The Department of Cheaper Aircraft

Guest post from Chris.B

Recently there’s been a number of articles written and comments made about the idea of reviving various aircraft as “low cost” solutions for service in the UK armed forces. In addition, the subject of cost has come up numerous times.

Why does one aircraft cost so much more than another?

Why is that one nation can afford to buy x amount of a new frontline fighter, while we cannot?

Some of the suggestions made have merit, but some I feel do not, and increasingly it gets frustrating trying to explain why certain things are not as cheap as people would otherwise believe. On that note then I thought it would be instructive to have a brief (it looked brief in my head) look at some of the concerns that go into costing military projects, in particular those involving aircraft.

Please note that this is by no means an exhaustive list and also that some of these factors might come into play when looking at other projects, while some will not.

Onwards and upwards then, starting with…

Research And Development

Quite simply, the upfront cost of designing a new aircraft. This involves everything from basic technical drawings, to computer modelling, to feasibility studies, wind tunnel testing of scale models, cost control studies, prototypes and the list goes on. At every stage there are groups of people making decisions and as a general rule these people are highly paid experts.

That involves a lot of upfront cash to be spent. It’s not sufficient just to say “we’ll revive xyz aircraft and that airframe costs abc”. There are various management processes and hoops that have to be jumped through, to ensure that large sums of money are not splashed out on projects that in all reality might not have a hope in hell of getting off the ground (figuratively, as well as literally).

Politics

The tale of Typhoon is a hallmark of this kind of expense. A group of foreign governments agree to pool resources. Studies are done, contracts are drawn up, then everything goes down the pan because one country doesn’t like the way it’s being put together. So the remaining countries now have to reassess the situation, come to a new agreement and sign a new batch of contracts.

At this point, someone else comes along and says they want it. Again new agreements are drawn up, contracts are signed. Then one of the original partners decides they’d very much like it if the aircraft could fulfil some new role that was never originally intended and which only they have a need for.

New agreements are drawn up. New contracts are signed.

All of this costs money and entails delays. Delays are bad because it makes it difficult for manufacturers to predict their future budgets. They’re simply not going to lay down money for new plant machinery or order expensive key components without a guarantee that there will be new work on the horizon. This is simply good business practice and you can’t really knock a company for doing it.

But even then, when the project has been approved and production is under way, politics can still rear its ugly head. A new government comes in and they decide they don’t need as many shiny, pointy things for the air force over the next 20 years, so they cut an order by 25%.

The manufacturer still has to make money and has already invested large sums in R&D, so that cost now gets spread over the smaller batch, driving up the unit price. In addition, they still want to make a reasonable profit and without large future orders they have no real choice but to take that cut now.

The reduced numbers also affect the supply from sub-contractors. Those small companies are looking at their books the same way the big “system of systems integrator” (I hate that phrase) does. Subsequently they will essentially penalise the main manufacturer for their reduced order size.

But it doesn’t end there. The main manufacturer then gets another nasty letter from the government; “we want you to slow down production”. Basically the government is trying to do what all governments do, and that’s balance the books by pushing as many expenses as they can into the future, irrespective of the total cost to the project. This is the essence, for example, of Private Finance Initiatives (PFI).

So the manufacturer now has to produce 10 less planes per year. They could tell everyone to just work really slowly and take more coffee breaks, but that still costs the same in labour along with a reduction of income from sales. A much more economical solution is to simply release a proportion of the work force. Of course this is a short term measure only.

The planes still have to be produced eventually, so the man hours required to do it will still have to be accounted for at some point. Except that now you have to pay for another year or so of bills. So not only has the project been delayed, but it also just got a bit more expensive overall.

At this point it seems that politics couldn’t do any more damage, however the Government still has one more ace in the hole.

See, at the last election our now incumbent fictitious government won a new marginal seat. Given that elections are essentially won and lost in the marginal constituencies, the government would now quite like to hold on to this one. So they sign a deal with the manufacturer to hand production of the control surfaces to a factory in the marginal constituency, securing both jobs and political capital in one fell swoop.

That poses a problem however, a problem which fits in nicely with the next segment.

Manufacturing Processes

Imagine if you will that Henry Ford was still alive and well. In a few months time he’d be coming up for his 148th birthday, which is mighty impressive. Except that out of curiosity he decides to take a tour of a factory building modern fighter aircraft, at which point he promptly has a heart attack and dies, thus restoring the balance of the space-time continuum.

So what caused the heart attack?

The sight of a very large hangar/warehouse being used to construct just a few planes at a time, with individual workers crawling over them to perform all manner of tasks completely by hand. There is little in the way of automation and no hint of a production line.

Compare this with the factories used to make cars, where the product moves steadily along a largely automated production line. Interchangeable components are inserted at various stages, in an order that has been pre-planned to make it as efficient as possible. Much of the work can be done by computer controlled robotic arms with an incredible degree of precision.

A decent factory working with a well planned system can produce something on the order of 100,000 cars annually. Or at the top end you have Hyundai’s massive Ulsan factory, which employs approximately 34,000 people and can produce something on the order of 1.53 million vehicles per year. Now that’s mass production.

The fact is that aircraft manufacturers simply don’t leverage the kind of savings that could be expected with better assembly processes. I accept that they’re building something significantly more complex than a hatchback and in nowhere near the same quantities, but there is still savings to be made.

A good example of this, albeit not in the realm of fighter aircraft, is the construction of the Navies new Astute class submarines. After consulting with an American firm, BAE was able to develop new construction methods such as laying the various circular sections flat to the ground to aid the installation of things such as piping.

Such efficiencies have not found their way into aircraft manufacturing. It could be argued that governments don’t order enough planes for it to be worth while, but maybe if those planes weren’t so expensive in the first place then the government would be able to afford more of them?

And now that we’re at the manufacturing stage, it’s time to get into some of the nitty, gritty of the issue.

Engines

Alone, engines are the most expensive single ticket items put into any aircraft. Designed to operate for prolonged periods of time with very little internal maintenance, at temperatures measured in the hundreds of degrees Celsius and at revolutions per minute (RPM) measured in the tens of thousands, modern jet engines must be both immensely powerful and yet highly reliable.

To achieve such an impressive feat means a very expensive design process, coupled with expensive material technologies. Engine components must be resistant to high temperatures and pressures, resistant to the wear of continuous high speed operation, and yet also lightweight so as to not affect performance. Such a demanding combination does not lend itself well to the word “cheap”.

Looking at some of the current aircraft in use, it’s easy to see how aircraft such as the BAE Hawk come in at a more modest cost relative to it’s more powerful brothers and sisters in the strike wings. It’s engine is smaller and produces less thrust. At the opposite end of the scale we have the rather complex engine and drive shaft system intended for use on the “B” variant of the F-35.

