The F35 Lightening II

A guest post from Chris.B

In the coming years the F-35 Lightning II is set to become the latest aircraft to take to the skies as a member of the British Armed Services. There have been few defence procurement projects however that have been as much maligned as the tale of this plane.

Ok, apart from maybe the Nimrod MR4A.

Yeah, and the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers.

I know, and the Daring-class, Type 45 Destroyers.

Ok I get your point. Alright then, the Lightning is just the latest in a long line of many much maligned defence procurement projects. But it’s fair to say that with the international nature of this project, the reach of its malignance is greater than any other project in the Western world. Like many of these projects, much of the blame is being thrown at the contractor; in this case the US company Lockheed Martin. But like many of these recent contracts, the problems often begin before the contractor is even involved in the process.

To set the background we have to leap all the way back to the late 60’s.

The Past

The United States Air Force (USAF) was planning for its future need for an air Superiority Fighter, the “F-X“ project. The original goal had been to build an aircraft similar to the F-4 Phantom, in that it would be a missile armed fighter with a powerful, long range radar. However experience in the air war over Vietnam and misinterpreted intelligence concerning the Russian Mig-25, NATO reporting name “Foxbat”, was to change all that.

The assumption of the preceding years had been that aircraft in the future would sweep the skies with their radar, find targets, lock them up and then shoot them down, all without ever coming into the kind of close contact that had been a feature of air-to-air combat in both World War Two and the air war over Korea. Such engagements came to be known as Beyond Visual Range (BVR) combat. However this assumption proved horribly wrong in the face of actual combat conditions as a culmination of problems tore down the theoretical model.

Primary among these was a cluttered air space full of incoming and outgoing friendly traffic which, combined with unreliable communications, lead to restrictive Rules of Engagement (ROE) that dictated that pilots must make visual confirmation of any potential target before it could be fired upon. The whole concept of BVR combat was “shot down” from the start.

What followed were deadly struggles in the skies; with aircraft rolling, turning, climbing and diving in a fatal ballet. Pilot skill, training and situational awareness were key ingredients, but so were the aircraft themselves. The clunky F-4’s proved ill at home in such a close quarters environment, being too heavy and subsequently lacking agility.

This fact was recognised by USAF Pilot and engineering graduate Colonel John Boyd. Along with mathematician Thomas Christie he created the theory of Energy-Manoeuvrability with which to model the performance of combat aircraft in terms of their thrust, weight, drag, wing loading and other characteristics. They shared their theory with other notable individuals in the defence sector, including Pierre Sprey, who would go on to play a major part in the highly successful A-X project which eventually produced the magnificent A-10 Thunderbolt.

The close-knit advocacy group that was formed would eventually come to be known as the “Fighter Mafia”.

They were asked to re-evaluate the USAF F-X project in the context of their theory of Energy-Manoeuvrability, and in light of the intelligence regarding the new Russian “Foxbat” fighter. Pictures had been acquired that suggested the Foxbat, with it’s large tail surfaces and vertical fins, would be a highly manoeuvrable combat aircraft. It wasn’t understood at the time that the Foxbat was actually designed to be a high altitude, high speed interceptor, and that the design of its tail was necessary to avoid an often lethal phenomenon known as “Inertia Coupling” that occurred in the distinct high-end performance envelope for which the Foxbat was designed.

The ultimate fruit of the F-X project was the F-15 Eagle; a twin engined fighter with thrust in excess of its now than lower previously envisioned weight, with a low wing loading (weight vs. lift producing surface area) and yet still with powerful radar. But even then Colonel Boyd and the Fighter Mafia were not satisfied. They believed that an aircraft could be built that matched their design goals even closer and that would cost less than the reasonably expensive F-15. Thus the Lightweight Fighter Program (LFP) was born.

It was argued that the LFP would produce a much cheaper, more numerous aircraft, which naturally appealed to politicians. The idea was that the F-15 would make up the high end of the USAF’s capability spectrum, while the new LWF filled a slightly lesser role. The program eventually singled out two designs; the General Dynamics YF-16 and the Northrop – later McDonnell Douglas (and now Boeing) – YF-17. The YF-17 would go on to become the F/A-18 Hornet for the navy, whilst the YF-16 would become simply the F-16 Fighting Falcon for the USAF. (good background here)

Everything about the Falcon was what you would expect from a cheaper, low end aircraft. Built largely from aluminium alloys (over two-thirds), with some steel and a few composites, plus a dash of Titanium, the F-16 was lighter and cheaper to build. To save money on production and to introduce some maintenance commonality to the USAF fast jet fleet, it used a slight variation of the F-15’s engine. The radar was smaller and slightly less capable, but adequate for the job. The F-16 may not have been a match for the F-15 performance wise, but then it was never supposed to be.

It’s at this point that we now finally fast forward back to the present. Well…

Actually we need to stop off briefly in 1981 as the USAF has just issued its Advanced Tactical Fighter requirement. Ten years later this would produce the F-22. A year after that the USAF and the United States Marine Corps (USMC) would formally agree to jointly develop the Common Affordable Lightweight Fighter (CALF), which would eventually become? You guessed it, the F-35.

The Present

It’s at this point that the story more or less catches up with the present, but sadly the protagonists detach themselves from reality. The idea of building an aircraft that was capable of Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) to replace the USMC’s fleet of AV-8B Harriers – but could also be modified slightly to replace the USAF’s F-16 fleet – should have been killed off with a swift blow to the back of the head, like a poorly Russian hamster that was then returned to its cage so the children could wake up the next morning and believe that it had passed away peacefully in its sleep  (My Dad. A pair of pliers. Years of secrecy. That’s all I’m saying).

The combining of the words “affordable”, “STOVL” and “modified” into one sentence should have been enough to throw up alarm bells left, right and centre. It should have been apparent from the very start that designing a replacement for a technically challenging aircraft like the Harrier would have added a significant (and expensive) development cycle to the whole project, one which was supposed to be producing a low cost partner to the new F-22.

As time went by, namely a year, it was also decided to add the Navy into the program by designing a carrier capable version that could be launched and recovered using the Navies standard Catapult Assisted Take Off, But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) system. Another type. More development work. More cost. All that was needed now was an additional expectation for the aircraft to replace the A-10, have an advanced radar, to achieve “sensor fusion” as part of the “Network Centric Warfare (NCW)” capability of the US armed services, and to also leverage Low Observable (LO) design techniques from the F-22 and the cost could really go shooting through the roof…


Remember at the start I was talking about how these kind of projects often go awry before the contractor even gets involved? Well here we are. Sitting in front of us now is a design specification to build an aircraft that will;

a) Replace the AV-8B Harrier in USMC service,

b) Replace the F-16 in USAF service,

c) Replace the early model F/A-18 Hornet’s in United States Navy (USN) service,

d) Replace the A-10 Thunderbolt in USAF service,

e) Incorporate the latest advances in LO “Stealth” technology,

f) Incorporate an advanced Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar,

g) Incorporate advanced sensor fusion capabilities,

h) Cost approximately $50 million per plane.


Sorry, say that last one again?

h) Cost approximately $50 million per plane.


Starting to see the problem? It’s one that comes up commonly in military procurement projects, with the MoD being particularly prone to this issue. It’s akin to walking into a Michelin star restaurant and ordering the Beef Wellington, then expecting that it will be delivered in the time it takes McDonalds to produce what they call “a Hamburger” and for the same price. Nobody in their right mind would look at this example and believe that it was the fault of the restaurant for failing to deliver on time and on budget. You would simply laugh at the fool who ordered the meal for their wildly inappropriate expectations.

And yet this is where we find ourselves now, trying to build a Rolls-Royce on the budget for a Datsun.

Now to be fair, at least some attempt has been made to keep down the cost of the engines by recycling the engine from the F-22. Which might have worked if it wasn’t for the modifications designed to extract an additional 5,000 pounds of thrust. And of course, the whole lift fan thing.

But never fear. At least a saving can be leveraged on the radar. After all, in order to save cash and increase commonality you can simply use the same AESA in the F-35 as was used in the F-22 or even the unit designed for the F/A-18 E/F? Right? What about the unit from the newer versions of the F-16? I mean, isn’t that the aircraft that the F-35 is planned to replace? So a comparable radar would work right?

What? Sorry? Did you just say no? You want to build a completely brand new radar, one that will surpass even that of the F-22? Erm, but doesn’t that defeat the whole point of the F-35, to essentially design and produce a lower cost, numerically superior version of the F-22?

Am I the only one that finds this odd? Should I stop using question marks now? I think I should, poor key is taking a hammering. Anyway, so now here we are. Staring down the barrel of the worlds most expensive “cheap” combat aircraft. In time it’s expected that cost savings will be made as aircraft production is ramped up and new efficiencies can be found in the manufacturing process.

