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Britain, U.S. Propose F-35 Fighter Exchange

Jul. 18, 2011 - 03:45AM   |  
By KATE BRANNEN   |   Comments
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The United Kingdom has proposed trading F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft with the United States, according to a Pentagon letter to the U.S. Congress.

Under the proposal, the United States would give the United Kingdom one of its carrier variants (F-35C) of the F-35 in exchange for a short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) version, called the F-35B.

The trade, which the Pentagon describes as "mutually beneficial" and "cost neutral," requires a legislative amendment to the 2012 defense authorization bill.

The Pentagon requested the amendment in a June 14 letter from Elizabeth King, assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs, to Vice President Biden, in his role as president of the U.S. Senate.

The United Kingdom decided last year, as part of its Strategic Defense and Security Review, to stop buying the F-35B. Instead, the Royal Navy will only buy the F-35C, which is being designed for conventional takeoffs and landings on aircraft carriers.

The cost-savings measure resulted in the U.K. having an extra F-35B on its hands.

The United States, which is buying the F-35B for the U.S. Marine Corps and the F-35C for the U.S. Navy, was not scheduled to receive its F-35Bs until later. A third variant, the F-35A, is being developed for the U.S. Air Force.

Under the exchange, the United Kingdom would have to cover any costs required to upgrade its F-35B aircraft so that it would be identical to the version the U.S. had planned to buy, according to the letter.

The United Kingdom would also be responsible for any unique requirements it has for the F-35C.

Under the plan, United States would get an F-35B two years earlier. This means $10 million in additional operations and maintenance costs for the Marine Corps in 2013 and 2014. This would be due to increased flight hours, fuel, training costs, etc.

In January, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates put the F-35B portion of the JSF program on probation for two years, saying he had serious concerns about the aircraft's performance in tests.

"If we cannot fix this variant during this time frame and get it back on track in terms of performance, cost and schedule, then I believe it should be canceled," Gates said.

The cost for developing and procuring the F-35 is usually cited to be about $382 billion, according to U.S. budget documents.

Of that amount, $72 billion has been spent.

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