Australia and UK deliver technology transfer ultimatum
Lockheed Martin remains optimistic that all eight international partners will sign on for the next phase of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme, despite Australian and UK defence officials telling US Congress last week that they will not do so unless they are guaranteed access to the technology required to operate and sustain their aircraft.
Technology transfer has emerged as a major hurdle for some nations as they negotiate a single multilateral memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the production, sustainment and follow-on development phase of the JSF programme. The US government hopes to sign the MoU by December.
Testifying before Congress on 14 March, UK defence procurement minister Lord Drayson said “operational sovereignty” over the JSF is of “paramount importance”. The ability to “integrate, upgrade, operate and sustain the aircraft as we see fit and without recourse to others” is required for the UK to decide the aircraft is “fit to fight”, he said, adding: “If we do not have the information and technology needed to make that decision, then I shall not be able to sign the MoU.”
Rear Adm Raydon Gates, head of the Australian defence staff in Washington, concurred, telling Congress: “Guaranteed access to necessary data and technology to allow Australia to operate and support the JSF will be required before we can join the next phase.”
After being briefed by Lockheed following the hearings, Drayson requested that the US government provide a written assurance by June, when the draft MoU is to be released, that the UK will have access to the technology necessary to operate, maintain and sustain the aircraft. Testifying before Congress a day later, US defence undersecretary Ken Kreig indicated the government planned to respond by June.
The UK will not receive aircraft until 2014, and “the USA does not release things that far in advance”, says Lockheed JSF programme general manager Tom Burbage, so the issue is whether the USA can provide assurances it will release technology when required. Technology has so far been released in phases.
Describing the issue as more emotional than factual, Burbage says: “Ask any of the partners if any of their companies have had difficulty performing their assigned tasks because of technology transfer and the answer will be no.” But he admits “the licensing process is cumbersome”.
Drayson says: “We have no reason to believe that our discussions with the [US] administration will not be successful, but without the technology transfer...we will not be able to buy these aircraft.”
GRAHAM WARWICK / WASHINGTON DC