Looking Forward to an F35 Future – Part 3 (The Promise)

In Part 2 I looked at the recent history of the F35, specifically in the decisions around the switch to the CV F35C and then the subsequent reversion back to the F35B

Have a nice video before we start

5th Generation STOVL Capability for the UK

As I mentioned in Part 2 at the time of the reversion there were numerous articles denouncing the decision.

For example;

As the British ships are to have electrical transmissions, meaning that they will have ample electrical power to run EMALS without further alteration, installing catapults will be about as simple an operation as one could reasonably ask for. If they have really got Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, head of the Royal Navy, to agree to this too … well, the best one can say is that Stanhope has betrayed his Service’s future. He ought to resign rather than sign up to this

That was one of the fruitier claims but don’t for one moment think that this was confided to the usual comics.

Oh no, even RUSI got in on the act of presenting what I thought was biased commentary, very often not putting some of the complex issues in context for example.

On the potential switch Dr Lee Willets of RUSI said;

Critics who say that this will cost too much overlook the long-term strategic value it will add.

That’s fair enough to some degree but it rather smacks of an old school MoD, damn the budget we must ‘have the best’ approach.

We all know the MoD does not live at the end of a magic rainbow with its endless pot of gold; every decision has an impact on other capabilities.

Dr Willets also raised the bring back payload issue and finished with

‘Cats and traps’ can both de-risk for today and future-proof for tomorrow. The F-35 B or STOVL will inhibit the very flexibility and political choice that is essential for the UK’s carrier capability.

After the decision was made and putting a brave face on it that loss of flexibility could be compensated for by bringing the second carrier into service.

The UK Government’s decision to opt for the F-35 B, vertical landing Joint Strike Fighter means that aircraft carriers will not be fitted with ‘cats-and-traps’ and will lose the strategic flexibility originally envisaged. To some degree, that loss can be offset by bringing two aircraft carriers into service.

Read the two articles, here and here

What seems to be generally accepted wisdom is the F35B is basically a pup; overly complex, overly expensive, limited in operational environment, limited in payload, not at all flexible, vulnerable, fragile and will straight jacket UK combat aviation for the next several decades.

I just don’t buy this.

Criticism of the F35 and of course, especially the F35B, is not limited to the UK.

In the USA, that criticism has reached almost religious levels.

Like many large programmes, and perhaps because it has an international dimension, the Joint Strike Fighter has a huge political dimension.

This means that much of the reporting, even from what might be usually thought of as impartial sources, is subject to doubt.

In this post I am going to have a look at some of these claims and describe the potential of the F35B.

Pup or tiger…

Training, Maintainability and Reliability

Thought I would start with the most important factor, not how far or fast but how much it costs to sustain.

A good example of that hyperventilated criticism I mentioned above was the well reported GAO report from last year in which reliability rates were subject to much criticism.

The subsequent reporting and the report itself were comprehensively battered by the Elements of Power blog, click here to read his detailed and knowledgeable rebuttal.

Really, go and have a read of the link, it’s a brilliant post.

What it essentially points to is the risk of taking snapshots of data for aircraft in development and drawing conclusions without having the trend information and an underpinning of appropriate knowledge.

This is just one example but the JSF seems to be particularly prone to negative comment from people in possession of partial bits of the big picture, me included of course!

Another simple truth that critics often fail to appreciate is that a new design test and evaluation programme is designed to throw out issues, problems and faults that need rectification, that being entirely the point.

Every development issue, in the eyes of the critics, becomes a nightmare that cannot be solved.

Commenting on the reliability of an aircraft in the middle of its development programme seems counter intuitive.

The Integrated Training Centre at Eglin Air Force Base in the USA will be used as a training base for most F35 operators and will deliver the usual advantages of a common training syllabus on a common aircraft, namely interoperability and improved efficiency. The ITC is rapidly gaining ground with an increase in sortie rate, throughput and more complex training activities all supported by state of the art synthetic training systems, pilots even get issued a laptop on arrival that allows them to use the full learning facilities.

It has also emerged just how much a reduced training requirement in comparison with the Harrier the F35B has. The advanced avionics mean that unlike the Harrier, flying the aircraft will not form the major part of a pilots training time, instead, they will be able to concentrate on tactics and missions.

This is a large through life cost reduction factor.

It has been designed to reduce pilot workload by a significant amount; this extract from SLD describes the opinions of an F22 pilot who is now an F35 squadron commander at Eglin

In contrast to the F-35, the F-22 has a 4th generation cockpit on top of a 5th generation sensor and information system.  It’s a very nice fourth gen cockpit when you’re talking multifunctional displays, push buttons, etc. but it is more like legacy platforms.

The beauty of the F-35 is that it has a very clean cockpit.

When they talk about heads up and heads down, the F-35 truly is heads up everywhere.

With an F-22, you have displays down between your knees.  You’ve got four multifunctional displays you of work with on a regular basis.

With the F-35, everything is out in front of you; it’s all touch screen.  It’s one huge piece of glass.  There are no buttons, switches, or knobs and it’s truly a glass cockpit; and then with the helmet the display is put all around the pilot.

In other words, the two marked differences between the F-22 and the F-35 are the displays and the helmet, and both of those interfaces in the F-35 are unbelievable.  The set up significantly reduces the workload for the pilot.

Before flying the F-35 I was skeptical about the touch screen.  I am a believer now.

Whoever designed the F-35 cockpit is a genius.  The bottom line is that is just works.

Compare the picture below of a Typhoon cockpit

Typhoon cockpit
Typhoon cockpit

To that of an F35

F35 Cockpit
F35 Cockpit

In October 2011 the USMC demonstrated the F35B aboard the USS Wasp

F-35B Ship Suitability Testing

I am sure we have all watched that video of the two F35B test aircraft BF-1 and BF-4 flying off the 225m flight deck of the Wasp but not widely known was that piloting one of the test aircraft was a Marine Corps pilot that previous to the test and development work on the F35B had only flown F-18’s.

Lt. Col. Matt Kelly said;

I have found this airplane to be just a really nice airplane to fly in the shipboard environment. Prior to two weeks ago I had never landed or taken-off from this type of ship… It’s a pleasure to fly.


Reducing flight crew workload logically provides potential for reduced costs by virtue of needing fewer flying hours.

This was again reinforced in the Lockheed Martin Code One online magazine in October 2012

“The ease of landing the B-model in STOVL mode is unprecedented,” explained Taylor, who had no STOVL experience before joining the F-35 ITF at Pax. “In the Harrier world, learning to operate in STOVL mode takes months of training. For us it is a couple of flights in the simulator and one, maybe two, flights in the airplane, because it is so intuitive. It is easy to land the F-35B in STOVL mode. We will never hear a Harrier pilot say the AV-8 is easy to land. The F-35B will hold whatever condition you command it to hold. It is like driving a perfectly aligned car down a perfectly straight highway with no wind. The F-35B will go straight until you tell it to do something else.”

“One of the beauties of this airplane is that it is so simple to land,” added Dan Levin, a Lockheed Martin test pilot and lead test pilot for the ITF at Pax. “Harrier airframes burn up about half their life in training pilots to land vertically. Landing vertically in a Harrier is a complex task. I’m a fixed-wing fast-mover pilot, and I was ready to perform STOVL operations after ten minutes in the simulator. STOVL operations are simple and intuitive. The flight control system is automated in the right ways. The pilot doesn’t even notice the transition between conventional flight and STOVL mode

“The training required to keep a pilot comfortable in the STOVL environment is going to go to near zero,” Levin said

In all fairness, the same reduced training requirement was also noted for the F35C.

It is telling that the USMC have adopted the USAF operating model for maintenance because this points to an emerging common approach that will likely proliferate across all F35 operators.

A common approach to maintenance means reduced through life costs as commonality usually leads to economies of scale.

Another significant, but lesser known, cost reduction aspect of the F35 is the global logistics infrastructure and the way in the aircraft reports a plethora of condition information. This has many parallels with the Typhoon approach, a tightly controlled development roadmap that ensures not just interoperability across a fleet but true integration. Instead of interval based maintenance the aircraft will use condition monitoring to predict maintenance requirements, nothing revolutionary, the Challenger engine is maintained on the same basis!

In any multinational operation i.e. most of them, the national operator will be able to take advantage of a shared logistic support infrastructure. There won’t be AV8B’s and GR9’s operating from the same location with completely different support assets but a pool of aircraft that can take advantage of one.

Of course the only operators of the F35B are going to be the UK, USA and Italy so far but perhaps there will be others. Still, that is still a sizeable force and at least one more operator than the F35C.

The aircraft itself has been specifically designed to reduce maintenance, a common configuration, in built fleet wide diagnostics and condition monitoring, real time documentation updates and specifics in the design.

Reduced maintenance is translated into greater operational availability and fewer overall aircraft to deliver against a specific requirement.

Finally, the F35 will be operated under a Performance Based Logistic regime which is not particularly new to the UK but is relatively new to the US forces.

I know I always bang on about logistics and through life costs but the reduced training and sustainment effort of the F35 will have a large impact on the actual costs of operating it

The F35 programme has been designed and will be evaluated on its reduced through lift costs in comparison with legacy platforms.

Instead of bodging logistics and support onto the end of the programme it has been fundamental to it from the very beginning.

I know this might sound impossibly optimistic, it may yet not materialise and the F35 turn out to be the most expensive aircraft to sustain ever but if so, that will not be for the want of trying.

So far, all the indicators are that the aircraft is moving towards demonstrating that the $1 trillion scare stories will be incorrect.


What about the whole stealth thing, over hyped maybe?

Stealth should really be called a collection of techniques, equipment and technologies that reduce detectability but that doesn’t sound as good for the short attention span news articles. It really is complex and requires some commitment to understanding.

The greatest piece of nonsense is that stealth will be rendered obsolete by a combination of low frequency radars and visual detection systems. Whilst low frequency radars might be able to detect that there is ‘something over there’ they are not good enough to support accurate targeting.

By which time the low observable aircraft will have detected you and fired a load of unpleasantness your way.

Stealth aircraft will not operate in isolation either, another key point people tend to forget.

Against a sophisticated enemy ‘stealth’ is therefore a key requirement and will remain so.

Against a less sophisticated enemy it does of course deliver benefits but it could perhaps be argued that those benefits are less pronounced, but let’s not forget, the F35 is more than just stealth.

One of the perception problems that the f35 has is that it seems to be defined by stealth, in reality, its stealthiness is just part of the equation.

The aircraft is perhaps better characterised as being Very Low Observable and this is achieved not just by some magic paint and lack of corners.

This is a good description;

The F-35 is the only available Very Low Observable (VLO) stealth fighter.  VLO stealth must be designed into the aircraft from the very beginning.  It cannot be retrofitted into an existing 4th generation aircraft.  For the F-35, this means a full load of internally carried combat fuel and weapons, imbedded sensors, a curved/diverterless intake that hides the face of the engine, aligned leading and trailing horizontal/vertical edges, and a digital/computer controlled design that allows the aircraft to be manufactured and assembled to a very tight and exacting outer mold line tolerance.  These designed-in characteristics help to reduce the overall radar cross section of the F-35 and allow that signature to be maintained at a fraction of the cost compared to legacy stealth aircraft.

Also, the low observable characteristics have been explicitly designed to be maintained in forward locations. A forward location does not mean austere like the old Harrier hides but it does mean within a known and planned environment that can be supported in an expeditionary context.

By the way, the F35 does not make use of radar absorbing coatings or paints, the radar absorbing materials are part of the structure, baked in so to speak, it is called fibre mat

Systems and Sensors

Unlike, say the Harrier or even Tornado, the F35 is not just a fuselage and engine(s) onto which a collection of sensors are attached. The F35 comes with fully integrated radar, EW, ESM and optical systems, all built in.

Inside the stealth vehicle, the F-35 has the most advanced array of sensors and mission systems ever integrated into a fighter aircraft.  Using the more than 9 million lines of software code resident on the F-35, the data collected from the APG-81 AESA radar, the electro-optical targeting system, the electro-optical IR missile warning distributed aperture system, and the highly precise emitter detection and location data is fused together and presented to the pilot to provide him/her with unmatched 360 degree situational awareness.  Finally, the data collected from one F-35 is shared with other F-35 aircraft across a high bandwidth stealthy data link, ensuring every pilot in a flight of F-35 aircraft has the same tactical view of the battlespace.  The corresponding cooperative battle engagement capability changes the dynamics of the air battle and allows the F-35 to dominate the battlefield, even in the most demanding threat environments that will face the U.S. and allied nations over the next 30+ years.  In short, the F-35 provides a quantum leap in capability over competing fighter aircraft.

There is a bit of marketing hype in there of course, it was from Lockheed Martin but fundamentally, the statement is not incorrect.

The F35’s electronic warfare capabilities have been subject to much discussion, fuelled by the decision not to integrate the current F18 Next Generation Jammer. Any discussion on this is always going to be limited by what is publically available i.e. not a lot, but it is interesting to note that the F35 is specifically designed to go into battle with no support from the E3, EA-18G Growler or JSTARS. The USMC are replacing their (admittedly ageing) EA-6B’s with the F35.

Read more here

Even the previously troublesome helmet is now on the way to being fully capable.

The F35’s radar, the AN/APG-81 F-35 AESA Radar, is clearly an incredibly advanced system

F-35 JSF APG-81 AESA Radar

The aircrafts AN/AAQ-37 distributed aperture system provides 360 degree situational awareness, combining detection, observation and targeting

F-35 Lightning II's Electro Optical Distributed Aparture System(EODAS)

The ability of the F35 to hoover up data using its combination of sensors, fuse it together, sort the wheat from the chaff and communicate useful intelligence (as opposed to data) to both the pilot and other friendly forces on land, sea and in the air is unrivalled.

Very clever stuff, the implications of which I don’t think people appreciate.

There are plenty of sites on the internet where you can learn about individual systems, a few below






You might even find the content of these copied and pasted into other blogs in order to make them seem authoritative.

Range, Payload and Bring Back

One of the main criticisms of the F35B reversion is that compared to the F35C it suffers from lower payload and range and something called bring back.

