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The 14th F-35B for the United Kingdom has been delivered by Lockheed Martin.

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.

As the only level one partner on the F-35 programme, the UK has been working closely with the US from the outset. UK industry will provide approximately 15% by value of each F-35 to be built, which are due to total more than 3000 in number. The programme has already generated $12.9Bn worth of orders for the UK and at peak production the programme will support over 24,000 jobs in the UK.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“This Christmas delivery is the 14th jet to join our fleet of fifth-generation F-35 fighters over in the US. The Carriers have taken centre-stage this year, and next year we look towards these aircraft joining us in Britain and taking off from HMS Queen Elizabeth’s enormous deck to undertake First of Class Flight Trials. With our famous Royal Air Force coming into its 100th anniversary, the F-35 keeps us right at the cutting-edge of combat air power.”

Lt. Col. Brian Bann walks down the flight line after landing an F-35B Lightning II at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.

Peter Ruddock, Chief Executive of Lockheed Martin UK said:

“There are more than 500 UK companies in our supply chain who play a vital role in producing every F-35 and we are proud to have delivered the UK’s 14th aircraft on schedule. More than 260 F-35s are now flying from 14 bases around the world and we look forward to supporting the UK’s Lightning Force, as they prepare to bring their F-35s to the UK and achieve initial operational capability next year.”

In 2018, the aircraft – along with the Navy and RAF pilots and ground crew – will arrive in the UK to officially stand up at RAF Marham in Norfolk.  RAF Marham will be the Main Operating Base for the Lightning Force in the UK and from here, they will deploy forward to either embark on-board our Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers, or operate from Deployed Operating Bases.

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.

FILE PHOTO: A UK F-35B.

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.

One of the UK’s first F-35Bs.

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.”

22 COMMENTS

  1. On the thread about Israel’s F-35 being declared operational and a few comments about why the UK has got so few so far, 2 points…

    1 – It hasn’t. We are getting them at, for an international partner, a decent rate. We now have more than Israel and possibly more than any country outside of the USA (I’d need to check on that one to be 100% sure).

    2 – I think we are doing absolutely the right thing keeping them based in the USA for so long. One thing that has differentiated the UK armed forces for a long time is the depth and quality of our training. Having the first UK air crews and ground crews out in the USA for a while gives them a far better learning environment than they would have if they were back in the UK. I’m not saying the Uk would be bad but in the USA they are in the heart of things with lots of LM and other subcomponent manufacturer’s engineers probably on site all the time because of so much USA commissioning going on and those engineers able to call up to get even deeper expertise from their HQs very easily from USA facilities. I suspect there’s also a whole extra level of diagnostic kit out in the USA. The UK crews also get to hang around and share experiences with not only themselves but also all their USA counterparts around them. Being immersed in this richest of learning environments should mean that the UK ground and air crews coming back from the USA when we do repatriate our aircraft will be the best trained and most knowledgeable of any non-USA operator in the world and will be able to pass that knowledge on to other UK crews in the training pipeline given them an advantage too.

    This all seems to be going pretty well to me.

    • Taking into account the LRIP 11orders we would be the biggest non US customer for long.

      48 F-35A for USAF, 18 F-35B for USMC, 8 F-35C for USN/USMC, 8 F-35A for Netherlands, 6 F-35A for Norway, 4 F-35A for Turkey, 8 F-35A for Australia, 1 F-35A for Italy, 1 F-35B for United Kingdom,

    • There is no point in moving them to the uk until QE is operational and they can begin training. Are the marines fully operational with their f35b on the wasp ships i thought the uk was training in one of their ships to speed up their integration on QE

  2. Have shared this on Facebook just to keep all the ignorant up to date. So annoying to hear all those bad mouthing the project through ignorance.

  3. Another 34 to go before we hit the 2026 target. Slow but steady progress.

    Given the dire financial constraints this is reasonable, I hope we get the full 138 by say 2035.

    • I just hipe we break 100. I dont see the uk ordering 138 unless the us threatens to strip them of being a teir 1 parter. Having said that a lot of european countrues will order the bare minimum. Turkey will prob order more than the rest of the EU

  4. haha hilarious to claim the F35B is cheaper than a Typhoon!

    first the B series hasn’t even reached real IOC yet, there are at least 2 more major software updates to go before it can be of ANY use in a conflict (B’s can’t even accurately deliver a weapon to a ground target without help yet )

    The projected unit cost for a basic operational B will mostly likely be around €132million, way above Tranche3B Typhoons

    A Typhoon is a mature aircraft, able to deliver full A2A and A2G weapons in all weathers (now that Brimstone has cleared trials), so far all the F35’s have done is do well in nicely designed combat scenarios, even it’s Paris Air Show display was a joke, completely empty and with only enough fuel to make it look sprightly. The red list of problems for the 35’s is huge, 7-8 years before it can be useful, and not as stealthy as is claimed, just ask the Israelis and the incidents they’ve had with getting detected rather easily

    But hey lets all clap at these expensive toys, on the ground squaddies are still lacking basic equipment to help them fight, decent weapons and vehicles to mention but a few.

  5. I think we should also be more aware (as is briefly mentioned) the USMC have committed in writing to adding Squadron strength numbers of aircraft to our own on-board numbers as they were given priority in F-35B production. And a little inter service rivalry will sharpen the learning curve somewhat. So next year QE may well have 12 UK aircraft and 12 USMC aircraft
    For me its just an amazing experience to once again see the UK building big carriers, being part of a huge new aircraft project and to see carrier strike restored to the best Navy in the world.

    • Hey Chris, the USMC are indeed expected to supply a squadron for QE maiden deployment and maybe even some V-22s but this will not be a regular occurrence. They have their own amphibious decks to fill. Outside a major joint operation or an occasional training opportunity our carriers won’t be hosting US aircraft on a regular basis. The plan is still 24 of our own F-35B (eventually) but even before that 12 F-35B, 9 Merlin ASW, 5 Merlin AEW plus some Apache and maybe a couple of Chinook will make a pretty decent package. The help from the USN & USMC to reconstitute our carrier capability has been awesome and without it we would have struggled so thank you Uncle Sam.

  6. Agree with you Chris.. This is a real genuine positive for the UK armed forces, much needed too. Like you will be looking forward to seeing the UK and USA F35’s operate from the Multi-Role carrier.

  7. Evening all
    Sorry for sounding a little pessimistic whilst this is great news it is expected news. We have on the one hand the Sec Def announcing with great fanfare a wonderful Christmas present (pretty sure the best presents are surprises but hey-ho) hidden away was another small part of the surface fleet being decommissioned. Decommissioning that wasn’t planned hence hidden from view. The MCM fleet is one of the RN best capabilities, trusted and used worldwide. 20 years ago the anti-sub capability was one of the RN’s best capabilities and now look where it is.
    Sometimes we get dazzled by the latest toy and forget that other capabilities as slowly being run down.
    So yes a great day – we have got another F-35 delivered on time and to schedule, tranactionally we got it at the price of 2 Hunt MCMV.
    As an aside, as these ships were scheduled for refit do we still pay now that they have been cancelled – it is not BAES fault after all, they entered into a contract in good faith.

  8. Realised some time ago two MCMV would be going was not a surprise today this news. Been saying for quite a while in Wikipedia when you look up the RN fleet numbers. Agree shame they cannot be placed in ready reserve.

  9. Very slow and lethargic introduction into service. I guess by not getting many of the LRIP aircraft we are allowing price to drop and the developmental problems to be ironed out.
    Just hope that full production batches are ordered in larger numbers. We need at least another 48 aircraft but would love to get upto the 138 promised in SDSR 2015.

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