In other good news for the F-35 program, the Royal Navy has announced its intentions to double its F-35B fleet. Complying with the Royal Navy’s request, the British government agreed to purchase an additional 17 F-35B aircraft. The additional jets are expected to enter the Royal Navy’s arsenal between 2020 and 2022.
The current fleet of the 16 F-35Bs are based in the UK and the US. The British F-35Bs will be operating from two aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. In September, the first F-35Bs landed on the deck of the HMS Queen Elizabeth, as the aircraft carrier conducts its sea and flight trials before entering into operation service by 2021. HMS Prince of Wales is still under construction.
Interestingly, the Royal Navy has decided not to purchase the F-35C variant, which the U.S. Navy will be getting. The unique attribute of the F-35B is its short takeoff and vertical-landing capability. The United States Marine Corps will also be receiving the F-35B variant.
The British have a history with short takeoff and vertical-landing aircraft. They were the first to build the concept into a functional aircraft with the famous Harrier. The Harrier, which is still in service with the USMC, was pivotal in the British victory against the Argentinians in the Falklands War in 1982.
Under the agreement with Lockheed-Martin, the United Kingdom will manufacture 15 percent of the overall 3,000 F-35 Joint-Strike Fighter aircraft global order, this includes all three variants of the plane (F-35A, F-35B, and F-35C). The British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said, “This is another massive order in the biggest defence programme in history. I am delighted to confirm that we are doubling the size of our F-35 force into a formidable fleet of 35 stealth fighters.”
Overall, the British military has committed to purchase 138 F-35s, for the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Royal Navy.
Sir Simon Bollom, CEO of Defence Equipment and Support, which is responsible for procurement programs, said that “As the largest operator of F-35s outside of the US, the acquisition of 17 more Lightning aircraft underscores our commitment to the programme.”
The Fleet Air Arm is one of the sub-branches of the Royal Navy (the other being the Surface Fleet, the Submarine Fleet, and the Royal Marines). Currently, it operates helicopters and Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles. The imminent introduction of the F-35B into operational service, however, will restore the FAA into its proper fighting status.