l WHAT is the special relationship between Britain and the United States worth? This question was being asked with increasing anxiety in Britain's defence industry when it became known this week that the US military budget for next year did not include provision for an engine research programme for the new Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) which is a joint venture between the United States and Britain as major partners, with eight other countries contributing to the project. Lockheed Martin is the US contractor, having beaten off a bid by Boeing. The engine research programme envisaged the participation of Rolls Royce and, according to London and Washington sources, its importance to the UK has been underlined by Tony Blair in conversations with President Bush and has also been the subject of meetings between defence minister John Reid and his opposite numbers in Washington. It is very unlikely that the omission of the US$2.4 billion engine research programme from the US budget was an oversight; nor is it likely that it will be added to the budget in the course of Congressional examination and approval. There are two levels of concern in the British government about this development. One, obviously, is the effect on jobs at Rolls Royce and other companies. The second is more fundamental; if the engines of the JSF have been developed without UK participation it will be extremely difficult for the RAF to have operational independence since all maintenance would require the assistance of Lockheed Martin specialists. The sticking point with Lockheed Martin appears to be anxiety over the security of the transfer of its technology to Britain. The other participants in the JSF, but at a much lower financial level than Britain's, are the Netherlands, Turkey, Australia, Norway, Denmark and Canada; Israel and Singapore are also involved to a smaller degree. Concerns over sharing highly complex technology is not confined to aircraft. An even bigger issue could be the impending decision on replacing Britain's nuclear deterrent for which much of the technology would have to be American, thus putting a question mark over whether, as successive British governments have claimed, it is really an “independent” deterrent at all.