The United Kingdom has received an additional batch of Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning fighters, with the arrival of three new aircraft into their Royal Air Force (RAF) Marham main operation base on 30 November.
One of three new F-35B aircraft en route from the US to the UK in late November 2020. (Crown Copyright)
The arrival of aircraft ZM153, ZM154, and ZM155 brings to 21 the number of F-35Bs that the UK has received out of an order so far of 48. Of these, 18 are being flown operationally by 617 Squadron and for training by 207 Sqn Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) at RAF Marham, with three for test and evaluation purposes by 17 Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
The RAF’s 617 Sqn is set to be joined by the Royal Navy’s (RN’s) 809 ‘Immortals’ Naval Air Squadron (NAS) in 2023. Despite their separate RAF and RN identities, both 617 Sqn and 809 NAS will be operated as a combined Lightning Force, with a mix of service personnel and pilots (indeed, the newly installed chief of 617 Sqn, Commander Mark Sparrow, is an RN officer).
While the UK plans to field the F-35B in both a land- and maritime-based role, the priority at the moment is in reconstituting the RN’s carrier strike capability that was mothballed with the retirement of the BAE Systems Harrier GR9 and the decommissioning of HMS Ark Royal in 2010.