UK Concerned About F-35 Slowdown

The UK’s new defense (or should I say defence) secretary, Philip Hammond, today acknowledged that he is worried that further cuts or slowdowns to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program will hurt Britain’s ability to rebuild its aircraft carrier fighter force later this decade.

Remember, the UK decided to buy nearly 100 F-35C carrier variant JSFs for its new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers. However, it recently retired its fleet of Harrier jump jets, leaving the Royal Navy without carrier strike aircraft for the first time since before World War II. (As Hammond acknowledged today, a Royal Navy with aircraft carriers but no jets to fly from them is “a caricaturists dream.”) Britain plans to by the F-35Cs by the end of the decade. The problem is, the Pentagon is slowing the F-35 program yet again and will likely delay the delivery of 120 or more jets.

Hammond, on his first official visit to Washington, said he would be signing an agreement today on how the UK will rebuild its naval strike fighter fleet in the face of budget cuts and an F-35 slowdown.

“One of things I’ll begin to understand later on today in the meetings I’m having will be what, if any, impact the announcements being made today will have on the Joint Strike Fighter program,” said Hammond. The announcements he was referring to are the Pentagon’s unveiling of its 21st Century security strategy, a document that will guide weapons buys and cuts going forward.

He then gave a clue as to what the future of European defense will look like as the U.S. withdraws more troops from the continent and refocuses on Asia. Basically, Britain and France are going to have to field aircraft carriers to ensure the continent has that kind of power-projection capability at the ready since America will be focused elsewhere.

(Keep in mind that the UK and France have signed an agreement that calls for interoperability and even some joint-manning among France’s carrier, the De Gaulle and the Royal Navy’s two new Queen Elizabeth class ships.)

“We are committed to purchasing the carrier-variant and the regeneration of our carrier strike force is at the heart of our defense strategy. We believe it will bring a big gain for NATO and potentially be a big relief to U.S. efforts in the European sphere. We’ve worked with the French to ensure that we will have a European carrier capability [that’s] always available. But of course, we are concerned that any slippage in production or any reduction in U.S. numbers will have an impact [on cost] and with budgets very tight, we’ll be watching very close any movement in the predicted unit costs.”

  • guest

    “leaving the Royal Navy without carrier strike aircraft”

    Sounds like a good time to retake the Falklands!

    • Ben

      Argentina have been stirring up lately purely because of oil that has been found of the coast of the Falklands by a british company. Plus the state the British Navy is in the Argies will probably cause the situation to escalate over 2012/2013.

      • chris

        We have four Typhoon’s down there,two more than we need too sort the Argentinians out.

        • Ziv

          Will the Typhoons be able to do anything if the Argie’s crater the runways? I would think having 4 or 6 Harriers at a different location from the Typhoons might be a good idea. Heck, a squadron of Harriers split between two bases would be nearly optimal.

          • Dan

            They have no capability to pass the Typhoons and crater the runway, in fact 4 typhoons flying with support from the airbase would probably knock down the entire ageing Argentinian airforce. 1 Type 45 Destroyer would also take down the entire fast jet force. I’m afraid the Argentinians have no capacity to re-take the Falklands and they know it.

          • Ziv

            That kind of sounds like Kimmel claiming that the Japanese would have to fight there way in to attack Pearl Harbor.
            4 Typhoons are probably enough to stop the entire Argentine Air Force, if the Typhoons know the Argie’s are coming. I doubt they will send a note in advance, though. With more than 30 re-built to nearly new A4-AR Fightinghawks, I don’t think the Argie’s are toothless. And we know Kirchner would love to give the Brit’s a black eye to offset her weakness at home.
            If the Argentinians did crater the runway, what would the UK do? They have no carriers, the Argentinian coast is just 300 miles from the Falklands so the Argentinian air force, such as it is, would be able to mount some sort of a CAP over the area. They have 2 C-130’s that are capable of air to air refueling. Even with just 2 companies of infantry, one Brit and one Falkland Islanders, I don’t think that the Argentinians would invade, but they could cut the islands off and force concessions on sovereignty.
            I don’t know the Argentinians can do this, obviously, but I think the UK would be well served not to put all their air defense eggs in one basket.

          • Dan

            I agree that a swarm attack by the entire air fleet would probably get through although I think the accepted view is that the beefed up air defence radar on the Falklands would pick them up the moment they left the coast, that means that if they did get through to attack the base there would not be many going home again. We also don’t know what land based SAMs the Brits have available. I don’t think Argentina would risk this given they would not then be able to repel a counter-attack against the UK’s battle hardened expeditionary forces. It would be close but my money I think would be on the Brits.

    • Tim UK

      one Royal Navy attack sub will keep the argie navy at bay and there are actually a full compliment of troops down there , so the argies are going to need a big force . Plus we can get more typhoons and a couple of transports rammed with troops down there in 24 hours.