And finally for comparative purposes, we have single engined fighters such as the Saab Gripen up against twin engined jets of the Typhoon and Rafale ilk The difference in price between a Gripen and a Typhoon can easily be accounted for by two major aspects. The first is the Gripens solitary engine, saving a few million quid. The second is the radar.

Radars

The gold standard of modern radars is the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar. Consisting of as many as a thousand antennae, each with its own independent power source, the AESA radar is a complex but very clever tool. Unlike previous mechanically scanned radars that could only search certain areas of the sky at any one time, an AESA radar can be programmed to cover a wide field of view without having to budge so much as a millimetre.

But that’s just the start.

Using a complex system controlled automatically by computer, an AESA radar can dedicate portions of its array to track various targets that have already been detected, whilst using others to continue scanning the rest of the sky looking for fresh targets. It can operate on multiple frequencies at the same time if needed. It can switch frequencies very rapidly while searching, in order to avoid being detected by conventional Radar Warning Receivers (RWR). It can even be used as a receiver itself to detect enemy emissions. And then jam them.

But all of that comes at a price.

The technology itself is pretty well understood by now. However the first problem with AESA radars is trying to miniaturise all that wonderful magic into a system small enough to be fitted inside the nose cone of a modern fighter. The second problem is writing the software code to control it. That involves a lot of people who I would hasten to suggest are plenty times cleverer than I am. At maths at the very least.

This makes radars very expensive to design, build and install. And as it’s relevant, I’m going to mix that thought about software coding for the AESA into my next point.

Coding

Principally of the Fly-by-wire system for the aircraft, but also things like the integration of weapons, sensors, data links etc. This process would also apply separately to the radar.

Coding sounds, on paper, not that difficult. Just tell the computer to do x when the pilot gives it input y. Except that the amount of data flowing in and out is tremendous, and the amount of calculations required mind boggling. To give you some idea of what we’re talking about here, the new F-35 will eventually require about 8 million lines of code. That’s about the same as Windows NT version 3.5.

Except that the chaps at Microsoft were writing code for a home computer, to make it run fairly routine tasks. Fly-By-Wire software needs to be able to cope with some very complex algorithms and some serious physics. It’s not quite as bad for commercial aircraft or aircraft that are designed to be inherently stable.

But modern fighter aircraft are deliberately built to be wild and free spirited if you will, resulting in a subsequent need for the aircrafts computers to constantly receive feedback from various systems and make continuous adjustments to keep the aircraft from flipping onto its back and then taking a nose dive.

That means that code wise, you’re looking at hundreds of people to write it and it can cost anything up to $1 billion.  Quite the expense just to keep the aircraft on the straight and narrow.

Materials

Modern fighters need to be tough and resistant to extremes of temperature, but also lightweight and ideally as transparent to radar as possible. As you’ve probably guessed from the engines section, this is going to cost some serious dosh.

Lithium alloys. Titanium alloys. Glass Reinforced Plastic. Carbon Fibre Composites.

All of the above are materials that routinely find their way into the airframes of modern combat aircraft, which increasingly includes helicopters. None of them are particularly cheap.

Health and Safety

Consider this for a moment. A Tornado sits on some dusty runway in Afghanistan. As the engines spool up to full throttle, the ambient temperature is now pushing into the mid thirties. Celsius, not Fahrenheit. Within minutes the aircraft is off the ground and racing for altitude. From the positively tropical atmosphere on the ground, things are now getting rather nippy as the plane climbs higher and the air around it begins to thin out.

This is just one of the many challenges that faces the modern combat aircraft, along with other such minor issues such as friction heating at high speeds, stress due to high G-forces, fatigue etc. What makes the whole thing even more troublesome is the very real danger that any failure, no matter how small, might result in the total loss of the aircraft and potentially the crew members.

Tolerance for failure then is very much on the low end of the scale.

This is what poses one of the biggest problems to the various projected ideas of taking an old aircraft and up dating it with new systems. Quite apart from the fact that it would need expensive new avionics and engines, it would also need to be cleared for flight with all this new gubbins.

That gets even more problematic when you take a perfectly fine and serviceable airframe and start cutting holes into it that weren’t there before, in order to fit a bomb bay for example. Now the entire aircraft must go back to the testing stage and pass various stress analysis & the like in order to be cleared again for safe flight in military operations.

VAT

Seems like an odd thing to be talking about, but it has its place. It’s common after all for people to quote prices of how much it cost a certain country to buy a given number of their personal favourite aircraft. But if I’ve learnt anything over the years, it’s that accurately pricing a modern combat aircraft is very difficult. VAT plays a big part in this.

The problem essentially descends from the fact that different countries charge different rates and only on domestic purchases. So let’s say that for arguments sake Saab is selling the Gripen at a base price of exactly US$100 million. If it sells these aircraft to the Swedish government then you have to tack on another 25% for VAT (and you thought ours was bad), bringing the total cost to US$125 million.

However if Saab sells the same product to the Australian Air Force at the same base price, then you only have to add on 10%, bringing the cost of the aircraft to US$110 million. When you factor in other taxes such as the various import and export duties in force across the globe, and to what extent the various governments apply these to their military purchases, it quickly becomes clear how the true cost of any piece of defence equipment can be hopelessly skewed.

Tax Rebates

Not difficult enough for you yet? Well we’ve got one last little trick up our sleeve in the form of tax rebates. See the thing is, when politicians talk about investing in British jobs its not all about avoiding the dole queue or scoring political points. There is a very real financial stick to be waved. This is because not all the money given to big defence companies gets splashed on Champagne for shareholders meetings and reclining chairs for the executive offices.

Some of that money is skimmed off as corporation tax. A fair wad of that cash ends up in the pay packets of the various levels of staff, who pay it right back to the government in the form of Income tax and National Insurance. The money they keep gets gradually siphoned off back into the system through taxes like VAT and fuel duty.

The money spent by the big companies on various components, parts and materials also gradually seeps back through the system as well, as small British companies also have to pay their business taxes and then pay their staff. Again, those staff are taxed initially when they’re paid, before being hit again and again at the pumps trying to fuel their car up.

The net result varies depending on who you listen to. I’ve heard figures as low as 25% and figures as high as 45%. The real answer is potentially somewhere in the middle. My personal gut feeling, along with the fact that I prefer to play safe and be conservative, tends to lean a little more towards the lower end of the scale. Still, this is yet another thing that should be factored into any decision as to whether the government should buy British or not.

There is one obvious criticism of this point however.

