How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria and/or CVF?

Before starting this discussion we should all fully understand that project CVF is not a strategic priority for the current Government, if they could, they would have cancelled them in an instant. It is a combination of industrial and political factors that will result in the MoD paying for two, but planning on only bringing one into service, and whether the unwanted sibling will be sold or simply placed straight into extended readiness is not yet clear, as is the likelihood of this second vessel being fitted with catapults.

So for one carrier and a half completed one that might be sold off or not the UK taxpayer will likely be paying in excess of £6 billion and if I were a betting man I would definitely have a punt on the final cost going beyond lucky number seven.

And this is without a single aircraft.

Clearly, it is not a good example of acquisition best practice and is a stark reminder of how we should never again let equipment dictate strategy rather than strategy dictating equipment, or, commonly known as the SDSR approach.

Despite this, in many ways the project has been steaming along very nicely indeed, the blocks continue to be built, contracts are being placed and progress is self evident. When all said and done, CVF is actually a relatively simple, relatively low risk design.

We should draw a distinction between factors internal and external to the project, fiscal and political issues are largely beyond the control of the project and yet responsible for the overwhelming majority of cost inflation and delays.

The root causes of the problems on Project CVF have been politics and financial ‘short termism’, can we really blame the MoD and Royal Navy for all these, I don’t think so, but, they must shoulder some.

Squabbling between service chiefs and yes, cock waving, have also joined the supporting cast.

After the 1998 SDR in which CVF was announced, it took several years to place the order and this order was conditional on bringing former competitors together into an uneasy industrial alliance. As the MoD equipment budget experienced more and more pressure, as other projects ballooned in cost and budgets remained static, the need to balance the yearly budget overspend led to a whole raft of short term decisions, delaying projects and de scoping them allowed a short term budgetary crisis to be averted but inevitably pushed additional costs out the following years.

The impact of this was well known so it should have come as no surprise to anyone when another billion and a half was added to the bill for project CVF. The NAO has made several stinging criticisms of the MoD for this practice, paying more by paying later and the practice, commonly known as whistling and hoping the problem will go away, seems to be very common, arguably one of the more widespread causes of project cost inflation.

It might be seen as unfair to blame the service chiefs for these problems but they were willing accomplices in the jam tomorrow strategy, instead of changing projects they settled on a strategy of wishful thinking and all three were guilty in this respect.

It is the current government that has ‘called time’ and for this, despite the uncomfortable results, they should be roundly congratulated.

Because of this cost inflation and at a time when the Army was experiencing serious equipment shortages in Iraq and Afghanistan is it any wonder that carriers were starting to come under severe pressure, the debate/argument/slanging match between the services about the relative slice of the defence budget intensifying as costs rose.

This reflected both poorly and somewhat unfairly on the project team but amplified the distortion to the Royal Navy equipment plan caused by CVF. And distort the plan it has, self evidently, the Admiralty have traded off ship after ship and capability after capability in order to retain CVF in its original form. As costs have risen the need to make ever deeper cuts has been the painful result, making cut after cut in return for jam tomorrow put the RN in a very poor negotiating position with the Treasury and other services, others knew full well they could ask the First Sea Lord to wave his tackle at the cameras in Downing Street in return for CVF and he would more or less have to do it.

By continually failing to budge on CVF, the Royal Navy paid an ever more expensive price to do so and in what some might see as irony, the very fact that the RN has no carriers and carrier aircraft to offer Operation Ellamy is precisely because of the desire to have CVF shaped carriers and FAA insignia bearing carrier aircraft.

One might reasonably argue that the inability of the Royal Navy to see any future at all without CVF and a reluctance to consider alternatives has led them to mortgage off the rest of the fleet in order to get the carriers and rebuild from there.

The strategy it would seem; is the get CVF at any cost and rebuild around there in the long term, again, equipment tail wagging strategy dog.

Personally, I think it was a poor strategy and has resulted in a much reduced surface and sub surface fleet, a fleet that is arguably more relevant to UK security and more useful in the majority of operations the UK and Royal Navy will be involved.

There is also a less visible effect of rising cost, as night follows day, the subsequent reaction to a politically or fiscally induced cost over-run is to get out the red pen and start deleting line items from the design shopping list.

In practice, what this means is a gradual de-specification of the design and unfortunately it is a well trodden path. At the end of that path lies an expensive white elephant that flatters to deceive. It may well give the impression of being world beating but scratch the surface and the reality becomes only too apparent. These deficiencies may be rectified at a later stage but it will be several times the cost of doing the job right in the first place.

There have been numerous design compromises, deleting credible self defence systems, having a smaller than desirable hangar and a lower than optimal speed are just three examples that are paving the way to the end of that elephant width path.

But to repeat an oft repeated phrase, we are where we are and CVF in one form or another is a reality.

Conversations now should be all about how we maximise value on our not inconsiderable investment.

To do this we have to remove any trace of sentimentality or desire for prestige and look across the whole of the defence landscape, paying particular attention to the joint capabilities on offer.

CVF is not a Royal Navy vessel in isolation, it is part of a complex tri service defence capability set and it is in this context which it must be viewed.

Far too many people view it as an isolated maritime capability or as a way of preserving independence, being in the top league, punching above its weight and assorted other sentimental nonsense.

This attitude has no place in modern defence planning and to those that think this way, I would simply say, please, get with the reality of modern joint capability planning.

I am not going to suggest another defence review where the RAF is raped and pillaged and the Royal Navy gets all the toys, throwing a few consolation prizes like support helicopters to the Army Air Corps, I don’t suppose any of you will be expecting this from me but I thought I would set the scene.

I also still think we should have cancelled CVF a long time ago and instead had three or four smaller vessels to replace CVS, Ocean and the LPD’s but the opportunity for that has long since passed.

In the next paragraphs I am going to explore how I think we can derive maximum benefit for an acceptable cost, not rehearse the reasons for or against maritime aviation, a maritime strategy or why we should have binned Tornado and kept Harrier.

The Strategic Landscape

Most arguments for and against CVF tend to gloss over the strategic landscape and more importantly, completely ignore fiscal and political reality. Instead of some vague notions of sea lanes, punching above our weight, being in the top division and we are an island; CVF must be firmly rooted in reality.

The first reality is a fiscal one, after Nimrod, FRES, T45, Astute, A400, Typhoon and numerous others the government would seem to be in no mood for special pleading from the MoD. The fact is, the MoD needs to regain and retain some measure of fiscal credibility. The scope therefore, for significant extra money for new projects, is limited, however much we promise that this time it will be different.

The second major reality is a strategic planning one, it was quite clearly stated as far back as the Strategic Defence Review of 1998 and reiterated in the SDSR that the direct military threat to the UK is very low and that the future nature of operations would be expeditionary and largely collaborative.

Working in partnerships and coalitions will be the norm.

The UK should be still able to undertake a small scale focussed intervention without external assistance but anything above that scale or for a longer duration will be in conjunction with others.

This applies equally to air and land forces as well, just in case anyone was wondering, so we must carefully select capabilities and maintain them at a scale that delivers influence in such operations without impacting our obligations and requirements in other areas of defence.

Some might view maritime fast jet aviation as one of those capability areas that delivers this influence in a coalition but I am sceptical and would not prioritise it above other areas, at least not disproportionately.

Looking into the medium term, carriers do provide some hedge against uncertainty because of their inherent flexibility but a reasonable assumption would be that CVF is more likely than not to be engaged in operations against non peer or proxy nations and in a coalition with others. The location of these most likely future scenarios will be in the Middle East and Africa although as a system, it has to be able to operate anywhere because it might be argued that equally as likely is conflict in the polar regions.

So, setting the strategic landscape we must then consider how it could be used and for what purpose because it all informs equipment and design choices.


When considering the what’s and how’s of carrier missions the first thing we must ask ourselves is what do we want to achieve. Only then should we determine if a carrier is the optimal method of achieving that objective and if the answer is yes then equipment and others questions would need answering.

We should not be afraid of lateral thinking, if the requirement is first day strike then are aircraft necessarily the best means of delivery. Perhaps a containerised Storm Shadow that could be carried by any number of surface vessels might be a more cost effective means of fulfilling that requirement, I am not arguing for or against but saying that alternatives can sometimes be attractive and worthy of consideration.

CVF was originally a pure strike platform, optimised for attacks against land targets.

Our thinking around how we could use CVF should be centred on building up a capability that we already have and the obvious strength in this context is littoral manoeuvre from the sea or amphibious operations. We already have a strong capability in this area and CVF offers the possibility of improving this to an even greater degree if we put to one side notions of it being used a single minded strike platform with 36 fast jets. It also fits in with my thinking about the UK’s future approach to defence, this being the maintenance of as many capabilities as sensible at a small enough scale to satisfy the unassisted small scale focussed intervention as per SDSR, supplemented with a number of ‘capability plus’ areas that deliver influence in coalition operations and provide for a greater security by virtue of regional engagement and intelligence gathering.

In the recent ‘future of the Royal Navy’ series of posts I suggested that the Royal Navy retain a small but effective striking force or Single Task Group but supplemented it with a greater forward presence to build regional security and provide better intelligence.

The proposal to repurpose CVF is entirely in keeping with this approach.

Recent operations in Libya, particularly the joint USN/USMC TRAP operation to recover the downed F15 aircrew have demonstrated the value of being close and having responsive forces. It also demonstrated the complementary nature of land and naval aviation. In UK parlance, the Joint Personnel Recovery mission is one which we are relatively poorly resourced for. I would like to see this change; the value of downed aircrew, special-forces, conventional forces, journalists and NGO personnel etc to a terrorist group or opposing regime is significant. Capture, torture and manipulation of them to change the strategic direction of an operation is a very effective tactic and one to which the UK has very little in the cupboard to counter. This is not an area that I think we should or could rely on others to fulfil.

Unpredictability, choosing an entry point that suits you not the enemy and speed are can provide significant results in a range of operational scenarios. It should come as no surprise that in the forthcoming series on Land forces I will place a great emphasis on rapid reaction forces.

[Don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security though, I am not going soft on Strategic Raiding!]

This also allows the UK to exploit the size of CVF, space provides flexibility (a good argument for size if ever there was one) and the ability to embark a capable force from a large deck in a single hop i.e. speed.

Some missions will be aviation centric but these are likely to be less frequent and as would be the norm (operating in a coalition) other nations can carry out these roles, France and the US being the most likely partners.

A reduced emphasis on fast jet aviation, strike, interdiction, close air support and defensive/offensive counter air changes the requirement for JCA, reducing numbers and reducing cost. JCA would still be needed at the scale and capability for the small scale focussed intervention but that would be the baseline, anything above that becomes discretionary.

What does this mean for CVF?

First, it recognises that CVF has value, a lot of value.

Second, it means that to maximise that value the role of CVF should be changed.

Rather than prioritising fast jet aviation and using it as a strike optimised platform it will become more multi-purpose in nature. Operating with a mix of aviation and embarked forces. Many will say it can do this anyway and in some ways they would be right, CVF is designed to offer a secondary LPH capability, but this would mean CVF becomes more akin to the USMC America Class, aviation optimised amphibious vessels.

Strike and high intensity counter air become secondary roles, modifications and the fast jet air wing would reflect this.


Whether it be Apache Attack Helicopters, Merlin/Chinook Support Helicopters or whatever comes after there are many options for a blend of rotary wing aircraft.

MASC/ASaC/AEW or whatever we are calling it this week is an area where people assume that just because we might use catapults it is an automatic shoe in for an E2 Hawkeye but again, we must smack those sweet shop bound fingers with a bit of fiscal and strategic reality. It is unclear if there even exists any funding for a Merlin based solution, post the withdrawal of Sea King in the 2016 time frame. To start with, the baseline must always be a small scale focussed intervention. For this, a helicopter based solution would seem to be perfectly adequate. There have been a number of proposals to palletise and transfer the equipment from the existing Sea Kings and lift and shift into a small number of Merlin airframes. This is a low risk and relatively low cost solution that still provides an adequate level of capability, in fact the existing Sea Kings are seriously underestimated.

Although flexibility is the watchword, a typical aircraft load would be 6 to 12 JCA and 24 to 30 helicopters (mix of Apache, Merlin SH/Chinook, Wildcat, Merlin ASW and Merlin ASaC)

We all know the UK is light on vertical lift capability but there is never enough money to pay for, the respective services have never given enough priority to helicopters. So how we do get the money for more, simply have less fast jets.

Fast Jets and the Joint Combat Aircraft

Some missions might require no fixed wing aviation at all and there is no shame in operating CVF without a compliment of JCA, put your teeth back in now!

Once you get beyond the aircraft carrier sometimes with no aircraft theme it is logical, but a normal (if there is such a thing) compliment of JCA would be in the region of 6 to 12. The America Class has 10 as its standard compliment for example, the Juan Carlos 1 and Cavour a similar number. Of course CVF is larger than these vessels but that is not the point and being larger than these alternatives provides excess space for stores (meaning greater un-replenished endurance), accommodation and the ability to surge up should needs dictate.

In defensive counter air and in conjunction with Type 45, Merlin ASaC and with support from land based aircraft in some instances should still be able to provide adequate protection against the scale and capability of likely opposition in the SSFI scenario. If there is a greater threat we would still have the option to surge or simply rely on others in the more likely coalition instance.  Offensive counter air might also involve land attack, much better to destroy the ability of opposing forces on the ground than in the air and this opens up a number of options, particularly with cruise missiles.

Interdiction, recce and close air support would still be at a high enough level for SSFI, even with 8 to 12 embarked aircraft and again, the ability to blend air delivered munitions with those delivered by long range land based UAV’s, ship/submarine launched loitering munitions and cruise missiles allows a reduction in overall aircraft numbers for a given delivered effect.

Thinking in a joint context and with multiple means of mission delivery logically reduces the aircraft count.

The current preferred option to fulfil the Joint Combat Aircraft is the F35C but it has yet to reach Main Gate so that means almost anything is possible!

When looking at JCA it is important to understand the word joint is there for a reason, both the Fleet Air Arm and Royal Air Force will be operating a common aircraft type for joint missions, the services and MoD grasping the ruthless commonality nettle.

I think this is the reason for so much vitriol, the grown-ups at the MoD imposed an aircraft choice based on sound operational and financial factors, sweeping away service centric concerns and I wonder if either service really wanted the B model. The Fleet Air Arm wanted the C model and RAF the A model, why, because looking at the issue in a service centric stovepiped manner logically leads to a two type fleet.

The B model is a compromise, it is neither perfect for the RN or RAF but that is exactly the point, it was supposed to be the perfect solution for the UK.

The STOVL F35B was therefore the outcome of studies about how the JCA would most likely be deployed, initial operations on board followed by a transition to land bases for the sustainment phase.  Not only that, it would allow CVF to dispense with catapults and barriers, thus significantly reducing capital and through life costs of the vessel. It would also neatly dispense with the training overhead of maintaining carrier operation currency for flight crew.  To safely operate from conventional carriers requires a high level of skill and that skill is perishable. This means regular training and having to use a greater proportion of the aircraft fleet for this training, adding yet more cost.

By using STOVL, this continual and regular training requirement would be dramatically reduced, as regularly demonstrated with the Harrier achieving proficiency for carrier operations could be achieved in days by RAF aircrew. Of course it would be better to maintain and enhance these skills for all pilots but the ability to quickly surge or reinforce the carrier capable aircrew for the most likely operations was seen as a compromise worth taking because of the cost savings.

What this decision did was impose some order on the squabbling children at the heads of the RAF and RN, no more stovepipes, no more empire building and no more needless duplication. By sharing, the overall fleet size could be reduced and money saved.

This much sanity was doomed to failure.

This was the stated position for a long time until a couple of things happened.

The F35 and especially the STOVL B model started to have ‘problems’ and the keys to Number 10 changed.

Announced in the SDSR was a switch to the F35C or conventional carrier variant, an obvious design change to the carriers (even though they  really wanted to cancel them) and a bit of wishy washy uncertainty about what would happen to the second carrier on order.

Explaining the switch, Liam Fox and David Cameron stated that it would provide better interoperability with allies, cost less to buy and offer better performance.

So F35C it is then.

In subsequent parliamentary questions the MoD has made it absolutely crystal clear that it does not yet know the full cost implication of the switch and given the widely acknowledged fact that SDSR was rushed I suspect when pennies start to drop and spreadsheets start to have more detail the MoD is going to be in for a rude awakening.

For the purposes of discussion, I am going to have a look at alternatives to the existing position.

Option 1 – Carry on Normal Jogging with the F35C

Why, I have to admit I was perplexed by the switch to F35C, it annoyed our principal expeditionary operations partner, the USMC and resulted in yet more delays and costs but I can see the logic in a service centric and more importantly politically expedient fashion.

Cost, the reality of F35 is that no one really knows how much they will cost despite the millions of words and countless spreadsheets but it is a reasonable assumption that the C model will have a lower price tag than the B model. The real costs, those inconvenient through life costs, have yet to be fully realised. The other truth about the F35C is that the MoD does not know how much extra the non aircraft costs will be. It may well be within their cost model boundaries but when did the MoD ever make a cost estimate that was worth the paper it was written on?

Additional costs include delay costs, which we know run into the billions and the modifications to the design of CVF, principally for catapults and barriers. The electromagnetic catapult design has not yet been selected, whether it will be the US or UK designs is not certain but one this is certain, they will not be cheap.

Putting the capital and delay costs into the shade will be increased through life costs.

Again, this is a complex set of equations, the B model is more complex than C and will logically cost more to maintain but in looking at the operating costs as published in Parliament of a Harrier and Tornado, there isn’t that much difference. Twin engine v single engine or conventional v STOVL makes an interesting cost comparison exercise for spares and maintenance but the F35 will be single engine in all variants. The B model lift fan will require extra maintenance but the C model also has additional systems and the airframe gets a maintenance intensive battering every time it takes off and lands, however gentle the electromagnetic system will be.

There is also the not insignificant maintenance requirement for the catapults and barriers themselves.

So whilst the differences between the C and B model in terms of maintenance may yet turn out to be fewer than expected the real cost differences lie in pink things.

