A letter from the Minister of State for Defence Procurement sets out the status of the UK’s F-35 fleet.

The letter from James Cartlidge MP, Minister of State for Defence Procurement, to Jeremy Quin MP, Chair of the House of Commons Defence Committee, covers several key points regarding the development and operational status of the UK’s F-35 Lightning Force.

Here’s a summary.

  • Full Operating Capability (FOC) Declaration: The FOC for the first phase of procurement (Tranche 1) is set for no later than 31st December 2025, with 33 out of the first 48 aircraft already delivered.
  • Squadron Developments: The second front line squadron, 809 Naval Air Squadron, was recommissioned at RAF Marham on 8th December 2023 and is working towards its Initial Operating Capability scheduled for 1st December 2024. The squadron, like the rest of the Force, will be jointly operated by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Royal Navy (RN).
  • Operational Contributions: The Lightning Force continues to support NATO, particularly in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, with UK F-35Bs undertaking long-range missions and integrating with other partner nations’ forces. Operation FIREDRAKE in 2023 highlighted the F-35Bs’ capabilities through various tasks and exercises aboard HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH, showcasing interoperability with other nations.
  • Developmental Testing: A period of testing was conducted in October 2023 aboard HMS PRINCE OF WALES to expand the operating envelope for F-35B aircraft on UK Queen Elizabeth Class Carriers, aiming to formally approve expanded operating limits and procedures.
  • Program Costs: Despite global inflation and foreign exchange challenges, the initial procurement remains within budget, with a notable decrease in aircraft price from 2014 to 2022, albeit with an expected slight increase for upcoming lots due to inflationary pressures.
  • Capability Milestone Timeline Progress: The letter highlights the growth and maturation of the Force, including recruitment and training efforts for engineers, pilots, and instructors. However, it notes a temporary delay in aircraft deliveries due to software instability with Lockheed Martin’s Technical Refresh 3, which is not expected to impact the FOC declaration.
  • Future Developments: Discussions are underway for the procurement of an additional 27 F-35 aircraft in Tranche 2, aimed at enhancing the UK’s Carrier Enabled Power Projection capability and increasing the fleet to 74 aircraft by 2033, with funding for this phase secured under an approved option.

Here’s the letter in full.

“JAMES CARTLIDGE MP
MINISTER OF STATE FOR DEFENCE PROCUREMENT

Dear Jeremy,

I am providing an update on the continuing growth and capability delivery of the F-35 Lightning Force. Since I wrote to your predecessor in July 2023, the declaration of Full Operating Capability (FOC) for the first procurement phase (Tranche 1) has been agreed as occurring no later than 31 Dec 2025. The first 48 aircraft continue to be produced as scheduled, with 33 aircraft received to date. The second front line squadron (809 Naval Air Squadron) was stood up in a re-commissioning ceremony at RAF Marham on the 8th December 2023. 809NAS will continue to work-up readiness throughout 2024, ahead of its Initial Operating Capability scheduled for 1 Dec 2024. As across the Force, 809NAS will be jointly operated by the RAF and RN.

Operations

The Lightning Force continue to provide a key component of the UK contribution to NATO in response to Russia’s continued illegal war and occupation of Ukraine. In 2023 UK F-35Bs have undertaken long-range missions from RAF Marham; supported by Voyager tankers, seamlessly integrating with our own 4th Generation Typhoon, and fighters from other partner nations, to form a potent force mix.

Carrier Strike 2023, Operation FIREDRAKE, was undertaken between 11 September and 10 November 2023; eight aircraft, pilots and supporting personnel boarded HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH and undertook a range of operational tasks, joint exercises, and Defence engagement with other nations. Initially, they engaged in Joint Expedition Force (JEF) activities, working with Norway, Sweden and Finland, after which they undertook Large Force Employment activity with the Royal Netherlands Air Force. The final element of the deployment was under NATO direction, where NATO interoperability was demonstrated alongside Estonian, Latvian and Polish military forces.

In our last report we advised that a period of developmental testing using Joint Program Office (JPO) Integrated Test Force F-35Bs on HMS PRINCE OF WALES had been deferred to autumn 2023, following HMS PRINCE OF WALES serviceability issues. This period of testing successfully took place in October 2023 with the intent to expand the embarked operating envelope for all F-35B aircraft onboard UK Queen Elizabeth Class Carriers and Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landings for the platform; the trials have formed the evidence base towards formal approval aimed to expand operating limits and authorise those procedures in an updated Royal Navy, Ship Air – Release.

Programme Costs

Initial procurement (Tranche 1) expenditure has remained within its cost approval envelope, with almost all funds committed. Global inflation and foreign exchange currency (FOREX) challenges have been the key themes of the previous 18 months. The aircraft price has reduced by 32% over the period 2014 to 2022. However, it is anticipated that the price of each aircraft in LOTs 15-17 will increase marginally by around 6%. This is predominately due to increasing manufacturing costs associated with inflationary pressures. Inflation and FOREX continue to be a concern to the Programme, as do the recent savings pressures levied across the department.