You buy British and some of the money finds its way back into the government coffers. That’s great for the country. Except for the fact that the MoD likely won’t see that cash again. Given that they’re operating on a budget and have to take these capital expenditures into account, the thought of the treasury getting a good deal is of little solace to a department that is seeing it’s share of the government pie gradually reduced.

So that’s that then. Hopefully this will serve as a useful article for people to check back to in the future and will give everyone food for thought when dreaming up their latest military procurement shenanigans.

82 Comments
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DominicJ
May 22, 2011 4:11 pm

governemt spending is 50% of gdp, and 80% of the spending is taxed.
So 40% making its way back is very achievable.
But of course, that depends a lot on how much ‘british built’ equipment is actualy british built, and how much is just assembly work

Euan
Euan
May 22, 2011 4:51 pm

AESA radars are an interesting one for me because they cost so bloody much but offer huge leaps in capability for military and commercial customers. One of the Major costs behind AESA radar’s is the nice little transmit and receive modules because they cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars per module and there are hundreds on a single radar antenna. From what I can remember only Northrop Grumman currently does volume production of these little buggers that are suited to airborne fighter radar. The other companies with the capability to manufacture them will probably produce them at lower volumes and that must mean higher costs for them and the customer.

The problem I think Europe has is nobody not us the Germans the French or the Italians will want to rely upon rationalised production possibly in another country to mass produce the transmit and receive modules to bring costs down. The French especially will never be happy with any arrangement to rationalise production that involves them not getting the lion’s share of the work and technology benefit from cooperation.

Also the British Built thing as we all know is really complicated especially when the companies are owned by foreign concerns like Finmeccanica’s mini empire that can take the profit and reinvest it anywhere they like. The same thing happens with BAE who has used the money it has creamed from the MoD to buy up foreign companies and continues to use profit generated to expand into foreign markets. Sure we still get a slice in the form of Tax but we get limited investment by those companies in their own facilities and capabilities within the country when they can spend it elsewhere and the Government will stump up to keep a capability. Also as DominicJ pointed out how much is actually British made rather than assembled e.g. how much of a AW-159 is actually wholly manufactured in the UK with British technology.

IXION
IXION
May 22, 2011 6:10 pm

Unlike some areas of defence procurement costs fighter aircraft are as expensive as they are, for all the reasons put up in this post. Fat lot of good that is though if we can’t actually afford them.

With fighter jets cheaper really does mean worse, but there are /must be limits to what unit cost we and others can afford to pay.

John Hartley
John Hartley
May 22, 2011 6:13 pm

Using Nimrod as a guide, bringing back a modern version of an old aircraft, is likely to cost at least £3 billion in R&D. So depends on the number you want. If its only a few, then it is cheaper to buy the latest, top of the range, shiny jet.
If old design is bought in vast numbers at low unit cost, then R&D is not to daunting.
Tax back on UK production is a good point. I think UK production is viable if you follow F-35 & take a 10% stake on the latest US project, or copy Sweden on the Gripen, keep control of the project, but licence build, buy in technology.
Do not be like France & the Rafale, where you develop(very expensively) every nut & bolt yourself.

Euan
Euan
May 22, 2011 6:40 pm

France has typically been very successful going it alone and has a better aircraft in the Rafale than we have in the Typhoon because they could just get on with it and get the aircraft they needed with the level of development to suit them. The Typhoon could be a better aircraft if we had decided to get on with developing all the technologies for it and then simply tried to sell them to the existing partners rather than wasting time trying to collaborate. The UK has all the required expertise in engines, radar and aero-structures (not too sure about avionics) to go it alone but the Government simply does not have the will to risk it. That attitude has probably increased because of the Nimrod mess but anyone who knows enough about that mess will realise that it need not have went so tit’s up. The Nimrod MRA4 was an entirely new aircraft design hardly a revamped MR2 it was meant to be therefore it could still be brought back to life as all the R&D is done and digitised.

Alex
Alex
May 22, 2011 6:46 pm

It really isn’t obvious that reviving an old design is cheap. Nimrod is exhibit A, but then again so are FLynx/Wildcat and Puma (repeatedly).

Also, it’s typical that the cost of running aircraft starts off high as you discover all the bugs, drops as you hit the learning curve, stays low through the bulk of the design life and then starts to hurtle upwards as major structures and systems wear out, parts become difficult to obtain, technology moves on and integration of new kit with the old stuff gets difficult, and the skills and knowledge associated with the project become obsolete and people retire.

All this stuff about “pulling them out of the boneyard” seems to ignore our painful experience of buying allegedly cheap old aircraft (Deathstar, VC-10) and keeping them in service or reworking old airframes into new (Nimrod, Flynx). I mean, if they were that great and that cheap, wouldn’t the yanks still be flying them?

Alex
Alex
May 22, 2011 6:49 pm

I wonder what the quote would be to build the full buy of MRA4 from scratch, now all the development is done? Obviously academic as BAE has binned all the tooling, but worth knowing how much the pure metalworking would cost.

Jan Guest
Jan Guest
May 22, 2011 6:58 pm

The VAT point accounts for a considerable part of the ‘American is cheaper’ thing. Purchase taxes (including vitally fuel) are cheaper throughout their system which is bound to impact on the cost of manufactured goods. Almost certainly where the silly Blackhawks myth comes from.

Richard Stockley
Richard Stockley
May 22, 2011 7:01 pm

I’ve often given a lot of thought as to why the F-35 programme has been so long and expensive, the link below gives a number of excellent comparisons between the X-35 prototypes and the F-35 production aircraft.

Had we gone for an HUD and a conventional hydraulic control system, and for the sake of argument, an APG-65 radar, we could have got the aircraft in the air sooner, but the early blocks would have had little in common to what is now the production standard F-35. However, I believe it wouldn’t have saved much cost wise because of the need for continual development. Although there is a lot to be said for making smaller technological leaps and utilising existing proven technology. Food for thought though.

http://www.codeonemagazine.com/article.html?item_id=28

Euan
Euan
May 22, 2011 7:30 pm

Do we actually know if BAE has totally destroyed all the tooling I know they have chomped up all the airframes that were in the process even if they have we still have how much does tooling up cost. I fully agree it would be really interesting to see an accurate estimate of how much a new build airframe with all the electronics and engines would actually cost. If we take the past expenditure out of the math then hopefully it won’t look too bad especially as at the moment that money is completely wasted.

