March 18 (UPI) -- Work has started to integrate two advanced missile systems with Britain's fleet of F-35 fighter planes, defense contractor BAE Systems announced.
BAE has received its first funding from Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor on the program, to integrate into the F-35 Meteor air-to-air missiles and SPEAR precision surface attack missiles made by European missile systems developer MBDA.
Lockheed Martin and BAE will also work with MBDA on the use of Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missiles, and with Raytheon on use of its Paveway IV missiles, a BAE statement said.
"This is a significant milestone for the U.K. Combat Air's capability," said Cliff Waldwyn, MBDA chief of Combat Air, Group Business Development. "This initial package of work officially commences the integration of Meteor and SPEAR and will enhance the operational capability of the UK's Lightning Force in the future; it is also a positive step for the wider F-35 enterprise as it adds additional capability choice for international customers."
The work will significantly increase the potential firepower of the planes for the Royal Air Force. The first four F-35s, in a series of planes ordered, arrived in Britain in June 2018.
The announcement comes days after the last two Panavia Tornado fighter planes in the RAF fleet were formally retired at Britain's Markham air base. The swing-wing Tornado was an essential element in British air combat capability for over 40 years.