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Despite an earlier commitment to buy 138 F-35B jets, it has been suggested that the overall number could eventually fall.

Lieutenant General Mark Poffley, deputy chief of the UK defence staff, told MPs today that he was “sympathetic” to the idea that the overall number could decrease.

Stephen Lovegrove, a senior civil servant at the MoD, revealed that the cost of the first tranche of 48 could rise from £9bn in 2025 to £13bn in 2048.

Julian Lewis MP commented “we are going to have to adjust the numbers of these aircraft that we order.”

He later added:

“What’s clear then is that the 48 are safe, secure, done and dusted as it were as far as the financial cost is concerned, but after that there is inevitable uncertainty, that’s what you are telling us?”

“That’s the reality of the world we are living in,” Pofley replied.

Lockheed say that at peak, the F-35 will support 25,000 jobs in the UK over the next few decades and pump £1bn a year into the economy.

Marillyn A. Hewson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Lockheed Martin said:

“It is going to support 25,000 jobs in the UK.”

Cliff Robson, Senior Vice-President for the F-35 Lightning II programme at BAE Systems, said in an interview, referring to the estimated British 25,000 jobs either directly created or supported in the F-35 supply chain.

“It’s cheap when you look at what that investment is returning to the UK.”

When the jet reaches peak production, the programme will be worth some £1 billion to UK industry alone, according to research by KPMG the accounting firm. An estimated 25,000 UK jobs will be sustained across more than 500 companies in the supply chain.

The F-35 features a significant amount of British developed components, in addition to 15% of every jet sold globally being built in Britain.

As the only Level 1 partner, the United Kingdom has garnered tremendous economic benefits from the F-35. British industry will build 15% of each of the more than 3,000 planned F-35s, in addition to a large volume of British developed aircraft systems including the electronic warfare suite.

 

61 COMMENTS

  1. Cut money from elsewhere, lord only knows how much money is wasted on bureaucracy and inefficient spending in the NHS as well as the shameful Foreign Aid Budget, take money from there and stop crippling our until recently proud and powerful armed forces

    • The foreign aid budget is not shameful..it may be dysfunctional and odd in part but that’s no different from any Departmental budget. Cut the NHS? Dream on…its just had another £3.5Bn thrown at it……

      • I beg to differ David; 13.5bn/yr is completely irresponsible given the pressure on public finances across all departments not just defence. First order of business of HMG is the welfare of our own before others. Every other country does it and I would expect them to do no less.

        I’m not against Foreign Aid but 0.7% GDP – why does it have to be written into law? It’s simply absurd!

      • Was we asked to spend that amount on Foreign Aid?
        The answer is no
        Take the amount that is the great British public give to charities to spend abroad and the amount is astronomical
        Funny how those African countries can find the money for arms to massacre each other yet rely on foreign aid feed there people

    • I love the NHS, but think about this. It’s the second most funded area of government after pensions. It’s the fifth biggest employer on the planet. Yet every year they scream that there is no money left and not enough personnel. Theres something shady going on in the NHS. I think if someone took a look at their finances the controversy would blow the MOD ‘black hole’ out of the water.

  2. They were never going to order 138 anyway, that much was obvious when they announced just 4 squadrons and an OCU or 12 aircraft each. You don’t need 138 planes to keep 60 operational , especially when 75% of training is said to be simulated. Consider also a fleet of 160 Typhoons (maybe a bit less) will keep 7 squadrons plus ocu’s going. 80-90 planes will suffice. And of course with the production line supposedly open to 2038 there’s always the opportunity to buy a handful more if the attrition rate is unexpectedly high.

    I suspect the pretence has been kept up this long in order to ensure workshare for BAE.

    And neither does it mean any front line reduction, with the rediculous decision to retire the Tranche 1 Typhoons reversed, there is no reason the commitment to 9 squadrons by 2023 can’t be met and no reason why the 50ish fleet of Tranches 1’s can’t be rotated on to the 2028 and 2033 (I believe) dates mentioned for the 3rd and 4th F35 squadrons.

