AIR International – June 2018

(Jacob Rumans) #1

10 |


Lightning programme
Britain has a requirement for 138
F-35s and has so far committed to
48 F-35Bs at a unit cost of $
million for each jet. However, as
always predicted by Lockheed
Martin, costs are coming down
as manufacturers improve
production methods. According to
a US Government Accountability
Office (GAO) report released in
June 2018, in 2012 it took 107,
man-hours to build an F-35B but
only 57,152 in 2017. The figures
for the F-35A are even better,
down from 108,355 to 41,
over the same timescale. Fewer
man-hours equates to cheaper

jets. The GAO report states:
“These improvements in airframe
manufacturing efficiency indicate
that manufacturing processes
are stabilizing and coming under
control, and production capability
is improving.”
AIR International has listed
both types because it is by no
means certain that the 90 jets for
which funds have not yet been
allocated will be F-35Bs. The MoD
is conducting a study to identify
the best mix of aircraft for the
future. Claims in the mainstream
media recently that Lightning will
be cancelled in favour of more
Typhoons can almost certainly be

dismissed. The ageing Typhoon is
itself a very expensive aeroplane,
and will be even more costly if
further developed, compared with
Lightning. A future mix of F-35A
and F-35B is a very real possibility
for Britain.
As of today, the UK has 15
F-35Bs in service split between
three units; No.17 Squadron
based at Edwards Air Force Base,
California as part of the F-
Joint Operational Test Team (3),
Marine Fighter Attack Training
Squadron 501 based at Marine
Corps Air Station Beaufort, South
Carolina (8), and No.617 Squadron
at RAF Marham, Norfolk (4).

Three UK aircraft will remain at
Beaufort with VMFAT-501 as part
of an agreement between the UK
Ministry of Defence and the US
Department of Defense designed
to accelerate the US Marine Corp’s
training output now that the Brits
are leaving, and also to support
ongoing UK pilot training until the
UK’s Lightning OCU is stood-up at
Marham in 2019.
The joint US-UK operation has
been running at Beaufort since
VMFAT-501 moved to the South
Carolina base from Eglin Air Force
Base, Florida in the summer of 2014.
The UK’s first cadre of F-35B pilots
were trained by VMFAT-501 at Eglin.

Voyager KC2 ZZ335 leading the
formation of four F-35B Lightning IIs
en-route to RAF Marham on June 6.
Cpl Tim Laurence/Royal Air Force

Run and break for landing on the rebuilt runway at
RAF Marham during the evening of June 6. OC 617
Squadron, Wing Commander John Butcher is shown
making the break. Thinh Nguygen/Lockheed Martin
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