The Times reports on comments made in a US Armed Services Committee that the UK will have to pay for further upgrades to the F-35 in the future.
An MOD spokesperson said: “The F-35 programme remains on track and within budget, providing a game-changing capability for our Armed Forces. We continue to drive down costs with every purchase, while British industry benefits from an orderbook of over 3,000 jets.
“The first of these aircraft will be combat-ready well before these upgrades, which are about ensuring the jets remain at the cutting-edge of technology throughout their lifetime. Whilst details are still being worked out in the US, we will not speculate on costs.”
‘Block 4’, the focus of The Times piece, is the foundation upon which continuous enhancements and improvements will be made to increase capabilities that make the F-35 more lethal and survivable throughout is lifetime. Aircraft will be combat-ready before ‘Block 4’ and will categorically have stealth capability before these upgrades - it will also be able to communicate with other aircraft.
The UK’s contribution to the ‘Block 4’ development programme is approximately 4.5%, and the MOD will of course go through its own internal approvals processes for this to ensure best value for money. The F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) in the US is still conducting its cost analysis and working out the scope of ‘Block 4’ and until this is finalised, the MOD will not speculate on the costs.
The F-35 is the world’s largest defence programme at over $1.3 trillion, and UK industry is providing some 15% of the over 3,000 aircraft which have been ordered. That means that the economic impact is greater than if we were building 100% of the 138 aircraft which we intend to buy.
As was outlined to the House of Commons Select Committee in October, the cost of an F-35 to the UK is reducing with each purchase we make. We continue to drive down those costs. Whilst the outlet says that the UK has 10 jets, the 14th UK F-35B aircraft was delivered in December.