The cost of the next generation of fast jets is unknown and Britain has yet to work out how they will talk to other aircraft and remain hidden from the enemy, it was revealed yesterday.
Harriett Baldwin, a defence minister, told a committee of MPs that a programme to deliver the first 48 F-35B Lightning II warplanes, including support and infrastructure, would be £9.1 billion by 2026 but “beyond that obviously we have not gone”. Britain has pledged to buy 138 of the aircraft.
Stephen Lovegrove, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, when pressed by the defence select committee to estimate the cost, said he had “rough orders of magnitude” but declined to specify what they were. He was also unable to give a figure for the cost of a single F-35 jet bought this year, including upgrades and spares.
The questions formed part of a hearing that was called after articles in The Times revealed hundreds of millions of pounds in hidden costs within the F-35 programme and raised concerns about the ability of the jet to operate to its full potential. Officials from the MoD and top executives from Lockheed Martin, the US defence company behind the F-35, appeared in two consecutive sessions to defend the programme, which they agreed would provide a game-changing capability for the UK.
Based on an analysis of publicly available contracts for F-35s, this newspaper estimated that the cost of each aircraft delivered this year, when extras such as spare parts and upgrades were included, would be between £130 million and £155 million. This is compared with a display price offered by Lockheed Martin of around £100 million.
Mr Lovegrove, when asked about the figures, wrongly accused The Times of coming up with them in a different way, which he described as “an extraordinarily crude and misleading calculation, if that is what they have done”.
Jeff Babione, executive vice-president of Lockheed Martin, was asked what the difference was between the display price and the cost including upgrades, maintenance and support. He too was unable to give a clear answer. (end of excerpt)
Click here for the full story, on The Times website.
Click here for the video replay of the hearing, on the UK Parliament website.