Stealth Shortage: The British Don't Have Enough F-35 Fighters

Michael Peck

Key point: If London isn't willing to spend for more F-35s then it needs to be firm about which branch is going to get them.

When there aren’t enough F-35s to go around, who should get them: The air force or the navy?

That question is reportedly roiling the British military as the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy dogfight over which F-35 stealth fighters the cash-strapped UK should buy.

The Royal Navy is furious at alleged RAF plans to grab many of the 138 F-35s that Britain is purchasing, according to Britain’s Sky News.

Sources close to the Royal Navy “accused senior Royal Air Force officers of privately pushing for a version of a supersonic warplane that can only fly from the land to be included in an initial purchase of 48 F-35 Lightning II jets, instead of them all being able to operate from ships at sea,” Sky News reported.

The first batch of forty-eight F-35s, which began arriving this year and will run through 2025, are scheduled to be the F-35B, the short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant. STOVL aircraft can operate off the short decks of “ski-jump” carriers like Britain’s new Queen Elizabeth-class vessels, and then land vertically. This makes these ships smaller and cheaper than American-style carriers with their long flight decks, catapults and arresting gear for conventional aircraft launch and recovery.

"This will completely undermine…the whole carrier program," one source told Sky News. “There is no operational reason whatsoever for the RAF to have the ‘A’ [land-based] variant. If it can't fly from an aircraft carrier, it shouldn't be purchased."

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