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CVF, F35, F18 and other Numbers


No other subject, with the possible exceptions of the Ghurkhas and small arms calibres, provokes as much discussion as the Royal Navy’s future carriers and the aircraft that will fly off them.

The recent speculation about a possible F18 buy, instead of the planned F35B, has sparked an avalanche of comment. Of course, a cynic might suggest it was a typical ‘float and see’ idea to gauge reaction, strengthen a position or simply cause trouble. In the febrile pre SDSR atmosphere, almost anything related to the armed forces will come under intense scrutiny.

Not wanting to be left out, it’s time for another look!

I will start this post by saying I am not 100% convinced by the need for CVF at all and think the huge cost of it and the embarked aircraft could have/be better spent elsewhere but if we assume they are going to happen it is important we get the decisions on equipment around CVF, absolutely right.

We also need to STOP thinking about single service loyalties, they might have been interesting in times of plenty but make no mistake, hard times are coming and instead of working against each other, the service chiefs have to be pragmatic and realise that duplication and non-standardisation need to be relentlessly and ruthlessly eliminated.

Time for something radical.

I don’t want to get into a discussion on purchase costs, turn rates, ranges or weapon loads because real information is thin on the ground and what is there, is surrounded by so much ‘smoke’ it is impossible to see through it.

Suffice it to say, all the options on offer would be good choices in terms of capability and largely similar in capital cost, cheaper alternative airframe costs balanced by the cost of cats/traps.

The real deciding factor, however, comes down to through-life costs; it’s not sexy or a readily obvious subject but make no mistake, it is critically important.

Rafale, F18 or anything else will make the through-life costs of the F35B look like pocket change.

Why is this?

Quite simply because of the cost of people, with their expensive pensions (made worse by longer life expectancy), increasing wages, healthcare and training costs. Armed forces the world over are facing massive increases in personnel costs so the trend is to do more with less, people that is. Automation and smart systems may be expensive to develop but have a huge payoff in reducing personnel numbers and the subsequent cost.

Going to a cat/trap system means extra people and running costs. Going for F18 over like Rafale means more aircrew and more frequent upgrades.

Therefore, for cost reasons, the F35B is the right choice.

The F35B will be a superb aircraft, no doubt, much much better in most respects than Rafale or F18 so given the extra through life costs of the latter two, why would we want to go with something that is both more expensive over the long run and clearly inferior ‘now’, let alone in the future?

There is no logic to this.

My position on this has changed over time, wavering between one position or the other, but if we must have CVF, we must have F35B.

Although the F35B and Typhoon are in reality, swing-role aircraft, the Typhoon can concentrate on air dominance with a secondary strike, CAS and ISR roles and the F35B majors on strike, SEAD/DEAD and CAS with a secondary air dominance and ISR role. The two are naturally complementary and will in the long term replace the current 3 type mix of Harrier, Typhoon and Tornado.

In the short term, withdrawing either the Tornado or Harrier force may actually be a counter-productive cost-wise, we have just spent a fortune on them both and are currently rather useful in hot sandy places. But beyond Afghanistan, they should go sooner than planned if we are to stand any chance of saving meaningful amounts. The Harrier GR9’s are more valuable in this short/medium term timeframe, they are better at CAS and can operate from the CVF in the gap between completion of CVF and the in-service date of the F35B. The Tornado is also massively maintenance intensive, the GR9 is, therefore, more relevant in the time before CVF and F35B achieves full capability.

Suggestion 1; confirm our commitment to F35B and implement an aggressive withdrawal schedule for Tornado after Afghanistan, followed by Harrier when the F35B enters service.

Crewing for the F35B is also an area for cost-saving, the UK cannot afford two organisations that manage fast jets. Therefore we should make the F35B solely the responsibility of the RAF and disband/transfer the naval strike wing. This is a controversial decision but the FAA does not have the critical mass to maintain F35B squadrons at an economical level, whatever advantages there may or not be, duplication is simply unaffordable.

Suggestion 2; disband the Naval Strike Wing and Joint Force Harrier and transfer existing Harriers and future F35B’s to the RAF.

As for CVF, their new watchword must be adaptability. Fortunately, their large size supports this and it was a wise choice to go for such a roomy design.

To maximise their adaptability we should also look at how they may be deployed. The traditional structure of a separate strike and amphibious group is not affordable and instead, we should configure the Royal Navy so that it can provide a single scalable and adaptable intervention package built around CVF. This reflects the reality of likely deployments and means the status of existing amphibious assault ships have to be examined.

Between Ocean, Bulwark, Albion and the 4 Bay class the UK amphibious capability can accommodate (non-overload) about 2,800 personnel, 6,000 lane metres for vehicles, 12 LCVP, 12 LCU and 12 transport helicopters. Ocean is maintenance intensive and due for replacement soon and although it has actually provided sterling service there is little scope for a like for like replacement. If we accept the loss of the rear loading ramp and LCVP davits from Ocean, CVF can be used in this role. Transferring the command facilities from the Albion class allows them also to be withdrawn.

So, the two CVF replace the Illustrious class, Ocean, Bulwark and Albion.

The intervention package can vary from all strike to all amphibious and all points in between.

In an ‘all amphibious’ configuration; about 800m of vehicle lane is lost, personnel accommodation is roughly the same, helicopter lift dramatically increased and landing craft also significantly reduced.

In an all strike configuration; 72 F35B’s could be operated, these do not necessarily have to be all UK F35B’s and could be Italian, Spanish or from the USMC.

The norm, however, will be somewhere in between. The intervention force, however, configured, would still be massively capable.

There are compromises in this approach, a reduction in amphibious capability and a loss of much of much of the landing craft but we have to be realistic about what is achievable within budget realities.

There is a rough saving of 1,000 afloat crew members and three hulls. Translate this to cash and it is a massive saving.

Suggestion 3; reconfigure existing carrier and amphibious groups into a single scalable intervention force, centred on a pair of adaptable CVF’s

If we are to interoperate with others, especially the USMC, this adaptability is invaluable and in order to improve capabilities in this area we should make sure the hangar height, accommodation spaces and other facilities are compatible with USMC aircraft and equipment, CH53 and CV22 especially. It might be tempting to add davits for LCVP but this is likely to mean significant alterations and at this stage in the design and build process may be a change too far. It might be possible though, and if the hanger height is an issue, for CH53 for example, then we should be bold enough to change, even at this late stage.

Suggestion 4; be bold enough to change the design of the CVF in respect of interoperability with the USMC, especially hangar height.

Looking a little beyond this force, there is also an implication for the RFA replenishment and RN escort fleet. With a single deployable intervention force, the number of anti-air and anti-submarine escorts can be consolidated. The 6 Type 45’s should be retained and the proposed Type 26, limited to 6 or 8. The RFA MARS requirement could be completely recast and the existing vessels may well be sufficient for the medium term.

Suggestion 5, reduce replenishment ships and escorts in line with the change.

It has often been my view that the UK needs to retain its high end fighting capabilities but concentrate them in a smaller harder-hitting core, concentrating capability in a smaller force but surrounding this deployable core with a larger number of workaday platforms for the unglamorous but none less vital missions that we can’t afford to do when all we have are ‘superb’ weapons.

A real two-tier approach is needed.

Suggestion 6; accelerate funding for such a C2/C3 type for general patrol and presence taskings, the Think Defence PSV based C3 proposal for example

F35B numbers, we started at 150 and this has been chipped away at continually. For the initial operating capability, purely for cost reasons, we should be aiming for between 40 and 50. This allows a full strike package to be assembled with enough for training, conversion and attrition spares. We might increase this when funds allow.

Suggestion 7; aim for between 40 and 50 F35B’s in the initial package, increasing as funds permit

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61 Responses

  1. Blimey, don’t mean to be rude, but what have you been smoking !

    F35B is way better than everything else, so why would you even bother examining other possibilities – have you been at the Lockheed Cool Aid ?? Or talking to Solomon over at SNAFU ?? It’s capabilities seem good on paper, until it is further into its current testing, i.e. “operational” rather than flight testing, all of its capabilities are simply conjecture.

    Its through life costs are even more conjectural at this point.

    OK, I will admit that NOT adding cats and traps will save money, but really the personnel costs associated with additional maintainers are the proverbial drop in the ocean when seen in the holistic view of maintaining the whole “system” of carrier and air wing. However not adding cats and traps still makes these carriers unable to do things that similar sized vessels can do, i.e having to rely on an helicopter for AEW & C instead of something like the E2D Hawkeye.

