MPs slap heads at coalition’s fighter U-turn

By staff

MPs have collectively deplored the coalition's hurried decision to switch the type of joint strike fighter (JSF) to be used on Britain's aircraft carriers.

A report from the Commons' defence committee published today found the "flawed" decision was made without officials having done enough work to understand the cost of the switch.

The 2010 strategic defence and security review, condemned as overly hasty at the time, featured a major decision to switch the carrier variant of the JSF from the jump-jet version to one launched by catapults – 'cats and traps' – in line with the US military's aircraft.

At the time ministers feted the advantages of "interoperability". But by May 2012 the Ministry of Defence, faced with spiralling costs of the conversion, was forced to cancel the change.

The F-35 JSF will revert to using the short take-off and vertical landing (Stovl) configuration rather than the catapult and arrestor gear system the coalition had originally backed as a result.

Committee chair James Arbuthnot said the move was made "at great speed, without full consultation and without the Ministry of Defence understanding how it could be implemented nor how much it would cost".

The report also found Britain lacks a defence industrial strategy, putting the UK at a disadvantage against its competitors.

It rejected the UK's national security strategy, saying it would not inspire confidence because it "does not show a clear grasp of what is needed for the defence of the United Kingdom".