These criticisms are all true, after all, all one needs to do is look at the specifications, right back to the original documents on the JSF, to see that the F35C has superior range and payload.

In respect of range and payload, the F35C is self-evidently a better choice than the F35B, but it is on purpose as part of the design trade off process and should come as no surprise to anyone.

Are they significant, or more to the point, are they significant enough to suffer the additional cost penalty of the carrier variant.

A cost penalty we know exists because there is no way the MoD would have stayed with the F35C if the F35B option was cheaper. Some might say it is worth the cost, fair enough, but there would have to follow a conversation about what to cut, a finite budget means choices.

The difference between the F35C and the F35B might be operationally significant, or simply irrelevant, it would all depend on the operational requirements, geographic circumstances and a million other factors.

It does not automatically follow that some performance advantage is actually relevant.


The JSF KPP for the F35C states a combat radius using internal fuel of 600 nautical miles using a USN mission flight profile and for the F35B, 450 nautical miles using a USMC profile. I have seen figures for the UK that are slightly different and have a different profile but the differences are not significant.

It is clear therefore (accepting potential differences in flight profiles) that the CV variant offers more range than the STOVL variant.

The first question to ask is do we actually need that extra range?

The US Navy does, simply because they are thinking about the Pacific where range is critical but fundamentally the UK has a wholly different set of strategic requirements.

The map below shows three concentric circles with a centre at a random location in the Arabian Sea, the outer represents F35C, middle F35B and for comparison, the inner is a GR9 Harrier (which would also have a lower payload)

F35 Range

These are KPP figures also, not what might be achieved for the production models or reflective of any growth in engine efficiency.

For defensive counter air the additional loiter range would result in a greater number of aircraft being needed to maintain a given combat air patrol.

There are however, a number of factors that although not completely negating it do go some way to mitigating it.

When operating CV aircraft in order to provide a margin of safety operators may choose to return with a greater fuel load than in the KPP, thus reducing the effective real world range. STOVL does not have these concerns so can maximise the fuel carried.

Ranges can be extended using external fuel tanks or airborne refuelling using land based aircraft although this also applies to the CV variant of course.

How many operations has the UK been involved with recently that did not enjoy extensive airborne refuelling support from the UK’s own resources and those of allies, not many is the answer.

This is one of those difficult realities that the F35C supporters tend to sweep under the carpet.

Ah, but what if we were on our own and out of range of land based RAF tankers I hear you say.

OK, it’s a possibility, but the UK defence planning assumptions are pretty clear in stating a UK only operation will be at a modest scale and even if we stood alone, in what geopolitical scenario would the extra 150 unrefuelled nautical miles on offer from the F35C prove to be decisive?

I mean decisive

You cannot simply make this operational reality go away.

The higher sortie rate of the F35B and STOVL deck operations might go some way to mitigating the loiter time advantage of the F35C.

The F35B will operate from conventional concrete runways much more often than the deck of a QE Class carrier. This isn’t based on dismissing naval aviation but a reality of the joint nature of the aircraft fleet, the operational reality of the Harrier and the most likely kinds of operations the UK will be involved in.

One thing I have never seen is the projected range figures for the F35B variant when using land bases but I wonder if the differential between it and the F35C would be the same or different?

Finally, in comparison with other aircraft (I know not strictly what we are discussing) they have to use payload capacity for external targeting pods and such like.

One of the reasons, as per Part 2, for the original switch to the F35C was using it as a means of fulfilling the deep and persistent offensive capability in light of a lukewarm commitment to UCAV’s and the zero likelihood of another European long range manned aircraft development.  Many see this as a simple one for one replacement for the Tornado GR.4 and the F35C would have been ideal in that regard, even though its unrefuelled combat radius at comparable flight profiles is smaller.

But in seeing it as simple aircraft replacement is to ignore the effects based approach to equipment of the last couple of decades, think effects not platforms.

With that in mind, can the shorter range of the F35B be mitigated in any way?

Surely if as naval aviation proponents argue, carriers can go anywhere and get closer, the additional range advantage of the F35C over the F35B is reduced by being able to get closer. I don’t often rely on internet figures for combat radius because they are influenced by so many factors which makes an apples and apples comparison difficult but the range of a Typhoon is not too shabby either, even when fully loaded, if the Internet is to be believed, its longer than the F35C anyway. If the UK completed development of the conformal fuel tanks and integrated storm shadow, accepting the loss of stealth and some avionics aspects, the UK would still have a formidable capability.

It’s a compromise of course, but trade-offs have to be made and against defence planning assumption, likely operations and the likelihood of operating alone the 150nm range advantage of the F35C does not make a compelling case for its adoption.

The F35C is a clear winner when looking at the naked figures but arguably, the range difference is not as significant on real life operations or when set against the UK’s other capabilities as imagined and certainly, at least in my opinion, not worth the sacrifices that would have to be made elsewhere and make no mistake, sacrifices would have to be made.

Payload and Bring Back

If the range difference is not as important as many think then what about payload and bring back.

I found these two graphics online in multiple locations so assume they are pretty open source (apologies in advance if not) but they provide a good illustration of payload options.

F35 Weapon Stations
F35 Weapon Stations
F35B Payload
F35B Payload



It is a good illustration because it shows the difference between internal and externally carried options and the weight and space constrained internal bomb bay of the F35B

Again, the F35C is a clear winner, not only in terms of payload weight and size but in its ability to bring unused munitions back to an aircraft carrier.

As with range though, is this that much of a negative factor that demands a reversion to the F35C and the declaration of the F35B as a pup?

Looking first at basic payload, the obvious trend is reducing yield and greater precision with the UK’s current principle air launched weapons being Dual Mode Brimstone and the Payeway IV, both relatively low weight weapons at approximately 50kg and 225kg (500lbs) respectively, without launch rails.

More weight means less range of course but when we look at the effectiveness of DM Brimstone and Paveway IV both in Libya and Afghanistan the upper weight limits of even the F35B look increasingly unlikely to be used.

This doesn’t mean never but the maximum weapon load difference between the F35C and F35B the equivalent of roughly 6 Paveway IV’s which sounds a lot until you consider the F35B could theoretically carry over 20 if it had the space.

Weight for weight, one Paveway IV equals just over 4 Dual Mode Brimstone.

Add in a couple of drop tanks and the difference becomes slightly more noticeable but even then, it is still not significant.

As with range the difference between the two is well known, but in likely operational scenarios, not significantly so.

The next issue to consider is what the F35 can, should and will carry. It is here that we should look to the requirements of the aircraft itself. What is required of the UK’s F35B will depend very much on the type of operations it will be needed for and in what context.

In most cases, the F35B will be operating in conjunction with Typhoon and allies and likely from land bases.

Perhaps the most stringent requirement is where it will be operating from the QE carrier(s) alone, alone meaning without the benefit of land based fast air or with allies and against an enemy with a credible offensive air component. Even when operating from carriers beyond the reach of land based fast air it is likely that the UK would be operating in conjunction with allies, principally the US and/or France.

This scenario is arguably the least likely, but if the UK is to retain a full spectrum ability to operate alone, even at a modest scale, it is important that the F35B can deliver against air defence, interdiction, strike, reconnaissance and close air support.

Air Defence


In service and a basic requirement for the F35B is the ability to carry and launch the MBDA Advanced Short Range Anti-Aircraft Missile or ASRAAM. Typhoon and Tornado can carry it and it has been widely deployed.

Missile Aire Aire AIM-132 ASRAAM

The plan was for SDD Block 3 F35B to have the ASRAAM fully integrated on the internal stations and external positions 1 and 11. Because ASRAAM is quite a fat missile it has a lot of propellant so it can fly, manoeuvre and still be lethal at longer ranges, although still not near the range offered by beyond visual range missiles like AMRAAM or Meteor.

This video explains the above and the challenges of launching from inside the internal bay, using a trapeze launching mechanism.

The F35 internal AA missile station uses a launcher (obvious when you think about it because the AIM-120 uses an ejector) and so does the air to ground position. So in order to carry ASRAAM on the AA missile position would need some sort of ejector/rail mechanism. For carriage of ASRAAM on the air to ground station would also need some sort of trapeze, as per the video link above.

In 2008, Janes reported a change in the ASRAAM plans

The original UK intention was to clear four MBDA Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (ASRAAMs) for internal carriage but this has been revised to include two internal and two external weapons instead.

The story since then has been characterised by uncertainty, especially in regards of internal carriage of ASRAAM.

The switch from B to C will have changed the integration programme, the latest publicly available briefing still made the assumption that the UK would take the F35C and showed ASRAAM as OFP Block 3 but on external pylons only, and Paveway IV incidentally.

The candidate weapons integration for Block did not list ASRAAM for internal carriage either.

It remains to be seen if, and when the UK’s F35B’s will be able to carry and launch ASRAAM from anywhere except the outer pylons but whether this is actually a bad thing is debatable anyway.

The story so far is 2 ASRAAM on the outer pylons although if other customers i.e. Australia require ASRAAM internal carriage we might be able to share costs. The US are not integrating their Sidewinder with the internal bays of any version so ASRAAM could well be the only IR AAM carried internally.

For defensive counter air that might sound a bit thin, a pair of ASRAAM’s, but before we all go slitting our wrists think back to the beginning of this section, the likelihood of UK F35B’s operating as air defence from the QE class where the UK is acting alone against a credible air threat is low.

Also, this is ONLY the initial release for an aircraft that will be in service for many decades. In the future we might see ASRAAM integrated with other pylons or internally, maybe even a dual rail launcher of some type.


If ASRAAM is short range, AMRAAM, as you all know, is medium range.

The UK is replacing the Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM with MBDA Meteor Beyond Visual Range Air to Air Missile (BVRAAM)so is running down stocks of AMRAAM in anticipation of Meteor but this is a delicate balancing act.

The recent NAO Major Project Report 2012 noted that in order to support the delayed Meteor IOC the UK will have to life extend existing AIM-120 AMRAAM stocks and this might introduce risks that stock levels will be insufficient. In order to save £65m some years ago, when Meteor was still supposedly on track, the UK chose not to upgrade its AIM-120 stocks to the C5 level, instead staying at B5 but this was reversed in 2004 with an £80m contract with Raytheon for conversion, Jane’s guessing at 150 missiles.

Because the AIM-120 AMRAAM is the backbone of the US air to air missile inventory it is not a surprise that it will be integrated with all versions of the F35, internally and early on. Block 2 will have 2 internal per bay and Block 3, 2 per bay. It’s recent problems are also likely to have been completely resolved by then.

A nice article on the F35B and AMRAAM, click here

This means, in Block 3, the UK will have the option of up to 4 internal AMRAAM and 2 external ASRAAM.

Depending on stocks, possible upgrades to the RAF AMRAAM’s likely in service dates of the QE carriers and shipboard F35B this is more than a credible capability, even if the possible life extension was just that, and not an upgrade.

Compare that with Harrier GR9 and even the Sea Harrier.

In the medium term, as threats evolve, we should avoid maintaining two fleets of medium range anti-aircraft missiles, AMRAAM for the F35B’s and Meteor for Typhoon, which brings me on to Meteor.


The UK’s future beyond visual range anti-aircraft missile will be the MBDA Meteor that is due to achieve Initial Operating Capability is 2015, although this is looking optimistic. The National Audit Office 2012 Major Projects Report confirmed this slippage;

However, the delivery of the full integration programme outturn is dependent on the completion of the Typhoon Future Capability Programme 1. This has now been delayed until late 2013, meaning that Industry cannot now develop and validate Meteor capability until late 2016, which supports a likely In Service Date 2 declaration in October 2017

Meteor won’t be full operating capability probably until late 2018 which puts a rush for F35B integration into some sort of perspective. Italy is also a Meteor partner and F35 users so integration costs might be shared if we chose to do so.

If you look at earlier pictures of the Meteor and compare it with this video of its first Typhoon test firing in December last year, the evolving physical form should be obvious, the absence of front fins and clipped rear fins.

In 2010 MBDA reported on their clipped by 20% fin design changes and the hope that it would be included in Block 5.

It seems unlikely MBDA will produce some sort of F35 internally carried version and an externally carried version, anything but a single version would be commercially nonsensical.

Meteor missile firing from Typhoon

Currently there no confirmed funding for Meteor F35B integration but if I were Generalissimo of MBDA for a day I would fund it directly because if it can be carried internally and externally, it opens up a potentially large market with a clear advantage over the AIM120-AMRAAM.

Just to clear up another point, Meteor is only 10mm longer than AMRAAM and is specifically designed to compatible with AMRAAM ejector systems, this from Exelisfor example but this does not automatically mean it can be easily carried internally, possible weight or space limitations could dictate on which position it is carried.

This July article from AIN described Meteor and goes into a little detail about Meteor F35 integration, describing work on initial integration into the internal bays. It also says the UK will use AMRAAM initially and that Meteor is scheduled for Block 4.

That is an interesting update, especially regarding the Block 4 software but I haven’t seen that elsewhere.

Whether the UK integrates Meteor with F35 is of course going to come down to when the cash becomes available but unless we want to either a) only arm it with ASRAAM or b) maintain stocks of AMRAAM, it will eventually be so.

Ground Attack

Things get even more interested in the ground attack space.

The UK will have 4 main ground attack munitions, Paveway IV, Brimstone, Storm Shadow and whatever comes out of Spear Block 3.

Paveway IV

Block 3 will see the Raytheon Paveway IV Precision Guided Bombintegrated with the F35B for internal carriage. It is an extremely sophisticated weapon, fully proven on operations where its sophisticated fusing options (point, post or airburst), programmable impact angles and highly accurate guidance provide an enormous amount of targeting flexibility.

Harrier GR9 with Paveway IV
Harrier GR9 with Paveway IV

From the manufacturer

Paveway™ IV features dual-mode guidance and is the latest generation of the Paveway family. For extreme accuracy in all operational scenarios it utilises second-generation, state-of-the-art GPS aided inertial navigation that incorporates anti-spoofing and anti-jamming technology. It also incorporates a laser-guidance system and the pilot is able to switch between modes as necessary, even after release. This gives maximum flexibility to attack re-locatable and moving targets as well as fixed targets

The UK has purchased so far about 1,600 Paveway IV’s.

