Agreement announced on new Marham planes

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A deal to build the first wave of the new fighter planes to be based at RAF Marham has been agreed in principle, defence chiefs have announced.

The contract with American aerospace firm Lockheed Martin, which is expected to be finalised in the next few weeks, is for an initial batch of four Lightning II F-35 stealth combat fighter aircraft.

North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham said: “It’s really positive news. It completely vindicates the campaign to keep Marham. It was a no-brainer.”

Last year, the then defence secretary Philip Hammond confirmed the planes would come to West Norfolk during a visit to Marham.

The announcement signalled a victorious end to a two year fight to secure the site’s future.

And Mr Bellingham said: “We’re now seeing what is a world-class base with a great future. It is a very important part of our local economy.”

An initial 14 of the planes, which can operate from both land bases and the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers, are set to be ordered over the next five years.

Officials have previously said the UK’s first Lightning squadron will be based at Marham from 2018.

Defence secretary Michael Fallon, who made the announcement on Tuesday, described the agreement as “a major step forward.”

He said: “The Lightning II will equip the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force with a highly advanced multi-role stealth combat aircraft, operating from both our new Queen Elizabeth class carriers and land bases.

“This programme is also bringing substantial industrial benefits to the UK, providing thousands of skilled jobs in the UK aerospace industry.”

The RAF already has three of the planes, which are currently in the United States for testing and evaluation.

Bernard Gray, the Ministry of Defence’s chief of defence material, said: “I am delighted this agreement prepares the way for the first batch of operational combat aircraft.

“It ensures the MOD remains on target for achieving operational capability from land bases and the start of flying trials aboard the carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2018.”