Britain’s defense minister declared its new fleet of nine F-35B Lightning fighter planes combat-ready. Speaking at RAF Marham, the Defence Secretary announced the UK now has nine F-35 Lightning jets ready to be deployed on operations around the world. The F-35 Lightnings will form the backbone of the UK’s combat air fleet alongside the Typhoon jets, which the Defence Secretary also announced have now been fitted with a state-of-the-art complex weapons suite to vastly increase its capability.
Under ‘Project Centurion’, worth £425m over the past three years, the Typhoon now has deep strike cruise missile Storm Shadow, air-to-air missile Meteor and the precision attack missile Brimstone at their disposal. It means the jets have boosted capabilities to intercept airborne missiles and strike ground based targets, seamlessly taking over from the Tornado’s attack role as it nears retirement. Completed on-time and to budget, the upgrades transform the fleet into a world-leading multi-role combat air platform for decades to come.
Military engineers and personnel have worked together with hundreds of UK workers from British defence firms including BAE Systems, MBDA and Leonardo to reach the milestone. The Defence Secretary made the announcement in front of four different aircraft, in a brand-new maintenance hangar at RAF Marham, which he opened today along with a state-of-the-art new training centre. These facilities, along with resurfaced runways and new landing pads to accommodate the jet’s ability to land vertically, are a key part of the £550m being invested in the Norfolk base.The year ahead will see the F-35 Lightning pilots and ground crew continue learning how to operate and maintain the jets in the new centre, which features state-of-the-art simulators, classrooms, and physical aircraft mock-ups. The facility provides a real-life training environment replicating the challenges that both pilots and crew will face in supporting and operating the F-35 Lightning.
The planes unveiled on Thursday will be sent to the RAF base in Akotiri, Cyprus, Sky News reported, and could be used in strike missions against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria this year. Flight trials of the F-35B had been underway since last year, with tests aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s newest aircraft carrier. The F-35s are set to work with the Britain’s fleet of Typhoon aircraft have been fitted with a new weapons suite said to “vastly increase its capability.” Included among the new weapons are the deep strike cruise missile Storm Shadow, air-to-air missile Meteor and the precision attack missile Brimstone. Pilots from 617 Squadron, who are already based at RAF Marham, will practice flying the next generation aircraft from four full mission simulators. Having the F-35s ready for operations on time is a huge landmark in what is the biggest defence project in history, which the UK has been a leading partner in for almost 25 years.