Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has revealed that Britain’s combat air power has reached new heights whilst speaking in a brand-new hangar displaying 100 years of fighter jets.
Speaking at RAF Marham, the Defence Secretary announced the UK now has nine F-35 Lightning jets ready to be deployed on operations around the world.
The F-35 Lightnings will form the backbone of the UK’s combat air fleet alongside the Typhoon jets, which the Defence Secretary also announced have now been fitted with a state-of-the-art complex weapons suite to vastly increase its capability.
Under ‘Project Centurion’, worth £425m over the past three years, the Typhoon now has deep strike cruise missile Storm Shadow, air-to-air missile Meteor and the precision attack missile Brimstone at their disposal.
It means the jets have boosted capabilities to intercept airborne missiles and strike ground-based targets, seamlessly taking over from the Tornado’s attack role as it nears retirement.
Completed on-time and to budget, the upgrades transform the fleet into a world-leading multi-role combat air platform for decades to come.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “As we bid farewell to the RAF’s first century, we are setting our sights on the next 100 years. Our nation is moving into a new era outside the EU, and our huge achievements in air capability make our commitment to a role on the world stage clear to both our allies and our enemies.”
“The incredible F-35 jets are ready for operations, a transformed Typhoon has the power to dominate the skies into the 2040s and we continue to look even further into an ambitious future. The RAF has long shown Britain at its great and global best, and today it lifts our nation to even greater heights.”
The Defence Secretary made the announcement in front of four aircraft, which represent the past and future of British fighter jets.
They included the Tornado, which has been in-service since 1979, making its combat debut in the 1991 Gulf War, and which will be retired later this year. Its unique capabilities have now been transferred to the Typhoon.
In addition to the Typhoon and F-35, the Tempest concept fighter jet model was also on show.
Chris Boardman, Group Managing Director, BAE Systems Air, said: “BAE Systems’ Air business has a long track record of designing, developing and delivering world-leading platforms, training and support to meet the needs of our customers. We are proud to have worked for many decades alongside the UK Government, the Royal Air Force and industry, building a reputation for excellence and delivery on some of the world’s leading combat air platforms.
“The launch of the UK’s Combat Air Strategy delivered a clear commitment for the UK to continue to provide global leadership in the air sector. Our track record of collaboration and the skills of our people mean we are ready to deliver on our commitments on Typhoon, F-35 and as part of Team Tempest, developing the new and emerging technologies that will continue to contribute to the retention and development of the UK’s combat air capability.
“As we celebrate our contribution to delivering Project Centurion on Typhoon, and the announcement of Initial Operating Capability of the UK’s F-35s, we remain committed to playing a key role on both for decades to come, partnering in the ongoing development and support of the UK’s mixed fleet.”
Steve Worsnip, F-35 Support Director, BAE Systems Air, said: "It is a proud moment for BAE Systems as we have supported the UK in its efforts to achieve Initial Operating Capability for its F-35 Lightning fleet from the beginning.
"Our people have a role in the design and production of every F-35 flown anywhere in the world and at RAF Marham, the home of the UK's Lightning Force, we see a great example of the role we play in helping to sustain the fleet as part of Lightning Team UK.
"Working alongside our partners at Lockheed Martin, MBDA and Raytheon we have also integrated the first weapons on to the UK's F-35s in ASRAAM and Paveway IV®, another vital step to achieving IOC.
"We look forward to continuing to support the UK as F-35 joins Typhoon in the frontline of defending the nation for many years to come.”
Andy Flynn, Eurofighter and Centurion Delivery Director, BAE Systems Air, said: “The declaration of Project Centurion on Typhoon is a fantastic success and reinforces Typhoon’s position at the forefront of military technology and at the core UK combat air power.
“With Centurion comes a suite of beyond visual range air-to-air, precision air-to-surface and deep strike weapon capabilities that provides the force commander with the option to engage in a wider spectrum of missions than ever before. We know Typhoon is already a highly-advanced, flexible, trusted and proven platform. What we are doing now is really unleashing its full potential and helping ensure it will remain a necessary partner for decades to come alongside currently available and future platforms.
“This news is testament to the success of the Whole Force partnership approach to delivering Centurion - a pan-European collaboration between our people, the Ministry of Defence, the Royal Air Force’s Test and Evaluation Squadron and our Eurofighter partner companies in Germany, Italy and Spain. This has set a high standard, a ‘Centurion way of working’, that has ensured we deliver the right results for the service personnel of today and tomorrow.”
The RAF has already trialled its Typhoon and F-35 Forces’ interoperability.
In a series of operational trials, the evidence clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of both platforms when operating alongside one another.
With its larger payload and increased agility and range, the Typhoon will operate in concert with the stealthy F-35 and its next-generation sensors, making the RAF one of the few air forces with the ability to exploit the synergy of 4th and 5th generation combat aircraft and delivering the UK a potent force equipped to counter evolving threats in the global environment.
The UK is a world-leader in the combat air sector, which supports over 18,000 highly skilled jobs with a mix of skills and technologies unique in Europe.
The sector delivers a turnover in excess of £6bn a year and has made up over 80% of defence exports from the UK over the last ten years.