This year, the UK’s first F-35 squadron will declare initial operational capability.

It’s no secret that British forces wouldn’t have been able to reach that goal without their partnership with the US Marine Corps. In order to train to meet operational requirements, a decision was made many years ago to integrate the training of the USMC and RAF together. About 10 years ago the UK’s Royal Air Force and Royal Navy began discussions about combining efforts on initial F-35B training with the United States Marine Corps.

Air Commodore Harv Smyth, UK Lightning Force Commander said:

“It started out as just a conversation about, ‘Wouldn’t it be a good idea to pool our resources? In the early years, we knew we’d both have a small number of jets and a small number of people training, so it just made sense to work together.”

These discussions eventually resulted in a ‘pooling implementation agreement’ between the RAF, Royal Navy and USMC.

The Royal Air Force and Royal Navy plan to operate 138 F-35B aircraft. Their training will take place at MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina, where British pilots and maintainers will be embedded with the US Marine Corps and their fleet of F-35Bs.

This joint approach to getting the aircraft ready was very clear with recent F-35 trials aboard the USS Wasp, with much of the data produced being used to inform not only the USMC’s declaration of initial operating capability but also the British effort.

UK personnel were fully embedded in the USS Wasp trials and will use the data gathered from this event, future trials and operational deployments to support the UK’s flying trials aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2018.

Co-operation doesn’t just extend to training, plans for frequent deployment of American F-35 aircraft alongside British jets aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth have been confirmed by British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and are expected to significantly boost the capabilities of the UK’s new carriers.

A key element of 21st century air power is clearly working and smoothly implemented coalition operations, the F-35 provides a unique integrated air combat capability whereby coalitions of joint or allied F-35s can be supported in common. The F-35 was designed from the outset to bring these capabilities while also being interoperable across a coalition of air power.

Two networks are core to this operability: the Link-16 and the new Multi-Function Advanced Datalink (MADL). These systems allow the F-35 to communicate with nearly all current and future NATO assets.

Link-16 is currently utilised by most existing platforms fielded by NATO members and will allow F-35 to integrate seamlessly into a coalition force structure.

MADL will complement the current networks as NATO’s first high bandwidth, low probability of detect and intercept connection. The fundamental design features of MADL enable all NATO F-35s in a deployed coalition to communicate within an Anti-Access/Area Denial environment.

The potential for cooperation between the United Kingdom and coalition forces all using the F-35 variants is significant, in terms of coalition warfare the F-35 further increases the situational awareness of all parties to a greater extent than anything flying today, resulting in a quantum leap in capability for coalition forces.

Such is the aircrafts sensor and data fusion capabilities, a small number of F-35s could provide the UK and her coalition allies with situational awareness within defended airspace where platforms such as E-3 AWACS and E-8 JSTARS would be unable to operate.

F-35s could find and designate priority targets within defended airspace for a less stealthy fleet to attack from a relatively safe distance, further enhancing coalition capability.

The F-35s value is not only in its stealth or combat capability, it’s also in the flying sensor network it creates in the battle space.

The ability of the F-35 to drastically improve the combat capability of other assets was demonstrated recently when an F-35B and Aegis Weapon System worked together during a live fire exercise, with the F-35 passing sensor data to another platform which then engaged the target.

Using the F-35 as a broad area sensor can significantly increase a warships ability to detect, track and engage a target.

An unmodified US Marine Corps F-35B from the Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron, based in Edwards Air Force Base, acted as an elevated sensor to detect an over-the-horizon threat.

The aircraft then sent data through its Multi-Function Advanced Data Link to a ground station connected to USS Desert Ship, a land-based launch facility designed to simulate a ship at sea.

Using the latest Aegis Weapon System Baseline 9.C1 and a Standard Missile 6, the system successfully detected and engaged the target.

The exercise was the first live fire missile event that successfully demonstrated the integration of the F-35 to support Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air and represent a very promising exploration into the interoperability of the F-35B with other naval assets.

The F-35B will drastically increase the situational awareness of the forces with which it will deploy and for the UK, where deployed numbers may be a concern, it represents a fantastic way to enhance combat capability in any coalition or national effort.


  1. Interesting article.

    Couple points: MFADL is indeed a powerful force multiplier but will the CVF carriers, Type 45’s & Type 26’s be equipped with it to make it useful to the RN?

    Secondly, the UK doesn’t have a “plan” to operate 138 F-35’s. There’s a vague commitment that over the life of the F-35 program (50+ years maybe), the UK will buy 138. At the moment the UK has ordered 8 and says it will have 24 in front line service by 2023. That’s in seven years time when both carriers will have been in service for a while.

    Those 24 is all there will be to equip two carriers each capable of fielding 50+ aircraft. No plans exist to increase that number just, once again, a vague aspiration to increase to 48 one day, sometime.

