Select Committee on Defence Second Report



81. The Strategic Defence Review confirmed the requirement to provide the Joint Force 2000 (joint command for all Harrier forces) with a multi-role fighter / attack aircraft to replace the Royal Navy Sea Harrier and the Royal Air Force Harrier GR7.[124] The Joint Combat Aircraft (JCA) will be operated as part of a Joint Force, from both the new aircraft carriers and land bases, in a manner similar to the existing Joint Force Harrier.[125]

82. The Future Capabilities White Paper of July 2004 states that:

    The new carriers deploying the Joint Combat Aircraft (JCA) will transform our capability to project power from the sea… The state-of-the-art, multi-role JCA will provide significantly increased performance, improving strike and reconnaissance capabilities, as well as incorporating stealth technology.[126]

83. The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) is a US-led programme and has been selected by the UK to meet the JCA requirement.

84. A list of key events to date in the procurement of the CVF programme is shown at Table 2.

Table 2: Key events to date on the JCA programme

DateKey Event
January 2001The Secretary of State for Defence announced that the United States (US) led Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft had the best potential to meet the JCA requirement. The JCA programme entered its Demonstration Phase through participation in the JSF System Development and Demonstration Phase.
October 2001 Lockheed Martin, along with Northrup Grumman and BAE Systems as Team Lockheed were selected as the prime contractor for the JSF System Development and Demonstration programme. The UK participated in the source selection process.
September 2002 The Secretary of State for Defence announced that the UK had selected the Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant of JSF to meet the JCA requirement.

Source: National Audit Office and Ministry of Defence[127]

85. Prior to the decision in favour of the JSF in 2001, studies were undertaken into other options to meet the JCA requirement. Other options considered were the US F/A-18E, French Rafale M, 'navalised' Eurofighter, and an advanced Harrier. These other options were all rejected on 'cost-effectiveness grounds'.[128]

86. The UK is the only full (Level 1) collaborative partner with the US, both nations having agreed the JSF aircraft's key performance parameters. There are eight non-US countries participating in the System Development and Demonstration phase.[129] The JSF programme in the United States is called the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme.

Forecast costs

87. The current forecast cost of the JCA Development and Demonstration phase for the UK is £1,914 million against an approval (most likely cost) of £2,034 million[130] a forecast cost underrun of £120 million.[131] The spend to the end of 2004-05 on the JCA Development and Demonstration phase was some £475 million.[132] The overall cost of the JSF programme for the UK is expected to be in the region of £7-10 billion.[133] However, the 'UK costs for the Manufacture and In-Service Support phases will not be established until the Production Main Gate decision is taken'.[134] The key driver for the costs of manufacture and In-Service Support will be the number of aircraft ordered. MoD told us that:

    Final numbers (and variants) will depend on the outcome of ongoing work to confirm overall Future Combat Air Capability requirements. While no final decisions have been taken we anticipate buying up to 150 STOVL variants of the Joint Strike Fighter to meet our JCA requirement.[135]

88. Aircraft production is expected to commence in 2007 with production of the early UK aircraft commencing in 2009. Deliveries of UK aircraft are expected to commence in 2011.[136]

Forecast In-Service Dates

89. The ISD for the Joint Strike Fighter is defined as 'when the capability provided by the Joint Combat Aircraft is assessed as available for operational use with an initial cadre of aircraft and trained personnel'.[137] In the NAO Major Projects Report 2004, the estimated In-Service Date is given as '2012 to coincide with the first of the new aircraft carriers (CVF) entering service'.[138] MoD told us that:

    The ISD will be set when the main investment decision for JCA is taken. Our previously announced planning assumptions based on an ISD of 2014 have not been changed. This would require taking delivery of the aircraft from 2011, and to be conducting flight trials, including work-up flying from the CVF, in advance of the ISD.[139]

90. We are concerned that the In-Service Date for the JSF has slipped from 2012 to 2014, some two years after the first carrier was originally expected to come into service. It is essential that the In-Service Dates for the CVF and JCA programmes match. If not, the UK could be left with new carriers without new aircraft to operate from them, or new aircraft with no new carriers to operate from.