But as it stands, we’re looking at anywhere between $100-120 million per jet, depending on which source you use, which source you believe, which day of the week it is, and which phase the moon happens to be in at the time.

The question then becomes, will it be worth it?

The Future?

I should point out before we begin that I am not, NOT, an F-35 fan boy. I have an interest only in trying to find out which is the right aircraft for the United Kingdom (which I prefer to “Great Britain” because it sounds more regal and I’m a staunch Royalist).

The reason I mention this is because I want to try and tackle the F-35 debate in a sensible manner, which I fear doesn’t happen very often. People who have issues against the F-35 will always find some contrived – and sometimes downright ludicrous – argument against it.

Personally I believe in free and open democracy (and Royalty), but for that to work people need to be given the facts.

Spurious claims and baseless speculation serve only to distort the true argument and to cloak important issues in a veil of suspicion, conspiracy, mistrust and disinformation.

Take the most common argument for instance, in one of it‘s many forms;

“Two F-35’s against six Typhoon’s equals both F-35’s going down in flames!”

Or words to that effect. The question that should immediately come to your lips is this; “under what circumstances are we expecting to find two Lightning’s up against 6 Typhoons?”

Now you can interchange the word “Typhoon” with “Flanker”, “Fulcrum” or what ever your personal choice of aircraft is, but let’s be real here. Fighter aircraft do not go up and fly around in 6 ship blobs. Bombers maybe. But fighter aircraft? And if there’s six incoming fighters on the radar, why are there only two Lightning’s going up in response? What are the rest of them doing? Who put Mr. Bean in charge of the QRA?

Fantasy flights aside, what about the “Stealth” features and avionics?

Well avionics is one that has come up quite a bit lately. The big criticism I see at the minute is the field of view, which apparently is limited to 120 degrees in the forward arc, compared to the wider fields of other modern, mechanically scanned systems. What I find most amusing about this argument is that 120 degrees is by no means a meagre range.

Just think about it practically for a second. Even better, get a protractor and show yourself what 60 degrees off either side of your centre line looks like. Now imagine that field of view stretching off into the distance over a hundred kilometres. That’s a fairly sizable amount of sky that can be covered just by one aircraft. I’d imagine also that if they were on a patrol they’d be doing more than simply flying in a straight line all day.

Of course my favourite argument is when the subject of Airborne Warning And Control Systems (AWACS) comes up. It seems that when a debate of “F-35 vs. …” arises, every country in the world suddenly possess this fearsome AWACS capability, except presumably the country that is operating the F-35, at which point all friendly AWACS aircraft slink off into the clouds never to be seen or heard from again. While our enemies enjoy unrestricted use of their support assets for remote targeting, the F-35’s are left to go it alone, which to me is just not cricket.

Then we have the weapons issue. People scream blue murder at the top of their voices about the fact that an F-35 can only hold four air-to-air weapons in it’s internal bay, meanwhile the skies are roaming with hostile aircraft carrying at least 8 each. When any has the temerity to suggest that the F-35 could carry external weapons to, we’re told that this “compromises the stealth characteristics”.

The trouble with this argument is simple; the term “compromises” is often confused with “turns it into a Boeing 747”. For some reason nobody stops to ask how big the Typhoon carrying 8 weapons externally would appear on radar compared to an F-35 carrying four weapons externally and four internally. Yes it would lose some of its stealth characteristics, but it would still fundamentally be a difficult aircraft to detect and track on radar.

Remember at this point that there is a difference between “we can see it on radar” and “we know what it is and can shoot at it”. The F-35 in air-to-air configuration is likely to be able to successfully detect, track, target and engage the Typhoon before the opposite occurs.

All this is of course a rather mute point. In modern warfare most enemy radar will be gouged from the Earth by cruise missile strikes. Aircraft hangars and runways are sure to follow next. But at least the F-35 can play a role in this, delivering (so we’re told) two Storm Shadows along the way, with the potential to then carry on into enemy airspace carrying bombs to prosecute additional targets. I’ll wait to see it before I get all excited though.

The only knock I have (other than cost) against the F-35 is the nature of it’s LO design. What I’m getting at is the fact that it’s based on materials technology coupled to design technology. As soon as someone cracks the DaLowObservable code, what your left with is an aircraft made up of certain design compromises that is now largely pointless.

One answer might be the “Barnaby-Smythe Sweep”, or as it’s known outside of the few Think Defence commenter’s who happened to see that particular discussion; Multi-Static Radar. It should be pointed out here that Bi-Static radar is the use of one radar to transmit a signal and a second to receive it (“Bi” meaning two, “static” meaning, uhm, static). Multi-static radar involves the use of multiple transmitters and receivers.

The idea is to take advantage of how one part of the design of LO aircraft works; deflecting as much radar energy away from the point of origin as possible. Naturally that energy has to go somewhere, such is the laws of physics. So if you can manoeuvre a second radar into position to receive some of those deflected energy waves, then we’re in business.

This could take the form of two aircraft, or pairs of aircraft, at opposite ends of a patrol area. They would then turn to roughly face each other and switch on their radars. One aircraft transmit’s a pulse (Barnaby) while the other at the opposite end listens in for the return (Smythe).

With the advent of modern AESA radar that can tune their aerials to different frequencies, it’s entirely possible that both aircraft could be transmitting and receiving simultaneously. Or – even clever-erer-erer – you could have an AWACS aircraft sending out a powerful signal (Barnaby), and several fighter aircraft listing for the return (Smythe). As long as they’re not F-35’s or F-22’s themselves of course, in which case there would be no AWACS available.


The Joint Strike Fighter program has – unfortunately like so many other projects – suffered from being poorly planned, poorly conceived, poorly budgeted, and from a not inconsiderable amount of lies, damned lies, and poorly researched statistics. If you honestly believe this program will not go ahead now then there is probably something wrong with you. But chin up my friends. The F-35 is not as bad as the haters make out. It may not be the silver bullet that its mouth-foaming supporters would have you believe, but it’s not a bad bit of kit overall.

And look on the bright side, as the colonialist’s might say “it’s going to make a kick-ass Airfix model!”




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April 11, 2011 8:04 pm

capital article.

April 11, 2011 8:19 pm

excellent article Chris, my thanks.

April 11, 2011 8:33 pm

Very good piece. I’m just not convinced that Britain is ever going to have to fly a lot of deep strike stealthy missions or get in massive air superiority battles with an enemy whose airfields could not already be suppressed at a distance by tomahawks and/or stealthy drones.

And by spending so much on the F-35s, we won’t have enough aircraft to do all the other essential jobs, not least troop lift, low-grade ground attack, observation drones etc.

It would be great to see a table some day on this site that tabulates all the different classes of aircraft and their costs according to these criteria (someone posted a link to it here before);

1. Recurring Flyaway
2. Flyaway Cost
3. Weapon System Cost
4. Procurement Cost
5. Acquisition Cost
6. Lifecycle Cost
7. Total Ownership Cost

Why not just postpone buying F-35s for 10 years to the late 2020s, by when we’ll be richer and the aircraft cheaper with a lot of the kinks ironed out?

I just don’t buy the argument that the reason to start procuring now the F-35 is because the Americans want us to.

April 11, 2011 8:39 pm

Hi Chris thanks for the post

The F-35 in air-to-air configuration is likely to be able to successfully detect, track, target and engage the Typhoon before the opposite occurs.

Yes.. but!
When the F35 opens its bomb bay it reveals itself as a not so stealthy target and it can then vulnerable to a response, firing first will not be popular if it guarantees an inbound missile that is hard for the not so manoeuvrable F35 to avoid. It also has the problem of its “butterfly” radar signature .. great when attacking but not so good on turning or departing (when IR gets a lookin).

However, let’s presume that F35 is not to be judged by air to air capability, that it does not claim, but for its role as a replacement F16, it is a great improvement and as you indicate it will not often meet a wealth of opposing AWACS. It will have a greatly improved performance against high levels of SAM defences and that is what we want from an F16 replacement.

What worries me is that that is not the current situation, but that F35 needs to earn its cost price for a protracted period of time, the one thing I think they have got wrong is the non stealthy release of munitions, it means that for a brief period the F35 loses its stealth and gives a general bearing away.

Even after it has reassumed a stealthy configuration it will be vulnerable to newer missiles that have been despatched to its “last known position” and have sensors that can pick it up through IR, electro optics etc, remember these do not need to be on the missile, they can be from other assets and sent by data link. Also for missiles such as meteor there is the butterfly effect to aid F35 detection.

If F35 is to meet its future roles with competence, I believe that LM will have to invest in a technology such as a soft launch from tubes to allow F35 to dispense munitions while remaining in a stealth mode, when they produce that fix, I will have much more confidence in its future.

