F35B – Hedging Ones Bets

Whilst the Lockheed Martin F35B STVOL Joint Strike Fighter is the preferred option to fulfil the Joint Combat Aircraft requirements for the RAF and FAA, replacing the Harrier, the door has long been left open for an alternative.

But what alternative?

There isn’t really an alternative to the STVOL F35B, unless one considers a redesign of the Harrier a worthwhile venture, it is the only game in town if one wants the flexibility of short take off and vertical landing.

F35B would also allow the RAF and FAA to share training and logistics, recognising that flying off the CVF will not always be the mode of operation and expeditionary planning generally calls for the initial flying to be done with CVF with follow on operations moving the aircraft to land bases that can support more sustained operations. Sortie generation rates also favour the F35B and a recent runway closure at Kandahar in Afghanistan meant that the only aircraft that was able to provide CAS were Joint Force Harrier aircraft.

Although the F35B was always going to cost more than the conventional carrier take off and landing version this was amply offset by the cost of installing catapults and traps, the cost of maintaining them and more significantly, the cost of maintaining carrier landing skills.

These are extremely perishable skills and need an enormous amount of training to maintain safety.

If we want to extract maximum benefit from the significant investment in the fast jet fleet, STVOL is the most sensible option.

The worst outcome in terms of cost would be a separate RN and RAF jet fleet using 2 variants of the F35, CTOL for the RN and STVOL for the RAF. Add on the aspirations of the RAF for a Tornado GR4 replacement that might be  fulfilled by another F35 variant and the capital and through life operating costs start spiralling upwards.

Rumours abut interest in F18’s, Sea Typhoon and Sea Grippen continue to float around and of course the other option of sharing a carrier force with the French and therefore Rafale is also regularly hinted at.

Lack of ratification of the ITAR treaty, with the US clearly reneging on an agreement on technology transfer to allow the UK full sovereignty over its F35’s, continues to cast a long shadow over the programme. The Defence Select Committee covered this in a 2005 report

We fully support MoD’s position that the ability to maintain and upgrade the JSF independently is vital. We would consider it unacceptable for the UK to get substantially into the JSF programme and then find out that it was not going to get all the technology and information transfer it required to ensure ‘sovereign capability’. This needs to be sorted out before further contracts are signed and we expect MoD to set a deadline by which the assurances need to be obtained. If the UK does not receive assurances that it will get all it requires to ensure sovereign capability, we would question whether the UK should continue to participate in the JSF programme

We all know the MoD is absolutely strapped for cash, every option to save money is being looked at so read into this announcement what you will.


Converteam have made excellent progress with the EMCAT system and although only scaled for small UAV’s the intention was clear, at the end of the programme, this month, a number of challenges had been solved.


The F35B’s continued problems and uncertainty over costs mean that a Plan B makes a lot of sense.

£650k might seem like something the MoD loses down the back of a sofa but this was a significant investment and talking of its success sends a message to all concerned with the F35 and those wanting us to share CVF with the French

The door is still open.

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July 28, 2010 11:39 am

Good article, and interesting indeed if it spurs the US to ratify ITAR and transfer F35 code.

on a separate note:


July 28, 2010 3:14 pm

The extra cost, reduced range/payload and reliability due to the extra levels of complexity of the F-35B worry me, which makes me think EMCAT + F-35C might be a good idea. Having EMCAT will bring interoperability with NATO allies and the ability to launch and recover UCAVs when they arrive. Plus we could get a proper ASaC like the E-2. The F-35 is also supposed to be able to take alot of the hard work out of carrier landings according to a BBC video I saw recently so surely the training burden won’t be too greatly increased. Finally is it that much of a stretch to ask the RAF to operate the F-35C to ensure fleet commonality?

Oh yeah and if we can’t sort out the ITAR thing I can see this become a complete disaster for the next 30years. For instance imagine having to send aircraft to the US for maintenance or not being able to clear any of the Team CW next gen precision munitions…nightmare

Fat Man
Fat Man
July 28, 2010 3:50 pm

Looks like we will end up cancelling the vastly over-budget F-35 and buying or leasing alternatives until UCAVs come along. If we are serious about sharing a carrier with the French both of them will have to be completed without ski-jumps and equipped with cats and traps, simply because it is the only way to ensure a carrier capable of launching Rafale and Hawkeye is always available. And without the ski jump the F-35’s range/payload capability becomes even more apparent. The only question is whether we go the full hog with the French, buy F-18s or (a long shot) look at Sea Gripen. None of the options is cheap, but the ‘inexpensive’ F-35B seems likely to become the most expensive and complex solution. I have not yet seen any mention of contracts for arrestor gear, but that would seem a logical counterpart to this news. Does anyone know anything about that?