To manage the catapult and barrier system will require additional staff in the DE&S Integrated Project Team, another set of contracts to manage and additional maintenance personnel to pay for. These are recurring costs whether we fly a single mission or not. The deck crew will need expanding also and training courses changed/added.

Each extra crew slot requires pay, housing, welfare, healthcare and pension payments that will need to be maintained for longer as people grow older.

Behind those extra crew are the logistical and management tail, even an extra course for catapult operations and maintenance will require staffing.

It is personnel costs that are growing in proportion to their number, in short, personnel are getting more and more expensive which is exactly why western nations do not carry out labour intensive manufacturing and are automating as many tasks as possible.

Military forces are no different and yet we have made a decision to increase personnel.

Risk, the C model has a lower risk than the B, some think that the B model may be cancelled and it is on probation in the eyes of the US Department of Defence. Risk might have been a significant factor in the decision

Capability, no doubt, the C model beats the B model in terms of performance so in this regard it is a sound decision

Industrial, no change really, yes we have the development programme B models but that is not entirely wasted and too much is made of this by the press. Whichever model is chosen the defence industrial benefits to the UK are significant.

Politics, this is I think the principal reason for the switch to the C model because it allows the Royal Navy to resource share with the French. There has been a strong move to greater military cooperation with the French and short of buying Rafale, a switch to conventional carrier operations means that a CVF could form part of an interchangeable and shared carrier force. The fact that there was a CTOL F35 variant is a happy convenience that means we don’t have to upset the US by switching to Rafale and yet can still also keep the Anglo/French alliance satisfied by sharing CVF. I think it is likely that the second, unloved and unwanted CVF, will be sold to France at cost and the UK and France will maintain a joint carrier strike group, one nation sitting in the hot seat on a rotational basis and covering each other’s refit periods. The Charles de Gaulle will be withdrawn as soon as this becomes a practicality.

So with this politically driven, resource sharing background, switching to CV makes perfect sense.

Option 2 – Cancel F35C and develop a carrier capable Typhoon

Why, isn’t it obvious, cost and commonality but it would be a significant development effort for a small number of airframes with little export potential.

Cost, the great conundrum when anyone suggests navalising Typhoon, perhaps the Tranche 3 aircraft and that is the cost. Whether the chosen option is to turn Typhoon into a conventional carrier version for use with cats and traps or a STOBAR design with a ski jump and barrier assisted landing system the cost of either option is uncertain. If it is feasible within an acceptable technical risk boundary then the cost benefits of having a single type with as much commonality as possible, should be obvious to all. It is an attractive proposition from a cost perspective, no doubt.

Risk, the detractors of Sea Typhoon tend to deride the very notion and dismiss it out of hand but I do wonder if those doing the laughing are the ones with most to lose, the RN and RAF, because they would no longer be getting the keys to the shiny new F35. As we have seen, both services are keen to get their hands on the F35 and the perception is that a Sea Typhoon would be a retrograde step. Hard facts are very difficult to obtain about the feasibility and therefore technical risk, some say combining advances in modern avionics, thrust vectoring, the QinetiQ work on F35 SRVL, older work on the Rockwell MBB X31 and the inherently strong Typhoon airframe would allow a STOBAR derivative to be developed within a sensible risk fraction. Others say the idea is barking mad and would result in a complete waste of money.

Capability, we know Typhoon is a sophisticated aircraft and when combined with the full range of UK weapons would be a formidable capability.

Industrial, swings and roundabouts, we may (possibly) lose some of the F35 work, although the F35 development MOU splits the numbers bought from industrial participation, it would be difficult to envisage a situation where the UK purchased no F35’s but carried on with the industrial participation, stranger things have happened though. On the other hand there would be considerable work accrued from developing a STOBAR Typhoon.

Politics, it would be difficult to manage the impact with the US of withdrawing from the F35 programme but would leave the Anglo-French CVF ‘sharing’ deal in place.

Option 3 – Cancel F35C and buy another carrier capable aircraft

Why, if we make the assumption than an F35C alternative is worth pursuing because of cost issues and a Sea Typhoon is not feasible then a number of alternative options open up.

F18, Rafale, Hal Tejas, Harrier III and Sea Gripen all sit on a three way capability/cost/risk matrix, each with different advantages and disadvantages.

Cost, whatever the cost of any of these alternatives, they would have to be significantly cheaper than the F35 to make it worthwhile, especially given the relatively small numbers in this proposal. Cost is the only reason for even looking at these non Typhoon alternatives and when the ‘small print’ costs like weapon integration are added I am sceptical that the cost savings would be significant.

Risk, some, like the F18 and Rafale M are very low risk, existing aircraft with only weapons integration to complete. Others like the Sea Gripen or Harrier III represent an unknown quantity and might not be available within the required timescale.

Capability, compared to the F35B one might argue that the F18 or Rafale do not fall far short in capability terms and bring different qualities to the mix. The others would offer a greater shortfall in capability but it would all come down to cost. Suffice it to say, most of these alternatives would be good enough for the majority of the mission requirements for the majority of time, whether they would meet the JCA requirements is another matter.

Industrial, a difficult one to answer but likely less than either the F35 or Sea Typhoon

Politics, interestingly, most of the alternatives would offer something positive in political terms

Option 4 – Switch back to F35B

Why, it was originally selected as the preferred option for the Joint Combat Aircraft requirement for very good reasons and I think we have allowed ourselves to get spooked at the technical issues and rising costs whilst succumbing to inter service machinations.

Cost, by switching back to the F35B we would still of course be liable for the additional capital costs. These costs are rising and they is no point trying to hide that fact but I also think that some of the hype surrounding the F35B costs are over played. A switch back would also instantly eliminate the additional capital and significant through life costs of going for the catapult options.

Risk, a slightly risky option because there is a chance that the F35B will be cancelled but I do think this is a slight risk. The USMC aviation strategy is built upon the F35B and even though they have bought into the C model I can’t see this changing.

Capability, in some aspects, the F35B has the lowest performance of the options but two things must be remembered. The F35B originally met the JCA specification and it will still be a step change in capability from the Harrier and Tornado. Reduced signature design and the sensor fusion on offer will mean it will remain relevant for a long time and despite a number of issues with what might constitute and austere location it has the greatest flexibility.

Industrial, the existing industrial participation arrangements will be retained and although the share may come under some pressure as the overall order is reduced the agreement more or less states that order volume has no relationship to the industrial share of the programme, it is the development cash we stumped up (£2b) that counts.

Other, it would be embarrassing flip flopping

Politics, instead of being interoperable with the French and US Navy we will be interoperable with the USMC and all the former Harrier operators that will eventually buy the F35B.

Option 5 – Unmanned

There are various unmanned options such as the X47 development and even the Anglo French programme that might eventually come out of Taranis but it is unlikely they will be practical options for several years and the cost seems to be rather open ended.

An unmanned system might also require significant satellite bandwidth, even with the advances in autonomous operation and onboard processing, satellite bandwidth that we don’t have.

It is also unlikely that an unmanned system would be able to fulfil the counter air role for several decades.

Unmanned systems are usually characterised by very long range which kind of negates many of the advantages of carrier launch.

In the introduction to this post I wondered if we could actually carry out some of the penetrating strike role with cruise missiles, maybe we can.

Finally, unmanned systems sound far too much like expensive jam tomorrow and the RAF is already trying to ditch yesterday’s news, the Typhoon, in favour of the shiny new model.

A Proposal

I actually think CVF does has a lot of potential, I know you lot might be surprised by this but my objections have always been on cost grounds. This proposal is one possible method of squeezing maximum value for the investment in the most likely missions it will be required to fulfil.

  • Switch back to the F35B for JCA
  • Obtain enough to maintain a minimum of 6 on board permanently so that we can maintain a littoral manoeuvre capability and more importantly, the skills to do so, on an enduring, always available basis
  • In addition, obtain enough to maintain a minimum of 6 on an enduring land based operation (rotating with Typhoon as necessary) to support the deployed multi role brigade. the Typhoon would be more numerous and therefore find itself deployed for longer
  • This allows for continuous cover for an enduring land operation of Multi Role Brigade strength whilst still maintaining enough capacity for the rapid reaction force to be available at short notice without impacting the enduring operation
  • Total aircraft and crew numbers would be determined once maintenance and force generation factors become known
  • For a one off, short duration operation the non deployed force could be used, STVOL supporting greater basing flexibility (land or sea)
  • The RAF should stop dreaming about hordes of F35’s and get on with the job of deriving maximum benefit from the eye watering and defence budget distorting entity that is Typhoon. We need to start sweating our assets, not always looking over the fence
  • Equally, the Fleet Air Arm and Royal Navy should stop dreaming about having a mini me CVN and concentrate on creating a credible entry from the sea capability with a much greater vertical lift capability, reductions in F35 purchase would provide the funding for this change in emphasis
  • The FAA would cease operating fast jets and the aboard aircraft would be RAF operated. We can’t afford two air forces and the largest one, the one that can achieve some economy of scale and is focussed on managing fast jets, should have primacy
  • Invest in greater platform diversity for Storm Shadow and TLAM
  • Complete both CVF with one maintained as an in service spare to cover refit periods
  • Investigate role of reserve forces to maintain second CVF at a level of readiness sufficient to provide some measure of resilience and refit cover
  • Do not replace Ocean, the role to be covered by CVF
  • If funds allow, the in service spare could be bought into full service
  • Redesign CVF to have an enlarged hangar, at least big enough for Chinook, CH53K and V22 across the FULL width and length of an enlarged space. Also, improve command and control and embarked force accommodation facilities
  • Invest in a Merlin based ASaC which is sufficient for the role

Some might say the JCA number is too small but I would ask too small for what?

If we accept the result of the SDSR then it becomes the baseline, a similar number of aircraft support (6-12) currently support operations in Afghanistan for a much larger force than envisaged in SDSR. 6-12, with a minimum of 6 would still deliver a credible capability and remember, the F35 will be incredibly effective and versatile.

Even if we stuck with the F35C then the numbers aboard would remain but the numbers behind would increase as training and currency issues would demand a larger fleet and the overall cost would rise because of it, it would not be the end of the world though and the additional performance of the C model would be very welcome. This option would need both CVF fitted with cats and traps so the B model saves again and retains the ability to maintain a continual CVF presence.

By keeping the numbers to a realistic level (6) then we afford an opportunity to maintain that fleet on continuous joint training with the RM and other services, something that is currently lacking. If we find a few quid down the back of the sofa then yes, lets have more, but it is a balancing act and we have to be realistic.

In effect, we have 2 small squadrons or large flights of 6 aircraft each. One more or less permanently on board CVF and one more or less permanently in a rotation pool with Typhoon for enduring deployments. If there is no enduring deployment then the training pool becomes larger, hours are preserved or more is available for one off operations. Of course the aircraft and crews rotate in and out of those slots on a normal deployment schedule, the details of which and total fleet numbers would be dictated by aircraft availability etc. I have pegged these numbers for convenience, reality means that the numbers will flex up and down anyway but it gives us some measure of scaling.

The inherent deployment and operational flexibility of the F35B means this scalability can be maintained much easier than with the C model, whatever its other virtues.

I am agnostic on the FAA operating fast jets, its not an idealogical issue, purely cost. Logically, the larger force, a force dedicated to the art of operating aircraft, should be more efficient and therefore lower cost. Whilst the US can afford four air forces the UK cannot, now, if the FAA can prove they can operate F35 cheaper for the same effect than the RAF then fair enough, but duplication and resource waste should be our enemy.


There are many options for maximising investment and getting the most out of what we are about to have. For what it is worth, I think the route to that end state is to turn CVF into as multi-purpose a capability as possible, building from a position of strength (amphibious) and not building from a weakness (fast jet maritime aviation)

This means littoral manoeuvre from the sea in the theatre entry phase of any operation i.e. an oversized LPH with the ability to operate a modest fast air wing with the ability to flex up should the occasional need arise.

Switching back to the F35B is my preferred option for the reasons outlined above; it allows both CVF to enter service, reduces through life costs, still keeps a fifth generation aircraft in the inventory, still keeps us in the largest combat aviation programme of modern times and provides interoperability with a number of important allies.

CVF becomes an air optimised amphibious assault ship pair, combined with the LPD pair in service and the LSD(A)’s.

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Willy Dribble
Willy Dribble
March 28, 2011 12:25 am

Whoa boss!
You’re opening a can of worms on a hornet’s nest with this thread!

March 28, 2011 12:42 am

can of worms? this guy’s been sniffing turpentine! you have got to be smoking something illegal…drinking fortified alcohol…something!

why are you against having the Royal Navy operating high speed aircraft? cost savings will be lost with the expertise that will be sacrificed…besides the RAF will have to designate certain Squadrons as Naval so you’d have the same issue…it might look good on an accountants ledger but thats about it.

Willy Dribble
Willy Dribble
March 28, 2011 12:44 am

Ok my thoughts:

Commission both, but alternate one at extended readiness/refit.

Use them like small Tarawas rather than small Nimitzs, a combined Invincible and Ocean on single hull if you like.

Air wing
12 JSF B
6 UAV?
6 Merlin ASW
3 Merlin ASaC
12 Merlin/Chinook
6 Lynx/Apache

I disagree with you on the RAF operating JSF, I would much prefer it to be the FAA and ofcourse CHF

Enduring land based missions should be RAF Typhoon FGRs

Sorry this is a bit brief and I haven’t giving much reasoning but i better fill out this census form….

March 28, 2011 1:03 am

Incredible length of Bull written into this blog format which I have always preferred – quick to read; easy to respond to.

Looks like everything that has been said, is there, in one way or the other.

However, I think you got to the right destination, as in :
“For what it is worth, I think the route to that end state is to turn CVF into as multi-purpose a capability as possible, building from a position of strength (amphibious) and not building from a weakness (fast jet maritime aviation)

This means littoral manoeuvre from the sea in the theatre entry phase of any operation i.e. an oversized LPH with the ability to operate a modest fast air wing with the ability to flex up should the occasional need arise.”
– with all the other assets ( I think what will be at hand was seen, a bit, through “rosy spectacles” or was it just the wording, or… undisclosed future plans?

March 28, 2011 1:10 am

Hi WD,

RE “Use them like small Tarawas rather than small Nimitzs”
– that’s an America, then?
– with the uncertainty about the “B” USMC don’t like the concept that much, anymore, and they will be tending towards the “Tarawa” type of design, next… not exactly QE/ PoW?

March 28, 2011 1:14 am

The more I think about it, the more I think we should just sell the damn things and be done with it.

March 28, 2011 1:17 am

The only issue I would have with the analysis is that you seem to be building ~60,000 ton carrier with only about 12 aircraft per ship. That would be about 25% of the originally planned load.

Here are the problems I see:
1. 6 – 12 airplanes are wholly insufficient for any military operation beyond the most basic. The aircraft carrier would turn into a glorified helicopter carrier, with minimal offensive ability.
2. In that case, why buy the carriers? And, why have two? There isn’t any reason to have that large of a carrier for only 12 airplanes and there is no reason to have to for only 12 airplanes.

The Royal Navy will need to have a sufficiently large number of fighters to return on the investment for the two carriers. What they should do, in the short term, is to purchase the catapult version and hold off on which airplane they’ll buy to man it. The ships won’t enter the fleet for another 10 years so they can delay that decision until the prices for the F-35 B / C stabilize.

Having a 60,000 ton carrier with 6 airplanes will be a joke, it would in essence turn those ships into amphibious assault transports and yet they couldn’t launch an amphibious assault because they don’t have sufficient air support.

March 28, 2011 1:17 am

wrong answer gentlemen. the USMC is full involved and committed to the F-35B. as much as i don’t like having an aviator for a Commandant instead of an Infantryman, in this case its definitely helpful. he’s already formulated a plan to get the B off probation this year. so the B is a given.

as far as us trending back to a smaller Tarawa sized LHD, don’t believe it. in addition to the B’s we are also equipping with CH-53K’s, MV-22’s and even the AH-1Z’s and UH-1Ys are larger so America class it is.

quite honestly that would have been the ideal solution for the UK…a purchase of the America class LHD would have assumed the roles of two of your ship types and codified your expeditionary capabilities on fewer ships, yet allowed you to maintain a sea control ship type function as you (the UK) so admirably demonstrated during the Falklands War.

i do understand the fact that local industrial base at times trumps military issues.

Willy Dribble
Willy Dribble
March 28, 2011 1:26 am


Sorry I meant a large Tarawa/America rather than small Nimitz…

By that I’m agreeing with TD in using them as commando carriers with extra sea control and limited strike capabilities.The Albions and Bays give us plenty of vehicle deck/dock capacity.

The USMC JSF C order is hard to read into, they seem to be saying they always wanted some Cs to replace their Hornets but it does look like they’re hedging their bets.It has to be said future of JSF B is the biggest stickler to TDs proposal…

March 28, 2011 1:30 am

RE “as far as us trending back to a smaller Tarawa sized LHD, don’t believe it. in addition to the B’s we are also equipping with CH-53K’s, MV-22′s and even the AH-1Z’s and UH-1Ys are larger so America class it is.”
– no mention about smaller size, just the method of landing the bulk of the force; air vs sea, or just skimming it?
– CH-53s and MV-22s – we don’t have American cousins/ godfathers for that kind of money!
– heyy, Zulus and Yankees, that is the ruthless commonality (the often cited, but unsubstantiated, 80%)

Willy Dribble
Willy Dribble
March 28, 2011 1:39 am

Look in an ideal world i’d love two CVNs with 3 Sqns of fast jets, the assault capacity to land a brigade and hey i’ll have some SSGNs aswell but needs must so i’m kinda in agreement with TD lets work out the best way to use what we’re stuck with…

March 28, 2011 1:53 am

I guess if you’re going to spend all that money and put them in service, you might as well have both and give them a full complement of fast jets. Owned and operated by Fleet Air Arm. I know if I joined the Air force and was told I was being deployed to a carrier at sea I’d be mighty miffed. If we’re going to have them then we do it properly or not at all.