There are no current plans to integrate the larger Paveway II and III or the enhanced Paveway at least in the initial integration efforts.

Is this a problem?

Given the trend towards smaller weapons and possible growth in Paveway IV (wing kit, low yield warhead, penetrating warhead etc.), perhaps not. It would be nice to have, no doubt but this is one of those trade-offs.


I wrote a fairly detailed post on Brimstone in March last year, click here to view.

I said at the time;

SPEAR Capability 2 is a development of the Dual Mode Brimstone introduced as an Urgent Operational Requirement in 2008. Work for the Block 1 requirement commenced a few years ago but the latest variant will be introduced into service in 2013 as Brimstone 2, this time, into the core equipment programme.

The recent NAO report has updated that somewhat and a recent replenishment order fills in the blanks

Selective Precision Effects at Range Capability 2 Block 1 (Spear Capability 2 Block 1) – Brimstone 2 – replaces the legacy Brimstone missile’s energetics and airframe with a new Insensitive Munitions (IM) compliant warhead, rocket motor and an upgraded seeker and airframe. Spear Cap 2 Block 1 will replace the Dual Mode Seeker Brimstone (DMSB) capability currently in service with the Royal Air Force (RAF) and will be integrated onto Tornado GR4 and is intended for integration on Typhoon Capability 2 Block 1 and Block 2 combined, a bit of upgrading with the resulting Brimstone 2

If Brimstone 2 is the long term replacement for Hellfire and likely carried on F35B then it should also be cleared for carriage aboard the QE carriers.

Initial plans had Brimstone integrated with the internal bay of the F35 but since it has dropped off the funded list, currently that is.

The Dual Mode variant, like Paveway IV, has been used extensively on recent operations. Together, they are as impressive as anything available and it would be ridiculous not to integrate it with the F35B and should be a higher priority than Storm Shadow.

Storm Shadow

Another MBDA product, Storm Shadow is an air launched stand-off cruise missile, or conventionally air-launched stand off missile (CASOM)

It is a bit of a monster at just over 1,200kg or 2,650 pounds. The F35B inboard external pylon is rated at 5,000 pounds so well within the limit for Storm Shadow but for both F35C and F35B it would have to be carried externally and it is too heavy for pylon positions 2 and 10 so no matter what version, it is being carried externally and to a maximum of two.

The whole point of Storm Shadow is that it allows the launch aircraft to stand off missile so internal carriage is possibly a bit superfluous anyway.

The Storm Shadow Capability Enhancement Programme (SSCEP) seems to be still limping along which will introduce a range of enhancements.

It would absolutely make sense to integrate Storm Shadow with the F35B, if only to provide launch platform diversity, but it would not be a high priority. Given the Saudi and future users of Typhoon it would probably make more sense to ensure integration with that aircraft before the F35B.

It was originally on the integration programme but deleted at the same as Brimstone.

As Tornado goes out of service towards the end of the decade, around 2018/19, it is likely that Storm Shadow (and Brimstone for that matter) will be integrated with Typhoon well before thoughts of hanging them off an F35B are realised.

SPEAR Capability 3

This is the most intriguing because of them all, it is the only one still in concept stage.

The NAO describe it as;

Spear Capability 3 is a new 100kg class weapon. This capability will be the primary air-to-ground armament for the Joint Combat Aircraft (JCA)/F-35B Joint Strike Fighter from ***, and optimised for internal carriage. Spear Capability 3 will provide the means to destroy/defeat a wide range of targets at range, including mobile and re-locatable targets, in all weathers day and night, in complex environments under tight rules of engagements (ROE)

What is interesting here is the word ‘primary’ in respect of the JCA’s air to ground armament but you can read into that almost anything!

Spear Missile from F-35

With a planned 100km range and high subsonic speed, it will sit between the 50kg Brimstone and 250kg Paveway IV crucially providing the capability to attack mobile and re-locatable targets at a greater range and with greater punch than Brimstone and higher speed than Paveway IV. Its stand off feature is clearly intended to allow mobile air defence targets to be engaged, no need for anti-radiation missiles which are so nineties!

Spear Capability 3 is designed to be internally carried, 4 per bay in the same manner as the US SDB-II, again, a nod to stealthy attacks against ground based air defence targets, although the various reports do note that there may be some space challenges for 4, maybe 3 is more realistic.

MBDA SPEAR Internal Carriage F35
MBDA SPEAR Internal Carriage F35

There is a nice article on SPEAR Capability 3 (and Meteor) here

Unlike glidebombs, SPEAR will be able to work against headwinds,” explains Thornley. The new missile will be about 2m long and will be fitted with a multi-mode seeker, multi-effects warhead and GPS/INS data links. SPEAR will have three fins and turbojet propulsion.

There is a potential to take the SDB-II off the shelf but this seems unlikely.

I read a suggestion on another forum for a SPEAR Capability 3 variant that replaced the warhead with an active decoy which I think is a smart idea.

If you think about the commercial potential for F35 A, B or C integration for Paveway IV, ASRAAM, Meteor, Brimstone 2 and Spear Capability 3 it is actually pretty big as it provides a excellent market  alternative for F335 operators to AIM 9, ASRAAM, JDAM and SDB-II combination.

Another discussion point is the overlap between SPEAR Capability 3 and Paveway IV, especially in light of the latter’s potential low yield warhead, data link and glide kit development path.

External Fuel

External fuel tanks seem to be a simple fact of life for most modern aircraft but because the F35B already has a high fuel load and range in excess of what it is replacing the UK may choose not to take them for some time.

Whilst drop tanks on the F35B will of course compromise their ‘stealth’ it was planned to introduce a transonic and low signature optimised 426 Gallon (1,612L) tank in Block 4 although the UK has not indicated if it will obtain these and the development seems uncertain in any case. The Israelis have also proposed a larger 600 Gallon version and even conformal tanks to meet their obvious un supported range requirement.

We may see an F35B buddy tanking capability emerge but I doubt it, not just because of the cost but because the cost AND likelihood of use. The vast majority of operations will see the UK’s F35B’s operating within a multi-national coalition where the RAF’s Voyagers and other nations land based tankers will be fully utilised.

I even read one suggestion that the UK would implement some system where the lift fan could be removed and replaced with a flexible fuel tank, would be interesting seeing the safety case for that one!

Bring Back

The USMC KPP for the F35B states a short take off of just under 183 metres (shorter for the UK although the QE class carrier has a deck length nearly 275m) with enough fuel for the KPP mission profile, 2 AMRAAM and 2 1000lb JDAM’s and a vertical landing bring back weight equivalent to enough fuel to safely land with an appropriate margin whilst carrying the same 2 AMRAAM and 2 1000lb JDAM’s.

I have also seen references to a bring back weight of 5,000 pounds

The KPP also states that this will be carried out with a 10 knot wind over deck (WOD), at sea level (funnily enough!) and in a ‘tropical day’.

The UK’s bring back requirement is even more stringent than the USMC reflecting no doubt, our financial aversion to dropping costly precision weapons into the sea and many years of having to do so with the Sea Harrier.

Bring back thus becomes critical in only a small range of climatic conditions and only for space constrained runways, something the F35B detractors often fail to point out. Remember that Joint thing, operating the F35B from a land location using a conventional landing instead of a vertical one makes the whole bring back issue pretty much go away.

This reduces even further the number of landings that the UK F35B will have to do where bring back becomes an issue i.e. carrier only and only in certain climatic conditions.

If we are going to use the F35B to carry Storm Shadow then the vertical landing bring back weight limitation is an issue because they weigh in at just over 1,200kg, are expensive and are available in a finite inventory, self-evidently, not a good thing. If they hang up on the pylon then the implications might be even more serious so Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL) is designed to use wing lift to increase the maximum landing weight and consequently, the bring back weight for unused munitions.

SRVL has been in development for some time and Lockheed Martin was awarded a $13m contract in 2010 to integrate it onto the F35B, there is a nice article here that provides some background.

SRVL was off the menu post F35C decision but now seems to be back on.

In August last year, the MoD’s in house defence equipment magazine (DESIDER) had an article on the F35B including a section on Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL)

Onboard the Queen Qlizabeth aircraft carriers, the jet would take off at its maximum weight of nearly 27 tonnes using a UK-developed ski-jump and land either vertically or using the novel UK-developed Short rolling Vertical Landing (SrVL) technique. This would enable the jet to land at a much higher weight than is possible in a purely vertical landing.

Wg Cdr hackett said: “SrVL is under development for the carriers but it means the aircraft would fly in at around 60 to 70 mph and then brake to a stop on the deck, without the need for any costly arrester gear. It will be able to land up to 1.8 tonnes heavier than otherwise be possible, meaning unexpended weapons can be brought back to the ship.

That was of note because the 1.8 tonnes figure was previously much higher than estimates. It is easy to go down a rabbit hole of trying to work out actual weights but if true, that comment would seem to indicate a much higher bring weight than the KPP.

In the September 2012 F35 Fast Facts there was also a reference to something called the Creeping Vertical Landing or CVL but did not make clear what this actually was.

The 2013 January edition of DESIDER also has more information on SRVL/

Whether SRVL is used routinely, or just for high payload brink back will depend on many factors, it is still in development after all, but it is not just about vertical landing bring back, there are other advantages so who knows where it will ultimately end up.

Bring back weight remains a challenge, SRVL appears to be progressing well but we won’t know for some time whether and how it will be used.

Payload and Bring Back Summary

The known payload and range advantage the F35C has over the F35B, at least for the UK’s strategic and operational context, looks like it sits in a quite narrow band of requirement and not that significant.

If we can fill that narrow band with other capabilities then what might seem like a compelling case for the F35C does not exist.

With likely future integration of Paveway IV, Brimstone and Storm Shadow on Typhoon, if we have the common sense to put strike length cells (either Mk44 or Sylver) on Type 26, whatever MALE UAV we end up with, invest in SPEAR Capability 3, Astute with its Tomahawks, if we ever end up buying ATACMS or put a decent gun on the pointy end of Type 26 the UK will have a range of platforms that can put varying degrees of precision guided explosives onto the swedes the Queen’s enemies.

And this is before we even start looking at the F35B

Bring back remains a challenge but there seems to be a range of measures to progress a solution and we should also be very clear that it only becomes a big problem in very specific climatic conditions and for vertical landings.


The F35 is the right aircraft family for the Joint Combat Aircraft requirement, expensive and late, yes, but worth the wait, a world away from the Harrier and in many respects, the Tornado

The F35B is the right JSF variant for the UK; it fits within UK doctrine, defence planning assumptions and the reality of its future employment.

Detractors of the F35B have a range of valid arguments but they are frequently over played and certainly not compelling enough to warrant the cost of the F35C

The UK, with its close relations with MBDA and their expertise, has a range of simply brilliant air launched weapons that will be used on the Typhoon and ultimately F35B; these weapons have both growth potential and export opportunities

Together, Typhoon and F35B provide the UK with a capability that is not only capable but flexible as well

Seriously, what’s not to like





Other posts in this series

Looking Forward to an F35 Future – Part 1 (Introduction)

Looking Forward to an F35 Future – Part 2 (Dredging Up the Past)

Looking Forward to an F35 Future – Part 3 (The Promise)

Looking Forward to an F35 Future – Part 4 (Down to Earth with a Bump)

Looking Forward to an F35 Future – Part 5 (By Sea By Land)

Looking Forward to an F35 Future – Part 6 (Summary)








About The Author

Think Defence hopes to start sensible conversations about UK defence issues, no agenda or no campaign but there might be one or two posts on containers, bridges and mexeflotes!

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Jeremy M H
January 16, 2013 3:48 am

As someone who originally did not get what the UK was thinking going back to the B I do appreciate the article. I had already largely come around to the position before this but I think it makes sense for the UK which probably won’t be putting together a major heavy strike package from carriers on its own anyway so the tradeoff is not that big of a deal.

For the USN it is of importance mostly in that you could put an F-35C up in the air with 4 JSOW (2 on the wings)(or 2 JSOW, 2 JASSM on the wings ect) and 2 gas tanks on the wings for Pacific operations. The UK has neither the weapons to worry about that nor the real pressing need to conduct such an operation on its own anyway.

The biggest worry with the F-35 is going to be that you are not going to get much kinematic improvement over the 4th generation fighters it replaces. With the downgrades the F-35A will be damn similar to an F-16 (albeit a very clean F-16 vs an internally loaded up F-35A) and the F-35C will be really similar to an F-18 (ie slower and more sluggish than an F-16 but turning tighter at lower speeds due to the wing). The F-35 is not going to out-turn or accelerate a Eurofighter or one of the SU-27 refreshes.

It will rely on its sensor advantage to make things work. Assuming it all works like it should (and fingers crossed it sounds like they are making good progress with these things) then it will change how one looks at air to air fights in my view. In my opinion I think the future WVR fight will be decided mostly by computers, sensors, missiles and electronic countermeasures. With missiles like the AIM-9X, ASRAAM, IRIS-T as well as continuing evolutions in medium range weapons that have high off bore site capability anything within that all-around sensor bubble will have a very short life span.

In that respect I think the F-35 is the future mold in which airplanes will be built.

January 16, 2013 3:52 am

Great article TD, I think with all the negativity in the media its difficult to focus on the truly great points of F35 and just how good it’s likely to be. One only has to look at the problems that Boeing is having with the 787 to realise that developing aircraft is very difficult especially when the process takes place under a media microscope.
“Harrier airframes burn up about half their life in training pilots to land vertically”.
Hopefully this will mean we can get a lot more out of our initial 48 airframes than we did from our 70 or so Harrier airframes.

“Of course the only operators of the F35B are going to be the UK, USA and Italy so far but perhaps there will be others. Still, that is still a sizeable force and at least one more operator than the F35C.”

It’s a good point TD. Most forget that the F35B will be the second most common variant. No one else will ever operate the F35 C and many nations from the Spanish to the South Korean’s are likely at some point to purchase F35B. In terms of interoperability it is light years ahead of the F35C. If any model is cancelled post sequestration which is still very possible it will be the F35C. With the USN having generally newer aircraft than the USAF and USMC not to mention the X47 already flying in tests it would be a much easier process. Not to mention cancelation of B f**ks up quite a few allies and forces both the USN and USMC to completely change their operations for LHD’s etc.

