DON'T you just love military slang?

Situation normal, all fouled-up, to use the less red-blooded version of SNAFU, could have been invented to describe arms procurement. An American magazine last week headlined its report of a spending watchdog on the ill-fated Joint Strike Fighter project: "The F-35 is still FUBAR."

That means fouled-up beyond all recognition. There is a variant, FUBAR BUNDY, used by medics evacuating casualties. The addition stands for "but unfortunately not dead yet". Some experts are predicting that the entire F-35 programme may yet be killed off, having become a US national embarrassment that is already costing $400 billion and rocketing, or twice what it cost to put men on the moon.

Why should this bother us? The answer is another phrase, of wider currency, about putting all your eggs in one basket, for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is not just the most expensive stealth fighter ever made. It's not just swallowing the Pentagon budget like an old Pac-Man computer game, it's at the heart of our own omnishambles over aircraft carriers.

Built on the Clyde, the Mersey, the Tyne and the South Coast, assembled on the Forth, the two carriers are each longer than the Palace of Westminster, with a price tag to match, £6.2 billion and counting. The Queen Elizabeth is now at sea but her sister ship, the Prince of Wales is to be mothballed or sold once completed.

But what is an aircraft carrier without aeroplanes? For sure, the QE will carry helicopters but its key armament is to be the F-35B, a variant of the Lighting II which is known as a STOVL (short take-off, vertical landing). It takes off using something akin to a ski-jump but many experts consider the aircraft more Eddie the Eagle than Matti Nykanen. It is still not operational and has just experienced another glitch with its over-wieldy avionics software, but the US Marine Corps is still saying it will overcome the latest problem this year. The Corps is hedging its bets by trying to extend the life of its Harrier jump jets for another decade.

But for the British carrier programme we can only say TINA, there is no alternative. The new carriers were originally designed for jump jets, then reconfigured to take other jets, launched by steam catapults and landed using tail-hooks and cross-wires, so called "cats 'n' traps", but the Government made a decision to save money on the cost of the carriers by reverting to the STOVL model.

Not only does this mean that NATO allies using cats 'n' traps will be unable to take off or land from the Queen Elizabeth, or its sister ship should it ever put to sea, it means our entire plan for Britannia to continue ruling the waves is dependent on the F-35 programme overcoming its current catastrophic record. We can't go out and buy a different plane, for no other new jump jet exists.

Which takes us to last week's "still FUBAR" headline in Mother Jones. This referred to a report by the Project on Government Oversight. The watchdog found that computer flaws were so bad that test results were being massaged. The fuel tank was "at significant risk of catastrophic fire and explosion in combat", and the aircraft was so vulnerable to lightning strikes it was forbidden to fly within 25 miles of thunderstorms.

The pilot's unreliable helmet-mounted display had "high false alarm rates and false target tracks" and left the pilots blind to anything behind or beneath the aircraft. There is a problem with "wing drop" which can make it roll to one side, the fix for which involved bolt-ons which further lowered its performance. The engine also has design and performance issues, not ideal in a single engine craft.

The maverick veteran aircraft designer Pierre Sprey, who worked on the F16 programme and designed the tank buster A10, has predicted the eventual cancellation of the F-35 programme, calling the aircraft "inherently terrible, based on a dumb idea, astonishingly unmanoeuvrable and not good at anything, a turkey."

Prestige and military pride being what it is, the project will probably limp on but what price will Britannia pay for these aircraft? Only this week MPs questioned whether we can afford enough of these jets for the Queen Elizabeth. To continue pretending to rule the waves the British taxpayer may have to get used to what armed forces call BOHICA. Bend over, her it comes again.