RAF Marham fighter jet may one day be able to release drones during missions

An F-35 Lightning takes off from RAF Lakenheath. Picture: US Air Force/Senior Airman Malcolm Mayfiel

An F-35 Lightning takes off from RAF Lakenheath. Picture: US Air Force/Senior Airman Malcolm Mayfield - Credit: Archant

British pilots flying the F-35 stealth fighter from RAF Marham jet may one day be able to operate and release drones during missions, it has been suggested.

The F-35 Lightning aircraft that the new squadron headquarters at RAF Marham will house. Picture: Cr

The F-35 Lightning aircraft that the new squadron headquarters at RAF Marham will house. Picture: Crown copyright. - Credit: Crown copyright

Steve Over, director of F-35 international business development at Lockheed Martin - the company which manufactures the multi-million pound warplanes - said it is not currently a capability of the aircraft.

But he added: 'If you ask me where do I see things evolving - I absolutely see them evolving in that direction.'

Defence secretary Gavin Williamson announced that the multi-million pound warplanes will start touching down at their new Norfolk home next month.

It comes after a £250m investment in the station, with new runways, hangars and a command centre bringing 1,200 construction jobs.

Describing the moment the F-35 jets will arrive at Marham, Lightning Force commander Air Commodore David Bradshaw said it will be a 'hugely significant' moment which will be watched by Russia 'with interest'.


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Lockheed Martin describes the stealth capabilities of the F-35 as 'unprecedented'.

With airframe design, advanced materials and other features making it 'virtually undetectable to enemy radar', the warplane could be sent into the airspace of an adversary if required.

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Once there, the jet might be tasked with destroying the radar systems of that particular state, but to do so would require them to be triggered so they could be detected and destroyed.

RAF Marham station commander Group Capt Ian Townsend confirmed it has committed to 138 of the £100m aircraft, with the first nine due to arrive this year.

However he defended its high cost, saying the investment should be looked at over the aircraft's 35 to 40 year lifespan, as well as in terms of the military benefits it will bring.

'We have to look at it long term,' he said.

'From an operational capability perspective, it puts us in a much better position to react to the unknown in the future.

'The F-35 really allows us to know more and if we know more, it allows us think quicker and act quicker. It gives us a tactical advantage.'

Britain is currently embarked on a £9.1bn programme to purchase 48 of the cutting-edge jets by 2025 - but has pledged to purchase 138 across the life of the programme.

The F-35 programme is considered the world's most advanced warplane - with more than 3,000 set to be built over the coming decades.

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