Britain is unlikely to reduce the number of F-35 jets it intends to order, according to Lockheed Martin.

Peter Ruddock, chief of Lockheed Martin UK said:

“I think if anyone was looking at where to make savings, the F-35 would be a long way up the list and maybe close to the top of the list. Therefore I am quietly confident that we will see F-35 being delivered in the numbers that we anticipate for some time to come.”

The Ministry of Defence say the first 9 of the UK’s currently 15 strong F-35B fleet will arrive at RAF Marham in Summer. It is understood that the jets will be supported on the move by Voyager tankers. British F-35B initial operational capability is scheduled will be declared in December 2018 for land and the from the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers in 2020.

A very informative timelime from Save The Royal Navy.

 

 

617 Squadron, currently training with the UK’s 15 F-35B Lightning jets in America, will move to the UK with a number of aircraft to their new home at RAF Marham this Summer. Like their predecessors they will be operating at the forefront of aircraft technology. The aircraft will be jointly operated by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy and have the ability to operate from land and sea, forming an integral part of Carrier Strike operating from the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers.

The MoD has so far committed to 48 jets but has expressed an intent to purchase 138 of the aircraft, whether or not that is financially feasible remains to be seen.

Recently however, the Public Accounts Committee calculated an equipment plan funding deficit of at least £4.9bn and potentially as much as £20.8bn over the 10-year £179.7bn equipment budget. The Ministry of Defence has put its faith in the Modernising Defence Programme to solve its affordability issues and to prepare for the continued challenges of a ‘fast-changing defence landscape’, including the UK’s capabilities for cyber, chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and electromagnetic attacks. The report released today however is highly sceptical that the Modernising Defence Programme will be able to return the Department to a balanced position. The report also warned that the equipment plan contains “no headroom” and leaves the UK “increasingly dependent on international allies”.

According to the report, which can be found here:

“The Department faces a significant affordability gap in its Equipment Plan for the next 10 years, but is unable to determine the size of the gap, thereby reducing its ability to make informed decisions about our national defence. 

There is an affordability gap of at least £4.9 billion in the Plan, rising to a potential £20.8 billion if all identified financial risks materialise and no savings assumed in the Plan are achieved. Financial risk has increased since last year, and while the Department acknowledges that the affordability gap is in the billions of pounds, it is unable to quantify the size of the gap with any degree of precision. We are concerned by the Department’s vagueness and reluctance to acknowledge its full exposure, and by the Department seeming to question the accuracy of its own numbers when giving evidence. 

The Department says it is confident that at end of the Modernising Defence Programme, with cost information anticipated in autumn 2018, it will have a “strategically affordable” Plan, but is unable to articulate clearly how this will be achieved.”

Meg Hiller, who chairs of the committee, said the government had also failed to report transparently:

“The MoD’s national security responsibilities give it a unique and critical place in the public sector but that is no excuse for a lack of rigour in its financial affairs. The MoD’s inability to better quantify that affordability gap has consequences not just for its confirmed spending plans, but also its ability to prepare for serious challenges in national defence.

The department must be more rigorous and realistic in its approach to costing its equipment plan. It also needs to be more open with parliament and the public about its finances, commitments and their costs to taxpayers.”

An MoD spokesperson said:

“We are committed to delivering large, complex and technologically challenging defence programmes as part of our £180bn plan to give our military the very best equipment. We recognise financial risk comes with that, but the potential affordability gap highlighted by this report reflects an unlikely, worst-case scenario in which all possibilities materialise. 

We are on track to meet our £16bn savings target and will also review these recommendations as part of our Modernising Defence Programme, which aims to strengthen our armed forces in the face of intensifying threats.”

41 COMMENTS

  1. “Peter Ruddock, chief of Lockheed Martin UK said: – “I think if anyone was looking at where to make savings, the F-35 would be a long way up the list and maybe close to the top of the list. … ”

    LOL. He doesn’t want to have and of his quotes getting into the press where F-35 is associated with phrases like “a long way down the list” or “close to the bottom of the list” so he has to redefine the direction of the list to avoid it. Surely, if not having to make sure he doesn’t upset his PR department, most people would say “if anyone was looking at where to make savings, the F-35 would be a long way down the list (of potential places to make savings) and maybe close to the bottom of the list”.

    I actually have some sympathy. I did a lot of press interviews in the latter stages of my career and they (the advertising and PR agencies doing PR training and coaching) do teach you this sort of stuff and a lot more besides. It just looks a bit too obvious and clumsy to me in this particular case.

  2. Now that we have made the investment it would be crazy not to order them. There is no better value alternative out there and if the UK cut its order the US is bound to cut its work share and impact their trust on any future projects.

    • Wouldn’t be the first time HMG makes an investment in something and then gets out of it….

  3. These will certainly be bought. We have a definite requirement and there are no alternatives at present.

    We haven’t committed to when, merely that we will. Actually I think, it a good idea to slow the procurement rate after we have the minimum we need to get the minimum QE class carriers going.

    The F35 is going to be with us for a good few years and it will only get better and suffer fewer bugs with time. Let us wait for the costs to come down, Brexit’s economic uncertainties to be resolved and the aircraft’s bugs to get sorted first. If we save money now let’s buy more in the future.