    Of course what will replace the Tranche 2 and 3 Typhoons is anyone’s guess.

        • No its not. You fail to appreciate the complexities of running a small fleet within fleet and what reduced economies of scale there would be by operating a smaller F35B fleet… a separate training line and additional infrastructure at another base…its not the cheaper option at all..whatever small improvements in capability the A might deliver.

  3. Stephen Lovegrove, a senior civil servant at the MoD, revealed that the cost of the first tranche of 48 could rise from £9bn in 2025 to £13bn in 2048.

    Meanwhile in the real world the price of the F35 has actually fallen

    • Very true – but the pound is worth significantly less now. What scares me is how much further Mr. Lovegrove seems to think it has to fall.

      • John west – I suspect this is inflation accounting not exchange rates being used. After all who knows what the £ will be in 30 years time. He is discussing the difference in 20 odd years. £9 Bn in 1997 is worth some £15.5 Bn today. So he is on the light side

        But given the reduction in price even though we are still in LRIP numbers his forecast (Oh God not a FORECAST!) still looks pessimistic.

        Andrew hits the right question: Where will our new Typhoon come from in 2030? It is now (and will be) a very capable bomb truck for many years to come. The F-35 (A or B) cannot deliver what a Tiffy can and will do. We need to be developing a Typhoon II right now, on our own and not have the games we had with Jaguar, Tornado and Typhoon. We have a great platform we just have to make it current for the 2040s. Actually new build Typhoons with F-35 twin tails and vector thrust would do very well and save the £ Bns in ‘R & D’. And if Eurofighter don’t like it call it a Spitfire …

        • Chris
          Sorry to pour cold water on your musings, but it’s exceedingly unlikely the UK is going to develop front line combat aircraft without international partners – the costs of a small production run are just too great.
          best Tim

    • Just because the buy price has come down slightly dosen’t mean the running costs have and the costs of upgrading the ones we already have to an operationally useful standard.

      If you assume £100m buy price per plane , thats £4.8bn for 48, so in the given range of £9-13bn , running and upgrade costs will be between £4.2 and £8.2bn through to 2048, now double or triple that based on however many we end up buying.

      • So are they including costs of pilots and training, airfield costs, costs that would be paid whatever aircraft is being used. and all aircraft need spares.

    • This is a ridiculous statement. The first 48 F35s will have been delivered and paid decades before 2048 – can’t fathom what has been misconstrued here.

    • All
      We are not buying all 138 aircraft today £$ @1.33.
      We are buying the a/c over the next 15 years, in batches. We have a total commitment of 138.
      What that does is help the price per aircraft cost because it tells the supplier the amount of aircraft that could be bought and therefore they can work out a forecast cost per frame which currently equates to about (F-35B) $85 million.
      If the numbers are reduced the cost will go up.
      What needs to be worked out is the capital cost of the aircraft and then add that to the resource cost to run the thing over the lifecycle of the frame – total cost of ownership (TCO)

      This is all noise. At the moment who cares if we buy all 138?
      IOC and FOC dates are what is important – the ability to generate combat power to meet requirements, if that can be done with fewer aircraft then why see that as a bad thing? More money to be invested elsewhere.
      Don’t chase mythical numbers, look at what HMG are trying to do and then work out how they expect to do it.

      • Well said Lee,

        This is one of my real Bug bears with the MOD – they constantly conflate running cost with buy cost and we end up with silly figures that then justify cuts.

        The cost of the planes at $85m each is a bargain – there is no doubt about that.
        The cost of us updating our infrastructure to support them is a necessity no matter what product we purchase.
        The cost of operation is also something that will occur no matter what.

        I find this argument really childish – especially when the MOD are just rubbish at managing budgets (as are most Govt depts).

        The fact that this is bringing in £1bn to the UK economy should say something – we can buy 8 of these p.a. indefinitely and still be cash positive. So we really do need to order more not less and then we need to make sure Taranis works seamlessly with them so that a pilot can control 2-4 Taranis from a standoff position to deliver payload and do all the jamming and strategy stuff – at that point we have a force multiplier.

