In the Government’s response to the House of Commons Defence Committee’s report on F-35 Procurement (HC 326), we undertook to provide the Committee with a six-monthly progress report.
The Government welcomes the Committee’s continued recognition of the challenge of delivering the largest and most complex international defence programme in history. The Government remains committed to delivering the F-35 programme on time and within budget, providing a cutting-edge capability for the Armed Forces in their defence of the United Kingdom.
The Committee asked for detail on the progress made in addressing each of the issues identified in their report and any additional problems encountered since the report.
Specifically, the Committee requested detail on the ongoing cost of the programme, including sustainment, spares and logistics, software upgrades and the unit recurring flyaway (URF) costs.
Following any future trials of communications between F-35s and current operational combat aircraft via the Multifunctional Advanced Data Link (MADL) systems, such as Babel Fish III, the Committee asked the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to produce a memorandum informing the Committee of the progress made.
The Government’s first formal update to the Committee’s recommendations and conclusions is set out below. Following a summary of progress since the last update, the Committee’s headline issue findings are each addressed in turn.
The UK F-35 Programme continues to be delivered on time and within budget. The most significant and tangible milestone since our last update is the arrival of our first four Lightning F-35B aircraft at their new home of RAF Marham on 6 June 2018. The earlier than planned arrival enabled the aircraft to support RAF100 events and de-risk the integration of Lightning into Marham operations. A further five aircraft arrived on 3 August 2018 as 617 Squadron completes its move to the UK as planned.
617 Squadron will commence an intensive period of training this autumn in preparation for the declaration of Initial Operating Capability for land-based operations by the end of December.
There have been no changes since the last report to the UK F-35 Programme approved costs of £9.1 billion. By the end of this financial year, we anticipate seeking the approval of the Investment Approvals Committee (IAC) to spend around an additional £1.1 billion of our assigned budget on capability development and upgrades, enhanced reprogramming capability and sustainment. (Emphasis added—Ed.) The IAC and scrutiny team will carefully consider value for money in all submissions.
When the price of an F-35B from Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) Lot 11, which comprises the latest order placed on contract and representing the single aircraft to be delivered in 2019, is confirmed following contract award we anticipate a continued trend of cost reduction.
The LRIP Lot 10 price ($122.3 million) covers airframe and engine only and does not include cost of UK unique elements, estimated at $2 million per aircraft. Of note, the price of our first two aircraft in LRIP Lot 3 was $161 million each. The Joint Program Office (JPO) is in negotiations for Lots 12, 13 and 14, which are combined into a single contract, in which we expect to see further reductions in aircraft price.
In 2016, the Babel Fish III trial assessed fourth to fifth generation fighter communications utilising the F-35 MADL. This was the first-time that non-US fourth and fifth-generation aircraft have shared data using a MADL gateway and is an important demonstration of interoperability as the UK moves closer to Initial Operating Capability (IOC).
The trial report was received in April 2018 and the outcome was to commission the Babel Fish IV trial this year to look at how information will flow from fourth generation collection assets (Typhoon) through the gateway to allow fifth generation manipulation utilising high-end processing. To date the UK has been leading the way in interoperability of fourth and fifth generation platforms; we expect this evidence to form the basis of formal requirements and future investment choice.
Progress has been made in the commissioning and testing of ALIS on MOD networks at RAF Marham. The ALIS servers have their own dedicated and secure space within the Lightning Operations Centre, which was opened in February 2018. The ALIS system is operational in the UK and was fully tested ahead of aircraft arriving in the UK. ALIS is also being installed on HMS Queen Elizabeth and will be in place for First of Class Flying Trials. ALIS is an important system for F-35 and it has been, and will continue to be, subject to rigorous cybertesting.
The MOD has put in place a comprehensive communications strategy setting out how we ensure the F-35 Lightning narrative and key messages reach the widest audiences. Recent examples include the 75th anniversary of the Dambusters raid, the arrival of the first aircraft in the UK, the Royal International Air Tattoo and RAF100 events. We will be conducting a vigorous pro-active media campaign centred around key events this autumn and beyond.
As detailed above the F-35 Lightning Programme has again achieved much in the last six months. The main effort in the US this autumn is flying trials on HMS Queen Elizabeth and Operational Test & Evaluation. The main effort in the UK is front-line training towards declaring IOC at the end of the year and further developing RAF Marham by opening a Maintenance and Finishing Facility and an Integrated Training Centre.
Click here for the full report (4 PDF pages) on the UK Parliament website.