    • For now timing on a few things seems to all be in alignment. Potential holes in the existing equipment budget and Brexit uncertainty both leading to pressures and concerns on current budgets, the carriers still working up (not even finished build in the case of PoW), work still ongoing with F-35 software and weapons integration and the F-35B unit cost dropping with each LRIP run all point towards the relatively slow buy rate the UK is doing at the moment being a very sensible and appropriate strategy. Once (in some cases if) those issues are no longer around though, and when F-35B is out of LRIP and into full production, presumably inflation starts becoming a factor and unit cost might actually rise so maybe a hump somewhere in the middle of the UK buying cycle might make sense?

      Do we have any visibility of the planned timings for the scheduling of the purchases of the final 90 after the initial 48 are delivered?

      • The MOD might be waiting to order when (as you referenced above) the jet is in full production – the costs are bound to be lower (much lower is projected ) per airframe as the margin increases and dilutes the sunk costs. They may not want to wait TOO long however, as the inflation you referenced may well kick in and claw back some of those savings…

        Cheers!

  4. If we do stick to the order for 138, you can bet on one thing, in service Typhoon numbers will decrease, in order to pay for them….

    It’s the Treasury, What they give with one hand, they’ll take away with another

  5. did the costs not come down a fair bit on the f35 program after Trump spat his dummy out at Lockheed Martin..because if it did then surly that would be good reason to stick with the no,s especially when we are one of the leading partners of the project..

  6. If it comes to cutting personnel, ships, tanks, planes and bases already in service and F35’s far in the future I know what I choose.

    We need enough F35 to surge the carriers. Anything else is a bonus.

    • so 96 is a reasonable minimum to equip both carriers, OCU, OEU. I always thought 138 was a bit of a luxury. Once you hit the minimal feasible its a law of diminishing returns and would prefer that budget to be spent on other badly needed kit

      • I don’t think we are aiming at kitting both carriers out though, POW will just be a gold plated LPH unless QE is in refit.
        Therefore we will probably only ever get 36.
        I would actually be happy with 48-60 F35b but only if the rest of the money saved was reinvested into a Typhoon 2 and a navalised version for the 2030’s.

        • both carriers must be able to deploy with an effective airwing, even if 1 is mainly helicopters. 96 aircraft gives you enough for all options – but it could be reduced to slightly fewer. Not sure about the purpose of navalised typhoon. no cats & traps

          • As discussed in a previous thread, no cats required just traps with the new engine available combined with QEs ramp. Anyway, let’s not get into it. I would just like us to think longer term and have the option of Typhoon on our carriers down the line. Potent mix with the f35’s.

    • interesting – enough for 4 squadrons of each I believe. It would be a potent mix but possibly too expensive given the large differences between the F35A and B.

      • Italy are planning a mixed F-35A and F-35B buy. It will be interesting to see how they get on. The USA isn’t much use as an example because their numbers and resources are so huge that each fleet is at critical mass anyway.

  7. I would like to be quietly confident we will get 8 Type 26 and 8 credible Type 31 even if this means fewer F-35B.

  8. We need at least another 48 F35B in active service anything more than this number would be a good win for the Royal Navy especially if 36 (3 squadrons) of the aircraft can go to Fleet Air Arm Squadrons rather than the RAF.

  9. The hope seems to be that 617 Squadron will fly to RAF Marham with 9 aircraft by the end of June. One or two of its aircraft may then be able to participate in the mass “RAF100” fly pass at RIAT on 13 July. Of course nothing official to avoid embarrassment if there is a problem – the high profile non-appearance of RAF & USMC F-35B’s at RIAT in 2014 is still burnt in to many people’s memory!

  10. what I don’t get is the talk of slow buy rate making sense. These are military assets aimed at defending the country and are being brought to fill a gap in capability. If we can be sure that they won’t be needed for another 30 years then fine buy slow but what happens if we or our interests are attacked tomorrow or in 5 years time.

    • my point is it’s either a capability we need and should be filled as fast as possible or it’s a capability we don’t need and so we are wasting money that could go to capabilities we do need.

      • The plane gets better all the time, what we want is consistency like we have with the subs.

        Buy the same amount every year, each years orders will be better than the last, repeat indefinitely.

    • Also, some people supporting the slow buy rate (well, me at least) are only referring to the next few years while we are still in LRIP, key weapons are yet to be integrated, Tornado is still around for at least another year, T1 Typhoon is retained presumably so that T2/T3 are more available for non-QRA roles, one of the F-35’s key deployment platforms is still working up and the other one is not even out of build (i.e. the carriers).

      Once F-35 is out of LRIP and unit costs have bottomed out and some of those other things I mentioned above are no longer true then at that stage I am less supportive of a very slow ramp-up-rate.

  11. In an ideal world scenario , say the Defence Secretary has a nice chat with the Air Chief Marshall and says something like ‘your Tornado’s are due to be taken out of service next year,what would YOU like to replace them with’ I wonder what he would choose,more F35b,more Typhoons or maybe stick his neck out and choose the F35a.

    • (Chris H) Paul T – Given the F-35 in any form cannot deliver what a Tonka can now or a Typhoon will next year I suspect the answer would be ’24 more Typhoons please Sir. And make them Typhoon IIs’

  12. Meanwhile, look at the Dokdo LPH6111 – RoK Navy – they are thinking about taking F35Bs – which would give the UK some income – as they would are thinking of embarking 12 on these platforms, 2 of; nice little earner.

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