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 ‘fifth generation’ fighter aircraft is the world’s most expensive weapons system, though costs have finally stabilised at an eye-watering $406billion.
Manufacturer Lockheed-Martin agreed to cap costs after US President Donald Trump criticised the project and even tweeted support for a rival 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.
One of the first four F-35B Lightning II aircraft arrives at RAF Marham in Norfolk on June 6, 2018
America enticed its Nato and other allies into sharing the cost of the aircraft by offering input into manufacture and 15 per cent of each one is comprised of parts from British companies while some of the jets will be made in Italy.
But the planes have been plagued by a catalogue of problems which have sent costs soaring.
There are fears about shortcomings in the technical systems underpinning the new generation of war planes will leave them unable to function properly.
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.
There are also concerns plane’s software system is vulnerable to cyber-attack and cannot be tested independently by the UK.
The weak broadband on the Royal Navy’s principal aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is also hampering the jet’s abilities.
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.
The reports into the costs and other problems prompted the Defence Select Committee to launch an inquiry into the project.
It reprimanded the Ministry of Defence for keeping parliament and the public in the dark about the 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 said ‘it is simply not acceptable for the MoD to refuse to disclose to parliament and the public its estimates for the total cost of the programme’.
Though the cost of the F-35 has been the focus of attention, there have also been embarrassing reports of operational shortcomings emerging from the United States.
In a mock air battle in 2015, the cutting edge plane was defeated by an older generation F-16, a plane designed in the 1970s.
In 2020 Pentagon tests found 276 different faults in jet’s combat system.
They included the 25mm cannon vibrating excessively and problems with the he aircraft’s ‘virtual reality’ helmet
Overheating, premature wear of components in the vertical tails and vulnerability to fire were also found to be issues.
The US Air Force temporarily grounded dozens its F-35 stealth fighters while it investigated an oxygen supply issue.
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.