Contract for more of RAF Marham’s Lightning II aircraft to be signed in the coming weeks

F-35B Lightning II

F-35B Lightning II - Credit: PA

A deal for new jets to operate from RAF Marham has moved a step closer, with the Government poised to sign a contract in the coming weeks.

The Ministry of Defence said yesterday that it had reached an agreement in principle for the first batch of the Lightning II stealth combat aircraft, which will operate from the Royal Navy's new aircraft carriers, as well as the Norfolk base.

It will be the next stage of a five year process to procure an initial 14 of F-35B high-tech aircraft, together with the necessary support arrangements and infrastructure.

Three of the Lightning II aircraft have already been delivered, with another one due in 2016, and the aircraft to be ordered set to set arriving the same year.

They are being used for testing and evaluation, and are currently in the US.

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The UK's first operational Squadron in the UK will be based at RAF Marham in Norfolk in 2018, which will become their main operating base.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said: 'Today's announcement is a major step forward. The Lightning II will equip the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force with a highly advanced multi-role stealth combat aircraft, operating from both our new Queen Elizabeth class carriers and land bases.

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'These aircraft will form part of the first UK-based squadron of F-35s, which will take up station at RAF Marham in 2018. This programme is also bringing substantial industrial benefits to the UK, providing thousands of skilled jobs in the UK aerospace industry.'

Bernard Gray, the MOD's chief of defence materiel, said: 'I am delighted that this agreement prepares the way for the first batch of operational combat aircraft. It ensures the MOD remains on target for achieving both operational capability from land bases and the start of flying trials aboard the carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2018.

'The aircraft provide an important step on the path to rebuilding the UK's carrier strike capability. They feature short take off and vertical landing and the latest stealth and intelligence surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance technology.'

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