March 28, 2011 1:55 am

And that is?? ( I mean, the rosy view that I referred to, in the leading in article, was Albions, in the plural)?
– let’s start with the “things” we’ve already paid for, then dream on…
– put one of these things together, as described, and two Albions and three Bays again… what have you got?
– three commandos, plus (sometimes) heavier supporting arms;
In my books, a brigade ( a very powerful one, and more self-contained than most)

March 28, 2011 1:56 am

That was @ WD,
sorry, Chris got in between

March 28, 2011 2:37 am

I used to be a bouncer, so I’m used to getting in the middle of fights.

March 28, 2011 3:19 am

but what are you going to do for aviation? the Albions are great but getting long in the tooth.

lets be honest here guys. you were never going to put 20 plus airplanes on these carriers and your Navy knows it. perhaps in a war time surge operation but never in a regular deployment type scenario.

the America class would be ideal. you could still retire the current LPD’s retain your amphibious capabilities…put your Merlins and Chinooks to good use giving your Marines a robust Helo Assault capability off a modern platform (along with being able to transport your vehicles such as the Ocelot and Bronco and BVS-10(?) and still have room to surge an airborne company aboard)

the real miscalculation was in aligning with not the US Navy…but with the carrier side of our Navy. your aim should have been to align with our Gator fleet.

March 28, 2011 8:27 am

The hangar of CVF is already sized for pretty much anything, including Chinook, Ch53 and even UNFOLDED MV-22 Osprey in the “hard-hat” area of the hangar where the ceiling height is over 9 meters.

HMS Ocean looks already condemned to have no direct replacement without us suggesting it, actually. My feeling is that either one of the CVF gets mothballed for a few years and pulled out when HMS Ocean bows out (either in 2018 or 2022 which is the latest planned date i’m aware of) or there is no mothballing but HMS Ocean is retired earlier in exchange. Either way, it is CVF and nothing else.

Just the F35 engine costs 15 millions. The B variant engine comes with a baseline cost of 32.
Start to see why the F35B, even assuming it works, is not what the UK needs? It does not reduce through-life costs AT ALL. Just each engine needed during the life of the plane could fund TWICE the number of engines for the C variant.
Also, remember that the F35 cost figures from LM do NOT include the engines, which are calculated separately.

The RAF achieves economy of scale??? Operations by the RAF compared to operations by AAC and FAA are reported to cost 38% more as average because of higher personnel retributions and shorter operating periods.
No way.

So 400 millions for a relatively weak Merlin-based platform is a good investment when the UK could lease 4 far more capable Hawkeyes for little more than that?
Small-scale operation or not, the Hawkeye offers greater endurance, range, coverage and performances in both AA and AG roles. To do what a CVF could do with 3 Hawkwkeye on boards it would take a good lot of Merlins.
Not cost effective i say.

6 attack planes…? That’s just ridiculous. Even 12 is little stuff, but 6, honestly… You couldn’t have more than 2 in the air all the time, and that, in presence of a shadow-threat from evenmy air forces would need to be in the air protecting the task force.

With the spare/operational airframe ratio used by the US Navy, the RAF/FAA with 40 F35C can form two 12-planes squadrons.
The practice of having two spare airframes for each flying plane must end. Buying a bit more spares will always be less expensive and mean more airplanes actually fit for service than buy 100 million dollars planes to keep them in hangars and cannibalize them.

If the USN plans to have a spare F35C every nearly 3 active F35 (calculations done on the recently released USN/USMC document detailing F35 plans), with how much they use them, there’s no frigging way the RAF can be justified in buying 40 planes to fly 12. No way. Is the RAF planning to crash-land an F35 every two weeks? I hope not.

12 must be 800° NAS.
12 + training airframes can form a RAF squadron.
The rest spares.

Anyway, officially, long term target remains “operate around 100 F35”. I do not believe that.
But i think 80 would already be an awesome fleet, and the UK can certainly afford it.
If defence is a priority.

If everything comes first, included aid to India, then it is useless to even talk about it, but this is another, purely politic matter.
My hope is that Libya taught Cameron that, once things get serious, if you miss the tools of the job, you can talk all you want, but you are out.

March 28, 2011 9:08 am

Surely the situation TD describes (with 12 as the minimum fast jet compliment rather than 6 F-35B’s) was the intent of the CVF when it was a STOL carrier, that basically during most mission’s it would emphasise it’s helicopter capabilities, but by going with a STOL carrier we could easily operate additional F-35B’s off the CVF turning it into a strike carrier if needed. The original CVF plan was bloody clever if you ask me, and made lots of sense.

The switch to cat and traps changed that. While I think the French were a factor, I have argued elsewhere once you pushed back the ISD to 2020 you needed to add an angled deck and cat and traps so that you could be operating UAV’s for ISTAR, as carriers are going to be the premier choice for operating HALE and MALE’s off, and by the mid 2020’s I reckon we will tentatively start purchase of our first UCAV.

So the problem appears to be that having accepted the reality of needing Cat and Trap’s for the UAV’s, some of which are eventually going to need full length catapults, we are stuck with F-35C, Rafale-M or F/A-18 International, which screws the way we intended to use the CVF, and forces us to have one squadron embarked at all times as it takes a lot more training to launch and land on a CATOBAR carrier. Of course we could decide to sacrifice precious under deck space for hydraulic rams, and add a ski jump which can be lowered to horizontal to allow catapult launches, then we can also go back to a STOL option like the F-35B or Harrier III (need a large buy to justify), or STOBAR options like the LCA (N).

March 28, 2011 9:48 am

Tubby, I think you’ve got it (in the good old days we would have been Kremlinologists, now we just have to read the tea leaves coming out of our own MOD), as in
“The switch to cat and traps changed that. While I think the French were a factor, I have argued elsewhere once you pushed back the ISD to 2020 you needed to add an angled deck and cat and traps so that you could be operating UAV’s for ISTAR, as carriers are going to be the premier choice for operating HALE and MALE’s off, and by the mid 2020′s I reckon we will tentatively start purchase of our first UCAV.”

March 28, 2011 10:23 am

TD – “Before starting this discussion we should all fully understand that project CVF is not a strategic priority for the current Government, if they could, they would have cancelled them in an instant.”

Simply don’t agree. As long as the government has ambitions to use the Armed Forces to achieve significant Foreign Policy effect then Carriers, in one form or another, are the best way to so. This is what “punching above our weight” actually means; to supply sufficient military effect that you in return receive policy/command input.

I accept that the phrase has been grossly abused and now bears closer relation to metaphor for politicans under-funding and over-committing the Armed Forces, but be in no doubt that they intend to continue supplying sufficient military effect that we in return receive policy/command input.

TD – “Switch back to the F35B. Complete both CVF with one maintained as an in service spare to cover refit periods. Do not replace Ocean, the role to be covered by CVF”

This is what we should have done in the first place, and I think I said more or less the same:


“When we consider that we are buying the QE class anyway, and that Ocean is approaching the end of her life, the obvious answer to this ‘conundrum’ is to realise that CVF has the hotel facilities to support a battalion in addition to the crew itself, and that the limited buy of JCA will leave plenty of deck and hangar space from which to operate helicopters.”

“Buying both CVF and operating them in a swing role means that we technically keep the same capability to deploy, insert, command, and sustain a reinforced brigade in theatre, only now it will have access to CAP and CAS from an organic fighter-bomber squadron deployed with the task-force. We also retain a permanent ability to generate a carrier group, not unimportant given that deterrence relies on the perception of commitment, after all, we didn’t keep armoured divisions in Germany only six months of the year throughout the forty years of the cold war.”

“The current rumours suggest a JCA buy of 72 aircraft, which would indicate three active squadrons of twelve aircraft, twelve in an OCU/ECU, twelve in squadron maintenance, and twelve in deep maintenance or attrition reserves. The likely result is one squadron aboard the active carrier at all times, with a second squadron frequently joining for exercises, or deploying from the second carrier when there is operational overlap. This on a vessel designed to operate 36 JCA, of spare capacity there will be plenty!”

“CVF does not have a vehicle deck, embarked landing craft, or a rear ramp, but then neither does the Invincible Class when its pulling duty as the fleet LPH, and it’s not as if the Royal Navy is short of these attributes in the six other amphibious vessels; the Albion’s and the Bay’s.”

“If it proves suboptimal so be it, these are suboptimal times, and they can always revert back to operating as pure carriers in the 2020′s when there is money to buy one more squadron of JCA (24 in total) and a brace of dedicated LPH’s.”


TD – “Obtain enough to maintain 6 on board plus 6 on an enduring land based operation (rotating with Typhoon) to support the deployed multi role brigade.”

Don’t agree here, because the carriers are their to provide limited intervention alongside the rapid-reaction brigades 16AAB and 3Cdo, they cannot provide persistent support for an ongoing operation rotating the 5x multirole brigades in and out of theatre. Air support would best be generated by RAF capability based in theatre.

In conclusion:

While I’m not sure it will be possible to reverse the momentum behind the switch to F35c, the proposal is as close as Admin and I have come to squaring the circle over carriers, and I wish his proposal had been the status-quo-ante that emerged from the SDSR.

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
March 28, 2011 10:44 am

I might as well put in my two pence worth and be unpopular to go with it. I cannot see both carriers being fitted out with cats and traps. QE will be basically an large helicopter platform whilst PoW will have the ability to operate FJs. Instead of the F-35 I would like to see the UK and France form a joint airwing bringing on stream the 2nd and 3rd frontline Rafale squadrons, increasing the E-2 compliment to 5-6 for starters. The joint airwing will be manned by RN and Aeronavale personnel, and operate from either CdG or PoW, which ever is operational at any one time. This would mean chipping in for the 3rd Rafale Squadron and extra E-2s and running costs but it would give the UK and France and fully functioning CVA espaecially if the escort group is also joint with T-45s and FREMM.

This has to be the cheapest way for the RN to get back into the fixed wing game. Most ordonnance will already be cleared with only the Brimstone, ASRAMM and Paveway IV needing clearance. However ASRAMM can be left out as the combination of MICA and Meteor will certainly ge the job done. The French are looking for a nwer generation LD/EO pod for the Rafale so the RAFs Litening would fit the bill and the Frence already use a 500lb Paveway so integration of the IV should be too hard. It shuoldn’t be too hard to convince the French to adopt the Brimstone as the DM variant has proved itself both in Afghanistan and not Libya and the Frence do not really have an equivilent.

QE is a bit more of a problem but it will bring alot of rotary assets to a given operation and be able to carry out large lift ops due to the number of spots available.

I know this idea will be very unpopular with many but I am thinking outside the box and cannot see the UK being able to afford to run a Carrier(s) on its own effectively and that is the key word. At present everything is invested in the CVF whist little has been confirmed with contracts for its airwing. A lot of spin has been produced but in reality they are starting to look like “White Elephants” with little or no practical value until a firm decision on the platforms to operate it are taken backed up bt contracts.

March 28, 2011 10:59 am


March 28, 2011 11:15 am

I think Lord Jim has some jnteresting ideas and whilst I might not go as far, I do think Rafale Ms and greater co operation with the French are the way forward. As I said in another post, the french can run the OCU

March 28, 2011 11:27 am

I think you have a basically sound proposition but fail to allow for the cancellation of F35B being actually most likely, it has two years not just to fix the technical problems but also the cost ones and they will be harder.

THe EFV was cancelled but the USMC capability need survives and will be met in other ways – ditto F35B. It is not the only way to arm their amphibs and Gates will be ruthless about its deletion if costs are not rock solid.


I think it is possible to have both cats aligned on the port side and a ski jump remaining in the middle of the forward structure. I suspect that lifting a jump into place would mean it had to have a very strong structure which would lead to more weight and round in circles


Leasing sounds like an interesting option – what about leasing one of the CVFs to the US to help them meet their mandated 12 carrier fleet (which they are not meeting)

March 28, 2011 12:11 pm

Hi RW,

RE “F35B. It is not the only way to arm their amphibs and Gates will be ruthless about its deletion if costs are not rock solid.”
– Gates is talking tough as he will be gone by then
– talk about White Elephants – without the B’s America”s” will be a huge waste of money

But back to our own… when I joined this site, I had a bet with a friend that it will Rafale’s flying off the carrier(s)
– still looking to collect
– rotating the 3 carriers (not ChdG, the next one) makes it two with aircraft and one populating (our) assault ships with helos (French amphibs carry theirs, regardless how far and in what kind of seas they have to travel)
– the Rafale production is running at peak as there are 51 Super Etendards to replace (not to mention that in the rush to get Rafale into service they, too, got their T1 that cannot be upgraded at a reasonable cost; only 10, though).But then, no orders! So all those billions and billions forked out (by the French tax payer); all we need to do is to place the order
– 3 carrier-borne AEWs; just buy one more – that will do (only $200m a piece; MACS will still be needed as the carriers can’t be everywhere
– and, after 2 or 3 bn gone, cancel the joint-UCAV and buy what USN has by then put in service; that will keep Rafales useful for a long, long time

March 28, 2011 12:27 pm

To launch unmanned vehicles, you need no CVF. A dedicated mothership like BAEs UXV-proposal or better something COTS makes just the most sense. Also, I don’t expect HALE-UAVs to join an air wing anytime soon. Reaper or Avenger may be another question.

It is also no primary requirement to accomodate French or Spanish or Italian or US aircraft. If we go STOBAR, we will retain such a capability nonetheless. It certainly requires the French to qualify Rafale for STO, so it would makes THEM pay for THEIR additional capability.

I also see no valid requirement to cross-deck FAA or RAF squadrons with allied carriers. Seriously.

The CVF as I see it should provide “just another, but to-go-where-no-airfield-can-go airfield” to the RAF and the hub of a flexible and relatively cheap to operate RN + RM helicopter force.

If the RAF operates Sea Typhoon, F-35B or C is a detail which can be decided in 2012-14. Until then, the Indian MRCA deal has inked and we will see, if Sea Typhoon materializes. A STOBAR-carrier should be able to operate each of those types, it’s only not an ideal solution for hosting F-35B and C.

Irrespective of the carrier question, the F-35 will survive IMHO. In the early 2020ies, we need a Tornado-replacement. Until then, the development cost are written off and I expect the aircrafts price to drop.

So the general plan is:
– wait, if SeaTiffy materializes; if yes, convert half or better all the T3-orders to the navalized version; if not, proceed with the F-35C
– the RAF can concentrate to press capability out of the at least partially interoperable fast jet fleet and gets just one more basing option.
– the RN can concentrate on helicopters and fulfil the everday tasks with them
– the MoD can save money by filling the carrier-aircraft-requirement with T3-slots and delaying the F-35
– even BAE wouldn’t be to afraid of this scenario

March 28, 2011 1:21 pm

TD – “On your last point i think you have misread. I suggested an F35 force that could do 2 things, maintain 6 on board at all times (this would need rotating crews and airframes) AND maintain 6 in a land theatre, not OR. The 6 in a land theatre would provide CAS/ISTAR for an enduring mission, supporting the MRB.In fact, a bit like what Joint Force Harrier did in Afghanistan for 5 years.”

I did indeed, my thanks.

March 28, 2011 1:24 pm


You really do like poking the hornets nest don’t you.

Do you hang arround seedy container opperater bars, nudging lorry drivers and saying ‘see him in the corner, he’s looking at your bird’?

Given we are stuck with the Things your proposals make a lot of sense. However the F35b will either fly or it won’t The technical difficulties will do all the argueing. They will either be dealt with or they won’t. Sorry to sound so trite but, Boy oh boy will we look silly if we build the carrier to take B version only, and it does not fly.

They would be left as rotary only carriers.


Can the FAA run the Raf instead? After all if we havent got that many aircraft why can’t they be in Dark blue?

March 28, 2011 1:29 pm

Hi TD,

Agreed “, you are right we don’t have the cash for CH53K and V22 but that is because we have plans for loads of F35′s, this is the crux of the argument and I think vertical lift is more important and more useful than more fast jets”, broadly.

But then paying attention to the fast jet split between carrier-capable, and not so?

March 28, 2011 3:04 pm

OK, starting at the end and working backwards:

1. CVF as Uber LPH – don’t have a problem with this concept – EXCEPT I would make it a pure LPH and not bother with any F35 at all.

2. We should have cancelled it when we had the chance – yep, but we did not, hence we arrive at 1. above.

3. Time to start a fight: TD said” “By continually failing to budge on CVF, the Royal Navy paid an ever more expensive price to do so and in what some might see as irony, the very fact that the RN has no carriers and carrier aircraft to offer Operation Ellamy is precisely because of the desire to have CVF shaped carriers and FAA insignia bearing carrier aircraft.”

What total and utter cods wallop ! Let’s get one thing straight I applaud TD for his “pragmatic” attitude, and more especially for making the service chiefs take their slice of responsibility for current woes, but come on seriously ? At what point did you see a line of successive Admirals knocking on the PM’s door asking for the carriers to be delayed, again… or taking petitions demanding the surface fleet be cut ?

Grand strategy is the purview of HMG, particularly the Cabinet and other committee’s not the MoD, we are not a military dictatorship. If the 98 SDR said ‘expeditionary’ and laid out great plans for carriers, and Gordon Brown as Treasurer said “jog on matey, your not having the cash” – how exactly is the fault of the Admiral of the Fleet ? If said HMG, and its successors continue to pay for pointless adventures in the sandpit, while cutting real terms defence spending, but NOT drawing back on the strategic rhetoric, and continuing the “punch above our weight” crap, how is that the fault of the Admiralty ?

We could quite easily have a carrier and Harriers available, in fact if Libya had kicked off mere months ago, they would have been available. I am not re-opening the Harrier versus UK based Tornado argument, as it’s completely bogus; they are complimentary assets with complimentary capabilities, and lets face it, look at the way the Jaguar fleet was upgraded in record time when needed for the Iraqi no-fly zones; yes if we wanted Brimstone on GR9 we could have done it. That is just more treasury led divide and conquer bull shit, and too many people are just happily falling for it.

IF HMG wants to withdraw from it’s weirdly grand notions of being a world power, lets have 160 Typhoons and nothing else. Lets stay away from wars of choice and depend on providing niche capabilities to NATO formations.

IF HMG wants to be a world power, it has to fund it properly. If it want’s a major post Afghanistan, post 2020 expeditionary capability it needs to order a 3rd carrier and 100 aircraft of the readers choice (F35, F18E, Rafale M, whatever…..).

