Two of the largest firms in Bristol’s aerospace industry will benefit from the government’s controversial U-turn over the UK’s next-generation fighter aircraft.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond yesterday said the F35-C had hit development problems and it would be cheaper in the long term to order F35-B jump jets, as originally planned by Labour.
The cost of the U-turn is likely to be about £100m, he told BBC News.
The Labour Party said it was an “omnishambles” which risked “international ridicule”. But the move is likely to benefit hundreds of workers in Bristol.
This move benefits Rolls-Royce’s Patchway plans where the plane’s short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) technology is being developed.
GKN Aerospace at Filton is to produce precision machined parts for UK defence giant BAE Systems, a principal subcontractor to the fighter plane’s US manufacturer Lockheed Martin.
The Government last year decided the Ministry of Defence should save money by ditching its multi-billion pound order for F-35Bs in favour of a longer-range, conventional take-off and landing variant.
However, that has now been scuppered by the soaring cost of adapting one of the new 65,000 tonne Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers now under construction for conventional use with catapults and landing gear.
Original cost estimates of £400m for the work spiralled to nearly £2bn – and Mr Hammond today said the cost of switching the order back to the jump-jet version would be around £100m.
“When the facts change, the responsible thing to do is to examine the decision made and be willing to change, however inconvenient that may be,” said Mr Hammond.
But shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said Mr Cameron should now apologise for the government’s “incompetence”, saying that the prime minister had ignored warnings from the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office about the “high risk and high cost” of opting for the F-35C.
“It is as incoherent as it is ludicrous,” he said. “The prime minister’s decisions have cost British time, British money, British talent and British prestige.
“Describing this government’s defence strategy as an omnishambles would be a compliment.
Additional reporting by Bristol Business News