BRITAIN is looking to create a new state-of-the-art unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) which could fly from the decks of the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers, it has been revealed.
Defence minister Earl Howe confirmed the move while answering a question in the House of Lords from the former head of the Royal Navy, Admiral Lord Alan West.
The Tory peer was quizzed on whether or not the Tempest next-generation combat aircraft, being developed by the UK, would be compatible with the Queen Elizabeth-class supercarriers.
Responding, Earl Howe said the programme would need to be and that a concept was currently being drawn up – but that it was more likely to see the UAV section of the defence plan being compatible with the carriers, rather than the future fighter jet itself.
Earl Howe said: ‘The combat air acquisition programme is looking at the replacement of Typhoon's capabilities [through development of the Tempest], and any new combat air system will need to be interoperable with the Carrier Enabled Power Projection (CEPP) programme.
‘The concept phase of the acquisition programme will consider Queen Elizabeth carrier basing for any unmanned force multipliers which may form part of the future combat air system.’
His comments have frustrated former First Sea Lord, Lord West, who said the next-generation programme should also include jets that are capable of landing on the carrier.
Lord West has now accused defence chiefs of playing ‘silly games’ and overlooking the ‘need’ to have additional carrier-capable jets created.
Speaking to The News, the Labour peer said: ‘If there is going to be an aircraft produced, I believe it should be capable of operating from the carriers.
‘It seems to me to be bloody bonkers to have them land-based. This has to be looked at very carefully.’
Currently, Britain will be operating a contingent of F-35B stealth jets from the carriers.
The hi-tech warplanes are able to land vertically on the enormous decks of the 65,000-tonne warships much like the former Harrier jump jets used to.
However, due to the design of HMS Queen Elizabeth and her sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales, the two £3.1bn leviathans are unable to land conventional jets that would use a series of catapults and traps to safely touch down on the carrier.
Lord West has previously claimed there were those within the MoD that were not eager to buy more F-35Bs, instead looking at the cheaper F-35A, which would be land-based and unable to operate from the carriers.
Speaking of the latest statement by Earl Howe, he said: ‘It seems that Earl Howe and the MoD is not willing to say, “yes we’re going to get all F-35B”.
‘They’re still playing silly games in the MoD. The RAF is desperate to get the F-35A. That would be completely ridiculous.
‘It’s inconceivable to think that we might not have enough F-35Bs capable of operating off both carriers if we got to war.’