The UK formally accepted the first F-35 Lightning II for an international customer on July 19. “Having taken decisions on the final designs of our new aircraft carriers and balanced the MoD’s budget we can now proceed confidently to regenerating our carrier strike capability with these cutting-edge stealth combat aircraft,” said British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond.
Earlier this year, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) reverted to the F-35B version, having switched to the F-35C in 2010. Hammond confirmed the UK has set 2018 as the year to achieve the initial land-based operating capability, and to start flight trials from HMS Queen Elizabeth. The UK will order a fourth F-35B next year, but the MoD says that the total number to be procured will not be decided until the next defense review in 2015. The original plan to procure 132 aircraft now looks most unlikely, even though Hammond noted, “UK companies are involved in 15 percent of the production and 25,000 British jobs sustained as a result.”
Meanwhile, the Pentagon outlined an acquisition strategy for the sixth low-rate initial production (LRIP-6) buy. It will order only 25 of the planned 31 aircraft, until Lockheed Martin attains specific development and test goals, and reduces the cost of retrofitting modifications that result from discoveries during flight and other tests. Late last month, Japan committed to an initial four F-35As in a Yen 60 billion ($756.5 million) deal that also includes two simulators and other support equipment. Turkey has authorized funding for its first two aircraft, joining Australia, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK in making production commitments. Singapore and Spain “are participating in funded studies of the F-35,” according to Lockheed Martin.
Lockheed Martin reports that flight tests are 20 to 24 percent ahead of the 2012 plan. The Block 2A software has now flown more than 90 times on five aircraft; the first weapons pit drop tests have taken place at Edwards AFB; and asymmetric weapon loads have flown on an F-35B. High angle-of-attack flight tests are under way, and nighttime air-to-air refueling has been conducted.