Of course it wont do either, and without a proper strategic context, our foreign policy, or response to world events and our armed forces will just bumble along, fixing stuff with gaffer tape, because that has become the norm.

Admirals, Generals and Air Marshals may have been unimpressive over the last 10 to 15 years, but not any where near as unimpressive as our elected officials.

March 28, 2011 3:31 pm


2 big cheers for that post but:-

‘At what point did you see a line of successive Admirals knocking on the PM’s door asking for the carriers to be delayed, again… or taking petitions demanding the surface fleet be cut ?’

During the last SDR when it was clear from leaked reports that when the RAF and Army had nearly won the day on cancelling carriers; the Lords of the admiralty were widely reported, (and never denied it when it was reported) to have offered up everything in the surface fleet for the carriers. Where did the 19 unit surface fleet idea come from? The RN that where.

I am sure they did not want to be in that position and would Have done anything not to be, but when they were, instead of saying ‘Ok stuff it you can shove the carriers up the RAF’s tailpipes and on your own head be it’, or whatever, they got down on their knees and begged for them’.

So like I say Jed with you all the way but RN are far from blaimless.

March 28, 2011 3:31 pm


The way I see it with regard to UAV’s and carriers, especially carriers mostly operated along side your amphibious forces, you want your UAV’s to spend as much time on station as possible scoping out enemy movements and least amount of time transiting to and from enemy territory, so it makes sense to have your UAV’s on your carrier. Plus I would imagine its now considered a minimum requirement that you provide the Royal Marines with real time video feed of their LZ and their alternate LZ, and I suspect that if you offered a RM Major about to put boot’s ashore a choice of QE with 12 F-35C’s, plus 6 MALES and 12 Apaches or a QE with 30 F-35C’s he will take the former over the latter, unless we have gone crazy and been talked into taking on Russia or China, then the 30 F-35C’s will be busy keeping the task group alive long enough to launch helicopters.

March 28, 2011 3:43 pm

Here, here Jed!

March 28, 2011 3:54 pm

Seconded! Nicely put Jed

March 28, 2011 4:04 pm

So for one carrier and a half completed one that might be sold off the UK taxpayer will likely be paying in excess of £6 billion and if I were a betting man I would definitely have a punt on the final cost going beyond lucky number seven.

..contradicts this…

Despite this, in many ways the project has been steaming along very nicely indeed, the blocks continue to be built, contracts are being placed and progress is self evident. When all said and done, CVF is actually a relatively simple, relatively low risk design.

I’ve noticed a sort of negative euphoria around here recently…

March 28, 2011 4:21 pm

Going to go away and think about negative wotsit.

March 28, 2011 4:29 pm

TD: “my dad is bigger than your” – erm, well mine is 6 foot 4, if only I had taken after him and not my mum….. :-)

OK, lets agree to disagree, there are degrees of culpability, and as the ultimate deciders of national strategy, HMG is ‘more’ to blame….

Now then, onto this 6 x F35 onboard, and 6 on ‘long term’ deployed ops with the RAF. How on earth does this work on a cost benefit analysis ? 6 a/c on the carrier, honestly you may as well not have them, as your not going to keep enough pilots current to pay for all the bother. I presume for some op like Libya you would embark and RAF squadron, or the OCU or something ? I just really don’t see the point on a pure cost versus capability standpoint.

As for 6 x F35 deployed on an ‘enduring’ operation alongside Typhoons, this is even more bizarre. You want to use a very, very expensive aircraft, one which has a design that has been highly compromised by the so called “first day of the war” low observability requirement for ‘enduring’ combat ISTAR ? WTF ?? what a waste of money. F35 is in U.S. parlance “a door kicker”. The USMC may describe how it will replace all their other ISTAR assets due to it’s Cylon based avionics, but we don’t have the USMC’s budgets (if only……).

So we are either skint or we aren’t – lets drop the pretensions and make them giant LPH. Maybe, just maybe we could introduce Avenger / Predator C and later a proper UCAV-N type, but if we truly are skint, the F35 in any form has to go.

March 28, 2011 4:58 pm

Indeed, I do see your logic ref buy a few now, and maybe we can buy some more later. However its just another salami sliced response to no cash; or as we say in the Peoples Democratic Republic of Yorkshire: “it’s neither nowt, nor summat lad!”

I even understand your logic ref Dave-B, even though part of me thinks if will never even see service with the USMC.

I have to counter your ‘tactical’ pragmatism with what I feel is a longer ranged, more strategic pragmatism; if you cant afford to deploy a certain number to achieve the desired operational effects, the ‘critical mass’ that makes the capability worth while if you like, then don’t waste money, time and doctrinal development bandwidth on it in the first place.

Oh and if were not wasting money on F35’s I will have two more T45 and a whole bunch of Absalon Global sloops or whatever please…. :-)

March 28, 2011 4:59 pm

“The leadership at the Admiralty have had numerous occasions on which they could have changed the design altered the specification, adjusted the requirement. All these would have dramatically reduced both the political and cost profile of project CVF, they chose not to”

The problem was that CVF is probably the most comprehensively assessed military project HMG has ever embarked upon,.

Every size was looked at from Vinces, to CdD style 40,000 tonner, up to 55,000 tonnes for the BAE design, and they still settled on 2x 65,000 tonne carriers.

It was and is the right design.

Peter Arundel
Peter Arundel
March 28, 2011 5:04 pm

“The FAA would cease operating fast jets and the aboard aircraft would be RAF operated.”

You know as soon as I heard that Dave-B had been dropped in favour of Dave-C, I thought “that will be the Navy ensuring that only their aircraft and pilots are carrier capable”.

Personally, I’d dump the entire RAF, but I’ve said that often enough for it to even bore me . . .

March 28, 2011 5:42 pm

“Conversations now should be all about how we maximise value on our not inconsiderable investment.”


“a reluctance to consider alternatives has led them to mortgage off the rest of the fleet”


Seriously, to get these carriers when there were other options, the RN betrayed itself.

What a turd storm this is, both this thread and the real thing. I am going to sit back and watch, and laugh…and cry.

But to those frothing like their rabid at the RAF/FAA debate…lol its just a uniform, seriously… Joint Fore Harrier prooved it can work with Harriers, why the hell cant it work with JCA!? (or whatever we’ll get… I am thinking kites…) The training and logistics demands? Maybe, but we’ll get over it.

And oh, I am light blue who has served with dark blue, on land and in a tub, I wasn’t ‘niffed’ at all.

Michael (Civ.)
Michael (Civ.)
March 28, 2011 5:56 pm

I have some question’s & a suggestion.

Question one is this:

How much is it going to cost in £Billions to upgrade the Typhoon with Thrust-Vectoring & an AESA Radar, conformal tanks & all the other stuff that they seem to want for it?

Suggestion is this:

Freeze the design of the Typhoon after it gets all the equipment that turns it into a bomb truck but before it gets all the other extra’s. Take the money that would have been spent on all the exotic extra’s that the RAF seem to want for it & TOGETHER with the saving from cutting the 5 NON 2087 Type23’s buy more F35-C’s & the little ships needed to impliment your LOG idea.

The RAF would then be in much better shape (i think), it would have 100 odd Typhoons at say FGR5 configuration for bombing & it would get perhaps as many as 90 F35-C’s for QRA, AD (either on land or at sea on the CVF), & for kicking the door down if it comes to an operation or war.

The Army & Navy would be better off as the RAF would then be able to better support any operation, anywhere, that might be required. With more aircraft available it would then make sense to keep & convert the second carrier for full carrier ops, thereby making the most of the investment’s in the carriers. What is the point of building them if you’re not going to make the most of them? Along with the Littoral Operations Group, which won’t cost that much will it, what’s not to like?

I have been wondering about this one a lot…….in the SDSR it says we should be prepared to be able to do a small scale independent operation.

Since when has an enemy cooperated in it’s own destruction by doing exactly what our plan’s have allowed for?

The thinking behind this assumption is mind blowingly stupid, the UK Gov. & MoD are only thinking of short term measures, they are not really thinking 10 years down the line at all.

If they were, they would not come up with a laughable prediction for the future, a prediction that, of course, is then used to justify their position & the reasons for that position.

One other question :)

Which will be faster off the ground for QRA, which will be better at Air to Air…..Typhoon or F35-C?

If i had any money i’d be willing to bet it on the Typhoon not having a hope in hell against the F35-C, especially if it’s in a slicked down anti-air configuration.

In fact i’d like to see 6 Typhoons v 2 F35-C’s, i bet that would be a real eye opener for all concerned!

Thinking about it, we could run a similar test right now.

Six Typhoons v Two F22 Raptors.

Who do you think would win?

If you think or admit it’ll be the Raptors, then why on earth are we going to bother with all the very expensive upgrades to the Typhoon? Is it really due to need, or merely due to inertia within the MoD & BAe?


You could do the same sort of thing with the F35-B, although i think the C model will be much better in performance & for me, performance is what it should all be about.

paul g
March 28, 2011 6:08 pm

oooo i hate coming into boat/ship debates, mainly because in 22 years of green my time on a boat was 6 times round the IOW and then driving me truck up brown beach!!
However, someone said you don’t join the RAF to go to sea, not quite the same but when i was the maroon deliverers of death, many of the para trained reme had been in the brigade for donkeys years, in fact pulling out the stops to stay within the brigade. Why? because they really wanted to be tradesmen, but they really wanted to be a para, if someone really wants to fly fast jets, if it means going to sea i believe they will go to sea.
Really going out of my depth here but a couple of facts pointed on here one being we are commited to buying 3 dave b’s development aircraft so instead of paying for that huge, expensive refit for ocean in 2014. bin/sell it and get a carlos like the aussies, then there is amphib and accom facilities and if the poo hits up top there’s your 3rd “mini” carrier with some dave b on flown by RAF who because they are VTOL don’t need loads of carrier training. IT’s only a thought don’t hit me (or my mum or dad)

March 28, 2011 7:10 pm

@ Paul G (at fist then another of my mad ramblings.)

I think I know what you are saying but a soldier is a soldier. Um. You wouldn’t apply that argument to REME attached to tank regiment would you? He wants to do his trade, but he wants to play with tanks. He is a soldier, then REME, and then para’.

But the pilot aspect of the FAA v RAF annoys me. The argument that FAA couldn’t field squadrons without RAF pilots to make up numbers. True, but only because FAA fast air community was eviscerated after the last conventional carrier went. How many graduates would know about FAA fast air in the 1980s? Not many. Naval aviation is a complex task for CATOBAR ops. It isn’t something pilots can opt into then opt out of. The costs of training mean that carrier pilots would have to (with the rarest, rarest of exceptions) stay in the carrier community. As I have said before there is a difference between being doing an exchange tour and spending your whole career do a job. Why can’t the FAA recruit more fast jet pilots? There was a time when there were no pilots at all, that has to a be a start to everything, why can’t the FAA start again? Are we that bereft of imagination? Are we that occupied with own time that we can see there was something before the RAF and there is no written rule that says we have to keep the RAF? As Paul G said if young (wo)men want to fly they won’t mind going to sea to fly? Why can’t it be Fly Navy why do we have to perpetuate the RAF?

Again as I have said before it seems here anybody who argues for the navy to look after its own equipment is being illogical or sentimental. That ‘planes are something special; yet aren’t many RN ships driven by gas turbines and filled with electronics just as modern ‘planes are? It seems hard data about sortie rate, force projection, deployment numbers for the RAF are ignored or swept under the carpet. If the RAF and RN were commercial operations would you as a shareholder of the latter want to see any part of operations merged with the former? How many RAF personnel are still “deployed” to the UK? The RAF is bigger than the RN yet it fields less than 10 airframes to A-stan. Its latest aircraft can’t even be deployed to the war we are fighting. How many planes approximately will it have ready in the air above Libya and A-stan at any time? About 4 or so. So it takes nearly 40,000 personnel to keep 4 elderly jets in the sky. The RN as a proportion of its establishment contributes the same number of personnel to A-stan as the army. Yet still has at least three submarines on ops, 4 OPVs, more than 6 frigates on ops, hyrdographic units, etc.

If you want to talk about pragmatism TD perhaps you should take a long hard look at the RAF’s record. The organisation apart from a few months in 1940 hasn’t got the best record.
Move the helicopters over to the AAC. Give the F35s to the FAA. Leave the RAF to fly its Typhoons and large fixed wing stuff.

March 28, 2011 7:24 pm

TD and All

Please do not take my RN RAF crack too seriously.

Despite their expressed differnces not sure Jed are in reality THAT far apart?

However I would like TD to address what happens if F35b doesn’t (happen that is) Do we go to C?

March 28, 2011 7:26 pm


I will take issue with several points of your strategy. You have stated that you only wish the UK armed forces to operate independently at small scale. Thats fine you then go on to say 6 F35 will support one of the army multi roles brigades when deployed. Lets be absolutely clear the Britsh army considers brigade level deployment a MEDIUM scale contribution. Taking forward your analysis the maximum independent contribution from UK land force will therefore be Battle Group Level like it or not.

I think we can start to see the template of future operation from what is happening in Libya at present were by large scale western naval and air power in effect supporting an indigenous army with limited western ground forces as the preferred operandi. This changes the strategic picture considerably from what’s gone before.

You have wrote a interesting piece as always which will require a re-read and some more thought before I comment on the CVF part.

March 28, 2011 7:30 pm

Great debate – glad we’ve moved on from the whole CVF vs no CVF argument and realised that there are real opportunities with the QE design. We should just think of them as two moveable airfields and are joint assets of all three services.

I can see more the parachute regiment doing a helicopter surge from them than the RM for example. The Albions are much more suited to the marines.

As for aircraft, in my opinion the FAA should be primarily providing air defence and anti ship / sub. The RAF should be strike / ground support. Why not the F35C for the FAA and the F35B for the RAF? This would mean keeping the ramp as well as adding the cats. It would allow the RAF to deploy quickly for an emergency. Say 5 x 9 plane squadrons each.

March 28, 2011 7:31 pm


In 2009 with 3 commando brigade in helmand the RN had 47% of its personnel deployed on operations. The smallest service has been worked harder than any of the other services but remains the most maligned.

John Hartley
John Hartley
March 28, 2011 7:32 pm

Random Maria thoughts.
First we should have built a state of the art shipyard capable of building Nimitz size ships or the largest cruiseliners or containerships. Bigger up front cost, but all large RN ships from then on, would be much cheaper.
We are where we are.
The panic to get Charles De Gaule back to sea for Libya, shows the need for 2 carriers to cover for refits.
One fully equipped in “go to war” mode. The other in refit or operating as a training carrier with skeleton crew & tiny airgroup. Training carrier could be loaded up with helicopters,cranes ,bulldozers & sent to civil disasters, without taking “war” carrier off task.
I still want QE class in Russian mode ie. angled deck with arrester wires + ski ramp. Waist cat could be added later if emals works well.
Minimum fast airgroup is ten fighters, ten bombers. Less than that cannot sustain even a small fighting operation. Knowing you are going in harms way, I would up that to 16 of each ie.32.
F-35C is a good strike aircraft, but I have doubts about it as an interceptor. F-35B or Seaphoon would be better for all weather air to air.
In the old days, we would have built a demonstrator, remember EAP? A Seaphoon demonstrator would be good. Most of its kit, thrust vectoring,conformal tanks, AESA is shared with advanced land versions anyway.
We probably need a few Goshawk C/Hawk 128 carrier trainers.
We should have kept one Sqn of FAA Harriers by using grounded RAF Harriers for spares. Cheaper than scrapping FAA fast jets now, only to recreate them in a few years.
We have money to overpay doctors & town hall fat cats, bail out Ireland & Portugal, give an extra 4 billion to third world dictators Mercedes fund. The money is there. It is how we as a nation choose to spend it.

March 28, 2011 7:33 pm

Oh yes CVF………

For me CVF should be about sea control not all this strike and coin stuff. So I would be happy with 12 F35s, as long as the airgroup has 12 Merlins for ASW/ASuW, 4+2 Merlin ASaCs, plus a few Lynx hacks. Enough to control a good sized area of ocean.

I have been wondering about how CVF could be altered as an LPH. I would have a hanger constructed at current flight deck level. There would be landing spots back aft and on the “roof” of the hanger. I would convert the original hanger into accommodation for a commando and a hospital. I have been wondering whether the spaces now used for aircraft lifts could be used for davits for LCVP; I shall have to have a look. At the for’ard end of what is the current flight deck I would have some VLS silos. I think CVF would make a good home for Sea Viper; CVF would always sit at the centre of the task group and Sampson would sit even higher than on T45. CVF would make a good platform for TLAM and a supersonic missile like BrahMos. The bulk of the air group could be switched between Pinger Merlin and Junglie Merlin as needed. But would always carry a Merlin ASAC.

paul g
March 28, 2011 7:43 pm

@x, sorry fella i wasn’t advocating that the navy shouldn’t fly their own aircraft, just pointing out that there will be people who will want to fly no matter what cap badge they are wearing. I’m in no way anti FAA (by the way the reme and tank anology wasn’t the best you could’ve used, if a vehicle mechanic goes “A” trade then he is fixing tracked vehicles for his career, not a dig just an insight)!
anyway as others had said we’ve got ’em now lets get the best out of them, I’d get them out on show as well try and beef up some customers, hells teeth the french have sold 3 mistral to the russians (ok not all built in france, but still have to pay for the design) who knows i’m going glass half full!

March 28, 2011 7:54 pm

“I have been wondering about how CVF could be altered as an LPH. I would have a hanger constructed at current flight deck level. There would be landing spots back aft and on the “roof” of the hanger. I would convert the original hanger into accommodation for a commando and a hospital.”

But just WHY? What the hell, there’s already space for 500 soldiers as it is while keeping the ship the way it is. XD

As for lack of vehicles, especially when compared to Ocean…
men, Ocean carries 43 light vehicles, mostly Land Rovers, and 6 L118 light guns.
In the hangar of the CVF, you can fit lots of stuff. You need a crane to lift stuff onto the flight deck, but you’ve got two lifts rated each 70 and i say 70 tons.

Any vehicle that can be airlifted by a Chinook can just be craned onto the deck, driven over a lift and then into the hangar, then lifted back up on deck to be underslung to the Chinook when the landing moment comes.

