UK Should Ponder F-35 Pullout

A left-leaning British thinktank is urging the Labour Party government to consider pulling out of the F-35 as that country combs through all its defense acquisition programs. The inimitable Doug Barrie at AvWeek broke the story about the report, authored by several respected British defense experts. While the Brits have shown few signs of anything but complete commitment to the F-35, this is a story to watch over the next few months as the government stares deep into its dwindling purse. Doug's story follows:

A left-leaning British thinktank is urging the Labour Party government to consider pulling out of the F-35 as that country combs through all its defense acquisition programs. The inimitable Doug Barrie at AvWeek broke the story about the report, authored by several respected British defense experts. While the Brits have shown few signs of anything but complete commitment to the F-35, this is a story to watch over the next few months as the government stares deep into its dwindling purse. Doug’s story follows:

LONDON — The U.K. should re-examine its commitment to the Lockheed Martin F-35, a left-leaning think tank suggests, as part of a broader review of defense procurements.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) says that as part of a “Strategic Security Review” the U.K. government should “re-examine … its defense equipment requirements. This re-examination should explore all viable options for capability downgrading and quantity reductions, as well as for complete cancellation of some equipment programs.”

The IPPR’s Commission on National Security in the 21st Century’s final report, “Shared Responsibilities, A National Security Strategy For The United Kingdom,” published June 30, argues that given the pressure on defense procurement and the need for savings, these would best be made in areas “where we are members of an alliance that already possesses the relevant capabilities in abundance.”

Such an approach, it contends, “puts certain capabilities in the frame for reconsideration. For illustrative rather than comprehensive purposes, these might be said to include: The Future (Aircraft) Carrier program [and] … The F-35.”

The report is given weight by the members of the commission, which include co-chairman George Robertson, a former NATO Secretary General. Gen. Charles Guthrie, a former chief of the defense staff, and David Omand, a former security and intelligence coordinator in the Cabinet Office, also were members of the commission.

Robertson also was the British Secretary of State For Defense when the future carrier program, and the associated Future Carrier Borne Aircraft — for which the JSF was selected — were originally approved in 1998.

Two further naval programs are put forward for “reconsideration” in the final report — the Type 45 air defense destroyer, six of which are on order, and the Astute-class hunter-killer submarine.

Arguing the need for procurement cuts, the report says: “It is clear there is a ‘black hole’ in the defense budget if the U.K. persists with all current plans and commitments. The Commission shares the view that we cannot carry on as we are. We believe the U.K. needs radical thinking to address the challenges being faced. In some areas, we need only to implement the earlier reassessment in a more determined way. In others, we need to reconstruct our approach.”

It also suggests that “the U.K. should now pursue a new approach in relation to Trident [nuclear capability] in which the necessary steps are taken to keep the possibility of refreshing the system open, while a fundamental review of all options related to the deterrent are considered as part of a Strategic Review of Security.”

Further conventional cuts the “Government should look to explore” include cutting the number of main battle tanks, and “quicker reductions in the number of Tornado fighter and ground attack aircraft, especially given the recent decision to buy Tranche 3 of the Typhoon [Eurofighter].”

The report is stirring up understandable opposition. British armed forces lobbyist the United Kingdom National Defence Association describes the report as “fundamentally flawed.”

This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.