F-35 jets will start arriving at their new home early next month, the Defence Secretary has announced.
Gavin Williamson confirmed the imminent arrival of the F-35 Lightning stealth jets to RAF Marham in Norfolk during an event at RAF Coningsby to mark the 75th anniversary of the famous Dambusters raid of World War II.
The aircraft are due to fly across the Atlantic Ocean from the United States with several air-to-air refuelling serials. They will be flown by members of the newly reformed 617 Squadron which flew, and was immortalised by, the Dambusters mission in 1943.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:
“75 years ago the Dambusters pushed the boundaries of what was possible. That same spirit of innovation continues today as the Dambusters of today prepare to fly the world’s most advanced fighter jet in the skies over the UK.
Just like those Lancasters which played such a vital role in the Second World War, the F-35B Lightning is based on great British design, operating with futuristic technology to adapt to an increasingly dangerous world.”
Today’s 617 Squadron is currently training with the UK’s F-35 Lightning jets in America before they start flying to the UK two months ahead of schedule. This provides a good opportunity for support staff to do extra training on the road to the jets being ready for operational service by the end of the year.
617 Squadron’s Commanding Officer, Wing Commander John Butcher, said:
“I have the great privilege of leading a jointly manned Squadron made up of the best engineers, mission support personnel and pilots from the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.
The original Dambuster Squadron did not know what their mission was going to be until the last moment. Yet they had to make sure they were ready and that is as true for us today. The spectrum of missions we can undertake in the F-35 will be huge and we have to make sure we are ready to do whatever is asked of us.”
The MoD has so far committed to 48 jets but has expressed an intent to purchase 138 of the aircraft, whether or not that is financially feasible remains to be seen.
The Public Accounts Committee calculated an equipment plan funding deficit of at least £4.9bn and potentially as much as £20.8bn over the 10-year £179.7bn equipment budget.
The Ministry of Defence has put its faith in the Modernising Defence Programme to solve its affordability issues and to prepare for the continued challenges of a ‘fast-changing defence landscape’, including the UK’s capabilities for cyber, chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and electromagnetic attacks. The report released today however is highly sceptical that the Modernising Defence Programme will be able to return the Department to a balanced position. The report also warned that the equipment plan contains “no headroom” and leaves the UK “increasingly dependent on international allies”.
According to the report, which can be found here:
“The Department faces a significant affordability gap in its Equipment Plan for the next 10 years, but is unable to determine the size of the gap, thereby reducing its ability to make informed decisions about our national defence.
There is an affordability gap of at least £4.9 billion in the Plan, rising to a potential £20.8 billion if all identified financial risks materialise and no savings assumed in the Plan are achieved. Financial risk has increased since last year, and while the Department acknowledges that the affordability gap is in the billions of pounds, it is unable to quantify the size of the gap with any degree of precision. We are concerned by the Department’s vagueness and reluctance to acknowledge its full exposure, and by the Department seeming to question the accuracy of its own numbers when giving evidence.
The Department says it is confident that at end of the Modernising Defence Programme, with cost information anticipated in autumn 2018, it will have a “strategically affordable” Plan, but is unable to articulate clearly how this will be achieved.”
An MoD spokesperson said:
“We are committed to delivering large, complex and technologically challenging defence programmes as part of our £180bn plan to give our military the very best equipment. We recognise financial risk comes with that, but the potential affordability gap highlighted by this report reflects an unlikely, worst-case scenario in which all possibilities materialise.
We are on track to meet our £16bn savings target and will also review these recommendations as part of our Modernising Defence Programme, which aims to strengthen our armed forces in the face of intensifying threats.”
Britain is unlikely to reduce the number of F-35 jets it intends to order however, according to Lockheed Martin.
Peter Ruddock, chief of Lockheed Martin UK said:
“I think if anyone was looking at where to make savings, the F-35 would be a long way up the list and maybe close to the top of the list. Therefore I am quietly confident that we will see F-35 being delivered in the numbers that we anticipate for some time to come.”
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Source: 17 UK Defence Journal