Australia and the UK have warned the USA that they will not buy the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) as planned if they are not guaranteed access to the technology required to operate and support the aircraft.

The ultimatum was delivered during two days of Congressional hearings on the JSF programme prompted by the US Department of Defense's decision to cancel development of the General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136 alternative engine for the F-35.

The F136 would have powered the F-35B short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant, which entered production at BAE Systems’ Samlesbury site in the UK last month (an earlier X-35B prototype of which is pictured below).

Lockheed X-35B dusk W445

Australia and the UK are among the eight international partners with which the USA is trying to a sign a memorandum of understanding covering the entire production, sustainment and follow-own development of the F-35. US technology transfer restrictions have emerged as a major obstacle to signing the MoU.

Testifying to the Senate Armed Services Committee, UK minister for defence procurement Lord Drayson said "operational sovereignty" over the JSF "is of paramount importance". The UK must decide whether the JSF 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 Australia's defence staff in Washington, reinforced the message, telling the committee: "Guaranteed access to necessary JSF data and technology to allow Australia to support and operate the JSF will be required before we join the next phase of the project."

Guaranteeing technology access over the life of the programme would be a major departure for the US government, which has so far allowed only the phased release of technology to its JSF partners during development of the F-35. Signing of the MoU "will commit the UK to the whole life of the JSF programme", Lord Drayson said, adding that the UK must have "the ability to integrate, upgrade, operate and sustain the aircraft as we see fit and without recourse to others".

Both Australia, with a requirement for 100 aircraft, and the UK, for 150, remain committed to the JSF programme, the two men said. The US government hopes to sign the MoU for the next phase by December.

Lord Drayson said that the UK, as the only Level 1 partner in the JSF programme, should have been consulted on the DoD's decision to cancel the F136 engine, but was not. "The F136 inserts an important competitive element into the JSF programme," he said. "I still wish to see F136 funding included in the DoD programme."

Australia supports a second engine as long as it does not raise the cost or lower the capability of the aircraft, said Gates. But Lt Gen Giuseppe Bernardis, head of armament procurement programmes for Italy, the second largest international partner with a requirement for 136 aircraft, told Congress: "This should be a US decision, and Italy will adhere to it."


External link:
Read the US Government Accountability Office report to the chairman of the Congressional subcommittee for national security, emerging threats and international relations on the management of the Joint Strike Fighter technology transfer process

Source: Flight International