January 16, 2013 4:54 am

@ TD – I think your article makes it clear that F35B is the correct choice for the JCA requirement. Many of it’s issues stem from the fact that it is now also to be used as the FOAS requirement were it is lacking in some requirements. I am not convinced that every deep strike mission can be performed by TLAM and storm shadow. One issue to me would seem to be having a weapon sized above Paveway IV integrated for internal carriage because some times you might want to make a big mess, however this could be rectified by simply purchasing the same 1000 lb JDAMS used by the USMC. In the longer term I think many of the FOAS requirements will have to be carried out by a UCAV. I don’t foresee anyone in any flavour of F35 flying solo deep into enemy territory to drop a couple of 2000 lb bombs post 2020.

Hopefully the first flight of Taranis happens in the first quarter of this year and hopefully both we and the French get our fingers out and actually turn it into a useable design relatively quickly. With a mixed force of Typhoon for A2A, F35B for Fleet air defence and Combat Air support and a Taranis UCAV offering deep strike and reconnaissance then the UK will have one of the most impressive line up’s of combat airpower anywhere in the world.

January 16, 2013 5:00 am

@ Jeremy M H

“As someone who originally did not get what the UK was thinking going back to the B I do appreciate the article. I had already largely come around to the position before this but I think it makes sense for the UK which probably won’t be putting together a major heavy strike package from carriers on its own anyway so the tradeoff is not that big of a deal.”

Welcome to the dark side :-)

January 16, 2013 6:59 am

I like the f-35b, but i do wonder if vlo is all it is cracked up to be given that there is emerging belife by USAF that networked F-15’s with there powerful AESA radars is the best counter to Chinese stealth fighters.

As an aside, wasn’t the RAF website showing that the typhoon was going to get SDB suggesting that we would also purchase for our F-35b’s.

January 16, 2013 8:22 am

Excellent article TD

Why aren’t we considering the Kongsberg JSM. Seeing as it’s software is installed in the F35 as standard? Wouldn’t the JSM be a better choice than Storm Shadow? Especially as we have no Anti-Ship Capability at the moment?

January 16, 2013 8:33 am

@simon – not sure we can compare the jsm and Storm shadow. They are very different missiles with different roles. I think an air launched ASM is pretty far down the mod wish list and there are a lot of other things to spend the money on like crows nest.

January 16, 2013 9:27 am

@ Martin
The Norwegian’s have paid for the integration, of the JSM, on the JSF. So no problems there. However, I find it strange that when it comes to the JSF. We are only concerned about the aircrafts ability to mount AA and AS Land Attack weapons. What are we going to do when the threat comes from the Sea?

Not a Boffin
January 16, 2013 10:48 am

In general I agree with the article, but you seriously need to get over this spat with PTT.

There are some things that don’t come out. Put simply, without carrier air, you can write off RM and the amphibs, in fact the entire RN, because ultimately with no existential threat to the UK, we have a navy for power projection or nothing. The same applies to the other services, although all three retain a residual interception, identification role against small scale or unconventional threats. The reason people became keen on C rather than B was simply that at least there is a fallback option with CTOL carriers. With B, there is none, at all, ever again.

The cost argument has not actually been made. It is widely expected that B will be more expensive than C to acquire. The “conversion cost” of £2Bn for PoW has since been attributed by many to extra DLOD costs, followed by much derision along the lines of “of course they’re through-life costs, only an idiot would think otherwise etc”. However, if that is the case, £2bn over the life of the ship is chump change, in which case the arguments are far less compelling – particularly when it’s up-front costs that are the problem at the minute. You can’t have it both ways – either the £2Bn was DLOD inclusive and therefore through-life, or it was pure ship conversion (and therefore lacks credibility).

Just to be clear – I support the F35, I’m more than happy to live with the B, provided that it actually proceeds. However, given the perceived risk of cancellation of either F35B or the whole F35 programme at the time (and the residual risk now), going for CTOL carriers was a perfectly valid choice. That people have got cold feet subsequently as the operational and organisational (rather than cost) implications became clear is understandable. It does not justify the level of hindsight wisdom being applied here!

January 16, 2013 10:50 am

Martin said “I think an air launched ASM is pretty far down the mod wish list and there are a lot of other things to spend the money on like crows nest.”

I know somewhere yesterday I said that CVF’s ASaC/AEW capabilities are very important. But to repeat something else I say far too often for some here is, the navy should be in the ship sinking business. £1 million pound missile is why we have £50 million aircraft and £1 million is only .3% of T26’s cost. It is small money. Think of it a modular ship killer…….

I read once about a USN commander’s visit to a T42. He was quickly shown the single Mk8 gun and a single Sea Dart launcher and then was given a very comprehensive tour of Ops. The RN has been at the front of EW and other sensors since WW2. And the RN proudly paraded all their electronic gubbins. At the end of the tour, rather ungraciously perhaps, the USN commander turned to his hosts and said “Gee! You guys no exactly when you are going to die.” The implication was that the RN cared a little too much about EW and other sensor systems ie soft kill and intel’ and not about HE and kinetic kill. (I throw EW, RADAR etc all into one pot for expediency.)

January 16, 2013 10:51 am

GeeWhizz TD, another book! Looks good, will have to read it.

The BAE video states never before has the UK had Day One Capability
… since the Vulcans went out of service?

January 16, 2013 10:53 am

Very good article TD

Lets see how a certain group respond XD but I cant help notice the foreboding title of the next installment…

January 16, 2013 11:24 am

@ Simon – have the Norwegians paid to integrate it for external carriage on the b version? Don’t get me wrong I would love to have it it just that I see more use for the money else where.

@ x

Again I agree but how useful are the weapons with out then ISTAR and other goodies to aim them? T42’s issues in the FI were more to do with lack of AEW than missiles.

January 16, 2013 11:34 am

@Martin: dunno about the issues with the T42. Certainly, the missiles themselves were old but serviceable, but the ship radar and fire control system was unreliable and as I recall from one retired admiral, the doors to the magazine jammed due to salt at one very unfortunate time

January 16, 2013 12:18 pm

@ Martin

No. T42 was an example to the RN’s approach, I wasn’t talking about the platform per se. You really are going to have learn to separate illustrations and examples from the subject of the discourse.

I understand that in this era of “information wars” that intel collection is king. And that the argument goes that knowing your enemy’s positions calls for less kinetic force to be used. But if you have don’t the kinetic ability you are just watching the enemy. The RN would argue that they have SSN and can use their allies’ weapons. But we have fewer SSN (where is the redundancy?) and in a multi-polar world who knows who our allies will be? As I said the cost of these weapons as percentage of a total system is small.

January 16, 2013 12:24 pm

Although I’ve changed my tune a little (mainly regarding internal payload of F35B) I still have a few problems with F35B:

1. Endurance.
2. Bring back for CAS missions.
3. The lift-fan concept (mainly the clutch).

As TD implies maybe point 2 will go away with new weapons development.

I think the cost argument against CTOL may well have ultimately landed at the problem of the single hull undertaking a 50:50 mix of jets and copters efficiently. The touted costs could well have included the need to build another flattop.

January 16, 2013 12:29 pm

@ Martin
Kongsberg and LM signed the integration and the promotion of the JSM on the F35, back in 2007. I cant see Kongsberg, putting the JSM only on the F35A. They would want it on all 3 variants, so that they could sell it to all the operators of the F35.

January 16, 2013 12:41 pm

Before getting carried away, have a read of the Pentagon’s latest report on the F-35. It shows that there are still a lot of problems to solve before the aircraft is combat ready:

(Click on DOD Programs then click on F-35 Joint Strike Fighter)

For a summary of some key points in the report:


January 16, 2013 12:55 pm

@ TD

I understand the priorities. It isn’t if the Chinese are off the Needles. But it needed pointing out.

January 16, 2013 1:09 pm

@ TD Pecking order of Priorities

In the case of the Britain and the F35, we have give or take 5 years to make up our minds on what we really need/want to hang off the F35. I believe an MPA, fitted with a Anti Ship Missile is more of a priority right now. I heard this quote on a Discovery Channel Documentary last year, ‘Its a Low Priority..But it has Big Consequence’s’.

Whatever is chosen, it’s ultimately down to HM Treasury.

January 16, 2013 1:16 pm


re: “@Tubby, interesting on the SDB-II thing, do you think that is likely”

Firstly, now I have access to a real PC and not surfing on my phone, have been able to find the on RAF web-site some information about their future plans for Typhoon

“http://www.raf.mod.uk/equipment/typhooneurofighter.cfm” where it says “Future weapons integration will include Meteor air-to-air missile, Paveway IV, Storm Shadow, Brimstone and Small Diameter Bomb. Additionally, it is intended to upgrade the radar to an Active Electronically Scanned Array.”

As to how likely it is, a bit of an internet search shows that Italy has brought 500 SDB-1’s, presumably for their Tornado’s, but I would be surprised if they didn’t plan to integrate them on to the Typhoon at a later date as well – while I cannot see us going alone, if Italy is also interested it would make sense to jointly fund intergration on the Typhoon, and it has the bonus that SDB will be funded for the F-35 so that we do not have to pay for integration of a new weapon under SPEAR 2 – we just use SDB instead.

Peter Elliott
January 16, 2013 1:25 pm

Regarding Anti Ship Missiles I suspect we will be asked to wait for Perseus.

If we bought Kongsberg JSM people would start to ask why we need to be developing Perseus.

And why do we? Well its going to be a lot harder to shoot down that SS or TLAM – and will be designed for both land attack and sinking ships. And will be launchable from Ships, Planes and Subs.

It would make me very uncomfortable if the Indians, Russians and Chinese all had Mach 3 Cruise missiles at sea and we and Uncle Sam didn’t.

January 16, 2013 2:02 pm

Is it just me, or does Spear Cap 3 look an awful lot like SDB II with an engine and three, rather than four, tail fins?

January 16, 2013 2:09 pm

@ Peter Elliott

A bit of topic but my concern with the perseaus is it sounds like a bit of a jack of all and master of none. As far as I have seen the warhead will be relativly small and the rnage limited to about 250km. I realise that the kinetic energy of a missile travelling at Mach 3 will be sufficent to mitigate the small warhead for some deep and burried targets but the short range rules it out as a TLAM replacement in my mind for naval units. I am guessing that to be a Mach 3 missile with a 500 KG warhead and a rnage of 1000 km we would probably be talking about something the size of an F35. It is really possible to combine all three missiles into one or do the laws of physics prohibit it.

Peter Elliott
January 16, 2013 2:51 pm

“I cannae change the laws of physics captain…”

January 16, 2013 3:07 pm

This must be the most public development programme of any modern aircraft. Sure it has issues, but I see them being worked through. B will be fine for us. I think C will, and probably should, be at risk – USN sticks with SHs then go UAV and next and last gen manned fighter

January 16, 2013 3:07 pm

I agree that future integration of the JSM does rather depend on how things pan out with Perseus, as well as the natural pecking order of priorities outside of dedicated anti-ship missiles. With ship based ASM’s still hanging around and an air launched variety being provided by Wildcat I think the JSM won’t ever be considered a priority no matter how useful it could actually be in service.

I fear a worst case scenario of side-stepping the JSM because of Perseus, which in turn takes many, many years (if ever) to get off the drawing board and become anything more than a concept.

January 16, 2013 4:50 pm

yes, we are not the USN (incl USMC), but
“a nod to stealthy attacks against ground based air defence targets” with a 100 km stand-off range is just that. a nod.

USN sees the stealthy JASSM (the launch aircraft does not necessarily need to be stealthy), with its 300 km range, as the main tool for suppressing sophisticated air defences and they are working on the extended range version

In the comments JSM is seen as an anti-ship weapon (as NSM) when in fact it can be used as a cruise missile (non-emitting and more than contour flying, flying around obstacles rather than than popping over the ridge, into full radar view)

January 16, 2013 4:50 pm


Can I comment as a prodigal son.

For a long time I was not an F35 (of whatever flavour) fan.

I probably commented on here to that effect.

In particular there there was a fair ammount to fear in the new fighter. Despite your perfectly reasonable ‘everything has teething problems’ observations, the F35 had more than it’s fair share. The publicly available figures suggested it was going to be a ‘shi8load more cash than say a beefed up f18, which could largely do the required job. However the program has been turned round, with some serious buttock prodding, and even some blood curdling (for the contractors), threats of being prepared to kill the program, by the US Govt. Also the prices seem to be more comparable with the upgraded F18. So for the record I was wrong, (at least about the A and C versions).

The B version is IMHO still not ‘out of the woods’ but looks a lot better than it did this time last year. I am not THAT impressed by pilots saying how good a new aircraft is, imagine their carieer path if they flew it and then announced it was crap….. When US pilots first flew the Harrier they said it was ‘ A piece of cake’ to fly…

My only criticism of the going back to the B decision is not about range etc. It is that puts all our naval aviations eggs in one basket. If B fails to work we have 2 very big LPH’s (btw anyone got any other ideas what we would do if B fails)? And as you have observed, B still has some problems.

Re the Low observable point. There I suspect we disagree.

1) A lot of work is going / will be going into finding these things. In the history of warfare no technical supperiority lasts that long. For one reason alone, the first company that comes out with a radar that can find these things will make shedloads of cash..

2) Your post itself talks about hanging stuff on the outside which immedialty compromises to varying degrees it’s stealth. After all the history of every combat aircraft since before ww2 almost, is that the moment it hits service, airforces start hanging weapons and stuff, off the bottom. The F35 will have to be truly revolutionary if that does not happen.

3) The low observable Radar will prove trackable after a while. It emmits electromagnetic radiation. Its a bit like having a’Low observable light bulb’

That does not stop it being a bloody good aircraft, the best aircraft available for our use. And it is good to see it seems on some sort of track for service when required.

So 3 cheers form someone who was wrong in the first place!

