UK Announces Initial Operational Capability for its Land-Based F-35B Lightning Fleet

The United Kingdom has formally announced Initial Operational Capability for its land-based F-35B Lightning fleet, becoming the 5th service to declare their fleet ready for combat.

UK Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson MP made the announcement, on Jan. 10, during an event at RAF Marham in England, the home base for British F-35s.

The announcement was made in front of four different aircraft – F-35, Eurofighter Typhoon, Panavia Tornado and Tempest concept -, 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.

Speaking at RAF Marham, the Defence Secretary also announced the UK now has nine F-35 Lightning jets ready to be deployed on operations around the world.

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. Pilots from 617 Squadron, who are already based at RAF Marham, will practice flying the next generation aircraft from four full mission simulators.

Around 150 UK personnel had been working with the jets in the US before the first batch of aircraft came to the UK last summer.

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.

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