    But other than NOT paying for cats and traps and associated personnel you don’t attempt to make an argument for the STOVL version of F35 over the conventional variants – oh wait a minute, you do sort of, because you want the RAF to fly them all ! Of course the RAF would not want to be flying around the extra weight of a tail hook from land bases would it……

    I am not one for single service politics, but why do you think the UK can’t afford to have two services flying fast jets ? We can’t afford two types of the same fast jet perhaps, but as discussed on here before, the RAF would be much cheaper if it had a single type, the Typhoon. Then all 40 to 40 F35’s would belong to the RN Fleet Air Arm. I assure you, logistically this is no more expensive. I can also assure you that people do NOT join the RAF to go to sea for extended periods, and if you have a small number of F35 in use from both land bases and the single operational carrier, it is going to be a drafting lottery as to whether you end up on a 9 month deployment on a carrier, or having a relatively easy time at some east of england air base.

    As for CV as a replacement for Albion and Bulwark, why on earth do you think at would work ? One could argue the main utility of the CV is to bring fast jets and additional ASW helo’s to support the amphibious fleet. If we have no amphibs, then we may as well sell the CV’s as soon as launched, and rely on Sub launched Tomahawk to ‘reach out and touch’ the bad guys.

    Reduce ‘escorts’ – modern surface vessels are not “escorts” ! Sure they can escort big ships (High Value Units), or convoys or whatever, but using the term ‘escort’ to describe a T45 is ridiculous. Modern major surface units (be they described as Frigates, Destroyers or even Cruisers) are multi-role, multi-purpose vessels able to undertake a myriad of peace and wartime based roles – so you seem to suggest we don’t need expensive ‘escorts’, but we can have lots of low end cheap ‘escorts’ instead (please – no jokes about “high class escorts”…..) !

    Arrrgh, I admit, you have defeated me. Get rid of our amphibs, but raise the hanger deckhead height so we CV can carry USMC CH53’s…. I just don’t get it… :-(

  2. Lot’s to think about, Admin, so let’s get on with it!

    Suggestion 1; confirm our commitment to F35B and implement an aggressive withdrawal schedule for Tornado after Afghanistan, followed by Harrier when the F35B enters service.

    The F-35B. The design is crap (why does a strike aircraft need to be supersonic? The lift fan is dead weight for the vast majority of the time and the stealth features limit weapons carriage too much) but it’s the only VSTOL option available and I agree that VSTOL is the way to go. Better to stop and land than land and try to stop, as it has been said before. VSTOL aircraft are often able to operate in conditions that conventional naval aircraft find too risky (this is also a good argument for a helicopter borne AWACS system). Since a 3rd generation Harrier is never going to be built then Dave is the only option.

    Suggestion 2; disband the Naval Strike Wing and Joint Force Harrier and transfer existing Harriers and future F35B’s to the RAF.

    No. Disband the RAF instead. It exists only as a support arm and has no strategic role. Until 1918 it didn’t exist anyway, it’s duties performed by the RFC and RNAS. When the RAF DID have responsibility for naval air power it was a disaster.

    Suggestion 3; reconfigure existing carrier and amphibious groups into a single scalable intervention force, centred on a pair of adaptable CVF’s

    I’d go further and replace CVF with something like the Juan Carlos or America class ships ( ). I assume F-35 can handle Ski Jump launches?

    Suggestion 4; be bold enough to change the design of the CVF in respect of interoperability with the USMC, especially hangar height.

    Absolutely – perhaps even going as far as building similar ships . . .

    Suggestion 5, reduce replenishment ships and escorts in line with the change.

    Not sure about this. A high end AA defence is essential. A superb ASW capability even more so. If there is one thing that really worries me about expeditionary warfare its the existance of quiet, conventional submarines. Countering them is difficult – especially in coastal waters. Not only do you have to have enough escorts to protect your core fleet, you also have to protect your logistical fleet too. I don’t know how much can still be cut back.

    Suggestion 6; accelerate funding for such a C2/C3 type for general patrol and presence taskings, the Think Defence PSV based C3 proposal for example

    No idea what you’re talking about. I shall scamper off and go back through all the Think Defence topics posted before I stumbled upon the site . . .

    Suggestion 7; aim for between 40 and 50 F35B’s in the initial package, increasing as funds permit

    I still have an uncomfortable feeling that Dave-B will be scrapped.

  3. Sorry Pete, should have hyperlinked, have a look here

    My position on this has changed so often!!

    One the RAF, why was it formed?

    Jed, having thought more on your points (sorry for upsetting you)

    The F35B will be the result of some of the finest brains and aeronautical development expertise ever assembled, just can’t see it being a dog. The avionics and sensors will be superlative and already proven on test aircraft, the LO will allow sensible SEAD/DEAD sorties to take place and the basic specs are already impressive.

    Personnel costs cannot be ignored because the reality is, they put any difference in airframe price into insignificance. Going for a 2 seater or having cats and traps, carrier quals and the like adds so many people with their costs it is unbelievable. Reducing personnel is where you save real money

    Sorry about using the word escort, its just a generic term for destroyer and frigate

    We have to be realistic on what we can do and savings have to come from somewhere

  4. Another suggestion, and a slightly drunk one at that.

    Make the decision to go for F35B, but delay the initial purchase until 2020.

    Instead, drag out the life of the Harriers as long as possible and if they are deemed over the hill CVF can act as the worlds biggest Helicopter carrier for a while.

    I’d also take a look at whether the Sea Harriers at Culdrose can be made airworthy at reasonable cost. I take it this is not an impossibility as the Indians were looking at buying them?

  5. Why was the RAF formed? Ask Jan Smuts . . .

    The main thrust seems to have been to co-ordinate the airial defence of the UK and, especially, London. Later, of course, it attained a strategic role.

    I would argue that an Army run RFC or RNAS could perform the former whilst the latter role no longer exists.

  6. The RAF was formed initial as a strategic force in 1918 to carry the war to Germany being equipped with Hadley Page 0/400s and 0/1500s.

    Regarding the suggestion put forward regarding the CVFs and F-35s, where shall I start?

    First of the F-35B. Well the F-35 as a whole is a compromise in the name of stealth. ITs limited war load of 2 x 2000lb weapons plus 2 AMRAAM is paultry and unless we purchase the SDB or other US ordinnance and because of the further restrictions on the F-35B we are limited to 2 x 1000lb weapons. Anything else has to be carried externally eliminating its main reason for being stealth.

    Next why do we need STOVL for either the Navy or RAF. The RAF invested in the Harrier due to cold war fears that its airfields in Germany had a limited shelf life if the balooon went up. Another percieved benefit was being able to operate up near the front line providing rapid CAS. The RN got the Sea Harrier because it was the only game in town if it eanted a limited air defence capability for it’s new large ASW Cruisers ie the Invincible class. With the dawn or rediscovery of power projection by the UK after GW1 it was decided to utilise the Light Carriers as Strike platforms and joint airgroups of RAF Harrier IIs and Sea Harriers began to operate leading to the formation of the JHF. The Sea Harriers provided air defence and the Harrier IIs were the mud movers. TO save money the MoD decided that the Sea Harrier was long in the tooth and so the Sea Harrier was retired early and the Navy began flying the Harrier II losing any Air Defence capability. This was rienforces by the decision not to equip the Harrier II with ASRAAM as planned to save money adn because the Harrier II was not to be used as a fighter. As a result the RAF has had defacto control over the RNs fixed wing assets even if on paper it is a joint organisation on paper.

    The niche land role for the Harrier for which trhe Harrier specialised has gone but the RAF knows that if it retains a STOVL capability the it will get the F-35B and as a result to show joined up thinking the RN will get the same platform so the CVF is to be a Fleet Carrier in size but operated like a overgrown Invincible class because that is haow we do it now and anything else would put the F-35 for the RAF at risk!

    So all plans for the CVF are based around a STOVL platform or F-35B as that is the only game in town. In doing so many of the capabilities needed to operate a Carrier effectively are compromised also, examples being;

    Reduced rotary AEW capabilty giving the CVF less awarenes of its battlespace and reduced ability to control it effectively.

    No A2A refueling, limiting the range of its strike platforms adn there weapons load. The USN often launched its aircraft fuel light in order to carry more ordonnance, topping off there tanks from a tanker. There is no way land based tankers would be available to cover this gap and it reduced one of the main gains from a Carrier Group namely its ability to operate independantly and self contained.

