The UK has received the first four fifth-generation F-35B Lightning II joint strike fighter jets at the Royal Air Force (RAF) Marham air station in Norfolk two months ahead of schedule.

Flown by RAF pilots of the newly-reformed 617 Squadron, the aircraft travelled with the help of air-to-air refuelling across the Atlantic from the US Marine Corps (USMC) Air Station in Beaufort, South Carolina,

Currently, around 150 British pilots are undergoing intensive training on the aircraft along with their USMC counterparts.

The Lockheed Martin-built F-35B is designed as a lethal, survivable and connected fighter jet integrated with stealth technology, advanced sensors, weapons capacity and range.

As the first jet to integrate radar-evading stealth technology with supersonic speeds, the F-35B is capable of carrying out short take-offs and vertical landings.

“The early delivery will enable the UK Lightning Force to focus on attaining initial operational capability of the aircraft by the end of this year.”

UK Defence Procurement Minister Guto Bebb said: “The F-35 will form the backbone of our air power for decades to come, and its arrival in the UK during the 100th anniversary of the RAF marks a truly historic moment.

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“In the face of growing threats, these fighter jets demonstrate our commitment to provide our armed forces with the cutting-edge technology they need to keep our people safe at home and abroad.”

To be jointly operated by the UK RAF and the UK Royal Navy, the fighter aircraft will be able to operate both from land and sea. The UK intends to purchase a total of 138 F-35B Lightning II jets.

The early delivery will enable the UK Lightning Force to focus on attaining initial operational capability of the aircraft by the end of this year.

To date, approximately £550m has been invested in RAF Marham to upgrade the base to prepare it for the arrival of the fighters.

The air station has been revamped with resurfaced runways, additional facilities and new landing pads to enable the aircraft to land vertically.

Comprehensive sustainment support for the F-35 fleet at RAF Marham will be delivered by Lightning Team UK, which comprises BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney and Rolls Royce.

The F-35 is the largest defence programme with a value of more than $1.3tn and has to date generated orders worth $12.9bn.