A row has broken out over the F-35s as the Royal Air Force has been accused of wasting money on “outdated” warplanes that cannot take off from the new £3bn aircraft carriers.
Ahead of the highly anticipated Integrated Defence and Security review, sources have told The Telegraph they are concerned about the RAF’s priorities regarding the procurement of F-35s, at a time when the Ministry of Defence’s budget will be coming under scrutiny.
The row centres over two versions of the planes - the F-35A and F-35B - the former being unable to operate from the UK's two 65,000 tonne Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.
There are concerns the RAF may present the ‘A’ as more cost effective to purchase as they look to save money ahead of the review, which sources have deemed “shortsighted”.
One defence industry source told this newspaper that it was therefore “nonsensical” to hear that the “RAF are ramping up their push for the F-35A”.
“Why do they think they need F-35As when they cannot operate them from an aircraft carrier?”
They dismissed as an “excuse” arguments that the ‘As’ were cheaper because the craft does not have the Rolls-Royce lift system which enables the Bs to take off vertically from a short runway, and added that “they only want the ‘A’ because they want their own toys to play with”.
“If you are going to buy F35s you buy them to operate on aircraft carriers. What is the point in buying an outdated aircraft that you can’t send anywhere around the world?”
A separate source claimed they had seen a briefing slide by the RAF that was recently shown to the Treasury which set out the need for F35As and alleged it contained figures that were “invented fact”.
Tobias Ellwood, Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, said he was concerned “that we are even having such conversations”.
“It could very well be that the purchase of F35As makes strategic sense, but only after you’ve established what you want to do with them,” he said.
“I’m afraid it’s a pattern of behaviour that we see within the MoD. Let’s establish what we need to do. Then you can work out the necessary platforms to implement that strategy.
"Let’s have that Integrated Review that allows us to ask these questions which then point to you what our air component of a wider air strategy should be.”
The row comes after a National Audit Office report last month warned the Royal Navy's £3 billion aircraft carriers could be "constrained" by a lack of support fleet.
It also said that the MoD had yet to commit the funding required for enough F-35 lightning II fighter jets to sustain the carriers over their expected 50-year operating life.
The Telegraph understands that there is concern that "without these crucial supporting elements they are not going to use carrier strike in the way they want to use it".
It is understood that the MOD has Treasury approval to complete the Tranche 1 fleet of 48 F-35B aircraft, which are expected to be delivered by 2025, of which the RAF and Royal Navy are in agreement on.
A spokesman for the MoD said: “Decisions on future F-35 numbers and aircraft variant will ensure the right capability for our Armed Forces along with value for money.
"The upcoming Integrated Review will allow the UK to determine the best variant for future F-35 purchases.”