Until then, I reckon that…. F35 should have been a great example of a new and heavily computerised development phase followed by a long run production run that combined to produce radical new costings.

but a) it didn’t and b) it won’t now get that chance since the DOD have grabbed control of the schedule.

If F35 is to have value it must be able to press home attacks against both heavily defended air and ground , at the moment I’m not sure it has that ability and I think that’s why the air to air scenarios keep popping up.

John Hartley
John Hartley
April 11, 2011 8:45 pm

Got out my Observers book of Aircraft from 1975. Has the mock up of the Rockwell XFV-12A. Was designed for the aborted Sea Control ship. Supersonic V/STOL fighter. Shame it was never built. Imagine that flying off Invincible in 1982.
Moving on, I seem to remember a Stealth, 2 seat , swing wing, CTOL strike fighter, circa early 90s. That never got built either. Would have been a great RAF Tornado replacement.
F-35 is several projects rammed together. So the inevitable compromises.
For the UK, the F-35C is a good shipboard strike asset, but I have doubts about it as a dogfighter. Either Seaphoon or the STOVL F-35B might be better air defence of the fleet fighters.
Some see the F-35C as an RAF Tornado replacement, but it lacks range & warload. The USAF Regional Bomber would be far better.

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
April 11, 2011 9:13 pm

@ Chris B. – Excellent article (and quite ammusing!). It strikes me the idea of having one aircraft, 3 variants was obviously too ambitious from the start. There should have been one aircraft to rule them all. I think it should have been STOVL but I’m completely biased! If not STOVL then a carrier-capable aircraft. Carrier aircraft can be used from land bases with ease (robust, better maintanence?) but land aircraft can’t operate from carriers (with the exceptioon of STOVL) and it would be useful for the USMC as well as the USN; the airforce would have been unhappy with the reduced dog-fighting specs but they have a air-superiority fighter to act as enabler, this aircraft is essentially a “mud-mover” with fighter as a secondary role.

Peter Arundel
Peter Arundel
April 11, 2011 9:17 pm

I think that the air-to-air arguments, Typhoon vs. Dave are a bit of a red herring. Any F-35 that searches for a Typhoon with it’s radar is going to get a Meteor in the face – and vice-versa. The question for me is if Dave is a necessary, cost efficient attack aircraft.
I think not. Not because it’s in any way bad just because too much has been sacrificed on the twin altars of stealth which looks increasingly like a technology that will be made obsolescent quite quickly and supersonic performance which in a ground attack platform is unnecessary. Typhoon just seems more versatile to me.

The following is irrelevent but I need to say it!
The other problem I have with Dave is that the STOVL version has killed any british Harrier replacement projects stone dead. The Harrier has been good for the UK and a new generation Harrier based on a new vectored thrust engine and using flight control systems pioneered in the VAAC Harrier would have been exportable to many navies operating small carriers. It would also have allowed the UK to keep on operating 3 small carriers itself . . .

April 11, 2011 9:21 pm

Great Article

I Don’t think the F35 is a bad aircraft as such. Just really expensive, (at least twice the original quoted price; and I am not sure it’s real world capabilities will make it that much better than what came before.

Peter Arundel
Peter Arundel
April 11, 2011 9:22 pm

The main problem with the Rockwell XFV-12A is it didn’t work . . .

April 11, 2011 9:24 pm


Excellent balanced article on F35 for a change. First ive read on the net.

As I mentioned on the other thread LO technology will allow fighters in 10-15 times to enjoy the same advantage over enemy air defences as non stealthy ones do today. If an enemy is advanced enough to detect all the LO aircraft in the sky then there is a fair chance that he can disrupt the satellite communications required for UCAVs.


The doors open for a short time and are designed to maintain the RCS as much as possible not perfect but nothing ever is.

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
April 11, 2011 9:24 pm

@ John – I agree. The FAA (or naval RAF, whatever…) needs a air-defence/superiority for the Fleet and expeditionary ops. Would a good combo be Sea Typhoon/F-35B? Both could use the Ski-jump and while designed for different missions could ‘sub’ for each other. Now if the RAF had Typhoon/F-35B as well, we would have a 2 aircraft fleet across both RAF/FAA. Sorry, Fantasy fleeting again…

13th spitfire
April 11, 2011 9:28 pm

Cracking Piece!

April 11, 2011 9:48 pm

Congratulations, a good article with good info and points on which i largely agree.

As to “Not sure how the B will outperform the C in air-to-air, being heavier and thus a lower thrust to weight ratio and higher wing loading.”

F35B is the worst-performing variant.
The F35A has a bit of a maneuverability advantage on the other two variants, evident also by the 9G limit against the 7.5G for F35C and 7G for F35B. They probably meant F35A and typed uncorrectly or something.


“It would also have allowed the UK to keep on operating 3 small carriers itself . . .”

I keep thinking that this is not effective a way to go at it. With Cavour costing a billion euros just for manufacture, savings would not be substantial, especially because the hard truth is that 3 Cavours pretty much can’t do the job of 1 CVF even working all together (which would never happen).

The only thing i can observe is that if the Royal Navy had imagined that Ocean would not be replaced, it would have probably tried to design something like a Wasp class LHD ship instead of the current CVF. Considering that we have lost a Bay and Ocean won’t be replaced, a couple of LHDs of that type would be a formidable power tool.

Note that i say Wasp (with well deck and all the amphibious features) and not America class!

But considering all the possibilities offered by CVF and recognizing that when the programme started no one could imagine things would have, in time, turned so complex with defence funding, i can’t honestly blame the MOD for the choices made.

April 11, 2011 9:55 pm

Re the disappearing AWACS scenario

Proponants/opponants of any weapons system are prone to fantasy engagement scenario, (been accused of it myself over CVF). By this means you can ‘proove’ the superiority/ inferiority of your chosen weapons systems.

In reality in order to have any idea of how a system will perform in reality, requires intensive modeling, excercises, and meta analysis, to get even close, by the large scale customers of the system. Even then they get it wrong.

(In fact the phantom given it was in effect way out of it’s design criteria did rather well in the far east).

It does not help that companies and customers both often collude to hide the ‘wrong’ results.

Re the resetn excercises when US invasion fleet wiped out by suicide attacks from small boats on first day.

Umpires ruled it never happened and carried on to the ‘right’ result.

The Chinese submarine incident and the performance of the swedish sub v carrier group, excercises, were other examples.

SO honestly I have no Idea How good the F35 is and frankly no one else does either, even the people that build it and will fly it.

BUT Some of the claims for it smack of hype.

Peter Arundel
Peter Arundel
April 11, 2011 10:08 pm

“The only thing i can observe is that if the Royal Navy had imagined that Ocean would not be replaced, it would have probably tried to design something like a Wasp class LHD ship instead of the current CVF.”

Well that’s what I’d like to see – but we’re back to fantasy fleets/ships so ’nuff said . . .

Phil Darley
April 11, 2011 10:08 pm

Arundel 9:17 pm

I think that the air-to-air arguments, Typhoon vs. Dave are a bit of a red herring. Any F-35 that searches for a Typhoon with it’s radar is going to get a Meteor in the face – and vice-versa. The question for me is if Dave is a necessary, cost efficient attack aircraft.
I think not. Not because it’s in any way bad just because too much has been sacrificed on the twin altars of stealth which looks increasingly like a technology that will be made obsolescent quite quickly and supersonic performance which in a ground attack platform is unnecessary. Typhoon just seems more versatile to me.

The following is irrelevent but I need to say it!
The other problem I have with Dave is that the STOVL version has killed any british Harrier replacement projects stone dead. The Harrier has been good for the UK and a new generation Harrier based on a new vectored thrust engine and using flight control systems pioneered in the VAAC Harrier would have been exportable to many navies operating small carriers. It would also have allowed the UK to keep on operating 3 small carriers itself . . .

Peter couldn’t have put it better myself. I have suggested mant times we need a 21st Century version of the Harrier. I do not see the F35B ever goinmg in to full production.

As for the Typhoon, its a superb aircraft, it just needs to be fully developed and bought in large enough numbers. 107 is simply too few.

As much as I would love to see a SeaPhoon I don’t ever see it happening, but a Anglisised Rafale would be a good fit. That won’t happen either, but maybe a few Rafale’s to compliment the F35C and provide a decent A2A capability

John Hartley
John Hartley
April 11, 2011 10:16 pm

In rough weather, a STOVL aircraft can operate, when CTOL are stuck in the hangar.
First rule of dogfighting, have a fighter to take to the dogfight.
Thrust vectoring may give Seaphoon, similar capabilities, maybe.

April 11, 2011 10:23 pm

Well written Mr Chris B :-)

F35 -> “technological jack of all trades, and master of &%*$ all” …..

April 12, 2011 2:02 am

Hi Chris B.

Back home now, so more time to re-read and comment. Please take this as constructive criticism from a fellow author of articles – you rambled a tincy wincy bit, and contradict your self once or twice by quoting other people’s silly comments about stealth and air to air performance, but then trashing it yourself. However you get away with it all because of the nice tongue in cheek style :-)

So, don’t get me wrong, not being a downer – “BZ with a time”.

The biggest overall issue with the F35 for me is COST. Programme cost, unit price cost and potential through life cost.

It is indeed a highly compromised design, and while super-manouverability may not be required in the air to air role, it is an attack aircraft first and foremost because a primary design drivers were:

1. Replace USN A6 because A12 never got built – hence the “first day of the war” LO capability

2. Build a supersonic Harrier replacement for the USMC – why does a mud mover need supercruise ? Well to get through MEZ quickly at medium altitude, but if it’s down “Close” air support to the grunts, won’t it need to come down into the weeds at some point ?

3. To replace the F16 – an aircraft originally built as a light weight super agile day fighter which has morphed into a multi-role strike, CAS, SEAD and Recce (and NT-ISTAR) aircraft…..

No wonder it’s expensive then ! But now the problem is we have to pay a lot for an aircraft that is undoubtedly (?) going to be a good, erm, well I am sure it’s going to be really good at something. Probably that LO “first day of the war” strike thing – you know, when it only carry two internal 2000LB JDAM’s, but hey that’s pretty good right, two guided bomb’s (as long as GPS is not being jammed). Given what this plane costs, and that to operate in stealthy mode is to carry two big, or 8 small “guided” bombs, which don’t have a IR or TV seeker head, and the plane can’t hang around to “sparkle” the target with a laser – might it not be cheaper to send to Storm Shadow or TacTom instead ???

I know, I know, its going to have absolutely marvelous sensors and sensor fusion, not to mention the biggest frak-off display ever fitted in a cockpit ! All of which could be fitted to an F16/F15/F18/F22/Typhoon/Rafale/Gripen…. airframe. OK, maybe not all of it, as I am not sure as to the power and cooling requirements, but seriously the big deal with the F35 is integrating all this into a LO airframe – but hang on, did Chris already mention the fact that stealth is not “invisibility” ! I don’t see a lot in the way of IR shielding around the nozzle for that very big engine…..

Anyway, back to my point, before Solomon from SNAFU finds out where I live and comes to “convince” me. The F35 may turn out to be excellent in service. However I don’t think it will ever pass the cost benefit analysis for a nation without the US defence budget. There are obvious cases like Israel for whom the LO strike capability (backed up by existing SEAD / DEAD capabilities) will mean they will spend the money whatever.

Personally I think the UK should have withdrawn from the programme as soon as the US reneged on its contractual obligation as to software source code. However even if we ignore that, I don’t see how the F35 passes the cost benefit analysis for the UK. More investment in Typhoon, more TacTom for the subs, reliability and other improvements (?) to Storm Shadow, and maybe its brother SCALP-N for the surface fleet, dual role DEAD Meteor version etc.

Even more so I completely fail to see how the F35 passes muster on cost for my adopted homeland of Canada.

For both nations there are more versatile options, that may have shorter or longer range, no LO, less sensor fusion out of the box, blah blah blah, but also cost considerably less, and may in the future gain 75% or more of avionics capabilities for way less outlay.

If you really want to hedge your bets, just do one someone said above, wait 15 years and buy the Mark 2 when we know more about it (and the price has dropped?).

April 12, 2011 10:20 am

I think my view is that the future models of the USAF arent so much bad as, wrong.

The F22 has lost the qualititive advantage the F15 had. Yes, its still the worlds best dog fighter, but its advantage over the Typhoon/Rafel is much lower than the F15s advantage over the Tornado/Mirage.

The F35 has lost the cost advantage the F16 had, the F35 is “good enough”, but it isnt cheap enough, actualy its too good and too expensive.

Without setting up silly games, one wonders how many F16s an F15 could beat, and how many F35s an F22 will beat.

It was always my understanding the F15/F22 was supposed to throw up an air supremacy umbrella, and under the umbrella, the A10/F16/F/A18 ran riot.
The F22 has lost much of its capability to enforce a no fly zone, losing two of three radars is likely to be seen as a huge mistake.

The F35 is then expected to be “more capable” of operating without the air dominance umbrella, which immediatly harms the other operations.

Would a B carrying 6 Brimstones be a poor CAS asset?
I dont think so.
Fitting them internaly should be easy, probably more with a bit of thinking.
And if you ditch the internal only stowage, well, you get a lot more bang.

April 12, 2011 11:01 am

I think Jeds point Re laser designator was that although the F35 has one, it cant hover over a disputed battlefield without eating a manpad.

If it wasnt, then I’d like to make that point….

Dangerous Dave
Dangerous Dave
April 12, 2011 11:32 am

Hartley: 11/04

I see your Rockwell XFV-12A and raise you the Hawker P.1154 (! A supersonic Harrier that was actually developed *before* the Harrier.

What killed it was Dassault “winning” a european light Strike aircraft competition (NMBR3), and the RAF and RN not being able to agree on a common (or at least interchangeable) platform. (The usual suspects then!)

April 12, 2011 11:39 am

Hi Chris B,

So well written… I, also, almost rushed to my Observer’s books (but then I remembered when I bought them ,so no point).

RE “Newer models of the F/A-18 and F-16 are running up bills close to the F-35 but without some of the fancy features.”
– exactly, even though I am fascinated by the F-16J
– they are gap fillers (for the major nations, at least)

The new “Silent Eagle” looks like it will cost as much as the F-35 per unit.
– E & K etc, they are absolutely great, but they are mainly selling to places that feel they can’t wait (without checking: Israel, S. Korea)
– so availability trumps price/ affordability

Dangerous Dave
Dangerous Dave
April 12, 2011 11:48 am

P.S. Why can’t the Americans spell Lightning any more?

Lightening means “to make lighter”, Lightning is a force of nature.

Just saying.

April 12, 2011 12:20 pm

How many have been used in contested airspace?

You can swan around and lase targets all night when your enemy doesnt have radar or did have radar till you blew it up.

The SDB was supposed to be lobbed via cruise missile at tank formations.
Not dropped from fighters.

The F35 could drop it on a Taliban Air Defence Team, but would it have much luck on a couple of Rapier batteries?
Or even just dug in infantry with Starburst/Starstreak?

The same does of course apply to Typhoon, which is why I tend to use Brimstone as my “go to” weapon, rather than anything the aircraft needs to lead in.

April 12, 2011 12:44 pm

I think I should write an article about the old Lightning, about missed chances by delaying even minor capability improvements and the failure to penetrate a ready market then soaked up by Mirage III, F-104 and F-4.

Instead, they bought the F-4 Phantom, a bad dog-fighter getting it’s arse kicked in Vietnam by aircraft belonging to a prior generation. And their secret desire was the F-102/106 delta with it’s automated electronics suite, which were equally mopped up.

Ouch… too much parallels.

This would maybe even make us more sanguine about the ‘current lot at whitehall’, whose ‘performance’ is not even close to Duncan Sandys 1957 white paper, or to Labours failed nationalization schemes.

Hartley re. XFV-12A
It was built, but it didn’t work due to the fact, that the needed thrust-weight ratio (1.5) was not even closely available (they reached 1.3 at full thrust).

April 12, 2011 1:46 pm

No, I’m saying no fighter is going to be using laser designators in a high threat environment.

I didnt specificaly include all fighters, I should have.

Its my understanding that a laser designator from an aircraft, or indeed anything, shows up on NVG like a christmas tree.
Anything hanging around to guide its bonmbs onto target with a laser is screaming “shoot me, shoot me” and will be obliged by anyone with manpads and NVGs

If my SUVATs are right, its going to take at least a minute for a weapon dropped from 20,000m to hit the target.

It was more a shot at laser guided bombs than the F35, although if the F35 is more reliant on them for effects, the it is going to suffer more.

Its why I tend to use brimstone as my “go to” example weapon.

Brian Black
Brian Black
April 12, 2011 2:16 pm

I support the conclusion to the article; the F35 has come in for a lot of stick but it will be a good bit of kit – not perfect, but then no aircraft ever will be.
Regarding Seaphoon rearing its ugly head in the comments again. It’s not going to happen. It’s a solution to an entirely British problem, but we aren’t going to pay for its development. You may point at India as a potential source of funding, but in reallity their apparent interest in a naval Typhoon was just a case of them looking at all available options. Won’t ever happen – and that comes with my hat-eating gaurantee.

As for Bravo, as mentioned above it killed off any chance of a next gen Harrier, or any other alternative; and there won’t be another STOVL programme unless and until F35B development is terminated. I’m not as pessimistic about the B as some above though; I think it has passed the point of termination/survival and will come into being, and once here there just won’t be the STOVL market to develop anything else. Versions might even end up out living A and C.

April 12, 2011 2:23 pm

Brimstone: dual mode, not dependent on laser only
… but a side track in the F-35 discussion

Until it is in service in large numbers [that being the intended New Generation Bomber 2018,now the earliest 7 years later and in numbers (175) halved from the original thinking]… this is the USA, but so many references are made to the “concept” rather than specified aircraft that I have to mention it as a preamble.

The only aircraft types in the [US!] arsenal that will be capable of penetrating, suppressing and destroying state of the art peer opponent’s IADSs are – the B-2A Spirit and the F-22A Raptor.

The latter can do a strike on its own, but in the very early days would be an A2A capable escort for the very few (in available numbers) B-2bombers.

Luckily, there are only two such (v unlikely!) prospects today: China and Russia. The latter decided NOT to sell such IADS components to Iran (Venezuela is getting some, but heyy, let’s let Brazil and and Columbia worry about that.

April 12, 2011 2:28 pm

Forgot the count of nations now pledging air assets to the Libya campaign, and getting F-35 in due course: UK, Italy, NL, Norway…
… with another 5 years, Libyan air defences would have been upgraded to the IADS state of the art level, and the three B-2s would have needed a lot of F-35s to work with them/ after them.

April 12, 2011 2:36 pm

The problem with that list of requirements is that as far as I can see, there are two aircraft in it at least – one to replace the relatively similar (grown from the same rootstock) F16 and F/A18, and one to replace the A-10 and AV8, which aren’t at all similar but do have a common role. There’s nothing much in common between an F16 and an A10. They should have done two aircraft.

Given the nature of the USMC (and allied) requirements, the solution in that one would have to be more like a Harrier than an A10 – easier to port the A10’s electronics, sensors, and weapons to a STOVL airframe than port STOVL into an A10. So half the solution would have ended up being Harrier III, if it wasn’t a new airframe with similar parameters. And of course BAe did some studies of H III in the 80s – I remember John Farley presenting a slide from one of them.

It was a huge mistake not to do this. BAe should have built a demonstrator way back when in order to help everyone clarify their thinking. It could have been the biggest export hit since the original Harrier.

April 12, 2011 2:40 pm

Chris B and DomJ

You open an interesting can of worms ref survivability and CONOPS. My point was indeed that if that in a high threat environment, an F35 dwells a minute or two at medium altitude to ‘sparkle’ it’s target, because it has no other precision guided munition available other than LGB (i.e. no IR, TV or MMW) then it is not ‘stealthy’ enough to survive, but then in a hight threat environment, what is ?

The US CONOPS has for some time been based on what Dom suggested; Air Dominance and SEAD/DEAD. Operating at medium altitude, LO and super-cruise come to the fore, making the window of vulnerability for a given system smaller, as the aircraft presents a harder target and moves swiftly through the MEZ. This is backed up by SEAD in the form of stand off jamming (F18G), decoys (TALD, i-TALD) and cyber attacks, plus kinetic DEAD in the form of HARM, it’s replacement and other weapons.

Contrast this to to what was RAF CONOPS for a high threat environment – tree hugging ! Not expensive LO, but very low altitude high speed flight, using terrain features to mask the attacking aircraft and with each attacker carrying a couple of multi-mode ALARM anti-radiation missiles to fire at targets of opportunity in the “organic SEAD’ role.

These CONOPS or tactics are not mutually exclusive. Just because the Tornado did not do well against high levels of AAA in its anti-airfield role in the GW1, this does not make low level attacks in the face of heavy SAM threats obsolete. In GW2 and Libya we saw activity to degrade the integrated air defence system before letting the CAS / attack assets ‘roam free’. In Afghanistan everyone bimbles around at altitudes above those accessible to MANPADS and gets a good view of whats going on out of the cockpit and via their Sniper pod.

So we must be careful not to reduce very very complex scenarios down to a level of simplicity that our arguments loose all meaning.

Chris B – ref cost; Ask the Canadian Conservative government about the real cost of F35A as it is right now. Data provided in parliament suggests Israel’s early commitment to the F35A is giving a unit cost of 144 million including engines, spares and support, and their contribution to R&D/opdev. Do not tell me they could not get a Silent Eagle cheaper.

DomJ – Small Diameter Bomb – I think you have it mixed up with something else. It is not that small, it is a 250lb class weapon and was NEVER designed as a sub-munition to be lobbed by cruise missiles. It is a bomb that was designed from the outset to be dropped by tactical aircraft – go look it up on wikipedia.

April 12, 2011 2:46 pm

Based on the above, I honestly think investment in Typhoon could actually bolster the use of F35 by allied nations in coalition operations.

Active electronic attack using the AESA radar and a dual mode variant of Meteor would provide enablers to assist the penetration of a high threat integrated air defence network by F35’s. We could in fact “skip a generation” and use son-of-Taranis/NEURON UCAV’s as our ‘bomb trucks’ in this scenario.

We could even lobby the US to allow us to take part in the USN sponsored Next Generation Jammer system (the replacement for the venerable ALQ99 being carried by the F18G Growler). If not taken as a development partner, we could buy it off the shelf, as a black box – after all returning a jammer pod to the USA for maintenance / upgrade is not quite as bad as returning your aircraft……

Also plans to fit NGJ to F35 seem a little odd to me, why waste an LO platform by lighting it up like a christmas tree in various parts of the EM spectrum !

April 12, 2011 2:58 pm

That latest cost info, from Canadian opposition as reported by David Pugliese at the DefenceWatch blog:

“First, in March of this year, Vice Admiral David Venlet, the new chief of the F-35 Joint Program Office, appeared before a U.S. congressional committee regarding the F-35s. He told the committee that, after his latest review of the program, he is confident in his new cost estimates. For the F-35A (the model Canada plans to acquire), his procurement cost estimate was $126.6 million (including $15 million for the engine).

Second, it has just been announced that Israel purchased 19 F-35As, at an average cost of $144.7 million. As Israel is only considered a “Security Co-operative Participant” their cost includes the
research and development, test and evaluation costs of approximately $23 million for each aircraft. Eliminating this figure from their cost results in an average cost of $121.7 million.”

See the full article at:

April 12, 2011 3:24 pm

Chris B – fair enough, but just how exactly do Boeing expect to sell the SE at that price ???

April 12, 2011 3:46 pm

Oddly enough, I just read something along the same lines.
Is the F35 an attempt to take ruthless commonality too far?
In effect, replacing 5 distinct aircraft (A10, F16, Bug, Superbug, Harrier) with three subvarients of a single aircraft.

Doh, Indeed I am.
I was thinking of whats now “viper strike” but was once “Brilliant Anti Tank”.
Which to my mind was just the most awesome concept ever.

April 12, 2011 4:14 pm

“We could even lobby the US to allow us to take part in the USN sponsored Next Generation Jammer system ”
Isn’t BAE one of the bidders?

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
April 12, 2011 4:59 pm

An interesting report which states that the USA is subsidising export sales of the F-35 by not charging any share of the development costs:

April 12, 2011 6:59 pm

McZ – I am sure it is having snaffled up so many US companies – but I meant ‘we’ as in the sovereign nation, “UK PLC” not as in th supra-national corporate entity known as BAe (when are they going to do a directors directors cut of Bladerunner with BAe instead of Tyrrell Corp ?)

John Hartley
John Hartley
April 12, 2011 7:06 pm

If Wikipedia is right, the Rockwell XFV-12A had enough engine power to get off the ground. The problem was the mad solution the Yanks picked for VSTOL. The wings & canards had opening slats the engine thrust diffused through, a bit like a hovercraft without skirt. They thought it would be 55% efficient, but was only 19%. They say it would have been fine in CTOL.
Now the yanks have picked lift fan for the F-35B. History sort of repeats.
Had they gone to the proposals for supersonic Harriers, ie 3 point rotating nozzle lift, with afterburning on the centre rear, then I suspect that both the XFV-12A & F-35B would have been happier projects.

April 12, 2011 7:44 pm


They are the current LRIP prices. Norway has recently signed up for purchases from 2018 at lower prices than that. Indeed there appears to have been a 2.5% increase in the 2008 prices after the latest review. As for F15 South Korea, Japan ect are willing to pay for the capability that come with high performance long range strike a/c. If you look at all the prices of Fast jet a/c even the latest “cheap” F16 will head towards typhoon prices. Fast Jets cost regardless which ones we buy because at the end of the day they enable almost all other operations barring submarines. Lose control of the air and your beat.