Capability Milestone Timeline Progress

Following the successful stand up of 809NAS in December 2023, Force growth will continue to mature and build our frontline squadrons’ capabilities out to December 2025. Force growth remains an actively managed issue. We have already implemented the first increased recruitment of the required engineering workforce across the RN and RAF. The Operational Conversion Unit continues to graduate F-35B pilots into the Force at a sufficient rate. Additionally, the Force has trained a new tactical weapons instructor and 6 flying instructors, which has provided additional instructor depth. However, Lockheed Martin has currently suspended aircraft release post-production as they have experienced software instability during developmental testing of Technical Refresh 3, the next pan-platform software upgrade. We are aware of the current short-term delays to UK aircraft deliveries. At this time, it is not assessed to impact the scheduled FOC declaration at the end of 2025.

Beyond FOC, deliveries of ‘Tranche 2’ will start and the next significant operational capability development will occur towards the end of the decade, with UK weapons

(METEOR and SPEAR 3) being fielded on the UK’s front-line. UK and JPO negotiations regarding the ‘Tranche 2’ buy of a further 27 F-35 aircraft are going well. This next procurement phase is expected to complete the internal approvals process during summer 2024. It will realise our long-term ambition to deepen Carrier Enabled Power Projection capability and will bring the UK fleet up to 74 aircraft, allowing us to create a third front line squadron by 2033. Funding for this next phase has been ringfenced under an approved ABC Option.”

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George has a degree in Cyber Security from Glasgow Caledonian University and has a keen interest in naval and cyber security matters and has appeared on national radio and television to discuss current events. George is on Twitter at @geoallison
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Order of the Ditch
Order of the Ditch
4 days ago

Overall I am satisfied with this. Frankly with so little of the aircraft being built in the UK and the slow UK weapons integration we don’t need more than 74 jets. 74 is enough for carrier strike, for context the French have 41 Rafale M. It would be nice to get them before 2033 but there is little we can do about this considering the state of F35 block IV. The UK does however need more fast jet airframes but I am of the opinion these should come from more Typhoon and eventually Tempest orders, not F35 which is why… Read more »

David
David
4 days ago

Tempest would need quite a big rebuild to make it carrier capable I assume, it’s not just an arrestor hook. F35C has bigger wings, beefier undercarriage and weight compared to F35C and I doubt Italy nor Japan would he happy if funds were diverted.
The US may keep F35 current to the OSD of our carriers , the example being F16s that are being still sold after 50 years., if not the USMC may want a VTOL replacement.
If Cats were installed then the USN 6th gen would be more likely than buying something French IMO

Order of the Ditch
Order of the Ditch
4 days ago
Reply to  David

I meant buying the French EMALS not their jet. Work was done looking at making Typhoon carrier capable, no reason why we couldn’t look at the viability of a carrier capable Tempest when it comes along. Also your comment about F35C having bigger wings is moot as we don’t yet know how big the wings of Tempest are going to be. They might be even bigger than any of the F35s.

lordtemplar
lordtemplar
4 days ago

FYI France is not developping EMALS for the PANG, they are buying the same ones on Ford class US carriers from General Atomics.

Markam
Markam
4 days ago

There was news last year that stated France was buying EMALS from the US for about $1.2 billion dollars. Costs about 1/3 the price of a QE carrier! Not a surprise many go with STOBAR and just have the traps.

Chris
Chris
4 days ago

France has no emals program, they are buying US EMALS from general atomics.

David
David
4 days ago

That’s a simplistic view of what makes a naval fighter. F4 and F18 were designed for the USN requirements ground up. The Feench planned Rafale M alongside Rafale and its far more than just adding a tail hook. Rafale M has a reinforced undercarriage, catapult attachment and hook as well as folding wings, which all add weight. Huge landing forces, slower approach speed and AOA vs land based aircraft that has a mile long runway to hit. Trying to navalise Tempest is unlikely and would be doomed as an expensive failure IMO and there is zero information put out that… Read more »

lordtemplar
lordtemplar
3 days ago
Reply to  David

exactly, i would add that not only is the undercarriage reinforced, but all hardware on the plane, wiring and connections need to be extra secure because the forces on landing are much greater than when landing on a regular runway.
for example take a laptop and drop it on the floor, a steel case would protect the outside, but the components inside also need to survive.
in fact many consider it to be a controlled crash rather than a landing.

Last edited 3 days ago by lordtemplar
Angus
Angus
12 hours ago
Reply to  David

Rafale M does not have folding wings if your check.

Jonno
Jonno
4 days ago
Reply to  David

I think you are wrong about Japan and Italy not wanting a navalised version.
Increasingly with the need for longer range aircraft on the continental fringes maritime is more likely to be the way to go.
I am surprised our MPA aren’t somehow integrated into the joint force.
In my opinion our MPA need to be doubled up and equipped with long range air to air missiles for the day when they encounter their Russian counterparts mid ocean.
We need a fully integrated sea- air force (and rescue service).