Progress on the JSF programme

91. The previous Defence Committee was concerned that, during the development of the JSF, the work to mature the design to meet weight targets to achieve desired performance levels had proved much more demanding than expected and that the problem appeared to be greater on the STOVL variant of the JSF.[140] MoD told the previous Committee in July 2005 that 'the weight mitigation work has identified the required weight savings, and we remain confident that this issue will not cause further delays to the programme'.[141]

92. MoD assured us that in total there has been a 3,000 lb reduction in the actual weight of the STOVL aircraft and the equivalent of a further reduction of 1,000 lb through improvements in thrust and a review of the landing requirements.[142]

93. MoD acknowledges that on a complex development programme, risks remain and work continues on the assessment of how any further problems could be mitigated.[143] Commodore Henley, the JCA Integrated Project Team Leader, told us that:

    There are risks out there and it would be foolish at this stage in the development programme to say there are not…. There is still the risk that aircraft do grow in development as you find things.[144]

94. Mr Burbage, Executive Vice President and General Manager, F-35 JSF Program, Lockheed Martin, provided us with further assurance on the weight problems:

    We eliminated about 3,000 lbs of real weight from the airplane and we improved our propulsion efficiency by about 700 lbs, so there was a net result of about 3,700 lbs of improvement in the airplane.[145]

As an indication of the progress being made on the JSF programme, he told us that 'it is important to note that the first STOVL airplane is now in build'.[146]

95. We note that the weight problems on the STOVL variant of the JSF have been mitigated but we expect MoD to continue to monitor closely weight and other risks on the JSF programme.

96. We were interested in whether the JSF STOVL variants being procured by the UK and the US were identical. Commodore Henley said that he was 'not aware that they are different in any respect',[147] and Mr Burbage told us that 'the airplanes are identical'.[148] He also added that 'the plane is designed to a set of requirements. The requirements are identical for the US and the UK',[149] but 'there are some differences in UK weapons and US weapons'.[150]

97. We have been assured that the STOVL variant of the JSF aircraft being procured by the UK and US are identical and are being designed to the same set of requirements, though, once delivered, the aircraft will be fitted with different weapons.

Production and support

98. It is expected that a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) will be signed between the collaborative partners on the JSF programme in December 2006 to enable production, sustainment [support] and follow-on development. Formal negotiations on this MOU have commenced.[151]

99. We were interested in how the construction and maintenance work will be allocated among the nations involved in the JSF programme. Mr Burbage explained that 'the plan is to put in an affordable and efficient support structure…. The US/UK is part of a baseline programme so if additional international partners want to add to infrastructure that comes at their cost if it is not part of the baseline'.[152]

100. Given that the UK is the only Level 1 partner on the JSF programme, we asked if this entitled the UK to a guaranteed part of the construction and maintenance work. Commodore Henley explained that the JSF programme was not a 'work-share'[153] programme and that work will be allocated on the basis of 'global best value basis'.[154] He also told us that for development and the low-rate initial production runs the UK 'is getting about $6.75 billion-worth of work back for our $2 billion investment'.[155]

Information sharing

101. The previous Defence Committee expressed concern about information sharing and access to technology on the JSF programme. In its 2004 Defence Procurement, the previous Committee concluded that:

102. Sir Dick Evans the former Chairman of BAE Systems, told the previous Committee in 2004 that on the JSF programme, 'it is no good when you have signed up and paid your cheque over then trying to go back to negotiate the release of technology'.[157]

103. A Bilateral Defense Acquisition Committee has been set up as a forum between the United States Department of Defense and the UK MoD. Its terms of reference include to 'develop and co-ordinate efforts to improve information and technology exchange including the timely release of classified and sensitive information'.[158]

104. We examined the issues of information sharing and access to technology to establish whether the necessary data and technical information were being exchanged to the required timescale. We were particularly concerned by an article in Aviation Weekly on 11 July 2005 where the Chief of the Air Staff was reported to have stated that 'there is clearly a growing urgency in addressing technology access and the related ability of independent support of the aircraft'.

