Four next-generation F-35B Lightning fighter jets have touched down on UK soil for the first time. Procured by Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) for use by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Royal Navy, the fighter jets arrived from the US on Wednesday at RAF Marham, Norfolk, two months ahead of schedule.

The planes flew 3,000 miles from a US Marine Corps base in South Carolina, where 150 UK personnel are employed. RAF Voyager aircraft provided air-to-air refuels throughout the trans-Atlantic journey.

This is the first batch of F-35B Lightning aircraft to arrive in the UK. At a cost of £92m per unit, the jets will be used by the recently reformed 617 Squadron nicknamed ‘The Dambusters’, heralded as the revival of Britain’s ability to launch sea-borne operations from aircraft carriers. The UK military plans to purchase 138 F-35 jets in total from Lockheed Martin.

The F-35 is the largest defence programme worldwide, valued at more than $1.3tr, and UK industry provides 15% by value of each aircraft, with over 3,000 set for the global order book. The programme has already generated $12.5bn in orders and supports thousands of UK manufacturing and engineering jobs at peak production.  Last week, Rolls Royce was awarded $2bn for aircraft propulsion systems, which will provide benefits for companies in its supply chain.

UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “These formidable fighters are a national statement of our intent to protect ourselves and our allies from intensifying threats across the world. With a game-changing ability to collect crucial intelligence, fight wars and tackle terrorism, these are the best jets in British history. The work that’s gone into their early arrival shows they have the people to match

“Our defence industry and military have always been at the very forefront of technology, and today’s momentous arrival of these incredible jets shows we are upholding our proud tradition of innovation while keeping Britain safe from the gravest of dangers.”

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DE&S CEO Air Marshal Sir Simon Bollom said: “The arrival of the first F-35 aircraft to the UK is an exciting and historic moment for defence. A tremendous amount of hard work has gone into procuring these aircraft and I’m incredibly proud of the pivotal role DE&S has played in achieving this milestone.”