Euan
Euan
May 22, 2011 7:33 pm

Sorry second line is garbage was going to say something else… anyhow meant to say “and even if they have how much does tooling up cost”

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
May 22, 2011 9:13 pm

Does it make more sense to evolve existing aircraft designs? For example the F-22 is the mutt’s nuts but is it significantly better than a Silent Eagle? Bringing back the Buccaneer isn’t possible but an interesting “what if…?” – Instead of producing the Tornado what if we had evolved the Buccaneer? Would it have been as good as the Tornado or good enough to justify the lower cost?

x
x
May 22, 2011 9:16 pm

The more I understand about aircraft engineering the less I know.

x
x
May 22, 2011 9:26 pm

@ Gareth Jones

Further to what I just said. It seems even the most minor change to an aircraft design is a major, major problem. You would think with all the computing power and computer models they have to manipulate and test (plus knowing in great detail how all these materials behave) and all the kit they have to measure stuff you would think a small change or shall I say a would term “quantifiable” change (like a new engine) would be manageable. It seems not. Makes me wonder how the likes of the first jet builders got anything above mach one. I am not sure whether the engineers are being thorough. Or it is modern jets are just too complex? Or the “idea” of what is being sold is too complex or too ill defined? Or do the customers know what they want?

Euan
Euan
May 22, 2011 9:34 pm

Well the Buccaneer was a better aircraft that was proven according to some in GW1 and in various exercises it was also faster at the low level strike role something which the Tonka toy was designed for. The Tonka would have been better in other areas but given a redesign and evolution there is no reason the Buccaneer wouldn’t have been just as good or better as a strike platform and it would have been as you mentioned good enough. Problem is the Buccaneer would have been a national project rather than a multinational job support and creation project also aimed at technology and aerospace sustainment. The RAF might also have gotten a proper fast pointy thing for sitting off the wing of the Soviet Bears buggering around the North Atlantic although the Tonka ADV was good enough for that role.

X, I get what you mean it seems so crazy that modern aircraft cost an arm and a leg and change is really expensive whereas in the 60’s we were building all sorts of weird and wonderful prototypes and busting the sound barrier. Think about the EE Lightning I can’t imagine something like that being allowed to be built these days get 2 of the most powerful engines we can find-check, strap a pilot and fuel to them-check add just enough wing to get it airborne-check.

Mark
Mark
May 22, 2011 9:37 pm

A gd piece chris I think youve covered all the major components and why fast jets will cost. This is probably along with submarines the only are you really do want the best you can afford. f35 unit costs have now held steady for 3 years and appear to be around the same price as a f18. Thru life costs will need some work but hopefully the corner has been turned software development may still through up surprises but hopefully were on the right track.

Most of the modern production aerospace factories will have a high degree of automation now jigs and major tools with all be moved around by robots using laser tracking. This is especially so in the large civil production runs eg the regional jets a320 series which will produce a/c at 42 per month. This is also the same as f35 and will be probably be the first modern jet to reach this scale of production.

The reason the military jets will cost more is there higher use of titanium and the also the closer tolerance in build than some of the civil equivalents. For example a major piece of structure a rib or landing gear beam in titanium will cost about 100K from billet to a/c ready piece it will be about 30% cheaper in alloy.

The initial design and test work will probably only account for about 10% of the production cost the tooling costs and the materials for manufacture is were all the big costs are especially if there is a large amount of carbon fibre present autoclaves and clean rooms arent cheap.

As for typhoon European projects are all about work share there was absolutely no need for 4 final lines to build 600 a/c it wouldnt of happened in any other civil or military program there should only have been one it would have saved a fortune but how you get round it I dont know.

Mark
Mark
May 22, 2011 9:46 pm

x

A re-engine is not a minor change it a very big change especially in a fighter were its all enclosed.
There can be a number of different interfaces in different places and the space envelope maybe changed. If may induce large loads requiring strengthening and may have different resonance frequencies in the structure. It also may change the C of G and require modifications to the flight software.

Airbus is going thru this right now with there re-engined a320 a/c for an entry in service of 2015 and that a podded engine.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
May 22, 2011 9:51 pm

Hi RS, thanks for the great link.

What does not get advertised much is the fact that the JSF design has over years actually deteriorated for its stealth (other than the frontal cross-section), in order to – in practice – meet the performance criteria

x
x
May 22, 2011 10:26 pm

@ Euan & Chris

I used to work with hi-tech stuff. So I “know” things are never simple as they first appear. But I also know how quickly models (very complex models) can be manipulated.

Take that BAE 155mm gun. What the f*ck was the difficulty with that? Is the ammunition on odd shape? No it is a bigger version of 4.5in version. So does the handling system have to be any different from the 4.5in or 5in gun BAE have the IP hold? No. Is 155m a new size? No. Is the propellant fundamentally different? No. Has the customer specified chocolate as the preferred build material? No. With modern CAD and modelling tools at hand I bet it wouldn’t take a competent engineer working on his own more than say 6 months to come up with a working design with all the parts ready to be passed on to machines for drilling and milling. But no……..

I can see how putting a bigger engine into an aircraft could cause problems. But surely there are growth margins built into airframes and other components (like control surfaces?) I don’t know. When you look at some of the creative things amateurs come up with in their past times it just makes me wonder how engineers with all the professional kit to hand (seemingly) struggle to come up with stuff. Is it corporate culture? I know safety is paramount but how much testing is enough? How many times do we have to pay for the wheel to be re-invented?

x
x
May 22, 2011 10:44 pm

@ Mark

I ran some stuff together in my ramble that I should have split up more. I was just typing off the top of my head. I was going to ask you about engine upgrades.

I do appreciate that the centre of gravity could be altered. And that harmonics in the structure could be changed (probably would be changed) which may require stiffening or strengthening in the frame

What I am saying is that the engine is a known. It’s weight and CoG are known. Its thrust is known. The strength of the airframe and its other properties are known. I appreciate that bringing the two will cause some problems and I know things don’t always appear in models. But it still makes me wonder where all the time and money goes.

Take JSF which started in 1996, first flight 2006, and introduction in 2016. If Boeing and LM could both build a flying aircraft in 10 years why is taking a further decade to come into service? Why are problems still surfacing now? If aircraft are that complex now then the next generation will never ever get out of the computer. Or are we at point where the tech will just about keep pace with development and keep us at a three decade design cycle?

Um. Ignore me. I talk crap. :)

paul g
May 22, 2011 11:33 pm

@mark, i have feeling we must live in the same area or read the same paper! Airbus are thinking of ramping up again to 46 a/c a month, cher-ching overtime!!

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
May 23, 2011 4:38 am

@ JH:”Using Nimrod as a guide, bringing back a modern version of an old aircraft, is likely to cost at least £3 billion in R&D. So depends on the number you want. If its only a few, then it is cheaper to buy the latest, top of the range, shiny jet. If old design is bought in vast numbers at low unit cost, then R&D is not to daunting.”

