The UK has ordered 138 of the 4,600mph stealth jets and has taken delivery of 17. For the first time, four launched in quick succession from the £3.1billion Queen Elizabeth supercarrier last week. The rest are at RAF Marham in Norfolk, home of the rebooted 617 “Dambusters” squadron. But it’s not until you visit Lockheed Martin’s facilities in Fort Worth, Texas, where the F35 was created, that its true wonder becomes apparent. At least 20 years ahead of anything else in the air, the fifth generation fighter’s main feature is “very low observable stealth”.
It is not invisible, but its shape and special coating allows it to detect any enemy threat from hundreds of miles away and strike before foes are even aware of its presence.
Such is its success, the F35 has transformed survivability rates.
“With older fourth generation aircraft such as the Eurofighter Typhoon or F16, the loss exchange ratio is 1:1 – for every adversary we neutralise, they neutralise one of ours,” said Steve Over, director of F35 international business development.
“With the F35, that figure is 20:1.” F35s were not needed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, “then suddenly Russia decided to move ground troops into Syria and things changed remarkably”, said Mr Over.
Four F35s launch from UK’s giant carrier Queen Elizabeth (Image: Twitter)