    No COD capability make the transfer of personnel and spares difficult, forcing tte Carrier Group to rely on what is has on board again this puts limitations on the carrier and its flexibility.

    All these mean the CVF cannot operate effectively as a Strike Carrier or live up to its full potential.

    Moving on to some of the options suggested. Getting rid of the LSDs makes zero sense. They are new ships and enable any intervention force to be more than just airmobile infantry. HMS Ocean is different and yes teh CVFs can assume her role if required quite effectively though a follow on s”Son of Ocean”, learning the mistakes from the first would be a better solution funds permitting.

    Changing the design of the CVF to increase hanger height and lft size would be a good idea if possible and cost effective especially if the Chinnok fleet is navalised (Folding Rotors) allowing them to be moved to the Hanger.

    On the reduction of other units in the RN well it already lacks sufficent vessels to meet its existing task with impropper vessels carring out deployments to duty stations etc. There is a major need for capacity and therefore as suggested the C2 platform should be the first out of the gate with regards to new build. Older vessels could be retired but only if the C2 programme is accelerated with the first of class launching no later the 2015. It needs to be cheep and versatile but does not need to be equipped for high end fighting at all times. C3 should be next providing a multi-purpose patrol vessel to meet our duty station committments and specialist roles such as anti-mine warfare. THis leads to the need for a modular vessel and this is a principal I would also extend to the C2. Lastly is C1 which needs to provide the High end cpabilities the RN cherishes such as land attack and top flight ASW. With the reduction in SSN numbers the former will gain in importance and the latter will always remain so.

    Unfortunately all of teh above will probably never come to pass as the cut in budget, manpower and equipment planned by the current government is likely to reduce the UK’s Armed Forces to such an extent that our role in the role will chance irreversibly. We will be in the same league as the Netherlands or Canada in projection capability with little or no balance in what we can an can’t do and most importantly will be forever tied to coalition operation, unable to operate independnatly except for operations on the scale of Sierra Laon.

    I shall now gracefully step down from my soap box and retire to the Kitchen for a coffee.

  7. Just seen this post.. Admin are you all right? I am with Jed, what the hell have you been smoking?

    I will submit a more thorough post after I have walked the dogs but first thoughts.

    F35B is in my view fundamentally flawed. Do we really need a supersonic brick? This thing is so over-hyped its a joke.

    The CVF was always supposed to be a conventional carrier, if we were only going to operate STOVL aircraft with should have bought a load of US style LPHD.

    Rafale makes the more logical choice on so many levels. In my view we should have made CVF nuclear and have done with it. It we are going to have a Carrier fleet and it looks like we do then the rest of the RN needs to be increased to support it. At the moment it is looking completely unbalanced.

    We need 10-12 T45s, 12-14 T26 and 20+ C2/C3 types for the low end stuff.

    Albion and Bay need to have the Helicopter hangers that we not fitted…. Fitted PDQ…

    Must go will add more later.

    Admin are you feeling better yet?

  8. I am absolutely convinced of the necessity and utility of two CVF’s.

    Suggestion 1; confirm our commitment to F35B and implement an aggressive withdrawal schedule for Tornado after Afghanistan, followed by Harrier when the F35B enters service.

    Very much agreed, I have been following the argument on Warships1 and am happy that it is the best choice as a sensible balance of cost vs capability.

    Suggestion 2; disband the Naval Strike Wing and Joint Force Harrier and transfer existing Harriers and future F35B’s to the RAF.

    I don’t like it, I really don’t, but it may well be judged a necessary cost saving.

    Suggestion 3; reconfigure existing carrier and amphibious groups into a single scalable intervention force, centred on a pair of adaptable CVF’s

    I don’t like the idea of limiting the RN to a single combined task-group rather than an ARG and Carrier group, but the idea is not antagonistic to my preferred direction of SR.
    I am also sympathetic to the idea of moving the flag facilities from the LPD’s to the CVF if the amphib group is not going to deploy on its own.
    I am sympathetic to the idea of having the large and flexible CVF’s replace Ocean and Vince in the LPH role, capability preserved and cost reduced.
    I believe that getting rid of the 2 Albion class LPD’s would be a very bad move, as too much capability would be lost, capability that the CVF cannot accomodate for.

    Suggestion 5, reduce replenishment ships and escorts in line with the change.

    I don’t see much room for reduction in the replenishment fleet if the RN (with embarked force) is to remain globally deployable and sustainable.

    Suggestion 7; aim for between 40 and 50 F35B’s in the initial package, increasing as funds permit

    I would prefer six squadrons of twelve aircraft and eight attrition reserve for a total buy of 80 (2x CVF / 1x OCU).

  9. OK guys, how about putting one of the LPD’s into extended readiness?

    I agree that asking CVF plus Bays is a step too far, we lose too much landing craft and lane metres

    By the way, I don’t actually like any of my ideas but they are just a reaction to our shallow pockets at the moment, it retains CVF as a platform on which to build, keeps long terms costs to a minimum and allows some serious short term cost savings to be made

  10. Pete,

    Why does a strike aircraft need to be supersonic?

    If you’re under fire and waiting for CAS, shaving a few minutes off the transit time can mean the difference between life and death for the guys on the ground. In these circumstances Warp Factor 3 would probably be a better criteria than Mach 2!

    With regard to the lift fan, it provides more thrust than a gas turbine engine for the same weight and is thus the far more efficient option.

  11. An ARG pretty much depends on the LPD (Albion), two LSD (Bay), and the LPH (potentially CVF), so the two Albions must remain operational if a permanent ability to generate is useful ARG is to be maintained.

  12. Disagree on that, they do need to be retained IF we want to retain the same capability as now

    If we accept a change in capability then we can make a change in assets

  13. Given that I am gung-ho for Strategic Raiding i am all for maintaining a permanent capability to deploy and sustain brigade level forces independently. :)

  14. First post on this blog and I’ve got more suggestions and questions than answers I’m afraid. Anyway, here goes…

    Personally I’m in favour of a Super Hornet purchase for the new carriers as I remain deeply suspicious of the cost, reliability and performance of the F-35 at present.

    As far as carrier landing being a highly perishable skill, how far away are we from seeing a fully automatic carrier landing system that could reduce the training burden? I believe that it is something that the Americans have been researching for at least 10 years, and with the desire to test the operation of UAVs (X-47B) from carriers soon, development of such a system must be going well.

    I’m also not convinced the Navy needs the Day One stealth capability that the F-35 provides. If it really is the case that we’re never going to fight another war on our own again, then for all the current talk of not blindly following the USA into whatever mess they decide to make next, it’s still a certainty we’ll be going along with the Americans who have all the Day One capability we need. For all the talk of European defence integration and cooperation I really can’t see the EU having the resolve for anything more than the occasional low-key peacekeeping operation, regardless of the provocation. And with NATO, well we’re back with the Americans again. Additionally, if we do end up with the Super Hornet and either the politicians or military command insist on our Day One participation for the sake of prestige, then could we make a meaningful contribution by standing off and launching Storm Shadow?

    As far as retaining a VSTOL strike capability, well, well the Army supposedly has 67 VTOL deep strike platforms – the Apache helicopter.

    Finally, I’m not convinced of the need to purchase the E-2 Hawkeye. How much worse would the air picture be with the combined use of a T45’s super-duper new radar and the recently proposed Merlin ASaC variant? From what I’ve heard, the current Sea King ASaC is really very good indeed. Using the Merlin with the Sea King’s systems installed means both not introducing a new aircraft type and also using a system for which the training process is already established.

    Personally, I’d rather see the CASD abandoned in favour of a strong and properly escorted conventional carrier force.

  15. “Personally, I’d rather see the CASD abandoned in favour of a strong and properly escorted conventional carrier force.”

    If its an either/or proposition, which Osborne has just about guaranteed, then yes I agree.

  16. Admin, I too have come to a similar conclusion about F35B versus the rest. I have fingers crossed about the cost/capability of the aircraft but I think we (and the Spanish and the Italians) should commit to it. So I am agreed with suggestion 1; move as soon as possible to a 2 tier fleet: Typhoon and F35B.
    Enough to sustain a combined active fleet of about 200 aircraft.

    I cannot agree with disbanding Naval Strike Wing. Quite the reverse. Disband Joint Force Harrier and build up Naval Strike Wing with the GR9s. Leave the RAF to operate Typhoon only and Naval Strike Wing the F35B. I don’t believe this need be more expensive. Naval Strike WIng would be a leaner operation than the RAF equivalent.

