Manufacturer confident UK will purchase F-35 jets as expected despite budget pressures

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BRITAIN is unlikely to decrease the number of cutting-edge F-35 stealth fighter jets despite mounting defence budget pressures, the Lockheed Martin UK chief has said.

The UK’s £9.1bn programme to buy 48 of the multi-million pound warplanes by 2025 has come under fire over capability and expense.

Britain's new supersonic 'stealth' strike fighter, the F-35B Lightning II -  SAC Tim Laurence/MoD Crown Copyright/PA Wire

Britain's new supersonic 'stealth' strike fighter, the F-35B Lightning II - SAC Tim Laurence/MoD Crown Copyright/PA Wire

At the moment, 15 of the supersonic jets are being tested in the United States ahead of flight trials off Portsmouth-based aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth due to take place later this year.

With a pledge to purchase 138 of the jets from the US manufacturer Lockheed Martin, the chief of the British arm of the company said he was quietly confident those numbers would not drop.

Speaking to the Press Association, Peter Ruddock said: ‘I am quietly confident that we will see F-35 being delivered in the numbers that we anticipate for some time to come.’

Despite the ongoing Modernising Defence Programme, in which capabilities are currently being reviewed amid a budget black hole, Mr Ruddock said signs from the Ministry of Defence gave him confidence that the pledge stood.

The UK has so far committed to purchasing the F-35B, which uses a short take-off and vertical landing approach - meaning it can operate from both ships and bases.

A report published by the Public Accounts Committee on Friday warned the UK’s armed forces could be almost £21bn short of the money it needed to buy equipment over the next decade.

In a scathing assessment of the state of MoD coffers, MPs warned the government department ‘simply does not have enough money to buy all the equipment it needs’.

Asked whether the financial situation was a concern, Mr Ruddock said Lockheed Martin was ‘respectful’ of the position the MoD found itself in.

He added: ‘I don’t think anyone is questioning the value of the aircraft, and there is a difference between the value and the amount of money you have to pay for something.

‘I think what we have seen in terms of the analysis that we are privy to, is that when the MoD has looked at what capabilities they need in the future, the F-35 rates very highly on that list.

‘Add that to the fact that significant money has been spent on two carriers, two very large carriers - there is a very strong commitment to having those carriers available or at least one of those carriers available at all times.

‘Without the F-35 the capability is significantly diminished, you are not getting value for money.’