Britain first to take delivery of F-35 as U.S. lauds 'special relationship'

Contributor:  Defence IQ Press
Posted:  07/19/2012  12:00:00 AM EDT
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Tags:   fighter


The UK Secretary of State for Defence Philip Hammond shook hands with his U.S. counterpart Leon Panetta in the Pentagon’s press briefing room yesterday as the two held a model of the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter.

Hammond is in Washington this week to oversee the handover of the first F-35 jet to Britain. Panetta used the occasion to dial up the rhetoric on the strong bond his government has with the UK.

“The United Kingdom was the first partner nation to join the F-35 programme and has been a tremendous partner throughout the development, testing, and the initial production,” Panetta said.

The delivery from Lockheed Martin comes a few months after the UK reverted on its decision to buy the “cats and traps” JSF variant in favour of the STOVL jet. At the time Hammond explained that the move would mean that carrier strike capability was restored within a shorter time frame than originally planned for.

"This announcement means we remain on course to deliver Carrier Strike in 2020 as a key part of our Future Force 2020,” Hammond told parliament.

From the photograph above it’s clear that both defence ministers are thrilled with the development of the JSF programme and excited to see the new fighter in the air. Those aren’t the usual feigned smiles and pained expressions we see during Pentagon press briefings – that’s pure joy; child-like rapture.

Which is surprising. At least it will be to some that consider the United Kingdom’s pursuit of the JSF programme to be ill-conceived and strategically questionable. James Bosbotinis said in a recent article:

“The decision to acquire the F-35B requires greater expenditure [than acquiring the CATOBAR variant would have had] at a time when the defence budget and wider economy is under significant pressure. The decision will deliver a sub-optimal capability and will reduce the flexibility, long-term growth potential and, ultimately, the strategic credibility of UK airpower.”

Despite fears over the development of the programme in recent weeks Panetta said he was, “pleased by the significant progress that the programme has made across all the service variants, particularly in the past year.” That, despite postponing 179 F-35s until after 2017.

Hammond tackled the issue with the ‘B’ variant a little more head-on, but remained confident it was back on track.

“It [the STOVL F-35] went through a period 18 months or so ago when it was placed on probation because of some technical difficulties but it's come out of those,” said Hammond.

Panetta has repeatedly stated that the fifth generation Joint Strike Fighter offers a key capability for the United States’ future military arsenal. As the political and threat landscape shifts away from Afghanistan over the next decade, Panetta said the F-35 would be able to underpin any future strategy against all potential foes, known or unknown.

“We're committed to all three [F-35] variants because we think each of the forces will be able to use that kind of weaponry for the future so that we can effectively control the skies as we confront the enemies of tomorrow,” Panetta said.

“The F-35 represents, I believe, the future of tactical aviation for both of our armed services,” Panetta said. “This advanced aircraft's air superiority, its precision strike capability will help ensure our dominance of the skies for years to come.”

In April the jet had its inaugural test flight in preparation for delivery to the UK today in Fort Worth, Texas. The United States has already been playing with its toys for some time, but this is the first time an international customer has ripped open the Lockheed Martin wrapping paper from its 52 ft long present.

Along with the United States and the United Kingdom, other nations partnering in this phase of F-35 development are Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Australia.

When Norway agreed to acquire the F-35 last month, Minister of Defence Espen Barth Eide said, “this marks a key milestone in the Norwegian F-35 programme and the beginning of the largest public procurement in Norwegian history.”

The hand over today marks the first time the United States has exported a supersonic stealth fighter. The JSF, which Britain has put $2 billion of development capital towards, represents a milestone in international defence cooperation. Similar programmes will become the norm throughout the 21st Century as the term 'national security' is seen in a wider context due to globalisation as threats manifest in an interconnected world.

Hammond noted in a speech at the Willard Hotel yesterday that with the U.S. pivoting towards Asia-Pacific, European nations “will need to do much more of the heavy lifting in the security of their own region,” according to AOL Defense. This follows wrangling in the ranks of its European allies as the U.S. continues to pull troops from its European bases and, so it is claimed, compromise security in the region and the “near abroad.”

But Hammond waved away these complaints and made a case for Panetta’s defence strategy in Asia:

“Far from being concerned about the tilt to Asia-Pacific, the European NATO powers should welcome the fact that the U.S. is willing to engage in this new strategic challenge on behalf of the alliance.”

For the UK the relationship with its American brothers remains 'special', but with automatic sequestration threating a number of defence programmes on the other side of the Atlantic, Hammond will be hoping that the delivery of the first F-35 isn't the last.


DoD Photo By Glenn Fawcett

Defence IQ Press Contributor:   Defence IQ Press

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