UK orders STOVL F-35s in 1st Production-standard Buy

Wednesday, Oct 29, 2014

In what will become an annual event for the next few years, Britain is to order its first batch of production-standard F-35 Lightning II combat jets for operation by the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.

The British have agreed in principle to order four of the F-35B — the short-takeoff and vertical-landing (STOVL) version of the fighter — to get underway an ordering process which will see the Ministry of Defence place a contract a year for four years until a multi-year deal kicks in after low-rate initial production (LRIP) lot 11, UK program officials said.

A formal contract is expected to be signed in the next few weeks, according to an MoD statement.

“The contracts will be placed annually. The four aircraft are scheduled for delivery in 2016. LRIP 9 aircraft will be scheduled for delivery in 2017, and so in total we are scheduled to have 18 aircraft in five years time,” said an MoD program official. “The program expects to move to multi-year contracting after LRIP 11.”

Financial approval for the main buy, known here as Main Gate 5, remains scheduled for 2017, the official said.

Bernard Gray, the MoD’s defense materiel chief, said the agreement “ensures the MoD remains on target for achieving both operational capability from land bases and the start of flying trials aboard the carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2018.”

Britain has already ordered four F-35Bs for testing and evaluation. Three of those jets have been delivered and the fourth is due to be handed over in early 2016. The jets are based at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

All of the jets delivered to the UK’s first operational squadron will temporarily remain in the US and are planned to transition to their main operating base at RAF Marham, in eastern England, in 2018.

The British program of record is for 138 aircraft but the actual number to be purchased will not be decided until the next strategic defense and security review is undertaken in the second half of next year. Speaking to the media during a visit to the US last year, the then-Defence Secretary Philip Hammond would not commit to a firm number of aircraft to be bought.

“It’s dependent on politics, money and the state of the world, but it’s also dependent on what is not yet clearly known — what the mix between manned fighter jets and unmanned aircraft is going to be,” he said.

The strike aircraft will be used by the RAF from land bases and the Royal Navy aboard two 65,000-ton carriers now being built by a BAE Systems-led alliance.

Flight trials onboard the first of the two carriers, Queen Elizabeth, are scheduled to start in 2018 with the first landings expected to take place off the US East Coast. The carrier is being fitted out at a yard in Scotland and is expected to be handed over to the Royal Navy in 2016. An operational capability including helicopters and F-35s is scheduled for 2020.

The orders are underway, but there remains no decision on exactly how the British will sustain their F-35 force. The program official said Britain is still working towards defining the UK sustainment plan.

The British have been talking to Norway and other European F-35 users about cooperating on the support of the fighter jet in areas like training and maintenance.

When the RAF Tornado jets are scrapped, currently scheduled for no later than the end of 2019, British strike aircraft capabilities will be shared by the F-35 and the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Paul Everitt, the CEO of the ADS aeropsace and defense trade organization, said the F-35 program will bring a huge boost for companies here.

“UK industry and the broader economy will benefit from our significant involvement in the program,” Everitt said. “Around 15 percent of each aircraft will be made here in the UK, recognizing our world-leading capability in designing and developing future technologies. The program will create and support around 24,000 jobs in 100 UK companies and their supply chains.”

The order for the British F-35Bs was part of a wider contract for 43 production Lightning IIs to be assembled in LRIP 8 in a deal agreed between Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon.

Aside from the US military, Israel, Japan, Norway and Italy ordered aircraft. All three versions of the F-35 were included in the production lot.


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