July 28, 2010 4:15 pm

The F-35 program is such a cluster-f*ck.

The F-35C is going to be a wallowing pig in the air.

Even if the B does end up in production, all of the compromised needed to cut weight will probably reduce their lifespan considerably. Plus, can it do rolling landings? Will it need a fan redesign? Will it destroy any surface it lands on vertically? Will it end up being an unworkable, Rube Goldberg machine? The USMC seems to like those ( EFV, V-22).

Even the least risky F-35A is going to be stealth-compromised, too large, heavy and way too expensive; too much for low-end COIN and too little for high-end, long-range penetration missions.

I’m not a bitter American.. :)

July 28, 2010 4:46 pm

I’m not sure we or the Forces are accepting likely political, financial and operational realities here –

1. By 2020 total number of frontline, 12 aircraft, manned squadrons, not going to exceed 12
2. The maximum number of aircraft types (including variants) should not exceed 2 (giving 2 OCUs on top of the above)
3. It is politically, economically and operationally unacceptable that one of those two types would be Rafale, Sea Gripen or F-18, all of which are either inferior to Typhoon (all), have little UK content (Rafale, F-18) or have significant development risk (Sea Gripen)
4. Moving to Cat and Trap – would be wonderful, but as noted, imposes a massive financial and training burden. The ablity to operate F-35C and Hawkeye is unlikely to defray these problems

This leads me to the conclusion that, for manned aircraft, movement to a two type combination of Typhoon FGR4 and F-35B is the only viable option, with 8 and 4 squadrons operating respectively.

In terms of movement towards that model, this would have the added benefit of allowing early retirement of Tornado, it being replaced by the existing buy of Typhoon, followed by F-35 for the Harrier GR9….

July 28, 2010 5:25 pm

Admin – I can see where you are coming from, it is somewhat swings and roundabouts.

My figure of 4 frontline squadrons for F-35B (100 aircraft total) was based on being able to keep at least 1 squadron in the field indefinitely and a surge capability of 2. Juggling this with a need to keep carrier concurrency (important), leads you to 4 squadrons.

In national crisis terms this would actually allow you to populate the decks of both carriers with a credible airwing, if only for a short period….

My figures assume total buys of 200 Typhoon and 100 F-35, which has the industrial advantage of reducing any threat of having to pay penalties for Typhoon and also reduces any pressure we might see from the US for reducing F-35 orders (which actually is a huge deal for UK industry, should you care about industrial “benefits” of defence spending….

Finally it has the attraction of also allowing rationalisation of fast jet home bases to three – Marham or Leuchars could go, with 4 operational squadrons each at Lossie, Connie and either Marham/Leuchars.

July 28, 2010 5:34 pm

quick technical question; i thought a standard squadron was twelve aircraft?

July 28, 2010 7:03 pm

There is a huge and irreconcilable timing issue here. EMCAT or EMAL will not be available by the time QE and POW enter service. F35B will have been ordered and Harrier retired. Who knows if they could ever really be retrofitted?

Experience of operating cats and traps suggest a much larger crew would be required than proposed with STOVL, this needs to be taken into account.

I am not blind to the technical problems/cost escalations with F35B. But I think we have to recognize that converting an all electric ship to catapults is not presently viable, nor likely to be simple or cheap in the future.

Also CVFs relatively low speed (25 knots) decreases “wind over deck” making take offs and landings by conventional fixed wing aircraft more difficult. This implies a much lower sortie rate than US carriers.

ITAR is clearly an issue. We will have to persuade the US to allow access to code.(unless we get SIS to steal it!)

July 28, 2010 7:16 pm

Just a word on Joint Combat Aircraft. No!

