The first of the UK's next generation of stealth combat aircraft, Lightning II, was handed over to the Ministry of Defence at a ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond formally accepted the first of the jets which are short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and are manufactured by Lockheed Martin.
The UK is the first country outside the US to receive these aircraft, and Mr Hammond announced that the MOD intends to order a fourth Lightning II aircraft next year to add to the three already on contract.
The RAF and Royal Navy will conduct flight trials of the jets which will operate from land bases and from the sea.
Lightning II will be operational from land-based airfields from 2018, when it will also commence flight trials off the HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier. Mr Hammond announced that the jets are likely to be based at RAF Marham in Norfolk, but no decision has yet been made.
The UK will benefit from interoperability with the US Marine Corps which operates STOVL aircraft similar to the Lightning II. The multi-role jet features the latest stealth and intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) technology and represents the cutting-edge of combat aircraft design.
Fifteen per cent of Joint Strike Fighter work is carried out in the UK, and over 130 British companies contribute to the supply chain. It is worth over £1bn to UK industry each year and will support around 25,000 British jobs over the next 25 years.
After the acceptance ceremony, the Defence Secretary toured Lockheed Martin's production plant with representatives of major UK subcontractors on the programme, including BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce.
This hugely capable combat aircraft is now officially British and in the hands of our expert pilots. Highly skilled British aerospace workers are also playing a vital role in the delivery of Lightning II, with UK companies involved in 15 per cent of the production and 25,000 British jobs sustained as a result”, said Hammond.
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.
The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, said that the delivery of the UKs first Lightning II marks the beginning of a new era in our ability to project air power from the land or sea.
Alongside our increasingly capable combat-proven multi-role Typhoons, the Lightning provides an additional complementary capability to our growing Combat-ISTAR force”.
The Joint Strike Fighter was officially named ‘Lightning II’ in 2006 in honour of both the US Air Force’s Lockheed P-38 Lightning from World War II and the Royal Air Force’s English Electric Lightning of the Cold War. The total number of Lightning II to be procured by the MoD will be confirmed in the 2015 Strategic Defence & Security Review. (Defence news).