Thursday, May 10, 2012

U-turn in the UK over F-35 jets
hits French defence co-operation plans Written by Financial Times

The government will today reverse plans regarding the fast jets that it is buying for future aircraft carriers, abandoning the conventional take-off version of the F-35 and instead purchasing a version with vertical take-off and landing.
Philip Hammond, defence secretary, will say the government has taken the decision to avoid a billion-pound over-run in the cost of creating a future carrier capability. But the decision is a blow to the prospects for future defence co-operation between the UK and France.
Hammond will also say that the UK will probably operate both its future aircraft carriers at the end of this decade, rather than just one. In its 2010 defence review, the UK had said its second aircraft carrier would either be sold or mothballed.
In the review, the government said it would buy the conventional version of the F-35, which uses catapults to get airborne and arrester gear to land. But Hammond will say the estimated cost of installing the launch system on carriers has risen from £1bn to £2bn. By moving to the jump-jet version of the F-35, the UK will get full carrier strike capability in 2020, at least three years earlier than planned, he will argue.
The jump-jet version of the F-35 has less operational range than the conventional take-off version, raising questions about whether the decision will undermine UK defence capability.
But the decision is strongly backed by General Sir David Richards, Chief of Defence Staff, and has the unanimous support of Britain’s three service chiefs.
“The person who has won the service chiefs’ respect here is David Cameron, who has taken a decision which looks a bit uncomfortable today but is in Britain’s long-term interest,” a senior MoD official said.
It is a blow to Franco-British co-operation just as Cameron needs to start working with Fran├žois Hollande, France’s new president. France could have operated its Rafale jets on a UK carrier that integrated catapults and arrester gear, but this will not now be possible.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2012
(c) 2012 The Financial Times Limited