US To Keep JCA Source Code

After years of prevarication, promises and confusion the United States has finally made the decision the UK thought had been settled years ago.

F35B Cutaway

Without access to the source code the UK will be totally reliant and dependant on the US for any changes or modifications to the aircraft. Of enormous complexity the F35 Joint Strike Fighter, or Joint Combat Aircraft in UK terms, uses millions of lines of code to control and manage everything from the engine to the way it flies to how it fires its weapons.

The Second Commons Select Committe Report, published on the 13th of December 2005 (yes that date is correct) highlighted concerns about this exact issue.

We fully support MoD’s position that the ability to maintain and upgrade the JSF independently is vital. We would consider it unacceptable for the UK to get substantially into the JSF programme and then find out that it was not going to get all the technology and information transfer it required to ensure ‘sovereign capability’. This needs to be sorted out before further contracts are signed and we expect MoD to set a deadline by which the assurances need to be obtained. If the UK does not receive assurances that it will get all it requires to ensure sovereign capability, we would question whether the UK should continue to participate in the JSF programme

In 2006, Lord Drayson, the then minister for defence procurement told US officials that the UK commitment was absolutely contingent on having access to the source code.

Subsequently Tony Blair issued this statement

The UK will have the ability to successfully operate, upgrade, employ, and maintain the Joint Strike Fighter such that the UK retains operational sovereignty over the aircraft.

Flight Global, reported on the 12th of December 2006 that.

The UK has cleared a major hurdle over its purchase of Lockheed martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) after years of dispute over the ability to support and maintain the aircraft in the UK

Operational sovereignty is defined as the UK having control over essential aspects of the aircraft so that it can be operated through life at the time of the UK’s choosing, says the Ministry of Defence. Lord Drayson said.

We need to be able to integrate the JSF into the UK operating environment; operate, maintain, repair and upgrade the UK fleet to meet evolving through-life requirements; and certificate the aircraft as safe to fly. After an excellent meeting with Gordon England, I am delighted to be able to sign this MoU which will take the UK into the next phase of the JSF programme.  I have always been clear that the UK would only sign if we were satisfied that we would have operational sovereignty over our aircraft. I have today received the necessary assurances from the US on technology transfer to allow me to sign the MoU.”

In a Ministerial Statement on the 12th of December 2006 from Lord Drayson this was confirmed.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement. Today in Washington DC the Minister for Defence Procurement has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the US Government on the next phase of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme: production, sustainment and follow-on development (PSFD).

This is an important step forward for both the Armed Forces and British industry. The MoU sets out the framework for purchasing JSF and supporting and upgrading it through life. It also provides for the pooling of the nine partner nations’ collective buying power in a common support solution, and of their resources and technology in follow-on development. It does not, however, formally commit the UK to buying any aircraft. Our associated increase in financial commitment at this stage is £34 million.

We have always been clear that the UK would sign the MoU only if we were satisfied that we would have operational sovereignty of our aircraft. We have today received the necessary assurances from the US on technology transfer, which we would require to operate the aircraft safely and maintain, repair and upgrade it over its operational life.

The US seems to have now gone back on this, so much for the special relationship and a signed memorandum of understanding (Production, Sustainment and Follow-on Development, called PSFD MOU)

No partner nation is getting the so-called source code, the key to the plane’s electronic brains, Jon Schreiber, who heads the program’s international affairs, told Reuters in an interview Monday.

That includes everybody,” he said, acknowledging this was not entirely popular among core partners — Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway

Instead, the United States plans to set up a “reprogramming facility,” probably at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, to further develop F-35-related software and distribute upgrades, Schreiber said.

The UK is a Tier 1 Partner and have already invested $2billion in the programme, more than any other partner and have significant industrial benefits as part of this.

At the root of the decision to withold source code are industrial issues, the US simply does not trust other nations, nations with their own aerospace industries, to not use the code in a manner which gives them an advantage over the US.

There are wider issues at stake, a technology transfer agreement could deliver many benefits and is currently being discussed so as usual with these issues, there is more to it than meets the eye.

The F35B is the preferred aircraft to fulfil the RAF and Royal Navy Joint Combat Aircraft Programme to replace Harriers but although this was still the case and absolutely contingent on having sovereign control over the system there still exists a number of other options.

