DELAYS in announcing what type of fighter jets to buy for the Royal Navy is creating extra costs to the £6bn aircraft carrier programme, the defence secretary has warned.
For months, Philip Hammond has been locked in a Whitehall review over which version of the US-built Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) it wants.
And he revealed his frustration to The News that the prolonged uncertainty was becoming costly.
He said: ‘I would like the decision to be made as soon as possible because the sooner we can be certain about how the programme is going forward, the sooner we can start driving costs out.
‘Uncertainty creates cost and the sooner we can close down the uncertainty the better.
‘We’ve been reviewing the options over a period of months.
‘The National Security Council will consider the issue and will come to a conclusion which we will then announce to parliament.’
In October 2010, the coalition government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review axed Labour’s original plans to buy F-35Bs – the jump jet version of the JSF. Instead, the government wanted F-35Cs, a conventional carrier jet which has a longer range than the F-35B, can carry larger bombs and enables Britain to share carrier capability with the US and France.
Unlike F-35Bs, F-35Cs require catapult and stopping gear – cats and traps – to be fitted to ships to take off and land.
There is speculation the equipment could now cost an extra £2bn, but Mr Hammond was unable to confirm this figure.
Although he did suggest the government can only afford to fit cats and traps to the navy’s second carrier, HMS Prince of Wales.
This would render HMS Queen Elizabeth useless if Britain decided to stick with F-35Cs.
Mr Hammond said: ‘Clearly, fitting cats and traps to one carrier is an expensive proposition. Retrofitting them to Queen Elizabeth would be a more expensive proposition and that’s one of the issues we’ve got to take in to account.’