Britain rethinks jump jet order

Aug. 12, 2009 at 3:57 PM
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LONDON, Aug. 12 (UPI) -- Britain may drop the short-takeoff and vertical-landing variant of the Joint Strike Fighter in favor of the conventional model to be used on its two planned aircraft carriers.

The decision would waste taxpayer's money and could result in job losses, British newspaper Daily Telegraph writes. The decision to drop the jump jet model could be announced this fall, the newspaper writes, citing unnamed sources from the British Defense Ministry.

London plans to build two new aircraft carriers and wants to equip them with Joint Strike Fighters. British engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce has been given some $824 million in taxpayer's money to develop the highly complex jump jet engine enabling vertical takeoff and landing for the so-called STOVL Joint Strike Fighter. The plane would have succeeded the Harrier Jump Jet, which goes out of service in 2015.

"We have to take an immensely important decision," Quentin Davies, the British procurement minister, told the newspaper. "The testing and evaluation phase has been ongoing of the first three aircraft. We have to take a decision as to which version of aircraft we shall be agreeing and we shall be focusing on this situation in the coming months."

If that model is indeed dropped, Rolls-Royce could lose hundreds of jobs and more than $8 billion in orders, the daily writes.

Military officials favor the conventional model, which takes off from a carrier runway, because it has a longer flight range and can carry more bombs. The so-called CV Joint Strike Fighter is also $25 million cheaper, playing into the cards of a Defense Ministry trying to slash costs because of budget constraints.

But as the first carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, is already under construction, a later turnaround regarding its planes would mean that the ships would have to be redesigned, with additional costs involved.

The ministry did not dismiss or confirm the report.

"To maximize the flexibility that the carriers will offer over their service life, they are being built to an adaptable design that can operate both STOVL and CV type aircraft," it said in a statement. "(The carriers) are designed around the operation of the STOVL Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, and this remains our preferred solution to meet the UK's Carrier Strike requirement along with the Queen Elizabeth Class of carriers and the Maritime Airborne Surveillance Capability."

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