Britain to make U-turn on defence jet upgrade: report

Britain was on Thursday to announce it was scrapping plans to buy the preferred fighter jet for its two new aircraft carriers due to delays and spiraling costs, the BBC reported.

Prime Minister David Cameron had wanted the more capable F-35C joint strike fighter (JSF), which required catapults and arrester gear to be fitted to the Royal Navy carriers, but has now signed off a decision to use the F-35B, a jump-jet variant, the BBC said.

The US-built F-35C was favoured as it has a longer range and can carry more weapons. But it is running over budget and falling further behind schedule.

Also, the costs of fitting "cats and traps" to the carriers is believed to have risen from around £400 million ($645 million, 500 million euros) to almost £2 billion.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond will on Thursday announce the decision to use the F-35B jet, which only requires a short ramp to land and take off, according to the BBC report.

The initital plan to go for the F-35C instead of the F-35B favoured by the former Labour government formed the centre-piece of the coalition government's 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).

Labour looks set to pounce on the government's expected climbdown.

"This is a personal humiliation for David Cameron, who will have to return to Labour's policy, which he previously condemned," said shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said.

"This is a strategically vital element of the equipment programme on which our security and thousands of jobs depend and yet ministers have treated it with hubristic incompetence, wasting hundreds of millions at a time of painful defence cuts."

The decision could hinder plans for closer cooporation with the French and US navies, which are equipped with the cat-and-trap system.

As part of the SDSR, Britain's aircraft carrier the Ark Royal and its Harrier Jump Jet fleet were axed as the defence ministry sought to close a £38 billion black hole it claims was left by the previous Labour administration.

© 2012 AFP

Source: AFP
Date: May 9, 2012