F-35 Lightning ‘on track and on budget’

One of the RAF's new F-35 Lightning stealth bombers Picture: Chris Bishop

One of the RAF's new F-35 Lightning stealth bombers Picture: Chris Bishop - Credit: Archant

Britain's new stealth bomber is combat ready, despite reports of spare part shortages.

An American congressional watchdog has warned the F-35 Lightning's US counterpart has been grounded low stocks of parts and repair backlogs.

It claims on a recent Middle East deployment, American jets were only able to fly for one day in three.

Analysts have warned the RAF's F-35s, which are based at RAF Marham in Norfolk, will be affected because they depend on the same parts suppliers.

But Lockheed Martin, which makes the aircraft, said: "F-35 readiness continues to improve, and newer production aircraft are averaging greater than 60pc mission capable rates, with some operational squadrons consistently at 70pc - which is on par with readiness rates for legacy, less capable aircraft.

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"In fact, the air force recently announced that its airmen and fleet of F-35As participating at Red Flag at Nellis Air Force Base delivered 90pc rates during the exercise. Additionally, the US Marine Corps achieved greater than 75 percent readiness rates with their F-35Bs during the first combat deployment.

"Lockheed Martin is acting to build supply chain capacity, reduce supply chain costs and improve part availability to help drive sustainment costs down while enhancing readiness."

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The Ministry of Defence said: "Our formidable fleet of state-of-the art F-35 fighter jets will offer our armed forces world-beating combat air power for decades to come. The F-35 programme remains on track and within budget and we are continually developing the capabilities of the aircraft to ensure it is equipped to counter rapidly evolving threats."

Britain has so far taken delivery of 17 aircraft, which will also operate from the Royal Navy's aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The RAF and navy expect to eventually operate 138 of the aircraft, which became operational in March, when the air force's long-serving Tornado aircraft was retired from service.

After test flights from Marham, F-35s have recently flown out to Cyprus on their first overseas deployment.

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