Tommo
Tommo
4 days ago
Reply to  David

That’s exactly what is needed Cats and Traps these should have been thought of whilst in build QE with ramp POW with cats and Traps but alas both had ramps and now the MOD are thinking of removing the Ramp for good old Cats and Traps then it will be Steam or Electro mag becoming like the Ajax project

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
3 days ago
Reply to  Tommo

They were designed with Cats and traps in mind various options with the same basic design were offered. Indeed room for them exists beneath the deck even in the present design. It’s wide enough to incorporate an angled flight deck too no doubt with some modification. Won’t happen mind budgets are best used elsewhere and tbh there is no guarantee that Carriers will even be survivable 20 years down the line.

Tommo
Tommo
3 days ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

And now they are thinking about it again can’t wait for the tumbleweed on this one

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
4 days ago
Reply to  David

There is a good argument that USMC, Uk, Japan, Italy, Spain etc will needed VSTOL in an ongoing manner.

So either F35B gets a refresh or something else gets developed.

If Tempest is a success, which it will be, then the something else looks more likely?

frank
frank
4 days ago

None of that will happen….. Well not to my mind …..Tempest will not be Marinised nor will the carriers have EMALS…. There will be no more Typhoons ether and F35’s will be drip fed over a few decades…… that’s if we have any pilots left to fly them given recent news that they are being offered huge wage increases to fly commercial Jets…..

George
George
4 days ago

We had enough money to lockdown the country for a year and still have. It’s just being given away and wasted on nonmilitary waffle. I’m sick of saying this but defence is the primary duty of HM Gov. As for Tempest in our life time. Hmmmm. By the new Gods and the old, I want to believe! But I would take F35 now.

Frank62
Frank62
3 days ago

Keep studying & working hard & we might admit you to the GRAND Order of the Ditch! 74 F35Bs might be enough if that was all FAA, but it’s not. They’re first & formost RAF operated with RAF holding the trump card. In peacetime thay can horse trade sufficient carrier numbers for a specific deployment, but in war, when we really need them, it is quite likely the RAF wouldn’t be able to spare enough for carrier ops when needed. War makes a mockery of the peace time bean counter fantasies. Even in WW2 it took several years before the… Read more »

George
George
4 days ago

Seventy four is still too small a number. It’s hardly enough to equip both carriers with full airwings, leaving zero ability to replace losses. Never mind replacing the dispersal capability that was lost by the RAF when Harrier was scrapped prematurely. 200 airframes would be an absolute minimum. If we had agreed to buy 250+ from the beginning, (A’s and B’s) that kind of cash involvement would have included a GB based production line. Giving us options and surge production capabilities.

Grizzler
Grizzler
4 days ago
Reply to  George

There were no plans to operate bighead carriers simultaneously and most def. not with a full wing on each. Despite the change in the world since that initial decision I’ve not seen anything to suggest that is being reevaluate…seems a good job really tbh.
As for Tempest ..I realy dont think that will come to fruition, not how folk on here believe it will anyway.

frank
frank
4 days ago
Reply to  Grizzler

Hello mate…. This is the most stupid thing to my mind though….. Why spend decades designing two bloody huge and expensive Carriers with such a capable Aircraft load, and then fail appallingly to provide even a tiny fraction of the aircraft they can embark ?….. We are now a whole 7 years into Carrier op’s and have so far only managed to embark 8 of their primary reasons to exist……. it’s insane, It’s inexcusable and it’s just indefensible even for those couple of members that frequent this site who seem to live in a dream world.

John Clark
John Clark
4 days ago
Reply to  frank

Initially Frank, Harrier GR9 would have operated alongside the growing F35B force on the QE Class. Joint force Harrier slowly winding down as the F35B force wound up. Alas that Muppet Cameron decided to severely damage our our armed forces and withdrew the fleet. He actively tried to cancel PoW, until he realised the contract was water tight… That man and his government did more damage to our armed forces than Hitler and left it on its knees….. Re a carrier Tempest option, it will never happen, it’s shaping up to be a heavy fighter, of substantial size and weight,… Read more »

FormerUSAF
FormerUSAF
4 days ago
Reply to  frank

Hmmm…believe the only scenario wherein complete air wings would be simultaneously required on both QE class carriers would be the case of general war. In that instance, RAF/RN would be augmented by USMC a/c, as well as USN escorts for CSGs. This is the announced plan/policy, and has already been rehearsed during CSG 21.

Not w/standing that argument, will be more content once Block 4 update is in the rear view mirror and UK is in process of acquiring a second tranche of F-35B. Estimate this occuring before 2030.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
3 days ago
Reply to  FormerUSAF

They will in any such scenario act as precominantly supplementary US carriers in such a scenario I would say, to fill in gaps as even they will be short of carriers. So yes a lot of US aircraft and crew will be aboard no doubt.

George
George
4 days ago
Reply to  Grizzler

There were no plans. Then why buy two carriers? Having huge expensive carriers without sufficient fixed wing fast jet aircraft to operate them is bizarre. Can you imagine the US doing that. Its down to misplaced loyalty, party over country. Mismanagement of resources, buying votes rather than defence necessities. Confused priorities giving money away and geopolitical myopia. The downside of our form of government and five year terms. The defence budget should be set at >7.5%. Taken out of civilian hands on day one. Ring fenced with only increases permitted. Who was it that said a democracies greatest strengths are… Read more »

Cripes
Cripes
4 days ago
Reply to  George

Why buy 2 carriers then?

