UK: JSF Buy 'Unaffordable'

By Jason Sherman / October 26, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Big news over the weekend from London. The U.K. Ministry of Defence, the Pentagon's steadfast -- and single largest -- international partner in developing the Joint Strike Fighter, is apparently having second thoughts about how many of the aircraft it can afford.

Britain's Royal Navy is slashing by half its planned purchases of the JSF aircraft, The Sunday Times reported Oct. 25, a move that would trim the size of the British Navy's JSF fleet from 138 to 50, saving 7.2 billion pounds -- about $11.8 billion.

The paper, citing unnamed senior Royal Navy officials, said the “soaring cost of the American-produced Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft” has forced the sea service to change plans for how it plans to employ one of two aircraft carriers under construction to launch JSF fleets. The second carrier will be used as an amphibious commando ship, flying only helicopters.

The paper also said the Royal Air Force, which had planned to replace its frontline Tornado aircraft with JSF, “will now equip all its frontline squadrons with Eurofighter aircraft instead.”

The decision to cut the number of JSF aircraft has been agreed by senior navy and air force commanders in discussions preparing for the strategic defence review.

Both Labour and the Conservatives are committed to conducting a strategic defence review after the general election, which must be held by the late spring.

A senior Royal Navy officer said: “We always knew that the real cost of the carrier project is the JSF fleet to go on them. It would cost us at least £12 billion if we bought all the aircraft we originally asked for. We are waking up to the fact that all those planes are unaffordable. More than half of the £5 billion contracts to build the two new carriers have been contracted, so it is too late to get out of building the ships.”