THE former head of the Fleet Air Arm has warned Britain could be without jets for the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers until 2025.
Commodore Steve Jermy, who was boss of naval aviation from 2002 to 2004, spoke out amid fresh concerns the navy’s next generation of aircraft won’t be ready by the time the 65,000-tonne ships enter service in 2020.
He said the government should never have sold the navy’s old Harrier jump jets while there was uncertainty over the US-led programme to build F-35 jets for the two Portsmouth-based ships.
‘We haven’t got a carrier strike capability and nor will we have one possibly until 2025 – that’s more than 12 vulnerable years away,’ Cdre Jermy told The News.
He added: ‘The government made a bizarre and stupid decision to sell the Harriers for peanuts to the US. They should’ve been kept as an interim aircraft while we wait for the F-35s.’
In the 2010 defence review which axed the Harriers, the government also decided to change the type of F-35 it wanted from the jump-jet F-35B version to the larger, longer-range F-35C variant.
Reports, which have not been denied by the MoD, say the department is considering reversing that decision to go back to F-35Bs.
This is because F-35Cs require £1.2bn catapults and arrestor gear to be fitted to the new ships, which could inflate their cost to beyond £7bn – almost double the estimate given in 2008.
There is also an issue with a design snag which led to the F-35C’s tailhook failing to catch an arrestor wire in eight recent tests.
The MoD said it is reviewing the F-35 project as part of its planning round for the coming year, which will be announced before Easter.