The delivery of the RAF’s new, US-built F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter in July 2021 marked a rare moment of celebration in what has been a troubled project.
The world’s most expensive weapon system is still the “fifth generation” fighter jet, but costs have stabilized at an astounding $406billion.
After President Donald Trump had criticized the project, Lockheed-Martin offered to limit costs and tweeted his support for another aircraft.
Britain is currently embarked on a £9.1billion programme to purchase 48 of the F-35s, from American aviation giant Lockheed Martin, by 2025.
On June 6, 2018, one of four F-35B Lightning II planes arrives at RAF Marham, Norfolk.
America lured NATO and its other allies to contribute towards the production costs of the aircraft. 15 percent of each jet is made of British parts, and some will be built in Italy.
The planes are still plagued with a variety of problems that has caused high costs.
It is possible that the technology underpinning this new generation of war aircrafts could fail, causing them to not function correctly.
The true cost of the British planes delivered this year is estimated to be over £150million each to cover ‘extras’ such as software upgrades and spare parts.
The software of the aircraft’s computer system could also be at risk from cyber attacks. This cannot be verified independently by the UK.
Also, weak connectivity on HMS Queen Elizabeth (the Royal Navy’s main aircraft carrier) is limiting the capabilities of the jet.
The problems are not helped by the department responsible for the computer networks essential to the aircraft’s operation needs to find savings of £400 million this year.
A number of reports about the problems and costs led to the Defence Select Committee initiating an inquiry.
The Ministry of Defence was reprimanded for keeping Parliament and the public ignorant about costs.
The MoD has so far refused to provide the estimated cost to the UK of buying the F-35, beyond referring to a National Audit Office which used the £9.1billion figure.
MPs stated that it was unacceptable for the MoD not to reveal to Parliament and the Public its total costs for the program.
Although the F-35 cost is the focal point of attention, it has also led to embarrassing reports about operational issues in the United States.
The cutting-edge plane lost in a 2015 mock air battle to an F-16 of a different generation, which was built in the 1970s.
2020 Pentagon testing revealed 276 flaws in the jet’s combat system.
These included excessive vibrations from the 25mm cannon and issues with the aircraft’s virtual reality helmet.
Also, overheating and premature wear of vertical tail components as well as vulnerability to fire were identified to be problems.
The US Air Force has temporarily grounded many of its F-35 stealth aircraft while they investigate an oxygen supply problem.
The Marine Corps, who also operate the same F-35B model the UK has purchased, was forced to ground its planes after flaws were found in the computer system.