The 10th F-35 for the United Kingdom has been delivered by Lockheed Martin.

It is expected that all 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 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 latest production run will see the cost of the F-35 fall with the cost of the F-35A falling below $100m in addition to significant decreases in the cost of the other two variants, the F-35B and F-35C.

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 below figures also include engines and adjust for inflation and show a continued drop in price.

F-35A conventional takeoff and landing model: $117 million, $112 million, $108 million.
F-35B “jump-jet” model: $145 million, $137 million, $134 million.
F-35C carrier variant: $134 million, $130 million, $129 million.

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.”

Recently, the Ministry of Defence confirmed plans for the deployment of American F-35 aircraft alongside British jets aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth. The addition of US Marine Corps aircraft will see HMS Queen Elizabeth sail with 24 or so F-35Bs in addition to around 14 or so helicopters for her maiden deployment. It is understood that the US aircraft will augment British on the carriers first deployment.

According to the Ministry of Defence:

“We are fully committed to both the F-35 and the Queen Elizabeth Carrier programmes -both of which are on track to enter initial maritime operating capability in December 2020 as planned.

We expect Queen Elizabeth carrier to commence sea trials in 2017, and have been clear that UK F-35 aircraft will begin flying from Queen Elizabeth in 2018.”

The aircraft, which are currently in the United States being piloted by British crews for training and development tasks, will begin to conduct flight trials off of HMS Queen Elizabeth next year when the vessel heads to the US after the carrier finishes sea trials and enters service, marking a major milestone in the programme.

The term now used for the carriers embarked squadrons is ‘Carrier Air Wing’ (CVW). The vessels are capable of deploying a variety of aircraft in large numbers, up to a maximum in the upper fifties in surge conditions although this is unlikely to happen short of a major conflict.

Captain Jerry Kyd also spoke about the vessels:

“The Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers are the product of a pioneering partnership between UK industry and the Ministry of Defence. As the Royal Navy’s flagships for the next 50 years, these ships will employ cutting edge technology to deliver fighting power at sea and over land.

Symbolising our nation in both steel and spirit, the Queen Elizabeth Class carriers will be powerful ambassadors for Britain on the global stage, in both peace time and times of conflict. These ships truly will be at the forefront of British military power projection for decades for generations to come.”

It recently emerged that HMS Queen Elizabeth will now sail for sea trials in Summer instead of Spring as previously expected.

49 COMMENTS

  1. In an ideal world our F35B order would be cut to say 90-100 aircraft and these aircraft would then solely belong to and operated by the FAA whilst we could also order say 100-120 F35As for the RAF.

    • the wranglng between the faa and the r.a.f must be dealt with, also the alleged army/r.a.f arguements over who should fly the new apache choppers

  2. Why are we getting the F-35B for the RAF as well? What’s the point? They operate from runways do why not just have the cheaper, better F-35A for them?

  3. I suppose that for now the very slow ramp-up makes sense given that the unit price is coming down and down but when we hit 2020 and have a fully worked-up carrier to deploy onto I would really like to see the buy rate accelerated further.

    Does anyone know the dates of those LRIPs? I’m wondering which LRIP is the one that coincides delivery-wise with QEC becoming operational for fixed wing operations. That LRIP and maybe the one or two after it would seem to be the ones where bigger orders should be placed.

    • At the moment Europe has only one small carrier with a few old harriers on offer.
      The French should have gone ahead with PA2 to cover when Charles de Gaule is undergoing one of its regular refits, such as at present. Big error by the French.
      Very few nations will be able to place a couple of 5th gen fighters on a carrier and deploy it anywhere in the world.

  4. The RAF should get the F35A, the RN the F35B.

    Just enough B variants for viable carrier strike capability say 48, that would leave 90 A models for the RAF to replace the Tornado.

    Of course if Corbyn gets in power, then we will be lucky to get more than 40 as any government he led would deliver deep defence cuts as national finances nose dive.

    • 48 would be no where near enough for a decent carrier strike would it? If we went with a split F35B and F35A we’d need individual sustainment fleets for each and maybe even separate OCUs so 48 F-35B would probably yield a deployable force of 24, maybe surging to 36 at best if anything that wasn’t in deep maintenance could be called into service. We would be kissing goodbye to ever deploying a really potent strike package. Having all 138 as F-35B at least gives us the option, should we ever need it, to put a decent air wing on both carriers simultaneously or really load up a single carrier if the other is in refit. (Comments reported on this site from senior RN staff have hinted that the fully loaded F-35 capacity is actually a fair bit higher than the 36 usually talked about.)

      • I agree

        We need to stick with a fleet of 138 F35B’s (about 8 Squadrons) as this will give us the cover we need.

        I would then suggest we take a good look at Taranis and how we can use the F35’s to manage 2-4 Taranis’ to target with a payload.

