The first of Britain’s next-generation F-35 fighter jets, procured by DE&S for the RAF and Royal Navy, have today arrived at their new home two months ahead of schedule, in a momentous moment for the UK and its military.
The first four of Britain’s new cutting-edge aircraft arrived at RAF Marham, their home in Norfolk at 7.15pm after an eight-hour flight from the United States, where Britain has more of the jets and 150 personnel in training.
CEO DE&S, Sir Simon Bollom said:
“The arrival of the first F-35 aircraft to the UK is an exciting and historic moment for Defence. A tremendous amount of hard work has gone into procuring these aircraft and I’m incredibly proud of the pivotal role DE&S has played in achieving this milestone.”
The F-35s took off from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort at 11am (BST) and were flown by British pilots of the newly-reformed 617 Squadron, which was immortalised by the famous Dambusters’ raid of World War II.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:
“These formidable fighters are a national statement of our intent to protect ourselves and our allies from intensifying threats across the world. With a game-changing ability to collect crucial intelligence, fight wars and tackle terrorism, these are the best jets in British history. The work that’s gone into their early arrival shows they have the people to match.
“Our defence industry and military have always been at the very forefront of technology, and today’s momentous arrival of these incredible jets shows we are upholding our proud tradition of innovation while keeping Britain safe from the gravest of dangers.”
The F-35s’ arrival in the UK two months ahead of schedule provides an opportunityfor support staff to get a head-start in getting the aircraft ready for operational service at the end of this year.
Defence Minister Guto Bebb said:
“The F-35 will form the backbone of our air power for decades to come, and its arrival in the UK during the 100th anniversary of the RAF marks a truly historic moment.
“In the face of growing threats, these fighter jets demonstrate our commitment to provide our Armed Forces with the cutting-edge technology they need to keep the our people safe at home and abroad.”
Around £550m has been invested in RAF Marham as part of a major change programme to get the base ready to house the new jets. The base has seen an upgrade in facilities, resurfaced runways and the addition of new landing pads to accommodate the jet’s ability to land vertically.
Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, said:
“In the RAF’s centenary year, it’s great to see the most advanced and dynamic fighter jet in our history arrive today at RAF Marham – and with the modern Dambusters in the cockpit, this homecoming truly feels like an historic moment in British airpower.
“If you can’t see us coming, you won’t be able to stop us, so with its stealth and other world-beating technologies the F35 Lightning takes the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy to a whole a new level of capability.”
This autumn, the first landing of the F-35 will take place on HMS Queen Elizabeth in the next phase of trials. Having bothship and aircraft operating together for the first timewill be another significant moment for the Armed Forces.
First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones, said:
“Ever since aircraft first operated to and from ships, the Royal Navy has been at the forefront of maritime aviation and the arrival of our first F35Bs in the UK today, flown by both RAF and Fleet Air Arm pilots, is another important milestone on the way to restoring our place as leaders in the field of aircraft carrier operations.
“Once combined with our new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and her sister ship HMS Prince of Wales, these extraordinary jets will sit at the heart of our country’s globally deployable expeditionary forces and provide the potent conventional deterrent we need to ensure our national security.”
This is the first tranche of F-35s to arrive, with RAF Voyager aircraft providing air-to-air refuels on their trans-Atlantic journey. More jets are due in Britain later this year, and there is an overall plan to procure 138.
The F-35 is the world’s largest defence programme at over $1.3 trillion, and UK industry is providing 15% of every one of over 3,000 jets set for the global order book. That makes the economic impact greater than if we were building 100% of all 138 aircraft which we intend to buy.
The programme has already generated $12.9Bn worth of orders and at peak production will support thousands of British manufacturing and engineering jobs.Just last week, the F-35 programme awarded a contract worth over $2bn for aircraft propulsion systems, which will have significant benefits for Rolls-Royce and their supply chain.