Britain is threatening to pull out of the US$200 billion Joint Strike Fighter program if the US continues to refuse to share technology, the UK’s Sunday Telegraph reported yesterday.

Australia is one of the consortium of nine nations working on what will probably become the largest project in military history. What’s the problem?

“As the program starts to move from development into production, there is growing tension between America and its most important partner, the UK. At issue is the Pentagon’s apparent reluctance to share sensitive defence technology with Britain,” the Telegraph reported.

“In particular, what the British government wants is access to the software codes that would allow it to maintain and upgrade the aircraft without having to depend on US manufacturers…”

The implications for Britain – and presumably Australia – are significant, the Telegraph quotes A T Kearney consultant Gareth Evans (no relation!) as saying:

Although you may be a partner, you could end up as a “metal bashing” partner if you do not have proper access to the high-value electronics and computing parts of the aircraft.

For every $1 that you spend at the beginning buying a system, you spend $4 through its life [maintaining and upgrading the aircraft]. The last thing you want to do is expose yourself to having to buy expensive support from America throughout the life. And you lose sovereignty.

So it’s not only wealth creation that you give up in your own country, but you lose sovereignty.