        We really have to stop this type of accounting – as it is making us look uncompetitive in the world economy – the cost of running these things is totally different to the cost of purchase, it really is that simple.

  4. I’m pretty cool with this actually.

    What do you choose?

    Losing several ships now or planes that don’t exist yet?

    • Neither because when it comes to bureaucrats and cuts the phrase, “If you give a mouse a cookie, he wants a glass of milk”, comes to mind.

    • actually we could be seeing the F35 cut, Royal Marines cut, Royal Navy ships cut and i did hear that a Armoured brigade could be cut, so the next Strategic Defence and Security Review, is going be same as 2010 expect with deeper cuts, we might as well give up on wars

  5. Cut foreign aid
    the nhs is not actually that wasteful. The frontline services are very efficient. They just need to reduce the numbers of flippin managers and people in non jobs by 300%.
    not surprising we have no money for defence. We are just about to give £40 billion to the EU with no guarantee of a comprehensive free trade deal or the fact that the EU will not come back and ask for another payment in the future.
    so to summarise £13 billion a year wasted on foreign aid
    if the nhs cut its number of complete arsehole managers by 300% then that would save £2.5 billion a year. Based on sacking 72,000 managers/ non clinicians earning more than £35k a year.
    do not pay the EU a penny more than the £17 billion already outlined in the Florence speech, this is the fee the national audit office agrees is our commitment to the EU budget we have previously signed off on.

  6. I may be thick but I keep looking at the third paragraph and I just don’t understand it. Why is he saying that aircraft being bought now (tranche 1) could rise in price in 30 Years. Inflation,devaluation? Somebody help me out.

  7. Why does the price in 2048 matter when the current plan is to have purchased and bought the 138 on order into service by 2035? Yes sterling has devalued, but with the purchase price falling, how can they be talking about cancelling aircraft between 2024 and 2035 based on 2048 forecasts when so much can change before then……sounds like more political double talk to me!!!

  8. Back to military matters I do not think the RAF should be allowed to purchase the F35A variant. We should only keep 1 version. The F35B to equip carriers and the provision of STOVL.
    48 F35Bs is not an adequate force. We will need to order a follow on order of at least 24-36 more aircraft
    purchasing f35A will not save ANY money. It will duplicate costs for training, spare parts, engineering etc. Not going to work.

  9. The F35 is seen as a force multiplier because of it’s capabilities and the RAF envisages using it with the Typhoon in concert in operational sorties…..SO…maybe the answer is to buy in another twenty F35’s now to allow the formation of 4 ten aircraft squadrons ( as USN ) for the Fleet Air Arm, the remainder forming an RAF squadron and a Joint OCU. and a small reserve.The carriers become fully active.

    Following on from this with the RAF working up on training and tactics with the F35/Typhoon partnership another purchase of thirty F35’s could be made allowing the formation of an RAF Wing. Maybe some extra Typhoons

    If we went to squadrons of ten aircraft (commanded by squadron leaders) we could have sixteen operational squadrons plus the OCU’s, and then we wait for UCAV to come along!

    • External Fuel tanks will allow the F35B’s to work with Typhoons and we have great air to air refuelling so I dont think we need an A version unless we actually replace Typhoon and that doesn’t need to happen any time soon.

      F35B is what we need and we need an operational fleet of 138 to replace Tornado and regenerate the Harrier fleet which together were 200+ jets.

      The UK is playing a very dangerous game with defence at the moment and whilst we still have a great force – it is very fragile and requires another £5bn p.a for the next 5 years at least to kick start the industrial base and improve recruitment and retention.

      This should come out of the Foreign aid budget – as ultimately we really on our military to step in and help – then this should be partly funded.

  10. I think we should look hard at the “one version” position. While obviously sensible on the surface, all other things being equal, all other things are not. This general conversation is about possible reductions in F35B numbers due to cost. Well, an F35B already costs around $38M more than an F35A (something like $140M compared to $102M. That’s enough of a disparity to re-open consideration of a mixed force of “A” and “B” models. Sure, it’s not the ideal, but it might enable us to actually be able to afford all or most of the 138. There is significant commonality between the two platforms, though. A mixed OCU might be feasible. Most of the internal systems are identical and conversion training for pilots migrating between the two models ought to be easy. I think 72 “B” models would allow us to surge at least 48 to the carriers.

