The first of the UK’s next generation stealth combat aircraft has today been handed over to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) at a ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas. British Defence Secretary
formally accepted the first jet which will be known as Lightning II. The aircraft are Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, manufactured by Lockheed Martin.
“The delivery of the United Kingdom’s first Lightning II marks the beginning of a new era in our ability to project Air Power from the land or sea.” said Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton,The Chief of the Air Staff. The UK is the first country outside the US to receive these aircraft and Mr Hammond today announced that the MoD intends to order a fourth Lightning II aircraft next year to add to the three already on contract. The total number of Lightning II to be procured by the MoD will be confirmed in the 2015 Strategic Defence & Security Review. The Royal Air Force (RAF) and Royal Navy will conduct flight trials of the jets, which will operate from land bases and from sea.
Lightning II will be operational from land based airfields from 2018, when it will also commence flight trials off the HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier. Mr Hammond announced that the jets are likely to be based at RAF Marham, Norfolk, but that no decision has yet been made. “Jets at sea offer unmatched persistence and can guarantee the delivery of airpower around the globe. With the advent of Lightning II, UK Defence has its opportunity to maximise the utility of our carriers and this extraordinarily capable aircraft through a range of sea and land basing options. The result will be a strategic capability which will deliver for many decades to come.” Royal Navy Fleet Commander, Admiral Sir George Zambellas, added. The UK will benefit from interoperability with the US Marine Corps which operates STOVL aircraft similar to the Lightning II.
The multi-role jet features the latest stealth and Intelligence, Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) technology and represents the cutting edge of combat aircraft design. Fifteen per cent of Joint Strike Fighter work is carried out in the UK and over 130 British companies contribute to the supply chain. It is worth over £1Bn to UK industry each year and will support around 25,000 British jobs over the next 25 years.