    The CVFs are flexible enough to allow Ocean to go without replacement but I can not see the logic of losing the LPDs. Centre around 2 x CVF and 2 x LPD. However, we need to get more use out of Bulwark and Albion. One way might be to use one of them in the aviation training role to replace Argus.

    There is no need to change the design of the hangar on CVF. Cross decking with Italian, Spanish and USMC is perfectly possible without it.

    I would be more ambitious about Future Surface Combatant. Cancel C2. FSC would comprise two classes: a large multi-mission frigate (Type 26) and a general purpose Sloop (C3). C3 would be prioritized. I would go to BAE Surface Fleet and give them £5 billion to design, build and deliver 16 x C3 between 2013-2020 and 16 x T.26 between 2021-2036.

    I am agreed that an initial buy of 50 F35B should proceed.

  17. RL, welcome to Think Defence, we are a welcoming bunch here even though we might disagree on the finer points our overall goal remains the same.

    Good point about automated landing, still leaves the cats and traps to worry about though

    Is stealth really a day one capability?

    If you look at the air war over the Balkans the Serbian air defences remained a threat throughout the air campaign so in any strike package, the ability to deal with advanced air defences is something that should exercise us more than worrying about fighters. Seriously advanced air defence systems are going to proliferate so stealth becomes less a nice to have day one type capability and more a sustained one.

    I think as I said in my intro, I am not 100% convinced of the need for CVF anyway, given a finite amount of money I would prefer to see it spent elsewhere but we are where we are and have to make the best of them for the least money

    Agree on E2, it does bring something extra of the ASaC’s but not enough, in my thinking, to change CVF design and aircraft choice

    Jason,I know a lot of people think the NSW is a cut too far but it can’t and hasnt for some time, sustain itself. We need one air force, not two, however difficult that choice is

    Re hanger heights, I think I read that it is 9.1m high only in certain parts whichh limits us, the original design was 10m throughout I think but dropped down for cost reasons. this just seems ridiculously short sighted and we should have the balls to say stop, change it now

    On your thinking about T26 and C3, again, am broadly in agreement with that. type 45 and type 26 and a C3, in fact I think I covered the very same ide in the FDR maritime section

  18. I think, the F-35B stands as the only viable choice. Using VSTOL, you may add some smaller LPH- or LHD-type ships in the future. Maybe the beancounters sell PoW to India, then you are stuck with F-35C or Rafales or Hornets.

    The F-35 as a whole is a sensible package. Well, not the low-cost-procurement-package it was intended to be, but still impressing.

    The arguments against it are largely crap. As long as stealth is needed (for SEAD or ASuW or something), the F-35 internal weapons load is absolutely OK. If more ordnance is to be carried, it is still more LO than a Tornado or Harrier. I would not send them to A-stan, as CAS in that theatre is can be done using drones or light attack aircraft.

    Somethng I cannot really see is the need to get CH-53 aboard. Hangar-deck height will be sufficient for Chinook and even V-22.

    The retirement of Albion and Bulwark should pose a problem, IMHO. How many LCUs can be transported without them? 4?

    For balancing the RN: start investing in modules NOW, before any ship is built. Then test them on the first C3s, then add C2 as a 27kn-variant. It’s called “the Danish Approach”. Use the savings to finance high-value units (2 additional T45s, more SSNs, no C1). To load a pair of LCVP or Griffons on davits on the back of a C3 should pose no problem.

  19. Just a few points.

    While impossible to say definitively, my guess is the F-35B will require far more maintenance than the Super Hornet. Maintaining stealth coatings, lift fan, vectoring nozzle and the rest will add up.

    It is also impossible to say what the various weight reduction efforts will have on the F-35B’s lifespan.

    What the ultimate price for an F-35B will be is anyone’s guess, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them ~$150 million each. Boeing recently offered Super Hornets to the USN for $50 million each.

    So will the extra life-cycle cost for adding cats and traps outweigh the higher life-cycle costs of the F-35B? Maybe. It just doesn’t seem cut-and-dry to me.

  20. A lot of interesting comments….

    …my additional penny’s worth.

    Regarding the E-2/Merlin ASaC debate, the E-2 has a service some twice the height of the Merlin, in this role height has a direct impact on detection range. In this sense a V-22 may come into its own,

    RAF take control of RN air assets? No chance! They’ve done it before and ran it into the ground, that’s why the RN ended up going into WW2 with the likes of the bi-plane Swordfish torpedo bomber. As far as I’m concerned they blew it and one service should not be trusted with anothers key assets. The RAF should have the Typhoon and the RN the F-35B, that way the RAF can’t screw up the Fleet Air Arm!

  21. “If you’re under fire and waiting for CAS, shaving a few minutes off the transit time can mean the difference between life and death for the guys on the ground. In these circumstances Warp Factor 3 would probably be a better criteria than Mach 2!”

    Most supersonic aircraft can’t go supersonic with load of bombs and rocket pods hanging off them anyway. Of those that can, they generally don’t due to the fuel consumption. If they have the ability and the fuel the time spent supersonic is so short on a CAS mission before they have to slow down for weapon delivery that it shaves second only off the arrival time.
    Having your STOVL subsonic Harriers coser to the front line is a better option than trying to get a supersonic aircraft there from further away.

    “With regard to the lift fan, it provides more thrust than a gas turbine engine for the same weight and is thus the far more efficient option”

    It’s only efficient in the VTOL mode. Yes, when the clutch is operated it robs thrust from the tailpipe to provide lots of thrust from the fan. Guess what? The Harrier does exactly the same thing except it’s fan contributes to usable thrust over the entire flight regime not just when you’re landing. As an efficient method of creating VSTOL flight, the Harrier is far more efficient. What it isn’t is stealthy or supersonic. The former could be addressed with good design. The latter is unnecessary.
    In my, admittedly worthless oppinion, the F-35 isn’t a great attack aircraft because it’s design has been compromised by the stealth and supersonic requirements.

  22. Admin, I would say we need one Armed Forces not necessarily one Air Force.
    Battlefield Helicopter support for the Army is better contained within the Army, ASW helicopters under the control of the Royal Navy whose ships they fly from.
    Likewise carrier borne jets.

    I think there is scope for the Armed Forces to be more joined up at the top end (strategic) of the Command Organization but there are still good reasons why helicopters, fixed wing aircraft, drones and other assets could/should remain within the scope of the separate services.

    Besides I am not sure that the RAF will make god custodians of carrier ops.

  23. But this is a classic case of thinking that the F35B will spend much time on CVF, they won’t

    In fact that is the whole point, a single versatile fleet of aircraft that can operate from CVF in the initial stages and transition to land bases as the operation progresses. If there is no maritime element, like Afghanistan for example, the aircraft will operate from land bases, likely the same land bases that the RAF will be operating from anyway.

    The JCA is NOT a naval aircraft, it is a JOINT aircraft that will go where it needs to

  24. I feel one of the major problems with the F-35 is that many people don’t seem to see the potential of the aircraft, just the price tag and the limitations. If we took the avionics fit out and transplanted it into a late model F-15/F-16/F-18, I’m sure most of us would be in awe of its capabilities, and comment on the quantum leap in technology.

    The cost of maintenance for the F-35 will be high, but then its a fifth generation aircraft, this looks like it will be the case unless we accept that there is still a place for more robust legacy types like the Jaguar. Given the cost differences, could we afford to maintain a couple of squadrons Jaguars for use in low intensity/COIN campaigns?

    Pete, I believe the F-35 has supercruise capability, so use of afterburner may not be necessary. Whether it could do this with a couple of thousand pounders in the internal bays, I’m not sure. The F-35B may have the lift fan as dead weight, but the Harrier has to carry a large tank of distilled water/methanol everywhere to ensure it has enough power for take-off and landing, which can also cause logistical problems.

    “Having your STOVL subsonic Harriers coser to the front line is a better option than trying to get a supersonic aircraft there from further away.”

    Given that the Taliban wiped out two Harrier GR.7’s using mortars quite early on may remove this as an option.

  25. Interesting concept. I have to say until I read this I was terrified by the outlook of the RN following the SDSR. However using CVF to replace Invincible, Ocean and Bulwark would not be that bad and would still give us a major amphib capability. The reduction in the number of escorts required could be massive. This would allow 3 type 45’s and possible even 5-6 to be deployed with the fleet in times of crisis.

