The UK has been guaranteed “operational sovereignty” over its F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, according to a joint statement released by US president George Bush and UK prime minister Tony Blair after their meeting last week.
“Both governments agree that the UK will have the ability to successfully operate, upgrade, employ and maintain the Joint Strike Fighter such that the UK retains operational sovereignty over the aircraft,” says the statement.
The UK has criticised US technology transfer restrictions and had warned it would not sign up for the JSF production and sustainment phase unless it was guaranteed operational sovereignty – and particularly the ability to make urgent upgrades based on operating experience.
The US-UK statement makes clear the two sides “are working out the details” of a technology transfer agreement that protects sensitive technologies in the JSF, “while remaining committed to these principles”.
A final agreement is unlikely to change the requirement for JSF prime contractor Lockheed Martin to obtain a US export licence to transfer any technology to the UK that is required for production and in-service support of the F-35, but a government-to-government accord should provide a guarantee that the license will be approved.
The UK and seven other international partners now involved in F-35 system developmet and demonstration are being asked to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in December covering the production, sustainment and follow-on development phase of the JSF programme.