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UK to repatriate US-based F-35s ‘to increase operational fleet'

BK-1 (pictured) is one of three operational test and evaluation F-35Bs that the UK is to transfer from Edwards AFB in California to RAF Marham in England under a contract awarded to Lockheed Martin on 3 July. (Lockheed Martin)

The United Kingdom is to repatriate US-based Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning combat aircraft to Royal Air Force (RAF) Marham in England.

The US Department of Defense (DoD) disclosed the move in a contract notification posted to its website on 3 July. The notification details a USD8.7 million award made to the manufacturer to remove flight-test instrumentation and operational test and evaluation (OT&E) equipment from the aircraft to enable them to be transferred overseas.

“This order provides non-recurring engineering and technical support required for flight test instrumentation de-modification of the three operational test aircraft from their current configuration to an export releasable configuration, in support of the Joint Strike Fighter Program for the United Kingdom,” the notification said, adding that the contract would be completed in March 2026.

The UK has three F-35Bs (BK-1, BK-2, and BK-4) located at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) in California, which have been used by the RAF's 17 Squadron (Sqn) for OT&E since 2016. A further aircraft (BK-3) is used for training by the same unit at the same location. It is not clear from the notification if this fourth non-OT&E-equipped airframe will remain in the United States or will also be shipped to the UK.

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) told Janes

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