The first of the UK’s next generation of supersonic stealth fast jets, the Joint Strike Fighters, are to be purchased by the MOD, Defence Secretary John Hutton has announced today, Wednesday 18 March 2009.
Mr Hutton said that three Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) test aircraft are to be purchased, marking a significant milestone in the UK’s commitment to the JSF project.
JSF will provide the UK with an unrivalled ‘fifth-generation’ tactical air system, designed with stealth characteristics and advanced sensors, and will afford the UK a ‘step change’ in capability.
The new aircraft will replace the capability provided by the Joint Force Harriers.
The UK is the only Level 1 partner with the US in the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase of the JSF programme. Other international partners at Levels 2 and 3 are the Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, Canada, Norway, Australia and Turkey.
The SDD contract with Lockheed Martin was signed in October 2001. Its overall value is some $41bn to which the UK is contributing £2bn.
Defence Secretary John Hutton, who announced the purchase of the three test aircraft today while on a visit to Washington, said:
“The Joint Strike Fighter will form an essential part of our Future Combat Air capability.
“By purchasing three aircraft for testing, we will secure access to the development of the programme. Working alongside their US colleagues, our pilots will gain an unrivalled understanding of this awesome aircraft and its capabilities.
“This is a vital programme for UK Defence both for the military and for industry, with over 100 UK companies involved in the programme.”
UK military personnel will work alongside their US counterparts in an initial operational test and evaluation programme for the aircraft.
JSF is the aircraft of choice to fulfil MOD’s Joint Combat Aircraft requirement and will fly off the two new Royal Navy Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers. The purchase of three test aircraft will enable MOD to move forward in developing the Carrier Strike capability.
The UK variant will be a multi-role fighter/attack aircraft with a short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) capability similar to the current Joint Force Harrier, and will be able to operate from land bases or aircraft carriers.
Advantages over the Harrier will include supersonic flight, stealth, improved survivability and range, and being able to carry munitions inboard and externally. Vertical lift will be provided by a Rolls-Royce-developed fan system.
Compared with the conventional take-off and landing (F-35A) variant already flying, the F-35B has a shaft-driven lift fan mounted behind the cockpit, roll ducts installed in the wing and swivelling nozzle fitted to the engine.
In STOVL mode, doors open above and below the lift fan, a clutch engages to drive the two-stage contra-rotating fan from the engine and the rear nozzle pivots downward to deflect engine thrust.
The JSF will keep the RAF and the Royal Navy at the forefront of military aviation technology and give them an aircraft that will surpass most current and planned future aircraft and weapons systems until the middle of this century.
The prime contracts for these aircraft will be placed in the US but the decision to place an order for UK aircraft is equally good news for UK industry. There is significant UK industrial interest in the JSF programme with over 100 companies involved in the programme, ranging from major UK JSF industrial partners down to lower tier suppliers of composite materials. The potential UK return on investment is substantial.
Since 2001 UK industrial expertise has made a significant contribution to the success of JSF with BAE Systems producing the tail section of the airframes, Rolls-Royce partnering with GE Aerospace for the F136 engine and producing the lift fan for the STOVL variant, and Martin Baker making the ejection seats.
UK companies and locations involved include BAE Systems – Salmesbury; Rolls-Royce – Filton, Bristol; Ultra Electronics – High Wycombe; Honeywell Normalair – Yeovil; Goodrich Actuation – Wolverhampton and Liverpool; GE Aerospace – Cheltenham; Martin Baker – High Wycombe; and Selex – Farnborough.