Analysis: Reducing F-35 purchase could save UK up to USD5.8bn
By Craig Caffrey
As the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) struggles to cope with the budgetary pressures of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and a massive equipment modernisation process, major cuts in one or more programmes appear to Jane's to be inevitable.
The global financial crisis and the UK's subsequent response in October (including the multi-billion pound buttressing of the banking system and a commitment to increase public spending to offset recession) has since added to the strain felt by the Treasury. Lingering hopes that extra funding would be made available to supplement the defence budget in the short to medium term appear to have been dashed.
Despite already scaling back programmes such as the UK Royal Navy's (RN's) Type 45 destroyer (which has dropped from an initial requirement of 12 ships to six at present) and the UK Royal Air Force's (RAF's) Nimrod MRA.4 maritime patrol aircraft (the originally envisaged 21-aircraft order has since dropped to 12), further cuts are expected to be announced in order to address the deficit in the defence budget.
Speculation over which projects are most at risk is continuing. Jane's Defence Forecasts believes that one programme that could see drastic cuts is the Joint Combat Aircraft (JCA) programme through which the RAF and RN intend to acquire the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II multirole fighter.
According to the MoD, the UK's current planning assumption is to purchase up to 150 short take-off vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft.
Jane's believes this total is likely to be reduced down to around 85-100 aircraft when the production contract is finalised, creating savings of at least USD4.5 billion (GBP2.7 billion) to USD5.8 billion in acquisition costs alone.
The potential for cutting the programme stems from the fact that JCA is the only high-profile, high-cost project that the MoD could scale back significantly without detrimentally affecting the capabilities of the UK's armed forces in future.
A reduction in the number of F-35s procured to as few as 85 aircraft would allow the RAF to maintain its current fast jet combat aircraft inventory levels while at the same time increasing the capability and flexibility of the force. 390 of 979 words
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