    That’s the reason for the RN’s great love of the US Marine Corps, they need the American jets to fill the decks of their carriers because the UK Treasury is too cheap to buy enough. Poor show. Why on earth is the UK building such big carriers just to carry American jets around? Makes no sense.

    • I thought QE Class could carry 30 aircraft? 12 (1 squadron) for routine and 24 (2 squadrons) for wartime, then make up the space with helicopters.

    • The announcement by Osborne in 2015 *did* contain a commitment to buy the full 138 F-35s, and there will be 24 for *each* aircraft carrier. Typically the carriers won’t operate simultaneously, so this is an Air Wing. The schedule is for all 138 to be in service by the 2030s.

      Since the UK is a Tier one partner in manufacturing the F35, the UK economy will be getting a boost even from F35s delivered to the US and to third countries. To my mind, this has been a pretty brilliant deal all around.

      • There is no “schedule” to get 138 F-35B’s in service by the 2030’s. That is a flat lie.

        Here is the exact statement from the 2015 SDSR: “We will maintain
        our plan to buy 138 F35 Lightning aircraft over the life of the programme.”

        That “programme” is expected to last over 50 years.

        After 5 years in service, the carriers, designed to carry 50 each, will finally get to share 24 F-35B’s. That is a national disgrace. No firm plans to increase that number past 2023 furthers the disgrace.

        • I can’t help wondering if running a serviceable fleet of around 60 F35’s and about the same Typhoon by the mid 20’s, is enough to pose a viable ‘ready the fight’ fleet?

      • To be precise, here is the words from the 2015 SDSR:

        “We will establish an additional F35 Lightning squadron and two additional Typhoon squadrons”

        The additional F-35 squadron mentioned, will be the second.

    • Ron5 is aggressive and unnecessarily unpleasant Jon. He is unusual for this site – I think most of the posters tend to be far more normal than him, so don’t let him put you off visiting the site.

  2. Maybe Ron5 could have delivered in a more soothing way what was said ,however irrespective of how aggressive his tone what he said was factually correct. Maybe its time someone voiced some of our frustrations for after all our politicians certainly don’t seem too phased by the situation but then they irrespective of party over the years have rarely delivered in practical.

  3. When it comes to politics, my guess is as good and as bad as anyone else, but this is my understanding of what happened.

    When the financial crisis hit, there was a realization that we really couldn’t afford our military plans, and so the sdsr2010 happened with a number of heavy cuts. At this time, they wanted to cut the carriers from 2 to 1, but it was more expensive to do so than to build the 2 (i understand) and it was politically too toxic to sell one of them and so we got stuck building 2 carriers that we couldn’t afford.

    However, we kept on with the planning on the assumption that we will only have 1, which we could afford, and so the numbers of F35’s we have planned are fully aligned with this.

    Effectively this means we have to spread the jets over the 2 platforms, and so it is unlikely that they will ever operate at max capacity and this is why the assault ship idea came about, it gives us a way getting better value for the 2 platforms that we realistically don’t need, based on the resources at hand.

    The 138 figure is as always a political game of pass the parcel. We will have them at some point in the future, but its upto some future government to either find the money or announce the cut in numbers. The same game with the new light frigate, a vague notion that we will have more vessels but not actual order.

    Saying that, its not all doom and gloom. Imagine if during the Falklands we had a carrier with 48 jets (instead of 20 odd we had at the time) and a second maxed out with Apache and Chinooks to support the ground force. I suspect, with this, the ground war would have been a lot easier.

    Ok we have the issue of lack of escort vessels compared to then, but that’s another story. Let’s hope at some point in the future they will equip the carriers with defensive missiles or the CAMM(L) could be somehow used onboard the carriers.

  4. Steve’s comment is bang on. Despite the cuts and the doom mongering over so much concerning HM forces and the MoD few countries can match our capabilities, in many areas.

    I also don’t get what Ron5 is supposed to have done? |From my point of view everything he said was fair comment and correct re numbers.

    If we can get both carriers in service simultaneously one with a mixed Tailored Air Group of 12 plus F35, 9 Merlin for ASW and 4 or so Merlin for AEW plus a second carrier with Lynx, Apache Chinook in effect replacing HMS Ocean I would settle for that.

  5. The way the Royal Navy has been depleted over the years is a national disgrace,any country with a few modern weapons would cause us we really serious problems in a conflict. You can forget retaking the Falklands,we are not capable.. Horatio would turn in his grave!!.

  6. Have just read that the first batch 42 X F35 are dangerous due to shortcuts in the safety process also faults with the landing process computerised cotrols and clutch these issues may never be fixed bugs in 1 million lines of code this has a knock on affect due to the fact the the two UK carriers have only this aircraft no other aircraft can land on our CARRIERS due to No CATS and TRAPS. Uk might have to convert one of the carriers due the Uk government being so short sighted with this aircraft and Carrier

  7. Isn’t this all around the failures of effective procurement. Can we break the BAE monopoly and get some real value into our shipbuilding and armament programmes?


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