U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, left, and British Secretary of State for Defence Philip Hammond walk up to speak to the media during a news conference at the Pentagon on July 18. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
The United Kingdom and United States should pursue a deeper, “far reaching” defense partnership that includes the development of joint requirements and collaborating on research-and-development efforts, Britain’s defense secretary said while visiting Washington.
“In this environment of rapid technological change and significant resource constraint, we should do more to align requirements better and work collaboratively to develop them,” Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said during a July 18 speech at a Center for New American Security think tank event in Washington.
“It is in neither of our interests to duplicate research and development for new systems,” he said.
The United States and the United Kingdom are each facing steep defense spending cuts in the coming years and both have new military strategies that similarly call for a leaner, agile force that can deploy rapidly using advanced technology.
“In an age of ‘Smart Defense,’ it is even more vital that we do more together both on the battlefield and in the development of the future systems, working together to ensure our forces have the best equipment and can operate-by-side whenever necessary,” Hammond said.
The two nations could realize the benefits of pooling “demand, investment and technology,” for expensive weapons, just like they have done on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, he said.
The Pentagon threw its support behind multinational F-35 program — particularly the short-take-off, vertical-landing (STOVL) version — despite plans to cut $487 billion from planned defense spending over then next decade.
The latest backing of the $396 billion program came during a joint briefing with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Hammond earlier in the day. The Lockheed Martin F-35, specifically the so-called STOVL version of the jet, will be the only fighter to operate off new British aircraft carriers.
“The administration understands the crucial importance of this aircraft variant to our own carrier strike regeneration project,” Hammond said. “The U.S. administration, the Department of Defense, has been massively supportive of providing us with all sorts of facilities to maintain and regenerate our capabilities to operate [the] carrier flight deck and to maintain the skills in our pilots.”
The Royal Navy previously flew Harrier jump jets, which can take-off and land vertically.
The United Kingdom sold its entire Harrier inventory to the United States last year. DoD will use these aircraft and other supplies for parts for its own fleet of Harriers.
Now that fighter jets no longer operate from British aircraft carriers, a number of U.K. pilots are now flying with U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps fighter squadrons to maintain proficiency until the replacement — the stealthy F-35B — is battle ready.
Hammond is scheduled to see the F-35B fly at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., on July 18. The U.S. Navy is conducting development testing at the base.
Hammond will accept the first British F-35B test jet at a ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas, on July 19. A number of senior DoD officials — including Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s acquisition chief – are expected to attend the event.
The F-35B has been through difficult patches throughout its development. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates placed the program on a two-year probation, which was lifted by Panetta after about 18 months.
“I have assurances at the highest level this is a program that is now on track,” Hammond said. “It is a program that is doing very well.”
Panetta, all variants of the F-35 is “critical” to the Pentagon’s future defense strategy.