        This could be a viable long term way of getting our Air Force back up to a critical mass.

        We will need to keep the Typhoons in operation as long as possible and replace with whatever 6th Gen is developed.

        This for me is a sensible approach as we can have 8 Sqdns of Typhoon (16 per sqdn) , 8 F35 and unto 16 Taranis (or its equivalent when ready).

        Taranis would then become the bombers we have lost over the years, Typhoon the air cover and F35b’s for situational awareness and management.

        Not all can run off the carriers and it may be a bit too forward looking for some, but it is the way things are moving and I would embrace this technology.

        Standardise our fleets to reduce costs as much as possible and buy more kit that can work alongside what we currently have.

      • The A variant offers greater war fighting capability, it can lift a greater load to a greater distance than the B.

        To fulfil a mission you need far fewer A aircraft than B aircraft.

        Plus they cost less to buy and operate.

        • I don’t argue against A if we were adding to the total number of F-35s that we are ordering but I worry that dropping much below 138 F-35B would, unless we were to seek help from the USMC, be walking away from the ability to ever use our carriers to their full capacity if we needed to.

          I take your point about range with no caveats but for weapons load, although I also take your point, for many of the sort of operations that the RAF has been involved in in the last 10 years I don’t think it’s been much of a limitation. Due to the certainty required in selecting targets in the sort of battle-spaces that we work in at the moment many aircraft return with no weapons released and for no-fly-zone enforcements weapons are also rarely released. Yes, for an all-out war that heavy punch is useful but short of that I’m not convinced how big an issue weapons load is.

          • I would suggest building two very large aircraft carriers was an error given the budget constraints facing the UK.

            To compound that error by exclusively purchasing the B variant to equip those carriers when the A model offers a far superior warfighting capability would be a mistake.

            We are where are and not where we would like to be. Tough decisions have to be made, buying A instead of B for the RAF is one of those tough decisions.

          • That’s a reasonable summary and I agree, tough decisions – if it was easy and clear-cut you and I probably wouldn’t have differing views. Given our current starting point (i.e. the carriers now exist) then, without extra budget, there is no entirely satisfactory answer. Either solution is a compromise in some way.

    • I would suggest that 24 F35Cs would be a good addition to the F35Bs as they would give the RAF the long range strike that would be an asset while avoiding refuelling issuse (F35A is fitted with a boom receptacle) and being aligned to USMC.

      • The UK will operate aircraft, p8 and rivet joint, that require boom refuelling.

        Better to modify our tanker fleet.

      • David – I am confused as to why you would buy F-35C aircraft designed for CATOBAR carrier use only for the RAF? I could follow an argument for the RAF to have additional F-35A aircraft to augment the multi-role Typhoons (post 2019) but a ‘C’ simply because of different refuelling systems? It is heavier and more expensive than the ‘A’ and I am sure it is not beyond the wit of BAE or someone to add the ‘B’ and ‘C’ drogue systems to an ‘A’ airframe.

        Having said that I was never sure why the ‘B’ was not given the folding wingtips (made by BAE as it happens) of the ‘C’. Especially those for the FAA that will see far more operational life at sea on the carriers. Bigger wings, more lift and less hangar space.

        • My logic is to maximise the radius of action as the C has longer legs than the A. If one did buy As then installing probes shiukd not be too difficult given the commonality of the designs (?), or am I being naive?

  5. Why? We need 138 Bs to enable us to surge large numbers to one or both carriers in an emergencey. we cant do that with As. The RAF has not shot down an enemy aircraft since WW2. Why constrain the carriers to cater to them. We have spent about £7 billion on the carriers and you want to ensure that we can never fill them with planes. It would also increase the through life cost of the fleet to have two variants and it would destroy the fleet managment system. Tornados capabilities are being migrated to Typhoon so no replacment required.

    • The fact is that we are buying 138 F35Bs throughout the plane’s operation life. That’s over something like 40 years. Unless something changes and we buy more air-frames, I doubt we’re ever likely to be able to field more than 48 at any one time

      • Well said David – 138 over the lifetime of the program – and that was the small print that most missed in SDSR 2015 – which never said we would have them all together. How convenient for HMG…..

  6. I think Mike is right about Corbyn. If he gets in the forces will get gutted beyond repair and the nation forever diminished. The whole fleet may end up 6 type 31. Fingers crossed that doesnt happen and someone at the Admiralty has the balls to say no to Cutlass/Avenger.

    • I don’t have any time for Corbyn, but Labour has committed to spending the NATO minimum of 2% of GDP on defence – whether they would keep to that is another question, of course…….

      • These are politicians though and politicians love playing with definitions. The Tories fudged the figures and added stuff to get to the 2%. Labour could add in even more stuff to hide cuts. At the most extreme they could combine the aid budget and the defence budget to claim a total of 2.7% currently being spent on defence and then cut 0.7% to trim it back to the Labour manifesto commitment of 2%. No prizes for guessing where those 0.7% of cuts would fall under a Corbyn government.

