Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has finally announced that the UK will be reverting to the jump-jet F-35B variant of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme after costs to modify the Queen Elizabeth-class (QEC) carriers for the F-35C fighter jet began to spiral.
“The 2010 SDSR decision on carriers was right at the time, but the facts have changed and therefore so too must our approach,” said Hammond in a statement to parliament this morning. “This Government will not blindly pursue projects and ignore cost growth and delays.
“Carrier Strike with ‘cats and traps’ using the Carrier Variant jet no longer represents the best way of delivering Carrier Strike and I am not prepared to tolerate a three-year further delay to reintroducing our Carrier Strike capability.”
The announcement comes as little surprise after numerous reports surfaced about the growing debate over the contentious JSF programme. Under Gordon Brown’s administration, the UK originally signed up for the Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) F-35B fighter but after the coalition government came to power it opted for the F-35C “cats and traps” variant following the 2010 the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).
Reverting to the STOVL variant will restore the UK’s carrier-strike capability by 2018, two years ahead of schedule. This continuous Carrier Strike capability was the key element of Hammond’s statement today.
“This announcement means we remain on course to deliver Carrier Strike in 2020 as a key part of our Future Force 2020.”
Hammond said that, however inconvenient, this decision shows that the government is “doing what is right for Britain.”
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