The Guardian reports:
The Ministry of Defence is to abandon plans to buy the preferred fighter for the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers, in an embarrassing a U-turn for David Cameron.
The prime minister personally endorsed the decision to equip the over-budget carriers with “cats and traps” so they could catapult and recover a version of the F-35 joint strike fighter (JSF) from their decks.
But the cost of converting the carriers has already reached £2bn, and the JSF model Downing Street wanted has been beset by delays and technical problems.
Here’s what the strategic defence and security review said about the need to abandon Labour’s plan to buy the F-35B version of the joint strike fighter and switch instead to the more capable F-35C, and the consequent need to adapt the new aircraft carriers already ordered:
- A single carrier needs to be fully effective. As currently designed, the Queen Elizabeth will not be fully interoperable with key allies, since their naval jets could not land on it. Pursuit of closer partnership is a core strategic principle for the Strategic Defence and Security Review because it is clear that the UK will in most circumstances act militarily as part of a wider coalition. This will delay the in-service date of the new carrier from 2016 to around 2020. But it will allow greater interoperability with US and French carriers and naval jets. It provides the basis for developing Maritime Task Groups in the future. This should both ensure continuous carrier-strike availability, and reduce the overall carrier protection requirements on the rest of the fleet, releasing ships for other naval tasks such as protection of key sea-lanes, or conducting counter- piracy and narcotics operations.
- The strike needs to be made more capable. Installing the catapult and arrestor will allow the UK to acquire the carrier-variant of Joint Strike Fighter ready to deploy on the converted carrier instead of the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant. This version of the jet has a longer range and greater payload: this, not large numbers of aircraft, is the critical requirement for precision strike operations in the future. The UK plans to operate a single model of JSF, instead of different land and naval variants. Overall, the carrier-variant of the JSF will be cheaper, reducing through-life costs by around 25%.
It will be interesting to see what Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, has to say when he appears in the Commons later.