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!

  • 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.

      • 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

    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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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 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…


    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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