  • guest

    “Britain and France are going to have to field aircraft carriers to ensure the continent has that kind of power-projection capability at the ready since America will be focused elsewhere.”

    You mean France and Britain will have to subsidize European military defense/offense instead of America? Score!

    • blight

      Alternatively, that they are helping out because America can barely afford the 300+ ship Navy of today, and may cut the CV force beyond the 12 CVN’s to perhaps ten CVNs or less.

      • AlC

        Have wondered why allies (UK, OZ, CA, JA, SK, SP and the US) wouldn’t work together to get maximum value for their defense dollars.
        Skip the LCS and buy some frigates made in Spain for example.

        • It’s been tried many times and usually fails!
          US is large enough to have the advantages of: common doctrine; common language; sufficient workforce (& political impact on unemployment) and single accountable budget.
          Go across borders and too often things are doctrinally done different; employable work-share becomes more politically sensitive and translation & export control (arrghh ITAR!!) costs for every single document – rise significantly.

        • Fluoro Ninja

          Because the US politicians will continue to do the bidding of major US defence companies and exert pressure on the politicians of their smaller ‘allies’ to continue to buy over priced American-sourced materiel.

          Regardless of how much of a good idea it is for smaller countries to have a local defence industry, pressure will always be exerted to ensure we continue buying US made gear whether or not it suits our purpose. (e.g. we keep buying lightly armed frigates (US developed weaponry.. good but very expensive) that only make sense when they’re part of a carrier battle group… but the only country that has those is the USA… didn’t stop Aus buying them though).

      • tiger

        More like 285…

        Ships and Submarines
        Deployable Battle Force Ships: 285
        Ships Underway (away from homeport): 63 ships (22% of total)
        On deployment: 113 ships (40% of total)
        Attack submarines underway (away from homeport): 16 subs (30%)
        On deployment: 16 subs (30%)
        Ships Underway
        Aircraft Carriers:
        USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) – 7th Fleet
        USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) – 7th Fleet
        USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) – 5th Fleet
        USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) – Pacific Ocean
        Amphibious Assault Ships:
        USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) – Atlantic Ocean
        USS Bataan (LHD 5) – 5th Fleet
        USS Makin Island (LHD 8) – 5th Fleet


    • Tim UK

      Erm you might remember the UK be shoulder to shoulder with the US for the last 20 years in the middle east. I think you should focus your ire on Germany, Italy and Spain .

  • jamesb

    He should be worried….
    For the next 10 months until the November elecltions ANYTHING can happen…..

  • Josh

    Time to look into leasing a few Super Hornets I think!

    • Lance

      Hornets now Way give F-15SE to UK Japan and Israel and upgraded there current Eagles. Hornets are not worth it.

      • chris

        The UK has never used the F-15SE!

        • Riceball

          Well, neither has the US or any other country for that matter since Boeing, to the best of my knowledge, had neither put them into production and/or have gotten any orders for them yet.

  • Lance

    If the Brits want F-35s now on the spot they can start paying for R&D and fielding of the plane now. Im tired of the US paying for everyone’s planes tanks guns ect. time for them to pay for it!

    • Steve

      The brits have pumped a good $2billion into the development programme already.

    • The UK is the sole ‘Level 1’ partner and has been with the programme from the start; stumping up about 10% of the original development costs, even though they were down for only 2.5% of the expected aircraft (now approx 5% with overall reductions).
      To this date the British development investment – from JSF through to F-35 – accounts for over 50% of the money received from all of the international partners combined.

      • Lance

        Have them pay more!

  • 100? Closer to a handful of F-35Cs.

    What is bad now, is that the F-35C (like the other variants) has paper thin weight margins and lots of problems.

    I wonder what the MOD will think when they find out their alternate F-35 won’t get aboard ship because the hook is in the wrong place?

    Their carrier program (with the rest of the MOD in yard sale mode) just can’t buy a break.

  • Black Owl

    The F-35 is too complex and doesn’t deliver nearly the capability that it offers. The Super Hornet with International Road Map upgrades is the best option for carrier based strike fighters.

    • Mike

      The Brit’s do not have the same type of carriers that we do. They need the VSTOL aircraft like the Harriers. They do not have a tail hook or catapult system on British carriers. Therefore, the Hornet is not an option. As far as paying for some of the R & D, they already have pitched in, just like all the other partners.

      • viceroy

        We have switched to building cats and traps carriers (EMALS) like the US now, which means we are (hopefully) buying the ‘C’ variant rather than the USMC’s ‘B’ variant.

        • elizzar

          indeed viceroy, that change to C variant was clearly stated in the (otherwise crappy) 2010 strategic review (cost-cutting exercise) and we have ordered at least one set of emal cats (with talk of a second). i’d have preferred going down the path of a navalised eurofighter myself (of which design and testing has shown to be viable with cats etc), making use of all those planes we ordered, and getting out of the jsf programme altogether as i fear it is either going to crash or be soooo expensive per plane as to be ridiculous.

