The Royal Air Force is expected to order 27 more F-35Bs this year

The Royal Air Force is today implementing 33 F-35B Lightning II fighter jets, the vertical or short take-off and landing fighter which arms its two Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, out of an order of 48 aircraft .

Initially, London planned to acquire a total fleet of 138 fighters of this type, both to arm its aircraft carriers and to replace its Tornadoes in attack missions. This objective has, however, undergone numerous variations, over the course of changes in governments, without us knowing, until now, what will actually be the format of the F-35 fleet that the Royal Air Force will have at its disposal.

It seems that things have evolved in this area. Indeed, the order for the second tranche of 27 F-35Bs appears close to its formalization, which should take place by this summer, according to the response made by the Minister of State for Defense procurement, James Cartlidge, to a question posed by the chairman of the House of Commons Defense Committee, Jeremy Quin, on this subject.

The order for the second tranche of 27 F-35Bs from the Royal Air Force formalized this summer

« Negotiations between the UK and the JPO regarding the purchase of “Tranche 2” of another F-35 aircraft are going well. This next phase of procurement is expected to complete the internal approval process in summer 2024. It will realize our long-term ambition to deepen carrier-enabled power projection capability and will increase the UK fleet to 74 aircraft, which will allow us to create a third frontline squadron by 2033. Funding for this next phase has been closed under an approved ABC option. " thus, replied the minister to the British parliamentarian.

F-35B Typhoon Royal Air Force
Arrival of the first three F-35Bs of the Royal Air Force in Great Britain, escorted by two Eurofighters Typhoon.

This indicates that the entire process allowing the acquisition of the 27 Tranche 2 aircraft, allowing the creation of a third squadron within the RAF. Delivery of the devices is expected by the end of the decade, according to the same letter, while other procedures are underway, in particular to increase training capabilities on the device, and to extend its armament, in particular concerning the METEOR and SPEAR 3 missiles.

This order was obviously eagerly awaited by the Royal Air Force. The latter is, in fact, unable today to respect its operational contract, and seems convinced that it will be the same, once the 15 F-35Bs remaining to be delivered in the first tranche are in its possession.

Remember that the two British aircraft carriers are designed to carry around thirty on-board fighters, and that they have happened to sail simultaneously. We understand, in these conditions, that a fleet of only 48 fighters is very insufficient, especially since part of them is used for training, and that the F-35B is not renowned for its great availability.

If the British authorities recently reaffirmed their intention to reach a final fleet of 138 F-35s by the middle or end of the next decade, the nature of the third and fourth tranches has not yet been decided. , between the F-35B capable of operating on aircraft carriers, and the F-35A, conventional, but significantly less expensive to purchase and implement.

Priority to the rapid creation of a fleet of onboard drones and the Ark Royal program

If the trajectory for the next ten years, concerning the delivery of future F-35Bs to the Royal Air Force, seems about to materialize, the priority of the moment, for the British naval air force, concerns the integration of a fleet of drones to the Royal Navy's two aircraft carriers.

Royal Navy HMS Queen Elizabeth
The two British aircraft carriers can operate up to 45 aircraft, including around thirty F-35B fighters.

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