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Dear Mr Hughes,
Thank you for your email of 26 October to the ‘Ask a Minister’ portal in which you raise a number of concerns in relation to the ongoing viability of the UK ’s Joint Combat Aircraft (JCA) programme. Your email has been passed to me to respond as the desk officer within the MO D ’s Equipment Capability Secretariat responsible for the JCA programme.
May I begin by addressing the point you raise about an announcement “that the second carrier the UK needs, is to be used as a commando carrier”. I should clarify that the Government remains fully committed to the manufacture of two Queen Elizabeth (QE) Class aircraft carriers and that no such decision to use the second vessel as purely a commando carrier has been made. The QE Class carriers are a core component of the overall Carrier Strike Programme and a cornerstone of future UK defence policy. Notwithstanding their primary role as aircraft carriers, we have always planned to use the QE Class to cover the Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH) role when HMS OCEAN is in refit.
Moving on to your concerns about the rising cost of the JSF programme. We do not recognise any accusations that the costs of the JSF programme have grown. The UK contribution to the US led JSF development programme was fixed at a cost agreed in 2001 and has not changed since. In the production phase, which the programme has just entered, costs of aircraft which have been placed on contract are in line with of previous estimates and are reducing as greater numbers of aircraft are placed on order. We regularly review our equipment capability requirements through annual planning rounds and also at major investment decision points. The last time the JSF requirement was considered was in January this year, at which point it was demonstrated to represent the best value for money solution to meet the UK ’s future Carrier Strike capability requirement.
Finally, on the point you raise about Typhoon acting as a maritime asset. I should begin by making clear that Typhoon, in its current configuration, is not able to operate from a carrier. You may wish to be aware that an extensive study into which aircraft could meet the Carrier Strike requirement was conducted in 2000, and was later refreshed in 2008. These investigations looked at a number of different aircraft options, one of which was Typhoon, and the outcome and subsequent evaluations, all concluded that JSF best meets the UK ’s requirements, on both capability and initial acquisition and whole life cost. Major factors include the stealth advantage that JSF has over other legacy aircraft and the significant cost growth and capability trades which would have to be made in order to convert a land based aircraft into one able to operate from the sea.
I hope my comments above are helpful and assure you that we strive to ensure that our capability requirements are appropriately prioritised and that the equipments we select to meet these requirements demonstrate value for money through life.
MOD Equipment Capability Secretariat – Ops1