28 Mar 2012

PM calls for more checks on Joint Strike Fighter contract

The MoD had let it be known that there would be a decision on the F35 Joint Strike Fighter before Parliament rose for the Easter break. But Parliament rose yesterday, and announcement was there none.

This is the saga over the Stovl F-35B fighter jets that were ordered, cancelled, replaced with another variant, and are now to be re-ordered again. The problem was that Liam Fox’s preferred jet, the F35-C, which would land with the help of a catapult and wire or “cat and trap,” was discovered to be bad value, probably too slow in delivery, not compatible with allies and over-priced. Liam Fox’s successor, Philip Hammond, has decided that his predecessor’s choice was a big mistake – a £35m mistake by some estimates. He recommended a U-turn to the Prime Minister.

David Cameron is sympathetic but is so stung by previous MoD twists and turns on this one he said he wanted to be utterly confident that they weren’t about to lead him up the garden path again. So he’s ordered five separate work streams double/triple checking that this time, the government is definitely taking the right decision. A few civil servants’ Easter breaks have disappeared and the decision, it is hoped, will be made when Parliament comes back. Not exactly a vote of confidence in the MoD, but David Cameron judges that it’s a lot better than having to U-turn for a third time.

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