The Times article:
Britain is to announce plans to replace a fleet of ailing surveillance aircraft in a move that could cause a political row for Theresa May and an outcry from industry if a US model is selected without a competition, The Times understands.
The Royal Air Force is in favour of buying between four and six planes from the US aerospace giant Boeing at a cost of £2 billion to £3 billion. The aircraft will take over the specialist role of running air operations from the sky, according to industry sources.
A decision could be made in time for the international air show in Farnborough next month and after a trip to the UK by President Trump in an attempt to signal strong UK-US relations on defence and trade, they said.
An announcement on the general plan to replace the six Sentry E-3D airborne warning and control system aircraft will form part of the headline conclusions of a defence review that will be released by early next month. This is a change from a 2015 defence review, which had signalled that the aircraft would be upgraded to stretch out their lifetime until 2035.
A decision by the RAF to save money by not investing in support and maintenance for the Sentry fleet over the past ten to fifteen years meant that the aircraft were in a poor state of readiness, with only one or two available for operations at any one time, defence sources said.
The potential choice of Boeing’s E-7 Wedgetail as a replacement would receive a cool reception from the Democratic Unionist Party, which is propping up Mrs May’s government. The US aerospace company was accused last year of endangering 4,000 jobs at the Belfast plant of Bombardier, a smaller Canadian aerospace competitor, amid a row over subsidies that also pitched the UK government against the Trump administration.
Gavin Robinson, the DUP’s defence spokesman and a member of the Commons defence select committee, said that he would hold the government to its pledge that the American company would face consequences for its actions over Bombardier. “I can’t speak for the rest of the defence select committee, but to proceed [with the purchase] in the absence of a competition would be a grave error,” Mr Robinson said.
Airbus, which has a strong presence in the UK, would also be infuriated at a move to select Boeing without a competition, a second defence source said.
A Boeing spokesman said: “We would welcome any opportunity to work hand-in-hand with the government and our UK industry partners to provide this critical capability to the Royal Air Force.”
An MoD spokesman said of the plans: “This is pure speculation.”