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UK reverses decision on US fighter jet deal

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Lockheed Martin's F- 35 Lightning II.

LONDON (AP): Britain's Defence Secretary is ditching plans to buy a particular type of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, reverting to an original plan previously criticized by Prime Minister David Cameron.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told lawmakers Thursday that Britain would no longer purchase F-35C variants of the Lockheed Martin Corp. fighter jet, because the cost of modifications needed to accommodate the plane were about 2 billion pounds (USD 3.2 billion).

The jet's design means aircraft carriers needed to be fitted with catapults and arrester gears.

Hammond said Britain would instead purchase F-35B jump jets, which don't required modifications to ships and are compatible with US and French vessels.

That option was championed by Britain's previous Labour Party government, but dumped by Cameron after he took office in 2010. At the time, Cameron said the F-35C model was "more capable, less expensive, has a longer range and carries more weapons."

"The facts have changed and therefore so too must our approach," Hammond told lawmakers. "This government will not blindly pursue projects and ignore cost growth and delays."

Labour's defence spokesman, legislator Jim Murphy, said the Conservative-led government's decision to revert to the previous administration's plan highlighted Cameron's "chaotic" handling of the military.

Britain's defence ministry said no decision had yet been taken on how many F-35 jets will be purchased.

Australia, Canada, Turkey, Italy, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands are all also involved in the Joint Strike Fighter programme, which has been troubled by cost hikes and delivery delays.

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