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A slice of the pie

The UK's decision to sign up to the next phase of the Joint Strike Fighter programme should provide a major industrial boost to the country's aerospace industry and allow it to continue its strategy of maintaining a foot in both the USA and European camps.

UK defence minister, Geoff Hoon, says the decision could benefit 70 UK companies and create or sustain 5,000 jobs - all for the cost of a £1.3 billion ($2.05 billion) contribution to the engineering and manufacturing demonstration phase plus £600 million to adapt the aircraft to UK needs.

As well as having joined the US-led JSF programme, the UK continues to play a key part in the Eurofighter and is pushing Europe's next generation fighter development under the Future Offensive Air System (FOAS) banner.

While the UK's larger aerospace concerns such as BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce will benefit from this positioning - both companies are involved in Boeing and Lockheed Martin's JSFs as well as Eurofighter and FOAS - it is the smaller companies that will have to strive to ensure they benefit from the situation.

It is said that JSF suppliers will be judged on technology and cost criteria rather than meeting workshare demands. But the fact that either Boeing or Lockheed Martin will be disappointed is going to strain the best-laid plans. It is reasonable to suggest that US industry, supported by Capitol Hill, will demand the maximum volume of work on the programme, particularly if Congressional support is needed to escape a Bush axe.

It is critical, therefore, that companies wanting a slice of the JSF pie are bolstered by political support when the battle heats up. If not, the UK - and other JSF participants - may find themselves funding a US programme with little significant return.