Unclear for take-off? F-35 Procurement Contents


The Times investigation into the F-35 programme

1.In July 2017, The Times newspaper published a series of articles into the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project. This project, the most expensive international defence procurement programme in history, will supply combat aircraft for at least nine countries and will form a key component of the UK’s future carrier strike capability.

2.In their investigation, Deborah Haynes and Alexi Mostrous (respectively Defence Editor and Head of Investigations at The Times) reported claims that the F-35 “is way over budget, unreliable, full of software glitches and potentially unsafe” and argued that the UK was left “particularly exposed because defence officials have skimped on buying critical support technology”.1 The Times further alleged that:

3.The claims made in The Times investigation draw upon a variety of named and unnamed sources, including the 2016 Annual Report of the US Department of Defense’s (DoD) Office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E), the body responsible for reviewing the operational testing and evaluation conducted for each major DoD programme.3 The allegations made by the paper were rejected by the Minister for Defence Procurement, Harriett Baldwin MP, in a letter and accompanying briefing note that was sent to Conservative MPs.

4.According to the Minister, the F-35 programme “remains on time, within costs, and offers the best capability for our Armed Forces”. The briefing noted that the MoD “simply do not recognise” the figures cited in the article as hidden costs within the F-35 programme, and argued that the programme “remains within its cost approval” as described in the 2016 Equipment Plan.

5.Mrs Baldwin’s letter stated that the newspaper reports were “out of date, lack technical understanding of complex issues, and contain commentary that is ill-informed and inaccurate”. Furthermore, “where concerns are valid they are not new, have been reported in recent years, and are resolved or being addressed as part of the trials”. The Minister’s letter and accompanying briefing are appended to this report.

Our inquiry

6.On 12 September, the day after our appointment by the House of Commons after the General Election, we launched a short inquiry into the procurement of the F-35 and the allegations made by The Times. We took evidence from Deborah Haynes and Alexi Mostrous of The Times and Justin Bronk, a research fellow at RUSI.

7.At a second evidence session on 17 October, we heard from representatives of Lockheed Martin, including Mr Jeff Babione, the company’s Executive Vice-President and General Manager of the F-35 programme, the Minister for Defence Procurement, Harriett Baldwin MP, and officials from the Ministry of Defence. A full list of those who gave evidence can be found at the back of this report. We thank all who contributed.

8.This report begins with a short introduction to the F-35 programme, outlining the history and development of the Joint Strike Fighter programme and the UK’s participation in this multi-national project. This chapter will highlight both the purported capabilities that will materialise from the F-35 programme and the controversies and issues that have arisen from it.

9.The second section of the report examines a number of areas relating to the F-35 programme that have been identified as causes for concern, including the communications link between the F-35 and older aircraft (so-called ‘legacy assets’); the broadband capacity on board the Queen Elizabeth class carriers; the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), the operational and management system for the F-35; the Generation III helmet; the allegation of hidden costs within the F-35 programme; and the weight of the fighter jet.

10.The report concludes with a series of general observations on the F-35 programme, including on the Government and Lockheed Martin’s responses to the allegations made by The Times.

1 Alexi Mostrous and Deborah Haynes (17 July 2017), Jets are overbudget, unreliable and vulnerable to cyber attacks, The Times, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/jets-are-overbudget-unreliable-and-vulnerable-to-cyberattacks-v3gt8dcbb

2 Alexi Mostrous and Deborah Haynes (17 July 2017), Britain spends billions on flawed F-35s, The Times, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/britain-spends-billions-on-flawed-fighter-jets-qrtj95kvh

3 Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, Annual Report, 2016, FY16 DoD Programs: F-35 Joint Strike Fighter,

18 December 2017