UK Defence Command Paper: MoD circumspect on future F-35 numbers

by Gareth Jennings

The United Kingdom has dropped its reference to an earlier stated commitment to procuring 138 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning combat aircraft, noting only that an unspecified number will be bought over and above the 48 already outlined in earlier statements.

While the UK government has previously touted the official programme of record number of 138 for planned F-35 procurements, the latest Defence Command Paper refers only to a plan to buy more than the 48 currently committed to. (Crown Copyright)

While the UK government has previously touted the official programme of record number of 138 for planned F-35 procurements, the latest Defence Command Paper refers only to a plan to buy more than the 48 currently committed to. (Crown Copyright)

In the Defence Command Paper released on 22 March, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) shied away from the official programme of record number of 138 F-35s over the life of the programme that was reaffirmed in the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) in 2015. Instead, it has deferred to a later date any commitment to further buys beyond the 48 it is currently earmarked to receive by 2025.

“The Royal Air Force will continue to grow its Combat Air capacity over the next few years […] and grow the Lightning Force, increasing the fleet size beyond the 48 aircraft that we have already ordered,” the paper said.

To date, the UK has committed to just those short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35Bs it requires for its carrier-strike requirement. Of these, 35 have been contracted and 21 delivered, with remaining deliveries for a final tally of 48 set to run through to 2025.

While 138 has long been held up as the UK’s programme of record for the F-35 programme, it should be noted that the country never planned to field 138 F-35s at once. This number was to be procured over the 30-year-plus life of the programme, so as older aircraft were retired, newer ones would be bought.

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The United Kingdom has dropped its reference to an earlier stated commitment to procuring 138 Lockhe...

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