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UK slips full operating capability for F-35B

Earlier scheduled for 2023, full operating capability for the UK Lightning Force will not take place until 2025. (Crown Copyright)

The UK is to delay declaring full operating capability (FOC) for its Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning fleet, with a government minister saying it will now happen in 2025 rather than the earlier stated 2023.

Minister for the Armed Forces, James Heappey, made the disclosure while answering a question in the House of Commons on 12 September.

“Full operating capability for the Lightning Force is expected in 2025, at which point the Lightning Force will be able to operationally deploy both [617 and 809] squadrons concurrently,” he said.

Heappey's comments marked a departure from the Ministry of Defence's (MoD's) earlier stated timeline of declaring initial operating capability (IOC) for the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B in 2023, by which time both 617 Squadron and 809 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) would have been stood-up as the first two front-line units for the type and able to deploy with 12 aircraft each. At this time, 42 of the 48 contracted aircraft would have been delivered, and HMS Prince of Wales would be fully operational as the Royal Navy's second Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier.

It is unclear if the definition of FOC for the F-35B has changed, or if the definition remains the same, but deliveries have been slowed so that the first 42 aircraft will not be delivered until 2025. According to Heappey, the standing up of 809 NAS in 2023 remains on track – so that element of FOC has not changed. To date, 24 aircraft have been delivered (including one lost at sea in November 2021, to be replaced in a later procurement batch).

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