Because one will be manned and operational, the other in reserve/refit. In every class of RN ships and RAF squadrons, about half will be operational, the other half in reserve, refit, training etc.

It means that if we lose some ships or aircraft at the start of a war, we can replace them like for like, using regular and reserve personnel.

It is a very sensible arrangement that has stood the test of time.

Meirion X
Meirion X
4 days ago
Reply to  Cripes

👍Exactly!

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 days ago
Reply to  George

7.5% Budget wishful thinking my friend 🤔

George
George
3 days ago
Reply to  Andrew D

That depends on how hot this rapidly developing “Cold War” becomes. It may not be enough.

Markam
Markam
4 days ago
Reply to  George

Unlikely the F35 will be able to fill both carriers at this rate, the 72 number in 2033 I assume is the absolute bare minimum of 36 per carrier which is what is said to be the capacity of QE, but with no spares it will be quite the ask. I can only hope Project Ark Royal gets funding from whoever takes power and we have more options such as UAVs or STOBAR aircraft (supplied by Allies or purchased).

Cripes
Cripes
4 days ago
Reply to  Markam

It is amazing how the navy boys on here consistently choose to forget that the F35Bs have TWO roles, one supporting the ground forces, the other flying off the carrier. All talk seems to assume that all the aircraft will be on a carrier somewhere. The RAF pays for them out of its combat air budget, meaning there is no money left for more Typhoons or Poseidons, while the RN makes off with the freebies. The hard fact is that they cannot be in two places at once, despite the RN claiming they will be used as needed. If they… Read more »

Last edited 4 days ago by Cripes
Paul.P
Paul.P
3 days ago
Reply to  Cripes

A piece of jaundiced reality. Missiles have been getting faster, smarter and longer legged for decades. While aircraft have also got smarter I think the Buccaneer had a better strike radius than F-35B. That said, up and coming nations India and China do still aspire to have carriers. They are still the capital ships that replaced battleships….but we all know what happened the them. Watching the tortuous doctrinal and technology gymnastics around how to deploy QE – strike carrier or fleet carrier or LPH? tells us that the missiles are winning. Maybe the ‘thru deck cruisers’ were what the RN… Read more »

Grinch
Grinch
3 days ago
Reply to  Cripes

Jeesh, what a twisted view. Back in the real world, it was the RAF that “made away” with the RN’s aircraft, not the other way around.

Remember the RAF taking the Sea Harriers before scrapping them and keeping the money??

Jonno
Jonno
4 days ago
Reply to  George

I think its a mistake to have more than 24 F35’s on either of the carriers and 36 at sea at any one time. The risk factor on a carrier being hit is too great at this stage to lose too many aircraft until we know more. You are seeing a reduction in the USN carrier loads for perhaps for the same reason. Besides we need to have drone AWACS at sea and refuelling as a way to increase the potential of the few we already have. This can be done without full heavy weight Cats and Traps if we… Read more »

Marked
Marked
4 days ago
Reply to  Jonno

USN carrier loads have reduced primarily as single role aircraft like the A6 have been replaced by multi role F18s.

George
George
4 days ago
Reply to  Jonno

It’s only a mistake because we have too few airframes and escort defensive assets. Including more standing air patrols. I like the idea of UAV drones as inflight refuelling tankers but when will that happen? V22 Osprey has proven to be easily capable of refuelling fast jets. See USMC trials. With the passive sensors and stealth of F35, they do a reasonable job of AWACS. Having more of them would enable constant on station surveillance. An expensive solution to the problem for sure. Perhaps carrier capable long endurance US drones are at AWACS level already. Having more F35s would enable… Read more »

Grinch
Grinch
3 days ago
Reply to  George

Yep, the Osprey tanker was so easy it was cancelled.

George
George
3 days ago
Reply to  Grinch

Shelved for later, not cancelled. The US have numerous refuelling options including F18 with conformal tanks and buddy stores. With cats and traps we could have them too.

grinch
grinch
3 days ago
Reply to  George

F-18’s are used exclusively to refuel bolters. The RN doesn’t have bolters.

grinch
grinch
3 days ago
Reply to  grinch

ps tanker Osprey is as dead as a doornail. Future F-35’s will carry drop tanks.

George
George
2 days ago
Reply to  grinch

pps: Even with stealthy drop tanks, F35 range can be further extended by refuelling after take-off. Potentially on the return journey too if they have dropped the tanks, engaged in dogfighting or used afterburners. FYI. Range is of extreme importance as is inflight refuelling. – The reach of land based missiles is increasing all of the time. Meaning carriers must stay further from land and their potential targets. Additionally, the threat posed by hypersonic missiles means that missile launching enemy aircraft, must be engaged and kept at even greater distances from the fleet. Every second of warning gained, increases the… Read more »

George
George
2 days ago
Reply to  grinch

That is by choice because cheaper options are available. Obviously the F18 with buddy stores can refuel anything capable of utilising the drogue. I’m not sure what your point is.