No doubt Dassault and Boeing are dusting off their sales proposals for the F18 and Rafale M.

So do we fold and take it or grow a backbone, any takers for a prediction?


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November 25, 2009 10:25 am

Hardly unexpected, if I were the US I wouldnt hand it over either.
We’d only give it to EADS, who pass it off to anyone in France and France will then sell it to China.

However, the UK has been looking for an out on the F35 for some time now, since the “cheap” option is looking like costing more than the Typhoon.
Theres talk of the first Carrier becoming a helicopter carrier and the second, well, the second wont be launched till the government that follows the next one, at the very best, so I doubt anyone who makes these decionions at the moment could care less.

Helicopter Carrier and the next will get SeaHarriers or something like.

Euan Stewart
November 25, 2009 10:49 am

I must admit this surprises me very little considering how much of a sticky issue this has been over the years. Giving the software access to the UK would no doubt cost the US money it could make from upgrades and updates of which the UK would likely be a nation that would want to keep its fleet updated. I can see why they would block access thanks to the short-sightedness of Robert gates the US will be reliant on the F-35 more than ever so it will need to keep it capabilities hidden to improve its chances if it ever needs to be used in a war. As you can maybe tell I’m no fan of Mr Gates and his decision to end F-22 production. The decision to do so was based on some suspect intelligence about foreign capabilities and the massive hype generated about the F-35 which I have no doubt will be exposed at some point. In some ways I don’t see why the US should block access to the software codes to the UK as we do after all use and share many secretive things with the US things such as the Trident missile. Furthermore the Chinese and the Russians already should know a great deal about the F-35 as they have access to both open source information as well as covertly gathered information. I don’t know how well people remember the massive hacking effort performed by the Chinese that managed to get hold of vast amounts of sensitive F-35 data? I would argue there is little harm in providing the UK access to the software codes.

I would also say to anyone that would see this as a reason to drop the F-35 to take a quick reality check. If we dropped the F-35 based on this then we should also drop the Eurofighter as it does contain some US content and we should also then drop other items that contains US content. The simple fact is that in reality it matters little operationally if we are not allowed access to the software we will still be using US electronics and radar. If we do annoy the US that they do not allow us to integrate weapons then we must also remember that we use US transport aircraft and various bits of technology scattered throughout the military. Furthermore many UK weapons tests and trails are carried out in the US so I see very little problem with this, the aircraft will be in the US to test the weapon so why not integrate it there and maybe save some money. If the F-35 were to be ditched would buying the Rafale or F/A-18 offer the same industrial benefits and would they transfer the software used by the aircraft? I very much doubt they would especially in regards to the Rafale.

Personally I would like the UK to be given access and for us allowed to be able to carry out work for close European allies such as Norway and the Netherlands. The idea being that instead of their F-35’s being sent all the way to the US for integration work they could be sent to the UK generating economic benefits for us. Although as I have said above the aircraft might still end up in the US for weapon testing but I’m trying to cover various views. I still maintain the opinion that we should be using the F-35C version alongside the E-2D with the CVF rather than some half-baked super STOVL carrier. This would also easily open the option for the F-35C to be bought in larger numbers to cover the gap in ground attack aircraft but as agreed in another post it would be wise to stick to a single RAF fast jet.
To summarise I would use this as a stick to poke the current US administration and try and get access again rather than letting them get away with it. In the end I think folding and accepting the aircraft (B or C but preferably C) would still be the marginally better option as the other options still rely on the US in ways. Even if the Rafale was chosen how would it get off the deck? Oh yes US EMALS or US steam catapults.
Hmm! Dominic just got the first comment in before I finished typing this up in Word. Your right there may be few who care but this could be the final straw and the Government could cancel the order outright with some typical political BS. Of course the real reason would be over money because as I’ve said before we rely on the US for other things and this really does not matter a huge deal.

November 26, 2009 1:25 am

So much for the vaunted ” special relationship ” then ! Another good reason to bin it and invest in Typhoons.

November 26, 2009 5:05 pm

An ideal opportunity to cancel the F-35 contract and ask for our £2 billion back! The Navy is now too small to support the operation of the carriers.

