Stealth Jet Fighter Orders to Be Slashed as Ministry of Defence Struggles to Save Aircraft Carrier Program Defense Chiefs Decide United Kingdom Cannot Afford Current Plan

By Norton-Taylor, Richard | DISAM Journal, July 2010 | Go to article overview

Stealth Jet Fighter Orders to Be Slashed as Ministry of Defence Struggles to Save Aircraft Carrier Program Defense Chiefs Decide United Kingdom Cannot Afford Current Plan


Norton-Taylor, Richard, DISAM Journal


[The following article originally appeared in The Guardian (United Kingdom), January 13, 2010.]

Defense chiefs are preparing drastic cuts to the number of American stealth aircraft planned for the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Royal Navy's proposed new carriers, the Guardian has learned. They will be among the first casualties, with existing squadrons of Harrier and Tornado jets, of a huge shift in military spending being considered by ministers, officials, and military advisers.

As they head towards their biggest and most painful shakeup since the second world war, a consensus has emerged among the top brass that they can not afford the 140 American Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) they have been seeking. The JSF, or F35 as it is now called, has been subject to costly delays; and the estimated price has soared from [pounds sterling]37 million each four years ago to more than [pounds sterling]62 million today.

One compromise would be for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to halve its order from 140 planes to seventy. There is also a growing view that Britain will not be able to afford to build the two large aircraft carriers, already delayed, let alone the planes due to fly from them.

  The carriers are under real threat. There will certainly be a big
  reduction in JSF numbers, a well-placed military source told the
  Guardian.
  The carriers are about more fast jets. They are very hard to
  justify, added a defense official, referring to a growing
  consensus that the RAF already has too many fast jets.

If the order was halved, it would probably be split so that there was a short takeoff and vertical landing (Stovl) version for the carriers and a conventional version based at RAF ground stations.

Among other options being considered are: downsizing the second carrier to a much cheaper platform for helicopters, marine commandos, and unmanned drones; building both carriers but selling one, perhaps to India; and equipping them with cheaper catapult-launched aircraft.

No decisions will be made until after the general election. However, there is a consensus developing in the MoD that Britain simply cannot afford existing plans to build two large carriers in a project which, if the JSF planes are included, would cost an estimated [pounds sterling]25 billion.

The view is that it is extremely difficult to justify at a time when troops in Afghanistan are being deprived of helicopters and surveillance systems--including unmanned drones--which provide badly needed intelligence about what insurgents and suspected terrorists are up to.

The two proposed carriers, the Queen Elizabeth, due to go into service in 2016, and the Prince of Wales, due to follow in 2018, are already [pounds sterling]1 billion over the original estimated cost of [pounds sterling]3. …

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