Lord Drayson, the UK minister of defence for procurement, will on Tuesday tell the US Congress that Britain remains concerned about US-UK technology transfer problems that could have an impact on the UK’s participation in the $240bn (£138bn) Joint Strike Fighter programme.
Lord Drayson is expected to testify at a Senate armed services committee hearing into the Pentagon’s plan to cancel an alternate engine for the next generation F-35 fighter jet, which will be used by a number of US allies, including the UK and Israel.
While Rolls-Royce – which, along with General Electric, was supposed to construct the alternate engine – is lobbying Congress to restore funding for the engine in the 2007 budget, Lord Drayson is expected to focus on US restrictions on transferring technology to the UK, which could prevent the UK from making future software adjustments to the aircraft it purchases.
“I appreciate the concerns of some in the US about the issue of technology transfer but I want to best represent the interests of British service personnel and our national security interests,” Lord Drayson will say.
“We must therefore be sure and understand the nature of the commitment from the United Kingdom to the United States, and equally from the United States to the United Kingdom, to ensure that we have the operational sovereignty that we require.”
In written testimony for the committee, Liam Fox, the UK shadow secretary of state for defence, warned that US concerns about sharing sensitive technology could jeopardise the US-UK defence relationship.
“Given that the JSF will be in service for over 30 years it is vital to the UK that we are able to maintain and, most importantly, upgrade this aircraft to meet our own requirements,” Mr Fox wrote.
John Warner, the Republican chairman of the committee, has said his committee will look closely at the Pentagon decision to cancel the alternate engine. Donald Rumsfeld, US defence secretary, recently defended the decision, saying it would save the Pentagon $1.8bn.
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