    I would estimate it might be possible to replace the type 26 all together making further savings and allowing the navy to produce the C3 in large numbers. I have written something in my blog about how the c3 could be used to recapitalise the navy.

    Would be interested to hear your thoughts

  26. It’s really quite late. But, I thought I’d drop by after and see what came up. And as I scroll down (putting a pin in the SDSR piece at the top of the masthead for comment at a more civilised hour) I run by this sentence:
    “So, the two CVF replace the Illustrious class, Ocean, Bulwark and Albion.”
    At that moment (funny story), my windpipe tried to lay in a bit of chocolate-covered pretzel mid-swallow without planning permission. I applaud you rattling the conceptual cages, boss, but give us a little more warning?

    Bless you. Anything more would be as redundant as, well, a Rover Group assembly line.

    Pete and Suggestion 2,

    Tempting. There’s still perfectly valid scope of purpose and action to the RAF — air defence of the UK possibly to include ballistic-missile defence in future, strategic air transport (though I’d like to see a Royal Air Auxiliary developing cargo airships), and forward Article 5 strike/defence capability working back (if forced) towards the UK in what the poor bloody infantry call a “collapsing bag” process. But since none of that sounds likely at the moment to short-sighted politicians, they’d be terrified of the prospect. And of disappointing Air Marshals past who thought cheap jet fuel would last forever and the sun would never set on V-bombers. Well, the politicians are wrong (want to scrap the NHS *and* private insurance alike? No? Then don’t scrap national air defence either.) And for the air marshals, well, as my Methodist ancestors would say “Pride goeth before destruction; and an haughty spirit before a fall.” But they have no bombers left. And (this deserves a break in the paragraph because it’s a big strategic point for the future):

    if future opponents have learned anything from the last decade, it’s 1) have good, layered ADA if you’re a state, and 2) whether you’re a state or not, **dont let the Western powers have any bloody airfields**. It’s quite possible, in many places, to make life very messy if you scorched-earth your own airfields (Terry Taliban, who in 2001 had the operational good sense of a rissole, failed to do this with Kandahar) and your neighbours are politically antsy. Then, when the interlopers decide to drop in some paras and start rebuilding an airfield, what they hope might be Kandahar could instead become Dien Bien Phu.

    So where do you put your planes, then? If you need to be in and out quick, or the neighbours won’t budge, or the enemy has ground cover (heaven help if Iraq had been jungle, they’d have starved the Americans out years ago or forced them to level the whole place), etc., etc. Afloat sounds sensible. (Also, as one delightful comment over at the Warships board had it, on the rare occasions they’ve been overrun, carriers “do the decent thing and sink” rather than being used against you.) But as much as the realities of real-world jointness and simple patriotism might guide one to thing that the RAF would transfer its strike command afloat, the sad thing is that would be wrong. The culture, which dreams of low-and-fast with a big payload to pummel a big-state foe, would chafe at sea basing. The US Air Force really do see themselves as “knights of the air,” including some of the rather askew philosophies attached thereto, staring down godlike with their JDAMs and waiting for worthy foes to joust them with PAK-FA or the like. With the British and French air forces, like the Israelis and a number of other capable non-American air forces, seem to have the horse cavalryman’s mentality; given perfect operational conditions, charge in hell for leather with a flash of steel, seeking glory and indifferent to death. Not actually all that effective (and some of the “marginal” RAF pilots, the blokes in GR9s and CSAR/medevac helos often looked down upon by “proper” pilots as in most air forces, have done some of the best work in the Middle East.) On the rare occasions they had a good shot at an airfield under their feet, they would denude the carriers without a second thought (who might need CAP still), and in the cases where (Falklands-like) they were stuck afloat the whole time because of access denial to airfields during combat operations, individual pilots would man up in British fashion but the RAF as an institution would loathe it and plot revenge. There are good jobs for the RAF to do (q.v.) but mobile maritime strike isn’t one. This applies broadly to “air force/naval interfaces” around the world: every carrier fleet, even threadbare Thailand, has its own fixed-wing component in naval uniform.

    The F35B is the result of fine brains, etc. But two things worry me with regard to it. One is that what’s really most stellar about the whole F35 system — its combat management and comm/datalink architecture — could probably be plucked out and put in other jets that were better fliers. Stealth, among at least part of your air component, probably is an every-day necessity now. But not for all of them, and as for F35 the tank-like concentration on frontal LO worries me. Say you have opponents of Serbian-level brightness at least. Turn on some fat radar-signature targets inland, set up some dummies that are a little harder to find to tempt the air tasking officers, and then hide a bunch more wicked little systems right along your forward edge. Dave-As and Bs and Cs go charging in, pass over the turned-off ambushers at the FEBA, who turn on to pick up the achilles-heel signature from behind. Sounds on a par with “Oi, mate! Yer shoelace’s untied!” but it might work. Not so much with Raptors (lots of buyer’s remorse beginning to emerge in Washington), or possibly other products, even less-LO jets with such high-end combat management gear. Duke it out, force the enemy to show its full hand, and bitterly take some losses yourself. But don’t presume tremendous superiority and walk into an ambush — it’s such a French thing to do ;)
    Also, Dave-B may indeed be in jeopardy, for a reason I don’t think many people have spotted. It’s perhaps a dirty secret of design that the new American LHA-6s, which would be the cradle for the Marine Corps’ baby (Dave-B), are within a couple of meters as long, both loa and flight deck, of the Charles de Gaulle, which comfortably operates STOBAR with its Rafales. If either Dave-C or the Superbugs don’t present insuperable takeoff weight issues or other problems, the USN could STOBAR those platforms with the change they lost in the sofa going to pay for the “Littoral Combat Ship” and kill the whole production line. (They have their own intra-service issues and would like to hobble the Marines’ multi-role capabilities in favour of white-uniformed pilots.) Yes, the Spanish in particular would be stuck (the Marina Militare would be furious too, but Cavour is the size of the old Ark Royal paid off before the Falklands, and might go through an expensive saving conversion.) V/STOL’s an important and very useful component in ship-based strike air. But the “only game in town” might soon start to look like the F104, with a lot of scrambling to follow. Just a shared fear.

    Lord Jim,

    Really excellent overview on the crabs and on STOVL. Also on why jets like the SuperHornet and Rafale make their own kinds of good sense. (I actually like Merlin AEW and especially the flex-module nature of it. But if you’re going to run big-deck carriers like the QEs, for heaven’s sake get the value of E-2D from them.)

    I’ll try to hit the Suggestions quickly now:

    Suggestion 1:
    Yup, Tornado must go. Huge support costs, wrong era, encourages moral hazard in RAF doctrine. Harrier holds on because needs must. But what do we do about Dave-B or alternatives? That’s where these run back to front, because a number of things to do with the other suggestions really govern this choice of (OK, I’ll say it because no one has the guts, or everyone else has taste :) “to B or not to B.”

    Suggestion 2:
    Covered q.v. No, no, no, no, no. (Since I was never on “Vicar of Dibley” there’s no yes coming.) As Sir Edward Grey said of the army, expeditionary strike air (not the kind of total-commitment fighting you’d get in a big Article 5 alliance war for survival) is now a projectile to be fired by the Royal Navy. You control the paths in and out of theatre, open up the most secure logistical lines that aren’t American made (even then — paying a cover charge to your enemies in the ‘Stan so they don’t nick your supplies gets a bit suspect), and don’t rely on a venue for access-denial that’s a whole lot more fertile than mines and missile boats (e.g. don’t let them have airfields.) Plus it’s a case of specialisation of trade — where, either as a sovereign fighting power with a singular interest in a conflict, or as a partner in an alliance, can the UK maximise political value for money? Being lead or at least joint power for initial entry, and managers of the safest line of large-scale supply sounds pretty good. That means delivering a key component of entry — air superiority — by sea for maximum control over how much air power you deliver, how often it can do its job, and how readily it can receive resupply.

    Suggestion 3:
    Just how adaptable are they really? I mean, jokes about storing magic pink unicorns in the elevators aside. Yes the Vincis could lose their Harriers, fiddle with space, and shove most of an RM Commando in for short durations. But the QEs seem to have a pretty well-defined carrying capacity around 1600 or so. With a bunch of different sources out there, crew plus aircrew seems to come to somewhere on an average of 1300, maybe more or slightly less. So you could get a reinforced company on board or, say, the headquarters company for 3 CDO Bde, or at least part of that and an admiral’s operational command flag staff. But it doesn’t sound like one crams an HMS Ocean’s worth of green death on board and anyway how overworked would helos be getting their stuff ashore?

