ITAR Fallout: Britain to Pull Out of F-35 JSF Program?

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ITAR Fallout: Britain to Pull Out of F-35 JSF Program?

7 december 2005, target="_top"

Last week, DID covered the ITAR technology waiver crisis in British-American defense relations, and noted that serious trouble was brewing. We also pointed to a series of pointed questions from the House of Commons Defence Committee to Lord Drayson about the CVF carrier program and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). Now senior Ministry of Defence officials have confirmed to The Sunday Times of London that Britain is considering its options and contemplating a pullout from the multi-billion, multinational JSF program. According to these officials, instructions have been given for alternative strategies for projects affected by American technology-transfer problems - and JSF was included in that list. It was time, one said, to "think the unthinkable."

As the only other "Tier One" partner, Britain is the most significant U.S. partner in the 7-nation program, and has invested approximately $2 billion in the F-35B's development as its future carrier aircraft. Negotiations on Tranche-3 of the Eurofighter are apparently contemplating the possibility of a carrier-suitable variant, which contra the breezy confidence displayed in the Sunday Times would be an absolutely major undertaking. Dr. Richard North is correct about the design and cost implications this would create. Ironically, it was French insistence on a carrier role for their future fighter, with its accompanying design and specification implications, that forced France to be so rigid about its requirements and thus kept the Rafale and Eurofighter programs apart. On the one hand, recent news about EADS and its "strategic relationship" with China, wherein it will take an "active part in Chinese aeronautic and space sector growth and development" is not likely to dampen Congressional concern across the pond re: the possible secondary effects of removing ITAR restrictions on British firms. On the other hand, with 2006 shaping up as a key year for European fighter decisions, and JSF consortium members like Norway inviting submissions from the Eurofighter while Denmark does the same with Gripen International, a British pullout from the JSF could have major ramifications. These could certainly extend to the cohesion of the F-35 JSF consortium, the aircraft's unit costs in the face of declining buys... and last but certainly not least, on the special defense relationship and alliance between Britain and the USA.

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