The U.K. is reconsidering its 2010 decision not to buy Lockheed (LMT) Martin Corp.’s F-35B jet, said U.S. Navy Vice Admiral David Venlet, program manager for the Joint Strike Fighter.
Asked in an interview if the U.K. is again interested in the F-35’s short-takeoff and vertical landing model, Venlet replied: “That is under consideration.”
If the U.K. decides to buy the F-35B, it would be a boost to Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed, as well as the U.S. Marine Corps, which is the major customer for the airplane. In January, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted a yearlong probation on the B model, which is the most complex of the three F-35 variants. At an estimated $382 billion to produce different models for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, the F-35 is the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program.
In October 2010, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, who is scheduled to visit the U.S. and meet with President Barack Obama March 13-14, announced that Britain wouldn’t buy the F-35B model. Instead, the U.K. expressed interest in the Navy’s aircraft carrier version, which is projected to be cheaper than the short-takeoff and vertical landing model.
The U.K.’s reconsideration of the F-35B model is a “relatively new development” driven by “national U.K. financial constraints and what it costs” to modify its two future Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers so they could carry the U.S. Navy’s F-35C, Venlet said after a presentation to a Credit Suisse conference on defense programs yesterday in Arlington, Virginia.
The U.K. Ministry of Defense said it is currently completing its budget for 2012 to 2013.
“As part of this process we are reviewing all programs, including elements of the carrier strike program, to validate costs and ensure risks are properly managed,” the ministry said today in an e-mailed statement. “The defense secretary expects to announce the outcome of this process to Parliament before Easter.”
Those modifications to the carriers may include adding catapults, arresting gear and other equipment needed to operate the F-35C, he said. “There is a cost” to making those changes “and I think they are re-analyzing” if they should buy the short-takeoff model instead, Venlet said.
“I have told them at various levels of the government, we are with you whatever you need,” Venlet said.
The U.K. is one of eight partners to the U.S. in the Joint Strike Fighter program. The others are Australia, Turkey, Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, Denmark and Norway.
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