UK confirms first F-35 jet orders

File photo of a Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

LONDON - Britain on Monday announced it had signed a contract with US manufacturer Lockheed Martin to buy the first of 14 F-35B combat jets.

The four Lightning II stealth combat aircraft will operate from both of the Royal Navy's forthcoming new aircraft carriers and from Royal Air Force land bases, with another 10 due to be ordered over the next five years.

The first batch is expected to be delivered in 2016 and will take up station in 2018.

"The investment we are making in the F-35 aircraft will ensure we are securing the skies for decades to come, providing the UK with the latest stealth technology and multi-role aircraft capability," said Philip Dunne, minister for defence equipment support and technology.

The planes feature short take-off and vertical landing(STOVL) technology and the latest stealth and intelligence surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) technology.

The British government has long planned to provide its air and naval forces with F-35Bs and signed an agreement in principle to buy the four jets last month.

The F-35 should have appeared at this year's Farnborough International Airshow near London, but was grounded by technical problems and could not cross the Atlantic Ocean.

Britain's navy is currently without an aircraft carrier but a new carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, is due to go into service in 2020 with another, HMS Prince of Wales, to follow.