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UK Decisions on F-35 Aircraft Criticized by Parliament

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program continues to be controversial. It is the largest defense acquisition program in history and will see the manufacture and deployment of 100’s of the advanced aircraft to the U.S. military and several allies across the world. One of the original and major customers is the U.K. which will replace its Harrier jump jet fleet with Lockheed Martin’s (LMT) aircraft.

Because the F-35 must equip the U.S. Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps there are different versions of the aircraft. Their is the F-35A optimized for the Air Force and use of fixed runways, the F-35B which has Vertical Take-Off-and-Landing (VTOL) capabilities and finally the carrier based F-35C. These will replace the F-16, AV-8 and F/A-18 respectively in the U.S. military.

The British utilize Harriers from ground bases as well as off of their aircraft carriers. They need to replace both missions. The Royal Navy is currently building 2 new aircraft carriers and originally the F-35B was the choice to use from these aircraft. That is also the current choice.

Unfortunately in the 2010 Defence Review the current Conservative government reviewed that decision and changed it to the F-35C carrier based version. It was related to the struggles the program has faced with schedule slips and cost increases. Now, though, that has been reversed again to the F-35B model. The estimated cost of these changes is around $160 million and further delays to receiving the aircraft.

The F-35 has faced problems with development and testing which has led to delays and slower then planned production. This has led some foriegn partners and customers to reevaluate their needs. Canada, for example, has now put their original production buy contract on hold and there are those in Holland who are questioning the whole plan due to cost growth. The U.S. continues to plug on with the program which is in Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) while at the same time doing more testing.

The U.K. will continue its purchase for the carrier as options for other aircraft are very limited. It just will have to face further potential cost increases and delays associated with the program.

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