UK defence secretary Philip Hammond has underscored the importance of the nation's future Lockheed Martin F-35 combat aircraft as a joint asset between the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, and revealed the expected extra cost of bringing the latter's second new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier into operational use.
"The RAF and the Royal Navy are working together to deliver a joint force that can operate from land bases in the UK, from the carriers when they are at sea, and from forward operating bases when deployed abroad," Hammond told RUSI's Air Power conference in London on 1 November. Use of the type will commence in 2018, and concepts of operation are now being drawn up covering the use of the combination in the carrier strike and littoral manoeuvre roles, he added.
A typical deployment of one 65,000t vessel outside UK territorial waters would include an embarked air wing of 12 short take-off and vertical landing F-35Bs, Hammond says, although this number could be increased for a high-intensity operation.
While a formal decision on whether to prepare the navy's second new aircraft carrier for operational use will not be taken until the UK's next Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) in 2015, Hammond revealed the cost of maintaining the vessel would be £70 million ($113 million) per year. Its availability would provide the UK with a continuous carrier strike capability.
Hammond was responding to recent suggestions that the RAF instead favours the acquisition of the longer-range, conventional take-off and landing F-35A. The Ministry of Defence will also decide on the size of its production order for the Joint Strike Fighter as part of its next SDSR. The UK has so far taken deliver of an initial two F-35Bs acquired to participate in US-led initial operational test and evaluation of the fifth-generation type, with a third to follow suit next year.