The British F-35B Lightning II multi-role fighter aircraft has carried out its maiden trials equipped with UK-built weapons, bringing the jets a step closer to operations on the frontline.
Armed with advanced short-range air-to-air missiles (ASRAAM), the fighter jet was flown from the US Air Force’s (USAF) Edwards Air Force Base in southern California.
The F-35B trial was carried out by a UK Royal Air Force pilot deployed with the RAF 17 Squadron and is a major step towards attaining initial operating capability for the aircraft in December.
UK Defence Procurement Minister Stuart Andrew said: “The F-35 Lightning fleet has moved another step closer to defending the skies and supporting our illustrious aircraft carriers with this landmark flight.
“Exceptional engineering from the UK is not only helping to build what is the world’s most advanced fighter jet but is also ensuring that it is equipped with the very best firepower.
“This flight by a British pilot, in a British F-35 jet with British-built weapons is a symbol of the major part we are playing in what is the world’s biggest ever defence programme, delivering billions for our economy and a game-changing capability for our Armed Forces.”
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Developed by European missiles manufacturer MBDA in Bolton, England, the ASRAAM weapon system will enable the F-35B pilots to engage and defend themselves against other aircraft of varied sizes ranging from large multi-engine jets to small unmanned aerial vehicles.
The stealth fighter jet is the first aircraft to integrate radar-evading stealth technology with supersonic speeds and short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) capability.
Slated to be jointly operated by the RAF and the UK Royal Navy, the F-35B STOVL variant will be capable of operating both from land and sea.
Based at RAF Marham, the airforce’s 617 Squadron will be responsible for carrying out the weaponry flights over the next few months.