If by “vast numbers” you mean a few thousand, then I agree. But in that case, why settle for an obsolete design? Anyway, it’s an academic point for the UK since we’re never likely to get more than a few dozen of anything.

@ Chris.B and x:

The real problem with the 155 TMF is that the RN would not accept caseless propellant, for fire safety reasons. So some way of encasing the propellant all the way to the gun was required, and that was a non-trivial problem (especially if it had to be encased into the gun, as the 4.5 inch is).

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
May 23, 2011 7:34 am

“Speed, rate of climb and maximum altitude were all superb”
– The Swedes put one of those engines that the lightning had into their delta Wing J (=F)35 Draken, and still got Mach 2 out of it!
– no wonder the Lightning was thirsty, and range an issue

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
May 23, 2011 7:39 am

Hi Chris B,

This “he size of the magazine for the 155mm would have required pinching space on the Type-45 that is otherwise set aside for the addition of 16 VLS cells for long range strike weapons such as TLAM or SCALP” is the reason why I think we should re-gun with the 127mm OTO, and in the end all frigates/ destroyers would have the same gun & ammo supply

PS My previous piece should have said more clearly that Lightning had two of those at the time state-of-the-art engines

Richard Stockley
Richard Stockley
May 23, 2011 8:09 am

I believe the major problems with the BAC Lightening was that it was originally a Mach 2 research vehicle, which was then developed into a weapons platform. This explains the limited performance and serviceability nightmares. We could at this point discuss the problems of cutting corners in defence projects in order to save money…….

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
May 23, 2011 8:25 am

ACC, I doubt very much that any difference in size between 127mm and 155mm ammo would be so significant as to affect magazine size or capacity. The shells are a bit bigger, the propellant less so.

Tubby
Tubby
May 23, 2011 8:46 am

RE: Re-enginging

I thought it might be interesting to mention the Su-25 here.

Due to recent topics posted I purchased a copy of “Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot: Close Air Support Aircraft”, by Gordon Yefim and Alan Dawes. Currently about four chapters in, just getting to the end of the early development of the Su-25 when it was the T8 and they did something I would imagine would be frowned upon today (unless its t he Tejas) they developed the early prototypes using an engine which they knew was very unlikely to meet the design specifications. They then developed a new engine, and despite the fact that the engines on a Su-25 are separately podded to allow easy engine changes, they still needed to modify the plane (which at that point was close to its final design) – the change of engine stopped the experimentation with engine mounted airbrakes (to be fair they had not really worked at that point) and required changes to the intakes, and I think the hydraulics, but as I do not have the book with me do not quote me on that one.

However, India and the Tejas shows (will show?) that if you need to you can re-engine (possibly radically re-engine) an existing modern jet its possible. Possibly we will see the same with the F-35 and the alternative GE/RR F136 engine as I imagine that the airframes will need some sort of modification, even if it’s in the FBW software to take the F136.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
May 23, 2011 8:54 am

Hi Tubby,

RE ” India and the Tejas shows (will show?) that if you need to you can re-engine (possibly radically re-engine) an existing modern jet its possible”
– they are doing the same to their Jaguar fleet

Tubby
Tubby
May 23, 2011 9:11 am

Hi ACC,

Unless I am mistaken (and I often am) the Jaguar’s do not have FBW so re-engining must be easier. Also they have cancelled the RFP because RR pulled out (as the RFP called for a new engine not a development of an existing one).

I know if the EJ200 had been selected for the Tejas it meant lots of new work on the gearbox, but not sure about the GE F-414 however.

Mark
Mark
May 23, 2011 12:20 pm

F35 was design with two engine options like most civil a/c this means everyone agrees common interfaces and space envelops as a starting point. This is completely different to putting a new engine in a plane when neither the structure of the a/c or the engine were ever designed to accommodate it.

Richard Stockley
Richard Stockley
May 23, 2011 3:36 pm

Mark, re: new engines, a classic example of this is putting the RR Spey in the Phantom, the Australians dropped an alternative engine in the Sabre, which required an extensive fuselage re-design. It was such a b*ll-ache that when they bought the Mirage III they left the engine alone!

x
x
May 23, 2011 5:23 pm

@ TW said “The real problem with the 155 TMF is that the RN would not accept caseless propellant, for fire safety reasons. So some way of encasing the propellant all the way to the gun was required, and that was a non-trivial problem (especially if it had to be encased into the gun, as the 4.5 inch is).”

No Tony you are getting the wrong end of the stick here. I am not really interested in the specifics of why the programme failed in real life. I know full well the problems of caseless ammunition, HERO, etc.

What I was driving at was a flawed or ill thought out proposition was sold as solution that then took funds. If the RN wanted a 155mm gun they should have specified fixed ammunition from the get go. And if BAE had thrown a tiny, tiny percentage of their considerable RD weight behind the project T45 may (doubt it really,) just may have been launched with a modestly priced functioning 155mm gun.

So I am not interested in project specifics. My complaint is that the whole process is cock-eyed, flawed, and a waste of tax payers’ money.

x
x
May 23, 2011 5:29 pm

@ Chris B

Lightening and many post-war jets seemed to have major flaws. But look what they were developed with, mechanical calculators, slide rules and log tables. Still managed mach 2. Still managed to get into the air and back again.

As for 155mm. I wasn’t discussing the project itself. As I have just said above I was moaning about the process. The interaction and relationship between MoD and industry.

As for 155mm not fitting. Well yes I know this too. But remind me again who is the design authority for T45……..

Richard Stockley
Richard Stockley
May 23, 2011 6:55 pm

Just to totally contradict my previous comment, there was the F-16/J79, which could be reverted back to the F100 if necessary, and without alterations to the air intake and fuselage.

x
x
May 23, 2011 8:04 pm

@ Chris B

If MoD can’t get a gun (19th century tech’) or an 8×8 vehicle (early 20th century tech’) right, how are they going to get a buy like F35 right?

Just how much “expertise” is there in the upper echelons of the services? Or do they all mostly work within the system without question? I fear procurement is more about satisfying political needs first and if it goes some way to meeting a defence need it is an added bonus.

John Hartley
John Hartley
May 23, 2011 8:32 pm

Surely Parliamentary committees should investigate the viability at the start of a project, not wait years until it is in trouble.
Get it fully sorted at the start, then heavy penalties on industry/Treasury if they muck up the agreed plan.

McZ
McZ
May 23, 2011 8:40 pm

@x
“If MoD can’t get a gun (19th century tech’) or an 8×8 vehicle (early 20th century tech’) right, how are they going to get a buy like F35 right?”

