The UK's roughly 18-month dalliance with acquiring the C-model carrier variant of Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter "was rushed and based upon incomplete and inaccurate policy development", and ultimately wasted £100 million ($157 million), according to a new report.
"The decision in 2010 to change to the carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter was the largest single procurement decision in the Strategic Defence and Security Review," the House of Commons defence committee says in its 5 February Defence Acquisition document.
However, the choice to move away from the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B was "rushed and based upon incomplete and inaccurate policy development [and] taken without the MoD understanding how the change could be implemented," it states.
Partly swayed by the intervention of the UK's National Security Council, the surprise shift to the F-35C announced in September 2010 was intended to boost military interoperability with the French armed forces, enabling the UK to save money by bringing only one of its two future aircraft carriers into operational use.
US Air Force
The UK's first two F-35B test aircraft have been transferred to Eglin AFB
Speaking to the committee on 15 May 2012, less than one week after the controversial plan had been reversed by defence secretary Philip Hammond, then-minister for defence equipment and support Peter Luff said: "I think the fundamental misunderstanding that many of us had was that these carriers would be relatively easy to convert and had been designed for conversion and for adaptability. That is what we were told. It was not true. They were not."
In all, about £100 million was spent in addressing design and contractual matters associated with the proposed switch and also in making physical changes to the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers to accommodate the F-35C.
Also speaking to the committee, Chief of Defence Materiel Bernard Gray noted that the UK's three F-35s acquired to support US-led initial operational test and evaluation of the Joint Strike Fighter remained in the STOVL configuration. "We did not change any of them, and our ability to fit UK requirements into the Block 5 upgrades has been maintained, so our position in the programme is unaffected."
Two of the aircraft have already been delivered to Eglin AFB in Florida, with the third due to be handed over later this year.