There will be no standard land-based F-35A as a second version of the Lightning II within the United Kingdom. The UK solely commits to the more expensive F-35B to replace the Harrier in Royal Navy operations and will not supplement or replace some of them by the land-based A-alternative to save money.
This was said by Philip Dunne, the Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology at the Defence Security and Equipment International event in London this week. The idea of a mixed fleet is more than three years old. It would give the UK a very much mixed fighter fleet with sort of the same types of aircraft like with the Tornado GR/F and Harrier/Sea Harrier forces.
By choosing the F-35B alone, budget limitations will very much determine the final amount of Lightning IIs to be bought. Plans now call for 48 F-35Bs, operated by units with both RAF and RN personnel, mostly as the air force for the future aircraft carriers within the Royal Navy.
Some sources say the final number of F-35s might even be close to a 140 aircraft. But even with the appropriate funds that number might very much depend on the geopolitical situation of the near future. In other words: if f. ex. Russia poses a bigger threat the number will be higher, if there are more friends than foes the UK’s F-35 force might stay at 48.
US West Coast
In the meantime the US Navy will soon decide over where to base 100 of their F-35C carrier-capable fighters, equipping up to eight squadrons that currently fly the F/A-18C Hornet. The final choice is between Californian bases Lemoore and El Centro. Naval Air Station Lemoore would strategically probably be the best option. It is situated close to Fresno, more or less halfway both San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Naval Air Facility El Centro, east of San Diego almost right on the Mexican border, would make most sense if Mexico rather than China is a threat to the national interests of the United States. But being a bit more remotely located and with mostly great weather conditions, NAF El Centro provides a great training ground. Final decision on the West Coast F-35C base is expected before Christmas.
© 2013 AIRheads’ Marcel Burger
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