The Harrier jump jet aircraft which played such a vital role in the recapture of the Falkland Islands from the Argentines in 1982 is to be replaced by what the British Defence Secretary, Mr Geoff Hoon, has described as the best aircraft of its type in the world with the agility of a light fighter and the punch of a bomber.
It is a new supersonic American Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) being developed by two rival United States companies, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Demonstrator aircraft from both consortia have completed initial flight trials.
Britain has announced agreement with the United States to join in the next stage of its development at a cost of 1.3 billion pounds (nearly two billion dollars) and spend another 600-million pounds (900 million dollars) on specific British requirements such as the air weapons system. If the British Government goes ahead with its plan to buy 150 of the aircraft for carrier and land-based operations, the total development and production cost to Britain will be 9-billion pounds (13.5 billion dollars).
The new sea-borne aircraft would be flown from the two large aircraft carriers the Government has said it will order in the next few years to replace the carrier which fought in the Falklands Conflict, HMS Invincible, and her sister ships, HMS Ark Royal and HMS Illustrious. Only one of the two aircraft has the short take-off and landing capability of the Harrier.
It is expected to be the largest defence contract in United States history. The Pentagon has plans to buy up to 3,000 of the new aircraft at a cost of 300-billion dollars, replacing the F-16 and the US Navy version of the Harrier, the AV8B manufactured in the United States.
The multi-role, all -weather Joint Strike Fighter, will have "stealth" capability to avoid radar detection. It will replace the Sea Harrier and the RAF's ground attack Harrier from 2012. In the meantime, the Royal Air Force will be taking delivery of the new Eurofighter, developed with its European allies, from 2002.
British participation in the engineering and manufacturing development of the new Joint Strike Aircraft gives opportunities to secure sub-contracts to some 70 British companies including BAE SYSTEMS, Rolls Royce, Smiths Industries, Messier Dowty International, Cobham PLC, TRW ASG (Lucas Aerospace) and the Martin-Baker Aircraft Company. The United Kingdom will retain the military and industrial capability to manage the aircraft effectively through life.
In the meantime the British Defence Ministry continue to study a range of options for the