u-turn over the decision to switch to the F-35C carrier variant
As had been widely rumoured for several months, the UK MoD has reversed the decision to switch from the STOVL F-35B to the F-35C carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter. The official announcement on 10 May came following the decision by the Prime Minister David Cameron to endorse the change.
The move comes as a huge embarrassment for Mr Cameron, with the move to the F-35C included as a key element of October 2010’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). At the time Mr Cameron said that the F-35B STOVL variant was considered to be ‘more expensive and less capable’. He said a move to ‘cat and trap’ operations with the F-35C would increase interoperability with the US and France.
However, 18 months on and a Defence spokesman said that the government now has a clear picture of the cost implication of converting one of the UK’s Queen Elizabeth-class future aircraft carriers to accommodate ‘cat and trap’ operations.
He said that adapting HMS Prince of Wales (the second UK carrier) so that it can be used by the F-35C had risen £1 billion since the SDSR estimates were calculated. This is largely driven by the cost of incorporating the new Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS).
By reverting to the F-35B, the spokesman said that the UK could accelerate its carrier strike capability, and potentially utilise both of the carriers. The UK expects IOC for the F-35B in a land based role from 2017, with sea trials from 2018 aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth.