All eyes will turn to the Farnborough International Airshow (11-17 July) in less than two weeks. The airshow comes only days after United Kingdom voters decided to remove the UK from the European Union. The referendum, known as “Brexit”, has many defense analysts questioning how defense spending will be handled in the future.
Farnborough is the first major UK defense trade show post Brexit. The event is a formal start to what will be many unknowns about the future of British defense. A successful Farnborough could set the tone for what might be a rocky economic future for British defense in the post European Union world.
Pro-defense Prime Minister David Cameron announced his decision to stand down before October due to the referendum’s outcome. Who and what type of government that succeeds Cameron will have a large emphasis on future UK defense spending. Many analysts feel in the next coming months the UK will see a sharp recession, but that it won’t affect near term defense spending. However, longer-term economic problems could change the current course of defense budgets.
“It is unrealistic to expect that the defense budget can be entirely exempted from the expenditure cuts that will probably be needed in a post-exit spending review,” said Malcolm Chalmers, the deputy director-general of the Royal United Services Institute think tank in London.
Chalmers noted that what happens to the defense budget in the long term depends on the extent of future UK economic performance. However, live aerial displays (or lack thereof) in front of the public can mitigate how much economics plays a part in determining what future capabilities should be procured.
Farnborough International Airshow is one of the world’s largest aerospace and defense trade airshows events where industry experts, buyers and aviation fans all gather together. The show includes hundreds of aerial and static displays over the course of the weeklong event.
Of note, the F-35 is set to make its international debut next week at Farnborough. Two years ago, the F-35 display was cancelled due to the entire fleet being grounded after an engine fire in an F-35A at Eglin Air Force base.
US officials were not keen on sending the single engine aircraft over open ocean with an unknown engine problem. The lack of a second engine has been a focus point for critics in the past, particularly with the US Navy. The US Navy currently has no single engine aircraft in its inventory used in carrier aviation. When operating over open ocean, risk of engine failure is mitigated with a second engine. The F-35, with only a single engine, would change all of that. The British F-35 version would be single engine as well.
Currently, the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy plan to operate 138 F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing aircraft. Imagine if the F-35 cancellation had happened this year just after Brexit? It is hard to imagine a positive outcome for a no show F-35 with the current climate.
However, a strong showing of the F-35 at this year’s Farnborough event would likely go a long way in establishing spending priorities for the much-maligned aircraft. Having the aircraft perform in front of spectators and dignitaries is key to improving public opinion. More importantly, it would solidify to those who have budget control how close Britain is to having this capability.
Additionally, P-8 maritime patrol aircraft and AH-64E attack helicopters contract awards will be announced at the air show next month. Brexit is not expected to change either of those programs because of their maturity.
FighterSweep fans, if you are going, be sure to check the official website for more information.
Top photo: The Red Arrows, photo courtesy SUAS news