January 16, 2013 5:38 pm

What the same people damning the F-35 program in the US fail to see, is the simple fact that their beloved Super Bug failed their performance requirements in quite a lot of points. I would give not too much about such hypocrisy.

The bravo IMO is the right choice. I wonder how much more complicated interdiction becomes for an enemy, if the interceptor can start from more or less any given road.

The boss didn’t mentioned it, but VLO is also as much emission management as stealth. The AESA radar will give much better control.

January 16, 2013 6:18 pm

I have to say I’m a convert to the B too. To echo one big worry is that we do not have a plan B. Is there any mileage in one if our smaller aerospace companies dusting off the P1214/p1216 plans and building a prototype with off the shelf avionics? We used to do this a lot in the old days but has gone out of fashion lately, probably due to cost. I have no idea of capital outlay however.

January 16, 2013 6:30 pm

Mmmmmmmm’ – well, I am speechless……

I actually don’t disagree with your conclusion or some of your individual points.

However (IMHO and all that)I am afraid to say, and I do say this as good natured constructive criticism (honest!), but that is probably the biggest pile of pants you have ever written in the history of your site, and not at all up to your usual standards – sorry !

Look forward to the next installment though.

January 16, 2013 6:38 pm

@TD – I’m going to break the habit of my short lifetime on your site by commenting on one of your articles without having read it all the way through. In my defence, it’s a long article (did Chris B help you with it ;-) )and I’m pushed for time this evening.

“In the USA, that criticism has reached almost religious levels.” – Well in the main they’re paying for it :-)

I do agree with you though. The JSF is one of those topics, like global warming or the EU, where people jump to a conclusion without bothering to hear much by way of facts, then happily ignore any fact which contradicts or questions their conclusion, while snapping up any fact which seemingly reinforces it. I think the technical term for such behaviour is “cognitive dissonance;” being a layman I just call it stupid.

I think an explanation for the extraordinary level of vitriol aimed at JSF might lie with the high level of “concurrency” in the program. You correctly state that it’s wrong to draw conclusions about a jet still in the development stage; the problem of course is that JSF is not just in development, it also happens to be in production. The USMC are trumpeting the fact that they have an operational squadron; which is of course complete b*ll*cks!

We have to try and divorce the jet itself from the, IMO ludicrous, way in which the program to produce it is being run. In reality, we’re at the pre-production stage; there are many problems still to be ironed out; new problems may arise; some potential buyers may fall by the wayside; s*d ’em! We need this to work. Fortunately so do the USMC, so it will be made to work – maybe not as well as advertised, and certainly not within budget, but I agree with those above who say the B is on firmer ground than the C, so it may be we have backed the right horse even if not for the right reasons.

Just a quick reaction to what promises to be another excellent post. Looking forward to sitting down and reading it properly.

January 16, 2013 7:22 pm

@WiseApe: actually, I don’t think anyone cares about concurrency per se. Plenty of earlier aircraft have been produced the same way and gone on to be successful. What people care about is that it’s vastly over budget and late: IOC was supposed to be 2012. Lets hope that what comes forth is worth the pain, since we now effectively have no other choices.

The top lesson we should learn is that chasing the highest possible production numbers by attempting to merge wildly different requirements is very foolish. A STOVL 25 tonne Harrier replacement would work fine, while a twin engine 35 tonne Air Force/USN would equally work just fine. Merging the two was rather foolish!

January 16, 2013 7:50 pm

Gd article TD, one bit people maybe don’t get is because the mission systems are in essence identical when a weapon is integrated on f35 it is integrated on all variants.

And just as an idea of scale the turquoise primer bits in this photo are the fibermat bits.

There is a reason that all the combat aircraft of major western powers are painted in these dull boring gray colours now it plays a part in the system.

The f35 paint shop

January 16, 2013 8:07 pm

Can I just say that those that are concerned about our limited choices with the F35B should not be too worried.

CVF is still convertable.

She was always designed to swing between deck layouts simply due to her 50 year projected life.

So if F35B is canned we can still retrospectively convert CVF to CTOL/CATOBAR/STOBAR in the future.

We still have a contingency… just one that would cost a couple of billion and several more years out of service ;-)

January 16, 2013 8:40 pm

Mark said: “one bit people maybe don’t get is because the mission systems are in essence identical when a weapon is integrated on f35 it is integrated on all variants.”

Erm’ no, not really, not if said weapon physically wont fit in your versions internal weapons bay !

TD – really sorry, should have thought about what my Mum used to say; if you havent got anything nice to say, dont say anything ! Sorry, sorry, sorry…… :-)

John Hartley
January 16, 2013 8:48 pm

F-35B, Tiger or pup? Neither, probably.
I am resigned to QE/PoW being STOVL with F-35B, but I would keep a back up plan of STOBAR, should India go that way with Seaphoon or Rafale.
Will UK F-35B get the gun pod?
F-35B will do Harrier type tasks. It will operate in bad weather.
However, it is not a dogfighter, nor is it capable of long range, heavy strike.
So UK F-35B should all be FAA.
RAF should use Typhoon for dogfighting & short range strike.
The Tornado GR4 needs to be replaced with something with more range than F-35B. Either FOAS stretched Typhoon or the mooted F-35E.

January 16, 2013 8:50 pm


Em yes. If it does not fit on that store pylon the store will not have a release clearance from that pylon. It will remain integrated on the missions system and have appropriate flight envelope parameters for use from the pylons it can be used on.

January 16, 2013 9:34 pm

@TD: does your mum know where his mum lives?

January 16, 2013 9:48 pm

@John Hartley

Do you have a link to this F35E? I’ve not seen anything about it, so is it just vapourware?

January 16, 2013 10:03 pm


Thought you might like this link…

Combat radius comparison F35B/C, AV8-B and F18

…I think it shows the combat radius of the various aircraft against a not quite so large lump of blue ;-)

January 16, 2013 10:39 pm

@Simon: couple of points. Firstly, I suspect no one is interested in the F18C/D anymore, and we know F18E/F has a radius closer to the F35C. Secondly, F35 radii are all based around a pair of 2000/1000lb JDAM and 2 AMRAAM, all carried internally. AV8B was usually rated for a pair of Sidewinders and 5 1000lb bombs, and if we start hanging external weapons off the F35B (as we will have to for most missions), I suspect the radius will be much the same as the AV8B.

Not that this is a disaster. It’s still a capable aircraft, which should be a reasonable replacement for SHAR/GR7.

John Hartley
January 16, 2013 10:48 pm

Flight had an item on the proposed F-35E, though the article was on F-15E replacements the USAF was/is looking at. The F-35E would have a new engine giving longer range. Perhaps even a 2 seater. Nothing firm yet.

John Hartley
January 16, 2013 10:59 pm

George go to FlightGlobal, the 13 Dec 2012 article “USAF mulls options for replacement of Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle”.

January 16, 2013 11:18 pm

To derail slightly, FAA keep F-35s, RAF get a few LRS-B (the next-gen bomber). Seed corn projects and Rivet Joint inter operability, together with co-development of JCA/JSF, should provide a useful framework for our involvement on the project for what will essentially be mid-21st century Vulcans. And have them nuclear capable: does the next deterrent force have to be submarine?

Brian Black
January 16, 2013 11:46 pm

“CVF is still convertable. She was always designed to swing between deck layouts simply due to her 50 year projected life. So if F35B is canned we can still retrospectively convert CVF to CTOL/CATOBAR/STOBAR in the future. We still have a contingency… just one that would cost a couple of billion and several more years out of service ;-)”

I think the idea of a mid-life conversion was always something of a myth (or downright dirty lie), designed to give the impression of greater value for money. Costs of fitting cats-n-flaps 20 or 30 years down the road would have to sit alongside the substantial refit costs necessary to keep comms, weapons and sensors relevant over the decades to come.
If we had gone for smaller STOVL ships from the start, we would have acceptable commando carriers if

January 16, 2013 11:47 pm

@ JH

Thanks for pointers!

January 16, 2013 11:56 pm

@John Hartley

I’m afraid the future for complex weapon systems is ruthless commonality and standardisation, something which (substantial costs aside) leaves little room for 3 types of fighter-jet in service.

The next 20 years is all about utilising our 2 type fleet as best we can, focusing on innovation and compromise with the limited resources available, not niche fleets taking on specific roles. Chances are beyond the 2030’s we will be looking to have 1 large single type fleet…and it won’t consist of F35E!

Brian Black
January 17, 2013 12:05 am

If we had gone for smaller STOVL ships from the start, we would have acceptable commando carriers if F35B had gone tits-up; and if we decided we needed a cats-n-flaps carrier in 20 years time, we would have vessels that we could sell on – giving us some cash back towards the more sensible option of building a catobar carrier from scratch.
Ripping apart the Ark and Eagle in repeated and massive refits helped to kill off big carriers for decades. Wasn’t Eagle reputed to have spent more time in refit than at sea? It could never be affordable to manage the new carriers in a similar fashion.

January 17, 2013 4:33 am

“No one else will ever operate the F35 C and many nations from the Spanish to the South Korean’s are likely at some point to purchase F35B.”

That’s news in Australia who have signed up for the C variant

Not a Boffin
January 17, 2013 8:00 am


Small STOVL ships would not have met the requirement, nor been cost effective. Ark and Eagle were expensive to refit because they were in linear config from the start and steam cats were only just being invented.

John Hartley
January 17, 2013 9:06 am

There is no point in giving the RAF short ranged F-35B that cannot reach the enemy. If the F-35E goes ahead, its combat radius is likely to be near double that of the F-35B.

Not a Boffin
January 17, 2013 9:56 am

F35E. A pretend aircraft. They won’t even fund F136!

January 17, 2013 10:05 am

I don’t see any fast jet other than Typhoon / F35B for the foreseeable future. The Typhoon with primary home air defence / QRA responsibility and a half decent secondary strike capability, that can evolve with incremental upgrades. The F35B is our expeditionary offering, so our own purposes in conjunction with carrier and as part of any colalition operating from sea or land bases (supported by a Typhoon squadronn or so if appropriate in AD / Strike capacity). I thing we’ll see numbers head close to equality if a second F35B tranche arrive, perhaps 150 fast jets, 60 or 70 Bs and the balance Typhoons. Our primary long range strike option would be TLAMs or successor from Astute / T26. I don’t think our strategic requirements need (or we can afford) the development / purchase of a manned fast jet long range strike aircraft. I think any need for an aerial enhancement of long range strike would more appropriately come from a missile truck, based on say a 737 with a couple of rotary bays. I could see a 737 based family for consistency, P8, AWACs replacement etc. Tough reliable airframe with off the shelf packages and armament. All that said, where we don’t want to be in 20/30 years time is block obsolescence of airframes / systems. There needs to be a longer term roadmap, appreciating requirements will change. Where for example is the next QRA aircraft coming from, F35 derivative or somewhere else? Will there be a ‘son of F35B’ etc.

January 17, 2013 10:15 am

@John Hartley

Typhoon and Lightning B may not have the fantastical range of some other aircraft, but at the same time id say the figures are respectable!

As I said the future is about making the best use of what we have, not chasing niche capabilities with no money!


If their is eventually a ‘son of F35’ then it won’t be for a very, very long time.

Although I broadly agree with everything else you said.

January 17, 2013 10:26 am

@challenger, agree, doubt I’ll see anything beyond F35B in my lifetime unfortunately!

January 17, 2013 11:03 am

Smaller ships? All that would have happened is the RN/BAE shoving expensive systems into a small hull instead of shoving those same expensive into a larger with greater flexibility for not much extra cost.

January 17, 2013 1:12 pm

@George the F35E is a non existant unplanned vapourware plane at the moment much in the same way that Seaphoon only exists in a glossy brochure and some simulations and feasibility assesments.

The AETD project is a prototype study. Not a production engine it will take a very long time to get to a production standard engine.

F15E isn’t intended to go out of service until the 2030’s so I very much doubt we’d be seeing a longer legged F35 any time soon or that we’d even buy it depending upon where we are with our F35 buy and whether a two seat, longer ranged F35 long range strike bomber variant ever appeared (or ‘new’ aircraft as I like to call it) and we could afford it.

I can almost guarentee that even if the variable fan version of the F135 engine comes to pass and works the way P&W hope we’ll probably not buy it due to getting our planes even later than the current planned delivery date which still might slip.

January 17, 2013 1:36 pm

@ Aidan

I have not seen anything on oz taking the C version. Do you have a link for it?

Ace Rimmer
January 17, 2013 2:28 pm

Oil gone by 2050, and in short supply before then, so what’s going to power gas guzzlers like F-35 and CVF?

My current vision of air warfare post 2050 looks like a Grob G115, powered by an electric engine and armed with son-of-stinger!

….or is this the wrong thread for comments like that?

January 17, 2013 3:17 pm

@ ace rimmer

Think those pesky rules of physics might have something to say about your electric jet. As my old economics professor use to say there has been 40 years worth of oil left since they first found oil.

January 17, 2013 4:02 pm
January 17, 2013 4:53 pm

Hello everyone. I agree partly with Jeremy M H. I think it’s quite likely to shape up into a fine and versatile aircraft in many ways. But my main (perhaps misguided) concern (about the whole programme, not just the F35B) is that pro-F35 arguments often seem to depend on the plane staying in service for a very long time – think the US is assuming a 50-year lifetime?

In kinematic terms it may just about be competitive with the later-generation Su-27 variants available right now, or it may not. Either way, it seems like it risks becoming very vulnerable indeed when the PAK-FA and suchlike start appearing in numbers around the place. Which won’t be that long, in the context of the plane’s intended lifetime.

Is it really plausible to think it’ll be able to take on top-line enemy fighters in 2040 or so? And if it can’t, how will that affect the value for money it ends up offering? I’m trying to think beyond just the UK here – several countries seem to be basically betting the farm on this plane staying competitive for much longer than most have ever managed before. And many of them seem to be planning for it to do air defence and superiority in some fashion, not just ground attack, carrier operations etc. I guess this is probably more of an issue for the F35A and to a lesser extent F35C.