      • tiger

        They are building Brand new CV’s in France. The Queen Elizabeth class. That is what the F35C’s are for.

    • Mike

      I have read on several of your posts “International Roadmap Upgrades”. Just what are these upgrades if you will.

    • Fluoro Ninja

      Bah. The Poms should tell both LM and Boeing to get stuffed and buy the carrier version of the Rafale.

      This would give them good interoperability with the other major European sea power (France) who fly the same aircraft from their carrier. Plus it’s cheaper while still packing a solid punch in both the strike and air to air roles.

  • tiger

    So how many years Is the Fleet Air Arm not going to have any jet pilots? What good are F35C’s if every experienced Naval Aviator has been laid off?

    • elizzar

      there is a plan where uk aviators will do training with the us navy and possibly the french until our new f35s are ready, i think it may have already begun tbh.

      • Mastro

        Well- its been happening for years- but I guess they have to ramp it up now.

        It might be weird to have a Brit in almost every US Navy squadron- come 2014 or so.

        • elizzar

          at least it will mean you can have someone in each squadron make a nice cup of tea for you american types, it’s the best drink ever dontchaknow! :-)

          • blight

            If we inter-operate with UK forces, the next step is to co-host aboard aircraft and such. They already have dibs on much of our equipment and enough of our state secrets.

    • Robert Fritts

      None, 28 RN and 21 RAF pilots are rotating thru French Air Force and Naval squadrons flying Rafale and Rafale M this year. There are 6 RN officers training on E-2s with the French Navy. Also every year approximately 20 RN and RAF pilots rotate thru USN F-18 Squadrons. So The Fleet Air Arm is actually quite ahead of the curve on pilot training. Also a few Harrier pilots will find assignments with the USMC and Italian/Spanish Naval air Arms.
      All of this is subject to the now monthly budget recalculations.

  • Tim UK

    Why weird ? the Uk pilots can actually fly low level unlike US pilots who seem to hang around 10000ft like some glorified Airline pilots.

    • sdog

      wtf are you talking about lobsterback? what about the strike eagles that provide close air for your brit army folks in the stan?

    • Guest

      Low-level is one of the RAF’s best skills- I was working near Quarter-mile in Edinburgh when a flight of four typhoons screamed by at what looked like a height that was level if not lower than that of the main battery!

  • tiger

    Some how it seems the Royal Navy is facing the same mess as it did when they bought the Phantom II’s From the US. Promise of a great plane, but actual product not so good & costing more than the home built stuff it replaced.

    • JRL

      The RN Phantoms’ woes can be directly attributed to their being significantly (and expensively)modified to accept British “home built stuff”.

      As far as what it replaced – the Brits never had anything that matched, or even came close to, the Phantom’s abilities as a multi-role naval fighter. Ever.

      • Robert Fritts

        Wrong JRL, when the RN was forced by Parliment to accept F-4Ks, the Head of the Fleet Air Arm was asked if this was the plane to replace the Buccaneer? His reply was”please just build new Buccaneers”. The Buccaneers were still serving effectively long after the Phantom(UK and US) was gone. Until the late 80s Buccaneers were shreading F-16 and F-15 defenses at Red Flag by flying low level(15-20meter) strike missions for the “bad guys”. AARs had quotes from US Commanders saying the Buccaneers had a unfair advantage as E-2, EA-6B, AWAC and EF-111 could not pick up their 1950s electronic signatures “too old”.

  • JRL

    The Brits will be lucky, if after ten years they end up with one functioning light carrier and a couple squadrons of SuperBugs. The other make-work project posing as an aircraft carrier will end up being sold at a huge loss to India. Or maybe to a Chinese hotel magnate…

    Unless it doesn’t work at all, in which case the idiot Canadian govt will no doubt snap it up to share dock space with our reliably dysfunctional Brit subs…

    • elizzar

      well the 2 under construction are of the order of 55-60,000 tonnes, which is ~2.5 times the size of our old harrier carriers (and the similar sized ones operated by spain, italy etc, with the nuclear charles de gaulle around 40k tonnes). these are definitely being built as hulls, whether both will be fully eqipped etc. remains to be seen, and the plan was always to only have one full air wing, one carrier at sea one in refit / reserve. i agree it is currently decidely iffy whether the second will actually serve the rn – hopefully by the time the decisions need to be made we won’t be quite so broke as we are now … as for selling our ships overseas, the australians seem to quite like their new amphibious ship, which they got at a knock-down price, and the us marines scooping all our old harriers fro something like 1.5-2 million dollars each? bargain! :-) (i will admit the canadian subs do seem a bit disasterous, but was that a british thing or a canadian gov thing in not maintaining / outfitting them properly when bought?)


    Maybe the US Government should step aside, let all the foreign countries in the world buy the F-35 first as I’m sure Saudi Arabia would want a few dozen F-35A fighter jets.

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