Why should we make things complex when they are simple??? At the most, the smartest thing to do would be to find a way to incorporate side-mounted Ro-Ro ramps for easier access to the hangar when in ports.
Davits for LCVPs, if needed, could be made into sponsons under the left side of the deck where it stretches outwards, but this already requires lots of work during a refit.

But for the rest… seriously, people.

“Six Typhoons v Two F22 Raptors.

Who do you think would win?”

Another victim of hype about the Raptor.
Do you know that, currently, the Raptor can only receive on data link 16 and not transmit?
That it can only use two GPS JDAM and target only one at a time, and with difficulty…?
That it has no IRST, why the Typhoon has it?

Ok, the F22 is low observable.
Shame that the radar transmission of its AESA can be picked up from immensely afar (who’s got notions of electromagnetics knows that the radar can be detected before the radar can detect the targets, and that’s why SEAD is so effective), whyle the Typhoon can go around with its radar turned off, searching only with the PIRATE in the IR spectrum, sending off no signal.
It can also launch a missile at a target designated externally by a Sentry AWACS without turning on the radar thanks to full data link system.
Its AESA is awesome and everything, but it has a 120° degrees field of view against Captor’s 200°.

Hype aside, the F22 is actually got a good lot of defects. And even just the canopy costs 670.000 dollars apiece. News revealed after one canopy was stuck and to free the pilot locked inside the firefighters had to smash it open with axes.

And do we need to remember the computer system that shut itself down when it passed the Change of Data line in the Pacific?
A tanker had to be scrambled from the Hawaii and the F22’s pilots had to follow it visually to the airbase.

Personally, i take a Typhoon any day, thanks. A RAF T1 FRG4 is fine for me.

The F35, having its own IRST, is better than the F22 and has the upper hand in BVR engagement. With Meteor, it will be next to invincible.
But IF something gets close… in a dogfight the F35 is pretty much dead. It turns slower, it climbs slower, it is slower.

Everything has its limits.

March 28, 2011 8:15 pm

RE “But IF something gets close… in a dogfight the F35 is pretty much dead. It turns slower, it climbs slower, it is slower.

Everything has its limits” but the missiles do the turning…
that is the philosophy, as I’ve understood it?

March 28, 2011 8:49 pm

“Everything has its limits” but the missiles do the turning…
that is the philosophy, as I’ve understood it?”

You gotta turn the plane too to launch the missiles and, especially, to avoid them.

And don’t be fooled be the “shooting the ASRAAM backwards” magic: it is all awesome and good, but it consumes lots of propulsion and actuators energy that, in a missile, are finished.
Range is going to drop sharply, and the enemy chances to escape rise.

You gotta use such stunts the right way. Getting in the right firing position means a lot in ensuring the enemy is caught into a proper “No Escape Zone”.

If it was that simple, wiht missiles doing all the work, then with modern missiles on it you could call a Tucano an air dominance fighter.

But it does not work.

March 28, 2011 8:54 pm


So you are accepting then that its battle group deployment of land forces independently. I do accept your point about the Libya conflict but I do get the feeling that Iraq in particular has caused a major change in the way this country will accept future military adventures. They will have to be done thru the UN and it is almost a cert that they will refuse a ground troop deployment unless something similar to the Kuwaits invasion occurs.

I do have to ask what saving are to be made from removing the Fleet air arm fast jet squadrons. I just dont see it other than the RN uniform bill. They are co located and structured in the same way as the RAF squadrons they come thru the same training pipeline and jet servicing is joint. The only difference I can see is one does officer training in Dartmouth and the Other at Cranwell. One learns and signs up to deploy on as ship the other doesnt like wise the maintainers. Unless you co locate the 3 single service officer/enlisted men initial training establishments were is the saving. 2 FAA 2 RAF squad providing a single RN air group backed up only in times off crisis by the raf squadrons seems sensible to me.

March 28, 2011 9:19 pm

@ Mark

Thank you. I half remembered a figure like that. I also half remembered a figure that says 90% of the RAF are stationed in the UK. I am not very good at this off the cuff writing.

I know a lot of us like to talk about kit. But it is the culture of the various organisations and how they inter play that drives events. All organisations being composed of humans take on the human instinct for survival; this is deep within the corporate collective memory. Um. The RAF is very good at promoting itself, does “it” know this know? Yes and no. Good PR is PR. But deep down an organisation’s culture will foster certain behaviours and promulgate them. The RN goes to the South Atlantic and wins a war but its culture doesn’t play on this; it is the Silent Service. The RAF goes to the South Atlantic, plays a bit part, comes away with a medal tally that belies that latter fact by a large margin, and the upshot is RAF Mount Pleasant. So…….

All Politicians are the same
All Politicians are the same
March 28, 2011 9:28 pm

there are a lot of solutions on how best to use the GE class carriers but almost none of them require any form of alteration, surely proving the case for building them. They are capable of being the platform for enforcinh a NFZ with 48 F35C or being a super LPH.

March 28, 2011 9:28 pm

@ Think Defence

You do so have an axe to grind. If you were as open minded as you think you are you would acknowledge that the RAF is a redundant chimaera that is over manned, over represented, and under performing. Tell me in this Libya affair who was at risk more? The couple hundred matelots who spent hours alongside at Benghazi. Or the Captain Kirks in their 4.5 gen fighters patrolling empty skies looking for poorly equipped, poorly piloted 60s Soviet jets after the USN (with a little bit of help from the RN) TLAMed the 40 year old Libyan SAM sites to death………. ;-)

March 28, 2011 9:29 pm

@ TD

Looking at how the RAF performs I would suggest that flying jets is part time business for them too……….

March 28, 2011 9:32 pm

@ Paul G

I know about the tanks. It was the first thing came to mind. I didn’t think this was the place to give a break down on REME career structure.

(Do airborne have lighter hammers? Or do they just use inflatable ones? )

Michael (Civ.)
Michael (Civ.)
March 28, 2011 10:02 pm

@TD aand everyone else :)

I am not suggesting any duplication at all.

I really do mean, give every single jet to the RAF!

Why continue to upgrade the Typhoon, it will not be as comparable to the F-35. Therefore, to get the most from the money we are going to spend why not cease throwing money at it & spend what we can on getting as many F35’s as possible?

If anyone can tell me why they think it’s neccessary to continue with Typhoon upgrades for the next decade, when there will be a better aircraft available for the RAF very soon, then i’m all ears.

About the Raptor, i used that cause it is a low observable aircraft & the USAF have already run a similar test!

I saw a documentry about the Raptor a while ago, (wish i could find you a link!), in part of it the pilot’s who formed the first Squadron (who were all ex-F15 jockeys), ran a test.

Five of them in F15’s V one guy in a Raptor.

The guy in the Raptor won, every single time, not kidding!

I have always wondered why we (the UK), don’t have competative fly offs. It would be easy to arrange one, we take part in exercises at Nellis.

I know that we like to keep aircraft flying for a very long time, mostly due to how expensive they are & i suspect, due to the long programs to upgrade them but why not skip the massively expensive upgrade program for the Typhoon & instead sink the money into the F35 program? Either the B or C version!

I know we have equipment cycles, what i’m saying is why not chop one short & then that would allow us to get in sync with the USN/USAF? With more aircraft, would we not get a better price etc etc?

I really think it would give the RAF a much better capability for the long term. Also you are still hedging your bets, cause you have 100 odd Typhoons if someone invents a sure fire counter to the F35.

I don’t think it actually matters to set up the exact composition of any air group for the CVF. Circumstances will dictate what’s on board at any one time, more F35’s of whatever flavour will simply give you more options in the event that everything goes really wrong & there is a full blown conventional war.

I know it’s trite but plan for the worst, hope for the best.

paul g
March 28, 2011 10:17 pm

@x sorry mate we only had variable pressure applicators in the reme being a technical corp!! (thought i’d lighten the mood)

March 28, 2011 10:19 pm

I agree that expeditionary operations are here to stay and that the Mid East, Africa are the most likely locations for this, though consideration has to be given to operations in the Far east in support of our 5 powers defence agreement and a remote possibly of operation in one of the polar regions.
We do have to accept that UK forces will now only ever do a small scale intervention on our own. So what does that mean well sdsr is not very clear what forces are required for this so I have gone back to the Hoon defence review post Iraq as that is the only one I can see which has actual numbers around the scale of effort it states the following:

Small scale intervention requires 18 fast jets, 2 AEW, 8 attack Helo, 12 support Helo 4 MPA and 26 Tanker Transport a/c as well as 1-2 Infanty battalions 3 RFAs and 1 recon a/c 1 sub 2 DDG/FFG.

What is the best way to operate that force and allow freedom of action. For me it comes from a carrier and amphib group. The issues with basing rights will be an increasingly difficult one as our influence reduces and with regimes more inclined to listen to their people our access will be more limited. Are now limited AAR capability will significantly reduce or ability to use land based aircraft over longer distances in any significant number. At the end of the day I can click goggle maps and find any airfield in the world I can’t do the same for a carrier. A carrier is self contained no need for ashore accommodation or pressures on our air transport fleet to the same level of degree as land based operations.
The QE has been designed for 45 days endurance with a range of 8,000-10,000 nautical miles at 15 knots. Ammunition, aviation fuel and stores for at least 5 days of aviation operations, including first day surge thats with 36 F35s not now the case so it should last longer. Replenishment will typically take place every 7 days. It’s planned that a dedicated fleet tanker for CVF support will carry sufficient fuel (and some supplies) for a further 28 days of on task operations.
A carrier operating in the same way as hermes did in the falklands makes the most sense indeed she operated 36 harrier and seaking a/c as well as have marines and SF aboard. If you look at our small scale force it requires exactly 40 Fast Jet, AEW and helicopters. Add a few SF or marines a full CVF.

A joint JSF force of 4 twelve aircraft squadrons has always been likely I for one don’t think the RAF ever wanted F35A. It is not compatible with any UK tanker aircraft and has less range than the F35C with range being one of the main requirements in a tornado replacement a/c. A 2 FAA and 2 RAF mix allows a navy squadron for the worked up carrier to be reinforced by the second squadron for major deployments only requiring RAF participation in national emergency or due to a lack of land bases this would require a 70-80 a/c buy.

Helicopter operation from a conventional carrier can be difficult but due to CVF size this should be less so indeed employing the US navies standard 1.5hrs between fast jet launch and recovery should allow reasonable flexibility with heli operations.

I do wonder how much the extra training burden is for CTOL the following is the standard US navy qualification process. If the undergraduate phase was done in the US and the increased use of simulators I wonder how much different this is to qualifying a harrier pilot on a carrier.

Undergraduate CQ for Student Naval Aviators, currently completed in the T-45 Goshawk and consisting of 14 day landings (10 arrested; up to 4 can be “touch and goes”).
Initial CQ flown in a newly designated aviator’s first fleet aircraft (FA-18, EA-6B, or E-2C), consisting of 12 day (minimum 10 arrested) and 8 night landings (minimum 6 arrested).
Transition CQ for experienced pilots transitioning from one type of aircraft to another, consisting of 12 day landings (minimum 10 arrested) and 6 night arrested landings.
Requalification CQ for experienced pilots that have not flown from the carrier within the previous six months, consisting of 6 day arrested landings and 4 night arrested landings.

Given the F35s advanced nature and allowing for the current ACLS system on US carriers being on QE the US navy calls an approach utilizing this system to be a “Mode II” approach. Additionally, some aircraft are capable of “coupling” their autopilots to the glideslope/azimuth signals received via data link from the ship, allowing for a “hands-off” approach. If the pilot keeps the autopilot coupled until touchdown, this is referred to as a “Mode I” approach. If the pilot maintains a couple until the visual approach point (at ¾ miles) this is referred to as a “Mode IIA” approach. Not I think beyond the RAFs finest especially if he/she has practise it in a simulator first.

Steve Coltman
Steve Coltman
March 28, 2011 10:41 pm

We are where we are. But where we are is in a dire financial crisis, and I mean the UK not just the MoD. Given this state of affairs we must make the best use of the assets we already have. On the one hand we saw the French and Italians flying antiques like the Crusaders and Starfighters well past their sell-by date but on the other hand we are doing the opposite – disposing of perfectly serviceable aircraft little more than half-way through their lives (Tornado F3) or even barely 6-7 years old (Tranche 1 Typhoons). Anyone who thinks this is acceptable is not living in the real world. There is no case for buying any new fast jets, full stop. The F-35 should be cancelled.
Not so long ago politicians were being confidently assured a naval Typhoon was not a practical proposition (fore-planes in the wrong place etc) – now we see BAE exhibiting a naval Typhoon to the Indians. We have 55 Tranche 1 Typhoons sitting in storage awaiting disposal. There has even been insane talk of scrapping them. I am sure it would not be trivial to navalise them but I cannot believe it would be impossible either. It begs a question though – where does a politician go to get informed impartial advice on this? I cannot believe BAE, the Navy or the RAF would give unbiased advice, none of them would favour STOBAL carriers equipped with converted Typhoons, because if it could be done it would kill the F-35 stone dead.
Cancelling the F-35 would free up a huge amount of money, some of which could be ploughed into re-engineering the tranche 1 Typhoons. More money would be saved by not fitting the carriers with catapults and maybe enough money could be saved to guarantee the 2nd carrier does not get sold off.
STOBAL carriers equipped with converted Typhoons would not be anyone’s idea of a perfect solution but that does not mean it would not be the best solution. The best solution is the one that suits the country’s interests best. The MoD does not have enough money to pay for what it has ordered, but every attempt to postpone payment, from ‘re-profiling’ projects to PFI simply increases the final costs and digs them into an even bigger hole. Discarding the possibility of an injection of funds, something has to be chopped in order to get the MoD’s finances into order. Unless the MoD’s finances do get sorted out the services face a depressing future.
Two STOBAL carriers equipped with converted Typhoons would not be as desirable as a load of F-35s or several other options, but they would be a quantum leap forward from the handful of Harriers we had until recently and certainly better than nothing.

March 28, 2011 10:48 pm


Last time I pointed out the problems that might come from trying to opperate CVF east of Pakistan; Various Carrier junkies rubbished the suggestion that we would ever try. I was accused of setting up a ‘Gold plated straw man’.

I challange some of your figures regarding re supply in the real world, it would be a nightmare. Given the need to support the screening group as well. In vietnam the US were resupplying carriers ever 3 days: – the nuclear ones. Not ones with big thirsty Gas turbines that will neeed to be wound up to 28 knots to launch (as will their escorts).

March 28, 2011 10:50 pm


If you were truly dispassionate about the FAA then you need to say how giving all the fast jets to the RAF and requiring them to spend time on the carrier will work, as every time I see something by serving RAF personnel on the issue they make clear that they would not spend more than a few weeks a year on a carrier. Its one thing to say that the RAF would have to do it (deploy for 6 months on a carrier) and it is another for them to actually change their culture to do it – if they will not change their culture then actually all you have done is make the CVF’s even less useful than before.

March 28, 2011 10:56 pm

@ paul g

Metric or imperial? :)

March 28, 2011 11:07 pm

@ Tubby

That is the crux of the issue. I think the Harrier is too blame. It takes an above average aviator to fly one. And that means that they can achieve the transition from land to sea quite easily. You can’t compare Harrier flying to conventional flying. An F35c flyer won’t be able to trap wires without practice; it isn’t a question of jump in and go. The majority will be tied to the carriers.

And Mark hit the nail on the head for me with his comments about the RN uniform bill. As all these aviators come down a common pipeline why can’t they be FAA pilots? Surely if it doesn’t matter if they are RAF by the same token it doesn’t matter if they are RN either? Or is purple code for RAF?

I think over looking the culture of a service is a mistake.

March 28, 2011 11:22 pm

Right. I feel like I’ve just embarked on the journey to the centre of the Earth getting down here. I’ll give this my best shot, but I appreciate my arguments might be mute/out of date by the time they’ve been posted.

Firstly, if in the future TD finds the cash to hire a hotel/motel conference room and have a Think Defence seminar, I hearby swear I will punch in the head anyone who uses the word “Littoral” in their speech. I think you mean “Coastal” chaps. And the experience of the Royal Navy in the war for the-islands-that-shall-not-be-named, should serve as a harsh warning for anyone with grand dreams of building a Coastal style Naval task group.

Secondly, I’m not averse to RAF pilots flying off aircraft carriers, or even being in charge of the whole Naval air thing, but I think it should be a clearly marked career choice when the pilots sign up, so you end up choosing a career in “Fast Jet Pilot (Naval)” or “Helicopter Pilot (Naval)” and so on.

Now, down to the meat and bones of what to do with CVF. I would propose either:

1) Flog ’em: Build them, fit them with Cats and Traps, then sell them to the Colonies or France. Maybe even Brazil or India. The money from the sales is then poured back into the purchase of additional Astutes, with a view for two things;
i) Sea Denial in a major shooting war,
ii) A “Submarine Task Group” for things like Libya, where they do intelligence work, deploy knife wielding ninjas, and deliver TLAM to cover for the first night strike loss of F-35. At least one sub would essentially be the “Hunter”, armed to the tits with torpedos. The rest would carry 4-6 torpedos for defence and then stack up on TLAM’s. Would save having to purchase F-35 at all to do the door kicking role.

2) Landing Platform, Helicopter: Essentially a serious sized assault ship. Maybe a few aircraft purchased for immediate air defense of the task group, but other than that they just carry Helicopters. Bung your Marines and Ninjas on board and away you go. A little lacking in “punch”, but it would make one hell of an anti-sub vessel, and would have the almost unmatched “Capability Plus” of being a serious tool for Disaster relief/support, counter piracy and counter narcotics (which I think we should have kept our old carriers for, even if they weren’t going to fly Harriers).

3) The Full Monty: Forget about F-35 and it’s one day of usefullness and go Rafale-M. It needs to be intergrated with our weapons systems. Lucky then that we don’t need them tomorrow. Gives us plenty of time to prod the French into action and get the work done now. What you’re then left with is a carrier that holds 20-30 jets. Sea Control. Persistent air operations. Take your pick. Not a lot of use in low intensity operations though.

To compensate we also need to make some other trimmings. These would mainly apply to 3 but could be useful in general:

Type 26 – Forget it is the simple answer. There once was a day when the Frigate and the Destroyer did didn’t things, horses for courses and all that, but now…. not so much. So now I think you either;
i) design a small, low cost vessel to fill the Anti-mine and anti-sub role (frigate). It’s designed purely to work as part of a fleet, so it carries maybe a Phalanx or two and some light defensive armaments, but certainly no missiles. It’s a frigate, not a battleship.
ii) Ring BAE and tell them we want a Type 45-Batch 2, with better sonar, the harpoon and CIWS fitted. Not “for, but not with”, just fitted. This way you leverage savings from the Type 45 production line.

If you’re investing in Rafale-M, then that means the RAF has to dump Tornado at some point and just live with its 160 Typhoons. Tough is the word I’m looking for.

And the army would probably be up for downsizing too. The whole point of CAS and battlefield strike is to provide an airborne artillery, which means a reduced need for (but not outright elimination of) things like Apache, Challenger and Royal Artillery assets.

That’s my take on it so far at least. On one final thing, TD, I sent you a message through the “contact us” feature, not sure if you got it or not. Could clarify that for me?

The Mintcake Maker
The Mintcake Maker
March 28, 2011 11:57 pm

Hi all,

This has turned out to be a rather interesting so far, and some interesting points made. So now time for my 2 pence worth.

First of all I have to agree with a few of the posters on here and I also believe that the decision to go Cats n Traps is final and won’t be reversed any time soon, no matter how nice it would be. Just before I post my suggestion of what to do with the carriers I have a question:

Q: Since we’ve switched to the F-35C I assume we can’t just transfer over our production slots as it’s a different aircraft and since the USN hornets are getting long in the tooth would they be willing to free up some slots for us (and now also the USMC)?

My guess to answer would be not really. We might if we are lucky, I think the ISD for the F-35c for the USN might have even slipped back a year with program restructuring, have 1 squadron of F-35c by 2020 and definitely no more than 2 by 2025. So that got me thinking and one thing lead to another and so I started to read through the current(ish) listings of the AMARC boneyard to see what bargains we can pick up.

Since we still don’t quite know what the cost will be of the F-35, the fact that we don’t have much in the way of money floating around in the next 10 years and the fact that I believe that the RAF should stay a 9 squadron FJ fleet (160 frames Min. needed) by 2030 the Tranche 1 eurofighters (used for AD only) will need to be replaced we could then buy a bigger buy of the F-35c for both the FAA and RAF. That means in the mean time we buy cheap frames from AMARC and trash them for 10 years.

So my plan:

We need 1 squadron at least. According to something I read (will try to find the link) a few years ago Oman wanted 5 E-2C Hawkeye 2000 (i.e the French type) and did a deal with the US for the 5 + spares and maintenance etc for $400m. We need 12 (4 flights of 3 aircraft, 1 training OCU flight + 3 flights, 1 deployed at all times). AMARC has 26 Hawkeyes at the moment.
Total cost: $1bn or £625.3m over 10 years.

ASW & Ships flight
Ships flight made up of 2 Merlins that haven’t been upgraded to new standard and 3 ASW Merlins for the ASW flight.

Fleet Air Defence
We need a buy of 40 a/c, which allows us to form 3 front line squadrons of 8 planes, an 8 plane OCU/OEU and 8 spares. I’m going to suggest (remember this is just a suggestion so I’m open to ideas and this is only temporary) the F/A-18 hornet (not super hornet) as AMARC has 94 frames to pick from and the Aussie have ASRAAM cleared on it. Offer a contact for 40 at 2006 prices + maintenance for 10 years.
Total cost: $2.8bn or £1.75bn or 10 years

Again 40 aircraft following the same pattern as Fleet AD squadrons. For this I have selected the Grumman A-6A Intruder, AMARC has 163 frames too pick from. It has good range and can carry 18,000 pounds over 5 hard points (4 wing, 1 fuselage). It would prove very useful in Libya right now say with a RAPTOR pod on the fuselage and 4x triple brimstone launchers on the wings or each with a few AA missiles and a Storm Shadow when the first strikes went in. It would do some serious damage. We would pay for cost in 1998 + maintenance + some weapons integration (brimstone & Storm Shadow ony).
Total cost: $2.8bn or £1.75bn over 10 years

This allows for 3 CAG of 24 a/c, (8x Fleet AD FJ, 8x Strike FJ, 3x MASC, 3x ASW & 2x Ships flight) with 1 always deployed at a cost of around £4.2bn over 10 years for planes and maintenance or £420m a year, which I think isn’t too bad for what we get. Sure we can’t take on the likes of china or Russia but for things like Libya or taking on 3rd world dictators it will be fine. Plus since most of it is “old” equipment (however look what the Kiwi’s did with the skyhawk), the RAF won’t mind the FAA operating it.

Sorry for the very long post TD and all. :-)

The Mintcake Maker
The Mintcake Maker
March 28, 2011 11:59 pm

For 10 years I mean 2020 to 2030 time period, say first cash handed over in 2017 so a/c can be ready for ISD of 2020.

March 29, 2011 12:59 am

Churchill would have chosen the oil powered F35-C over the coal powered B.

March 29, 2011 1:04 am

@ The Mintcake Maker
Your figures alone for the Intruder work out at a bit over £40 million a pop. Which, for purchasing the airframes, reconditioning them, fitting them out with engines, avionics etc, setting them up to use our weapons, training pilots, training maintenance staff, qualifying them for safe flight etc, seems highly optimistic at best. I would imagine it would cost at least another £20 million per airframe, and that is perhaps being optimistic.

@ the whole F-22 vs Typhoon debate
This is not advocacy work for either side, merely an observation. The argument of 6 typhoon vs 2 F-22 doesn’t stand up, under any scrutiny known to mankind. Firstly, to achieve this hypothetical ratio on a reliable basis you would need a 3-1 ratio of Typhoons versus F-22 in your inventory. If take the 187 number that was quoted to congress once as a total figure, and round it down a bit for various reasons to 150, that would require the UK to own 450 Typhoons. Good luck with that.

Then you have to consider the likely hood of 6 Typhoons meeting a pair of F-22’s in combat. Normally patrols might engage each other, so either a 2 on 2, 2 on 4, or 4 on 4 is more likely/realistic.

@ TD

Superb, but not sure if that means you’ll e-mail me first or if I should send you the thing now, so I’ll take a leaf out of the Politicians book and simply sit on the issue quietly and see how it develops.

Michael (Civ.)
Michael (Civ.)
March 29, 2011 2:27 am


Hi, we seem to be talking past each other.

The point i’m failing to make is that over the next decade we are going to spend a huge amount of money upgrading the Typhoon with all the bells & whistle’s that the RAF are currently lusting after for that aircraft.

Why are we going to continue with that program?

If we were to make the next upgrade the final version we could then spend the money that was allocated for the rest of the Typhoon’s upgrades on more of the F35’s.

In 10 or 15 years time, what aircraft would you want to be flying if the Gov. ordered you to start offensive operations against someone from Land or Sea?

Typhoon or F35?

The decision should really only be left to the Pilots themselves. Noone else should get a say.

If the Pilots were to say “Typhoon all the way!” Then fine, spend the money on the upgrades for the Typhoon. However, i have a sneaking suspicion that they would opt for the best aircraft that they could get their hands on at the time & in our case that will be about 40’ish F35’s.

There are many people here, who imagine that at some time in the future, the UK will get roughly 60 – 80 F35’s.

That is not going to happen as there will not be any money for them. The pot of money available will have already been spent on upgrades for the Typhoon. Some here really need to accept that there is not going to be any increase in the defence budget at all.

Remember, the target is 2% of GDP, the actual real needs of the military does not come into it, at all.

So, better make sure you are spending what money you have on the best possible equipment that you can get.

One serious point, the Raptor V F15 was a for real example.

Five v one all at the same time & they lost.

If one bloke can defeat 5 blokes who know his aircraft’s weaknesses, then it says a lot about the real effectiveness of the so called 5th Generation fighter.

There have been (in many wars), instances of small numbers of better aircraft & pilots defeating superior numbers & defeating them almost completely. Many times, the people with the superior numbers have had to get the hell out of there as fast as they could go. I mean it has to have an effect on you, seeing your friends getting shot to bits all around you.

To say a 2 v 2 or 4 v 4 is more realistic is not stricly true, i once read about a 2 v 30 & yes the 2 won! They shot down quite a few & the rest hightailed it for home.

Agreed, that was an extreme case in the Korean war but the example should not be forgotten.

For the record, i used to think that the Rafale-M would be good enough, for long enough, for us. Frankly i could not believe how many G’s it can pull if it has to. I thought we should forget all about the next new thing & get something that can do the job soon & that something was the Rafale-M.

I have changed my mind.

In a decade or so, how will it compare to other aircraft in service around the world then? In a decade or so, will we still be blasting Arab airforce’s before they can even get their bloody jets off the ground? Somehow, i don’t think so.

Afghanistan, Iraq & Libya are affecting our thinking & our focus. Our focus should be on giving our military the best possible equipment we can get for them so that they can do what we ask them to do while losing as few people as possible.

Why is anyone interested in giving someone a fair fight?

Finaly, at last, i really think that in our long term stategic interest, it would be better to get as fully in sync as possible, with the US.

What do you think?

Michael (Civ.)
Michael (Civ.)
March 29, 2011 2:48 am

Sorry, but one more thing :)

Think Defence’s idea for a LOG, is, in my very humble opinion, an absolutely brilliant idea from the top draw. I cannot praise it enough. It would not cost that much to impliment & even better it could be your total contribution to a particular operation.

Freeing up the rest of your actual fleet ships of the need to be tied to a fixed point…..using the sea for mobility is the whole point, isn’t it?

Willy Dribble
Willy Dribble
March 29, 2011 3:32 am

Whoa! I leave the room for ten minutes and I have to wade through how many comments?

@ChrisB 1122 Yep lets have a conference…THINK DEF-CON sounds good to me…Margate/Southend in July…we can all eat fish n chips, drink real ale/cider, buy samurai swords and get matching iso container tattoos :-)

Willy Dribble
Willy Dribble
March 29, 2011 3:53 am

Like I said boss i kinda agree with you on making the most of what we have.Post 2015 nudges and winks aside I can’t see the defence budget going up.Even if we reduce the deficit we still have to pay the interest/debt repayments let alone deal with the unfunded procurement programmes(kicking projects into the long grass/capability holidays are just dumb) and pay for Vanguard/D5 replacement(whoa another can of hornets!) out of the main defence budget.
But I just don’t agree with RAF vs FAA thing…I don’t think it is duplication one is carrier based one is land based(hotel based?)…USMC Hornets/USN Hornets thats duplication…selection/training/evaluation/maintenance/stationing/uniforms share all that but operationally different very requirements…
I’m definitely not anti RAF I was born in Princess Alexandra Hospital RAF Wroughton and grew up in Brize/Hendon…

Willy Dribble
Willy Dribble
March 29, 2011 4:12 am

Realistic fast jet numbers 2015+
RAF-160 Typhoons
1 Sqn Typhoon QRA
2 Sqns Typhoon Expeditionary
1 Sqn Typhoon OCU
1 Sqn Typhoon QRA
2 Sqns Typhoon Expeditionary
1 Sqn Typhoon OEU
1 Sqn JSFB PoW

March 29, 2011 4:40 am

@Willy Dribble

My vote goes to Southend then. Just wait until I can afford it!

@Michael (Civ)

“If we were to make the next upgrade the final version we could then spend the money that was allocated for the rest of the Typhoon’s upgrades on more of the F35′s.”

— That is entirely dependent on each individuals view of which is the superior/necessary aircraft.

“The decision should really only be left to the Pilots themselves. Noone else should get a say.”

— Who’s going to pay for 160 Spitfires with diamond encrusted skins? ;)

“So, better make sure you are spending what money you have on the best possible equipment that you can get.”

— Agreed. All the more reason to be sure that F-35 is the right solution to your capability problem.

“One serious point, the Raptor V F15 was a for real example. Five v one all at the same time & they lost.”

— It might be true, it might not. Ask yourself this question though; if the F-15’s shot down the F-22 with anything other than a 1:1 or 1:2 kill/loss ratio, would they tell you about it? The point is mute now, but it was in the interest of the USAF, at a time when the F-22 was in serious doubt, to give every possible boost to their hopes of getting more than just 187 examples. If Congress had gotten wind of a bad result that would have killed the whole thing quicker.

“There have been (in many wars), instances of small numbers of better aircraft & pilots defeating superior numbers & defeating them almost completely. Many times, the people with the superior numbers have had to get the hell out of there as fast as they could go. I mean it has to have an effect on you, seeing your friends getting shot to bits all around you.”

— Most of said examples result from superior crews; tactics, training and morale (and in some cases, big, brass balls). Once the quality of crews and their experience against a given enemy evens out, loss exchange ratios tend to even out a little as well. Superior crew training was the key in ‘Nam.

“To say a 2v2 or 4v4 is more realistic is not stricly true, i once read about a 2v30 & yes the 2 won! They shot down quite a few & the rest hightailed it for home.”

— See above. Also, and I don’t mean to get personal here, but if you’d read the point I was making properly you’d realise it was in the F-22’s favour.

“In a decade or so, will we still be blasting Arab airforce’s before they can even get their bloody jets off the ground? Somehow, i don’t think so.”

— Agreed. With the growing shift towards Hybrid Electric vehicles, we’ll all be shooting up Africa for their Cobalt, Copper and oil. The Democratic Republic of Congo will be a prime ground, the poor buggers. China already has it’s foot in the door. Next on the list will be Bolivia, which has half of the worlds known Lithium deposits. The Brazilians, Japanese and French are already getting in there, but surprise, surprise, we’re not. The main hope to avoid that will be advances in induction motors, but then that would require the UK to subsidise university degrees in engineering, advanced computing, Physics, maths, Chemistry etc, and I can’t see any UK Government doing anything as clever as that.

“Afghanistan, Iraq & Libya are affecting our thinking & our focus. Our focus should be on giving our military the best possible equipment we can get for them so that they can do what we ask them to do while losing as few people as possible.”

— To a degree, but then the argument to the opposite would be that we’ve been waiting for “our type of war” for a long time now and the world keeps inconveniently refusing to play Cricket.

“Finaly, at last, i really think that in our long term stategic interest, it would be better to get as fully in sync as possible, with the US.”

— To be honest, despite the “Special relationship”, the Rebels have never been that keen on us. As long as we do as they ask, they don’t mind. When we try and do things without them, or without at least asking them first, they get a little ancy. People often point to them helping us out with Choppers in Afghan, but that’s because it’s their war and they want our help. If there was nothing in it for them, I don’t think they would be so generous.

“What do you think?”

— Well… wait a minute.

Willy Dribble
Willy Dribble
March 29, 2011 4:44 am

Some more comments since i can’t sleep…
I forgot Falklands MPA flight
Tranche 1/block5 fine for QRA but if we can off load them and get tranche 3b much better.
JSFB numbers at least 60 we’ll need more attrition replacements/maintenance reserves for carrier operations.
Aircrew and in use reserve aircraft numbers have to be increased if overall units are to be decreased.
Harmonising the harmony guidelines across all services also has to be addressed…surging to half/sustaining quarter is imho realistic/desirable…they’ll be winners and losers but the NSC tier 1 risks didn’t include warmongering politicians so if i was calling the shots…there wouldn’t be that many shots…

March 29, 2011 9:29 am

“An unmanned system might also require significant satellite bandwidth, even with the advances in autonomous operation and onboard processing, satellite bandwidth that we don’t have.
It is also unlikely that an unmanned system would be able to fulfil the counter air role for several decades.”

I think people really miss the point here.
A Pilot gets something like 200 hours flight time a year right?
And a Fast Jet has a service life of something like 25 years, right?
And costs about £50,000 an hour to fly.

That gives us a cost of £250,000,000 over its service life.
Not sure if the purchase price and various SLEPs needs to be added to that, but even if justs £250mn, thats a lot of money.

A Machine doesnt need practice.
Machine Skills dont degrade over time.

Even if, and believe me, it is an if, a computer pilot is inferior to a human pilot. Is he only one fifth of the pilot?
Because thats basicaly what your looking at. Your 1 human piloted Typhoon comes in at £250mn your 1 Drone Typhoon can be bought for £50mn and put in a controlled hangar for the next decade. Even if we say drone Typhoons do need some maintenace, we will if nothing else require teams of fitters enough for war fighting, they’re likely to be having at least a 3:1 numerical advantage.

Throw in the fact that a head on collision is a win for a drone and, well, all hail skynet…

March 29, 2011 10:04 am

B – I’ll take option 3 if it is on the table please!

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
March 29, 2011 10:07 am

I am more worried about simply keeping what we already have and/or pland to have than looking for an expansion in aviation assets alone. To gain any or the suggested increased something else laid out in the SDSR has to go so before there are any new ideas about the strength on the RAF/FAA think about what would be scrapped as a result. Remember no new money is cetain after 2015, and given the slow speed of recovery the country is undergoing, is looking more and more likely in any form other than keeping pace with inflation.

March 29, 2011 10:11 am
March 29, 2011 10:44 am

Dominic you must realise that ucavs also require a fully trained pilot to fly them also the only difference is there not necessarily deployed. Ucavs will also require maintainance and thru life ugrades. A proper ucav that could properly replace a strike jet will not be less expensive to maintain I believe.

As for the telegraph I’m not surprise it most likely a valid concern. From a fleet of currently on 60 a/c total over 20 are now on ops either over Libya or qra. Due to lack of pilots instructures were supporting the falklands task so it not surprising there is now training concerns with this extra commitment.

Willy Dribble
Willy Dribble
March 29, 2011 10:47 am

@Lord Jim
With harmony guidelines of sustained operations 6 months on 18 months off we’d only need four Multi-mmmn brigades there’s some savings…beef up(I don’t just mean Bovril) the infantry manning levels to take the strain…again its a needs must.

March 29, 2011 11:07 am

Also I think a Think Def-Con is a good idea. Any chance?

