UK jobs riding on the success of F-35

Posted on 25 Jun 2013 by Tim Brown

UK manufacturers will build 15% of each F-35 jet (formerly Joint Strike Fighter) and the programme will support upwards of 24,000 jobs. However, the continued escalating costs of the planes, imposed economic austerity and technological advancements of drones have cast doubts over the long-term true scale of the programme.

The Ministry of Defence has ordered 48 F-35 jets at a cost of around £100m a plane and America is buying 2,443 at a cost of almost $400bn or $163m per plane.

According to the Sunday Times, Pentagon officials estimate that it will cost $1 trillion to operate and maintain the fleet over the next 50 years.

Canada has already balked at the proposed price following a report from the country’s auditor general which claimed the government’s budget had underestimated the true cost of the jets by billions.

Lockheed Martin has said however, that the cost of the jets has now peaked and that the most recent Government projections show the price per plane will fall to $85m by 2020.

Regardless of price, advancements in combat drones have some saying that by the time Britain begins flying the F-35, its requirement will be greatly diminished. However, military experts have said it is highly unlikely that the Airforce would ever move to a completely unmanned fleet.

Despite this, Secretary of State for Defence Philip Hammond has refused to give any guarantee that the UK will order the further 90 aircraft which were originally proposed.

There are more than 100 British companies working on the F-35 including: BAE Systems, Hypertac, GE Aviation, Rolls-Royce and  Cobham.

However, despite the large involvement of industry and the supposed economic benefit of the programme both here and abroad, the long-term success of the F-35 will undoubtedly be down to political and budgeting commitments, neither of which seem particularly certain at this stage.