UK's first stealth jumpjet rolls off line – but we don't want it

First of three supersonic Harrier replacement orphans

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The first ever supersonic stealth jumpjet to be built for the British armed forces has rolled off the assembly line. There's just one snag: Britain decided last year that it would no longer have jumpjets, meaning that the aircraft will never serve with the Royal Navy or RAF.

Regular readers will no doubt recall that ever since the 1990s, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had planned to replace the famous Harrier jumpjet with the Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing (STOVL) version of the upcoming F-35 stealth fighter-attack aircraft, now in flight test, which will equip US forces and many others in coming years. In fact, Britain's interest in the F-35B meant that the lead test pilot on the type is a Brit (Graham Tomlinson, filmed above carrying out the F-35B's first vertical landing.)

But last year the incoming Coalition (in effect, Prime Minister David Cameron, as UK service chiefs need take orders from nobody below that level) decided that the Royal Navy will in future get a carrier equipped with catapults and arrester wires, meaning that it can operate jets fitted with a comparatively simple tailhook and strengthened for deck landings. The UK will now be purchasing the "C" carrier version of the F-35, not the jumpjet B model – though probably in very limited numbers given budget constraints and the decision to keep flying cripplingly expensive Eurofighters and Tornados as well.

The F-35C is probably a good idea as it will be cheaper to own and operate than the F-35B – and will have superior performance as it doesn't need to carry the jumpjet's complex vertical-thrust hardware.

But before the decision last year, the UK had already ordered three F-35Bs, and it is the first of these that has just come off the production line in the USA. Blighty will still get three jumpjets to replace the lost Harriers – now sold off at bargain prices to the US Marines, who can't believe their luck – even if they never go operational. ®

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