The RAF have the Typhoon, let them be content with that. DIsband JFH and pass the Harriers to Naval Strike Wing, to be replaced in turn by F35B.

paul g
July 28, 2010 10:36 pm

nigel i’m sure one of the bases up in chilly jocko land that you have mentioned has a bird strike issue and isn’t favourable for single engine ie F-35 I’m not the expert just recycling a quote from pilots rumour network from of those flying type chappies!
Anyway thought richard branson wanted one of them for his space flights!!! (he’s a billionaire stick a couple of noughts on the price)!!!

July 29, 2010 12:10 am


By “low-end” I really mean “low-threat” to airpower (e.g. Iraq and Afghanistan).

4th gen aircraft are fine in these situations.

OTOH, the F-35 will still require air defense roll back in “high-threat” situations. It can’t perform the penetrative strike mission ala F-117, B-2, and F-22.

“Smitty” works, btw. :) Have to preserve some degree of anonymity.

July 29, 2010 1:02 am

Cost benefit analysis time:

F35 of any variant does not bring enough benefit for the cost.

EMALS wont be ready in time, so just fit the same old fashioned cats and traps as on the French CVN – they work well enough for her !

Ruthless commonality plus Cost benefit analysis – Reduce RAF fast jet combat fleet to a single type – 235 Typhoons as originally committed to. Enlarged Tranche 3B (to replace machines sold to Saudi) to get all the bells and whistles – AESA, conformal tanks and thrust vectoring. Phase out Tornado as Typhoons come on line, Taranis eventually supplements (?).

Leaves enough money for 70 Rafale for the RN FAA. No SeaPhoons, SeaGripens or other flights of fancy, doesn’t matter if its “not as good as Typhoon” or any of that crap, as long as it can carry Meteor, a PGM and preferably a proper anti-ship missile (Japanese supersonic one anybody ?) then it will do just fine – and whats more might be affordable and will cement the basis of collaborative carrier ops with the Frogs, sorry I mean the French.

Otherwise, just bloody admit we cant afford a postage stamp with a picture of HMS Eagle on it, and put them up for sale as bare hull’s before they are fitted out to RN’s spec…….

July 29, 2010 2:49 am


Can you economically put steam cats on a gas turbine-powered carrier?

July 29, 2010 2:54 am

Just a thought regarding normal catapult set up … other than bottling some from Admiralty House, where do QE and PoW get the steam?

July 29, 2010 2:55 am

(I think yo got there first)

July 29, 2010 4:25 am

It sounds like the French PA2 is supposed to use steam cats, so they must plan to include boilers or something else.

Seems like it could require a lot of extra space.

How hard would it be to convert the CVFs to STOBAR? Then they could still presumably fly Rafale or Super Hornet.

July 29, 2010 4:36 am

The F35 code is a concern :
Would you be allowed to perform another Falkland’s intervention ?
By the same way, Suez’s intervention would have been easier to block : no needs to disrupt British and Froggy Air strikes by sending US planes amongst them …

July 29, 2010 5:13 am


We’ve been there already on barracks near Westminster powered by dung :)


It didn’t actually take interposition of planes (most of the spadework having been done by FAA, the Victors had an uninspiring time of it), the United States still owned flipping great wodges of war debt (US as a creditor, how time flies) and held sterling and franc alike hostage. HMG did the maths on withdrawal vs. economic collapse, which seemed even more terrifying at the time than a Russian nuclear warning shot or two, Macmillan shanked Rab Butler in the Cabinet room, and there you are.

As for the topic,

Lord what a bloody great mess. Disparate thoughts:

– Based on the time distance between this and the F-104 scandals, Lockheed Martin are clearly vile. “Dave-A” may even work as advertised and they’ll still be vile. It’s as though they took a “what we did right” list from General Dynamics’ F-16 development and sales program and wilfully did the opposite of each item.

– Single fleet plus a promise of son-of-Taranis down the road (Cernunnos? Herne?) is clearly the way to go with the RAF. The mid-levels at High Wycombe should see that on the wall already and really, if they stick to it and achieve something like Jed’s description, be grateful. They will have to put more airframes in squadron than they’d like (and have them replaced a little sooner by a British aircraft industry that’s a going concern? Heaven forbid.) But I really can’t think of an air force on the planet anymore but the USAF that has so many spares around as the RAF tries to (Russians keeping old hulks on to boost numbers doesn’t count at crunch time.) Leaner times.

