What assessment he has made of progress in development of the B-variant of the joint strike fighter aircraft; and how many countries have expressed an interest in its procurement.
Development of the short take-off and vertical landing variant of the joint strike fighter aircraft is progressing well. I saw for myself our third aircraft, of which we have now taken receipt, when I visited Lockheed Martin’s facility in Forth Worth in April, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State also witnessed an F-35B demonstrating its hover capability at Pax River last month.
The STOVL variant, the mainstay of the US Marine Corps, has conducted nearly 3,000 flight hours to date, including vertical landings and short take-offs from the USS Wasp. The US, Italy and the UK are the three nations currently committed to procuring the STOVL variant. The UK is working with all joint strike fighter European partner nations to determine the most cost-effective support solution across Europe.
As my hon. Friend knows, the aircraft will be based at RAF Marham in Norfolk. The precise mix of aircraft embarked will depend on the mission, but the carrier will routinely have 12 fast jets embarked for operations whenever she sails outside of home waters, while retaining the capacity to deploy up to the 36 previously planned, providing combat and intelligence capability much greater than legacy systems. The aircraft carrier will also be able to carry a wide range of helicopters, including up to 12 Chinook or Merlin transports and eight Apache attack helicopters.
Moog aviation based in my constituency will be a major supplier of components to the new short take-off and vertical landing engine fitted on the joint strike fighter. Will my hon. Friend assure the House that he will do all he can to promote the export opportunities for the JSF, which will act as an enormous boost to many aerospace component manufacturers in the west midlands?
The UK is the only tier 1 partner in the joint strike fighter partner programme, which is the largest defence programme in the world. UK industry will provide approximately 15% by value of each JSF to be built, which will secure aerospace industry jobs in this country for decades. Five hundred British companies are already involved in the programme through fair and open competition. Indeed, the UK’s decision to revert to the STOVL variant has increased orders for Rolls-Royce lift system engines for STOVL aircraft, from which the company in my hon. Friend’s constituency will benefit. The British defence industry is exceptionally well placed to benefit from any future export opportunities for this fifth-generation aircraft.
Will the Secretary of State and his team listen to those of us, on both sides of the House, who believe that if we can persuade more of our European partners to switch to the B variant, it will provide a perfect example of how European nations can stand together?
As the hon. Gentleman will know from his work on the Defence Committee, the orders for the aircraft will depend on the capability requirements of the customer nations. Italy is the European nation that is already procuring the same variant as we are; other nations that have declared an interest thus far have different capability requirements.
The Government will make their decisions on the next substantial order by the time of the strategic defence review. We expect to place an order for the first squadron this autumn, so by 2020 we are talking about an expected order of 48 aircraft.