        • Maybe, but what gets forgotten is that the definition is decided by NATO, not the UK government – the Tories “fudge” is compliant with NATO’s definition of defence spending.

        • The cuts I’ve seen to defence by the Tories are far worse than anything Labour has ever done. Strange how quiet the right press is about it.

          • HF – You mean the cuts forced on a responsible Coalition Government in 2010 having to make cost savings as a result of the economic failure of 13 years of Labour Government? Failure that included a £35 Bn ‘Black Hole’ in the defence budget alone where equipment was ordered with no money to pay for it? Like 2 new carriers: One of which Labour would have mothballed or sold to India?

            Always fun to see a Leftie trying to blame the two years of a Tory Government for the events of the previous 18 years…..

  7. At least we should have 72 operational f35. Four squadrons of 12 for the RAF to replace the tornado and two squadrons of 12 for the Navy which can remain constantly on one carrier so they have at least the basic aircraft for air cover.

  8. We need all 138. No ifs no buts no maybes. Current plans are for 2 FAA squadrons and 2 RAF plus the OCU (12) and 3 aircraft at Nelis AFB for testing. Thats 63 aircraft but there are aspirations to increase the size of squadrons to cover the expected low availability of F-35B compared to 4th gen fighters. Realistically the squadrons need to be 16 strong to ensure 12 are always available. This means 82 aircraft used (including OCU and US based). That leaves a sustainment fleet of 56. That should allow a fith squadron to be formed in the mid 2020s (with any luck).

  9. I love all the ‘we’ this and ‘we’ that. ‘We’ don’t own anything, the Government does. I seriously wonder why ‘we’ are frittering all this tax money on military matters when ‘we’ need extra hospitals and schools.

  10. The labour manifesto commitment to spending 2% of GDP on defence will not survive the reality of real world economics if the labour party gain power.

    Rapidly deterioration of national finances will result in defence cuts, or do you think a corbyn led government would rather cut the NHS, education, welfare budgets in preference to the defence budget.

    The labour manifesto is a worthless piece of paper

    • And you think the Conservative manifesto is any better? The Tories are the ones who have made massive cuts to the defence budget since 2010.

      • That’s for the voters to decide on the 8th of June.

        While not likely it is possible, at the head of a coalition with the SNP.

    • i,ve received a letter from harriet harmon(in response to a letter i sent via my local m.p the show defence sec saying that labour is committed to the current armed forces plans, with the exception of the new ,’bombers’ which it is thought will spiral in cost to the level where it is to the detriment of the other forces while still supporting its commitment after the parliamentary vote on maintaining the nuclear deterrent.

  11. Having seen this aircraft in the flesh, it’s apparent that it looks and sounds credible. With downward cost on the horizon, for the vertical takeoff variant, it may just be possible to purchase more airframes long term. Sustainable fleet numbers are vital due to manufacturing lead times being so long, and possible wartime losses being unacceptably high. I’d like the UK to have a capability to maintain a frontline of 70 planes, at all times, and only additional purchases could achieve such a strategy.

    • its one ugly sucker , not like the f 16 which was a stunning looking fighter. one site worth looking at is the AMARGfacility inventory and see where the u.k should be shopping 300 f 16’s are in storage for possible reactivation we sold 72 harriers for£116 million how much would we get for the same amount ? i’d guess we could replace the tornado for a lot less than the purchase of a replacement such as the f35.

      • its one ugly sucker , not like the f 16 which was a stunning looking fighter. one site worth looking at is the AMARcfacility inventory and see where the u.k should be shopping 300 f 16’s are in storage for possible reactivation we sold 72 harriers for£116 million how much would we get for the same amount ? i’d guess we could replace the tornado for a lot less than the purchase of a replacement such as the f35. the u.k could double the size of the r.a.f for the price of 20 or so f 35’s

    • Low Rate Initial Production (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Low_rate_initial_production)

      Basically F-35 is doing design refinements in parallel with going into production so it’s not like a car or TV where it is designed and then cranked out at full tilt by a factory. With F-35 they are building in smaller batches, at least initially, and things change after each batch. For the most part improvements in each LRIP can be retrofitted to planes from previous LRIPs although the UKs really early planes, the ones used for testing, will never be able to take the later mods.

    • it means that the u.k despite being the only level 1 partner in the the project will have to wait. interestingly the japanese have taken delivery of several f 35b’s which i think should have been allotted to the u.k

  12. Will the UK really buy 138 F35B’s or are they just blowing smoke? I dont see 138 aircraft till 2030 if that even happens since they intended to have no more then 12 aircraft on each carrier on any given time.. Any how I’m ready to take bets that the UK will be lucky if the UK even buys 50.. I’ll start taking bets that the order will be cut by more than half..

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