– As for the fleet, which barring a revolution (an Anglo-French one) in FSTA terms will have to take on most expeditionary air work whether you want it to or not, boy. V/STOL would be hugely useful, for cost, sortie rate, and ability to hop gracefully ashore or towards the forward edge on LHD flat tops. If BAe had acted like, you know, a British aerospace company rather than devouring foreign and domestic rivals in other fields, thereby using some capital to build one of the mublety-three designs for Son of Harrier. This would not even be a conversation. It’s not just pie in the sky, it was a clear, present, entirely viable alternative that was not seen through, rather than trying to shoehorn the General Motors of American fighters (all things to all people! With knobs on!) into V/STOL configuration. There is real blame to be had. And frankly, much as I understand Jed saying it’s spilt beer, if the U.S. Marines get the budgetary short end as they often do, it may come back around. (They, plus the Italians and Spaniards at least, need jump jets for amphibious air power. If the B goes down in appropriations chess, there will be people with money to throw.) Whatever the case, you have to have SEAD, and you have to have CAP cover. (My heretical view is, much better to have SSNs/SSGNs and surface units shoot to kill enemy ships, and let AAW stop missiles. But you have to kill the other side’s missile trucks, and aircraft are your primary strike for land targets.) I like the versatility of SuperHornet models, which might be (maybe?) wet-leased until McDonnell/Boeing makes that next-generation sketch of theirs work (with British aid in return for British builds?) But otherwise, yes, you end up with V/STOL or Raf. So long as you can do SEAD and kill Su-30s or Rafs (those not flown by Frogs, bad form ;) which will likely be the class of what you’d fly against for the next fifteen years, you’re probably there in the real world.

July 29, 2010 6:32 am


I’d say the danger is not so much some American scheme to hamstring actual British operations. It’s more bully-boy sharp practice to own huge swathes of defence contracting. (And another point where one ends up with a love/hate envy of French particularism.) Admin already had a bitterly well-written post about just how ruthless the United States was not just outbidding but physically suppressing the TSR-2 strike aircraft design. (Much as, in a different context, thugs hired by General Motors tore up tram lines in several major American cities, most notably Philadelphia, during the 1940 in order to “encourage” them to buy GM buses.) Infuriating nonsense. And just about reason enough to say yah boo sucks to the whole F35 enterprise.

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
July 29, 2010 7:06 am

One key issue that is going to affect whether the UK buys the F-35B in that as part of the SDSR there is going to be a detailed look at all existing capabilites and one of these is the need for a land based STOVL fleet. Questions like do we really need this capability and are there more cost effective alternatives. If the RAF do not need STOVL then the RN has a better chance of arguing for a CTOL or STOBAR platform to operate form its new carriers. So for ther RAF comes the question that without STOVL is the F-35?Stealth combination an affordable and cost effective capability the UK must have now or is it a nice to have option but which couild be filled at a later date by a UCAV.

Remember another key point being investigated in the SDSR is partnerships and the UK providing complementary capabilities rather than duplication. I for one cannot see a senario where the UK alone will be engaged in a conflict with another nation who is equipped with State fo the art weaponry. I know there is alot of heated discussion about the UK being able to operate independantly but logic and common sense must play a part.

Therefore the Money being allocated to the F-35 in my mind should go to ensure that all of Tranche 3 of the Typhoon programme are purchased giving the RAF 6-7 frontline Squadrons. The RN should get 3-4 Frontline squadrons of either the SH or Rafale for its Carriers and with the respective OCUs this would be the future UK’s FJ fleet, to be supplimented by a number of UCAVs when the technology has matured.

July 29, 2010 8:00 am

I could be speaking fairly ignorantly here but hasn’t the boat (no pun intended) figuratively if not yet literally sailed on all of this. Steel cut, modules being put together, penalty fees already embedded in contracts for cancellation. The carriers are going to be built. A lot of time,(I remember talking to the lead engineer for the lift fan back in 96), effort, money,prestige, engineering firms futures? and overall technical capital is tied up in getting the F-35B.

Any of these deliberations would have perhaps been possible 5? 3 at a pinch? years ago but not now. As far as the navy and cuts for the future it will be the replacement for the Vanguards (as has been discussed in the post above this one), where the argument is going to be sharpest.

