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UK changes military leadership amid row over US jet import

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Queen Elizabeth II, commander in chief of the British armed forces, has reportedly approved sweeping changes to the British military leadership amid a row over military imports from the US.

The British military has changed its top commanders amid a widening row over the import of F-35 fighter jets from the United States.

Reports on Monday said that four new senior chiefs had been appointed to lead the UK military forces, including the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy.

Air Marshal Michael Wigston will lead the RAF while Vice Admiral Tony Radakin would become Britain’s first sea lord and chief of naval staff. All the commanders are approved by the Queen Elizabeth II, who is the commander of the British armed forces, and they will take up their posts next year, according to the Ministry of Defence.  

The new commanders were appointed with a stated mission of improving the British army’s capabilities in dealing with increasing threats.

However, the appointments come amid a widening row between the RAF and the Royal Navy over which type of US-made F-35 fighter jets the UK should prefer in its future purchases.

The RAF reportedly prefers jets that are known as type A and exclusively fly from land, while the Navy has repeatedly insisted that all the 138 jets being produced for Britain in the US should be of type B, which is also capable of flying from aircraft carriers.

The file photo shows an F-35B fighter jet on board HMS Queen Elizabeth military base.

The row is believed to have irritated US authorities as Washington expects the UK to have the F-35B in all of its purchases. However, senior officers in the British air force believe the plane is not as efficient as F-35A while it also incurs huge costs and is £20 million more expensive at a £90-million price tag.

“If the RAF go for the A variant at the expense of the carriers, which is effectively what they are saying, this will be perceived by the US as a major betrayal,” a source told Sky News last week, insisting that the RAF is expected to drastically change its approach to the issue or face a backlash from a government which is unwilling to annoy the US, its main military ally, at a time when Britain is leaving the European Union and is struggling to reach a comprehensive trade agreement with Washington.

The Ministry of Defence told the Sky News last week that the policy for the F-35 fighter jets remained to be for British armed forces to receive the carrier-capable B variant.

A first batch of the stealth fighter jets, a total of 48 planes, is being delivered to the UK by the American company Lockheed Martin in a time-table that will continue until 2025.

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