The last session of the Armed Forces Comittee of the US Senate saw the statemenr, that there is no way to fix the F-35-programme and that the DoD should look for alternatives.

We have to face it: the F-35 gets a valid and likely cancellation target in the US. If there were no european partners, the project would have been death since 2005.

x
x
May 23, 2011 8:54 pm

Well the US did for Comanchee and to me this indicates no project is safe.

My current thinking goes from the practical, scrapping F35, let the RAF concentrate on Typhoon, and use CVF purely as super-LPHs to the fanciful like buying a good number of Tejas (cheap bomb truck for RAF, cheap missile carrier for FAA) as a stop gap until the UCAV like X47 arrive.

Such a mess.

Richard Stockley
Richard Stockley
May 23, 2011 9:35 pm

If we took all the systems out of (say) a Block 60 F-16E, designed a completely new stealthy airframe, and then integrated all the systems, widgets and gizmos back into the new airframe would that be a cheaper way of creating a ‘new’ aircraft? The development costs of the systems have already been met, all that is left is the airframe design, system integration and test programme.

The X-35 prototype used the nose u/c from an F-15, in this sense raiding the parts bin seems a very plausible idea, as long as you’re willing to accept the limitaions of using proven and existing technology.

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
May 23, 2011 9:54 pm

The Elephant in the room fir the UK is the DIS which seems to have droppped off the radar since the SDSR! It has to be decided once and for all whether the UK’s Defence Industry is a vital strategic assets given the small size of our armed forces.

If it is , then it needs regular orders to establish some sort of efficiency and stable funding for projects. This doesn’t have to meen lots of new very shiney platforms but more along the lines of replacements for worn out equipment of which we have plenty with similar or like for like. It only has to be good enough to get the job done not leap ahead in capability. They main area will be re-equipping the Army post Afghanistan, whilst the RAF concentrate on getting the Typhoon up to spec with Libya hopefully giving this a much needed push. The RN needs to squeeze every ounce of usage out of its T-23s and keep them in service as long as possible, pushing back the T-26 therefore giving shipyards some level of work.

However if it not then it is a whole new ball game. Given the size of our armed forces they are not really sufficient to support the UK’s defence industry at the size it is and recieve value for money. One way to go is licenced production of platfrom developed by other countries. Only certain porgrammes will be sufficiently large to make this economical whilst other will involve but from the original manufacturer. I must admit these two options are becoming my preferred choice. Whilst we retain world class R&D capabilites, and these like the Harrier can be sold overseas to allow other countries to further develope them we have to face the fact that we can no longer afford major national defence programmes or even to partake in multinational projrcts to the extent we currently do. Our armed force need a lot of replacement kit over the next ten years and the only way it will affordable is to go shopping abroard. In fact the RN would be well advised to scrap the T-26 and look at existing or planned platforms from other countries with FREMM top of the list. Yes it doesn’t do everthing we would like but it does most. As for the CVF if we are actually going back into fixed wing aviation we do not need a first day striker on board. We need a platform that can provide protection for the fleet and support for troops on the ground against opponents who are not going to be flying dozens of 3rd or 4th generation platforms with highly trained pilots. 20-30 years down the road things will be different but we can plan and adapt to that as can the platforms chosen, simply look how the basic “Vanilla” F-16 evolved over time from cheap day fighter to a try all weather multi-role platform. LO technology is not essentailo in modern warfare of the type we are most likely to be engaged in, it is firmll in the Nice to have or keepingup with the Joneses catagory.

Turning to the title of this post, the Typhoon will meet the RAF’s needs for decades to come as and when capabilites are incorporated. Number are an issue and we do need a second platform to suppliment it but we do not need a rolls royce solution. My choice would be the Super Bug is we could get our act together fast enough and I would cancel or rescedule other programmes to free up immediate funding sooner rather than later. My other choice would be the Gripen. Both these are mature platforms with theie R&D costs already covered. Both have growth potential in both electronics and ordonnace and will be in service for at least another 20 years. The SH is top of the list as it can opperate from the CVF and but it will be interesting to see how the Tejas(N) Mk2 shapes up. It could be the Jaguar for the 21st century, especialy if kit from the Typhoon, Gripen or other european platforms is made available for incorporation.

Simply remember many many nations do NOT build their own Military platforms and of those that do many lincence manufature other designs rather than their own. We have to knock the chip off our shoulder and start thinking outside the box if we are to retain an armed forces of anything like sufficient size to meet out aspirations.

Mark
Mark
May 23, 2011 10:08 pm

The mod have access to highly qualified people in the shape of dstl and did have qientic until it was privitised. How early these guys are brought in to consult and how much there listened too I’m not sure.

LJ
Superbug is NOT cheaper to procure it’s about the same unit price give or take 5m and the industrial losses would be to big to bear. As for gripen none of the r&d is covered if you wanna put it on a carrier that would all be ours to pay. The tejas won’t be navalised the Indians intend to use m29k of the carrier and prob replace those with rafale. I do agree we and I include European need to really stream line the high end stuff we simply don’t buy enough of it to have 2-3 of the same thing designed by half a dozen countries.

F35 won’t be cancelled it even further down the road than that program was. The first training a/c are being readied to move to eglin shortly

x
x
May 23, 2011 10:32 pm

@ Mark re naval Tejas

Do you have a link to any source re Tejas not being used for carrier ops?

I only ask because there is that much Tejas stuff out there it is hard to sort through.

Mark
Mark
May 23, 2011 10:39 pm

x

I dont i do remember reading somewhere it was all depended if mcra will be carrier capable. With there current carrier procured a/c and with rafale in the short list I don’t see they have a need for it

x
x
May 23, 2011 10:56 pm

@ Mark

Thanks. It was a sincere question.

If we decided to buy Rafale instead of F35 “we” would only b*gger it up. :(

George
George
May 24, 2011 10:19 am

If we went Rafale we should minimise changes other than clearing for carriage of our munitions.

This would be my preferred option, to be honest, only concern would be delivery schedule. I know it is hardly bargain basement however…

George
George
May 24, 2011 10:26 am

For the FAA I mean. The RAF should be all Typhoon with Conformal tanks and TV nozzles on swing role squadrons, Tranche 1 for QRA.

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
May 24, 2011 2:23 pm

I remember reading about a training exercise between the USN and the French Naval air arm. They conducted two exercises; at medium range the spoils were roughly even, the Rafale slightly ahead. At close range, the Rafale handed the Super Bug its arse back well and truly spanked.

This leads to two questions: do we need a “Dog Fighter” which can also do A2G (Rafale) or can the FAA get by with a bomb truck which is good at medium range A2A (F/A-18)? The answer to that question decides which we buy.