Monkey spanker
Monkey spanker
4 days ago
Reply to  Jonno

It’s above my knowledge to know how many aircraft are needed for different situations. If 24 hour combat patrols in 2 locations are needed and then strike packages with air to air load out aircraft accompanying them it starts to add up to a lot of aircraft. It’s a difficult place with block 4 not ready. In an ideal world there should be enough 50 for the navy needs, at least 50 for the RAF to use at dispersed locations and for strike roles, also a joint training unit. The typhoon playing the strike role is good but the F35… Read more »

Quentin D63
Quentin D63
3 days ago
Reply to  Jonno

Good point Jonno on the carrier’s air fleet. A few of us here have mentioned several times of the need increase the carriers defensive (air/surface/sub surface) armaments to make it even more watertight in its own defence and not just dependent on the CSG. It’s an obvious elephant in the room to some of us. An incremental increase in self defence should be very doable and considering the high value of the personnel and equipment onboard you’d think a pressing necessity. We sit, watch an wait.

Grinch
Grinch
3 days ago
Reply to  Jonno

Yep, much, much safer to put all the aircraft on an airfield that can’t move, can been seen on google earth and has zero defences (eyes roll)

ABCRodney
ABCRodney
2 days ago
Reply to  Jonno

The direction the RN is taking with Project Ark Royal is for “Cats n Traps” light. Not sufficient for full on combat Aircraft but perfectly capable of launching Tanker Drones. I’m not so sure manned carrier born AWACS is really needed these days, no reason a drone can’t carry it and use Data links.

Angus
Angus
12 hours ago
Reply to  Jonno

And those fixed location airfields are any better defended? One bomb and you could take out half the RAF assets as they continue to cram them into mega bases without any kind of air defence systems available. The ships move and can move 500+ miles in a day with ease. You do talk out of your ……

Mr Bell
Mr Bell
4 days ago
Reply to  George

Agree George. I’m glad the government have committed to another 27 aircraft by 2033. But the armed forces will need at least one more batch of aircraft after that and for a very large number of Tempest to be ordered.
The Tempest programme needs to deliver attritional reserve and aircraft fleet numbers back to the RAF. 200+ aircraft required.
Nothing less than a large order will ensure overseas sales and commercial success.
Italy and Japan need to follow with similar large orders.

Scooter
Scooter
4 days ago

How soon will the decision be made to mothball one of the carriers to save money & because of crewing issues?, so maybe 74 aircraft will be sufficient.
I curious are RAF personnel happy to be sent to sea on a carrier & how do Navy personnel feel about been based away from the sea & having to fulfil RAF land based operations?
There is a reason chose either a RAF or navy career.

frank
frank
4 days ago
Reply to  Scooter

hello Nigel, How Soon ? … we will only know in the future.

Robert Blay
Robert Blay
4 days ago
Reply to  frank

😄Nigel. He’s been binned.

frank
frank
3 days ago
Reply to  Robert Blay

Nigel Osmond aka Scooter.

Robert Blay
Robert Blay
4 days ago
Reply to  Scooter

The Joint Force Harrier concept dates back to the very early 2000s. Even back into the 90s. So a long time to get used to joint operations at sea, and land based. The extended drafting options proved very popular, especially for RN personnel who live up north.

Monkey spanker
Monkey spanker
4 days ago
Reply to  Scooter

The RAF weren’t that happy about putting the harrier GR9 to sea. Hopefully it’s different now as it’s always been the role of the F35. Not heard from anyone in the raf f35 squadron complaining. They did complain openly about the harrier.

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 days ago
Reply to  Scooter

I suppose when asked which service do I serve 🤔 🇬🇧

Michael Hannah
Michael Hannah
4 days ago

We need more the 74 F35B, I think we need more to allow for ground ops as well as for the Carriers. I agree we need more Typhoons especially with the ESA Mk 2. Bae proved many years ago that Typhoon could be operated from a QE carrier but the airframes are not designed with a marine environment in mind. Holding off not but more aircraft in the belief of Tempest I think is fatal. I will guarantee now that Tempest is at least ten years late although the Japanese involvement and the lack of Germany gives me some degree… Read more »

Order of the Ditch
Order of the Ditch
4 days ago
Reply to  Michael Hannah

I think we need more to allow for ground ops as well” – Just order more Typhoons then. 74 is enough for two carriers embarked with 24 jets each with the others in maintenance/training.
There is no point putting more resources into an aircraft that is expensive to operate, is hard to integrate UK weapons onto and has little UK made components.
A final order of 32 Typhoons would be highly beneficial and the combined fast jet fleet would be over 200 airframes.

Deep32
Deep32
4 days ago

That’s the issue with F35B numbers though isn’t it. The touted 74 are to cover both the RN/RAF requirements as in Harrier/Tornado replacement and despite being a vastly more capable aircraft, can’t be in two places at once.
The simple truth of the matter is we require some 5-6 front line Sqns to properly fulfill those lost requirements, so in all reality need some 110-120ish aircraft in service from 2035ish and not spread over the next 40 odd years. Not going to happen of course, not with the treasury having to big an input into this procurement process.

