Signing the memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the next phase of the Joint Strike Fighter programme in Washington DC on 12 December, defence procurement minister Lord Drayson said the UK had received "the necessary assurances from the USA" that it would have access to the technology required for operational sovereignty over its F-35s.

Led by the UK, several partners attacked US restrictions on technology sharing and threatened to leave the programme earlier this year. Now the UK has signed the production, sustainment and follow-on development agreement, it is unlikely any of the other nations will complain. "I have always made clear that the UK would sign only if we were satisfied that we would have operational sovereignty over our aircraft. I have today received the necessary assurances from the US on technology transfer to allow me to sign the MoU," Drayson said in Washington. Operational sovereignty includes the capability to modify the aircraft to meet national requirements.

"There has been a lot of concerns over operational sovereignty and technology transfer," says John Schreiber, director JSF international programmes. "We have been able to accommodate their concerns. We have told them we see no problem meeting their operational sovereignty requirements, and the documentation reflects that. There are still a few things to do mid-2007, but the way ahead is pretty well laid out."

Technology transfer was the major hurdle to be overcome before the UK and Australia would sign, but for other partners the issue has been industrial participation. This has been the subject of parallel negotiations involving Lockheed and its partners. These are going down to the wire as the year draws to a close, although bargaining is likely to continue into the next phase.

Letters of intent on industrial participation are in place with most of the countries, with Italy and Turkey among the last to sign and Norway still holding out for a better offer. Italy's Finmeccanica negotiated work for divisions outside its Alenia Aeronautica unit, which will be the second source for F-35 wings. Turkey will sign the MoU after agreeing a package worth $4.2 billion, but is hoping to win a further $1.5 billion in work.

Norway has proved the most intransigent, and has delayed a decision on signing the MoU until next year in the hope of getting an improved offer from Lockheed. The Oslo government has received substantial industrial participation offers from Eurofighter and Saab, but it does not intend to procure its new fighter until 2008.

Source: Flight International