January 17, 2013 5:16 pm

From the Telegraph (thanks Simon257 for the link):

Pitiful journalism: “…early tailhooks failed to catch the wire when planes landed on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Wasp…” Is this guy their resident defence writer?

From the same article: “…it’s a quantum step in every way from the Harrier.” – Let’s hope so. I feel a mantra coming on. :-)

Finally: “The MoD has to think very hard in its 2015 review whether it wishes to develop the Typhoon, or to buy further F-35s and nothing else…” – A very pertinent point. Of course, HM Treasury will be having a substantial say in that discussion.

January 17, 2013 5:30 pm

That F35 article in the Telegraph is interesting and raises a number of points.

Personally I think the Typhoon has a slightly more promising future than the article suggests, both through continued exports and the strong chance of the RAF keeping it in service through incremental upgrades past 2030. I reckon we will eventually see an all F35 fleet, but not for quite some time and in a shape and form that’s anyone guess.

Although it’s correct in suggesting that it will almost certainly be the last domestic fighter-jet the UK can ever produce (or at least part produce) I think a slice of the F35 work and specialisation in other areas of the defence market will serve us well. The days of producing everything for yourself are long gone.

Gloomy Northern Boy
January 17, 2013 6:01 pm

@Tomsk – you might be right about top of the range enemy fighters – but if we stay in the game with high-tech defensive and expeditionary warfare of the kind we appear to be gearing up for we should be able to maintain sufficient influence in resource-rich areas (like Africa and our own Overseas Territory EEZ’s) to avoid all out war with the Chinese, who are likely to be the only potential rivals with the ability to build that kind of kit.

Mind you, that thought makes me wonder if we ought to be doing more rather than less to help the Frogs in Mali…

January 17, 2013 6:03 pm

To be very very honest, I think what drives the badmouthing of the F-35 is primarily not its’ proposed capabilities, but the continued delay of the in-service date. If you proposed launch and delivery of a product by Day X, and nothing turns up, people are going to come at your program with a shovel and dig up why you failed to deliver, and they will look at things in the worst possible light in trying to find an explanation.

One question I do have is the role of the F-35 in the RAF. If the plan is to use the F-35 as a light bomb truck with a bit of air defence on the side while the Typhoon provides air superiority, then it might not be wise to further fund the ground attack capabilities of the Typhoon, considering that something else is in the pipeline for that job already.

Either way, lemon or success, the F-35 is here to stay, it’s one of the few aircraft so many people have committed to that it ensures future growth. Still waiting for the real “in-service” date though…

All Politicians are The same
January 17, 2013 6:52 pm

One thing about PAK FA etc is that we have no visibility of their current or proposed capabilities. If the US are struggling to make F35 as capable as predicted and they have experience with F22/B2/F117 etc then the fact we have seen the Chinese fly an aircraft that looks like an F22 and we hear about the Russians developing an aircraft like PAk FA should be taken with a pinch of salt.
These countries do not have the same experience of developing high tech fighter aircraft. We spent the cold war being scared sh*tlless of Soviet super weapons and found out after the fact that hardly any of them worked and those that did were nowhere near as good as we had been led to believe.
I take my F35 lead from the guys who are currently flying them and both the public and private stories I hear is that they are impressed.

January 17, 2013 7:36 pm

F35 2012 a year in review

John Hartley
January 17, 2013 7:38 pm

The F-35E may or may not happen. It is silly to write it off before the decision, whenever that is. There is a certain logic to F-35E. The F-15E needs replacing. Given American debt ceilings, an all new aircraft is unlikely.
If it was my decision, I would cut USAF F-35A from 1763 to 1400 & use the money saved to develop & buy 250 F-35E.
For the UK, around 2030-40, an all F-35 combat jet force makes sense. Say 50-60 F-35B for the FAA & 50-70 F-35E for RAF long range strike, plus 110 updated F-35A doing QRA & short range strike.

January 17, 2013 8:36 pm


That’s a pretty good vid.

Nice to see “C” catching the wire.

January 17, 2013 8:45 pm

Personally I think JSF gets a kicking from some quarters because its capabilities were over hyped by LockMart marketing and it has so far had difficultly in proving it will meet the claims. It doesn’t help that the latest DOT&E report has down graded the expected performance of all three versions (transonic acceleration for example).

I think if LockMart (and the various defence ministries around the world) were a bit more honest at the start and stated that trying to develop a supersonic, stealthy AND V/STOL was going to be very difficult and to expect teething problems, the JSF might not face such strong criticism now.

January 17, 2013 9:10 pm

@John Hartley: there will never be a F35E. The F35 is pushing the envelope on engine technology as is, they would beed a new aircraft with two engines. A F22E is far more likely

January 17, 2013 9:18 pm

“A F22E is far more likely”

Good luck restarting the plants. IIRC, the F-22 was so overpriced because they had to keep senators with home interests happy and distributed the manufacturing all over America.

I rate the chance of a F-22E about the same as the F-22 MANTA.

John Hartley
January 17, 2013 9:25 pm

F-35E will not happen today. That does not mean it will never happen. My guess is nothing will happen until the A/B/C are sorted out & in squadron service, then the military industrial machine will want its next shiny toy.
So nothing serious until 2018-20, then I expect serious debate on the go/no-go of the F-35E.

January 17, 2013 9:27 pm

@John Hartley

A future fast jet force of 240 aircraft split into 3 variants seems a little excessive to me, I don’t think their is the appetite or resources for that level of investment.

I reckon we will be lucky to keep FJ numbers around the 200 mark, with Typhoon getting a degree of multi-role ground attack capability and the F35B providing a strike platform in place of Tornado when it finally enters service.

As I said before, the future is us making the most of what we have through innovation, commonality and flexibility, not ploughing large sums into niche capabilities that we may want to use once in a blue moon.

Plus you’re forgetting the looming dominance of UAV’s. Even if manned jets hang around for a few more decades you have to admit that UAV’s are ideal for long range strike.

Jeremy M H
January 17, 2013 9:29 pm

@WF & John Hartley

I think the most likely “next” US fighter is going to be something for the USAF and USN that replace the F-18E/F, the F-15E and the F-22. You will be looking at basically (at least I hope) F-35 style avionics with 2 engines primarily to get more range and internal payload out of the thing. But I also think that is probably 10-15 years away. I don’t think you see an F-35E unless it is simply an F-35 with a new engine mounted in it and they call the upgraded ones D,E and F models instead of just assigning them new block numbers.


I don’t really worry about the PAK-FA either. I don’t think kinematic performance is really going to be the name of the game. You will have to be respectable but the difference between going Mach 2 and Mach 1.2 won’t matter nearly as much as the ability of your sensors, missiles and most importantly the programing the holds it all together. And yes, this would apply to the F-22 and is why I fully think when the time comes to replace the F-22 they will build something with less speed and more payload and range.

January 17, 2013 9:30 pm

@Observer: they very carefully kept the tooling and preserved the procedures. No “cut up the jigs and sell for scrap” like we did with TSR2 and the US did with the SR71


That being said, I suspect it would still be easier to build a new aircraft using F35 systems and engines :-)

January 17, 2013 9:35 pm

Won’t Typhoon be down to 100 airframes soon? If 48 or so F35b are purchased I think the follow order won’t be more than 60 F35a. I see F35 slowly replacing Typhoon. To be honest I don’t think Typhoon will see its scheduled OSD of 2030-ish. 17 years is a long time, anything could happen in the next half hour! ;) This will keep the FJ pilot numbers at about 100 with one common type. Other programs aren’t sacrosanct I do see why we should regard Typhoon any differently. Everybody here just assumes it is safe.

January 17, 2013 9:55 pm

People really need to stop thinking f35 is a short ranged/ endurance a/c cause it most definitely is not. Any 30k pound dead weight jet carrying anything from about 14k to 18k/20k pounds of fuel internally is going to go a long way. Fuel fractions internal ones more so are a much better bench mark than wiki range predictions. If people want strategic strike a/c by all means build them but the f35 and indeed typhoon really are more than gd enough in the range stakes.

Typhoon will definitely have as much capability as tornado if not more so by the time tornado leaves service.

F35 gives a new different capability they aimed high on f35 and might not achieve all they hoped but I don’t think they were wrong to try, I know exploration and discovery are bad words to the accounts and lawyers that seem to run everything these days but its a sad day when wet stop trying.

All Politicians are The same
January 17, 2013 10:10 pm

I am not a FJ jock but even I can appreciate the advantages given by 360 degree look round capability.

As for the data link capability, Well you can have 1 F35 loaded for bear, radiating on AESA and another x amount internal carriage only on a different vector internal stores sharing the same information but stealthy.

Too many number crunching non operating types being critical when it is obvious the guys who have to fly it or mission plan see what it is worth.

Jeremy M H
January 17, 2013 11:04 pm


I think you have the right idea. I honestly expect the F-35 to take a number of years at exercises like Red Flag to develop its combat tactics. It is a jet you will fight very differently than anything that came before it. In some respects you will fight in like the F-22 but I think you have to be more careful (you don’t have the speed overmatch) and array yourself differently to best leverage a superior sensor suite.

Personally, and like you not a jet pilot, I would expect that the tactics will find it not only being important to spread themselves laterally but in significant depth of space. A trailing F-35 can either take shots with its own weapons or illuminate with its radar for other F-35’s if they end up in a WVR fight. The data link will be incredibly powerful in this regard.

January 17, 2013 11:56 pm

I do expect this to happen
“expect that the tactics will find it not only being important to spread themselves laterally but in significant depth of space. A trailing F-35 can either take shots with its own weapons or illuminate with its radar for other F-35′s if they end up in a WVR fight”
– indeed, already there for the latest AMRAAM

I hope the Meteor, with all its good qualities, gets the backing it needs (and deserves)

All Politicians are The same
January 18, 2013 12:51 am

SU35 vs F35 pretty much goes, SU35 detected by F35 and shot down by missiles launched before SU35 knew F35 was there. Now that is a purer personal take om their individual capabilities. When you lok at ISTAR support the F35 has an even bigger superiority.
Of course we have zero evidence of how goopd the SU27 follow ons or PAK FA or the Chines balsa wood F22 replica rae. We have 1 project to pick on and do we not do it.

Jeremy M H
January 18, 2013 3:11 am

And what is really not talked about is that the Russians have longer-range radar guided missile issues. The R-77 hardly seems to be in service in Russia and India had some issues with it not really being what they hoped.

January 18, 2013 8:34 am

Haven’t looked into their arsenal, but read a fairly new interview of their airforce commander, who said that there hasn’t been a new missile introduced into service for ten years.
– aren’t those extra-long range missiles designed as AWACS killers, rather than to be used against a manoeuvreing fighter plane?

January 18, 2013 9:27 am

Perhaps TD should do a post on “how to kill a stealth jet”…

My take on the whole BVR thing is that in order for F35 to target you it will have scanned you with its radar which immediately gives its position away. Maybe not to Eastern technology, but with the West’s data processing capabilities I think we could conjure up a solution.

This doesn’t mean you’ve killed the F35 it simply means it’s not quite as easy for the F35 to kill you as some people believe (well, me anyway ;-)).

Stealth revolves around zero or low EM emission so would rely on something else doing the targeting and the jet shooting you with passive radar, IR or visual homing missiles.

Therefore to survive an encounter you need to take out the “illuminator” – probably the AWACS, which means a long-range missile.

However, we still haven’t killed the jet! To do that you need to light the thing up like a Christmas tree and have some seriously excellent countermeasures packed.

The only thing on the side of the SU27, PAK-FA, etc is that they pack more missiles than the F35 meaning they have to evade/counter 4 launched at them but get the chance to fire off 6-8 back.

January 18, 2013 10:45 am

Simon thats a big assumption. To me the obvious thing is to have an active seeker in the missile and a datalink between the aircraft and the missile that can be used to give it track/correction information after it’s fired. The F35 scans briefly gets a ‘radar’ picture then identifies any tracks using a library of parameters to match against (or another asset a long way a way sends the data to the F35). The relevant information is sent to the missile which gets launched and it’s active seeker takes care of the rest.

January 18, 2013 11:42 am

One of the key considerations is just how low the low probability of intercept is on modern radars. To put it one way, the F-35 radar was used in a test to intercept emissions from an F-22 radar. What the circumstances of that trial were we don’t know. The next issue is the future power of radars and processing equipment, which are easier to upgrade than it is to replace a new aircraft. Sort of.

January 18, 2013 11:55 am


My take on the active seeker missile is that unless you only use active seeking in the terminal phase it still gives the launchers position away.

Once the position is roughly know it’s all hands to the deck to “light it up”. It’s a similar cat and mouse game as sub hunting… something I know equally little about ;-)

The whole radar thing falls apart due to the fact that you are 4 times more likley to detect the enemy radar transmission as they are able to detect their reflection. Horrible inverse square law issue.

Perhaps newer missiles can be programmed with likely movement vectors for their target and use active seeking on the home straight?

January 18, 2013 12:26 pm

The Israelis are particularly keen to have both lock-on-launch and lock after launch in their quiver.

Those who use Russian missiles tend to fire them in salvos so that a successful countermeasure against one kind of seeker still leaves you dead.

Sensors? … who can tell, they are so secret as for true performance. IR passive sensors is one of the few areas where the Europeans (does that include Russia, as they have good ones as well)used to have a lead
– again, what you get to read on this in open-source is probably well out of date

January 18, 2013 12:28 pm

Forgot to say that this “Those who use Russian missiles tend to fire them in salvos ” explains the high(er) number of missiles carried

Jeremy M H
January 18, 2013 1:57 pm

@ Simon

The F-35 will have more advantages than even the F-22 when it comes to the LPI mode of its radar due to its data link abilities. A flight of 4 fighters will basically all be able to take turns, very rapidly and in an automated fashion, illuminating the target with LPI radars to maintain a constant picture of events. Since the radar take from the group is fuzed and distributed there is no real need for any one radar to dwell on a target. Now ECM equipment will develop but this is still going to be a very tough nut to crack.

The AIM-120 itself can accept midcourse updates from any aircraft with the proper link I believe. I would gather the mode of operation at BVR will be to guide the missile in very close before it goes active.

