F-35 JSF Program: US & UK Reach Technology Transfer Agreement
The USA’s ITAR laws covering military technology transfer have been a thorn in the multinational F-35 program’s side from day 1. Those restrictions were a barrier to allied participants’ wish to be full participants in the project, and have also created questions regarding their ability to maintain their aircraft without always having to go hat in hand to the USA. Shared stealth technologies like radar-absorbing paint that helps the aircraft meet its design promises, software source code underpinning the aircraft’s equipment and weapons integration, and agreements covering follow-on development of after-market capabilities were the key issues for the UK – but the UK is not alone in its concerns by any means.
In December 2005, “UK Warns USA Over ITAR Arms Restrictions” explained the core issues, and obstacles. There were even fears that Britain would pull out of the project. In March 2006, “British JSF Prospects Looking Up” offered a complete history of the issue, and indicated progress. In August 2006, the USA and UK reportedly reached an agreement. Now, in November 2009, there are reports that the USA is backtracking on that agreement…
Nov 24/09: Reuters reports that America will not release F-35 source code to any partner country, even Britain:
“The United States will keep to itself sensitive software code that controls Lockheed Martin Corp’s new radar-evading F-35 fighter jet… Jon Schreiber, who heads the program’s international affairs, told Reuters in an interview Monday [that] “That includes everybody,” he said, acknowledging this was not overly popular among the eight that have co-financed F-35 development — Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway.”
Instead, the USA plans to set up a “reprogramming facility” to further develop F-35-related software and distribute upgrades. The terms on which allies might use this facility, and Lockheed Martin’s ability to stall or block upgrades that might boost competing products, are not detailed. Reuters | Spectator Op-Ed.
July 18/06: American and British defense officials ink a new agreement on the transfer of sensitive technologies for the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft. Pentagon acquisition bigwig Kenneth Krieg and UK MoD chief of procurement Sir Peter Spencer reportedly signed an agreement setting forth a joint statement of principles for Britain to achieve “operational sovereignty” of any F-35 Lightning II aircraft it buys.
The next step will be a series of classified annexes to the agreement that will spell out the procedures and understandings for specific technologies within the program. These are expected to be in place by November, 2006, paving the way for a December 2006 or early 2007 agreement on go-forward production arrangements among the consortium allies. See the full Inside Defense article.
July 11-18/09: DID’s 2006 F-35 Program focus article covers subsequent statements from the British Defence Secretary (July 11/06) and Joint Strike Fighter program PEO US Rear Admiral Steven L Enewold (July 18/06), which indicate that the sides are very close to an agreement