UK could scrap plan to acquire 90 F-35B fighter jets
In September 2020, the United Kingdom announced it would significantly increase its military spending, adding £16.5 billion ($22 billion) to the defense budget. However, the increase would be accompanied by an optimization of the British Armed Forces’ capacities.
“We will need to act speedily to remove or reduce less relevant capabilities – and this will allow our new investment to be focused on the technologies that will revolutionize warfare, forging our military assets into a single network designed to overcome the enemy,” the country’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson explained to the Parliament on November 19, 2020.
As the British Government is about to publish its 2021 Strategic Defense and Security Review that should take into account the consequences of Brexit for the UK’s defense, The Sunday Times already reported some of the cuts that could be made.
The Royal Air Force should be affected by a gap in its airborne early warning and control capacities of two to three years. The six E-3D Sentry currently in service should be retired before the delivery of their successor, the E-7 Wedgetail. The order for the latter should also be reduced from 5 to 3 aircraft. Additionally, eleven intelligence planes, including the five Raytheon Sentinel R1 reconnaissance aircraft, should be retired.
If cuts are to be made, several capabilities remain to be filled. For example, what will compose the carrier wings of the two aircraft carriers of the Royal Navy, namely the HMS Queen Elizabeth and the HMS Prince of Wales? Until now, the plan was to acquire up to 138 Lockheed Martin F-35Bs, the Short Take-off Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant of the stealth fighter jet.
But according to the Sunday Times, the procurement might very well stop at the 48 F-35Bs already ordered. "An order for 90 more F-35 Lightning combat jets is to be canceled in favor of the Tempest fighter, built in Lancashire,” writes the British paper. Priority would thus be given to the Tempest, a “system of systems” currently being developed around the 6th generation fighter jet by the United Kingdom, Italy, and Sweden.
While it has not been confirmed yet, the decision would mirror an ongoing discussion on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. In the past few weeks, the United States Air Force (USAF) has been considering scrapping part of its plan to procure 1,763 F-35As, to instead acquire a yet-to-be-developed 4.5 generation fighter jet as well as the "Penetrating Counter Air" 6th generation fighter jet to emerge from the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program. The USAF revealed in September 2020 that a full-scale prototype of the fighter was already flown.
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