British JSF Prospects Looking Up
Recent news has been alternately bad and good for the JSF program. Fortunately, the good news came last. DID has covered the saga of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, and especially the controversy in the UK over its planned purchase of at least 150 F-35B STOVL fighters for its carriers, and the problems created by technology sharing issues et. al. Past DID articles covering this topic have included our March 10 article “F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program: UK Update,” wherein Britain’s ‘Plan B’ carrier fighter alternative became clear. Also:
- AESA Radar to Be Trialed on UK’s GR4 Tornados By 2007 (March 2/06). Britain doesn’t have an AESA radar. Which has real advantages. But the F-35 would give it one, plus outstanding sensor capabilities. Is that enough?
- P&W, Rolls Royce Define Cooperation on F135 Jet Engine (Feb 27/06). Rolls, and Britain, still want their F136 engine to go ahead.
- UK Defence Committee Continues Questions RE: CVF, F-35 (Jan 10/06)
- Reports: Cuts on the way to F-35 JSF R&D, Engine Programs (Jan 6/06). Britain isn’t happy.
- ITAR Fallout: Britain to Pull Out of F-35 JSF Program? (Dec 7/06)
- UK Warns USA Over ITAR Arms Restrictions (Dec 1/06)
So, what’s happening now? First, there’s more bad news…
First came reports that the F-35’s stealth features would be degraded in order to keep the project on track and on budget. Given the aircraft’s intended role as a platform that can penetrate enemy air defense to deliver airstrikes on target, this is a significant change. Stealth also has considerable advantages in air-air combat, where it can equalize the odds against superior fighters.
The difference was described as the difference between the profile of a marble and the profile of a beach ball, but that could matter given improvements in modern ground and air radars. Those Meteor missiles being adapted for the F-35 may come in very handy.
Then Britain’s Minister for Defence Proccurement Lord Drayson, fresh from a viable Plan B option, told a U.S. Senate committee last week that his country would be unable to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on buying the aircraft unless technology transfer issues were worked out. While regular DID readers would be wholly unsurprised by this, it’s never good news when the project’s only other Tier 1 partner, who has invested almost $2 billion, threatens to pull out.
According to Reuters, however, UK Embassy spokesman Steve Atkins said Drayson had “extremely constructive” talks with U.S. officials after his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee. The report claims that progress had been made, and Lord Drayson was quoted as saying:
“We are more optimistic that we can find a way through that will meet our requirements, and look to move forward now with greater confidence toward the next key milestone in the program signing of the MOU.”