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Protecting our Nation's Interests

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Defence Secretary Announces Decision on Jets for Navy’s Future Carriers

F35B

10/05/2012

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has today announced the decision to deliver carrier strike capability from the Royal Navy’s future aircraft carriers using a different type of Joint Strike Fighter jet.

"The most cost effective route to deliver Carrier Strike by 2020 is now to switch to the STOVL variant of the Joint Strike Fighter."
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond

This is his announcement:

In my message to the Department just before the Easter Break, I brought you up to date on the progress being made on the PR12 budget and the equipment plan.

Before, we can finalise that process, we need to address one specific aspect of the plan – the Carrier-Strike programme.

I am announcing to Parliament today significant changes to the programme and I wanted to let you know what was behind those decisions.

As you know, the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review committed us to building our future Carrier Strike capability based around the new Queen Elizabeth Class Carriers and the new Joint Strike Fighter.

The strategic decisions in the SDSR was that this capability should be based on the carrier variant of the JSF, rather than the STOVL variant, with the one carrier, initially, converted to operate with the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System or ‘cats and traps’.

It was envisaged at the time that this would add about £1bn to the cost of the programme but result in decreased through life-costs, and with the first carrier having initial operating capability with its jets around 2020.

These decisions were difficult and finely balanced – taking into account cost, risk, capability and availability – and, based on the information available at the time, they were the right decisions.

But if the facts change, we should retain the flexibility to change our minds –to adjust the programme to make sure we have the most effective solution.

As the programme has matured, and more detailed analysis has been carried out by suppliers, it has become clear that the conversion to ‘cats and traps’ will cost about double what was originally estimated – and would not be delivered until 2023 at the earliest.

That is unacceptable.

The cost growth distorts the equipment budget crowding out other important investment in the Armed Forces.

And the delay extends the time period when our Armed Forces lack a carrier-strike capability.

The most cost effective route to deliver Carrier Strike by 2020 is now to switch to the STOVL variant of the Joint Strike Fighter.

We will complete the build of both carriers with ski-jumps, in the STOVL configuration – giving us the ability to provide continuous carrier availability throughout the life of the ships.

Although the range of the STOVL variant is lower, it is a 5th generation stealth aircraft – with a range significantly greater than the Harrier - and represents a step change in the UK’s combat air capability.

The STOVL variant has been significantly de-risked since the SDSR, and flight trials from American ships have taken place, with a US Marine Corps initial operating capability date of 2014 declared.

On the basis of the latest information, we can plan to start flight trials with STOVL JSF off the HMS Queen Elizabeth from 2018.

The STOVL variant will also allow us to simultaneously operate helicopters and jets from the QE Class thereby increasing our amphibious capability as part of the concept of Carrier-enabled Power Projection.

The weapons payload envisaged for the UK JSF fleet remains unchanged – either variant can accommodate it.

Setting aside the decision made in the SDSR is difficult, but it is right in the light of the facts in front of us.

There will be criticism of the Government – and of the Department.

But I am clear that it is the right decision for the long-term that matters – not any short-term discomfort that comes.

The CDS and Chiefs of Staff have confirmed to me that they believe this represents the best way ahead for our Armed Forces.

Our principle allies – the US and France – are comfortable with the choice we have made.

This decision now paves the way to finalise the work we have been doing on the Defence budget and equipment programme and I expect to be able make an announcement on that in the very near future.

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