105. We asked Commodore Henley about the mechanisms in place to ensure the UK received all the required information and access to technology to allow it to maintain the aircraft when in service and undertake future upgrades—referred to as 'sovereign capability'. Commodore Henley told us that:

    we have a policy of progressive release of information and progressive understanding. We have agreement signed between the US and UK at Secretary of State level called "exchange of letters" which lays out the UK's need to be able to operate this aircraft in a sovereign capability when the aircraft is in service.[159]

    I cannot understate the fact that sovereign capability for this aircraft is the most important aspect.[160]

106. We also agree that the most important area of technology and information transfer relates to sovereign capability. There is a risk that the UK could find itself in a position where it had one of the most advanced military aircraft but could not operate it independently of the US. We asked the Minister what was being done to ensure that the UK would have total operational independence for the JSF when it was in service. He told us that:

    Where it stands today, my understanding is that we do not have concerns relating to our ability to meet those types of issues relating to operational sovereignty, but we are mindful of that and that is why we have made sure that we have visibility of when those issues are going to come up—that we have clarity of that—and that we make sure that those requirements are being met at that point in terms of technology transfer. My understanding is that we do not have an issue on that today but as we go forward with the project this is something that we have to monitor closely'.[161]

107. We fully support MoD's position that the ability to maintain and upgrade the JSF independently is vital. We would consider it unacceptable for the UK to get substantially into the JSF programme and then find out that it was not going to get all the technology and information transfer it required to ensure 'sovereign capability'. This needs to be sorted out before further contracts are signed and we expect MoD to set a deadline by which the assurances need to be obtained. If the UK does not receive assurances that it will get all it requires to ensure sovereign capability, we would question whether the UK should continue to participate in the JSF programme.

108. We note that production and support of the JSF will be allocated on the basis of global best value. Achieving best value is important but, if this resulted in all future support of the aircraft being undertaken overseas, then achieving sovereign capability could be put at risk. We expect MoD to demonstrate that achieving global best value and ensuring sovereign capability are compatible.

109. Commodore Henley also told us that a technology matrix was now in place and 'it is the vehicle around which we are conducting discussions at the moment….That is why we spend a great deal of time breaking this down into individual technologies and saying, okay, against this technology are we going to be able to get transfer?....We are making progress on identifying the stopper to those technologies and then finding ways to work round those stoppers to get us to the capability that we need'.[162]

110. We were also interested in the UK industry's view on the progress being made in sharing information and technology on the JSF programme. Mr Mogford of BAE Systems explained that:

    with the Joint Strike Fighter programme we have had a progressive succession of licence applications which increase access to technology…. we have had approvals for release of information which allows us to meet the contract obligations.[163]

111. We asked the Minister what discussions he has had with the US administration on the issue of the transfer of information and technology. He replied that:

    I have had conversations with members of the United States' administration…. My understanding of the position we are in at the moment is that we are not short of any information at the present time which is adversely affecting the project. The concern that we have is that in the relatively near future we are going to need to see the transfer of information and intellectual property for us to see our needs in the long-term to be met. So it is important that those things take place and we are making that point very clear.[164]

112. While we recognise the need for MoD to discuss issues relating to the transfer of information and technology with the US administration, the US Congress is where the issue needs to be addressed as individuals within the US Congress appear to be the main opposition to allowing information and technology transfer.

113. We note that good progress with the release of information and technological exchange on the JSF programme has been made to date, but concerns remain. MoD has focussed its efforts on the US Administration to ensure that all the information and technology it requires on the JSF programme for the future is obtained in a timely fashion. In our view, dialogue with the US Administration is not sufficient given the key role played by the US Congress. We will support MoD on this issue where we can. We intend to visit Washington in the New Year and plan to raise this issue with the US Administration and with Members of Congress.

United States review of the programme

114. A Quadrennial Defense Review in the US is looking at all defence programmes including the JSF. Press reports in early autumn 2005 suggested that the US JSF programme could be trimmed back due to budgetary pressures. There were also press reports that UK defence officials were worried that the Quadrennial Defense Review could affect the UK plans to procure JSF aircraft. Senator Carl Levin, ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is quoted in Aviation Week & Space Technology of 10 October 2005 as saying that 'the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is likely to be trimmed back.....there's going to be budgetary pressure on those programs and others'.