    I’m not sure of the number of “A” models we’d need. That ought to be analyzed in relation to the threat environment and likely deployment possibilities. It wouldn’t make sense to split the buy unless we maintain at least two squadrons of land-based “A”s.

    My overall concern is not a split but but overall reduction of the F35 buy without sufficient weight being given to recent poor decisions regarding threat analysis. Having said that, 280+ fast jets (typhoons and F35s) may be excessive and/or unsustainable. The government is right to analyze the situation. Hopefully, they’ll do a better job than me!

    • We have been down this road before, when we chopped the Harriers. You save costs by reducing the number of types. I suspect F-35A and F-35B are sufficiently different to be thought of as different types. So I would say F-35A only makes sense as a Typhoon replacement. If the financial choice for the UK for the next decade or so is retain expeditionary capability with adequate air support versus rekindling the RAFs ambitions for a ‘strategic’ ( nuclear) bomber then I would choose to keep the RM and assault ships. But make sure any cut in F-35B numbers is made good by retention of Typhoon Tranche 1 squadrons.

      • The projected cost difference between A and B versions is close on £40m per aircraft, as the A cost is reducing significantly but the cost of the complex B version is not. Take that over 90 aircraft – the difference between the 138 ordered and the 48 for the Navy – and that’s a bill of an extra £3.6 bn. That is serious money and will inevitably lead to the order evolving to:

        a) 48 Bs to equip 2 RN squadrons;

        b) 67-90 As to equip either 3 or 4 RAF squadrons in the strike/attack wing. The RAF is known to prefer the A, which is lighter, quicker, has a much better range and a much bigger payload; the main, perhaps the only, proponent of an all-B force is BAe, which of course has a vested interest in that version.

        Ref squadron numbers, current planning as I understand it is that all squadrons will have 12 front-line aircraft, 3 in squadron reserve, 3 in wartime reserve and 1.5 in attrition reserve, making a total of 19.5 or 39 for the FAA wing, 78 for the RAF wing, totalling 117 across the 6 squadrons. In addition, there will be 2 aircraft per wing for the Wing Commanders, 3 in the OEU and up to 14 eventually on the OCU and a TWU.

        The RAF is not going to be very happy if the strike/attack wing is reduced to 3 squadrons, it really is wafer-thin if a hot war arises. We had 12 attack squadrons a few years ago and that was pretty thin even then.

        The worst-case scenario is a reduction of one RAF squadron, about 20 aircraft. I am sure the Government is already planning for this in the next SDSR, as they are more interested in populist gestures where expenditure is switched to voter goodies, at the expense of the forces, police, foreign office etc who can’t publicly fight back.

  11. Charity begins at home, cut the foreign aid budget, which is not serving the UK as much as HM Government would trumpet.

    Besides, most those countries where the money goes will cry blue murder when the proverbial happens (a war) and expect the UK to spill more than just a few pounds to save their contents at the rear of their trousers… Not to mention the list of big foreign aid receipents reads of a who’s who for corruption, so the money is just as well flushed down the outhouse (so to speak!).

    I love how the government also couldn’t possibly increase the budget for defence (of the country) – which is a sovereign duty they don’t uphold (the general populace is to blame too though, not holding the politicians to account either!). The politicians are quick to give themselves pay rises as the cost of living increases, but they expect public spending such as defence to always go down. Funny that…

  12. Paul, it’s absolutely true that it generally makes sense to reduce numbers of types. I say this situation may be the exception to the rule. We should at least analyze how many aircraft can be purchased in both scenarios. It may be that a mixed but would afford us the opportunity to buy significantly more aircraft. If that is the case, it may be that the extra numbers would outweigh the negative factors associated with a mixed buy. I think it prudent to conduct open-minded analysis. There are, incidentally, negative factors beyond cost associated with an all-F35B force. The “B” model has a reduced range. The aircraft itself weighs more and will likely be more difficult to maintain. It’s not inconceivable that a significant portion of the overall force will seldom if ever fly off carriers. Why maintain the V/STOL capabilities for he land-based aircraft? Of course any arguments in favor of a split buy must be predicated on maintaining a sufficient force of “B” models to properly equip the carriers. Analysis is appropriate. It’s not a black/white situation.

