Boeing success shot in arm for UK aerospace firms

Britain's aerospace industry stands to win orders worth tens of millions of pounds following Boeing's success in being shortlisted for the Joint Strike Fighter project.

The huge programme to build a next generation fighter jet for the US Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy and the Royal Navy could eventually be worth $150bn (pounds 90bn). Boeing, which is in competition with Lockheed Martin for the programme, has won a $660m contract to develop its own version of the JSF and says that about 15 per cent of the work will be sub-contracted overseas, mainly in the UK. Among the British aerospace groups selected by Boeing so far are Rolls-Royce, GEC-Marconi and Dowty. British Aerospace was teamed with McDonnell Douglas, which was surprisingly knocked out of the contest last month when the US government narrowed the shortlist to two. But BAe confidently expects to play an important role as a sub- contractor to one of the two remaining contenders. Mickey Michellich, Boeing's JST programme manager, refused to be drawn on whether it had approached BAe.

"We are in competition with Lockheed and when it is appropriate to make an announcement we will do so," he said. He added that the proportion of the work undertaken overseas would rise from the present figure. The US and UK requirement is for 3,000 aircraft. The JSF will replace a number of aircraft in service today including American F-18 and A6 fighters and the Royal Navy's Sea Harrier. The UK requirement is for 60 aircraft.

Boeing and Lockheed have each been awarded four-year development contracts which, in Boeing's case, will involve the building of two test aircraft - a short take-off and landing variant and a aircraft-carrier based variant. Production contacts are due to be awarded in 2001 with the aircraft entering service around 2008. It will have a 600-mile range and will be armed with 11,000 pounds of ordnance and a 20mm gun.