The first F-35 for the United Kingdom, its first international customer, has been rolled out by Lockheed Martin. BK-1, a short takeoff/vertical landing Joint Strike Fighter model destined for the UK Ministry of Defence, was rolled out yesterday. It will be used for training and operational tests.
BK-1 will undergo functional fuel system checks before being transported to the flight line for ground and flight tests in the coming months. The jet is scheduled to be delivered next year, Lockheed Martin says.
“This first F-35 for the first international programme partner is symbolic of the proud partnership we share with the United Kingdom,” said F-35 Executive Vice President and General Manager of Program Integration Tom Burbage. “Working together in a spirit of collaboration, we are providing the men and women of the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy with unmatched 5th Generation capabilities, while delivering advanced technology sector jobs to the U.K.”
Group Captain Harv Smyth, the U.K.’s Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) national deputy, stated: “This is a major milestone in the JSF Programme for U.K., and we look forward to starting to operate the first British F-35s next year. JSF is ideally suited for U.K.’s future Combat Air capability needs, since it provides a world-class 5th Generation air system, which is capable of operating from both the land and our new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier.”
“This programme delivers unrivalled Combat Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (Combat ISTAR) capability to the U.K. Armed Forces, as well as being a major economic driver by sustaining thousands of jobs in the U.K. over more than two decades,” added Lockheed Martin Aero U.K. Director Paul Livingston.
The F-35 programme is comprised of nine partner nations; the United States, U.K., Italy, Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway. In October 2010, Israel selected the F-35A as the Israel Air Force’s next generation fighter and is scheduled to receive the F-35 through the U.S. government’s Foreign Military Sales process. Additionally, Japan and the Republic of Korea are currently considering the F-35 to recapitalise their fighter fleets.
However, there have been concerns by some partner nations over the F-35’s delays and cost increases. Defence chiefs from the United States and Canada said on Friday that budgetary pressures would not derail development of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, saying there was no real alternative to what has become the Pentagon’s costliest weapons program. Two days before Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay expressed concern about reports of delays in F-35 delivery and said his government was in direct talks with Lockheed Martin.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said flatly he was confident Congress would approve funding for the F-35, which is facing fresh scrutiny for possible cuts as lawmakers weigh how to scale back the U.S. deficit.
The F-35 is projected to cost the United States more than US$382 billion to buy a total of 2,447 F-35 models over the next two decades, more than twice the initial projected cost, but Pentagon officials have said they intend lower that projected cost sharply through tough cost-cutting measures.
Other countries, including the co-development partners, are expected to buy roughly another 750 aircraft. Canada says it plans to buy 65 of the jets, which in theory will start arriving in 2016. It has not yet signed a binding contract.
Panetta acknowledged that the Pentagon was still looking at ways to make the US$450 billion in cost-cuts over the next decade, approved by Congress.
“But we also have to look to areas where we have to continue to invest for the future. And the F-35 is one of those areas, where we are going to continue to invest for the future,” Panetta said.
Panetta’s comments appeared predicated on the expectation that Congress would reach a deficit reduction deal before a November 23 deadline. Earlier this week the super committee failed to agree on US$1.2 trillion in deficit-cutting measures, triggering up to US$600 billion in defence cuts over 10 years beginning in 2013, something that Panetta warned in a letter to Congress could affect the F-35 programme.
Lockheed late last month said the F-35 flight test programme was more than 9% ahead of schedule, as of October 29. From the start of flight testing in December 2006 through October 29, it said F-35s flew 1 412 times, including flights by production-model planes and AA-1, a flight test aircraft.
It said the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) jets being built for the Air Force had flown 398 times in 2011, while the F-35B short takeoff, vertical landing plane had completed 290 flights and 265 vertical landings. The F-35C or carrier variant had flown 131 times in 2011, it said.