March 29, 2011 11:23 am

@ Chris – “in the war for the-islands-that-shall-not-be-named”

I’m glad to see my invented terminology is proving catchy among the TD crowd. :D

The Mintcake Maker
The Mintcake Maker
March 29, 2011 11:36 am

@ Chris.B.

Your right they are a bit on the low side, it was late and i wass just punting the idea of what we could do in the short term out too see what you guys made of it. Even if the entire project cost increased by 50% thats still only around £600m a year.

It would proably cost the same for about 50 F-35c over 10 years with maintainance. Based on Canadian covernment costs of $18bn for 65 a/c over 20 years, so (18/2)/1.5 = £6bn/65*50+30%(30% increase on the C version)= roughly £6bn over 10 years. And even the canadians aren’t sure about the price now.

So its horses for courses 50 F-35c in the short term, when we still dont know about software bugs and costs and 50 only allows for 12 to be deployed constantly (yes it could be argued that we need less because its more advanced) OR buy around 90ish used frames to allow us to have 16 FJ at sea at all times + (and this is the winner for me) Hawkeye for MASC.

March 29, 2011 12:05 pm

“Dominic you must realise that ucavs also require a fully trained pilot to fly them”
Tomahawks and Stormshadows and Sidewinders are all perfectly capable of self piloting are they not?

So why can a platform to carry and deploy those weapons not be self piloted?

An unmanned fighter might cost as much per hour to maintain, but its simply not going to require 20 hours of flight time a month.
Its fitters will still need to be employed, although far more of them could be T/A, and they can spend their days taking apart and rebuilding grounded platforms to maintain their skills, which doesnt burn jet fuel or wear out airframes.

Yes I know there are “ethical” arguements against it, but they simply dont stack up.
Is the bloke who presses the button to fire a tomahawk from an Astute in any more control than the bloke who presses the launch button for a CAP that goes on to shoot something down?

Willy Dribble
Willy Dribble
March 29, 2011 1:02 pm

Jedi..Czesc…love your blog…

Think Def-Con organising committee on me lets talk about it on the good news thread since its kinda empty….

A different Gareth
A different Gareth
March 29, 2011 1:17 pm

How do you solve a problem like Maria and/or CVF?

In light of A Fact Lite Factbox on Typhoon, buy the Rafale-M and tell the media it’s a Sea Typhoon. They won’t be able to spot the difference.

Jesting aside, I find the suggestion of jump jets and a multi-role carrier quite persuasive. I would think the F-35B could also operate from other nation’s conventional carriers if required given a light enough load and long enough rolling takeoff.(ie in the same manner the USMC already operate their Harriers)

The 3 different F-35 models represent something of a false choice imo. How do you know which to buy? Each provides something the others don’t – A is nimble and can carry the biggest war load I think, B is adaptable but lacks range, C is sturdy and long legged. This serves to lose sight of the correct comparison – how much of an improvement over existing kit would any of those three bring?

The benefit is substantial whichever you pick and the most adaptable is the B. A shorter range and lower payload is something that can be worked around. Not being able to land or takeoff is not. The decision would rest on what it is envisaged our forces do with them – are they to operate from a carrier and then quickly move onto land (so would benefit from the STOVL capability) or are they to operate from a carrier indefinitely?(so the longer range would be of benefit)

A flight of fancy – could the B be fired from a catapult?

March 29, 2011 1:31 pm

Czesc Willy, thank you.

Do I sense the presence of a Pole in the force?


Willy Dribble
Willy Dribble
March 29, 2011 1:39 pm

Polish ex girlfriend, loads of Polish friends and a very messy time in Warsaw 2004…Zubrowka and apple juice :D

March 29, 2011 2:26 pm

The FrogPhoon remains a viable option, we provide the carriers, France provides the aircraft, cough…

March 29, 2011 2:40 pm

Re ThinkDef-Con – what a splendid idea, if it takes off I will host the North American version !

March 29, 2011 2:58 pm

The last thing we should do is change anything structural about the ships to make them halfbaked and Anglo-British. If we avoid that trap, it will always be possible to change the airgroup later. Otherwise the airgroup will be determined by the weird thing we did to the ship.

I’m increasingly keen on Seaphoon as a STOBAR option, especially as the Rafale has the problem that we’ve got to wait while the one line at Dassault fills up the French squadrons. Rafale wasn’t quite as late as Eurofighter but it was still pretty late, and the AdlA (and the Aeronavale even more so) is in a similar position to the RAF – a lot of tired jets and a lot of people desperate to get the new ones in operation as they trickle off the line.

If the job is actually less horrible than previously advertised, and doing STOBAR apparently helps with this (and also with equipping the carriers), this could let us wind up the whole machinery of the JCA buy and put a significant number of 4th going on 5th generation aircraft on the carrier.

Question: what’s the position with the German and Italian Typhoon production lines? (yes, I know BAE would scream blue murder, but it is just a matter of shuffling workshare between sites depending on who has spare capacity).

March 29, 2011 3:56 pm

@ Willy

aha, the polish girl-friend is shared, as is the love of Bison-grass vodka. Glad Admin has fond memories of it too.

Willy Dribble
Willy Dribble
March 29, 2011 4:39 pm

We shared a girlfriend!? Was TD there? I have no memory of this!

Willy Dribble
Willy Dribble
March 29, 2011 4:50 pm

I don’t think the bandwith/autonomy issues are gonna be solved anytime soon so manned/unmanned seem to be rather complimentary. The disadvantages of high cost,risk and lack of endurance of modern combat aircraft seem to be to be the advantages of UAVs…
What worries me is the MoD have come up with great names…Scavenger/Watchkeeper…but seem to lack a long term plan…

Willy Dribble
Willy Dribble
March 29, 2011 4:55 pm

UAVs would be an excellent test bed for future procurement procedures…in terms of defining doctrine/requirements/specifications/selection/industrial strategy/project management etc etc…

March 29, 2011 5:33 pm

lol, merely a reference to the the polish’ness of our respected spouses, ex or otherwise. ;)

paul g
March 29, 2011 5:56 pm

with regard to all the suggestions above, does the decision by mr gates to cancel funding for the GE/RR F136 engine sway anyone? Basically gives pratt & witney carte blanche as sole supplier, be interesting to see what RR think as they’ve done most of the design for the lift fan on dave b. If it were me teddy would be shooting out of the pram and i’d be taking my ball (lift fan) home, so there!!

March 29, 2011 6:28 pm

Hi paul g,

Two engines was always a risk management measure; now the engine probably comes out as risk n:o 54 or something on the list, so time to cancel the insurance?

david spiteri
david spiteri
March 29, 2011 6:33 pm

The royal navy should get the F-18 Super Hornet from surplus The F-18’s should be much cheaper to buy , and so add up the greatly required number of aircraft. The Raf can than but the third tranch of the eurofigher which can also be navalised for us on the carriers. Buy F-35 in 20 years time if they are still viable , but i think they will.

March 29, 2011 7:15 pm

IXION @1050 yesterday.

Well the figure I used our I believe the ones used for key project requirements. They may have changed post SDSR I dont know. Also dont forget T45 is also long legged part of the increase in unit price was to allow this and eliminate some RFA requirement. As for Vietnam as far as I know the only nuclear carrier the US would have had then would have been Enterprise as Nimitz was not commissioned until the mid 70s.
With the range issues east of Pakistan and real lack of friendly airbase anywhere close to any potential area of threat I would have thought carrier air would be in its element here as opposed to any land alternative we have. Many UK task forces have gone out that way for a long deployment with only 2-3 RFAs in toe but having the ability to do it would require MARS being funded as planned.


“So why can a platform to carry and deploy those weapons not be self piloted?”

Well they could be I just dont know were you’re going to launch them from. Most countries (including the UK) will not currently allow UAVs to transit there airspace. Even the Global Hawk has a number of restrictions on it use in controlled airspace this is not yet a done deal. A drone carrying 3-4 storm shadow or a bomb or brimstone will at some point be required to select a target. This will require human input which means training and indeed flight training.
We could also employ RauxAF squadron right now for manned aircraft like the Yanks do but we choice not to (I believe reserves should be more involved particularly in the RAF and Army but neither service want that).
Planes of any type are built to fly. Its like if you buy a car and park it in your garage for months on end bits will seize and seals crack much more quickly than if its used.

Willy dribble

“The disadvantages of high cost,risk and lack of endurance of modern combat aircraft seem to be to be the advantages of UAVs…”

A fighter type UCAV will also be high cost and high risk. The endurance issue is all down to the speed you wish to fly at. The current generation of UAVs are recon drones (with some attack capability bolted on) which are designed for endurance hence the very high wing aspect ratio (similar to a glider or U2) a global hawk has a larger wing span than a 737. A ucav will not be designed for that mission the current generation are slow and require some significant transit time even from fwd operating locations.

John Hartley
John Hartley
March 29, 2011 7:27 pm

The (forgotton) British Pacific Fleet managed to operate carriers East of Suez in 1945. Their carrier launched aircraft were the only Brits to bomb Japan. RAF Tiger Force never made it before VJ Day.
British carriers were in action during the Korean War.

March 29, 2011 7:36 pm

Everybody !

what about MRAS, CVF runs for 8 days then needs resupply what are the implications for resupply (and hence costs) in your CVF configurations .

At the moment we’re all sending them to sea for a week and then finding them coming back for spuds, loo rolls and diesel !!
(and spares of ? sort)

lets get the support worked out before we set out.. not discover another optimistic scenario of our own making

March 29, 2011 7:42 pm

UCAV’s still need supervision. And even the most optimistic suggestions of fully autonomous planes will likely prove to be just that; optimistic.

Computers run on programs, a fixed sequence of commands that they follow, interogating certain data along the way to help them make decisions.

As anyone who grew up in the late 80’s/90’s playing computer games will tell you, you can learn the patterns that computer programs use very rapidly. You can expose glitches in their ability to “see” and “react” to external stimulus.

I just have visions of a future enemy airforce flying around in circles laughing as they watch our hoarde of UCAV’s trying to dogfight pieces of chaff.

March 29, 2011 7:43 pm

eight days in a hot war when operating as a fully committed strike carrier from day 1.

March 29, 2011 7:54 pm

Jedi is right its 8 Alpha strike days of operation of the air wing then an air wing resupply(jet fuel more bombs ect). CVF the ship and food ect need replensihed every 45 days. MARS has to happen if we want to deploy any ship anywhere. It the RFA Fort Victoria (one stop replenishment ship) Replacement that most concerns the Carrier Group. Its the same with any deployed land based aircraft too. It just the land based will need more assets assigned for logistics than the sea based one.

March 29, 2011 8:31 pm

so can we currently support CVF alpha days ? and if so how many ? and at what speed would CVF travel to allow the resupply? and at what range?

March 29, 2011 8:45 pm

Well we currently have RFA Fort II class but one was culled in the latest defence cuts. Its that class of vessel that will support CVF. IF the current vessel can I dont know. CVF has a range of 8-10 thousand miles at 15 knts.

March 29, 2011 8:49 pm

What will hobble MARS is reliance on British yards (read BAE.)

Fincantieri have just completed a fleet tanker (27,500 displacement, 20kts, 4 RAS stations) for Indian Navy; it was designed and built in about 3 years (yes three years!) CVF will need 2 similar ships (at least) for bunkers and AVCAT. But with MoD (N) at the helm well……..

Of course then there is the problem of dry stores. For this I would just dust of the Fort 2 design. Like the one we have just got rid off.

It is a question of political will. And there really isn’t one.

I think Grand Logistics did a post on how reliant land based air in the Gulf War was dependent on the sea for supplies.

March 29, 2011 11:02 pm

Jedi, Mark, JH

CVF has an 8- 10000 mile range at 15 knots but in order to fire a F35c off a catapult it will need to accelerate to at least 25 knots, as will the 2 type 45 with it etc. That will really hurt fuel consumption doing that to launch 18+ sorties a day.

Yes we opperated east of suez in WW2 but come on! At the time we had 2 million men in continental europe in Uniform etc. If we had a navy the size we had in 45 we would not be worrying about 2 carriers and 19 escorts. That much would be parked in Plymouth on a slow day.

So opperating east of Suez is ok now?
Not gold plated or straw any more?
So we need MARS now to go with CVF. Just add it to the credit card shall we?

I Posted about difficulties opperating east of suez and various carrier junkies waded in…

EL sid replied

As for “East of say Pakistan” – no wonder you’re fretting, it’s pretty clear that the future of the RN is not about independent operations east of Suez, and probably only coalition ops as far as Pakistan, so you’re trying to shoot down a gold-plated straw man again.


‘It’s strategic foolishness, instead of being a strong, smart power (rather than a “great” one) where it matters. Elminates a lot of straw men along the way’.


‘our priority should be twofold: firstly to provide CAP over our amphibs and escort in our helo’s as the bridgehead a landing zone, while carrying sufficient MASC and ASW platforms. Realistically for next 15 years our interests …… is’s going to be in Africa’

This has rather slipped back into ‘we must have carriers We must have carriers… exterminate exterminate…’

The Mintcake Maker
The Mintcake Maker
March 29, 2011 11:17 pm

Okay of too a slight tangent here, my ideal RFA

2x Wave class
2x Fleet tankers, either BMT Aegir or RR NVC
2x Fleet Solid Stores
(or possibly 4, multi-purpose AOR’s)

5/6x British JSS, take the Dutch design converts ome of the hanger space for more marines (around 200) and stores (just leave enough room on the flight deck for 2 medium or 1 large helicopter and storage for 4x medium or 2 Chinook. This allows 2 for the ARG, 1 for the Western Fleet, 1x Far East (Eastern) Fleet + 1/2 ready in the UK.

3x Bay
6x Point
1x Diligence

I have no idea how much it would cost, and its probaly in the flights of fatasy, its just my rough idea maybe around £4Bn for the lot, hopefully a lot less if we built the fleet tankers and stores abroad, hopefully nearer £2-3Bn in total.

And now to get back on track,

I know i posted some figures earlier about referbished a/c for use on the CVF, so ive gone back to make them more realistic.

£3500m for 40 F/A – 18 a & c* over 10 years
£700m for 12 E2-c over 10 years
£2800m for 40 E6 over 10 years

£7000m total cost over 10 years

£700m per year for 92 a/c


£6600m for 55 F-35c over 10 years
£700m for 12 E2-c Over 10 years

£7400 total cost over 10 years

£740m per year for 67 a/c

55 F-35c = 3x frontline squadron2 of 12, 1x 12 plane OCU + 7 spares.

* There are only 21 F/A-18C frames, so i’d take them all and make up the numbers with A’s and a few B’s for the OCU

Remember all the planes listed above are stored in AMARC, not doing much, so i propose to buy them at the last know(highest price of wiki) + refurb + maintainance for 10 years.

Some might say that the F-35c is better because its new and doesnt require as much maintainance however it would have to fly more as in my “cut price” FAA there are dedicated FD + Strike a/c. Also even if say 2 or 3 of the A-6’s needed to be fitted with jammer pods to beat local SAM’s and AD I think im right in saying that 5/6 A-6’s carrier more than the same number of F-35c?

Plus if the hornet is still too costly they have nearly 150 A-4 Skyhawks we could pick from and do up.

All Politicians are the same
All Politicians are the same
March 29, 2011 11:32 pm

Why pick a random figure of 25kts? The speed required will be completely dependent on how much wind there is and the required angle and speed of wind across deck. This will depend on the weight and type of aircraft being launched. I am sure some computer modelling has been done but before carrier construction complete and deck trials of aircraft complete you are just guessing. Is 25kts a no wind day in the gulf? That would be worst case, on a really bad day in North atlantic carrier could be going very slowly into wind.

All Politicians are the same
All Politicians are the same
March 29, 2011 11:34 pm

further to my last post the only ship tethered to a carrier when it launches aircraft is the ship in the life guard station. The 45 can position as required to keep the HVU inside there isoleth.

March 29, 2011 11:40 pm


Yes CVF to be done properly will need a fleet train. Is it expensive? Well yes and no. We could build all the necessary oilers and dry stores ships for about £1.5billion. About a 10th of the cost of the FSTA. And how much to operate? About 100million or so pa. So over 25 years about 2.5billion. That is still a lot, lot, less than FSTA. So………

Of course a good chunk of the fleet train to support CVF itself could be dispensed with if it was a nuclear ship. That would probably push CVF price up to a approximately £5billion a copy. (That is on the high side, think current hull plus the cost of 5 Vanguards, sans the expensive pressure hulls.) That sounds expensive but compared to Typhoon it is a mere bagatelle. Plenty of steam for the cats though or electric for the linear motor launcher thingy.

March 29, 2011 11:40 pm


I admit my ignorance of take off speed of Seaphoon or F35C.

But modern fighters do seem to have take off speed in the 125 + knots area. (we are way beyond tying swordfishes to the deck as they tried to take of at more than 30 knots of wind).

Frankly if you get a wind of more than 50 or so knots the sea conditions would be too rough to launch.

USA work nimtizes etc up to 30 knots to launch very often (I am told).

Still think we are underestimating fuel load required to support the ships of a task force regardlessof the aircraft.

March 29, 2011 11:52 pm

@ Minty

Those Italian built Indian tankers cost 300million Euros for the pair.


And I made a typo it took only 2 years to design and then build the first.

All good clean fun.

Does anybody know if the UK refines all its own AVCAT? Or does it import some? If so how much?

March 29, 2011 11:56 pm
March 30, 2011 12:03 am

To be fair, arguing about the cost of supporting a Carrier is a little redundant. The Supports ships would be needed regardless for the various other resupply missions that are assigned to the RN, and you have to keep in mind what it is you’re getting with a carrier. You can accept an increase in cost to buy a certain capability e.g. not having to fly Tornados 3000 miles, waiting for days before you can get your basing rights etc, etc ad nauseam.

El Sid
El Sid
March 30, 2011 1:55 am

On UAV autonomy, this is OT but fun, autonomous robots playing keepy-uppy/volleyball. If you let the vid run on to the second one, they talk about the science a bit :

ThinkDef-Con surely has to happen in Felixstowe?

Or would TD’s head explode in the presence of so many containers?

