It has been revealed that the UK and the US may share access to their weapons stocks for the F-35B if required.
Col Bill Lieblin told FlightGlobal at the Farnborough air show.
“There is no reason why we shouldn’t for example utilise the UK’s Paveway IV weapons on our USMC jets. We will be working as one combined force – not two separate ones, so it makes a lot of sense. In these days of reduced budgets, it will help to utilise the same weapons, although there are of course issues when it comes to pooling the dual mode-JDAM and Meteor.”
The US Marine Corps currently has four squadrons flying the F-35B these are;
VMX1 (Test Sqn) Edwards AFB, VMFAT 501 (Training Sqn) MCAS Beaufort,VMFA 121 and VMFA 211 both at MCAS Yuma, Arizona although VMFA 121 is scheduled to be the first overseas based USMC Sqn when it moves to Iwakuni, Japan in 2017. It will eventually have 14 active duty F-35B squadrons, four F-35Cs squadrons.
It is expected that the UK will build a front-line fleet of four F-35 squadrons with each squadron having 12 jets. A fifth unit, an operational conversion unit, will also operate 12 aircraft.
The structure of the Lightning force is now somewhat clear.
- 17(R) Squadron is currently based at Edwards Air Force Base in the US and fills role of F-35B Operational Evaluation Unit.
- 617 Squadron will be based at RAF Marham and will be the first operational British F-35 unit in 2019.
- 809 Naval Air Squadron will also be based at RAF Marham.
- 2 more unnamed frontline Squadrons are to be established.
- 1 Operation Conversion Squadron will also be formed.
In 2015, the UK government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review confirmed a planned order of 138 F-35s, with 23 of them to be available for carrier duties by 2023.
The UK will have an operational fleet of around 63 aircraft which is less than half of the total number of F-35’s that the UK has agreed to purchase
However, as reported by AviationWeek, Smyth pointed out that “the total number would cover attrition replacements and the so-called sustainment fleet, which is defined as additional aircraft required to sustain the fleet to its out-of-service date as well as to cover maintenance. Other UK combat aircraft also have large sustainment fleets.”
The programme is progressing at a steady rate with the Royal Air Force recently starting in-flight refuelling clearance trials of its Voyager tanker with the F-35.
The F-35B’s maiden deployment is set for late 2017 and it’s bound for the Western Pacific. The jet will deploy aboard an amphibious flattop and the US Marine Corps are planning a more powerful escort force to support it, according to Admiral Scott Swift, head of Pacific Fleet, as reported by the Marine Times.
The F-35B has already flown from American assault ships as part of a series of tests, which largely went well.
Additionally, F-35 unit costs have been going down with each successive lot of aircraft and will continue to do so.