LONDON: Britain has told the U.S. that it would call off its 10-billion-pound plan to acquire the new joint strike fighter F-35 if it does not get access to the technology for development of the aircraft.
Britain’s minister for defence procurement Lord Drayson told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee that his country would lose sovereign control without access to the technology.
Both the U.S. Congress and Lockheed Martin are not in favour of any technology transfer fearing it would mean handing over stealth aircraft technology to industrial competitors in the U.K.
But the Royal Airforce commanders say in the absence of such an understanding, they will be at the mercy of Lockheed Martin executives in operating the fleet.
Lord Drayson told media persons before his meeting with the senators that Britain wants to be absolutely clear about what the bottom line is on this matter. Unless this is clarified, “we will not be able to purchase the aircraft.”.
Meanwhile, defence experts in the U.K. are talking about the government considering alternatives to the joint strike fighter, including continuing with the Harriers or buying the French Rafale aircraft. Indeed it is thought that the UK has already entered into a verbal agreement with the French to buy 150 Rafale aircraft for use on the new generation of aircraft carrier.
If this is the case, as is likely, then it could be that the British Government is spinning this for all it’s worth in an attempt to get out of the JSF deal when in fact another deal has been done for the French aircraft. This could be the reason why the US is slow to come forward with the technical and sensitive data as one would expect if they know about the Rafale deal too.
Although the UK has already bought a few Rafale aircraft already, it would indeed be a great pity for Britain, the Royal Navy and RAF if the UK Government opts for the lesser Rafale instead of the new state of the art JSF either as a political stunt to get in with the French as an EU gesture or one to try and save a bit of money at the expense of putting Britain’s security and defence first.
Lord Drayson told the senators that the U.S. needed to understand that a mutual commitment to the joint strike fighter was dependant on Britain having the operational sovereignty it requires.
Britain believes that the row could impact future cooperation between the two countries, especially on issues like replacement of Trident as Britain’s nuclear deterrent. Britain is also apprehensive about the U.S. defence department’s decision to scrap a $2 billion program for a second engine for the joint strike aircraft, proposed to be jointly developed by Rolls-Royce and General Electric.
Lord Drayson said Pentagon did not consult Britain properly before the project was dropped.
Several key U.S. senators questioned the Pentagon on its decision to scrap the plan.
Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John Warner, said relying on a single-engine design is a “scenario that presents unprecedented vulnerability,” notably if a glitch should ground the fleet.
The administration in its fiscal 2007 spending plan, has suggested ending the alternative engine proposal, developed in 60-40 partnership by GE and Rolls-Royce.
Deputy defence secretary Gordon England had told the senate hearing that the Pentagon had felt “it would be nice to have a second engine, (but) it is not necessary and not affordable.”
England said the defence department has found that the second engine will never yield savings in the “most realistic scenario”.
The F-35 project is being co-financed by the U.S., Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway. While Britain and other countries, except the U.S. have committed $2 billion for the project, while the U.S. has committed the balance. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor, while Pratt & Whitney, part of United Technologies Corp. , has been chosen to build the plane’s initial engine.