Farnborough: F-35 workshare 'secure' even if UK pulls the plug, says Lockheed Martin

Farnborough
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By Jon Lake at the Farnborough air show

JSF workshare ‘not contingent’ on UK buy: Burbage

Britain will keep its workshare on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II whether the UK buys the fighter or not, the head of the programme affirmed at Farnborough yesterday.

“BAE Systems' participation has never been contingent on the UK buying 150 F-35s,” said Tom Burbage, Lockheed Martin executive vice-president and general manager F-35. 

He said the company’s role extends far beyond merely manufacturing the rear fuselage and empennage of the aircraft, highlighting BAE’s design leadership of the fuel, pilot and prognostic health monitoring systems for the Joint Strike Fighter.

Burbage’s comments come as reassurance to an industry worried despite BAE’s insistence that UK industrial participation had been allocated on the basis of UK industrial capabilities and its $2 billion investment in the programme, and was entirely unrelated to any UK buy of the aircraft.

He was effusive in praising BAE’s “industrial strengths” and stressed the company’s vital place at the heart of Team JSF alongside Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.

Lockheed had gathered the “most powerful team for industrial reasons”, he said.
Many who heard Burbage were surprised at the clarity of his answer, since it makes any threat of UK withdrawal over technology transfer far more credible. It is now clear that the UK could cancel its F-35 purchase without sacrificing workshare or jobs.

This may be because the threat of a UK withdrawal is receding. Earlier this year, defence procurement minister Lord Drayson made it clear that without sufficient technology transfer to ensure operational sovereignty, he would not view the aircraft as “fit to fight”. He defined operational sovereignty as “the ability to integrate, upgrade, operate and sustain the aircraft as we see fit and without recourse to others”.

Flight Daily News has learnt there have been extensive discussions to define exactly what the UK requires for ‘operational sovereignty’, and that many of the UK’s concerns have now been addressed. The two sides are apparently close to signing a full memorandum of understanding on operational sovereignty though this is unlikely to happen until after Farnborough.