UK's F-35 has inaugural flight, but will the programme get off the ground?

Contributor:  Andrew Elwell
Posted:  04/17/2012  12:00:00 AM EDT
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Tags:   fighter

The UK’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft took its inaugural flight last week at Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth facility. During the 45 minute sortie, test pilot Bill Gigliotti put the short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) Lightning II aircraft through a number of functional flight checks before being officially accepted by the UK MoD. The US programme is well underway, but this is the first international F-35 to hit the skies.

Your TextGroup Captain Harv Smyth, the Joint Strike Fighter U.K. National Deputy said:

"Not only is this a watershed moment for the Joint Strike Fighter program, since BK-1 is the first international F-35 to fly, but it also brings us one step closer to delivery of this essential 5th Generation capability for the U.K.”

This BK-1 aircraft makes up one of the three F-35 fighters the MoD has already committed to buying; two F-35Bs and one F-35C.

Throughout the Easter recess Prime Minister David Cameron has been reviewing the F-35 programme after concerns over spiralling costs have forced Defence Secretary Philip Hammond to rethink which F-35 variant presents the best value for money for the government.

During a Defence Questions session in Parliament last month, James Arbuthnot, Chair of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, said that many would “applaud” Hammond’s decision to revert back to the F-35B variant as it will save £2 billion.

Cameron is expected to announce whether he is rubber-stamping the F-35B STOVL version over the F-35C carrier variant over the next few weeks, with some reports suggesting it could be sooner rather than later. Although with “overwhelming” support, the decision to revert back to the STOVL variant will unlikely to come as a surprise.

According to The Times, an unnamed senior source said: “It [a revision to the F-35B] is fully endorsed by the Chiefs of Staff, importantly including the Royal Navy and RAF.”

Two weeks ago the Pentagon presented a Selected Acquisition Report on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which projected that the programme had taken a $17 billion hit on initial estimates. Last year the total production and acquisition costs of the programme increased 4.3% to $396 billion according to the report.

As a result Canada, among other nations, is thought to be seriously considering its options if costs continue to soar. Yesterday The Netherlands’ Defence Minister, Hans Hillen, announced that the government will be acquiring less than the 85 F-35 fighters that it originally agreed to. According to reports he said: "The next cabinet will decide. It will certainly be fewer."

Lockheed Martin announced that the MoD will use this 5th Generation fighter for training and operational tests at Eglin Air Force Base beginning later this year.

Andrew Elwell Contributor:   Andrew Elwell


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