July 29, 2010 8:11 am

I think if the RAF is losing 70odd F35’s, it has a decent case for argueing for some more Typhoons, or at least for all of its Typhoons to be upgraded to the T3b standard and a full weapons load out for them.

Do we have any idea of the likely operating costs of the F35 compared to the Typhoon?
My idiot logic says it should be about 60% (thats what a single engined Typhoon was estimated at) but then the F35 has all that funky stealth paint to pay for.
I’m assuming there that the main reason we wanted F35 in the first place was for a Hi-Lo mix allowing a larger fleet size.

If we just buy 72 F35bs, we have, in theory, enough for both carriers, in practice we would have a full carrier, some in repair, some in training and some probably deployed overseas for CAS.

In the event of a war, we would have a full carrier ready to roll, and could ready the rest so we have a mostly full carrier to roll sometime later, to either support, relieve or replace the first carrier.

Not ideal, but what is?

July 29, 2010 8:15 am

The carrier group could sue the balls off the government if it canceled the carriers now.

But if it did that, the government could order the next gen frigates, corvettes and helicopter carriers from a shipyard in Korea.

The F35B is a trickier proposition.
If the UK pulled out, or cut its order in half, the US could probably cut the workshare of UK companies, but only by delaying the program long enough for someone else to design and build the same part.

July 29, 2010 8:22 am

I’m sure that this is written down somewhere on the net (but being at work and knowing I should be doing other things … cough cough)how many F35Bs are hard written into contracts for purchase by the RAF and FAA?

July 29, 2010 8:43 am

“how many F35Bs are hard written into contracts for purchase by the RAF and FAA?”

I’m quite sure its none.
Possibly 2 or 3 have actualy been ordered.

I dont think anyone has actualy signed a contract to buy any F35’s yet, except a few demonstration models.

There was almost an order, but the buyer wanted a fixed price.

July 29, 2010 8:55 am

So theoretically any of the JSF partners could pull the plug and order none?
I can’t see the UK pulling out because if they did (I am assuming) the whole JSF project is going to fall in a heap. The unit cost is going to go through the roof and every man and his dog is going to run for the hills (ahhh metaphors where would we be without them.
The amount of political pressure that would be brought to bear on the UK government by all and sundry would be pretty hefty and if I was Lockmart I would go the whole hog in court as it is that or the company goes the way of the Dodo. Without this contract for thousands of planes I can imagine the bottom line is going to look pretty bleak.

A reduced order maybe but none … I cant see it.

July 29, 2010 9:19 am

Why is it after you’ve posted you can see the big whole in your argument?
Alright they can’t sue but I suppose the gist of my argument is that this too big a deal {much like recent banks?} to fall over. If the UK pulls out it falls over ergo they want be allowed to? Or is this overplaying it too much.

I think I’ll shut up and leave it to more knowledgeable types than me. (Admin you were even too polite to put in a touche.)

July 29, 2010 9:22 am

And yes that should have been “big hole” in my argument.
Gods I can’t even spell anymore, time of day he declares lamely.

July 29, 2010 9:46 am

The F35 program is expected to build over 3000 planes, even at its peak the UK order was for around 160, some 5%.

It wont be end of the world if we order none.

That might look a little different depending on how different the three frames really are.
If they’ve got as much in common as the Lynx 9 and Lynx wildcat, us dropping 150 orders from the B program will leave only Spanish and Italian naval aviation and the USMC as customers, airforces opting for the standard model and the rest of the navies going for CATOBAR.
We could easily be 20 or 30% of the B model orders.

In the end, I wouldnt be surprised if Congress pulls the plug itself and writes it off as a very expensive research project.

“The F35 code is a concern :
Would you be allowed to perform another Falkland’s intervention ?
By the same way, Suez’s intervention would have been easier to block : no needs to disrupt British and Froggy Air strikes by sending US planes amongst them”

The code problem is one of getting the aircraft to speak to a new missile we design, you need some software to get your pc to speak to a printer, you also need some software to get your F35 to speak to your storm shadow.
If we dont have the F35 software, we would need to get the americans to design the software that lets the missile and the aircraft talk to each other, and we’d have to give them the R&D work on our missile for them to do it.