Robert Blay
Robert Blay
4 days ago
Reply to  Deep32

We can’t think of these assets as simple 1 on 1 Tornado or Harrier replacements.

Deep32
Deep32
4 days ago
Reply to  Robert Blay

Perhaps not mate, but we are only buying enough to equip 3 frontline Sqns along with OCU etc. A deployed carrier does not leave the RAF with much to work with should the need arise, the reverse is also true. It appears we are betting the house on Drones to pad out a lack of mass! What drones and when would spring to mind Robert. The US/AUS are leading the field here with their Ghostbat/Loyal Wingman drone. Over the last 5 years the Aus Govt have so far spent over Aus $1 billion on the programme and have 4test units… Read more »

Grizzler
Grizzler
4 days ago
Reply to  Robert Blay

Maybe not, but we also shouldn’t accept their % increase in capability to be equal to their % decrease in numbers.

Grinch
Grinch
3 days ago
Reply to  Grizzler

But the bad guys increase their capability too!!

Grizzler
Grizzler
3 days ago
Reply to  Grinch

Indeed-The circular argument regards
Increased capability is oft used on here as a way of justifying decreases in numbers…and its simply wrong.

grinch
grinch
3 days ago
Reply to  Grizzler

+100

Order of the Ditch
Order of the Ditch
3 days ago
Reply to  Deep32

That’s the issue with F35B numbers though isn’t it. The touted 74 are to cover both the RN/RAF requirements as in Harrier/Tornado replacement and despite being a vastly more capable aircraft, can’t be in two places at once.”
That’s why I advocate further Typhoon buy to increase RAF numbers.

Deep32
Deep32
3 days ago

Yes, we are currently caught between a rock and a hard place wrt which type to order if we did redistribute some £ into the defence budget. The Typhoon program is currently swallowing money at a rate that sits just behind CASD in terms of spending, somewhere in the region of £850 million a year! F35 on the other hand whilst currently being cheaper to buy is lagging in terms of what it can realistically do given the shite performance of LM in delivering the required upgrades, which we probably won’t see in it’s entirety until 2028/9. If we did… Read more »

Peter S
Peter S
4 days ago

Given how hard we are working the Typhoons, a further order is really essential. More important than buying more F35 which continues to suffer delays and development problems over which we have zero control.

Meirion X
Meirion X
4 days ago

“A final order of 32 Typhoons would be highly beneficial…”

No it will Not be beneficial!
The RAF does Not have enough pilots, and even with reserves called up, to fly all the current fleet.
And to spend on Typhoons, when you can buy F-35b for a cheaper price.

Last edited 4 days ago by Meirion X
Monkey spanker
Monkey spanker
4 days ago
Reply to  Michael Hannah

Until we find out what the new navy aircraft can and can’t do and how much it is it’s a bit of an unknown.
I do have concerns how dependant the aircraft will be on large base infrastructure

Marked
Marked
4 days ago

Wouldn’t call being limited to last gen air to air armaments and no stand off air to ground as being FOC! Not even remotely close to it!

Phil Chadwick
Phil Chadwick
4 days ago

Gov has committed to 138 airframes over the programme’s lifetime. That’s good enough for me. Now, let’s let the experts get on with it.

Grizzler
Grizzler
4 days ago
Reply to  Phil Chadwick

Well thats shut the comments section for this site (and all others) down then.

Phil Chadwick
Phil Chadwick
4 days ago
Reply to  Grizzler

Oh, I do hope so… 😝😝😝

Grinch
Grinch
3 days ago
Reply to  Phil Chadwick

“Governments” and “experts” in the same sentence!! You really, really, really need to take a look at the last generation or two of your political leaders.

Moonstone
Moonstone
4 days ago

Those who fail to prepare are preparing to fail. So towards the end of this decade before (operationally vital) UK weapons will be integrated onto the F-35B and 2033 before we have enough airframes to form just three frontline squadrons – the RAF now deeming that for every aircraft in squadron hands another one must be kept elsewhere for some reason. With many now saying that war with Russia is an alarmingly realistic possibility can you imagine the panic that would ensue if we suddenly needed to form new squadrons and integrate additional air weapons at short notice? During WWII… Read more »

Last edited 4 days ago by Moonstone
Andrew D
Andrew D
3 days ago
Reply to  Moonstone

👍

Exroyal.
Exroyal.
4 days ago

For my money this whole thing is pie in the sky. We will have a new government in the next 12 months. Let’s see what they say. Here is my thoughts for what it’s worth.
No money for Tempest.
No more 35.
One carrier parked up.
No LPD replacements.
At least one bay sold or scrapped.
Tranche 1 Typhoon to go earlier.

SailorBoy
SailorBoy
4 days ago
Reply to  Exroyal.

I don’t understand why people just assume that Tempest won’t happen. It would appear this time around that (for once) we’ve done all of the right things to get the programme to work; Partnerships with reliable allies who have too much to lose if they pull out and a rolling programme with demonstrators flying a long time before the production aircraft.
It’s the only viable future for the RAF, for heaven’s sake. Typhoon will be positively ancient in 2040 when it will probably be finally retired and we’re never getting enough F35 to plug that gap.

