Britain in clash over US fighter secrets

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Britain in clash over US fighter secrets

Tom Baldwin, the Times March 15, 2006 LS

Bij de JSF hoorzittingen in Washington van afgelopen week waren de Britse dreigementen aan het adres van de Amerikanen het meest in het oog springend: "we will not be able to purchase the aircraft", tenzij de Amerikaanse overheid meer (stealth) technologieoverdracht toestaat, aldus Peter Drayson namens de Britse regering. Verder lijken de Amerikanen ook niet van plan de (vooral voor de Britse en Nederlandse industrie belangrijke) back-up motor weer aan het JSF-programma toe te voegen (zie Reuters bericht eronder).



BRITAIN yesterday threatened to scrap a planned £10 billion purchase of the new Joint Strike Fighter if the United States refuses it access to American military secrets.
Lord Drayson, the Minister for Defence Procurement, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Britain would lose sovereign control without the technology transfer deal. The transfer is being resisted by both Congress and Lockheed Martin, which fears that it would mean handing over preciously guarded stealth aircraft technology to industrial competitors in the UK.
But RAF chiefs say that failure to reach agreement will leave them having to beg for help from US Lockheed Martin specialists after each sortie flown by one of the new aircraft.
Lord Drayson's comments, on a trip to Washington yesterday, represent a significant escalation in a diplomatic row that has rumbled on, largely in private, for several months.
Speaking to reporters before the showdown with Senators, he said: "We should be absolutely clear about what our bottom line is on this matter . . . we will not be able to purchase the aircraft."
Although Lord Drayson was reluctant to discuss what he called 'plan B', it is understood that the Government is considering alternatives to the largely US-designed JSF. These include prolonging the life of RAF Harriers or buying French Rafale aircraft.
Britain is committed to spending more than £1 billion on the JSF project, but the eventual procurement of 150 jets is said to be worth £10 billion to £13 billion. There is also a question over whether Britain would withdraw its own contribution of jump-jet technology.
Lord Drayson told the Senators yesterday: "We are approaching important decisions that will impact on both UK and US military capability for a generation." He said that the US needed to understand that a mutual commitment to the JSF was dependant on Britain having "the operational sovereignty that we require".
Henry Hyde, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives International Relations Committee, is among those who have made it plain that the US should give the UK nothing. The White House is said to be sympathetic to Britain, but it is powerless to secure the transfer deal this year without approval from Congress.
The row, said Lord Drayson, could affect future co-operation on military deals such as a replacement of Trident as Britain's independent nuclear deterrent. He emphasised that negotiations had been going 'pretty well' with the US Administration - but pointedly failed to say the same of Congress. Britain has been further angered by the US Defence Department's decision to scrap a $2 billion programme for a second engine for the JSF which would have been jointly developed by Rolls-Royce and General Electric.
Lord Drayson also used his visit yesterday to emphasise the operational and cost advantages of the second engine.
He said that Britain had 'not been properly consulted' by the Pentagon before the project was scrapped. Senator John Warner, the committee's Republican chairman, agreed that the lack of consultation with a 'tier one partner' was 'perplexing'. Sir Jock Stirrup, the chief of the Air Staff, who accompanied the minister to Washington, later compared the engine decision to being 'hit over the head'.
He added that the technology transfer was absolutely essential if the new JSFs were to be fully integrated with British aircraft carriers. "This is not a vague generalisation. We have come up with specific requirements," Sir Jock said.
Lord Drayson said that he believed it was still possible to get a deal that separated the 'industrial politics', involving Lockheed Martin, from the military technology transfer issue. He added: "I appreciate the concerns of some in the US about the issue of technology transfer but . . . I am optimistic that we can find a way through that will meet our requirements for sovereign capability."
The minster has been strongly backed by Liam Fox, the Shadow Defence Secretary, who yesterday made his own submission to the committee.
At yesterday's hearing he also received some support from Joe Lieberman, the influential Democrat Senator, who said that he felt 'very sympathetic' to Britain's position on the technology transfer.

UK says needs tech pact to buy U.S. fighter

reuters, 14 maart 2006

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Britain's top weapons purchasing official said on Tuesday his country would be unable to buy the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter unless agreement was reached on technology transfers with the United States.
The Minister for Defence Procurement, Lord Drayson, told U.S. lawmakers that this agreement was necessary for Britain to maintain control over key military assets and adjust the fighter to its needs.
"Without the technology transfer, to give us the confidence to deliver an aircraft fit to fight on our terms, we will not be able to buy these aircraft," Drayson told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
Drayson said he had meetings scheduled with U.S. defence officials this week and was optimistic these issues could be worked out.
The F-35 is a U.S.-led effort to develop a family of radar-evading, supersonic, multi-role warplanes with co-financing from eight other countries -- Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway.
Lockheed Martin Corp. is the lead contractor.
Britain has already spent $2 billion (1 billion pounds) on developing the F-35, making it a "level one" participant in the program.
The Senate hearing was called to examine the Bush administration's decision to cancel funding for a second F-35 engine being developed by General Electric Co. and Rolls-Royce.
Drayson said Britain had expected to be consulted on the engine decision given his country's status in the F-35 program, but it had not.
Britain would continue to push for funding of the second engine in addition to one being built by Pratt & Whitney, part of United Technologies Corp., Drayson said.
U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said dropping the second engine would save $1.8 billion but backers of an alternate power plant say it could save the F-35 fleet from grounding in the event of a significant flaw with the Pratt & Whitney engine.



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