All Politicians are The same
January 18, 2013 3:11 pm

Jeremy M H

Exactly, and the aircraft illuminating can be widely dispersed making it even more difficult to pinpoint. Or you could go down a Ship type EMCON plan of having 1 illuminate and share the data so all the enemy know is that there is at least 1 aircraft out there.

January 18, 2013 3:14 pm

Simon I don’t think I agree you. All you can do is guess where the missile may or may not have been fired from all the while an active missile is trying to blow you out of the sky and the launching platform could have gone anywhere as it’s a fast jet and it’s an LO platform and the F35’s radar is probably frequency agile and god knows whatever other clever tricks or it might be using information sent via it’s datalink from a totally different source. Also this is all happening very very quickly.

January 18, 2013 3:36 pm


I’m not entirely sure I agree with me. I’m simply exploring possibilities ;-)

I don’t buy the frequency shifting thing. Any EM transmission can be received and directional information can be extracted from it using phase difference and quite a bit of CPU power, especially with actively scanned arrays.

The use of multiple aircraft with only one using its radar (intermittently, I assume) still gives a clue to the location of the formation. Following this every single radar transmitter (ground, ship or air based) will aim in the general direction and EM will scatter all over the place from the aircraft – regardless if they’re stealth on not – and received by all and sundry.

I really don’t buy this radar absorbing paint/material rubbish. There’s nothing in this universe that is EM “black” to every frequency except a black hole (and we only just get them at CERN). Maybe some of the frequencies used by the majority of current radars but not everything.

Stealth certainly tips the scales, but not all the way. It is an absolutely excellent tactic for strike, but not once you’ve given you rough position away.


January 18, 2013 3:39 pm

We should remember that even if they don’t get all the electronic gubbins working perfectly, it’s still going to be decades ahead of any potential rival system, which gives us plenty of time to get it right. O.k. so your 360 degree vision is a bit fuzzy – still beats looking in a rear view mirror in your Mig/J10!

Just a pity the platform itself is a little disappointing. With billions of pounds thrown at a 21st century jet I was hoping for something better than mach 1.6, 7G (4.5 sustained) and pretty crappy acceleration. And yes I know it shouldn’t matter but it’s not a looker is it?

Jeremy M H
January 18, 2013 4:09 pm

@ Simon

The CPU intensive part is sorting out the dangerous EM emissions from the non-dangerous. The world is awash in EM emissions, particularly a modern aerial battlefield. The difficult part is determining what emissions are dangerous. While it is true that any EM transmission is detectable the detectors don’t just go off every time a stray radio wave hits it. They are looking for identifiable patterns and AESA’s have very difficult to identify patterns. This gets an order of magnitude more complicated if you are not just up against frequency hopping on one set but are facing the same against 4 aircraft spread out over a wide space.

Again, we don’t have access to classified information but it has been clear that in pretty much all aircraft purchase deals being done recently AESA radars have been an absolute key factor and one of the biggest advantages they have is the LPI capabilities.

More than that I think there is a lot more danger for the other side in adopting your chosen tactic of trying to radar mob a group of F-35’s. The F-35 has all the same tricks as any other fighter, plus they will use their data-link to provide very high accuracy ESM fixes. And while you can’t really shoot at a fighter based on a fleeting ESM fix (they move too fast so generally you need a radar picture or optical fix) ground based or ship based radars don’t.

Firing those up at full power trying to mob a group of F-35’s is basically letting the F-35’s (and anything else in range) know exactly where they need to shoot. Charging after F-35’s with radars blazing away in anything short of an F-22 like aircraft honestly sounds like a pant-shitting awful nightmare to me. They can and will see you and likely engage you before you can see them. You won’t have any real idea how many are out there. Using data-linked missiles and a much wider intercept baseline (since F-35’s pool data their ESM baseline is measured in miles instead of feet or inches and is much more accurate) they could be shooting at you and you likely won’t know it until the missile is right no top of you (unless you have very good EO detection equipment). Even if you evade that puts you on the defensive right from the get go.

And I would apply that to any current fighter other than the F-22. Eurofighter, upgraded F-15’s, SU-35’s ect. It is just my personal opinion but if you send me charging after a group of F-35’s like that I expect to lose badly even if I outnumbered them 2 to 1. When the reality is that the F-35 will probably be built and in high threat operations present in greater numbers than any 4.5 generation aircraft I just have no interest in flailing around after a target with that degree of situational awareness advantage over me.

It is the whole package that really defines what the F-35 can do. The low-observable combined with the excellent radar combined with a very high end ESM suite combined with a very high end data link combined with a lot of programming.

January 18, 2013 4:11 pm

Wiseape is it crappy acceleration and performance? Do you know what weight, altitude speed and such like the performance is based on? Do you know a comparable performance spec for other a/c most importantly its likely enemies. I think until that is known which I’m sure we never will for sometime making judgement on what is or is not acceptable on an open forum is speculation. The disappointing aspect of the report is more the fact that historical issues have still not been taken form engineering to testing to closed to production but I’m sure its not for the want of trying.

Jeremy M H
January 18, 2013 4:12 pm


My understanding of the acceleration is that the A and B model will still be of F-16 type class (they had hoped to beat it) and the C won’t be way off from the F-18 type numbers. The biggest problem is finding correct numbers to compare it to. For the life of me I can’t find sustained turn numbers for a Eurofighter or SU-27 with 5,000 pounds of ordinance (to compare to the A model). All the F-35 numbers you see would be with that full internal load I believe.

January 18, 2013 5:49 pm

@Mark – Are you saying we shouldn’t speculate unless/until we know the facts? That’s going to make for a very dull blog :-) Of course we could all wait 30-40 years for the benefit of hindsight to catch up with us, but I for one will be pushing up the daisies by then, so if it’s all the same to you I’ll take a punt now.

To paraphrase John Cleese, when the facts emerge I’ll be safely in my grave and safe from further embarrassment.

January 18, 2013 6:50 pm


It’s a free country you can speculate all you like Im pointing out that your making a statement something’s crappy when you don’t know a benchmark. All that’s publicly know is that performance characteristics have been reduced from the spec (same thing happened with super bug) and how comparable it was to current jets and there combat configuration. A BMW m3 has fantastic acceleration compared to a ford ka but if the benchmark is a f1 car it’s a bit crappy. Put the external tanks and missiles on typhoon its top speed is m1.6 had they fitted the larger tanks to typhoon it would probably be sub sonic only. Tornado was rated about 7g put the Hindenburg tanks on an it would have struggled to pull 3g. Put f22 at altitude and its sustained g is 6 or slightly less. Context is everything.

January 18, 2013 6:54 pm

Yeah the original aim was a baseline of internally loaded + fuel for the F35 against the F16/F18 figures for a ‘clean’ aircraft. I don’t know how much head room was built in to that.

January 18, 2013 9:09 pm
January 19, 2013 2:00 am

I have more of a sneaking suspicion that what we will end up with is a LO version of the F-16 with AESA, capability wise. Which is not bad in itself, but really begs the question of was all the money and effort worth it as opposed to keeping the old 4 or 4.5 gen (Damn PR and marketing) production lines open? The only big leap I can see is to the field of VTOL combat aircraft, where it really is a jump over the old Harriers.

On a more crystal ballish POV, you think people are going to be complaining about using a high end F-35 to kill a bunch of guys in turbans with RPGs is overkill?

Guess we just have to wait and see. But LM had better get their act together soon or they’re going to lose more orders as people spend the money earmarked for F-35s to cover capability gaps the long development has caused.

January 19, 2013 7:20 am

@ observer

Is the F35 not suppose to be an LO version of F16 with better radar and electronics? Development costs have obviously been high how much of the R&D has been spent developing the new radar and avionics that would have happened anyway with an F16 upgrade.

January 19, 2013 8:43 am

I do wonder how much it would have cost to build the F35A separately. without the systems and weapons. That way we could have had the best company do the software and separate companies do individual weapons systems. We’d also avoid cost and time overruns created by B and C.

January 19, 2013 9:16 am

@Simon: integrating systems into an existing airframe will indeed reduce costs and risks…provided the systems are mature enough so that their requirements can inform the design. Personally, I think we ought to do an EAP every 10 years, just to work out wrinkles and keep designers hands in.

January 19, 2013 10:00 am

Whilst nosing around the US blog Second Line of Defence, I came across this PDF, which is a series of F35B articles. The first article relates to the UK and its decision to revert back to the B. My apologies, if this has been posted before.


January 19, 2013 10:40 am

I noticed this article in the telegraph about Taranis and its first test flight


I was quite surprised that Taranis is quoted as actually being super sonic as well as intercontinental in range. I don’t think anyone including the US is developing a super sonic UAS or UCAV at present n the open. Does anyone know the expected payload of Taranis in its internal bays. It seems a pity that we are throwing our dramatic lead in this area by working with the French. We really need something like this to replace Tornado president Hollande seems to be proving to be almost a caricature of the typical French president. I really can’t see them committing to such a program with us no matter how much they also need it.

Its good to see the UK only development and testing is still going ahead its just a pitty we don’t have a politician with some balls to make this a UK only program or possibly a joint development with an emerging power like brazil or turkey with some deep pockets.

January 19, 2013 11:05 am


Interesting read. Quite a lot of waffle though ;-)

The thing I picked out from that doc is the integration of F35A with F35B on the battlefield which I must admit didn’t truly crystallise in my mind.

As long as the A can be “tankered” to theater it can deliver SEAD/bunker-buster weapons supported by locally launched F35B.

January 19, 2013 12:25 pm

‘ Nice to see “C” catching the wire.’

Pity that the failure rate in perfect conditions, was 3 out of 8 with the new hook design. I’d put that in the completly unacceptable category.

The C may need. that redesign, so the least desirable, most expensive, slowest model is also the highest risk.

Bring back on the C is just over 9000lb, the same as projected for the B with SRVL.

Jeremy M H
January 19, 2013 2:23 pm


I think the supersonic statement by the author is a mistake. The numbers simply don’t add up. It is a flying with with around 6,800 pounds of installed thrust giving it a TW ratio of .27. The B-2 which is a similar aerodynamic shape has a TW ratio of .205 and the X-47B has a TW ratio of .35 and is not called a supersonic aircraft.

There might be some slight differences in the aerodynamics but all three aircraft are basically flying wings of one sort or another. Unless there is something missing I just don’t see it getting to supersonic, at least in level flight, unless they put an afterburner on the thing but that seems really unlikely.

Ace Rimmer
January 19, 2013 2:54 pm

JMH, just checked, Taranis uses Adour Mk 951 which is non-afterburning.

Jeremy M H
January 19, 2013 2:59 pm


Yeah, that is what I figured as well, knew it was that family. I just don’t see it being supersonic. Its aerodynamics are going to be largely the same as a B-2 or X-47 and the TW ratio is right in the middle of the two. The flight performance is going to be broadly similar.

January 19, 2013 3:07 pm

Taranis is a tech demonstrator r and d project and is 20+ years from fielding operational. I wouldn’t expect to hear much about it as its part of the uk low observable research program that followed on from replica.

January 19, 2013 3:14 pm

If Taranis is powered by the Ardour 951 then it weighs about half as much as a Jaguar and powered by half the thrust.

Might do Mach 1.5 with reheat.

Might just nudge past Mach 1.0 without although I doubt it.

January 19, 2013 3:59 pm

It’s not like the UK press to get things wrong :-)

cats and flaps anyone :-)

John Hartley
January 19, 2013 6:03 pm

I am not a luddite, I can see that UAVs will come into their own. However, if all our chips & computers are made in China, how can we be sure our UAVs will not be used against us? With all the hackers about, is it wise to ignore manned combat planes in favour of UAVs.
Floating the idea of the UK having one F-35C squadron, not to operate from QE/PoW, but to cadge a ride on US & French carriers.

January 19, 2013 8:41 pm

Question; why do you want your low observable UAV, designed for quiet penetration of enemy airspace, to be capable of breaking the speed of sound? Surely long range and staying hidden is more important?

Next question: on the shubject of F-35 vs Typhoon etc, I think the more pressing issue is why do we think our Typhoons would be taking on F-35’s? What we really need to be concerned about is not how our equipment stacks up against that of our main allies, but how it stacks up against our potential enemies.

Just a note about LPI radars: Digital receivers are coming online in greater numbers and in much more advanced designs, with new and more complex algorithms to support them. The Dutch De Zeven Provincien class has one system now which is supposedly pretty good and will reduce the advantages offered by LPI radars in the coming years.

The old technological back and forth continues.

Raymond vermont
January 19, 2013 8:42 pm

The U.K once again is attempting to do more than what it can realistically do in the budget it has to play with.

Its questionable if the U.K has the need for a carrier, let alone two of the floating white elephants.

The F35 is a total turkey, and the ‘B’ variant is a big part of the reason why the JSF is a total turkey. (Just think U.S.A, you could have had 500 F22’s to project air-superiority and a full F16 update, and still have had cash to spare, but got the flying dogs breakfast that is the F35!)

Britain would be best to lease (as quickly as possible) the carriers to navies whom are likely to have use for them, scrap F35 and stick to an affordable Navy of Destroyers, Frigates, Mine Hunters and Nuclear attack subs, and have Trident scrapped. (30bn that is an irrational requirement)

Afghanistan and Iraq has proven that the U.K has got to be realistic in what it can expect to do… Thats more Defence budget and less of an Attack one!

January 19, 2013 10:49 pm

Martin, think the US was doing a transcontinental supersonic UAV but they cheat a bit by dropping it from orbit. IIRC it was called Global Strike, but the project seems to have been dropped after a few problems, like the test bed breaking up in atmosphere and an extreme budget shortfall.

Raymond, think the problem in Afgan and Iraq has less to do with the budget and more to do with the fact that hidden insurgency is a right royal pain to deal with militarily unless you simply kill everyone living there. Even if you gave the UK the defence budget of the US, it still will not stop IEDs, Green on Blues, sniping and suicide bombing. Problem is not money, it’s the hidden nature of the enemy.

“Just think U.S.A, you could have had 500 F22′s to project air-superiority”

You pulled these numbers out of a hat didn’t you? IIRC, the number of F-22s in service is ~180. Best case I can see is an approximate doubling of that number to 300-350. And that is really a big IF.

