U.K. MoD F-35 Lightning II PROCUREMENT ANNOUNCEMENT EAGERLY AWAITED
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
10 Feb 14. With confirmation from the Ministry of Defence expected very soon that it intends to acquire an initial fourteen F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) combat jets that are planned to be operated jointly by the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy on future ‘Carrier Strike’ the UK Governments commitment to the brilliant Lockheed Martin advanced fifth-generation multi-role combat fighter programme will have gone full circle.
The potent capability that the F-35 ‘B’ STOVL variant of the aircraft will provide future UK defence particularly within ‘Carrier Strike’ and that in terms of the overall air power component capability not only adds STOVL (Short-Take-Off-Vertical-Landing) but together with the brilliant electronic warfare element brings with it an important additional ISR (Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) component capability can hardly be argued. Even better is that as the only ‘Level One’ programme partner, F-35 Lightning ll is already very significant for the UK defence industry just as it is and will increasingly be seen to be a very important element of success for the UK economy.
The hugely beneficial industrial element of the F-35 programme for the UK is built on the fact that as a full ‘Level One’ partner our JSF F-35 programme work share works out in value terms to be 15% of each aircraft built. With over 3,000 F-35 aircraft of all three variants likely to be built the production life of the Lockheed Martin programme can easily be estimated to be in excess of thirty years.
As important and vital that procurement of initial batch of F-35 Lightning ‘B’ STOVL variant aircraft will be for the UK when this is confirmed over the next few weeks is matched by recognition and importance that the value of being a Level One JSF partner brings to the UK economy. It is this particular aspect of the JSF programme that I will probably concentrate and that over time can, as full F-35 production ramps up, be expected to bring billions of pounds into the UK economy in the years ahead whilst at the same time play a large role ensuring that the UK retains vital engineering and manufacturing jobs and the irreplaceable engineering and technical skills that it will always require to retain.
With the potential to be the largest ever multi-role fast combat jet aircraft programme in military aviation history and one that will likely remain in production for over thirty years Britain’s decision back in 2002 to invest $2bn in the Joint Strike Fighter research and development programme has undoubtedly proved to be one of the best defence industrial decisions made over the past generation. Whilst there are other international partners in the JSF programme Britain has and remains the only ‘Level One’ JSF Partner with the US. Established with Lockheed Martin twelve years ago it is BAE Systems that is on the JSF programme the UK’s primary full team contractor partner and that in terms of aircraft component is responsible for the aft, fuel system, crew escape, life support and prognostics and health management systems together of course, with integration of aircraft purchased by the UK for its ‘carrier strike’ programme.
While the importance of the military role to be played by an eventual 48 ‘B’ STOVL (Short Take-Off Vertical Landing) variant of the F-35 Lightning ll aircraft, the first batch of which are planned to be purchased by the UK Ministry of Defence over the next few weeks, within our future ‘carrier strike’ capability will be vital for the large international role we play in NATO defence, being of full partner status within the global F-35 programme brings with it significant additional benefits for the UK as a whole. When the formal MOD announcement is made at some point over the next month I suspect that confirmation that the first batch of 14 aircraft are