MILITARY chiefs and leaders of a major defence firm have faced stinging criticism from MPs over a PR disaster for the UK’s new F-35b stealth jet.
The defence committee grilled bosses from Lockheed Martin over the firm’s lacklustre response to claims the new jets would bust budgets and be too heavy to land vertically, safely, on the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers.
It comes after claims made by The Times earlier this year, which prompted the committee’s hearing.
Responding, top leaders of the company from the UK and US said the jets were capable of landing on Britain’s new supercarrier and they were confident the price would drop as production continues.
Justifying its inaction over claims by The Times, Peter Ruddock, Lockheed Martin’s UK chief executive, said the company did not respond to every one of its critics as it was ‘counter-productive’. He added the fears raised by the newspaper ‘weren’t an issue’.
But this outraged MP Ruth Smeeth, who lambasted the firm for its public relations blunder and not issuing a ‘one-line’ response.
‘If we’re at a point where the general public believe that these new aircraft can’t land on the aircraft carrier, then something has gone very, very wrong with your communications plan,’ she said.
Responding, Jeff Babione, executive vice-president and general manager of the F-35 programme, said a letter had gone into the paper.
But he said: ‘We probably could have done a better job.’
Committee members also quizzed MoD top brass on systems used to pass critical information from the F-35b to the older Typhoon jets.
There were concerns the older equipment used on the Typhoons could compromise F-35s on stealth missions.
When asked if there were plans to improve the Typhoons’ communications systems and add a new piece of kit to the jets, Air Commodore Lincoln Taylor said it was an ambition but that it hadn’t been specifically looked into.
MP Mark Francois said: ‘We’re going to have, in a few years, a fleet of F-35s and Typhoons. So the ability of the F-35 to talk discreetly to Typhoon seems to me to be fundamental. It sounds like you’re behind the curve here.’
The UK is set to purchase 138 of the new fighter jets (pictured below). Britain has 12 now, with another two jets due to be delivered by the end of the year.