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.

        • 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

    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!

  • 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.

      • 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! :-)

    • 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 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?)

      • Riceball

        Isn’t the plan for one to serve as a regular carrier and the other to be converted into a helo carrier?

        • Ian

          Yes but only as the Government has got itself into a real mess. They are currently building a large carrier with a ramp but will never have the right planes, having cancelled them. They should stop the deck work and work round the problem to fit the new US magnetic launch pullies….not carry on because they wish to avoid financial penalties. Politicians can make so very bad decisions and this is one of them.


    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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