The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter - Commons Library Standard Note

Published 12 April 2013 | Standard notes SN06278

Authors: Louisa Brooke-Holland

Topic: Defence equipment and procurement

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will be the new multirole fast jet for the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. It will serve as the strike capability for the new Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carrier and will partner the Typhoon to form the future fast jet fleet for the RAF. It is a multinational acquisition programme led by the United States in partnership with eight other nations, including the UK.

There are three variants of the Joint Strike Fighter. The Government selected the Short Take-off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant in 2002 but this was changed by the current Government to the carrier variant in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review. However in May 2012 the Government announced that after reviewing the costs, risks and technical feasibility of adapting the Carriers to the F-35C carrier variant, it has decided to revert to the F-35B STOVL variant.

The number of aircraft to be ordered will be made at the Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2015. They will be based at RAF Marham in Norfolk. The F-35 is currently in development and its in-service date has not yet been confirmed, although it is expected to commence test flights from the Queen Elizabeth Carrier and be operational from land-based airfields in 2018. Operational military capability from the Queen Elizabeth is expected in 2020.

The US-led programme has had several problems in development. International orders are being affected by both cutbacks in defence budgets by partner countries and concerns about increasing unit and life-time costs.

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