UK U-turn on aircraft carriers

19/03/2012

The UK government might make a U-turn on the ongoing procurement project of the new Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft, which includes the equipment of aircraft carriers with appropriate catapults. Due to the cost increase of up to £2bn ($3.2bn), Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has recommended a return to the procurement of the F-35B instead of the carrier variant F-35C, a move to be decided by Prime Minister David Cameron by the end of this week. According to the Ministry of Defence, the high costs would cause a delay of the carrier programme of at least 7 years until 2027 unless the government decides to abandon it now. A Whitehall source said: “Adapting the carriers is skewing the defence budget out of shape, and there is every likelihood the costs will continue to rise. It has to be Cameron's decision, but the military advice is clear.”

This decision could be particularly embarrassing for the current government as it had blamed the previous Labour government’s purchase of the F-35B as inefficient. The strategic defence and security review (SDSR), adopted by the current government, ruled out this JSF version saying: “The last government committed to carriers that would have been unable to work properly with our closest military allies. It will take time to rectify this error but we are determined to do so. We will fit a catapult to the operational carrier to enable it to fly a version of the JSF with a longer range and able to carry more weapons. Crucially, that will allow our carrier to operate in tandem with the US and French navies.” Labour shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said: “This would be one of the biggest public procurement messes for many decades. David Cameron has potentially wasted more than a year and squandered millions. A combination of prime ministerial hubris and Ministry of Defence incompetence has led to British military power being degraded.”

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