Nov 24, 2014
UK orders first operational F-35 combat aircraft
The order marks an initial buy from the MoD's Main Gate 4 acquisition approval process for 14 jets to equip the Royal Air Force's (RAF's) 617 Squadron, which is scheduled to stand-up as the UK's first operational F-35B unit in 2016.
The UK already has two operational test and evaluation (BK-1 and BK-2) and one training aircraft (BK-3) delivered and flying out of Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. A third test aircraft (BK-4) has been signed for and is due to be delivered in early 2016.
Set to equip both RAF and Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm (FAA) units, the F-35B will be flown as a common pool along the lines of the now deactivated Joint Force Harrier. In 2016 the first unit - 617 'Dambusters' Sqn - will stand up with the first 14 operational aircraft and BK-3 at Beaufort Pilot Training Center at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Beaufort, South Carolina.
The government will approve the UK's bulk F-35B buy (the final number minus the 14 aircraft of Main Gate 4 and the four test and training aircraft) in its Main Gate 5 announcement in 2017. Numbers are yet to be decided, but with the UK having so far committed itself to just 48 aircraft it is highly likely that the final order will be substantially less than the 138 programme of record. Following Main Gate 5, the overall cost of the programme will be published.
In 2018, 617 Sqn will transfer to its future home station at RAF Marham in the UK, and in December of that year the UK will declare initial operating capability - land (IOC - Land) for its F-35B force.
The second unit - the FAA's 809 'Immortals' Naval Air Squadron - will be created ahead of the commencement of sea trials aboard the future HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier in 2018, with the full operating capability (land and maritime) being declared in 2023.