The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has signed a contract for the first production batch of four Lightning II stealth combat aircraft, which will operate from both the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers and RAF land bases.
The contract for the F-35B aircraft forms part of the MOD’s investment in Lightning II over the next five years to procure an initial 14 of these multi-role fifth generation aircraft, as well as putting in place the necessary support arrangements and infrastructure. Further contracts will cover the procurement of a range of equipment such as engines.
Minister for Defence Equipment Support and Technology, Philip Dunne MP, said: “Looking to the future, the investment we are making in the F-35 aircraft will ensure we are securing the skies for decades to come, providing the UK with the latest stealth technology and multi-role aircraft capability.
“Not only does our investment in these next generation aircraft afford us air superiority, but the UK’s tier one status in the entire programme provides UK industry with a unique opportunity to produce world-leading products, technologies and manufacturing expertise for coming decades. The aircraft will be a powerful testament to the strength and capability of British industry.
“In addition, with the aircraft being supported and operated from RAF Marham, this will create job opportunities for the local community, as well as maintaining its key role as an RAF operating and engineering sustainment base which will support the military and civilian workforce for years to come.”
Bernard Gray, the MOD’s Chief of Defence Materiel, said: “Signing the contract paves the way for the first batch of operational combat aircraft. By reaching this milestone, 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 for this highly advanced multi-role stealth combat aircraft.”
The news comes as a UK test team has completed initial aircraft handling trials for ASRAAM and Paveway IV on the F-35B aircraft. Trial rounds, which are identical to the operational weapons, were tested for the first time during a series of flights from the US Navy’s test facility at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland.
These initial tests are an important step in integrating weapons onto the F-35B, allowing test pilots to understand how they affect the way the aircraft performs and handles.
The aircraft are short take off and vertical landing (STOVL) and feature the latest stealth and intelligence surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) technology.