The Joint Strike Fighter
Over budget and unnecessary
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) was designed to be a low-cost replacement to the US Air Force’s F-16, with different versions being developed for the Navy, Marine Corps and British forces. The JSF will be a multi-role strike fighter, i.e. a plane with a strong emphasis on close air support and tactical bombing as well as being capable of air-to-air combat, and will use stealth technology. Lockheed along with their junior partners Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems are working towards an in service date of 2011.
The JSF has a single engine which uses the highly complex Remote Shaft-Driven Lift Fan concept to enable short or vertical take off. The direct lift fan assembly can also provide approximately 27,000 hp (20 MW) for electrical power production which makes “directed-energy” weapons possible. Some of these designs, including solid state lasers and high-power microwave beams, are thought to be nearing operational status.
Britain is committed to spending more than £1 billion on the JSF project and the eventual procurement of 150 jets is estimated to cost £10 billion to £13 billion. The more minor participants in the programme are ranked according to their contributions and include Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Australia, Norway, Denmark and Canada. Israel and Singapore have also joined as “Security Cooperative Participants”.
Not what it says
on the packet
As with many defence projects based on complex technologies, the JSF is already 23% over budget with development costs estimated (in March 2005) at $44.8 billion and overall programme costs expected to rise to $244.8 billion for the planned 2,400 planes. Some of the increase is needed to add anti-tampering technology to keep sensitive technology safe from other parties including, it would appear, the UK.
The question of technology transfer has led to a significant diplomatic row between the U.K. and the US. The transfer is being resisted by both Congress and Lockheed Martin, which fears that it would mean handing over preciously guarded stealth aircraft technology to industrial competitors in the UK. Henry Hyde, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives International Relations Committee, is among those who have made it plain that the US should give the UK nothing. The White House is said to be sympathetic to Britain, but it is powerless to secure the transfer deal this year without approval from Congress.
RAF chiefs say that failure to reach agreement over the computer software code that controls the jets will leave them having to beg for help from US Lockheed Martin specialists after each sortie flown by one of the new aircraft. Lord Drayson, the Minister for Defence Procurement, recently told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Britain would lose sovereign control without the technology transfer deal and this might mean that the U.K. Government would scrap it’s planned £10 billion purchase of the JSF.
Although Lord Drayson was reluctant to discuss what he called “plan B”, it is understood that the Government is considering alternatives which include prolonging the life of RAF Harriers or buying French Rafale aircraft and possibly, although less likely, producing a version of the European Typhoon adapted for use on aircraft carriers. There is also a question over whether Britain would withdraw its own contribution of jump-jet technology.
The U.K. Government has been further angered by the US Defence Department’s decision to scrap a $2 billion programme for a second engine for the JSF which would have been jointly developed by Rolls-Royce and General Electric. Lord Drayson said that Britain had “not been properly consulted” by the Pentagon before the project was scrapped. Sir Jock Stirrup, the chief of the Air Staff, who accompanied the minister to Washington, later compared the engine decision to being “hit over the head”. He added that the technology transfer was absolutely essential if the new JSFs were to be fully integrated with British aircraft carriers. “This is not a vague generalisation. We have come up with specific requirements,” Sir Jock said.
Lord Drayson even suggested that the row, could affect future co-operation on military deals such as a replacement of Trident as Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent. However, despite the spat, UK production for the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) JSF aircraft commenced on 2 February 2006.
Dignity for All
Against the backdrop of climatic change and the debate around the UK’s energy policy, the public might well ask themselves if the resources committed to the JSF might not be better used in developing the UK’s manufacturing and research base into renewable energy generation and storage. The UK is also being left behind in promising new areas of technological innovation such the commercial application of fuel cells as primary power sources in vehicles and locomotives. We would also spare our envoys the indignity of having to plead their case in Caesar’s imperious court...
The Joint Strike Fighter