F-35B at Beaufort

F-35B Ready To Use Missile 'By End Of The Year'

Manufacturer Lockheed Martin has promised software upgrades after tests found deficiencies in how the aircraft talks to its weapons system.

F-35B at Beaufort

Britain's F-35B aircraft will be ready to use its weapons system to its best effect by the end of this year, says the Chief Executive of Lockheed Martin in the UK, Peter Ruddock, ahead of its expected arrival in the country next week.

The UK's variant of the jet will be equipped with the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), which itself is operational - but the aircraft's manufacturer Lockheed Martin has promised software upgrades will be delivered in order to improve how the F-35B works with the missile.

Mr Ruddock was asked by Forces News whether the aircraft is ready to use the AMRAAM now, after tests found deficiencies in how the aircraft talks to its weapons system. He said:

"It will by the end of the year.

"I think there are a range of teething challenges that you're going to have as you bring an aircraft into service.

"I'm not saying the aircraft is perfect, but it's highly capable - it's certainly ready for operations.

"By the time we declare the aircraft at the end of this year it will be fit to deliver all of the weapons - so the AMRAAM, the bombs, and the sensors and the software will be ready to go by the end of this year, I am confident in that."

Mr Ruddock also said an issue which surfaced last year, when US F-35 pilots experienced incidents of oxygen deprivation, has now been addressed:

"I'm confident it's not an issue today - what happens in the future... I can't give you an absolute assurance on every element of the aircraft to say 'this will never fail', or there will never be an issue.

"But I've got high confidence in the life support systems on the aircraft as it comes into service today.

"That's not an issue that's causing me to lose sleep - nor should it cause concern for the pilots today."

Four of the aircraft are due to arrive at RAF Marham next week, with five more following by the end of July.

The Defence Secretary says the UK is still "absolutely committed" to buying a total of 138 F-35Bs.

Gavin Williamson said on Tuesday the UK still plans to purchase 138 of the aircraft.

Currently, each 'B' variant of the jet costs $122.4m - but Lockheed Martin say they expect this cost will be reduced in the future, starting with the F-35A and then moving on to the B and C.

"We will drive the cost of the 'A' model down to $80m in the future," says Mr Ruddock.

"I think it should be pro-rata in the same order relative as it is today to the A of the future.

"You're probably talking about $100m [for the F-35B], something like that.

"It's difficult to be precise, there are some variables out there...if all of those things remain was we expect, I would expect the price in the same way that the A model is coming down."