The US do thing very different to us they clearly separate development and production cost and dont level the price out across the production run. So the money spent in the test phase on JSf goes to high tech job creation and for all the partners initial work share this money has already been spent and for the UK was a reasonably small investment. Its like saying our first type45 cost 2.5b and all the other ones cost 600m.

April 12, 2011 9:48 pm

Super article Chris B.

I have just been looking at some web pages on Bombardier Global Express; apparently these are $40m a copy. So if a “simple” small passenger ‘plane costs that much is F35x that expensive?

April 13, 2011 8:38 am

I dont think that means what the author wants it to mean.

If the F35 costs $60bn to research and develop, and $75mn to actualy build an A model.
Then technicaly, if there are going to be 1000 A’s built, the “cost” is $135mn per plane.
But if you build 20,000, the “cost” is only $78mn.

But the US isnt going to be any worse off if another 100 are built, and they sold for $75mn
Admitadly, it wont be any better off either, except of course, that $75mn comes with a lot of taxes, payroll taxes, corporate taxes, ect.

I’m sure someone worked out that despite giving Israel a 35% subsidy, The German Government still made a 15% profit on a submarine deal.

Costs are fairly complicated, and if you dont happen to be a management accountant, they are very easy to misunderstand.

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
April 13, 2011 9:15 am

Good points, Dominic.

April 13, 2011 12:28 pm

Why do you want to throw money at a problem which will be solved with US-taxmoney (sorry, Chinese and Saudi bond money)?

If BAE gets the development contract, we are in the boat without taking any risk. And this program is very riskful.

The Mintcake Maker
The Mintcake Maker
April 13, 2011 5:58 pm

Hi all,

Chris, great post and very informative however like others I think that it will eventually be a great aircraft but I don’t believe the price can justify it at this moment in time. I would much sooner wait for F-35 Mk2 and instead procure some sort of intermediate for flying off carriers.

I’m just finishing off an article covering all things flying and how I think it should be shaped so i just could resist copying this small bit in here.

First of all I’ve used the conversion rate of £1 = US$1.55

If we take the Canadian governments cost estimate for the F-35a and the other projected price, take an average cost and the divide by 2 to calculate the cost for the 65 planes + 10 years of support contracts instead of 20 gives us a unit cost per plane of £119.11m including maintenance over 10 years etc (this is a very rough figure)

If we say that the F-35c costs more than the F-35a (approx 20% more). Then the cost of the F-35c comes out at £145.31m

As a comparison a used the Aussie figures for 24 F/A-18’s + 10 years support, this gives us a unit cost of £122.66m including maintenance.

Although this doesn’t sound like much over 50 a/c being purchased this would save £1.1bn and with this money we could by say 12x E-2c Hawkeyes from the boneyard + support for 10 years just like Oman have (4x E-2c for approx $400m) for about £650m and this still gives us about £350m to spend on something else (a few more C3’s or MARS maybe?).

We could then have 3x E-2c, 12x F/A-18, 3x Merlin ASW and 2x Merlin HM1 (from the few not upgraded) as a ships flight/COD permanently aboard the active carrier.

In 10 years time (after 2015) when the 50 tornado’s in my plan need to be replaced (there actual out of service date) we could then buy the F-35c Mk2 and then a follow on buy for the FAA. Also hopefully by then we will actually have some more money to buy lots of new shiny fast jets.

April 13, 2011 7:08 pm


Interesting idea but it all depends on the C version being 20% more than the A version is that the case what if its only 10%.
What do we do with the F18s your buying we need 3b now to buy the a/c and then scrap them in 10 years time?.
Also it saves 1.1b over 10 years (not in the first year) so you only have 100m in the first year to buy your hawkeye.

April 13, 2011 9:17 pm

@ Chris B

Um. It was a rhetorical question…….. :)

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
April 13, 2011 9:46 pm

I would like to see the Rafale in RN colours. I have mentioned before that going into partnership with the French. They are still to stand up its remaining two Naval Rafale squadrons. If we shared the costs there would be a airwing of three frontline Rafale squadrons available to either the PoW or CdG, which ever was operational at the time and a joint OCU/OEU. The same could be done with the E-2 fleet.

This would allow many combinations, such as;

Routine – One Carrier at sea with 2-3 Squadrons
Routine – One carrier at sea with 1 Squadron plus additional Rotary assets
Short Durations – two Carriers at sea with 1-2 Squadrons each.

Of course this would not prevent us fron supplimenting this with Naval UCAVs or even a future purchase of The F-35C when it has matured, but it would be a lower cost solution to equipping the CVFs with a FJ and with minimum risk.

IN addition if the joint CVBG also shared Escorts it would allow assets to be used else where reducing the impact of the reduced numbers of FFGs and DDGs laid out in the SDSR.

Finally if a similar policy was followed regarding the Amphibious assets, the new French LHDs would more than replace the loss of Ocean in any Taskforce.

With te UK and France combining assets when needed, there will be an effective and flexible force available for operation and with co-operation increasing between out two nations this could be a way to solve or reduce the impact of both countries shinking budgets.

The Mintcake Maker
The Mintcake Maker
April 13, 2011 11:30 pm

@ Mark,

I fully understand where you’re coming from and I do explain my idea a bit better in my article. I was thinking possibly that after say 10/15 years of use that although they will be clocking up there cat “n” trap cycles the airframe would still be good for landing and taking off from a runway and we could then sell them to a friendly nation that the US agree with or we could always try and flog them back to the USN I suppose.

@ All

Does anybody know what the Ausssies are planning on doing with their 24 Super Hornets? Are they all wired for Growler conversion?

April 14, 2011 6:16 pm

The problem with the entire JSF program is trying to be all things to all men. The Harriers could’ve been replaced with more harriers, combining all the tech from all the upgraded versions into a new fusilage, it could even have been supersonic if it used a mixed exhaust system. The A-10 doesn’t need replacing (and a supersonic fighter/bomber is a poor replacement anyway) and so on.

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
April 15, 2011 3:55 am

TMM, half of the Aussie Super Hornets are wired so that they can be converted to Growlers if required. I think I recall reading recently that this conversion was likely to happen sooner rather than later.

Grey, the Harrier is fundamentally pretty limited in terms of further improvements (apart from electronics, that is).

As I suggested in another thread, a better approach would have been to acknowledge that not only is a vertical take-off of no combat utility but a vertical landing is also becoming somewhat limiting in terms of the weight of ordnance which can be brought back, so a very short landing run would be helpful. This indicates a “super-STOL” (S-STOL) performance would be all that is needed. And this would allow the two rear nozzles to be combined into a single vectored-thrust one which could be given an afterburner.

Some back of the envelope calculations (anyone with better figures, please chime in): the latest version of the Pegasus produces nearly 24,000 lb thrust. I assume that this is divided about equally between the front and rear pairs of nozzles. Deleting the rear nozzles in favour of a straight-through one would add a lot of thrust through greater efficiency, maybe allowing the rear part of the engine to deliver 15,000 lb. Then add an afterburner which could boost the thrust of the rear part to around 22,000 lb – giving a total thrust of 34,000 lb (including the front nozzles, which are left as they are).

The current Harriers can take off at a maximum weight which is 30% greater than the total thrust, so our new S-STOL could take off at 44,000 lb – compared with 30,000 lb for the Harrier. That would allow the airframe to be expanded to pack in a lot more internal fuel. The afterburner would also permit the new plane to be comfortably supersonic.

IMNSHO this is what we should have been doing from the 1980s instead of signing up to Eurofighter (and subsequently JSF). It could have pre-empted the need to develop the STOVL version of the F-35. If in addition we needed a big, high-performance multi-role plane to replace the Tornadoes then the F-15E Strike Eagle would have been the obvious choice – just buy a batch off the shelf (or swap some of our S-STOL for them).

One can only dream…

April 15, 2011 5:24 pm

Hi Tony

that not quite how a jet engine works indeed this may sound like comparing apples and oranges but what comes out of the jet nozzle actually provides very little thrust if it did it would be a rocket. A jet engine pulls an aircraft thru the air. In a harrier engine (similar to a commercial engine) after the air passes the main fan about 60% goes thru the core engine the other 40% bypasses the core and is exhausted out the front 2 nozzles. This generates about 20% of total trust. Then the 60% of the air passes thru the compressor in the core adding about 35% of total thrust and then into the combustion chamber which contributes about 45% of total Thrust. You will then lose about 10% of total thrust as you go thru the turbine area with the final core nozzles adding the final 10% of thrust. Burning fuel in the exhaust nozzle (afterburner) recreates some of the combustion energy and adds 10-20% of added thrust.
The initial ducting of air is the issue with harrier. If you get a higher percentage of air thru the core you get a higher thrust but you then need to generate another column of air to allow overall balance in the hover al la JSF fwd vertical fan which doesnt use air destined for the engine core.

