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The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter is the new combat aircraft for the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. It is a fifth generation multi-role fighter with stealth capabilities.

Lightning II will partner Typhoon to provide the RAF’s future fast-jet fleet from 2019 and provide the carrier strike capability for the new Queen Elizabeth-class Aircraft Carriers from 2020 onwards.

The programme is forecast to cost just over £5 billion so far. The bulk order not expected to be placed until 2017. The total fleet size is not expected to be confirmed until the next Strategic and Defence Review at the earliest.

The UK is buying the Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant, one of three variants produced by Lockheed Martin. This variant was selected in 2002 but in 2010 the new Government controversially switched to the Carrier variant. This had a knock-on effect of delaying into service the new aircraft carriers currently under construction. In 2012 the Government reversed its position and recommitted to the STOVL variant.

This note provides a short history of the programme for the United Kingdom.

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