Alex Massie

A Case for Scrapping the Joint Strike Fighter?

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Cato's Tad DeHaven and Think Defence each have good posts on the future of the increasingly troubled Joint Strike Fighter. Costs have risen by 50% since 2001 and the plane is already looking like it will be delivered years late. Since the main justification for the JSF was that it was going to control costs this is a problem. The Americans will stick with it, but does that mean we have to? At present we seem to be heading for the worst of all possible worlds. As Think Defence puts it:

It does not take a genius to work out that volumes will be reduced and we all know where that ends, a procurement death spiral where increasing development costs have to be spread over fewer and fewer production orders driving the cost up and so on.

Quite. TD suggests that maybe we don't even need the damn JSF anyway. What about a reconfigured, updated Harrier? There's obviously something to that, but I suspect the Top Brass is committed to the idea of a new plane to match the shinyness of the new carriers. (Furthermore I suspect that we remain committed to the JSF because wavering on that front might jeopardise the carriers too.)

There are other options, mind you. This is one area in which the idea of sunk costs really does have some merit. We can't get the billions already contributed to the JSF fund back and so all we're doing is maintaining an exceedingly expensive commitment to the Americans and subsidising, at enormous cost, a few thousand jobs in the defence industry. Maybe that's worth it, but what if it's not?

What if we abandoned the JSF and purchased the French Dassault Rafale? At least it is a plane that flies. It's hardy cheap but it must be less risky than the JSF even if, notionally at least, the JSF is half a generation ahead of the Rafale.

But of course this isn't simply a military matter. There's lots to be said for a much closer relationship with the French but are we, cold we, would be be ready to make such a volte-face? A greater euro-defence capability would be a fine thing, but that can only really come about, I suspect, is the UK and the French work together. And that's not likely to happen while we look west not south. Could there be a downside to this? For sure. And would it bring all sorts of other, complicated, difficult, nerve-wracking decisions about what Britain is about in the world today and how european are we and all the rest of it? For sure twice over.

All of which are reasons, I suspect, for sticknig with the JSF even though it is likely to be ruinously expensive, late and who knows what else. Buying French would be more sensible but more difficult. Easier, then, to do the expensive thing that also, happily, avoids all manner of other difficult questions.

Over to you, Brother Korski...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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