Special relationship: US fighter jets may use UK carriers for operations
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said no offer had been“made or requested”to allow US planes to use HMS Queen Elizabeth, but sources said letting US pilots fly from the British carrier before the British F-35B fighter jets are ready could benefit the ship's crew by building up their experience.
MoD insiders said the US Marine Corps would be offered the use of HMS Queen Elizabeth for flight operations.
The first sea trials of the new British F-35B planes will begin in 2018, with one squadron expected to be ready to launch air strikes from the carriers by the end of 2020 or the beginning of 2021.
Sources told the BBC that letting US jets operate from the carrier would help improve flight control skills for the new F-35Bplanes during the operational trial period.
It was not a case of “shunting off British jets to fly American ones,” the source added. HMS Queen Elizabeth will be handed over to the Royal Navy in 2017.
BBC Newsnight reports the US Marine Corps would be offered the use of HMS Queen Elizabeth for flight operations and suggested the UK’s F-35B implementation could be further delayed, which the MoD denies.
Former UK Chief of the Defence Staff General Lord Richards told Newsnight that asking US jets to fly from HMS Queen Elizabeth would bridge the gap between the carrier’s launch and a squadron of British jets being made available.
“If we can catch up using American aircraft in the intervening period that would make good sense,” Richards said.
Responding to reports of further delays to the F35 Lightning II program and the possibility of US forces flying from the British carrier, Shadow Defence Secretary Vernon Coaker said: “This fiasco is a direct result of the Tory Government's botched defense decisions.
“In 2010, against all advice, David Cameron switched the type of aircraft to be flown off the carrier from F-35B to F-35C, only to change his mind back again two years later.
“That wasted millions of taxpayer pounds and caused this delay in the delivery of aircraft for the Queen Elizabeth carrier.
“We welcome the co-operation of our US allies in making up for the Tory government's shortfall. But there is no substitute for British-owned aircraft flying off a British-operated aircraft carrier.”
READ MORE:Navy cuts F-35 order nearly in half
Last year reports emerged suggesting American F-35 jets are too heavy and slow to pass performance tests.
The US F-35 program is said to cost $1 trillion according to the US Government Accountability Office. The fleet was grounded in July, marking the eighth time the jets’ operations have been suspended by the Pentagon in recent years.