- By Region
The government will on Thursday reverse plans regarding the fast jets that it is buying for future aircraft carriers, abandoning the conventional take-off version of the F-35 and instead purchasing a version with vertical take-off and landing.
Philip Hammond, defence secretary, will say the government has taken the decision to avoid a billion pound over-run in the cost of creating a future carrier capability. But the decision is a blow to the prospects for future defence co-operation between the UK and France.
Mr Hammond will also say that the UK will probably operate both its future aircraft carriers at the end of this decade, rather than just one. In its 2010 defence review, the UK had said its second aircraft carrier would either be sold or mothballed.
In the 2010 defence review, the government said it would buy the conventional version of the F-35, which uses catapults to get airborne and arrestor gear to land. But Mr Hammond will say the estimated cost of installing the launch system on carriers has risen from £1bn to £2bn.
By moving to the jump-jet version of the F-35, the UK will now get full carrier strike capability in 2020, at least three years earlier than currently planned, Mr Hammond will argue.
The jump-jet version of the F-35 has less operational range than the conventional take-off version, which raises questions about whether the decision will undermine UK defence capability.
But the decision is strongly backed by General Sir David Richards, Chief of Defence Staff, and has the unanimous support of Britain’s three service chiefs.
“The person who has won the service chiefs’ respect here is David Cameron who has taken a decision which looks a bit uncomfortable today but is in Britain’s long-term interest,” a senior MoD official said.
But it is a blow to Franco-British co-operation at the very moment when Mr Cameron needs to start working with François Hollande, France’s new president.
France could have operated its Rafale jets on a UK carrier which integrated catapults and arrestor gear, but this will not now be possible.