    The amphibs must live. Actually, if you *really* want to shake things up on CVF and All That, here’s a working plan:

    – Really, in order to project power you need at least one big-deck carrier. So QE, underway already, needs to live. Cancellation costs etc. are horrendous on PoW. So, you start doing the right dance of begging and arm-twisting for a buyer. Basically that’s either “hey, India, aren’t you tired of pouring money down the Gorshkov hole?” or “hey, Brazil, wouldn’t you like a modern carrier?” Hague’s all about BRIC, fake it till you make it.
    – So you’ve sold PoW, to keep the jobs humming and placate BAe. Now, while the production line is still running, go to the Spanish and order three BPEs. Build more to the Juan Carlos configuration than the Canberras’, let the Spanish do nearly all the structural work because UK yards are busy on the CVFs for home and away. Workshare the interior design, sensor arrays, etc.
    – As the BPEs come on-line, sell the Albions to a good home. Young, excellent ships, they could go as a pair to Chile or South Africa, or possibly elsewhere individually. That defrays a little bit of the cost but frankly, with Navantia’s costing on Juan Carlos and the exchange rate, you could get three for about 1.5 billion quid even before you pocket the LPDs’ sale.
    – Also, shunt Ocean to RFA as their helicopter trainer platform but ready to kit out as an amphib helo taxi in wartime.
    – Run the LHDs as assault carriers: you have a full EMF aboard, plus twelve VSTOL jets, plus ten Merlins. (Since AEW flexes on the Merlins, you have four crews trained for it and keep two birds kitted at all times, rotating, while the other eight handle ASW/commando carrier.) These are your core afloat groups, rotate the three (Hermes, Ark Royal, Eagle?) usually with a Bay in tow.
    – Against low-grade (in air and ADA) opponents, you could send out the three assault carrier groups and hold QE back for home defence/Article 5. Or, you could send two of the BPEs plus QE (gets you 56-64 fast jets on scene) and the RFA’s amphib fleet while the third BPE holds back as a NATO escort carrier with some extra jets and Merlins aboard in the light vehicles bay (a Vinci on steroids with 21st-century kit.)
    – You multiply your amphibious power, do it cheaply, with crew/aircrew numbers not much higher for the three BPEs than one CVF, drop hull numbers and afloat personnel (with pensions etc., losing the Albions and putting Ocean off to RFA’s budget structure.) Lots to like.

    I still prefer two CVF with two BPE/LPD groups in addition, but then I’m a strong-navy guy.

    Suggestion 4:
    I have known and liked Jarheads in their time and they will take care of their own needs, as will the US more broadly. What the RN needs to “inter-operate” is the *rest* of the gang on a multilateral intervention. It needs to be the “not-US” hub for maritime entry/operations. So if you expect lots of Germans along, then reconfiguration for CH-53 makes sense. Otherwise, work to accomodate Dutch, Spanish, French, Italian, Scandinavians of various stripes, and Commonwealth partners.

    Suggestion 5:
    Erm, no. Now, you can certainly have fewer higher-end units depending on what your “lower-end” units look like (e.g. how much of a low-intensity combatant your C2/3 is.) But replenishment ships? More, not less. Especially if you have a smaller combatant fleet focused around surface/carrier air strike teams, you have to keep it in action or where it can deter by its presence — that’s exactly why Fisher and his crowd created the RFA in the first place.

    Suggestion 6:
    Given my druthers, here’s the surface fleet I’d have:
    – Twelve Type 45s, fitted better for general-purpose work (SeaRAM in the Phalanx spots with the HAS upgrade so it can kill small surface opponents too; common-or-garden towed sonar; CAMM quad-packed in eight cells with PAAMS superior guidance, and Aster 30 in the rest; 155mm gun forward; and two 2X4 Harpoon for sixteen missiles on at least ten of the ships, by stripping the retiring frigates and UOR orders. These are your “ships of the line” after all.)
    – Ten Type 26, built as a genuine frigate rather than some jack-of-all-trades kludge. Take the Khareef design VT did for Oman, and stretch her 15-20 meters. Get two eight-cell SYLVER forward along with a Kryten gun (lots of 4.5 inch barrels still around, up to 155 only if you don’t have to pay for reinforcing the deck.) Flex what’s in them (CAMM, Lightweight Multirole, start twinning with the Norse to work on an ASROC/Ikara for the new century or VL Naval Strike Missile.) Sonar Type 2087 and the gear to read it, simple hangar for a Wildcat, Artisan plus Cea-Mount to run your CAMM better under fire. They’re “exquisite” sub-hunters but otherwise just nice little patrol frigates with low crew manning and maybe bunking to stuff in a proper SBS team.
    – Twelve sloops built straight up from the HMS Clyde design. Stretch her too, get a hangar in and a patch of flex-deck below and past the flight deck. Stick a BAE/Bofors 57mm up front, SeaRAM on the hangar roof, room to flex a few other goodies. Constabulary patrol, surveying, MCM, towed convoy sonar, get a mast on like the Dutch OPVs to maximise surveillance value.

    Suggestion 7:
    Well, that’s what all the fuss is about, isn’t it? Will come back to that.

  27. Couple of points.

    Withdrawing the Tornado and the Harrier might save money today and for the next few years, but a Typhoon has 6000 hours of flight time before it starts to break apart on landing or explode on take off.
    If we start using them heavily now, we have to replace them in 15 years not 20.
    We’re scrapping the Tornado anyway, we might as well run them all into the ground before we do.

    Why not give all STOVL jets to the RN?
    Its not like maritime helicopters and their crews are working in Afghanistan, Or Royal Marines arent fighting in Afghanistan, or Navy members of JRH arent working in Afghanistan.

    The RAF can concentrate on what it wants to do, dominate the air/land/sea approaches to the UK.
    The RN can concentrate on it wants to do, reach and touch people.
    And if airfields permit, the RAF can help.

  28. Sorry for the delay my full response is here:

    Suggestion 1; confirm our commitment to F35B and implement an aggressive withdrawal schedule for Tornado after Afghanistan, followed by Harrier when the F35B enters service.
    No. If we could not afford to operate two sets of fast jets, we did we embark on CVF. The whole tone of this and other posts around Defence is way too pessimistic. It is not just the UK that is in financial trouble, are our allies considering such drastic Defence cuts…NO so why the bloody hell are we? The FAA has been run down prior to JCA now is its chance to return to its former glory.
    Suggestion 2; disband the Naval Strike Wing and Joint Force Harrier and transfer existing Harriers and future F35B’s to the RAF.
    No. See my reply to suggestion 1.
    CVF is an aircraft carrier, although iys was built with the option to be a STOVL or Conventional carrier, it was designed to be a carrier, trying to do much else with it will just be madness. If you want an LPHD type ship, build one. What are we going to do a Navel version of “Pimp My Ride”.
    Ocean should be replaced with something like the French Mistral class, ideally 2-off. These can operate GR9A’s if required.
    Suggestion 3; reconfigure existing carrier and amphibious groups into a single scalable intervention force, centred on a pair of adaptable CVF’s
    No. As I said the CVF is what it is. If this is no longer what is required or what we can afford (refute that anyway), then sell CVF and build the vessels you want/can afford.
    Suggestion 4; be bold enough to change the design of the CVF in respect of interoperability with the USMC, especially hangar height.
    See my answer to Suggestion 3.
    Suggestion 5, reduce replenishment ships and escorts in line with the change.
    Not too sure what you are really saying here. Yes we need a range of ships, both high-end (T45/T26) and we need ships in-line with the C2/C3 types as we have discussed at length on this blog i.e an Absalon type C2 and a global corvette type ship. To me this will need more replenishment ships not less!!!

    Suggestion 6; accelerate funding for such a C2/C3 type for general patrol and presence taskings, the Think Defence PSV based C3 proposal for example
    Yep agree with that…ish!
    I would only sanction F35B is it is just a Harrier replacement and we get a proper aircraft for the CVF (F18/Rafale or even F35C….oooh!
    Suggestion 7; aim for between 40 and 50 F35B’s in the initial package, increasing as funds permit

    Only to operate from our new Mistral LPHD and from forward basis as per JFH

  29. If we are going to play fantasy fleets then I demand my two-penneth:

    2x CVF
    7x T45 (three up / three down / one deep-refit)
    7x T26 (two ASW Merlins) (three up / three down / one deep-refit)
    14x C2 (Absalon style) (six up / six down / two deep-refit)
    14x C3 (replace River class + MCMW)

    2x LPD (Albion)
    2x LPH (Ocean v2)
    4x LSD (Bay)

  30. Andy,

    Re: the Sea Harriers, given that all ours are now either in museums, pub car-parks or shoved into the remote corners of derelict hangers, rather than trying to buy them all back and getting them serviceable, perhaps it would be better to buy back all the Indian FRS.51’s from their navy when they replace them with the MiG-29K.

