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.”
— Scott Williams (@scottmox) May 22, 2017
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.