Chris, speed for aircraft is nice in the sense that you don’t have to stay as long in enemy airspace, which improves survivability. It also makes it harder to be intercepted. Sortie rate is also improved as the faster you get there and return, the more attacks you can make.

Jeremy M H
January 20, 2013 12:59 am


I want to give background on how I come at this because 3 years ago…I was you. I was busy arguing that the F-22 should have been built in greater numbers and the F-35 should have been a much lesser aircraft designed to be affordable and more of a strike aircraft. Then I started to read and educate myself about the F-35 and I came to this conclusion.

The F-22, for all its wonderful capabilities, represents the pinnacle of how aircraft were built in the Cold War. The F-35 is a plane built for the future and while it is going to have a difficult birth it is the right aircraft going forward. That being said the F-22 is still a beast to maintain and upgrade. It is built like most Cold War weapons, largely without reference to anything but itself. That is why they are spending all that money doing things like AEGIS open-ended systems. Modern weapons have to be more flexible than the F-22 is.

The fundamentals behind each plane (weapons integration, data-link leveraging and mode of operations) are very different. In the future I think you will see almost all the features of the F-35 being nearly mandatory on top-end planes going forward. These things will be so important that I would say that a new build F-22, using F-35 data links, avionics and overall sensor package would have an advantage over the F-22 that would be similar (less but still substantial) to the advantage the F-22 has over everything else out there today.

January 20, 2013 1:04 am

For a UAV though, that is trying to hide, in and out without being spotted? High speed would require something more powerful than a non-afterburning adour. And that’s when the cost starts to rise, the range starts to come into question. For a stealthy UAV, speed should not be a critical aspect of the project. I think at least.

January 20, 2013 1:40 am

Interesting series, TD, as always. Was amazed at how much you added to your second version of Part 2, in such little time.

As long as we keep upgrading Typhoon, and do get the second carrier out of the deal, then I’m totally sold on the ol’ back to B choice (it’s an uber-Sci-Fi-Harrier – fair enough). There will be several tears in my Guinness on the dark day when the last Typhoon is replaced by an effing pig F-35, but I’ll jump off that bridge when I come to it.

You can’t beat being proved right, but I’ve never known how you were so certain that B would pull through, back when it was put on probation – it really did look so dicey at the time. Did you have a special info source, or something? I was seduced by the ‘proper’ carrier tease, though not too struck on the C (I was crossing my fingers for Rafale), but can see why going to C might have seemed a safer bet at the time, to those who actually had to make the decision (dodgy numbers, and their not knowing beans about defence, aside).

I’m not suggesting that there was some Machiavellian scheme here, but it turned out okay for the politicians didn’t it? Fox kind of scapegoated, and Hammond turned up to save the day (who didn’t have much of a say in the original decision, so wasn’t making a ‘U-turn’). Harriers and carriers get ditched without too much of a fuss by RN and RAF, since they get the finest jam tomorrow out of the deal (‘proper’ carrier/s and the ‘full fat’ C model). Then they got the switch back to the regular jam, the cuts having already been made at that point.

If we’d stuck with B in the SDSR 2010, then what would have ended up cut instead, do folks think?

Maintenance: Remains to be seen. Some of the self-diagnostic stuff will probably help, and baked in RAM is good stuff, but there’s an F-35 maintainer who drops wisdom from time to time on Warships1, and he has nothing but bad things to say about F-35s generally, and the B particularly. Some of his concerns are pretty fundamental, so unlikely to ever be sorted (things like each panel having huge numbers of plastic rivets which involve some process or other which takes ages, IIRC). We’ll see. I’ll drop the link/s if anyone’s interested (I’ll have to rummage a bit).

Simon: I share your doubts about future peer enemies obediently conforming to the slick F-35 script… way too much in the discussion takes something that is actually pretty unproven as read: bit too blasé and glib, which may well bite us one day (at least the F-22 has stonking performance to fall back on, if stealf turns out to be a bust and it has to be done the old fashioned way – which is why I’m glad we’re keeping our lovely Typhoons around).

It’s all been said, and only time will show who was right; we’ll see. I’m not an expert, and have forgotten most of what I knew about the subject, but I think radars have an inverse fourth power fall off with range (so you were right, but more so). :)

And I agree with Chris.B. [*faints*], as I often do where combat planes are concerned. I wouldn’t rule out a flight of something like continuously upgraded MKI’s being more than a match for a flight of F-35s, the ‘MKI’s’ being the defender most likely. Huge AESA in a big nose, ton of power for it and juice to keep it running at near peak. Set up the same datalinks, bi-static re-radiated processing, and all the usual frequency-agility goodies etc. Synthesis of the cream of European, Russian and Israeli technology, in a giant, high performance fighter with plenty of space.

Eventually, Moore’s Law processing will overtake the non-evolving form of the F-35’s airframe. Then chuck in possible (inevitable?) breakthroughs in materials tech of the sensor system, and quantum computing and so on, in the next what 50 years. Seems like almost a certainty to me.

Or/and the usual dodgy RoE that forbid BVR shots, which put the F-35 at a disadvantage compared to other types of fighters. Not wanting to be all gloom or anything (though I am also a gloomy Northern boy – it’s grim up ‘ere), since the plane does have a lot going for it (not looks) and does seem like it will actually turn out to be a bargain for the sticker price and certain other costs (though am concerned about maintenance, and attrition due to B’s complexity).

Dunno, I guess what I’m saying is that there’s just too much certainty about how future war’s going to go down, and the discourse about the F-35’s a big part in that, that really troubles me… we’ve got into some very complacent, optimistic and bad habits over the last few decades.

January 20, 2013 1:54 am

@Raymond Vermont

‘Britain would be best to lease (as quickly as possible) the carriers to navies whom are likely to have use for them, scrap F35 and stick to an affordable Navy of Destroyers, Frigates, Mine Hunters and Nuclear attack subs’

Which navies are going to have the inclination to take on 65,000 ton carriers in the near future? If their are any then I certainly haven’t heard of them!

So what how will you’re fleet of purely destroyers, frigates and subs project power? Perhaps more crucially how would this task group defend itself, through picketed missile shields? Yeah that’s worked so well in the past!

January 20, 2013 7:33 am

@ John Hartley – Probably better to take a squadron of Rafales as F35C can’t operate from CDG and its not like the USN has a shortage of bombers.

@ Chris B – I totally agree why would you want a stealthy UCAV designed for deep penetration giving off a sonic boom. Its like sticking som rattaly cans on the back of an SSN.

@ Raymond Vermont – I don’t agree that this is a case of the UK doing too much on its own. BAE and the MOD have gotten Taranis through its initial R&D and gotten to the point of building the demonstator on our own with no foreign support for just 126 million. When was the last time the UK built a manned aircraft prototype? The question I would like to ak is how much will it cost to actually get Taranis operational and will it be able to replace Tornado. If its a few billion then I am all for going it alone. Given how important UAS technoligy is likely to be in aviation over the next 100 years I would think the the worlds second largest aviation manufacturre should stick its neck out a little and demonstrate that it can compete agains even the USA in the field.

January 20, 2013 9:43 am

Interesting comments here from Panneta and Hammond about the ongoing development program to make RN and USN carriers interoperable. Does this mean we could see RAF om AMerica or USMC on QE?


John Hartley
January 20, 2013 10:32 am

Telegraph has an article saying F-35 fuel tank will explode if struck by lightning.

January 20, 2013 10:34 am


The last time the mod commented on the ucav price the working assumption was a purchase price of £200m each in today’s money. With an isd on 2030.

John sensationalist clamp trap

Not a Boffin
January 20, 2013 11:29 am

Martin – F35C is probably perfectly compatible with CdG, except perhaps take-off at Max weight and recovering at higher weights. Was never convinced by the smokescreen post the reversion decision as the kit is essentially the same (slightly shorter cats) and potentially lower design stress in flightdeck (don’t know for certain, haven’t seen the scantling drawings).

The Panetta – Hammond Carrier stuff is probably very little to do with aircraft per se and much more to do with how USN carriers generate intel and planning for full spectrum missions overland. Something that the RN did do (Bosnia, Iraq) but not to the same degree. It may also be something as interesting as alternating carrier availability in the Med or Gulf of Arabia for instance.

January 20, 2013 12:44 pm

@Raymond vermont – “The F35 is a total turkey, and the ‘B’ variant is a big part of the reason why the JSF is a total turkey.” – I do not worship unconditionally at the altar of the F35, but this is quite a statement about a bunch of prototypes and pre-production models! I have my concerns about F35, but they are more along the lines of: What level of capability will we end up with for the price and how many will we be able to afford?

“Telegraph has an article saying F-35 fuel tank will explode if struck by lightning.” – Does it say how a lightning bolt would hit the fuel tank?

@Martin – Re carrier statements – just sounds like waffle to me. Perhaps it means sending our carrier to Indian Ocean when US doesn’t have one to spare, that sort of thing?

January 20, 2013 1:19 pm

“These countries do not have the same experience of developing high tech fighter aircraft. We spent the cold war being scared sh*tlless of Soviet super weapons and found out after the fact that hardly any of them worked and those that did were nowhere near as good as we had been led to believe.”

Absolutely Sir, of course the F35B would not exist without Russian input.

“One question I do have is the role of the F-35 in the RAF. If the plan is to use the F-35 as a light bomb truck with a bit of air defence on the side while the Typhoon provides air superiority, then it might not be wise to further fund the ground attack capabilities of the Typhoon, considering that something else is in the pipeline for that job already.”

Good point but the F35 may have a role in the RAF but it surely shouldn’t be at the expense of giving up on the Typhoon. The Typhoon isn’t a lemon either, it just needs some focus on getting it operationally complete. Whilst I agree with a need to rationalise – @Challenger’s comment that we cannot design our own planes, feels a bit too defeatist; we still have Rolls Royce one of three major aeroengine manufacturers in the world. We are one of the few countries outside of the US that does have the skills and demand to keep the industry going. Look at our heritage. This comment links in with APATS comment above.

English Electric Aviation Ltd.,
Vickers-Armstrongs (Aircraft),
the Bristol Aeroplane Company
Hunting Aircraft
Armstrong Siddeley
Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft.
A.V. Roe & Company (Avro),
Gloster Aircraft Company
Victory Aircraft (Canada)
Bristol Aero Engines
Folland Aircraft
de Havilland Aircraft Company
Blackburn Aircraft
bHandley Page Aircraft Company
Scottish Aviation Limited

@Aidan @Martin
I understood that both Canada and Australia looked at the C but both are now going for the A http://www.anao.gov.au/~/media/Files/Audit%20Reports/2012%202013/Audit%20Report%206/201213%20Audit%20Report%20No%206%20OCRed.pdf

Never agreed with the figures and reasons given to revert back to the STOVL carrier design. Something isn’t right if everything we were told has been true all along, but I am happy to believe that we weren’t always told the truth and that the right decisions were made at the right time. Not so much a problem with the F35B more the ship design and it’s restrictions. In many ways I worry less about the progress of the OT&E for the JSF and more about the weapons and their integration. The Typhoon’s progress seems woeful, I see planes flying with ‘concrete bombs’ (like Concrete radars) at this rate. Great article as always TD.

One general point, the idea that the Typhoon should be replaced by the F35 to create a single type, READ point of failure is frankly ridiculous. I FORCEFULLY disagree with anyone for supports this :-)

January 20, 2013 1:46 pm


Lightning strikes on composite aircraft are a significant challenge and I would say having sat thru enought meetings changed enough parts (military and civil jets) to accommade the latest thinking on this issue its a lot of guessing. As carbon is non conductive you build a diverter network into and around the structure to offer the lightning a path. The probability of a plane getting a lightning strike is assumed at once a year the f35 is slightly different to other designs but this is all getting stirred up because the testers want the onboard fuel tank inerting system upgraded but I would suspect this is more to do with battle damage and that type of explosion but lightning could have a potential for a fuel tank explosion but that is a lot more what ifs. You don’t use rivets in composite the process of inserting rivets would delaminates the structure you use manual fasteners such as these which would then have caps over the nut portion in higher risk areas.


This also covers the lightning issues also. You can get composite fasteners which look very similar and do the same thing.

Also according to reports this morning it was a UK jet that experienced the issue that grounded the f35bs and it had just returned from maintenance.

January 20, 2013 2:11 pm

” As carbon is non conductive you build a diverter network into and around the structure to offer the lightning a path” – I was assuming this when I asked the question. I have not seen the Telegraph article, are they saying this has not been done with F35?

January 20, 2013 2:15 pm

@ Mark
‘Also according to reports this morning it was a UK jet that experienced the issue that grounded the f35bs and it had just returned from maintenance.’

Did it say what the issue was ?

January 20, 2013 2:34 pm


No this is done there saying that should that network not work and spark ignited in the fuel tank there is a possibility that the onboard fuel tank inerting system could not prevent the explosion. This is a journalist reporting on the pentagon report by the tester last week. Extremely complicated subject and far beyond what a mainstream journo could understand.

Topman fueldraulic pipe attached to an actuator at the rear end separated on takeoff role causing a fuel leak reasons under investigation.

January 20, 2013 2:42 pm

@ Mark, thanks. I take the exhaust unit is fueldraulic powered? I think the Adour used a similar system.
What is the inerting system on the F35, bottled N2 is a bit too school I’m guessing. Some sort of N2 generation system?

January 20, 2013 3:00 pm


From reading the reports in the media it’s the actuator on the bearing that rotates the nozzle down interesting they used it on adour. I’m not sure what the system of inerting is but I think ultra make it.

January 20, 2013 3:23 pm

All above my head but may mean something to some on here:


January 20, 2013 3:26 pm


I thought it was the f35 c landing speed that was the issue that CDG decks were not strong enough.

Not a Boffin
January 20, 2013 3:45 pm

Martin – speed (relative) and weight are part of the same envelope. That points to deck strength as the limiting factor…..

January 20, 2013 4:14 pm


AS I understand it is that the standard surface conductors used to get round the lighting strike issues, screw up stealth.