The House may welcome an update on the deployment of the RAF’s new F-35B Lightning II aircraft.
The F-35B Lightning II is an advanced, fifth-generation aircraft procured to operate alongside the RAF’s Typhoon. It will be jointly manned by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy, will be able to operate with equal capability from land and sea, and will form an integral part of carrier strike operating from the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers. With advanced sensors, mission systems and low-observable technology (stealth), the Lightning is a fifth-generation air system which will provide the UK with a world-beating combat air capability. The Lightning will give the UK operational flexibility, allowing us to act at a time and place of our choosing. Some 17 of the first tranche of 48 F-35Bs have already been delivered; we will maintain our plan to buy 138 F-35 Lightning aircraft over the life of the programme, as stated in the strategic defence and security review 2015.
A detachment of F-35B Lightnings from RAF Marham has been forward-based at RAF Akrotiri since late May, developing the capabilities of this formidable new fifth-generation combat aircraft. This deployment has proven extremely successful. It was therefore, decided to offer the aircraft for use on Operation SHADER as part of the UK’s contribution to global coalition operations against Daesh. On 16 June, UK F-35B flew its first ever operational sorties as part of Operation SHADER. Since then, UK F-35B Lightnings have flown in the skies of Iraq and Syria, performing a variety of roles for our partner forces on the ground.
This F-35 activity is part of the UK’s ongoing contribution of sophisticated air power to global coalition efforts to find, identify and degrade Daesh’s military capabilities. Although Daesh’s military capability has been diminished, the organisation continues to pose a threat, and counter-Daesh operations are as crucial now as they were at Daesh’s height. The UK’s F-35B Lightnings will continue to help combat Daesh over Iraq and Syria, before returning to the UK in July 2019.