John Hartley
John Hartley
April 15, 2011 7:54 pm

My memory is not what it was, but I seem to remember RR saying they thought they could get the Pegasus up to 27,000 to 28,000 with not much effort if someone wanted it. This was ten to fifteen years ago.

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
April 15, 2011 9:07 pm

Came across this while researching Tony’s stol idea. Thought it might interest people.

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
April 15, 2011 9:25 pm

Found this old article about a Harrier 3 – you;ve probably seen it before.

and there’s this “stealth” Harrier concept;

Could we combine the two? STOL, Radar Stealth?

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
April 16, 2011 1:54 am


I am not an aeronautical engineer and I am puzzled by some of the points you make.

To take the most obvious one, you say that an afterburner adds 10-20% of thrust, but if you look at the “dry” vs “afterburning” static thrust figures quoted for typical military jet engines the advantage is much greater: the Tornado’s RB199, for example, generates 9,100 lb dry and c.16,100lb afterburning thrust – an increase of over 75%.

Also, in my reading about the Pegasus engine the point was made that the engine loses a lot of thrust through the internal drag caused by diverting the jet efflux around various corners then through the “venetian blind” nozzles. So deleting this feature from the back end of the engine and allowing a straight-through exhaust should release appreciably more thrust.

I don’t understand from your message what’s wrong with the assumptions I’ve made about the potential for increasing the thrust.

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
April 16, 2011 6:34 am

Say that a Turbo Fan engine pulls an aircraft through the air is simply wrong, a propeller engine or Turbo prop yes.

Air is sucked in through the compressor which is driven by the turbine at the rear. The Compressor fan compresses the air and a large part bypasses the combusion chamber but is still going faster than when it entered. The prtion that enters the combustion chamber is heated by the ignited fuel and wishes to expand and takes the only way out which is back at an accellerated rate passing through and driving the the turbine blades before exiting the rear nozzle and a greatly increase rate to gether with the air accelerated form the compressor generating the thrust. In addition fuel can be ignited in the exhast nozzle increasing the expansion and increasing the thrust further though at the expence of fuel comsumption.

The Pegasus was a very powerful engine and had the some of the largest Compressor blades of any Engine fitted to a Fast Jet. It needed these to cuck in the vast amounts of air to provide the thrust for the front “Cool” exhausts and still push enough air through the combustion chamber to meet the needs of the rear “Hot” nozzels let alone the puffer jets on the nose, wing tips and tail. It wasn’t the most efficient engine but rather old school brute force though constant upgrades allowed it to perform more effectively over time though the RAF only benefitted belatedly from this.

The F-35Bs engine is obviously totally different being and modified conventional Turbo jet with the gearbox allowing the front lift fan to be driven off the Turbines when engaged. This allows a much more efficient engine design but I believe required substantial fly by wire input as it is rather like balancing a bicycle that a quad when in the hover and or landing vertically and the “Hot” thrust is concentrated vertically down through a single nozzle rather than the Harriers angles twin nozzles which is the cause of some problems.

In the 1960’s Hawker Siddeley did develope a number of designs for Supersonic STOVL Ground Attack/Interceptor including the magnificent P.1154 which atually used a twin RR Spey engine called the Spey 32D. This was a complicated arrangement with each engine have two nozzles on one side though a common large compressor actually fed the front nozzles whichhad Plenium Chamber Burning (PCB). simmilar to afterburners which provided much greater thrust though a very large hot exhaust plume.

In the late 70’s early 80s BAE propose numerous designs based on a three nozzle Pegasus with each nozzle having PCB including the Sci Fi joke P.1214-3 and P.1216.

April 16, 2011 10:52 am


Your not right I’m afraid. A turbo fan engine does the same as thing as a turbo prop. A turbo fan compressor does is just like 30 or 40 rows of propellors just all close to together.
You further explanation is along right lines. However the the bypass air ducting occurs after it’s passed the main fan. Once the air goes thru the compressor it almost all goes to the combustion chamber.
The max speed you want it heading to the compressor at is around m 0.4 regardless of what speed the a/c is flying you don’t want it shocking at any point in it’s passage thru the engine.
Tony I may have been a bit on the low side with the afterburner and indeed with the amount of restrictive thrust from the turbine. If we could avoid a turbine we would have a much more efficient engine. It maybe that the ducting in the pegusas engine causes more thrust loss than conventional engines but it is not the main reason as to why it’s less powerful than other engines it’s all to do with the amount of bypass at the front end.

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
April 16, 2011 7:59 pm


The Pegasus was actually a very powerful engine when the Harrier first entered service, and at 24,000 lb without afterburning it’s no slouch now.

My point is that by freeing-up the jet exhaust at the back end even more power would be released, and it would also make it possible to add an afterburner to the rear section to develop even more power. With those two changes combined I think that my assumption of around 34,000 lb thrust is not unrealistic, and that would permit a substantial increase in max gross weight as well as supersonic speed (given an appropriate airframe design, of course).

In fact, in an ideal world the advantages of super-STOL as opposed to VTOL (or, later, STOVL) would have been recognised from the start of the programme around half a century ago. What I’m proposing is actually simpler than VTOL, after all; no VTOL control and handling issues, no need for those puffer control jets for hovering, no problems with exhaust gas recirculation, no problems with a concentrated downward jet blast eroding the landing point.

It’s worth noting that the Jaguar light strike plane was developed and entered service in the same time frame as the Harrier. Now if the Harrier had benefitted from a substantial boost in payload/range plus supersonic performance by adopting S-STOL, there would have been no need for the Jaguar. Which would have meant that the RAF could have had 300+ S-STOL Harriers instead of the Harrier/Jaguar mix, which should have reduced the Harrier’s cost and improved its export potential.

A crystal ball working in reverse is a wonderful thing ;-)

Peter Arundel
Peter Arundel
April 16, 2011 8:27 pm

“and it would also make it possible to add an afterburner to the rear section to develop even more power. ”

Actually, Tony, PCB is more fficient than an afterburner in what would be effectively the exhaust of a turbojet rather than a turbofan. A pure turbojet doesn’t get as big a thrust boost from reheat as a turbofan. PCB is actually quite fuel efficient compared with a standard afterburner.

April 16, 2011 8:41 pm


Is efficient but it is the drag caused by the size of the fan on the front that causes the problems going faster that 600 knots.

When used by RR it was PCB that allowed the use of a smaller fan as well as the afterburner effect of PCB.


We are then back to pointing an after burner downwrds at the ground/ deck which at 1000-2000 degrees starts melting stuff or blasting it into the air to be fodded by the fan.

Peter Arundel
Peter Arundel
April 16, 2011 9:58 pm

“We are then back to pointing an after burner downwrds at the ground/ deck which at 1000-2000 degrees starts melting stuff or blasting it into the air to be fodded by the fan.”

Nah. STOVL, remember. Short take off using PCB, vertical landing on dry thrust alone. Forget about supersonic speed it’s just unnecessary except in an interceptor and isn’t that what Typhoon is for? ;-)

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
April 16, 2011 10:33 pm

People maybe confused regarding Turbofans. If you are referring to large High Bypass engines like the RR211 and Trent, then the main fan has a major impact on power output. If however you are refering to Low bypass engines like the EJ200, then the majority of the motive power comes from the exhaust nozzle.

Yes it is important to control the speed of the air entering the engine which is why many fast jet have variable intakes, just as it is important to control the flow of hot gases out of the exhaust by using a variable nozzle

The only way to get rid of the turbine is to use a Ramjet, as without the turbine you would have no compressor stage.

April 16, 2011 10:43 pm

Hi Tony

Im not disagreeing that the pegasus engine is powerful. Yep add afterburner to get more power only necessary if you want supersonic performance and you will grow your fuel requirement significantly. But changing the nozzle at the back will not add much as you may think.
Ill quote (as the picture and numbers are in a paper document on propulsion power plant design I have and cant upload)numbers for the gas load on a typical single spool axial flow engine which is effectively the core bit of the pegasus engine or a pure turbo-jet engine less afterburner.

Compressor fwd 19,049 lbs
diffuser fwd 2,186 lbs
combustion chamber fwd 34,182 lbs
turbine aft 41,091 lbs
exhaust unit and jet pipe fwd 2,419 lbs
Propelling nozzle aft 5,587 lbs

So total fwd gas load 57,836lbs, aft gas load 46,678lbs or a total fwd thrust of 11,158lbs.

This is not for a newer engine but as you can see if you want to make modification to make you engine produce more thrust you make your turbine and compressor more efficient.