    • I have no problem with analysing options / modelling buy and operating costs. I admit I don’t understand the degree of commonality between A and B models and how this would play through to RAF budgets and squadron structure. My approach would be to ask what can’t you do with a mix of F-35B, refuelling / drop tanks and Typhoon with conformal fuel tanks that you can do with F-35A?

    • My instinct is that the only F-38B / F-35A mix that would a) save money b) maintain expeditionary capability plans c) maintain RAF squadron number plans and d) respect the business volume commitment we have given LM which justifies BAe workshare would be to halt the F-35B numbers at 48, the absolute minimum needed to ‘field’ one fully equipped strike carrier and to buy 90 of the A model.

  13. First the UK is committed to procure 138 F35 aircraft, it has not specified which variant will make up that 138.

    The first 48 will be the B variant and cost £9bn+ to 2026.

    Well it seems fiscal pressure will not lead to that commitment being fulfilled, so what is the best way forward?

    Given that the order for the first 48 B is certain, I suggest we buy a further 48 A variant over time. Giving a grand total of 96, the balance of 42 (to make up the 138) simply scrapped.

    Forget about fully equipping both carriers with sufficient F35 it’s unaffordable and strategically unnecessary, the carriers were indeed the worst procurement decision of the past 50 years.

    • Hi Mike

      We can’t cut the order for these as that will really mean we are no longer a serious military power. Our forces are constantly deployed with inadequate and/or legacy equipment and we have come to rely on any allies to provide basics.

      Key assets like fighters, helicopters and tanks have been decimated in the last 10 years and now stand at less than 50% of volume since 2010 and again our forces have been fully deployed during that period.

      The carriers may well be a poor decision (I agree with you) but without them I don’t think the military would have any leverage over government to get F35’s or even the new frigates and RFA vessels and I also don’t think the money would have been invested wisely – at least the carriers are focusing minds on a strategic ambition and that must be good.

      There is something very wrong with the MOD – £40bn p.a. is sufficient to have the current force and do better – but really the MOD needs £50bn p.a. to deliver the real value to the industrial base and communities. I do worry that the Govt itself seems to state the MOD budget is £34bn pa and also £40bn pa. dependant upon source and this £6bn discrepancy would solve the problems.

      It was interesting that the Chancellor pointed out yesterday that we spend more on Deficit interest than the combined police and defence budgets and that this is wrong.

      • Hi pacman in my honest opinion I don’t think we a serious military power. Our forces have Ben hollowed out to such extent we have lost key capabilities.

        We no longer are able to carry out operations outside our bit of the north Atlantic.

        Of we retain some world beating assets and capabilities, but they can only be used as part of larger coalition involving the USA. So we would be unable a Falklands type operation by ourselves, we need the support of the US or NATO.

        Our politicians voters and military just to acknowledge this fact rather than posturing about being in premier league of world players.

        • OK Mike.

          So I will twist your words a bit.

          WHO is a serious military power with the sorts of capabilities the UK has? In various domains, apart from the obvious USA, Russia China India?

          Name the nations who are “serious military powers”

          • Serious military players in my opinion given political, economic and regional factors.

            USA, Russia, PRC, Israel and India.

            These countries have the military power, political will and economic muscle to do whatever they wish in the region they exist.

            Of course there is currently one global military power the USA and in the future PRC.

            The UK does does not have the conventional military power, political will or economic muscle.

            A controversial opinion I acknowledge, but the truth is often controversial.

  14. The carriers will be the most flexible tool the RN has, and I’m delighted the UK has them.

    As for F35 we do not need enough to surge both carriers fully equipped. That was never the plan.

