Alarm over new navy jet costs

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THERE are new concerns over the navy’s aircraft carriers programme after a damning US report said the project to build F-35 fighter jets for the warships is ‘in question’.

America’s Government Accountability Office (GAO), which is the equivalent to the UK’s National Audit Office, warned the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) scheme – already $15bn over budget – will require ‘unprecedented levels of funding’ from Britain and the other Nato countries involved to make it a success.

It raises fresh questions over whether the jets will ever make it to the flight decks of the navy’s new Portsmouth-based carriers as the affordability of the planes relies on bulk US orders.

The GAO report said: ‘The long-stated intent that the JSF programme would deliver an affordable, highly common fifth generation aircraft that could be acquired in large numbers could be in question.’

It comes as David Cameron mulls a U-turn on what variant of the JSF Britain will order.

Labour wanted to buy the jump jet version of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35B, but in 2010 the coalition decided to go for the catapult-launched carrier version, the F-35C, which has a longer range and carries a bigger payload.

But the estimated costs of fitting catapults and arrestor gear to the new ships have since spiralled from £500m to a reported £1.8bn – sparking a rethink in Whitehall.

The MoD is expected to make an announcement soon.