The United Kingdom has become the latest country equipped with U.S.-made F-35Bs to get them operational, significantly adding to the Royal Air Force’s combat capabilities.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD), in a statement, described the milestone as “a huge landmark” in what has been “the biggest defense project in history.”
Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson made the announcement in a brand-new hangar at RAF Marham, where the RAF has also built a state-of-the-art training facility for F-35 pilots.
“The incredible F-35 jets are ready for operations, a transformed Typhoon has the power to dominate the skies into the 2040s and we continue to look even further into an ambitious future. The RAF has long shown Britain at its great and global best, and today it lifts our nation to even greater heights,” said Williamson, the UK Defence Journal reported.
Currently, the RAF has 17 F-35s in its inventory, with 18 more being built or on order. The plan is for the UK to procure 138 planes over the life of the program.
There are currently 17 aircraft in the RAF F-35 fleet, with 18 more in build or on order. The UK has committed to purchasing 138 F-35 Lightning aircraft over the life of the programme. pic.twitter.com/WZ7ppM8TM5
— Henry Jones (@hthjones) January 10, 2019
Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier described the “significant step,” adding that “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.”
Williamson said that the Typhoon has been integrated with three new weapons: Stormshadow, Brimstone, and Meteor, allowing it to take over for the Tornado ground attack aircraft which the UK will retire later this year.
Of the original nine partner countries – Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States – six have received their first jets.
Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, UK, US, Israel and Japan have pilots and maintainers either fully trained or at some point in the training process.