Ministers are preparing to back down on a controversial decision over the type of jet that will be flown from the Royal Navy's new aircraft carriers, according to reports.
Ministry of Defence chiefs are said to be pressing the government to drop plans to buy the F35C fighter jet in favour of the F35B short take-off, vertical landling (STOVL) version, as planned by the previous Labour government.
A Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesman said all programmes were being reviewed, "including elements of the carrier strike programme" and according to the BBC ministers have debated a possible U-turn.
A reassessment of the programme ordered by the prime minister has uncovered that the F35C would cost an additional £1.8bn, would lack compatibility with France's aircraft carrier and would not be likely to come into service until 2025.
A senior defence official - who did not want to be named - warned of the risks of "sky-rocketing" budget costs. The source said: “It [a reversion to the F35B] is fully endorsed by the Chiefs of Staff, importantly including the Royal Navy and RAF.”
A reported £250mhas been spent on the redesign of the carriers since 2010, and Mr Cameron derided Labour’s choice of the vertical landing aircraft as “wrong” and giving Britain a “more expensive and less capable version of the Joint Strike Fighter”.
“This U-turn would be a humiliation for the prime .inister,” Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy warned.
“The rushed defence review is falling apart. Britain’s aircraft carrier programme is one of the most strategically important elements of national defence but prime ministerial hubris has combined with departmental incompetence and left British air power at sea downgraded" he added.
Last year, a cross-party group of MPs said the full costs of scaling back Britain's aircraft carrier programme were not fully understood by the Government. The Commons Public Accounts Committee said that there remained "considerable uncertainty" about the costs of modifying one of the new ships to accommodate the different kind of fighter jet. It accused the MoD of focusing on "short-term" affordability in drawing up options for the SDSR to cover a £38 billion black hole in its budget.