The code progblem is not one that would allow the US to disarm our aircraft in flight, or prevent them from even taking off.
Even if that were possible, we, and everyone else in the world will have a team hacking this software, and it would be found, with consequences, even if it was never found, once used, it would end US arms exports for generations.

July 29, 2010 10:02 am

…bugger … that’s the other leg kicked out now.

July 29, 2010 11:04 am

“So far we have spent/plan to spend about £2bn on the development after which the order from the UK does not change the work UK companies get”

That’s what i thought; workshare is determined by R&D investment not numbers ordered.

July 29, 2010 1:14 pm

Apologies for time zone induced delay in replying:

Q: where does gas turbine powered “electric ship” get steam for cats ?

A: you use the gas turbine exhaust to provide the “heat energy” to generate steam. Physics are simple, I am sure designing and installing it would be complex and expensive – the pay off is u get “real” carriers, very flexible etc and not just the worlds largest helo carriers!

Here’s a thought though – if Italians and Spanish go ahead with smaller (cheaper) buys of F35, and USMC go ahead with major purchase then how many AV8B+ would be available ? I wonder how much a full structural SLEP might cost, plus fitting a SELEX AESA and Meteor ???

Added to some carrier variant Avenger UAV (Reaper C) and eventually a navalised son-of-Taranis would / could these older airframes suffice if upgrade costs were cheap enough ???

Richard Stockley
Richard Stockley
July 29, 2010 3:21 pm

Jed, if you were going to fit an AESA radar to the AV-8B+, the existing radar is an APG-65, the APG-73 is an upgraded version and the AESA APG-79 is an upgraded APG-73. Going by this route, it would probably be cheaper and better to go with Raytheon instead of Selex.

If the F-35 gets dropped where does the next generation of aircraft come from? I think we should bite the bullet and stick with F-35. Upgraded Harriers may do in the short term, but what are we going to rely on in 20 years time? Even the F-18E and the Rafale will be long in the tooth by then, plus we’ve got to actively start looking at what our 6th generation aircraft are going to look like and how they’re going to operate.

How long would it take a good IT department to crack the F-35 code? It won’t be secure forever.

July 29, 2010 6:40 pm

Richard said, “How long would it take a good IT department to crack the F-35 code? It won’t be secure forever.

Jailbreaking your F-35s will void the warranty. ;)


Is that how the French intend to add steam to their PA2?

July 29, 2010 7:57 pm


RE: Codes, that didn’t stop the Australians hacking the coded on their original model F/A 18’s to add new target data to the radars. If i recall correctly, America new what was going on and let it happen. They were very interested in how it was done.

On a side note, there appears to be two or three Andys on the site so i shall call myself AndyJS from now on.

Great thread so far chaps.

July 30, 2010 5:14 am

Two interesting niblets from The DEW Line, FWIW. (They of course have a level of F35 agnosticism, if not outright skepticism.) The first is that the U.S. House of Representatives may be set to give Lockheed a bollocking on appropriations for the next year, as a come-to-Jesus signal about bringing the number of test flights and program benchmarks up to snuff. An additional comment (which is unsourced and may be pure speculation) that the easiest places to do that are with A and C, with tacit admission that “the incredible deck-melting wonder plane” (sorry, can’t stop saying that, thanks for sticking that in my head Jed) that is B may have enough issues that it will take short end of the process for the time being. If MoD were aware of that already in the grapevine, it would go even further than the codes farrago to explain the Converteam outlay. (If you completely lack the wedding tackle to make BAe do their job and work on a Harrier successor as backup-plus-exports, then all the alternatives involve cats of some kind.)

The other is the Israelis, always more willing to be blunt in their won special relationship with Washington, are making noises about expanding their defence-industrial relationship with India (and possibly even Russia) to pursue advanced aircraft design. Awful lot of noises around the edges of the program, then. Mostly, right now, they can be classed as jockeying for bargaining position, especially on price and jailbreaking (nice one, B. Smitty. And Admin, do I detect irony in “too big to fail” ? That logic’s 25% of the national debt at the moment, this would make a tidy addition.)

