‘Short-Term’ Delays in F-35 Deliveries Unlikely to Affect FOC Declaration: UK Ministry of Defence

Foreign Affairs

London: Britain’s Ministry of Defence has confirmed that software-update problems in the F-35 program will hit aircraft deliveries, though a key official said the delay is unlikely to affect the timing for proclaiming the fleet fully operationally capable next year.

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“We are aware of the current short-term delays to UK aircraft deliveries,” Procurement Minister James Cartlidge wrote in a letter to the chairman of the parliamentary Defence Committee, Jeremy Quin. “At this time, it is not assessed to impact the scheduled FOC declaration at the end of 2025,” he added, referring to the term Full Operational Capability, a milestone in military-procurement lore that indicates an acquisition program is performing as planned.

The references to software issues on the F-35B being delivered to the British came in a wider update by Cartlidge, published by the Committee last month, on progress in the acquisition and operation of the Lockheed Martin-built jets jointly operated by the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.

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Britain is one of a number of F-35 customers facing delivery disruptions caused by Lockheed Martin’s problems completing development testing of a software update known as Technical Refresh 3. Those issues appear to have no bearing on negotiations for a further order of F-35B aircraft, as the minister’s letter says he expects to complete internal approvals process for the procurement of a new tranche of 27 jets this summer.

Inflation and foreign exchange costs were the key challenges over the previous 18 months, with effects likely to be reflected in the price of the next batch of jets for the British, says the letter.

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“It is anticipated that the price of each aircraft in Lots 15-17 will increase marginally by around 6%. This is predominately due to increasing manufacturing costs associated with inflationary pressures. Inflation and foreign exchange continue to be a concern to the program, as do the recent savings pressures levied across the department,” Cartlidge wrote.

Despite the growing concerns over the affordability of the British defence equipment program over the next decade or so, the letter says funding for this next phase of the F-35 procurement has been ring-fenced.

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The purchase of the jets will bring the UK fleet up to 74, realising long-term ambitions to increase the air power punch of the Royal Navy’s two aircraft carriers. The additional jets will allow the British to create a third front line squadron by 2033. The government recently said it remains committed to buying 138 jets over the life of the program but gave no date for doing so. The number and timing of further jet purchases will likely be considered again in a new strategic defence review, expected to follow a general election set to take place by early 2025.