UK-specific weapons trials of the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) have continued with the first guided drop of a Raytheon Paveway IV precision-guided munition (PGM) announced on 5 December.
A US Marine Corps aircraft assigned to the 461st Flight Test Squadron dropped the PGM at the Naval Air Weapons Station in China Lake, California, ahead of further drops planned for weapons certification of the UK's F-35Bs.
The test flights are supported by an industry team that also includes Raytheon (UK and US), MBDA UK, Northrop Grumman, and the Royal Air Force Air Warfare Centre alongside Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems.
Previously, integration tests of the Paveway IV had been flown from Edwards Air Force Base in California along with those for the MBDA Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile, which is the other UK-specific weapons system to be integrated onto the F-35B as part of the Block 3F (full combat) capability package.
The United Kingdom has a Program of Record of 138 F-35Bs to equip the two new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy (RN) and to replace the Panavia Tornado GR4 for the Royal Air Force (RAF). The government committed itself to this full number in the Strategic Defence and Security Review published in late 2015.
In February 2015, the RAF's 17 Reserve Squadron stood up as the operational test and evaluation squadron at Edwards Air Force Base.
Previously, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) had briefed that the first operational unit - 617 'Dambusters' Squadron - was due to be formed at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina before the end of 2016, before being officially stood-up on its arrival in 2018 at its future homebase of RAF Marham in the United Kingdom. However, IHS Jane’s has been informed by the UK Lightning Force that the formation of this unit will now fully take place in 2018.
The RN's 809 'Immortals' Naval Air Squadron, which was to be created as the second unit ahead of the start of sea trials in 2018, will be stood up in 2023. A further two operational units are set to be formed during the course of the programme.
Want to read more? For analysis on this article and access to all our insight content, please enquire about our subscription options ihs.com/contact