So what *are* the alternatives? Gosh I like SLEPping Harrier II+. Then you also (cunning plan) have a working test model to work from for an actual V/STOL successor. (For a short term cat-based replacement with some long-term diplomatic dividends, honestly, I’d look to see just how messed up the LCA-Naval is in practice, particularly if you heavied up another test model with the EJ2000 aboard. If you sort out that meshuggah you make lots of friends for a new “special relationship,” and if you trebled the cost of the result with British design and specialist parts, gosh, that’s what, 35-40 million quid a pop? You can only get two and a half of them for a Dave-B then :) As for a future design? If F35 turns into the new F104, I’d look to go right past the bugger. Get straight on to a world-quality fighter (because it will need to do CAP which is likely to remain with “meat-based” pilots) with commlink to ride herd on full-body VLO strike UCAVs. Two aircraft types, straight strike would probably do fine with son-of-Taranis, and a good, from-scratch naval fighter to cover them.

July 30, 2010 7:54 am

Codes are tricky
I wrote a long piece it was 4 pages before I was even half way through.

If you have an F35 to play with, then its much easier.
It also depends on whether the code was written to **** people off or not.

There could for example, be a bit of code, called IntFwdPrtWpn, which would be the internal forward port weapons pylon.
That bit of code could also be called cheese, starboardwingfuel or 7.

There could be several thousand bits of code that all look like they relate to that weapons pylon.
The correct one could refuse to fire if the fuel tank reads a negative number.
The correct one could change based on the pilots name and age, and the weapons already expended.

Crackable, yes, but it could be easier just to write it yourself from scratch.

July 30, 2010 1:23 pm

This is not civvy IT gents you don’t simply ‘hack’ the source code for an incedibly complex and modular weapons system ! Not to mention it would be state sanctioned criminal activity – so can we just agree that software intellectual property access is a show stopper, or not depending on how u feel ? But let’s just drop the “we’ll just hack it ourselves” claptrap ! :-)

Richard Stockley
Richard Stockley
July 30, 2010 1:51 pm

Jed, spying per se is ‘state sponsored criminal activity’. The only difference is this is on an ally not a potential enemy. I remember a few years ago a diplomatic spat between Israel and the US when it was discovered Mossad had a network trying to wrangle information from the USA.

If the US tries to limit our activities by restricting access to our own weapon systems then there must be a clause under the Defence of the Realm Act that would sanction such activity, thus making it legal. Also, breaking the code itself may not be illegal or invalidate any warranty, but the act of accessing the system afterwards may be.

July 30, 2010 2:16 pm

I would cite the cautionary example of the Chinook HC3’s whenever the subject of messing around with aircraft computer codes and trying to get the subsequent aircraft cleared for flight afterwards

I agree with jed, access to the JSF software code is something we’ll either have or not have and personally I’d make it a non-negotiable part of us buying any JSF’s no matter what dire consequences this might have for us if the yanks refuse

July 30, 2010 2:35 pm

“and trying to get the subsequent aircraft cleared for flight afterwards”

But thats a legal, not a technical issue.

It’s illegal for me to wire in an electric hob in my kitchen, despite the job being no different to wireing in an electric light in my loft, which I can legaly do.

July 30, 2010 5:09 pm

Do you really need to have the F-35’s source code in order to upgrade subsystems?

Wouldn’t a well-defined API be enough?

I write modules (aka applications) for MS Windows every day without having access to the Windows source code.

July 30, 2010 6:35 pm

Smitty, it depends, but I would have to say no, because the software will not be architected in the same way as Windows.

I have no deep experience with this, but there maybe a very minimalist micro-kernel type “operating system” with most of the modules being in “user space” or it might be a monolithic system. Either way you could use API calls, or you could use linking at the compiler level (I know what I want to say, but not sure expressing it correctly) which would be faster.

The bottom line is, from what we have read in open source material, UK aircraft would have to be flown to USAF Depot level maintenance location for “software upgrades” to be done by USAF / Contractor staff. That means if we wanted to integrate a new weapon we could not do the work ourselves. If we wanted a new radar mode developed, but the USAF / USN / USMC did not, where would we come in the pecking order etc ?

So yes Smitty, if we want “soveriegnty” of our weapons system, we need the source code :-(

July 30, 2010 7:48 pm


User space apps can still be modular and compile against a binary library. Most systems work this way, be they microkernel or more “traditional” OS.