    Before embarking on the MiG route the Indians were in talks with Israel with regard to a radar and avionic upgrade, a bit more modest than the F/A.2 upgrade the FAA opted for but significant none the less. Worth a try?

  31. Those who advocate the F-18/Rafale option over the F-35B should realise that we may also need a number of T-45 Goshawks to provide training and deck qualification.

    So if we go down that route we’re still not looking at a single aircraft type purchase.

  32. Could you not train for deck landings in a front line aircraft?

    Not ideal obviously, but were planning to train vert landings in 35b’s

  33. The F35B will have a very advanced vertical landing system so I think the plan is to use just one type of F35B for training

  34. Dominic, training could be done in two-seater F-18/Rafale’s, but it wouldn’t be a cheap option. The French navy pilot’s carry out their deck qualification with the US Navy, which could be a cheaper way than buying T-45 Goshawks.

    Would we want to train independently or is training by the USN acceptable?

  35. Jackstaff, turning US LPH’s into mini carriers is more likely to kill the LPH’s than kill the F35B. Besides although long enough (assuming EMALS actually works and can be retrofitted) they are approximately half the beam of Charles De Gaulle. You’re not going to be able to land F/A 18s without major redesign/build.

  36. Jackstaff. You state in your comment that the French navy flies it’s Rafales from CdG in STOBAR mode – did you really mean that ? Sources ??

    I think CdG has steam catapults and they are required to launch Rafale (they obviously are to launch the E2’s).

  37. Jasons
    The US America Class are designed to operate 10 F35bs along with various other kit.

    They’re considerably longer if somewhat narrower than invincible

  38. admin said, “The F35B will have a very advanced vertical landing system so I think the plan is to use just one type of F35B for training

    This better work because there is no two-seater option.

  39. I think it is safe to say that the UK will never purchase the Goshawk. If we go down the CTOL path we will have to use the USN training system for carrier qualification with the UK based OCU doing platform qualification (F-35C/F-18E or Rafale). This is what the French Navy already do.

  40. Having just read your previous entry about not needing to gear up to fight the Russians, the question then arises, why do we want the F35 at all? Something big has to go from the defence budget and I would unhesitatingly chop the F-35 program completely. Transfer the whole Harrier force to the Navy and tell it to keep then going as long as possible. This leaves the RAF with Typhoons, Tornado GR4s, 100+ Tornado F3s and (if they had any sense, 70-80 Jaguars). I an amazed that the casual discarding of over a hundred F3s – the youngest of the Tornado fleet with maybe 15+ years useful life left in them (?) – has passed without criticism. When funds are tight (especially capital investment) we must make maximum use of the assets available. The RAF has been conspicuously wasteful and extravagant in this regard. The RAF have retired F3s and Jaguars early to release funds for the Typhoon, then the purchase of these has been scaled back and/or some sold off to release funds for the F-35…….I can think of no other air force EVER doing anything like this. The RAF high command has lost touch with reality. The F-3 could surely have been re-fitted as a strike aircraft if required. Indeed, if you consider the list, Jaguar, the two Tornado types, and the Typhoon, this is more aircraft than the RAF needs for the foreseeable future.
    Eventually the Navy will require a Harrier replacement, but we don’t have to worry about it just yet. And we shouldn’t feel compelled to fill up the CVFs just because they are big. We obviously need some sort of sea-based air power but there will be other options in the future including UAVs.

  41. Have been visiting this site on and off for a while …. enjoy the thoughts and discussion. With ref to what is going on here ……. I think we will all be in for a surprise. It is interesting to note that a British company has just come up with the goodies on a British electrical carrier launch/recovery system which would handle F35C and has had quite a chunk of MoD money invested. CONVER.. something? Another point .. on Amphibious ops/capability ….. it is now recognised that modern weapons are now forcing us out to c. 25 NM. This indicates, to me, that any assault would probably be by helo hence the proposed transfer of RAF Merlins to the Navy Seaking Junglies (with, of course, new Rotor/Rotor heads). Is it possible for Ark Royal to take over from Ocean as she has been updated/converted to take a full unit of bootnecks? Just a couple more thoughts thrown in!!

  42. Welcome to TD

    There is a lot of rumour but no one really knows what is going to happen, its going to be a tortuous few months alright

  43. Many thanks. Have been looking back. The company is Converteam UK and the EMALS system they have just proved is called EMCAT. From what I have read elsewhere they now have to scale up and try out a full scale Electronic/Electrical charge storage system which puts them just about or nearly level with the Yanks.

  44. Jed,

    Bleagh … thanks for catching the typo, I missed it completely in the furor of writing after a wee-hours snack. Killed my actual point, too.


    I stand corrected on the heavy movers; there have been (by way of an old acquaintance still tied to USMC) grumblings in USN about getting the next generation of UCAVs aboard the America-class, another part of that long-term ambition to take fixed-wing aviation out of Marine hands. Likewise the desire to get well decks back on later models which rearranges hangar space and puts the emphasis back on helicopters (USMC had prior to that done a nice job selling them as more economical, multi-role carrier/assault ships against the horrendous price tag of the Ford class.)

  45. With the apparent Typhoon selection for the last run of the Indian Fighter deal, will BAe reveal a coherent (or not-) Sea typhoon, as the selected fighter should have a carrier borne version.
    As for the French it could be the way to go to only one fighter with subsequent MCO decrease.

  46. How about this for interesting news:
    “An uprecedented number of UK Royal Navy (RN) Harrier pilots have begun training for catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) carrier operations in the United States”

    Don’t subscribe to Janes so can’t see anymore but is this an indication that things are really moving forward with the F-18/Rafale/F-35C option or more pessimistically is this the RN preparing for the withdrawl of the Harrier fleet by storing crews in the USN whilst waiting for the F-35.

  47. c,

    Tornado is a much fatter target for HMT’s number crunchers, but you’re right at least in that this new program serves a dual purpose. (Just to wave my usual flag — hey, it’s in the name — it’s nice to see that at least the RN can still think laterally.)

    To JBT downthread (wish we had tiered comments sometimes),

    We get to do fantasy fleets? Cool. Lemon squeezy:

    Three main surface groups, to give constant availability (and to “grand fleet” two groups as sovereign power projection, one of JBT’s favourite phrases, with one still in dock for alliance emergencies.) Each group to consist of:

    1 X CVF
    1 X LHD (If you actually have three CVF you don’t have to lean on the BPE’s size, versatility, and dirt-cheapness for those virtues. Fincantieri just got a fat MM contract for a very nice LHD, everything RN would need *plus* the “ship/aircraft interface” — deck strength, elevators, hangar, stores, etc. — is built around Merlin and Chinook because that’s how the Italians roll. It’s like they built Ocean Mk 2 only with the boxier lines of an Italian rather than an English suit. And cheap at 300m Euro a pop. Even if it grows to 4, how’d you like three proper LHDs for the price of a Daring? I would.)
    1 X MARS
    3 X Type 45s, fitted out general-purpose as downthread
    2 X Type 26, of the stretched-Khareef ASW/patrol sort also q.v.
    1 X Astute

    Then you jusst have a handful of Type 45 and 26 spares to account for long-term refits and a ready escort for reinforcements to the carrier groups. (Also be nice to have just one Daring for Armilla, to look impressive for the sheiks and give actual long-range sensor surveillance.)

    Everything else above water ? Have 14-15 cheap sloops (in the bottom-C2/C3 on steroids range, q.v.) Total of about 35 escorts top to bottom, three CVF, three LHD, so about 41 hulls in the water for the roles currently done by 48 (49 if they can duct-tape Vinci in a national catastrophe.) Want more serious combat power? Build more subs. BMT has a nice SSK design drafted, do her up with AIP, thereby getting friendly with Swedish and German builders.

  48. C, I dont see any grand strategy at work, I think the fact that FAA pilots have gone to the USA is because they can’t maintain their own training pipeline, another reason to bit the bullet and demob the FAA

    Sorry everyone!

