Lockheed Martin and the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) have signed the Lightning Air System National Availability Enterprise (LANCE) contract to support the UK’s Lightning fleet.

The aircraft support contract is valued at approximately £76m ($101m) and will ensure and enhance the UK F-35 fleet’s availability and capability to conduct combat missions worldwide.

The UK’s F-35 fleet will sail with HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier on its first Global Carrier Strike Group ‘21 deployment.

UK Combat Air Force Commander David Arthurton stated: “The new contract will deliver an enhanced level of performance whilst also providing welcome stability to all involved with the programme.

“Furthermore, it will underpin our participation in the United Kingdom’s inaugural Carrier Strike deployment later this year, and provide an excellent foundation for future land and maritime operations as Lightning matures towards Full Operating Capability.”

The contract involves offering further expertise on aircraft maintenance, logistical and technical fleet support, as well as personalised training courses for UK pilots, ground crew and engineers.

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It will also help establish an ejection seat maintenance workshop, a ‘Pilot fit facility’, and an aircraft component spray facility.

The latest investment is expected to secure 172 jobs primarily at RAF Marham base in Norfolk.

UK Defence Minister Jeremy Quin said: “The Lightning Force forms a key part of the UK’s Carrier Strike Group and plays a central role in protecting our interests at home and abroad.

“This investment will help ensure that this world-class fleet, and their crew, are ready to deploy wherever and whenever required.”

The contract has a 25-month base period of performance and comes with an option for a further three months.

BAE Systems will serve as the subcontractor and perform most of the work under the contract.

With the receipt of three new jets in November, the UK currently has 21 fifth-generation F-35 jets.

Last month, Lockheed delivered its 123rd F-35 Lightning II combat aircraft this year to the Italian Air Force, despite Covid-19 challenges.

More than 600 Lockheed Martin-built F-35 aircraft are operational from 26 bases and ships worldwide.