Now presumably the system designers and developers would have more work to do to provide a clean, well documented API. And real-time systems are more resource sensitive. So there would be limits.

However all of this is still within the realm of possibility, IMHO.

One could also envision delivering a combination of source code and libraries, where the libraries contain more sensitive or proprietary functionality, but the rest could be source code.

Just seems like little different from the problems the commercial software development world has wrestled with (and solved) for decades.

August 1, 2010 1:45 am

Smitty, actually you made me think, it some ways its more like the FLOSS versus proprietary arguments.

With FLOSS you get open access to the source code, but generally in the multi-million pound procurements from major software vendors I have been involved with, they put the source code in escrow, in case they go out of business.

Still, in this case the MoD would like the code to be “open source” and the US Govt. is not offering to put the source in an international independent escrow…. ???


Phil Darley
August 1, 2010 1:26 pm

Just read in the Sunday Times that the Navy is seriously considering not buying F35 and instead opting for F18 Super Hornets.

I have nerver been a fan of the F35 this is music to my ears. Does the panel think that if we are going for conventional carrier types it would make mrese sense to go for Rafale rather than F18?

August 2, 2010 3:50 pm

I would be tempted to go with the Rafale rather than the Super Hornet.

If we do end up having to “carrier share” it will provide us with commonality with the French, plus it is a European option – I am sure we could ensure the French give us access to all the Source Code we needed.

The only other factor would be, of course, cost. I am unsure of the comparative costs of both aircraft.

August 2, 2010 4:02 pm

F18E Super Hornet versus Rafale.

F18E is first and foremost a ‘bomb truck’, it has had problems during it’s development life, including flaps and the need to have an underwing weapons pylon tilted at a weird angle for aero-dynamic weapons release reasons. It is not a dog fighter and is not really the true heir to the F14 in that respect. It’s only able to carry an EO/IR sensor for air to air use if its stuffed into the front of a drop tank. BUT it is by all due accounts of recent competitions in Brazil, India etc cheaper than Rafale. The primary commonality would be with the USN (although Aussies have them too).

Rafale – smaller, more expensive (apparently) and currently only in use by France, but European and if we are to do a deal with France for sharing access to one of our big decks, there are obvious advantages. A true multi-role aircraft with air-to-air EO/IR as well as potential for AESA radar, I believe the French are interested in carrying Meteor so that would be an advantage (as in we would have to pay to integrate it on the F18, or just use AIM120 AMRAAM variants).

Actually performance wise they’re much of a muchness, Rafale can probably out-maneuver and out dog fight a F18E, and would do better against SU35’s, but how much is within visual range air to air combat a big deal ?

In strike, its probably easier to buy the same version of Storm Shadow the French already use (SCALP) or to integrate our version of Storm Shadow into the Rafale. If we bought F18E would be need to buy SLAM-ER ??

This whole issue is one where I think some serious Euro-integration in the form of close working relationships with France would work better, so I vote for Rafale :-)

August 2, 2010 4:29 pm

“Just seems like little different from the problems the commercial software development world has wrestled with (and solved) for decades.”

Except most commerical software isnt designed to block modification.

The Key selling point of windows and Mac O/S is that you can write your own programs and run them.
It looks like the US has no intention of allowing anyone that ability.

Phil Darley
August 2, 2010 8:20 pm

Thank god for that I didn’t think anyone at spotted my post yesterday. I have a scanned image of the artice and sent to Admin.

Glad to see that you share my view on the Rafale. To me it seems to make more sense than the F18:

A: its more modern
B: many UK weapons will have been integrated
C: More Agile
D: If we are going to share the CVF in anyway with the French it seems to make perdect sense.

I know ideally it would be great if it could accept the EJ200 engine but that is probably too costly. I am sure it CAN be modified to take the 27mm Mauser (or should I say Rheinmetall) cannon and I amsure we could install the CAESER Radar to maintain some form of consistency with the Typhoon.

Richard Stockley
Richard Stockley
August 4, 2010 11:58 pm


I’m sure all the kit you suggested would improve the Rafael greatly, but in doing so you’ve just added umpteen millions to the cost and 5 years to the programme.

Can we just have an evaluation and fly-off and minimal modification prior to selection and procurement?