Cameron makes £100m U-turn on F-35 aircraft carrier jets
Humiliating turnaround for Cameron as Ministry of Defence reverts to Labour’s original plan
THE GOVERNMENT'S decision to change the type of fighter planes it is ordering for the Royal Navy's new aircraft carrier will cost about £100m, the defence secretary Philip Hammond has said.
As predicted by Robert Fox, writing for The Week two days ago, David Cameron has signed off a decision to use the jump-jet variant of the US-built F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, which was the previous Labour government's original plan. The coalition said in 2010 it wanted to switch to a variant using "catapults and traps" - the F35-C - but costs are believed to have spiralled.
Hammond announced the U-turn in the House of Commons today, saying the cost of installing catapults and traps had escalated significantly, from £1bn to £2bn, making the F35-C unaffordable, and that if F-35Bs are used, the MoD will get its carrier by 2018 - two years earlier than planned. He later told the BBC that the cost of the U-turn would be in the region of £100m.
Hammond had hoped to persuade Downing Street to make the move at the end of March, so the MoD could finalise its budget before the new financial year, reports The Financial Times, but Cameron is understood to have blocked the move, insisting the Treasury undertake a new analysis of the costs, while the MoD was told to check its own calculations again.
The Guardian writes that Cameron pushed the military to ditch the F35-B, and both he and Nick Clegg pushed for the F-35C, which has longer range and can carry more weapons.
Speaking to the Commons in October 2010 to explain his preference for the F-35C, Cameron said: "This is another area where I believe the last government got it badly wrong. The carriers they ordered were unable to work effectively with our key defence partners, the United States or France."
Following the announcement today, Labour immediately demanded that the PM apologise for his "incompetence". Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said: "The prime minister's decisions have cost British time, British money, British talent and British prestige. Describing this government's defence strategy as an omnishambles would be a compliment.
"The previous Labour government got it right and this government's policy has unravelled."