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UK restates commitment to full F-35 programme of record

With 48 F-35Bs contracted and a further 27 being negotiated, the UK government has restated its commitment to buying 138 aircraft over the 30-plus-year life of the programme. (Crown Copyright)

The United Kingdom has reasserted its commitment to procuring 138 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning combat aircraft, having recently shied away from the full programme of record (PoR) number.

Answering questions in the House of Commons, Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) James Cartlidge said on 5 February that “the UK remains committed to 138 aircraft through the life of the programme”.

The minister's statement ended a prolonged period in which the UK government had publicly stopped referring to the 138-aircraft PoR for the F-35, instead saying that, with 48 F-35Bs now under contract, a second tranche of 27 F-35Bs would be negotiated for a fleet of 74 aircraft in the early 2030s (these numbers take into account an aircraft lost overboard from HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2021).

In the Defence Command Paper released in March 2021, the MoD said only “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”. On 6 December 2023 it said that it will consider again in the mid-2020s the F-35B fleet size as part of the next Strategic Defence Review.

Cartlidge's statement came days after the chief executive of Lockheed Martin UK, Paul Livingston, told Janes

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