UK’s F-35s full operational capability delayed by two years
On September 14, British Ministry of Defense James Heappey announced that the F-35B fleet will achieve full operational capability in 2025. This is another two-year delay. London’s plans were for the full operational capability to be reached in 2023.
Britain’s problem is twofold. Currently, only the F-35B version can operate on the two Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers. The two British aircraft carriers have no ejection system and no braking system. This means that the F-35C cannot operate on them. The same goes for the F-18E/F. For this reason, London prefers the F-35B, which can do the short take-off and vertical landing [STOVL].
Britain currently expects a fleet of 48 fifth-generation F-35B Lightning II fighters. Only 26 have been delivered, with the last four arriving earlier this year. However, 25 are available as one fighter crashed.
Thus, to reach full operational capability, the British Air Force and Navy must rely on the United States to quickly solve its problems with the production of the aircraft. And Lockheed Martin cannot get rid of such problems. Production is down, over 800 issues from nearly four years ago have still not been resolved. Last – only a week ago it became clear that a Chinese magnet is part of the structure of the fighter’s engine. This required a temporary suspension of production until the reasons for its presence in the engine structure and the role of the magnet were established.
Although the F-35B has the advantage of operating on “improvised runways” this fighter is more complex and the more expensive option. Of the F-35 series, the F-35B is the least capable in terms of combat performance. And last but not least – 50% higher costs per hour of flight than the F-35A, which is in service in the USA.
It is rumored that once all 48 fighters are delivered to Britain, the Ministry of Defense may place an order for a further 26 fighters. Thus, 74 fighters would represent the air fleet of the Royal Navy. BulgarianMilitary.com recalls that the volume of the air wings of the two aircraft carriers is a total of 80 fighters [40 for each].
British Air Marshal Sir Richard Knighton says in this regard that at least 20% of these 74 fighters will never be part of the full operational capability of the Royal Navy and Air Force. The reason – they will become part of the training processes of new pilots, will undergo routine maintenance, and will be part of the so-called reducation unit.
The facts thus presented, the efficiency and usefulness of the dual carrier fleet remain questionable since, in the optimal version, the two aircraft carriers will be used to transport and operate about 60 fighters.