The head of U.S. Air Forces in Europe is “convinced” the command will base F-35As at RAF Lakenheath, U.K., on time in late 2021, despite some delays to military construction and a possible slowdown in F-35 deliveries because of COVID-19.
“I am clear eyed that we’ve got a fair amount of work to do from the infrastructure needed to get the facilities ready, and at the same time work through the natural challenges of any bed down that has to do with the appropriate connectivity, security clearances, and those types of activities required to get an airplane in,” USAFE boss Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian told reporters during a panel at AFA’s virtual Air, Space & Cyber Conference on Sept. 14. “But, we’re looking at the end of ’21 as the target remains on track for us to get the airplanes here.”
The original plan was to have the aircraft begin arriving this year, but that slipped to 2021. Now construction delays have threatened that timeline, with projects about 25 percent over the $480 million budget, Defense News reported last month.
At the same time, COVID-19 restrictions have already impacted Lockheed Martin’s F-35 delivery schedule. The company plans to deliver 122 of the jets this year, about 20 percent fewer than planned, and that shortfall will take “a couple of years” to recover, the company told Air Force Magazine on Sept. 10.
Despite the issues, Harrigian is confident the command will bring the jets online on, or close to, the current schedule. The service plans to have 48 of the jets at the base in England.
“I’m convinced that we’ll get there,” he said. “There may be some things we need to do to operate there initially, but we will in fact deliver the airplanes on time, assuming they’re ready.”
In advance of the deliveries, USAFE, NATO representatives, and the F-35 users’ group have been meeting to plan new range infrastructure and training opportunities for the fifth-generation jets, Harrigian said earlier this year. The goal is to have a construct for ranges and training in place by 2022.