – but it is the type of thing we need to be doing and lets not forget we get at least 15% work share on every single air frame and this supports jobs.

          Post Brexit – we need more work and at the same time LM want the order and our military need the aircraft

          potentially we can save even more money by retiring the Tornado fleet and selling to Germany for spares.

          Now theres a plan

          • Evening Pacman27
            Retiring Tornado…
            I think the Tonka May have a couple of years in it yet especially in the tactical recce role. If anything we should be purchasing the ESM kits from the Germans.
            We need to keep them going until Typhoon has AESA installed, FAST packs added and they are SPEAR 3 compliant.
            We need them until F-35 is IOC.
            Alas, that won’t happen.
            Tornado has been derided over the years but is still RAF platform of choice for a variety of roles, it works and it has hours left in the frame.

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