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RAF Marham commander defends high cost of bringing new F-35B Lightning aircraft to Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 09:05 28 March 2018 | UPDATED: 09:05 28 March 2018

The F-35 Lightning aircraft that the new squadron headquarters at RAF Marham will house. Picture: Crown copyright.

The F-35 Lightning aircraft that the new squadron headquarters at RAF Marham will house. Picture: Crown copyright.

Crown copyright

The sky-high cost of bringing a hi-tech new stealth fighter jet to Norfolk has been defended by the commander of a base which will house some of the new aircraft.

Progress of the infrastructure works at RAF Marham, in preparation for the arrival of the F-35B Lightning next year. Picture: Ian BurtProgress of the infrastructure works at RAF Marham, in preparation for the arrival of the F-35B Lightning next year. Picture: Ian Burt

RAF Marham is preparing for the arrival of the new F-35B Lightning aircraft in 2018, which will replace the GR4 Tornado planes which have flown from the base for several years.

In an interview as part of a special broadcast from the base by BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, station commander Group Capt Ian Townsend confirmed Marham has committed to 138 of the £100m aircraft, with the first nine due to arrive this year.

RAF Marham has also been completing a £250m upgrade to facilities, including a new runway and resurfacing, in preparation for the jets.

But Group Capt Townsend said the investment should be looked at over the aircraft’s 35 to 40 year lifespan, as well as in terms of the military benefits it will bring.

Progress of the infrastructure works at RAF Marham, in preparation for the arrival of the F-35B Lightning next year. Picture: Ian Burt Progress of the infrastructure works at RAF Marham, in preparation for the arrival of the F-35B Lightning next year. Picture: Ian Burt

“We have to look at it long term,” he said.

“From an operational capability perspective, it puts us in a much better position to react to the unknown in the future.

“The F-35 really allows us to know more and if we know more, it allows us think quicker and act quicker. It gives us a tactical advantage.”

He said that while the GR4 Tornado is dated, having been in service since the 1980s, the inside of a F-35 looks “more along the lines of an iPad”.

He also said it was better able to communicate with other jets, likening it to the role of a “quarterback”.

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