Speech by Philip Dunne, Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology. 14 May 2013 Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI)
F-35 "Great for Britain"
"We expect to order a further aircraft this year in the next JSF annual production contract and, subject to approval at 'Main Gate 4', later this year we intend to start procuring the aircraft for our first operational squadron."
We have 3 of the prototype F-35's and will buy another later this year. Apparently combat ready aircraft will be ordered soon after that.
err... who but a specialist test pilot would risk their lives flying substandard airframes with virtually brand new single jet engines that catch fire on take off (according to some reports the jet engine completely disintegrated which will considerably delay investigations in to what went wrong). It could now take them over 6 months to get the F-35 air worthy again.
The F-35 first flew in December 2006, nearly 8 years and billions of dollars later they are all grounded and so can't make it across the "pond" to Europe to meet the UK's new aircraftless carrier and to fly the air shows.
Fire prevents F-35 stealth fighter carrier fly-past
"Earlier this year, Michael Gilmore, the US military's chief weapons tester, said the plane was proving less reliable and harder to maintain than expected.
British military chiefs say "teething problems" are to be expected during the development of new aircraft and will be ironed out before the planes become operational."
The Canadians seem to be having second thoughts about procuring aircraft with a single jet engine.
Buying single-engine F-35s for Canada a 'serious mistake': report
In the report [Entitled "One Dead Pilot"], Byers compares the F-35 to the single-engine CF-104 Starfighter, which the Canadian air force used from the 1960s to 1987 and which was involved in 110 crashes in that time.
A quarter of those crashes were attributed to bird strikes and the fact there was no secondary engine to allow the plane to keep flying."
Some are asking if the F-35 would be a new "Widow Maker" for the Canadian Air Force....
Will the F-35 be another 'Widow Maker' for Canadian pilots?
Projected whole life costs government spending on the F-35 Lightning II are predicted to be £15.3 billion by 2050.
MOD Government Major Project Portfolio data, September 2013 (CSV)
"The intent of the JCA (Lightning) programme is to deliver the Lockheed Martin F-35B Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) to the frontline by 2018 (Initial Operational Capability) and to contribute to the UK's Carrier Strike capability from 2020 (Initial Operational Capability (Maritime)). Lightning will contribute to the Responsive and Adaptive Force and will achieve Full Operational Capability by 2023."
"The key deliverable post this delivery confidence assessment has been the Main Gate 4 Business Case which resulted in financial approval to procure aircraft for the first F-35B Sqn in order to meet IOC. The team is confident that the Lightning Programme remains on track to deliver on time and within its approved envelope. The team continues to monitor progress towards the development of a global support solution by the US JSF Programme Office and to mitigate any impact to UK delivery. The present Amber assessment is an accurate reflection of the programme which is still in the System Development and Demonstration phase. The UK is fully engaged with the US JSF Program Office, including numerous embedded UK personnel. As the only Level 1 JSF Partner, the UK is also involved in development test flying alongside the US Services."
Remember we are retiring all our Tornado squadrons by 2019. That means that the F-35B would have to be a combat ready replacement for the Tornado within 5 years, to keep some small fraction of the capability achieved by the existing Tornado Squadrons. To achieve this objective combat ready aircraft would have to be available for production line manufacture now. As they are not we are probably looking at an initial operation capability in 2025 at the earliest, with full operational capability in the late 2020's / early 2030's.
This would leave HMS Queen Elizabeth without any combat ready F-35B jet aircraft squadrons until around 2030, up to 8 to 12 years after putting to sea. It would be available during this period for non-combat roles such as helping build off-shore wind farms in the North Sea.