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The UK is to cut its planned acquisition of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) by up to two-thirds, switch versions and delay introduction of the aircraft.
A Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) made public on October 19 also scrapped the RAF’s Harrier STOVL (short takeoff, vertical landing) combat jets and the Nimrod MRA.4 maritime patrol aircraft, which is just entering service. Orders for 22 Airbus A400M airlifters, 14 Airbus A330 air-refueling tankers and three RC-135 signals intelligence aircraft have survived the review. But a surprise move, the recently introduced Raytheon Sentinel (Astor) reconnaissance aircraft will be withdrawn, “once it is no longer required over Afghanistan.”
The UK has contributed greatly to development of the F-35B STOVL version of the JSF and has already ordered three initial production aircraft. However, the SDSR calls for the UK’s forthcoming large new aircraft carriers to be interoperable with those of allies, such as France and the U.S. They will therefore launch and recover combat jets via conventional catapult and arrestor gear, and the UK will operate the F-35C version, which has greater payload and range than the F-35B. But only one of the new carriers will enter service, in 2020, with the other to be sold or kept in “extended readiness.”
The UK’s planned buy of F-35s will therefore be cut from 135 to a much reduced but yet-to-be-determined number. The RAF’s fleet of Tornado strike aircraft will also be reduced, and no more Eurofighter Typhoons will be bought.
Helicopters fared better than expected in the SDSR: a proposed buy of 22 more Boeing Chinooks has been cut to 12, but the new AgustaWestland Wildcat program survives, as does a major upgrade to the Eurocopter Puma.