Back to Plan B

Britain has abandoned equipping its new class of aircraft carriers with the catapults and arresting gear needed to operate the F-35C strike fighter, opting instead to procure the F-35B short-takeoff, vertical-landing variant once again, declared Defense Minister Phillip Hammond May 10. The UK government’s original decision in 2010 to abandon the F-35B in favor of the longer range, carrier-optimized F-35C “was right at the time, but the facts have changed and therefore so, too, must our approach,” said Hammond, in announcing the decision to the British parliament. Hammond reasoned that the estimated cost of fitting Britain’s two Queen Elizabeth II-class carriers with electromagnetic catapults had “doubled” since 2010, outweighing the anticipated operational benefits. The F-35C “no longer represents the best way . . . and I am not prepared to tolerate a three-year further delay to reintroducing our carrier strike capability,” he said. Britain’s first F-35B is scheduled to enter service this summer, beginning carrier trials aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth II in 2018, according to Hammond.