Too many things to comment on but TD – I’ve said in the past I think you’re being way too optimistic about the efficiency gains of having all FJ under one roof, and I’ll say it again. You don’t get efficiency gains from merging an efficient small organisation with a bigger bureaucratic one. My real problems with giving F-35 to the RAF are two-fold. First that it’s rewarding failure – the crabs should get no more new types until they can prove that they can manage what they’ve got. Aside from the litany of procurement balls-ups (Nimrod AEW, Nimrod MRA4, Chinook HC3, Wildcat, Typhoon Tr1 to name a few) they’ve got a shocking record on looking after the kit they do have. We went years without ever meeting the targets for Tonka availability, and the Harrier force only made it sporadically. Admittedly things have got better since they closed down DARA and let BAE take over maintenance – but how bad do you have to be if you make BAE look slick? The other thing is that for as long as the F-35 fleet is small enough to fit on one CVF, every F-35 will have to be prepared to go to sea, and it just makes sense to regard the entire fleet as a naval asset.

I really don’t see huge synergies from having them under the same cap badge – the RAF runs its various types largely independently of each other already, which is how you get crazy stuff like a £90m/year airfield being dedicated to just 9 aircraft, which are then grounded and scrapped but the airfield stays open for three years after the last plane flew from it. Never mind carriers without planes, how about airbases without planes?

It’s not as though the logistics chains have much in common, basic training is already centralised but type conversion costs twice as much, so you don’t get much switching between types except as now where the Tornado is being replaced by Typhoon. All the HR/IT/vetting stuff is being centralised across the MoD into Defence Business Services, so again you have to ask – where are the savings? Give the FAA Lightning, let the RAF prove it can manage the Typhoons effectively before giving them more shiny things.

.B. – you can’t say simply that F-35 is better than Typhoon, or vice versa. It depends. Not least on things like AWACS support, but a couple of Typhoons in A2A mode will probably wreak havoc on a bunch of incoming A2G F-35’s – and vice versa. Different strengths, different weaknesses.

I think Gabriele is a bit quick to dismiss HOBS missiles. They’re not necessarily about doing a full 180 degree flip, just getting to places where the plane couldn’t place them otherwise. He might want to read up on the AIMVAL/ACEVAL trials which had F-5’s doing nasty things to F-14’s and F-15’s. Now OK, an F-5 isn’t quite a Tucano – but let’s just say it was those trials that made the USAF a lot more interested in killing the opposition before they got into dogfighting range, hence AMRAAM etc.

HOBS doesn’t make manoeuvrability irrelevant, but it really makes the returns diminish ever more quickly. A 9g plane like an F-16 or F-35A will always have a considerable advantage over a 7.5g plane like a F-35B/C when it comes to conventional dogfighting, but the differences between 7g, 9g, or 11g all seem pretty irrelevant when faced with a 50g missile. And a 9g plane may have compromises in important things like payload or fuel load. So the way I see HOBS is that it reduces the importance of absolute manoeuvrability (at least for manned platforms) and puts more emphasis on eg having lots of BVR missiles and the target acquisition systems to use them. So I do wonder a bit about the tradeoffs between LO and payload.

March 30, 2011 2:24 am

@EL Sid

I don’t remember arguing for either.

March 30, 2011 6:23 am

Chris B.,

I think it was Mark’s comments (at least I think it was Mark — there you are then, lots of related comments tightly spaced, lots of chance for blue-on-blue) that drew El Sid’s eye. And your comment at 0003Z is straight on. The trouble with the supply argument is that it ignores just how hard it is to set up and supply landward air-basing outside an arc running through Europe to Saudi/Iraq. And if you’re looking at having to start from scratch round Africa and the Caribbean/Those Islands (portals to South America) or the frozen tundra of the old Greenland bases (ref: Arctic) that gets a hell of a lot dicier. And for those who would say “scrap carrier, let’s have thirty C2 instead,” those need resupply as well, particularly if you expect to actually sweat them around the margins of these various failed states. They may demand less individually than a carrier and its escorts, but there are more of them spread over more water, which means you need more RFA assets to prevent running your extant ones into the ground.

IXION somewhere above,

I bags a blue Dalek — exterminate the rainbow :) But seriously, since those of us who think carriers are a decent idea are neither from Skaro nor some kind of secret society, I disagree pretty seriously with the folks suggesting “oh, let’s send carriers swanning round Asia.” Even when it was either the first- or second-most powerful fleet in the world, there were only two periods when the RN had financial and strategic latitude to be a player in the Pacific and eastern Indian oceans, the mid-1800s and 1945-65. Now? Well, Chris B. is right on the money — the important “resource wars” of the coming century are in Africa, possibly the Andes, and the polar regions. All of them border the “quiet backwater” of the Atlantic, Britain’s strategic home turf. The Middle East is a graveyard of yesterday’s empires (the Yanks are there, beyond any arguing about Israeli lobbies, because a good chunk of their national-security establishment is quite literally paid for by petrochemical companies that don’t want to be yesterday’s news. Be ironic if representative governments, of whatever stripes from Sensible to Silly, in the region actually squeezed them out.) So concentrating on being a strong power closer to home (Atlantic and circumnavigating Africa) makes good sense. Sufficient unto the region is the evil thereof and all that stuff. I wouldn’t even bother pointing nukes at anything east of Pakistan, or trying to.

Boss and other sceptics,

I don’t think much of the current crop of admirals — lusting after oceans full of frigates and sucking up to the USN are not recommendations in my book. Somewhere Terence Lewin is not amused. But saying they shafted the fleet to protect the carriers only describes part of the effect and ignores the causes. They protected the carriers, and the Astutes (saving 7 of the 8 they really wanted, and might squeeze in the eighth if Vanguard replacement goes slow), and the deterrent boats (which MoD’s been made to pay for but that’s another can of worms). The RAF have fought like tigers for Typhoon and their Tornado placeholders for the next shiny thing (F35). The Army’s dug in on its manpower-guaranteeing war in Afghanistan and the next version of the motor pool (FRES). This is because they’re all beseiged by the effects of an unsustainable economic model for the British nation-state (no more of this capitalists v. socialists nonsense, it’s so last century, we’re all the way back to “What is the Third Estate” against the supranational moneybagses) and an all-powerful Treasury that considers its brief to be defending that system. Those are your points of attack. It took a modernizing religious radical (Thomas Cromwell) to dissolve the monasteries, and a dyed in the wool Tory (Pitt the Younger) to tax landed income and tolerate those newfangled industrial tradesmen. Want to solve the problem? It needs a change like that. That’s been put off fifty years or so. Can’t be put off forever. The Shah always falls in the end, as somebody once said. How messy what follows is, depends on the brains of the folks there in the moment.

Fixes in the meanwhile? Sod Type 26. You want to see me fulminate about the Admiralty? Has nothing to do with carriers (I save that for the last government — almost said that without laughing — and Big And Expensive) or subs or destroyers. A bunch of second-rate admirals longing for their Cold War youth is not the way forward. Sell one of the T23s and the Albions while they’re not yet knackered. Transfer five percent — **five** percent! — of one year’s DFID budget, preferably the bits subsidising Indian nukes, add it to the sale of above hulls, and get two Juan Carlos. Smaller ship’s crew than the Albions (yes I took into account the LPDs count their teams from 29 Assault Sqdn RM, them wot drive the landing craft), parts commonality with Spain, new hulls to last a while, great helo platforms, put roughly an entire EMF aboard. Two of them and two Bays at full war load will move just about all of 3 Commando Brigade themselves, especially when you add spare bits of space on a QE carrier. So then your carriers really are there to fly fast jets. Take the monies for T26 and get on with 2087 for all surviving T23s, and putting a full quota of weapons/vls/etc. on the T45s. Also getting at least two more T45s in the bargain. (Then you can assure one T45 for Armilla out on the strategic frontier, and availability of two more for a carrier group much of the time.) BAE wants to keep shipbuilding alive. Britain has great ship designers. Come up with a British-flavoured MEKO for the export market. Then the RN can buy in on an ASW hull arrangement when the T23s are truly knackered, at commercial prices, not “save our company and boost our stock valuation” prices.

With two real carriers, you can have bilateral agreements with the French and Dutch about rotation. Something like:
– QE battle group
– CdeG (later Richelieu once they flog CdeG to Brazil as a “bonus” with those subs) group
– PoW battle group
– Dutch ARG

Then you’re only requiring 50% full availability over a cycle from British carriers (with one worked up enough that you could push hard in the event of another Those Islands-like crisis.)

Next step, sod F35 early production runs. If it actually works, buy in when they get to E/F or so, once the Typhoons/Rafs/Hornets are all knackered. Show sense for once instead of currying status and favour. Either STOBAR the ships with Typhoon and live with rotary ASaC aboard Merlin (can be aboard the LHDs too, it’s an add-on kit so one could potentially generate numbers) or except the catapaults and buy in on Raf and Hawkeye. (I do like TMM’s buy from the boneyard suggestion on Hawkeyes.) Since in both cases there could be a different OCU arrangement, aim for 70 airframes. Three duty squadrons of 14 each (it seems an odd number, but the old Eagle/Ark Royal squadrons and the USN’s Tomcat squadrons were often in numbers of 14), another that would either “swing” for training or serve, and 2×14 of spares. With the lower stress on constant at-sea availability, you might even press to have two squadrons typically aboard at sea. Twenty-eight fast jets plus AEW and a bit of Wildcat perimeter ASW is plenty for most missions. In a heavy duty situation, one could either push 42 aboard your duty carrier, filling up the LHDs with helo assets (they can hold 20-24 plus full complement of green death and equipment), or Grand Fleet it with both carriers and 24-28 aboard each, rejiggering the squadrons as needed based on pilots and working frames.

What does that get you? Pretty well all the strategic effect you need. Plus it guarantees significant “buy-in” from the other two most significant Atlantic-oriented European nations, France and the Netherlands. Plus it means that, when the USN’s dire ship crunch hits in the 2020s, a new “five power” arrangement (Brits, Cloggies, Norse, Canucks, Danes) could face off and hold the Arctic line against Russian naval power with, perhaps, a small backing screen of American SSNs. (Unless the Russians get into a naval race their yards can’t hack.) Again, the irony is that for ships built in part to suck up to the Yanks, they can then give the UK leverage it hasn’t enjoyed in decades as the USN rearranges itself away from the north Atlantic to absorb ship shortfalls.

All of which is to say the QEs are worth it, and a fleet designed around
– them
– nuclear subs and
– MCM*
is likely to be much more strategic “use” to the UK than dozens of frigates on the wave.

* So, for another “impossible thing before breakfast” — ah, British optimism, makes me miss the old country so — I’d like to C3 learn from the Canadian Kingston-class and develop an MCMV sized to be capable of ocean-going patrol.

El Sid,

What you said at 0155Z, pretty well all of it. But especially the bits that the RAF are their own worst enemy arguing for total control of care-and-feeding on fast jets.

March 30, 2011 6:30 am


Dave-B is a dead bird walking. Even if they pull off the heroic feat of stopping the deck-melting thing, the sheer money pit it has been for the entire programme must end and soon or if they’re not careful the northern neighbour will start to lead the walk-out on the viable types (A and C) which have been grotesquely price-inflated on R&D and delays many of which relate to B. Plus like the F22, Dave-B is low hanging fruit for American congresscreatures of both parties, and for the USN (thought MoD was the only place with lethal inter-service politics? Tch.)

March 30, 2011 8:51 am

Good point, jackstaff,
” rotary ASaC aboard Merlin (can be aboard the LHDs too, it’s an add-on kit so one could potentially generate numbers)”
– as without those (or the rare carrier in tow)TD’s LOG would not be very survivable close to coasts … I did manage to say it without the word “littoral”!

March 30, 2011 8:59 am

But thats a legal obsticle, not a technological one, and as I said earlier, missiles like Storm Shadow already DO identify targets.
Ordering an unmanned drone to take off, fly to a pre set release point, and release a storm shadow is very simple.

Getting one to indentify an incoming fighter and shoot it down is harder of course, but no where near impossible.

March 30, 2011 10:06 am

Steve Coltman

“We are where we are. But where we are is in a dire financial crisis, and I mean the UK not just the MoD. Given this state of affairs we must make the best use of the assets we already have. On the one hand we saw the French and Italians flying antiques like the Crusaders and Starfighters well past their sell-by date but on the other hand we are doing the opposite – disposing of perfectly serviceable aircraft little more than half-way through their lives (Tornado F3) or even barely 6-7 years old (Tranche 1 Typhoons). Anyone who thinks this is acceptable is not living in the real world. There is no case for buying any new fast jets, full stop. The F-35 should be cancelled.”

I agree totally, at least to the sentiment of what you say. The carrier(s) will need some aircraft so I wouldn’t go as far as saying there is no case for buying any fast jets, just that they should be affordable fast jets. The RAF is more perplexing; they seem hell bent on getting the F35 on strength pretty much the same day the production line opens. The F35 will be in production for a long time. I cannot see why the RAF doesn’t fly their Tornados and Typhoons until their natural use by date sometime after 2025 and then re-equip. They are mortgaging their existence and proposing to spend a big chunk of tax-payer money several years earlier than it needs to be spent, simply to be first to get the next shiny toy.

March 30, 2011 10:50 am


I think you must be a lawyer or something. Is operating east of Suez ok well you may have missed it but we’ve east of Suez for the last 20 years. Indeed the point I was making was we have sent task group periodically to the far east since the withdrawal from Hong Kong. I have not once suggested operating a carrier permanently in the far east. I also suggested that should one day the UK be required to deploy fast jet to that region then due to the operating distances involved carriers would be a better option than land based jets with 30 air tankers we dont have.

Unless you wish the RN to turn into a coast guard force. It will need MARS wither we have carriers or not. Indeed only 1 MARS ship the task group support ship is specifically tied to the carrier group.


No they dont storm shadow had a programmed target and route it selects nothing for its self. And while thats fine for fixed targets what about normal bombs for radars that suddenly pop up or a tank or rocket launcher or a target of opportunity. Do you propose giving these UCAVs the ability to discriminate and attack them also. It is im sure possible but I hate to think of the cost. If you want a real world issue heres one UAVs cannot yet operate in conidtions which lead to ice build up on the wings to which there is currently no easy solution. UAVs have their place in any order of battle they where supposed to be a cheap and expendable asset to flesh out numbers for manned platforms not there replacement. With capabilities talked about here they will be as if not more expensive than any manned equivalent bar perhaps the B2 or a british acquired Nimrod.


Typhoon Tranche 1 and Tornado are due for decommission in 2020 and 2024. By which stage Typhoons will be nearly 20 and Tornado almost 40 years old. Not next week. Typhoon is complicated because all it really needs is a mid life update but due to the small numbers involves it will be expensive and the airframe will have used 2/3 to 3/4 of it life. F35 has already produced production standard aircraft they’re operating at Edwards Air Force Base

In the end its not if we need a carrier or not its about what it will cost to provide the same level of capability another way. A carrier with F35 offers the ability to operate anywhere in the world and hit any target or land troops up to 500-600 miles inland. Thats what 6b buys us for the next 40 years. How much will it cost for a land equivalent over the next 40 years to do the same? How much will access to foreign bases cost over the next 40 years if its less than 6b and you can guarantee their use now then lets get rid of the carriers.if there is any doubt then there is no doubt the carriers need building.

March 30, 2011 11:19 am

Hi RichardW,

RE ” I cannot see why the RAF doesn’t fly their Tornados and Typhoons until their natural use by date sometime after 2025 and then re-equip. They are mortgaging their existence and proposing to spend a big chunk of tax-payer money several years earlier than it needs to be spent”
– I quite agree (the Germans and Italians will)
– FAA and the Italian naval air arm are a different story, in my books (to have deployable aircraft, and as they will be few in numbers, true multi-role capability is a must)

March 30, 2011 11:37 am

Hi Mark,

RE ice build up that you point to in UAVs, yes a real-world problem, but the Northrop Grumman BAMS is cleared for conditions of moderate icing (how else could it stay on station over, say, the Atlantic).

Coming closer to us than one would guess (maybe this is the hint seen in the parliamentary answers; the named reporter writes for Shepheard Group, in this case 3 March 2011):

“the company was in talks with the UK in regards to BAMS possibly supporting the Royal Navy and said he was also expecting a ‘strategic update’ from the Australian Department of Defence next year, following their pull-out from the BAMS programme in 2008.

Andrew White, Melbourne”

El Sid
El Sid
March 30, 2011 12:57 pm

Oops, apologies .B., it was late – I was mostly thinking of Michael (Civ.)’s comments on Monday night, and a bit of Mark’s.

Just in general you two, you should be a bit sceptical of the lessons you draw from combat trials – so much depends on the exact circumstances. For instance, supposedly on one of the exercises between the USAF and India, the Mig-21 Bisons were regularly knocking down F-15’s and F-16’s. That doesn’t mean we should all go get glorified Fishbeds – but it does tell you something about how a BVR missile and DRFM-based ECM go a long way to make up for a Vietnam-era airframe.

I know DRFM doesn’t work against frequency-hopping radars (unless it’s really, really clever and/or you’ve obtained the enemy’s radar algorithms) but it’s another example of the A2A playing field being levelled. So the lesson is not that we should buy Fishbeds, but that
1)a radar needs to be frequency-agile to have a hope against even modest opponents in air-to-air these days (so strike out the AN/APG-65 on boneyard F/A-18C’s for instance) – and that
2) something like the Elta EL/L-8222 ECM pod would make a really nice parts-bin addition to any low-end aircraft you want to buy or design for export, like my fantasy buy of Goshawks to bulk out the CVF airwing.

On CVF AEW, I still think TD underestimates the advantages of fixed-wing AEW – I’d happily sacrifice F-35’s in order to get Hawkeye, they’re perhaps the best argument for going cats-n-traps. There’s certainly logic in getting boneyard Hawkeyes as an interim measure to get us in sync with the USN’s procurement cycles. I’m not sure what kind of life they have left in them though. I can’t help feeling that in a joined-up world we could have bought E-2D’s instead of JSTARS – AIUI the -2D has a lot of JSTARS-y capability, albeit without the range. Yes they’d spend the first part of their life in Afghanistan, and they’re probably not as good at being JSTARS, but I wonder if that wouldn’t be the more intelligent long-term solution.