Unclear for take-off? F-35 Procurement Contents

Appendix 1: F-35 letter and briefing from MoD

Letter from Harriett Baldwin MP to Conservative MPs

Dear Colleague,

F35 Capability and Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carrier

You may have seen recent coverage in The Times making claims about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier. Given the importance of this programme to our Armed Forces and our industrial base, I want to reassure you that F-35 programme remains on time, within costs, and offers the best capability for our Armed Forces.

The articles are out-of-date, lack technical understanding of complex issues, and contain commentary that is ill-informed and inaccurate. 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 F-35B Lightning II aircraft is the world’s most advanced fighter jet and is needed to combat the future threats we will face. The RAF and the Royal Navy will fly F-35s from Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers and from Operating Bases such as RAF Marham.

The programme is on track. Today there are over 100 British pilots and aircrew training in the US on our 10 F-35s before they arrive in the UK next year. Those best placed to comment on the F35 capability are those who have flown them as part of 95,000 hours of test flights. Wing Commander Jim Beck, one of the UK’s most experienced F-35 pilots, said:

“The F-35 is the best aircraft I’ve ever flown. It is the most advanced multi-role fighter jet out there and the aircraft most suited to the UK’s needs. With huge flexibility and cutting-edge innovation, this supersonic, stealth aircraft will bring about a generation change in the way we fight in the Combat Air arena for many decades to come.”

By the end of this year we will have 14 F-35 aircraft and in 2018 we will begin initial flight trials for F-35 jets from HMS Queen Elizabeth, building towards delivering a UK carrier strike capability from 2020. HMS Queen Elizabeth is now undergoing sea trials before being accepted into the Royal Navy by the end of the year.

As well as providing first rate military capability, UK-based companies benefit from 15% of the value of the manufacture of every F-35 on what is the largest global defence programme ever. Furthermore, last year the UK was chosen to be a global repair hub for hundreds of European-based F35s, supporting thousands of high skilled jobs.

These programmes form an important part of our £178bn equipment plan.

I attach a briefing on the claims. Wing Commander Beck’s article is available at https://ukcarrierpower.tumblr.com/post/163087799726/the-f35-is-the-best-fighter-jet-out-there .


Harriett Baldwin

Minister for Defence Procurement

Accompanying briefing from MoD to Conservative MPs

F35–Claims and Reality

Claim: The F-35 is unable to share data.

This is incorrect. Data exchange was examined during a recent Red Flag exercise with the US where the F-35 acquitted itself exceptionally well. To describe the data link as insecure is incorrect. MOD, alongside our NATO partners, has allocated funding to continue the upgrade of secure communications via this data link.

Claim: There are hidden costs within the F-35 programme.

We simply do not recognise the costs quoted in the article. The UK’s F-35 programme remains within its cost approval, details of which are in the Defence Equipment Plan 2016, published on 27 January 2017. MOD is working hard with the suppliers to ensure delivery to budget and programme cost effectiveness.

Defence expert Howard Wheeldon has described The Times’ figures as ‘back of a fag packet’ cost guestimates that also fail to mention cost reductions that will come from a low rate initial production (LRIP)

As recently announced, the Department has invested in RAF Marham to ensure availability and support to the UK F-35. This investment ensures that cutting edge maintenance facilities are available to the aircraft on arrival in the UK next year.

Claim: The broadband capacity of Queen Elizabeth is insufficient to support F-35.

This is incorrect. The planned bandwidth of the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers will be sufficient to carry out the scope of carrier strike operations, over the life of the programme.

As with all programmes, requirements and opportunities are kept under constant review and will be developed through the life of the programme. The aircraft, the carrier and our communication networks are all designed with the capacity to grow, and are not constrained by design or bandwidth limitations.

Claim: The Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) software system is [a] vulnerability in the F-35 system

This is incorrect. ALIS is part of the ground based information system and is not fitted on board the F-35B Lightning II fighter aircraft.

We don’t comment on the specifics of Cyber operations, but we take encryption and protection of our information very seriously and these measures remain classified. All classified data transmissions to and from the F-35B Lightning II fighter aircraft are fully encrypted.

Claim: The F-35 has a number of on-going technical issues:

All issues raised have been reported in the past and are under active management by the Joint Strike Fighter Joint Programme Office and the MOD. The F-35 Programme is still within the Development Test phase. As issues are found, solutions are developed; the UK is part of that testing.

Claim: The F-35 is too heavy to land on the aircraft carrier.

This is nonsense. We have specifically developed a UK technique for recovering the aircraft to the carriers to ensure that a heavy aircraft can land on the deck. Ship-borne Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL) will be tested during Flight Trials of HMS Queen Elizabeth over the next couple of years.

Claim: Helmet not fit for purpose.

We are holding the supplier to account to deliver a helmet that delivers the full operational requirement and we are confident that issue will be resolved satisfactorily.

Claim: The F-35 has less memory than the average iPhone.

The figure of 10 GB is not recognised by the MoD and comparison of F-35 memory with an iPhone is neither credible, nor sensible. The F-35 software architecture is partitioned with memory distributed around the aircraft to achieve specific functions in a rigorous security architecture, and the memory is of many, many orders of magnitude higher than 10GB.

Claim: The F-35 programme is not subject to proper public scrutiny.

This is incorrect. The F-35 programme is publicly held to account by:

All of these reviews can be found online.

The programme is also held to account internally by:

18 December 2017