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U.K. may drop the STOVL F-35 for carrier variant

August 6, 2009 (by Eric L. Palmer) - The U.K. may dump the F-35 Short-Take-off and Landing (STOVL) Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) also known as the F-35B.

F-35C - CV

The British newspaper, The Telegraph, has reported that an announcement will be made by the Ministry of Defence this autumn.

What will the MoD suggest as a replacement aircraft for its proposed two new aircraft carriers? The F-35C. This is the U.S. Navy variant of the F-35 that uses catapults to launch it off the ship and arresting wires for landing.

Claimed advantages of the F-35C include a lower cost per airframe, longer range and larger payload. It is also seen as an advantage to have another catapult capable set of aircraft carriers so as to better interact with the U.S. Navy and the French. Of course no variant of the F-35 has enough flight testing complete to lay claim to any significant advantage one way or another.

This will have a massive impact on the maker of the F136 Rolls-Royce / General-Electric alternate engine for the F-35. RR and GE have claimed that their engine would give more power to the STOVL F-35B. This would also have an effect on jobs in the U.K. as well as the U.S.

Without the need by the U.K. for the STOVL F-35 combined with the U.S. 2010 Defense budget that when approved may kill U.S. funding of the F136, the alternate engine is sure to die. This was a veto hot button issue of President Obama.

Rolls Royce also makes lift components for the STOVL variant of the Pratt and Whitney F135 jet engine. PW is the prime power-plant for the F-35 program.

If the U.K. military does get out of the STOVL combat jet business, this will mean costs for the F-35B for the United States Marine Corps will rise sharply.

There is no word how this will effect Italy—one of the nine F-35 partner nations that has considered a STOVL variant of the F-35. Israel had also considered a STOVL F-35 as part of their evaluation of the program. Some years ago, the then head of the United States Air Force, General Jumper, considered changing a quantity in the hundreds of their F-35 orders to the STOVL variant based on lessons learned from the initial invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Another giant question. What happens if the F-35C doesn't deliver on the promise due to any number of problems that can strike down a complex defence program? This brings two existing carrier fighters into play. The French Rafale and the U.S. F-18E/F Super Hornet.