Exroyal.
Exroyal.
4 days ago
Reply to  SailorBoy

I for one won’t cry about no more 35s. The whole B thing was a huge waste of money. As for Tempest it’s not an assumption. More an educated guess. The costs are astronomical. No UK government is going to Bank Roll it. Let’s face it our track record is not good. To make any financial sense you would need a lot of foreign sales.

SailorBoy
SailorBoy
4 days ago
Reply to  Exroyal.

A UK government is funding Tempest. It’s a current programme that’s supposed to have a prototype (“Technology demonstrator”) flying in a couple of years.
The £12bn, I think, development cost is spread across three countries, that’s why it’s a joint programme. I know we don’t have a great track record, I was pointing out that Tempest is surprisingly successful in that regard.

Exroyal.
Exroyal.
4 days ago
Reply to  SailorBoy

You are right Italy, Japan and UK. UK government funding 2 Billion so far. Supposedly to be a flying prototype / demonstrator in 2025. No word of future UK funding. 2 Billion is a lot of money but when it comes to cutting edge aerospace there needs to be a zero after the 2. The UK government will baulk at that. Compare the numbers to the NGAD as of now. Bear in mind they are moving from 5th generation to 6th. We are moving from 4th to 6th in one hop. With a fraction of the budget. The US have… Read more »

FormerUSAF
FormerUSAF
4 days ago
Reply to  Exroyal.

Agree, as a point of reference, NGAD currently has a hypothetical WAG production estimate of $300M per aircraft. Have little doubt that Tempest/GCAP will be a successful, perhaps elegant, prototype/ demonstration a/c. Do have difficulty in believing it becomes a viable acquisition program, absent a significant increase in future defence expenditures. Quite simply, a nominal 2.1% of GDP will not accommodate the purchase of a meaningful number of a/c, no matter how artfully acquisition program is structured by Treasury/MoD/RAF. Quite unfortunate for all parties, including your allies. 🤔😱☹️

Grinch
Grinch
3 days ago
Reply to  FormerUSAF

Get lost with your doom and gloom. The UK, Japan and Italy are well able to produce an excellent, affordable, 6th gen aircraft.

It’s the US that has something to prove after its decades long CF producing the f-35.

ABCRodney
ABCRodney
2 days ago
Reply to  FormerUSAF

Hi M8, Happy Easter🐇 I am actually slightly more confidant about Tempest than I was a year or so ago, and that’s more to do with the finance and our choice of partners. The UK is in the same jam as US Defence spending, we delayed way too many projects in the 1st 2 decades to save money. Unfortunately not only do we now need to replace those aging assets, we also have to replace the kit that is due to be replaced and can’t be delayed. In the U.K we delayed renewing our Heavy Land Forces so long industry… Read more »

Paul T
Paul T
4 days ago
Reply to  SailorBoy

The way i see Tempest is this – how much money would the MOD put into it before a Govt of whatever flavour suddenly decide to cancel it ?.Despite the early signs being very promising i can’t help feeling that its a huge gamble,and we all know this happened with TSR2.

SailorBoy
SailorBoy
4 days ago
Reply to  Paul T

The big difference with TSR2 is that it was a “nice to have”. There wasn’t, in government eyes, any strategic need for an exceedingly good low level penetration aircraft, so the requirement was wished away.
Not even the Treasury can justify cutting our only air superiority platform for potentially the next 50 years.

Grizzler
Grizzler
4 days ago
Reply to  SailorBoy

Not sure I agree with that..The initial requirement was increased beyond all recognition over the initial phases resulting in a spec that was supposed.to be master of all things. Resulting in an increase in technology and finance thtat simply couldnt continue …hence the cancellation.
As for thinking the treasury won’t cut air superiority…they did it in the 60s when we actually designed and built aircraft ..its far easier to do it now when we don’t…

SailorBoy
SailorBoy
3 days ago
Reply to  Grizzler

And in the 1950s it was SAMs that were the coming thing and much of the RAF, not the government, were obsessed with them. Now there is no credible alternative to a manned air superiority platform.
I agree TSR2 was a mistake, it was a bit like the F22 programme, it was originally going to be a pure low-level penetration aircraft but the aircraft industry just went “what if we could put this shiny new tech in? How about this?”
Tempest was designed from the outset to have all of the new tech available and the parameters were well set.

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 days ago
Reply to  SailorBoy

If we had TRS2 the UK wouldn’t of needed Tornado .

Grinch
Grinch
3 days ago
Reply to  SailorBoy

I’d love to see your evidence for that TSR2 viewpoint.

ABCRodney
ABCRodney
2 days ago
Reply to  Paul T

We don’t tend to walk away from Partnerships as it’s not good for business. Last one I can think of was Project Horizon and that was mainly to do with the attitude of “the usual suspect” partner, who wanted the design lead, bulk of manufacturing and only order 20% of the ships.
No Tempest = No UK Aircraft manufacturing after Typhoon / F35.

