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.

    • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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 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

          What part of “multi-role” don’t you understand? I didn’t say that the F-4 was superior to every Brit tactical a/c in every respect, in fact, I am a long-time fan of the Buc’, a plane I consider superior in many ways to the Tornado as a long-range, low-level striker.

          That said, it was never an A2A fighter like the Phantom, and the fact that it soldiered on after US and UK F-4s were retired from the fighter-bomber role, has more to do with the fact that the F-4 had suitable replacements in the form of F-16s,’18s’, and Typhoons, and the Buc did not. At least in the sense that the IDs Tornado had little more to offer in exchange for its high price tag. Still, at least the pricier Tornado never shed its wings during exercises…

          BTW, I think if you check your history books, you’ll see that the F-4 DID outlast the Buc as a carrier plane, and carrier planes is what this is topic is about, right?

  • 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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