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GORDON TAKES THE HELM

GORDON TAKES THE HELM
By Julian Nettlefold, Editor, BATTLESPACE

02 May 07. As the U.K. waits with baited breath for Tony Blair to announce his final curtain, hopefully not taking after Frank Sinatra, attention will now turn to his obvious successor Gordon Brown and how he will tackle defence issues as Prime Minister.

As Anatole Kaletsky says in the Times this morning, ‘Repudiating the Bush-Blair foreign policy legacy is now the top priority for any American politician who wants to run for president in 2008. The same will be true in Britain when Mr Brown ahs to face the voters in 2009.’

A source told BATTLESPACE yesterday that he expects an immediate Defence Review to take place soon after Gordon Brown takes up his post. This will take 6 months and result in a temporary stay on spending.

One of the high-profile projects that will be closely examined will be the CVF and accompanying JSF buy. As my source told me, ‘You cannot build the size of the ships they want for £3.8bn and had Rosyth not been involved the project may have died some time ago.’

Defense News carried a story which contributes to the UK’s concern over the STOVOL F-35B variant. While the Navy and Marine Corps continue their debate over the JSF, at least two members of the 11-nation JSF partnership have a far deeper interest in the survival of the STOVL plane.

Britain is making an enormous investment — $7.7 billion in ship construction costs alone — in building two 65,000-metric-ton aircraft carriers intended to operate the F-35B. Later this year, Italy expects to commission the 27,000-metric-ton carrier Cavour, specifically intended to operate JSFs as a replacement for its aging carrier-capable AV-8B Harriers.

The planned 131-aircraft Italian JSF order — 22 STOVLs and 109 conventional aircraft for the Air Force — is strictly linked to the need to replace the Harriers, Italian Defense Undersecretary Lorenzo Forcieri said Jan. 16. The British are even more dependent on the F-35B, as they have chosen to build their two carriers without the steam catapults planned for the French Navy’s similar PA2 ship.

Evidence of British concern for the health of the F-35B program was published by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) April 27. MoD said it “remained fully committed to the carrier program” but added, “The department continues to closely monitor the
U.S. STOVL requirements and the performance of the STOVL variant.” With no other STOVL strike fighter in development, loss of the F-35B would mean British planners could choose to install catapults — early design work on the ships accounted for this possibility — and decide between the French Rafale, F/A-18 or another competitor.

British support for the F-35B is seen by many observers as a key element in the survival of the variant in last year’s Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). Although the QDR was completed over a year ago, the British carrier program remains a major ingredient in the STOVL program.

A British government official said Pentagon officials “periodically seek updates from the British government on the status of the carrier program — a move that some have suggested has less to do with Britain’s interest in building the ships than whether London is wavering on the raison d’être for the JSF STOVL program.”

Inside the Pentagon, Navy and Marine Corps planners continue to debate the issue, which soon could move to Capitol Hill. Sources close to service leaders Adm. Mike Mullen of the Navy and Gen. James Conway of the Marine Corps say both officers are seeking to avoid public disagreement on the JSF program and other issues and are working to find common ground. “This is a 20-year discussion,” said an industry analyst. “It’s not going to be over just because the Navy did a briefing.”

This signals two factors, one, the possibility that the existing CVF design may be scrapped in exchange for a bigger and better HMS Ocean ship which would handle GR9 Harriers and not JSF whose price ha

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