The UK’s future operational conversion unit for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is expected to begin providing training using five of the stealthy aircraft, the Ministry of Defence has revealed.

According to planning information disclosed by parliamentary under secretary of state Lord Astor of Hever on 22 January, five short take-off and vertical landing F-35Bs will be used to deliver in-country OCU services from July 2019. The unit will be located at the Royal Air Force’s Marham base in Norfolk.

Pilot conversion training for the UK F-35 force will be until that point delivered in the USA, in co-operation with a US Marine Corps squadron.

F-35B UK - Crown Copyright

Crown Copyright

“The UK will stop assigning pilots to VMFAT-501 [squadron] for pilot training on the F-35B from July 2019,” Lord Astor says. The first UK personnel are currently flying the F-35B at the US Air Force’s Eglin AFB in Florida, alongside the USMC unit, ahead of supporting initial operational test and evaluation of the fifth-generation type.

Three F-35Bs have been delivered so far for the UK’s IOT&E involvement, with a fourth to follow. Funding was approved late last year for the nation’s first 14 operational examples. Four of these are now on order, which the MoD says should be accepted between May and October 2016.