Naval Air: August 10, 2002


Britain continues to grapple with future aircraft options, and the implications could be far-reaching. The Brits plan to buy two new aircraft in about 2015, one of them to operate on the new carriers and the other to be the Future Offensive Air System that will replace the Tornado GR4. The Navy had long been considered locked into the vertical-landing version of the American F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, if only due to the habit of relying on Harriers. But designers of the two new British carriers are pushing the idea of the US Navy's conventional version of the F-35, since this has considerable advantages in cost, payload, range, and maintenance over the vertical-landing version. As for the FOAS, the two choices are the F-35 and the Tranche-3 version of the Eurofighter Typhoon, and the F-35 (being a generation later than Typhoon) has it beat in every category that can be measured. The Defense Ministry is acting like the F-35 has already been selected, which would be bad news for Typhoon. When time comes to put money into the Tranche-3 (strike bomber) variant of Typhoon, a British decision to drop out could sink the entire program, forcing all of Europe to buy the F-35 (or the French or Swedish aircraft).--Stephen V Cole


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