BLACKBURN MP Jack Straw has joined an influential commons committee in criticising the Ministry of Defence over its ‘rushed and flawed’ decision to switch fighter aircraft for the Royal Navy’s new carriers.
The all-party group of MPs said the 2010 decision to opt for the carrier variant of the joint strike fighter (JSF). rather than the jump jet, had been a mistake.
Commons Defence Committee chairman James Arbuthnot said millions of pounds was wasted and delays caused, after the original decision led to the axing of the BAE Systems-made and maintained Harrier fleet.
Ministers said the decision, which was reversed back to JSF jump jets two years later in May, had been ‘right at the time’.
The previous Labour government had placed orders for two new aircraft carriers to be equipped with the F-35B short take-off and vertical landing variant of the American-built JSF.
The coalition announced in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review that it favoured the F-35C catapult-launched version, which has a longer range and can carry more weapons. BAE Systems Lancashire factories produce slightly different components for both variants of the Lockheed Martin JSF. The decision came amid fears costs were spiralling out of control.
Mr Straw said: “I always knew the decision was a mistake. Catapults to launch the F-35C were an absolute disaster.”
And he said he was worried about defence and security after cuts in the defence budget.
“Costly errors like this just make everything worse as well as causing problems and confusion for our major defence suppliers like BAE Systems,” he added.
The Commons defence committee said the decision had been ‘rushed and based upon incomplete and inaccurate policy development’. Mr Arbuthnot said: “It was a mistake which cost many millions of pounds and caused a lot of upset and delay and concern and it’s not a mistake that should happen again – it’s a mistake from which lessons should be learned.”
Defence Equipment Minister Philip Dunne said the switch to the carrier variant of the F35 had been ‘right at the time’, but that ‘unacceptable cost growth, technical risk and project delays’ meant the decision to revert to the jump jet was ‘in the best interest of defence’.
Ribble Valley Tory MP Nigel Evans said: “This type of massive ministry of defence chopping and changing wastes money, affects our armed forces and has a knock on effect on suppliers like BAE Systems. I just hope lessons are learnt from this saga.”