The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) has declared an Initial Operational Capability (IOC) of its Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II has been achieved, and the multi-role Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 has entered service.
The F-35B IOC milestone was declared by British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, who said the UK now has nine F-35s in service with the RAF’s 617 Sqn ‘The Dambusters’ ready to be deployed on operations.
“Having the F-35s ready for operations on time is a huge landmark in what is the biggest defence project in history, which the UK has been a leading partner in for almost 25 years,” Mr Williamson said at a January 10 event at RAF Marham. “Around 150 UK personnel had been working with the jets in the US before the first batch of aircraft came to the UK last [northern] summer.”
The UK has a requirement for up to 138 F-35s, all of which are currently planned to be operated by joint RAF/Royal Navy-staffed units so they can be deployed at sea aboard the two new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers.
The service introduction of the Typhoon FGR4s, all of which have been upgraded from Tranche 1 Block 5 Typhoon F2 fighters, finally sees a true multi-role capability integrated onto the jet.
Under the MoD’s ‘Project Centurion’, the FGR4 now has the ability to employ the MBDA Meteor beyond visual range (BVR) air-to-air missile, the Storm Shadow stand-off cruise missile, and the Brimstone precision anti-armour missile.
Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier added, “I am proud to confirm that the RAF’s Combat Air capability has taken yet another significant step towards the realisation of our Next Generation Air Force.
“With its cutting-edge stealth technology, our F-35s are now ready to deploy on operations and, alongside our combat-proven Typhoon, offer a step-change in our ability to employ air power around the world.”
The F-35 IOC declaration and the Tornado FGR4 service entry precede the final drawdown of the RAF’s Panavia Tornado GR4 strike aircraft, the last two squadrons of which are scheduled to be retired this year.