More F-35 fighters will soon be in the air

The  Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II  reinforces its position as the world’s most versatile fighter with new squadrons in service. This month, the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force (RAF) deployed its second frontline squadron armed with these stealth fighters, marking a milestone in its air combat capability.

Deployment of F-35 fighters in the United Kingdom

The first  F-35 Lightning II  landed at RAF Marham, Norfolk, in 2018, assigned to the 617 Squadron, known as the “Dambusters”. This squadron, with its rich history, became the first to be equipped with this advanced fifth-generation aircraft. Now, a second squadron, 809 Naval Air Squadron (NAS), has been established to operate the F-35 Lightning II, raising the UK’s air power.

Selected by the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir George Zambellas, 809 NAS, with its heritage from the Second World War, has been appointed to pilot the  Lightning II  for its distinguished history in attack missions. The Royal Navy announced this operation with a dramatic message on social media, echoing the resurrection of a legendary squadron.

History and Resurgence of the 809 NAS

The 809 NAS first saw combat in 1941, operating the Fairey Fulmar in the Arctic. The squadron subsequently participated in missions to Malta, North Africa, and other theaters of war until its decommissioning in 1982 with eight Sea Harriers. A parade and display at RAF Marham marked the rebirth of this squadron, now ready to deploy its force with the  F-35 Lightning II.

 

 

Air Marshal Harvey Smyth, RAF Air and Space Commander, highlighted plans to deploy up to 24  F-35 Lightning IIs to sea by the end of 2025. This expansion of capabilities reflects the importance of air control in modern conflicts, as evidenced by the current situation in Ukraine.

F-35 Lightning II Capabilities and Future Concerns

More F-35 fighters will soon be in the airF-35 fighters

Smyth praised the  F-35 ‘s capabilities in intense electronic warfare environments, underscoring its relevance in current combat scenarios. However, concerns are being raised about the sufficient number of fighters in the UK to deal with future conflicts. A parliamentary report highlighted that the United Kingdom has fewer than 160 fighter aircraft, compared to more than 2,900 pilots in the Battle of Britain in 1940.

Procurement of the F-35B, the short/vertical takeoff and landing (S/VTOL) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, has been reduced from 150 to 138 units, with 48 already acquired and 27 more on order. The report “Aviation Procurement: Winging it?” raises questions about future orders and the growth rate of the F-35B fleet.

Challenges and strategies in the use of the F-35

More F-35 fighters will soon be in the air

There is uncertainty over how the UK’s F-35s will be used. Each Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier can operate up to 36  F-35Bs, raising a dilemma over their allocation between the Royal Navy and the RAF. A retired naval captain questioned the dual nature of these fighters, highlighting the lack of a clear strategy for their use.

Additionally, there have been proposals to redirect funds from the  F-35 program to the Tempest, part of the Global Combat Air Program (GCAP). This sixth-generation fighter jet, which could be “optionally manned,” is expected to enter service in the 2030s, offering new capabilities to the British arsenal.

The key question is whether potential adversaries will give the UK time to strengthen its air fleet, especially considering the decline compared to the Battle of Britain “Few” era.