  49. You can’t run the FAA down because the RAF WILL kill naval aviation if at all possible.
    Leaving aside the disasterous handling of naval aviation between the wars, do not forget that the RAF’s claim to be able to protect The Fleet at sea was one of the main reasons for getting rid of the Arc and her planned successors.
    At this point, I shall do something I swore I would never do and quote the Telegraph;

    But the most dangerous threat to the Navy comes from the RAF. Ever since its formation in 1918, the youngest of the Services has sought a monopoly of the nation’s air power. For a time during the inter-war period it controlled naval aviation, and in 1966s managed to sink CVA-01, the Navy’s proposed fleet carrier. The result of the RAF’s bureaucratic victory was the near-defeat of Britain by Argentina in 1982 when the Navy found itself taking on an entire air force with just two under-sized carriers and a handful of jets

    I shall have to have a shower now but the point is valid. Remember, carrier aircraft can fly from land bases and they aren’t necessarily outclassed by their land based brethren – remember the F4 anyone? It would be better to disband the RAF and let naval aviators fly Typhoon, if that’s what it takes. Hercules, C17 and A400m to the Army along with the helicopters.

    (Quick joke; What happens if you Spey a Phantom? It get’s fat and slow . . .)

  50. are those arguments a bit sentimental though Pete

    the world and especially the pockets of the MoD are very different now

    In an ideal world all three services would have free reign to do what they want but we dont live in that world and in an environment of, sarry to say it, those tough choices, I know who my money would be on

    Sorry everyone, again

  51. Admin- Sentimental? Moi? No. The RAF can’t do the Navy’s job nor can it do the Army’s. I would argue that, since both the army and the navy can fly things, that they can do the RAF’s job – which is to fly the Army where it wants to go, drop bombs on whatever the Army tells them to and keep the skies above the Army free from enemy aircraft!

    I am, of course, only arguing this point so thoroughly because I want to get my name on the “Those with most to say” panel . . . ;-)

  52. Jackstaff, what you suggest may not be such a “fantasy fleet” after all. Although three surface groups would be great it’s likely we will end up with two of what you describe – still a reasonable big stick. Merging our current LPD / LSD / LPH arsenal into 2 (or 3 if possible) LHDs makes a lot of sense to me; also, in my view, given their potential flexibility would strengthen the argument for the navy getting the F35B.

    Assuming we are still going for 10 T26s which sounds reasonable coverage for the two surface groups plus a few spare, the construction of these should be moved back to run in parallel with the run off with the last 10 T23s to be decommissioned, Instead, all urgency should be given to starting up the construction of the (C2/C3) sloops. These new ships will be the backbone of the navy and will be the piece of equipment which will make it relevant for the day to day modern world (as we currently perceive it).

    How the MARS program is affected by all this is an interesting one. Obviously MARS support of the surface groups would be required, but perhaps coupled with forward basing of the (C2/C3) sloops, could you not significantly reduce the Auxiliary support requirements? Has anyone done any cost analysis on this?

    We already have forward operating bases (of sorts – and please correct me if I’m wrong) in the Falklands, Ascension Island, Gibraltar, Cyprus and Oman. Perhaps adding three more would give us good enough coverage; one in the Caribbean (Belize?), Indian Ocean (Diego Garcia?) and Far East (Singapore or Brunei?). This assumes that we could build the (C2/C3) sloops with say a range in excess of 8,000 nm and with enough spare for stores to support a 30-40 day duration at sea; doesn’t sound outrageous.

  53. Although true, the RAF killed the Carriers, it did so because it had a better option.
    Had the RAF actualy got its way, the Falklands (and a dozen other bases) would have hosted a 10 V bombers, 20 Fighters and the personel to operate and guard them.

    I dont think the RAF is today argueing that they can always provide aircover.
    It was true 50 years ago, its not today.
    Not that the RAF always DID provide aircover of course, coughrepulsecoughprinceofwalescough.

    I dont believe the RAF would “run down” carrier aviation today, for one, it provides it now, JFH is an airforce formation, even if it has navy staff, and secondly, the RAF is equaly aware of the fact that it doesnt have bases (or potential bases) all around the world anymore through Imperial Privelage.

  54. Admin,

    There’s a nice post over at Sven’s place (older, you have to search for it) about the repeated failures of air forces, in several major countries, to attend to naval aviation needs before, during and since WWII. I’d say RAF willingness to leak the notion of throwing Nimrod (one of their most useful engines) under the Treasury’s bus fits that category. Hardly showing willing.


    Not only true but (wrt Telegraph) very, very funny. Now, some of my best mates here read the Telegraph, so there’s no accounting for taste ;) (And I read the defence columns to get a feel for the lobbying.) Have to remember that joke, Speying a Phantom… :)


    Cough indeed. The only difficluty with the RAF’s plan, which was a very good plan on paper and would have given some teeth to late-Imperial basing (and it’s a flaw in the plan, not your argument) was that they had to fudge the map to do it. Much as Columbus didn’t claim the world was round (people knew that already, hate when textbooks do that) but that China was a whole lot closer across the Atlantic than anyone thought.

    No one expects the Matelot Inquisition ;-) Thanks for getting on that with due speed.

  55. m,

    Thanks for the encouraging feedback, and for your own commentary. Yes, I like LHDs too, more versatility and carrying power in fewer hulls that need maintenance and escort. Like the Belize option for APT(N). Anywhere east past Diego Garcia could, I think, be a part of a broader, informal or formal, alliance system, relying on states like Singapore, Brunei, Australia, Sri Lanka, etc., as deliberate partners rather than permanent basing stations. There’s good cause, I think, to develop a broad naval interrelationship that borders on alliance across the three big oceans (Atlantic, Indian, Pacific) with India, Japan, and Britain as spokes in each ocean group’s wheel and a variety of other states in partnership, at least a dozen really active partners by my reckoning. That’s not to spurn the US (the barracking I give the States from time to time is quite literally a family argument for me, which carries a lot of love too) but to raise a legitimate question about whether in the long term (say thirty years not ten) the US can, fiscally, withstand being the regulator of the world’s oceans much longer.

  56. As an expat I am staggered at the fixation of technology over deployability. In the modern era non-pentrating deck solutions and open architecture means naval assets are weapon platforms.

    First a force heirarchy. The RN, Army and then RAF.

    The CVF are vital for force projection as it is UK sovereign territory anywhere on the globe. It needs to be protected and that defines the destroyer/frigate/submarine mix.

    In my ideal navy would be the 2 F35 equiped CVF’s excorted by 6 T45 and screened by 8 T26 and 8 Astute SSN’s. This ensures a ‘surge’ battle group of a CVF escored by 2 T45’s (air defence), 2-3 T25’s ASuW) and 2-3 SSNs (ASuW/surface). One of the SSN’s would screen the battle group and the other(s) would dominate the seasspace as submarines are the real capital ships of the 21st century. This also needs the RFA is equipped to support.

    Yet amphibious warfare cannot be done from pretending a CVF is a troop carrier. The RN needs three LHDs of the Mistral/Canberra class type that would replace the LPDs, Ocean and two of the Bay class.

    Yet quantity does have a quality all of its own and a BMT provides a platform of around GBP100m. In terms of that the C2 programme should be folded to expand the C3 to 20 multipurpose platforms capable of minehunting etc but useful as additional escorts given space for uparming . 4 more T26’s versus 20 escorts and a Royal Navy with some 36 surface combattants. What would you choose?

  57. I agree with Pete if anything should go the way of the dodo it should be the RAF not the FAA as the RAF’s assets and duties could be divided up into a larger FAA and AAC. As for JFH Dominic the only reason it still provides some semblance of carrier aviation is because it’s ordered to and still has traces of the FAA in it. I think if the RAF had their way the carriers would never get built and the royal navy as a whole relegated to a Coast Guard with some bolt-on’s mandated by politicians for various reasons.

    As for the fantasy fleet comments *drools* well I have plenty to say about that but I won’t bore you all with a really long comment as I’m sure I’ve posted my fantasy fleet quite a while ago. I have somewhat reluctantly decided that it’s never going to happen as the public simply don’t know or care about defence.

    The “Those with Most to say” leader board is a nice thing to keep an eye on :) the thing I noticed though is how many comments were posted when I disappeared for a while hence why the other top folk have quite a lead. Anyhow it’s not a competition :P although I do naturally notice as I scroll down the page.

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