Ramjets would be lovely maybe on an new sr71 we can but dream

Somewhat Removed
April 20, 2011 11:36 am

Chris B, thanks also for a well written article and steadfast defence of the more barking ideas put up by others on this site. Seaphoon, anglicised Rafale, makes me chuckle. As if Bernard Gray is going to validate throwing away all money spent on F35 to date to buy from the French or give BAE free license to invent another hideous military project.

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
August 4, 2011 3:34 pm


“Officials in Britain’s Defence Ministry are pushing to scrap their country’s plans to buy a variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, reports from Britain say, potentially raising the cost for other customers such as Australia.

Media reports claim officials want the Royal Navy to buy older, less-capable F-18 jets, rather than pay higher prices for 138 JSF aircraft designed to be flown from aircraft carriers.”

Quelle surprise…

August 4, 2011 5:26 pm

Last I heard the Australians were thinking of ditching it and pushing up the price for us.

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
August 5, 2011 6:40 am

The Aussies are committed to an initial batch of 14, but are getting antsy about the ever-increasing cost and delays.

August 5, 2011 8:18 am

The only problem Australia have commented on is the delay and the ability to get is currently elderly fleet of hornets to a osd. As for cost increases there is quite a big Mis conception here the partner nation are not liable for the development cost increase these are almost solely bourne by the us and at last check the production jet costs have remained constant

August 5, 2011 8:43 am

I’m puzzled by the story linked by Tony, are there new media reports here saying we are going for the F/A-18? Also since when was there a proposal for a split between F-35A and B? At best there might have been a plan to split between the F-35B and F-35C, but I thought the RAF have always considered the F-35C the natural replacement for the Tornado not the F-35A which has never been on the cards, so I fail to see given the low commonality between the three models and the fact that the F-35A is the only one to be made in huge numbers how us potentially not buying F-35C is really going to impact on Australia.

August 5, 2011 8:55 am

If the financial markets keep going the way they are we will be buying AN2s and strapping barrel bombs to them.

The debt crisis could yet kill a lot of ‘Essential and vital’ programmes..

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
August 5, 2011 9:00 am

@Mark: “The only problem Australia have commented on is the delay…”

They’re concerned about cost as well. See:

“Defence Minister Stephen Smith has refused to guarantee Australia will buy 100 US-built F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, saying the project is getting close to the cost and delay overruns Defence built into the order.”

August 5, 2011 10:07 am

The commonality is over 70% and all the avionics and software are identical. Well never get the A we can’t refuel it for 1 that story is typical nonsense about the program. Infact if you go back and read the report on f16 prior to it entry into service we get almost identical criticism.

Australia aren’t that worried. Infact the only ones jumping up and down are the the us politicians. When you look around there is no real cheaper alternative

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
August 5, 2011 10:18 am

Mark, just about every country interested in buying the F-35 has been expressing concern about the way in which the expected price has been rising relentlessly since the project was first launched.

There comes a time when it’s necessary to step back and think about whether the cost of stealth outweighs the benefits – especially since the benefits have been predicted to erode as detection technology catches up.

August 5, 2011 12:41 pm

And how many have actually backed out of the program! Even holland went ahead with there purchase. What’s said in public is very different to private apparent our lot would have cancelled the carriers only it cost to much but in reality that not the case. I would also add there has been NO cost increase in the cost of the production jet since 2008.

I fundamentally disagree with you second point. I would argue signature reduction is becoming more important not less

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
August 5, 2011 1:04 pm

The Dutch have only ordered two planes!

Nobody has yet reached the crunch point when they have to decide whether or not to confirm their original order for the F-35 – particularly the number they intend to buy. Currently, countries are busily postponing decisions and scaling-back orders. See:

“The Netherlands joined Norway in deferring F-35 deliveries. Having bought single aircraft in LRIP Lots 3 and 4, the Dutch will buy no more F-35As until LRIP Lot 11 in 2017, a three-year delay on its previous plans. Norway will order its first aircraft in LRIP 8 (2014) as planned, but only four instead of eight, and has deferred all 12 that it was due to buy in LRIP 9 (2015). Deliveries follow two years after placing an order.

According to the latest production plan crafted last November, Australia (two aircraft) and Italy (four) plan to buy their first aircraft next year, in LRIP Lot 6.

Turkey plans to buy its first six F-35As in 2013 and the UK is scheduled to buy its first seven F-35Cs the same year, having bought three F-35Bs in LRIP Lots 3 and 4.

Canada expects to begin buying in 2014, and Denmark in 2016, although the latter is still formally evaluating alternatives.”

It looks as if the UK will be buying maybe half (if we’re lucky) of the original 150; and the fewer that are bought, the more each one will cost.

No increase in the cost price since 2008? Try this:

“The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program — already the most expensive defense acquisition program in U.S. history — just got even more costly, to the tune of $771 million.

The Pentagon informed the Senate Armed Services Committee Monday that the first 28 production models of the F-35, some of the world’s most technologically advanced fighters developed by defense contracting giant Lockheed Martin, were going to cost the additional three quarters of a $1 billion, and the government will be picking up part of the tab.”

As I pointed out above, the unit cost will be linked to the number made. The more the number falls, the more the cost goes up. The present costs are based on what countries have said they want – but we don’t know how many will actually be ordered, so no-one can tell how much they will cost.

August 5, 2011 1:06 pm

Hi Mark,

While the commonality is quoted at 70%, wasn’t it orginally meant to be more than 90%, if true we have much less commonality than originally planned, likely too much for the UK to consider two different models of the F-35?

August 5, 2011 2:09 pm


So everyone is still buying the jet then. Yes the CAPE report this year reported no increase in production jet costs at the senate hearing this is the only official information we have. It reported high thru life cost which they said will be reduced. There is no other alternative jet to f35 over the next 40 years.

Don’t think it was ever 90% but it’s 100% on avionics and systems and the engine is the same bar the lift fan where the biggest costs are I don’t think we should have 2 variants f35c is best alround jet for the uk

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
August 5, 2011 2:51 pm

@Mark: “So everyone is still buying the jet then.”

Ye gods, you are blindly devoted to finding the most favourable interpretation of events, aren’t you?

The current position is that NO-ONE has signed any contracts for any more than a handful of test planes, and just about EVERYONE is postponing a decision, for about as long as they can, on whether or not to order the plane in quantity.

August 5, 2011 3:24 pm

“I fundamentally disagree with you second point. I would argue signature reduction is becoming more important not less”

And herein lies the dichotomy – all the discussion of the F35’s advantage over F22 being its network enabled abilities, and the use of it’s AESA radar for “electronic attack” – BUT – as soon as you “go active” and transmit your expensive stealth design is pointless, passive sensors can tri-angulate your position through your own emissions.

Unless radar stealth is relatively cheap, and thus not a big deal in overall price, or unless you go for a full out stealth design with IR (and UV ?) stealth, passive sensors, or considerable investment in low probability of intercept (LPI) active sensors, then once again I deeply question the cost benefit trade off’s of mostly front aspect radar stealth in what was meant to be a ‘cheap’ tactical aircraft to replace F16’s and A10’s !

August 5, 2011 5:11 pm

Tony that is because no one can order an future a/c. The way the current system works is that until milestone c (to move from lrip to production) is signed off all level 1 and 2 partners have to bid for the manufacture of 12 months of work only before you have to bid again. So only 12 months worth of a/c can be bought at any time. In 2016 multi year orders can be place only intent can be agreed now which all the partners have.

The delays for the partners are due to the testing delays and the a/c simply not being available yet and the US having first most of the initial a/c on order.

Jed I agree but this a/c has mire passive sensors and the ability to get process more off board data than ever before which is were most of the cost is. It also has lower signature in all aspects than anything in European service. I would however not have included a10 or harrier requirements in the original design or failing that would not have developed the 3 variants simultaneously

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
August 6, 2011 8:27 am

Mark, your interpretation doesn’t square with this:

“The Netherlands joined Norway in deferring F-35 deliveries. Having bought single aircraft in LRIP Lots 3 and 4, the Dutch will buy no more F-35As until LRIP Lot 11 in 2017, a three-year delay on its previous plans. Norway will order its first aircraft in LRIP 8 (2014) as planned, but only four instead of eight, and has deferred all 12 that it was due to buy in LRIP 9 (2015).”

Clearly, countries are making decisions to reduce and/or defer their orders. They are not saying “we would order more but we can’t get them”.

However, this is getting pointless so I’ll leave you to your beliefs.

Brian Black
Brian Black
August 6, 2011 5:00 pm

You perhaps should not consider the Netherland’s initial purchases to be an indication of commitment to the aircraft.

The Dutch are one of the 2nd tier partners in the F35 programme, and have a manufacturing interest in the aircraft.

Whether they go on to buy the aircraft in real numbers or not, they have already invested in the programme, and will want to stay within the circle to see a return on that investment.