The United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force and Royal Navy plan to introduce the F-35B, known simply as the Lightning in British service, as a replacement for the Harrier GR9, which was retired in 2010, and Tornado GR4, which was retired in 2019. The F-35 is intended to be the United Kingdom’s primary strike attack aircraft for the next three decades. One of the Royal Navy requirements for the F-35B design was a Shipborne Rolling and Vertical Landing (SRVL) mode to increase maximum landing weight to bring back unused ordnance by using wing lift during landing.
In July 2013, Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton announced that No. 617 (The Dambusters) Squadron would be the first operational Royal Air Force squadron to receive the F-35. The second operational squadron will be the Fleet Air Arm’s 809 Naval Air Squadron in April 2023. In June 2013, the Royal Air Force had received three aircraft of the 48 on order, all of which are based at Eglin Air Force Base.
In June 2015, the F-35B undertook its first launches from a ski-jump, when one of the UK’s aircraft took off using a ramp constructed at NAS Patuxent River. When required to operate from the sea, the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy will operate the F-35B from ships fitted with ski-jumps, as will the Italian Navy. The British version of the F-35B is not intended to receive the Brimstone 2 missile. On 5 July 2017, it was announced the second RAF squadron to be based in the UK would be No. 207 Squadron, which will reform on 1 July 2019 as the Lightning Operational Conversion Unit.
No. 617 Squadron was reformed on 18 April 2018 during a ceremony in Washington, D.C., US, becoming the first RAF front-line squadron to operate the Lightning. The Dambusters received their first four F-35Bs on 6 June, flying from MCAS Beaufort to RAF Marham. Receiving a further five Lightnings on 3 August, No. 617 Squadron and the F-35 fleet were declared ‘combat ready’ on 10 January 2019. No. 617 Squadron was deployed to RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, before embarking on HMS Queen Elizabeth in October 2019.