Euan Stewart
November 26, 2009 10:34 pm

Michael said “An ideal opportunity to cancel the F-35 contract and ask for our £2 billion back! The Navy is now too small to support the operation of the carriers.” Well we can’t get our money back as it was R&D money and was used to help secure our industrial work share for the project which we would still get according to some reports. I doubt even if we asked and pushed we would get anything back as we don’t lose much and I’ve no idea what the legal position is but I would guess not great. The carriers will get built there is very little left to discuss about that so what we need is an aircraft to fly from them or we could be officially the thickest nation on the planet and use them as LPH’s.

Jed what would we fly from the carriers if we bought more Typhoons? Navalisation could still be an option and could produce an excellent naval fighter but would cost money to develop and could be as big a failure as anything else. I also ask the same question to the Admin who said “Cancellation of the JCA would also have significant impact on the Royal Navy future carriers, we will discuss these implications in other posts.” I suppose I could wait but I’m curious.

November 27, 2009 8:01 am

$2billion is gone, that was spent designing us the STOVL version, in return the F35 uses a lot of parts built in the UK, that doesnt change whether we buy any or not.

The Carriers will get an upgraded SeaHarrier.
Navalised Typhoons would be great, but who’s paying?
We’re the only partner who even dreams of operating carriers.

November 27, 2009 7:18 pm

DominicJ said:

Carriers will get upgrade SeaHarriers, and no one is going to pay for navalised Typhoon.

I wrote two articles for this site which the Admins have not yet posted (hint, hint….)

One is on naval air and prevent the new carriers becoming white elephants, but to answer Dominic:

1. Upgrades Sea Harriers – impossible, Sea Harriers are now museum pieces (literally) or gate guardians. Yes they could embark all remaining Harrier GR9 but they have no radar so are of limited value except close air support to marines.

2. Navalised Typhoon – don’t need to create it, it already exists, its called the Rafale and its getting very good reviews !

By the way both the Spanish and Italians are introducing bigger carriers which could carry F35C, and so could Australian and even Japanese designs.

Euan Stewart
November 27, 2009 8:13 pm

Jed, if you want you can e-mail me what you’ve written I wouldn’t mind having a wee read of it (, I have written something as well it was nothing in particular. One problem with Rafale is would the French be happy to give us access to the full software codes and would they also let us build it in the UK. Furthermore would there be the capacity at BAE to build it and I’m thinking there might not be as they will be producing Eurofighter and F-35 components. Ideally we would do a deal with the French we buy maybe 60 Rafales the same as what the Marine Nationale are getting and in return they order PA2 from a UK yard. The problem with that is ordering a carrier would still be quite a bit below half the Rafale order value even if we did get more industrial offsets. Maybe the A400M could be figured in and we stay at a fixed price and the French absorb some of the costs after all the UK could easily ditch the A400M.

I would only order Rafale if we got access to everything including the software… everything, as well as coming close to parity in offsets. What if the French said we will not get the software codes that, would essentially mean back to square one and if it were between the Rafale and F-35C I know which one I would pick.

If the French did say yes and were happy to share everything with us I would evaluate the Rafales systems and where possible consider switching them to match the Eurofighter. Basically get a few Rafales as evaluation aircraft from the current French order and then decide what if anything we could change that would cause little hassle. I know the French are looking to reduce the rate at which they have to order Rafales so we should be in an excellent position not to mention Rafale has not won any exports yet. I think export orders are close and the RN buying Rafale could boost its chances although it could damage Eurofighter sales which would be very bad indeed. A slight benefit would be the Fact that it would be pretty easy to evaluate the aircraft against the Eurofighter and we could easily find out everything we want to know about performance so both aircraft could be improved.

November 28, 2009 11:39 am

When I say upgraded Sea Harriers, I meant new build ones, with modern upgrades.

November 28, 2009 8:33 pm

Dominic – no new Boeing (ex McDonnel Douglas) – BAe Harrier II’s have been built for years, not sure when the last were delivered, but I doubt the capacity to build new ones remains in existence. If I did I would be happy with two Cavour class carriers equipped with modern Harrier III’s !

November 28, 2009 9:02 pm

According to wiki, oh god, the USMC Harrier was still being produced until 2003, I assume that most of the kit required to build them will still exist.

It may not of course, my knowledge of machine tools extends to things they use to measure the thickness of paint, what a glorious carear I’ve had.