On the aircraft carriers and Carrier Strike:
“We are committed to purchasing the carrier-variant [of the F35] and the regeneration of our carrier strike force is at the heart of our defense strategy. We believe it will bring a big gain for NATO and potentially be a big relief to U.S. efforts in the European sphere. We’ve worked with the French to ensure that we will have a European carrier capability [that’s] always available. But of course, we are concerned that any slippage in production or any reduction in U.S. numbers will have an impact [on cost] and with budgets very tight, we’ll be watching very close any movement in the predicted unit costs.”
Regarding the risk of impacts of US spending cuts on the F35C needs of the UK, after the meeting with Panetta and relative discussions and agreements:
“What I’ve heard today is reassuring on that score,”
“We’ve had a confirmation of an in-service date [by 2018] for the carrier variant.”
He said he doesn’t see anything that would “drive a significant increase in unit cost either”, which is easily the most important thing. It appears that the US will in fact delay the purchase of 120 or more of the 423 F35 airplanes they planned to buy in the 2013 - 2017 timeframe. For now at least, it only is a delay, and the planned numbers stand.
Pentagon officials also expressed recognition that such programs are crucial to their allies, Hammond noted.
“If we’re going to have more programs in the future where we’re working collaboratively across a number of nations, then it’s very important that people can be confident that things that happen domestically politically or budgetarily won’t undermine those programs or undermine the position of the allies.”
On the Common Missile Compartment vital for the Successor SSBN (Vanguard replacement):
“There will be no slippage in the design program”
Hammond added that it’s too soon to say whether the compartment would be built in the U.S. or in the U.K. This is very interesting because it introduces the possibility of having a very important block of the future Royal Navy submarine built in American shipyards and shipped through the Atlantic for assembly in the UK, something that is very likely to prove controversial.
On the good side of things, it is quite likely that such an approach would mean lower cost.
Regarding US presence in Europe:
“My understanding is that there will remain two brigades, but in addition to that, there will be some rotating presence” for training and exercises.
This is significant, since it means that 2 US Brigade Combat Teams are to leave Europe, and not only 1 as was expected. 3 Brigade Combat Teams are based in Germany (one is armoured) and the fourth is an airborne BCT based in Vicenza, Italy. The Pentagon has since confirmed, announcing that 2 of the brigades in Europe will be retired, and replaced by units sent in Europe on rotational basis, with the aim of saving money in the long term (one big factor being that rotational units do not bring families along, reducing costs). Panetta refused to announce the brigades selected for withdrawal, but it is considered likely that they will be 170 and 172 Brigades, based in Germany. These two brigades are either deployed or about to deploy, and the Pentagon noted, not without reason, that transferring brigades to the US while they are drawing down from a deployment is the most cost effective approach.
Besides, both brigades are planned to convert into Heavy Brigade Combat Teams, with 172nd to convert in 2013, while 170 conversion is envisaged but on hold.
Anyway, the U.S. still plans to keep facilities available and maintain “significant Air Force capability in Europe,” Hammond said. That element should protect the U.K. from too much impact of American cuts because it hosts mostly U.S. Air Force units on several bases. The loser will be, most evidently, Germany.