A £76m aircraft support contract has been agreed to help ensure the UK’s F-35 Lightning stealth jet fleet is ready for combat operations across the globe.
The Lightning Air system National Capability Enterprise (LANCE) deal provides additional expertise on aircraft maintenance, bespoke UK training courses for pilots, ground crew and engineers, and logistical and technical support for the fleet.
It is hoped the contract will improve the availability and capability of the aircraft.
The Ministry of Defence says the deal will ensure the F-35B fleet is ready to sail with HMS Queen Elizabeth on her maiden Global Carrier Strike Group 2021 deployment.
Air Commodore David Arthurton, Combat Air Force Commander, said the new contract will "underpin" the Carrier Strike deployment.
He added that it will also provide "an excellent foundation for future land and maritime operations as Lightning matures towards Full Operating Capability".
The contract will provide support for 25 months, with an option for a further three months, and the majority of the work will be carried out by subcontractor BAE Systems.
Defence minister Jeremy Quin said the Lightning Force is "central" to protecting the UK’s interests domestically and abroad.
"This investment will help ensure that this world-class fleet, and their crew, are ready to deploy wherever and whenever required," he said.
The contract will also give the UK more freedom to operate its fleet of F-35s, increasing the number of flying hours available and delivering important mission planning, training and maintenance capabilities.
Three new capabilities will now come into operation, including an ejection seat maintenance workshop, a facility to fit aircrew equipment and to transfer coatings on to aircraft components.
The UK currently has 21 fifth-generation F-35s, having received three new jets on 30 November 2020.
There are plans to eventually have 138 F-35Bs, with 48 of those by 2025.
Cover image: F-35 Lightning fighter jet (Picture: MOD).