    We need the 4 Squadrons planned, plus OCU, OEU, and a small sustainment fleet. Anything else is a bonus.

    The RN has said the 2nd carrier will be crewed and deployable if needed. With 2 we have that flexibility. Put whatever on it is available to the task. That does not need to be F35. It could be Merlins, Wildcats, Chinook, Apache, even USMC aircraft. If it is a NATO operation I have no issue with our carrier being used by allied assets.

  15. Mike. You must proved my point.

    You say we are no longer premier league.

    I said without including the Superpowers and you named them all on your list plus Israel which is as it is due to the Jewish lobby in the USA.

    So do you rank the UK 6th then? Yo me that is premier league.

    Personally I’m more than content, intact I’m delighted, if the UK is on the top 10 nations regarding capability, training, professionalism, and experience.

    Numbers are the issue. The reasons, such as hmg constantly using the mod budget to prioritise the military industrial complex well known.

    We ceased bring a superpower decades ago, the only people who complain as if we are still are the TH’s of this world who still mention empire and imperialism when talking about the UK and our military, diplomatic and political world.

    As long as the UK remains below the Superpowers with, if you want to count probably dozens of cutting edge capabilities few nations have, well I’m content with that.

    I am not content with numbers. That issue can easily be solved.

  16. Myths, dreams and yarns from armchair generals. Face reality! Everything I have ever written about will come to be. The UK is a laughing stock and will continue to be until it takes responsibility for its runaway public expenditure.

    • “The UK is a laughing stock”

      In what fields? Culture? Language? Music? Inventions? History? Sport? Our economy? Military power? Human rights? Charity? Soft power, our aid budget? P5 member. G8 member. Board of IMF and world bank. Cultural diplomatic links worldwide. A magnet for every economic migrant out there? Nuclear power? Comprehensive intelligence services?

      I’d argue the UK actually has few equals.

      What a sad nation this would be with a population of self loathing defeatists who talk their nation down like that.

    • Nonsense. The UK is widely respected. That said our friends do not envy our tendency to indecision and self reproach. And our enemies are all to happy to exploit this cultural trait.

    • What would be the greater saving?

      Is that in addition to Typhoon and F35?

      A third fast jet type costing less.

      Or only operating 2 types, F35 & Typhoon, to reduce cost of training, spares, etc over 3 types?

      • Replace F35 and Hawk with Gripen. The problem is we have too few first line combat aircraft as is and need more now. There’s precedence for this with the RAF getting Chinook and RN/RM getting Merlin. It will save a hell of a lot on training and whole life costs. Plus the Gripen has a bigger share of UK components than F35 so might create aerospace jobs as well.

  17. It was reported on our news that the UK is facing a 70 billion pound Brexit figure together with a half a per cent downturn in growth in the economy. Also that the standard of living of many has declined significantly.

    In these economic times, I can understand the necessity for cutbacks in the F35 order and the reality could be that 48 is all that will be procured.

    The QE and POW are great ships but they would have been so much more effective with the more capable and cheaper F35Cs. Questions really need to be asked of those who make these decisions.

    • Cutting the lightning buy won’t fix any of the issues you listed above.

      – Fewer Lightnings won’t help the pro-EU Tories find their gonads and stand up for Britain and reject this extortionate “divorce bill”
      – Fewer Lightnings won’t have any effect on Britains economic torpor.
      – Fewer Lightnings won’t improve the quality of life for Britain’s exploding population.

      Also… the Lightning-C is not cheaper.
      And far more expensive with converting the carriers to CATOBAR and the several hundred more crew members needed to operate that!

      So, why do it?

  18. Jack, that’s not really fair. At the time the decision was made, EMALS catapaults would have been almost prohibitively expensive. There were also problems with performance. The net result would have been only one carrier equipped for fast jets. The other (the first one) would have been a helicopter carrier. Carrier strike would have only been available when the active carrier happened to be the one with jets. Far more sensible to save the EMALS money and have two carriers properly equipped for fixed-wing operations, albeit flying the slightly less capable “B” model. It was certainly the right decision.

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