Personally I believe the Fleet (and any combined operation its supporting) will need a air superiority fighter which can swing to other roles.
I can’t help thinking (and I realise the irony of me saying this) that a lot of trouble would have been avoided if Carrier operations would have been included in the Eurofighter capabilities – like the French wanted.

I now need to go and bang my head against something hard…

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
May 24, 2011 3:12 pm

“I can’t help thinking (and I realise the irony of me saying this) that a lot of trouble would have been avoided if Carrier operations would have been included in the Eurofighter capabilities – like the French wanted.”

Perfectly true – but it would have been impossible to forecast at that stage. There was no prospect of the FAA going back to CATOBAR ops until the option was included in the carrier planning.

I suspect that even that happened by accident: the carriers grew in size because it made sense, from the bang for the buck point of view, to have a decent air group, therefore a large carrier – which turned out to be big enough for CATOBAR ops.

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
May 24, 2011 3:41 pm

@ Tony – Personally I agree with TD and would like a return to the original plan of buying the STOVL F-35B but I’m always biased towards STOVL and if we do go to CATOBAR I would like to see a “Proper” Fighter bought for the FAA – If the F-35C can be a bomb truck, dominate at medium range A2A and avoid close range dog fights then it might be a good buy but I’m wary.

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
May 24, 2011 4:03 pm

@ Tony – It strikes me as a lack of forward planning. The original idea was to have the stovl JSF to help with combined operations as well as reducing ship complexibility.

If we had planned to go CATOBAR from the start then we could of not only reduced design/production costs but purchased a carrier capable version of the Hawk trainer, which could have been used as a light attack aircraft, cross training with the RAF, joint deployment,etc.

We did neither, half-hearted planning for stovl, not committing to one path and so we get a capability considerably less than we could have.
Sorry – rant over.

George
George
May 24, 2011 4:14 pm

Gareth – nail on head I think. Half hearted planning, half hearted commitment, half hearted strategy

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
May 24, 2011 5:23 pm

Great news, TD

Of course, so far, SeaGripen has been a paper aeroplane, and the article still has India mentioned (that has ruled it out by now).

All eyes on Brazil… Was it BAE that wanted to sell ships there, too
– a nice package of everything naval, I am sure the Swedes will still honour all the other inducements they have put in , to get the deal through (BTW, the Queen of Sweden was Brazilian until that royal wedding)

Wibble
Wibble
May 24, 2011 5:44 pm

Nice article and covers things often missed (deliberately) by the likes of Lewis Page.

Taking this further, for simplicity you can think of aircraft as cars. A Ford Focus may be a bottom of the range, small engine model no AC, ABS, Central locking etc or a Ford Focus could be an RS model with a 2ltr Turbo, gadgets galore and exceptional handling. So when people quote prices for aircraft you have to think along the same lines, what version am I getting? You can buy second hand F16 for not a lot of money but that is not the same spec as the USAF or even Israelis use and so on. This can be taken further still looking at integration of weapons systems etc. There is no point buying a top spec F16 with all singing all dancing RADAR if you are not, or cannot, buy top spec AMRAAM to go with it and so on.

Some quoted aircraft prices include parts packages etc so that will obviously increase the cost but could work out cheaper long term. On the subject of long terms costs like cars you can select the parts you want and can go for cheaper options that are not as good and wear out more quickly. This will bring down the initial costs but cost you more long term.

You don’t have to even buy engines if you don’t want to. You can simply hire them which is another way of cutting costs, or at least appearing to cut costs.

When buying US kit you need to take into account VAT, Exchange rates and the fact you aircraft will not come with all the coms equipment. You either (normally cheaper) buy the coms kit of the USAF or fit your own. Again this brings down the figures if you present them the right way.

The way the figures are presented is a key thing and down to our political masters. If it is an election year the want to say they have spent a lot so will use figures to suit and so on. A big, big problem with all government departments is having a set budget each year and the “lose it if you don’t use it” system. Therefore, politicians will happily sign off a contract for a sub-standard aircraft in order to keep the costs within budget for the year/project but then pay money each year to fix/upgrade them.

x
x
May 24, 2011 5:51 pm

GJ said “This leads to two questions: do we need a “Dog Fighter” which can also do A2G (Rafale) or can the FAA get by with a bomb truck which is good at medium range A2A (F/A-18)? The answer to that question decides which we buy.”

I remember reading about Tornado ADV being exercised against Luftwaffe Migs not long after the Wall came down. The Migs got shot of the sky every time because of ADV’s BVR missile capability. It was only when ADV was forced to dog fight did the results get reserved.

This is why I am so taken with the idea of Tejas. It is the equal of most of the Chinese fleet. Certainly better than any ‘plane fielded either by the Taliban or the Somali pirates! It is a cheap bomb truck for “peace keeping.” And more than adequate to loft Western BVR AAM into position directed by shipborne and airborne RADARs. Heck I am even beginning to think STOBAR is a good compromise.

This news about Sea Gripen is good to hear too.

Wibble
Wibble
May 24, 2011 6:05 pm

BVM is only good if your ROE allows it and only the good guys play by the rules.

x
x
May 24, 2011 6:12 pm

@ Wibble

Well I assume if it comes to fisty cuffs with the Chinese BVR would be within the rules……..

Further in a stand off situation (brink of war/crisis) where competing aircraft would be in sight of each other if we had lots of airframes backed up by a world class area defence missile system I don’t think we would be at too much of a disadvantage.

Mark
Mark
May 24, 2011 6:38 pm

TD

It is interesting news also the size of ship mentioned could this be aimed at the Italian navy and possible the Spanish. They may have moved the design to UK due to a lack of engineering capacity in Sweden though historically they havent had to much difficulty getting people to travel up there to work and to raise the profile in UK.

If it goes beyond a concept then I do like it as a capable low end a/c. You would only have to push the F35 full service date back about 5 years to get to the typhoon osd of 2030. With the possibility of flogging off the typhoon could we have a 3 fast jet fleet transiting to an all carrier capable high low mix of F35 and gripen by 2030?

Wibble
Wibble
May 24, 2011 6:56 pm

X

The chances of all out war are slim. Any large war is likely to be fought from an allied country and we wont be doing it alone so can use others military’s missile defence system etc.

In real terms the use BVR is unlikely in most conflicts we are likely to go into. The only exception would be the Falklands due to it being relatively easy to confirm the origin of aircraft in that airspace by RADAR in a war situation. Even saying that the threat to the Falklands is small.

It is not difficult to argue that we could buy cheaper aircraft but ensure there is the option to upgrade RADARs etc in the unlikely event of a full scale war starting.

x
x
May 24, 2011 7:10 pm

@ Wibble

Yes I understand the apparent problem with BVR or OTH weaponry.

