After embarrassingly missing out on its planned debut in UK skies at the naming ceremony of the carrier that will house it, the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II will finally be coming to Britain in 2016. The aircraft was forced to miss out on the ceremony in 2014 due to restrictions placed on the type following an F-35A suffering an engine fire in-flight.
As many as five aircraft including a British example of the F-35B V/STOL variant will be demonstrated at the Royal International Air Tattoo and the Farnborough International Airshow this summer. Two aircraft will be from the US Air Force while another two will come from the United States Marine Corps.
The plan for F-35 aircraft to take part in air shows here in the UK this summer is a significant milestone – for our Royal Air Force and Royal Navy personnel training hard to fly the F-35; for British industry who are contributing an impressive 15% of every aircraft; and for the British public who will have their first opportunity to see this remarkable aircraft in action.
After having been somewhat neglected in the 2010 defence review the Challenger II Main Battle Tank (MBT) is now one step closer to receiving a major update. Known as the Challenger II Life Extension Program (LEP) the update will see the tank have its service life extended to 2035 instead of the original out-of-service date of 2025. The contract which is said to be worth around £700 million will include logistical support for the tank and will also cover a similar upgrade to Omani Challenger IIs.
The MoD gave prospective companies until January 14th 2016 to produce an initial proposal for their assessment. It has now been revealed that three companies are in the running; BAE Systems (who originally built the tank), Lockheed Martin UK and General Dynamics UK. It was thought that German company Krauss-Maffei Wegmann who build the excellent Leopard 2 tank for a number of European countries would submit a proposal but pulled out after the option of new or second-hand Leopards was ruled out by the British Army.
From a political standpoint, British company BAE Systems has something of an advantage after Prime Minister David Cameron pledged more military contracts for British arms manufacturers in the run up to last year’s election. However, General Dynamics UK already has a large order for new Scout vehicles for the Army and could undercut BAE Systems if they agree to a new combined contract to cut overall costs especially if the American company promises to have the work carried out primarily in the UK.
Planned service entry for the updated tank is currently set as late 2018.
The National Audit Office (NAO) have said that the £3.2bn programme awarded to the Ascent Consortium (which includes US aviation giant Lockheed Martin who are building the controversial F-35B Lightning II strike fighter for the RAF and Navy) will not be running at full capacity until at least 2019. When the MoD awarded the contract to Ascent the consortium promised to have its program in place by 2014 to start training fast-jet pilots for the RAF and helicopter pilots for all three services. The delay therefore affects the entire spectrum of British military aviation.
The NAO criticised the MoD’s awarding of the contract to Ascent and went on to state that the MoD needed;
[to] understand better actual training performance and what affects performance before it can secure significant improvements from Ascent…Otherwise, there is a real risk that moving to the new training will affect the military’s ability to train the right number of aircrew at the right time.
The UK’s minister for defence procurement, Philip Dunne responded with;
The programme had a difficult start after initial contracts were let under a PFI contract in 2008. We are now on a much firmer footing and moving forward to deliver flight training for aircrew, more rapidly and efficiently, with greater flexibility to adapt to new platforms.