115. We were concerned to hear that possible changes to the US JSF programme might impact on the UK JSF programme. Mr Burbage told us that:

    I have heard nothing threatening the STOVL version at all lately'.[166]

116. We asked the Minister about the press reports and the possible impact on the UK JSF programme. He commented that:

    It is something which we are watching very carefully indeed…. In terms of the requirement which the United Kingdom has for the Short Take Off and Landing aircraft, we believe that the Short Take Off and Landing aircraft, given its vital importance to the US Marine Corps, is not under threat, but we are watching it very carefully indeed.[167]

117. Defense News of 8 November 2005 reported that 'although the JSF programme has been mentioned as a potential candidate for termination or deep cuts due to US budget constraints, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld predicted at a Pentagon briefing that the JSF will be funded robustly in the Bush administration's fiscal 2007 budget request, due for release in early February [2006]'.

118. If the STOVL variant of the JSF did not go ahead in the US, it would cast serious doubts on the UK JSF programme. We asked the Minister whether there were alternatives to the STOVL version of the JSF for the UK. He told us that it is:

    important to us that this programme continues. In terms of a plan B, if there is a decision taken not to go forward with this aircraft which we require i.e. the STOVL aircraft, then we will have to look at those plan B alternatives. I do not think it is appropriate for me to go into what plan B is. We do not believe that we need to do that.[168]

119. This suggests that MoD has contingency plans, but remain confident in the JSF programme. However, press reports in early December 2005[169] claimed that the US would not do a deal on information sharing and access to technology unless it knew that the UK had a serious alternative to the JSF. The press reports also claimed that the plan B being worked on in the UK was a navalised version of the Eurofighter / Typhoon aircraft.

120. We are concerned by press reports suggesting that the US might cut back on the STOVL variant of the JSF as this could have serious implications for the UK JSF programme. While we note the recent assurance given by the US Defense Secretary that the US JSF programme would be 'funded robustly', we expect MoD to keep a close watch on this issue and to assess the likely impact on the UK JSF programme.

124   National Audit Office, Major Projects Report 2005 Project Summary Sheets, HC 595-II, Session 2005-2006, p 49 Back

125   Ev 40 Back

126   Cm 6269, p 7 Back

127   National Audit Office, Major Projects Report 2005 Project Summary Sheets, HC 595-II, Session 2005-2006, p 49 and Ev 40 Back

128   Ev 45 Back

129   Ev 40-41 Back

130   Ev 41 Back

131   The National Audit Office, in its Major Projects Report 2005 (HC 595-II, Session 2005-2006, p 50) reports the current forecast cost as £1,914 million against an approval (highest) of £2,236 million (a forecast cost underrun of £322 million) Back

132   Ev 41 Back

133   Defence Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2003-04, Defence Procurement, HC 572-II, Ev 100 Back

134   Ev 41 Back

135   Ev 42 Back

136   Ev 41 Back

137   Ibid Back

138   National Audit Office, Major Projects Report 2004 Project Summary Sheets, HC 1159-II, Session 2003-2004, p 49 Back

139   Ev 41 Back

140   Defence Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2003-04, Defence Procurement, HC 572-I, para 82 Back

141   Future Capabilities: Government Response to The House of Commons Defence Committee's Fourth Report of Session 2004-05, Cm 6616, p 12, recommendation 26 Back

142   Ev 42 Back

143   Ibid Back

144   Q 143 Back

145   Q 107 Back

146   Ibid Back

147   Q 114 Back

148   Q 109 Back

149   Q 120 Back

150   Q 118 Back

151   Ev 41 Back

152   Q 138 Back

153   Q 139 Back

154   Ibid Back

155   Q 139 Back

156   Defence Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2003-04, Defence Procurement, HC 572-I, para 145 Back

157   Defence Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2003-04, Defence Procurement, HC 572-II, Q 16 Back

158   HL Deb, 10 June 2004, cols 49-50WA [Lords written answer] Back

159   Q 121 Back

160   Q 131 Back

161   Q 228 Back

162   Q 131 Back

163   Q 128 Back

164   Q 219 Back

165   Q 107 Back

166   Q 108 Back

167   Q 210 Back

168   Q 211 Back

169   Britain in battle with US over fighter plane, Sunday Times, 4 December 2005 Back

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