The UK declared initial operating capability (IOC) Land (L) for its Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning Force on 10 January.
The declaration, which came some days later than the original target date of the end of 2018, was made during an event at Royal Air Force (RAF) Marham that was attended by Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson and senior service officials.
IOC L sees the UK’s F-35s cleared to carry the Raytheon AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), the MBDA AIM-132 Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM), and the Raytheon Paveway IV laser-guided bomb (LGB).
Of the 138 F-35s that the UK has committed to, 18 are under contract: nine are currently with 617 Squadron at RAF Marham, eight are with VFMAT 501 at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Beaufort in South Carolina and 17 Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) in California, and one aircraft is yet to be delivered.
In late 2018 Williamson said that he would shortly sign a contract for a further 17 aircraft to be delivered between 2020 and 2022. These 35 aircraft will form part of the initial procurement of 48 short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35Bs that will be operated by the RAF and Royal Navy (RN) from RAF Marham in southern England and the two new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.
The force will declare IOC Maritime (M) on 31 December 2020 (21 aircraft), which will add the Paveway IV fitted with the tactical penetrator warhead. In 2021 the UK Lightning Force will embark aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth alongside F-35Bs of the US Marine Corps (USMC) for the ship’s inaugural operational cruise. With HMS Prince of Wales set to enter service in 2021, full operating capability (FOC) for the F-35B will be declared in 2023, with 42 aircraft scheduled to be delivered.
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