UK stealth jets must be repaired in US... despite being made by British arms firm

© Andrew Winning
Electronic systems in Britain’s multi-billion pound F-35 Lightning fighter jets will have to be sent to the US for repair despite being made by UK arms firm BAE Systems.

The revelations came as BAE explained the vital importance it places on its US-based electronic warfare (EW) division.

Also revealed was the fact that Britain is not privy to the inner workings of the technology mounted on its own aircraft.

The issue appears to be that despite BAE being a UK firm, the technology is produced by its US wing and is therefore subject to American International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

The rules mean some customer states can have “no knowledge of the workings of the innards” of EW technology.

Tom Arseneault, operational head of the US branch, BAE Systems Inc, told the Telegraph on Wednesday: “In the F-35 the EW system will be treated like ‘black boxes’. When they need servicing, they will have to be unbolted and sent off and a new one put on.

This mean Royal Air Force (RAF) engineers can't service the equipment they work with.

Britain is buying 140 of the much-delayed, controversy-wracked aircraft for a cost of upwards of £100 million each.

The row over ITAR restrictions has raged for many years. While the Bush administration was in favor of full technology transfer, the move was blocked in 2006 over concerns the inner workings of the jet – which the US also operates – would leak out to the wider world if given to Britain.

One of the variations of the F-35 L is earmarked for use on the UK’s equally controversial and also much-delayed aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.

In March 2015, a report by MPs noted the cost of operating the UK’s carriers had escalated due to the increasing price of F-35 fighter jets.

Each carrier is designed to accommodate up to 36 F-35s. But the MoD [Ministry of Defence] has so far agreed to purchase only eight F-35s with more to be purchased in due course.

Each F-35 is estimated to cost in excess of £100 million, implying a cost of many billions to equip the carriers,” MPs said.

There is no point in having the carriers without jets,” the committee quotes senior naval officer Admiral George Zambellas as saying.