March 14, 2006

Britain says needs tech pact to buy US fighter

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Britain's top weapons purchasing
official said on Tuesday his country would be unable to buy the
F-35 Joint Strike Fighter unless agreement was reached on
technology transfers with the United States.

The Minister for Defense Procurement, Lord Drayson, told
U.S. lawmakers that this agreement was necessary for Britain to
maintain control over key military assets and adjust the
fighter to its needs.

"Without the technology transfer, to give us the confidence
to deliver an aircraft fit to fight on our terms, we will not
be able to buy these aircraft," Drayson told a Senate Armed
Services Committee hearing.

Drayson said he had meetings scheduled with U.S. defense
officials this week and was optimistic these issues could be
worked out.

The F-35 is a U.S.-led effort to develop a family of
radar-evading, supersonic, multi-role warplanes with
co-financing from eight other countries -- Britain, Italy, the
Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway.

Lockheed Martin Corp. is the lead contractor.

Britain has already spent $2 billion on developing the
F-35, making it a "level one" participant in the program.

The Senate hearing was called to examine the Bush
administration's decision to cancel funding for a second F-35
engine being developed by General Electric Co. and Britain's

Drayson said Britain had expected to be consulted on the
engine decision given his country's status in the F-35 program,
but it had not.

Britain would continue to push for funding of the second
engine in addition to one being built by Pratt & Whitney, part
of United Technologies Corp., Drayson said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said dropping
the second engine would save $1.8 billion but backers of an
alternate power plant say it could save the F-35 fleet from
grounding in the event of a significant flaw with the Pratt &
Whitney engine.