The procurement of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is designed and built by a consortium led by Lockheed Martin, is the most expensive international defence procurement programme in history. A ‘fifth-generation’ aircraft, the F-35 comes in three variants, and the UK is, at present, committed to procuring 138 aircraft. However, there is no guarantee that this total will be achieved. The F-35 programme will supply combat aircraft to nine countries, with the principal customer being the United States of America. The UK is the second biggest client and, as the sole ‘Tier One’ partner in the programme, 15% of all F-35 production will take place in this country.
In July 2017, The Times published a series of articles on the F-35 programme. These reported a number of serious allegations, including claims that the F-35 “is way over budget, unreliable, full of software glitches and potentially unsafe”.
Our report has examined the allegations made by The Times in its investigation into the F-35 programme and has drawn on the work of other studies into the programme, such as the 2016 Annual Report of the US Department of Defense’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E), and on the oral and written evidence we have gathered over the course of the inquiry, including from both Lockheed Martin and the Ministry of Defence.
Overall, our report concludes that:
During our inquiry, we received a number of assurances from the Government and Lockheed Martin that the issues with the programme that have been previously identified either have been, or are in the process of being, resolved. For the time being, we are willing to accept these assurances. The F-35 is a major investment in defence capability for the UK and we want it to succeed and become the cornerstone of a new and effective strike capability for this country. However, it is precisely because this project is so important that it must be subjected to the closest possible scrutiny.
We, therefore, recommend that the MoD provide the Committee with six-monthly updates on the programme, detailing the progress made in addressing the issues that have been previously identified, as well as any future problems. We also believe that these updates should include information on the ongoing cost of the programme.
18 December 2017