Meirion X
Meirion X
4 days ago
Reply to  SailorBoy

👍Exactly! 💯

Micki
Micki
3 days ago
Reply to  Exroyal.

With a war in Europe this would be a treason but of course with these politicians is possible.

Nevis
Nevis
4 days ago

If the uk government went on a spending spree and ordered for arguments sake another 50 f35b could we get them any quicker?

Grinch
Grinch
3 days ago
Reply to  Nevis

Probably not. There’s a long queue.

RB
RB
4 days ago

As is well know, the original plan was 138 F-35B’s for four frontline sqdns (12 a/c each) and one second line sqdn (16 a/c). The fourth frontline squadron was quietly dropped a few years ago. On that basis 74 a/c looks to be just about enough on paper, but in practice the oldest aircraft will need replacing by the 2030s so maybe there will be a final small tranche 3 in the 2030’s. As as been covered on this and other websites, under Project Ark Royal the RN wants to fit the QEC with an EMALS catapult (singular) and arresting… Read more »

Daniel
Daniel
4 days ago

76 good number I happy with it 😉 3 rota 24 X 3, 1 each per carrier with back up. Wartime we could see these might I wrong? Please correct I would like see this air wing each carrier 24 f35b / 4 sea guardian / 24 wingman / 12 Merlin I wish we had 3 qoe Carrier as I think rules of three should use. 2 actives rota IE one parafic and other one artic or other location with one refit and home defence. Never mind 2 is minimum enough (hope future carrier replacement has 3) Yet hopefully we… Read more »

Last edited 4 days ago by Daniel
Quentin D63
Quentin D63
3 days ago

2033, still so far away. Aren’t more numbers needed sooner? Any option of possible leasing arrangements with (any) surplus US F35Bs until then to beef up numbers!? Then return these 1 for 1 when UK lots come in?
Any talk of increasing the Typhoon’s to be updated to T4 beyond the 40?

Oliver Craig
Oliver Craig
3 days ago

The short sighted ignorance of Camerons government in 2010 with scrapping the carriers and more importantly the entire Harrier fleet has left a huge hole in our capability. The USMC still uses them and although they are a different generation with subsonic speed etc. they still filled a useful gap. The ignorance of politicians always amazes me. Putting someone who has been in the military as the defence secretary is simple and logical.

Grinch
Grinch
3 days ago
Reply to  Oliver Craig

If you put in an ex-RAF man, the first thing that would get cancelled are the carriers!

Michael Hannah
Michael Hannah
3 days ago

With the recent article posted here by John Healey MP , Labour defence spearman. One would assume, maybe incorrectly , that he would have had clearance from Labour HQ before he submitted it as there was alot stated in it that could, come back and bite a future Labour government.
I am hoping to see a commitment to defence in the respective party GE manifestos.

Grinch
Grinch
3 days ago
Reply to  Michael Hannah

There’s was zero commitment from Healey on any part of Defence. All politician smoke and mirrors.

Michael Hannah
Michael Hannah
3 days ago
Reply to  Grinch

I didn’t say commitment I said stated.

Someone stole my name
Someone stole my name
3 days ago

Let’s war game this. We magic British F35 ability into Ukraine over night. Tomorrow Ukraine has 33 F35 to use…….

Anthony
Anthony
3 days ago

“74 aircraft, allowing us to create a third front line squadron”…surely we can get more than three squadrons of 12 out of this many aircraft?

PhilWestMids
PhilWestMids
3 days ago
Reply to  Anthony

Don’t forget there will be an OCU unit also, 3 front line squadrons out of 74 is a good number, enough to fully use a QE carrier.

Anthony
Anthony
3 days ago
Reply to  PhilWestMids

So 3 frontline and full strength squadrons: 36 aircraft.

One ocu squadron of 12

Two squadron size in deep maintenance: 24 or a third of the force.

2 for losses…equal 74

ABCRodney
ABCRodney
2 days ago
Reply to  Anthony

Only problem is it isn’t 74 usable Aircraft it’s only 70. The 4 Test Airframes are US based and cannot be adapted for operational purposes.
Personally I’d follow the USMC and go for a 10 Aircraft Squadron structure.

Jon
Jon
2 days ago
Reply to  PhilWestMids

Only enough to fully use a carier under very limited circumstances. The RAF would have to not need any. I think we’ll have to look to drones to make up the mass.

Last edited 2 days ago by Jon
Anthony
Anthony
2 days ago
Reply to  Jon

24 fifth gen stealth fighters in 2 squadrons, plus 6 AEW and 6 ASW Merlin’s, plus escort ships send pretty capable to me. USMC squadron also an option. With only one of two carrier battles gross deployed at one time. What can’t this do? I’d like to see AEW on Mojave done, but apart from that??

PhilWestMids
PhilWestMids
2 days ago
Reply to  Jon

I think everyone understands and respects (well almost everyone) that 3 squadrons would rarely if ever operate from a single QE class at any given point but the fact that we will have enough to do so should surly silence any negativity towards what is an amazing capability the royal navy poses. Even a single squadron would eclipse anything most nations can put out.