The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme office is increasingly confident that all eight international partners will sign up for the next phase before the end of the year. The Netherlands became the first nation to sign the production, sustainment and follow-on development (PSFD) memorandum of understanding (MoU) on 14 November, with Canada expected to be next. Australia plans to sign the MoU in December and talks with Turkey concluded last week.
"I am guardedly optimistic that by the end of December we will have all eight signed up," says John Schreiber, director, JSF international programmes. The two biggest partners, the UK and Italy, are on track to sign and signatures by Denmark and Norway, which had been tipped to slip into next year, are now expected before year-end. "We have a bit more work to do with Norway," Schreiber adds.
Signing the MoU does not commit a country to buy F-35s, but will allow its military and industry to remain involved in the JSF programme until it is ready to select a fighter - which is not before 2008 in several cases. "Signing up to the MoU lays out the way we will co-operate for the next 45 years in production, sustainment and upgrades to meet future threats," says Schreiber. "It is not a commitment to buy, but there is an intent to buy, and an annexe [to the MoU] lists the planning numbers. Not even we [the USA] can commit to fiscal year 2008 ourselves."
By signing up, a partner nation agrees to pay a share of administration costs for the next phase, but there is no major investment in ramping up production until they buy aircraft, says Schreiber.
Rival European fighter manufacturers Dassault, Eurofighter and Saab have stepped up their offers of industrial involvement in a bid to persuade several of the partner nations not to commit to the JSF, and Denmark and Norway have said they plan to keep their fighter options open until 2008. Eurofighter has welcomed a statement by the Danish defence minister that Copenhagen plans an open fighter competition.
But it is considered unlikely any of the JSF nations will not sign the MoU, because that would mean leaving the programme and going to the back of the queue if they later decided to buy the F-35. Schreiber says the USA has accommodated countries' concerns about JSF technology transfer. "They all feel a lot more comfortable. There are still a few things to do by mid-2007, but we have told them we see no problem meeting their operational sovereignty requirements."