Nov 29, 2014
Royal Navy May Ask US Marines to fly its F-35B on new HMS Queen Elizabeth Following Delays on Deliveries to UK
MoD insiders said the US Marine Corps would be offered the use of HMS Queen Elizabeth for flight operations.
The UK plans to have its first F35 squadron operational by 2018, but there may be further delays.
The plan is for one squadron of British F35s to be ready for service at sea by 2021. But even if it is achieved, it will create a gap of years where the Queen Elizabeth is ready but British squadrons are not.
In February, BBC's Newsnight was told that it would be placed "within days". But persistent doubts about the F35's enormously complex software, and an engine fire this summer caused successive delays to the decision.
When the British purchase was announced, last month, it was for just four of the planes. The MoD says that this order will allow trials to start from the Queen Elizabeth on time with "UK F35Bs, flown by UK pilots".
But the slowdown in the expected purchasing rate is bound to delay the aircraft's entry into squadron service.
Asking US jets to fly from the Queen Elizabeth would be a sensible way of bridging the gap between the carrier being completed, and a British squadron of jets being available.
However, the MoD said on Wednesday that it was "not aware" of any further delay to the timetable for the first operational squadron.
Even if the timetable is kept, senior naval officers are nervous that a gap in capability during 2018-2021.
With a Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) expected to get under way in 2015, the huge ships, which have long been the subject of controversy in Whitehall, are likely to come under fresh scrutiny.