U-turn: David Cameron eating crow.....has agreed to scrap the aircraft that were due to fly off carriers and replace them with jump jets that he had previously rejected.....
David Cameron has agreed to an embarrassing U-turn on the future of the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers.
The Prime Minister has decided to reverse a decision on the type of jets due to fly from the two warships.
In doing so he has returned to a plan by Labour that he once derided as an ‘error’.
Senior Downing Street sources say Mr Cameron has decided to follow military advice and abandon plans to buy the conventional F-35C Joint Strike Fighter after costs soared by £1.8billion.
Instead, the Government will revert to the F-35B version which takes off and lands like a Harrier jump jet. This proposal had been controversially axed by the Coalition in 2010.
The U-turn will be especially embarrassing because the jump jet was Labour’s choice – one that Mr Cameron overturned.
A senior security source said the U-turn will be signed off by the National Security Council in the next two to three weeks. ‘All the evidence points in one direction,’ the source said. ‘It will have to be formally looked at by the NSC.’
Mr Cameron had resisted calls by Defence Secretary Philip Hammond to abandon the F35C.
Scrapped: The PM has followed military chiefs in abandoning plans to buy the conventional F-35C Joint Strike Fighter, pictured in a U.S. Navy test flight, after costs soared by £1.8billion
If the government had opted to press on with the refit of the HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, pictured in an artist's impression, it could have delayed the carriers by another seven years
No 10 officials said the rising cost of the aircraft and the fact that the conventional version is so delayed had forced a change of heart.
Pressing on with the plan could have delayed the £6.2billion HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales by another seven years – until 2027. This was considered ‘untenable, militarily and politically’, said a source.
‘The major problem with the conventional aircraft is that we would be without carrier capability for far too long,’ the Downing Street source said.
The cost of fitting the 65,000-ton carriers with catapults and arrester wires so the F-35C could be safely launched and land had trebled from around £600million. The programme would also have provided only one operable carrier because of these costs.
Humiliation: Labour's Jim Murphy said the decision showed the ' the Government acted without strategy and in haste
The F-35C warplanes are also too heavy to land on the deck of France’s Charles de Gaulle carrier. Compatibility with the French vessel was a key reason for ministers switching aircraft in the first place.
The latest decision will also heighten criticism of the Government for selling its fleet of 70 Harriers - instrumental in winning the Falklands War - to the U.S. for just £100million last year.
Top brass are understood to be ready to present Mr Cameron with the ‘overwhelming’ case to switch aircraft even though the jump jet cannot fly as far and carries fewer bombs.
One senior official said: ‘It [a reversion to the F-35B] is fully endorsed by the Chiefs of Staff, importantly including the Royal Navy and RAF.’ The Prime Minister is not expected to make a formal announcement until next month at the earliest.
Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy said: ‘This U-turn would be a humiliation for the Prime Minister.
‘The Government acted without strategy and in haste. The aircraft carrier programme goes to the heart of our ability to act in the world but is now confused and incoherent.
‘Prime Ministerial hubris has combined with departmental incompetence and left British air power at sea degraded.’
An MoD spokesman said the cash-strapped department was finalising its 2012-13 budget and ‘reviewing all programmes, including elements of the carrier strike programme, to validate costs’.....LOL