All I will suggest is that if conflict does occur civilian traffic would be routed around the area. And further I would suggest at the heights combat would occur non military traffic would be easily identified; size, transponder, behaviour, etc. etc.

Perhaps the UN should push for a moratorium on BVR missiles as they have done with landmines just in case?

Wibble
Wibble
May 24, 2011 8:02 pm

X

There is no need to be so flippant about what is a sadly a significant part of modern warfare.

If the press show pictures of the remains of a white helicopter with large red crosses on it that is very bad for the IO campaign. It matters not that AWACS tracked it taking off from a military bases and the intelligence reported that enemy forces where using this paint work as a deception. The simple fact is the RAF “should have” visually confirmed it was a military target and the press would slaughter the RAF and government.

You also forget about blue on blue as IFF etc is not perfect.

You also forget that wars rarely start like an on/off switch so inevitable that will be civilian aircraft operating for at least part of the start of hostilities where you would use your fighters.

You further forget that NGOs operate using aircraft throughout conflicts along with civilians medical flights etc.

Ultimately war is an extension of foreign policy so politics is often more important the military capability. To be seen to be doing the right thing is can be more powerful than doing the right thing.

Think Defence
Admin
May 24, 2011 8:29 pm
Reply to  Wibble

x, this is the same reason why Harpoon and the like are seen as yesterdays news for most modern expeditionary naval forces, in the most likely situations we are going to find ourselves in, lobbing missiles over the horizon is just too risky

x
x
May 24, 2011 8:51 pm

@ TD

I know there are problems with BVR / OTH weaponry. I have spent along time looking at the problem. Mainly from the perspective of the disconnect between capability (and what is being developed and sold/marketed by the defence companies and purchased by governments) and practicability/utility/employability of those weapons. In a previous life that is fast receding in to the past I spent an awful long time comparing the threat of SALW proliferation against WMD proliferation and the impact of hypothetical use of the latter to the actual impact of the former. So believe me I know a thing or two about collateral damage. Security Studies is fun field.

@ Wibble

Whatever.

Foxtrot Oscar

The Mintcake Maker
The Mintcake Maker
May 24, 2011 9:06 pm

@ Mark

I have to agree with you and I do hope that the Sea Gripen (we will have to come up with a better name for it) does actually make it into production because I also believe that we should have a High/Low a/c mix and given the current cost of advanced aircraft i can’t see us being able to buy enough “5th generation” aircraft to replace the typhoon.

The 25,000 ton aircraft carrier sounds a lot like the 240m Bazen Sac-220 design

I could quite happy live with a permanent peacetime compliment of 12x Sea Gripen, 4x F-35c and some Helo’s onboard the deployed QEC

Jed
Jed
May 24, 2011 9:33 pm

TD – not so quick matey….

“Lobbing” AShM over the horizon is fine, if your anti-ship missile is modern and has any of the following capabilities:

1. Radar capable of “imaging” the target vessel for target recognition
2. Imaging Infra-Red terminal homing which can match the view of the target to a library of target images / parameters
3. A datalink which allows for “off board” targeting updates while in flight
4. A datalink which allows “man in the loop” final targetting (if # 2 is fitted).

So over the horizon targeting, long range engagements are not quite so old hat you know… :-)

Wibble
Wibble
May 24, 2011 9:39 pm

@X

Grow up

Technology will help long term but whether or not technology can keep up with lefty politics is a whole other debate.

Additionally, you can have situations where both friendly and enemy use the same equipment (the RAF still have an Argentinian Chinook found in 82!!). So the imaging would have to be pretty special to spot subtle difference that only spotters normal see!

Think Defence
Admin
May 24, 2011 9:45 pm
Reply to  Wibble

Wibble, Richard did a great piece a while ago about the cut and shut Chinook

https://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2009/07/a-tale-of-two-chinooks/

Michael (Civ.)
Michael (Civ.)
May 24, 2011 9:53 pm

Mind if i join in? :)

After i really started looking at it, i thought that the Rafale was just what we were looking for, good performance as a dogfighter (will do very high G), and fine as a bombtruck, also we knew how much it would cost and what we’d need to run it.

What i’d failed to really think about was, what sort of aircraft will we need in 10 – 15 etc years from now?

What we most likely will need is an aircraft that will be stealthy with very good performance as a dogfighter and that can be a bombtruck.

Problem is, is that there aren’t any aircraft about that fit the bill. The best we can go for is a two out of 3 approach. Stealthy and a bombtruck, with an ok performance as a dogfighter.

Cost wise, i think it would make better sense to go for one type of aircraft, training and logistics etc.

If we had the money then i’d agree that we could go for 2 types, one to be used by the Navy as a bombtruck and BVR missile platform and the other as a high end, stealthy aircraft that could be used wherever it was most needed, Land or Sea.

Sorry but the way i see it, a Rafale or Sea Gripen is what we need right now not what we may need in another decade.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
May 24, 2011 10:32 pm

RE “should be remembered that in the first Gulf jaunt, BVR worked quite well”
– in the one previous to that, it worked too well
– Iran still had stocks to arm their Tomcats with BVR
– the Mig’s (Mirage, too) that Iraq was flying had no idea until they started blowing up in one’s and two’s

USN made double sure that all the Tomcats retired were cut to small pieces, no spares to Iran

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
May 25, 2011 1:47 am

Well I have seen little to suggest the F-35C and the F-18E/F cast roughly the same, in fact many suggest there is quite a difference with soem USN sources saying the actual difference cound be as much as double but until firm and accurate figures for F-35 costings are released for a proper comparison I am going to rely on common sense which say that the F-35C is going to be more expensive based on the programmes track record.

I mentioned the Gripen and F-18E/F but only referred to the F-18 for carrier ops with no mention of the Sea Gripen.

As for the LCA(N) well it appears the Indian Navy is thinking along the lines of the Airforce in opperating a High/Low mix of platforms from its next generation of carriers but of course the Mig-29N will enter servive first but whether there will be additional purchases is looking doubtful with the Mig-35 elliminated form the Airforce competition and the curretn focus on reducing India’s dependance on Russian hardware.

As has been pointed out we need an aircraft now for the CVF and Tornado replacement. The fixation on what will be needed in 15 to 20 years time is one of the main drivers behind the MoD always going for the Rolls Royce solution which often leads to mission and capability creep in programmes and hence increased costs. We need to focus on what can get the job done now and the next decade and a half against realistic threats. Sometimes I think the MoD’s threat evaluation team is stuck in the cold war and like the CIA at the time is constantly over estimating the opposition and could almost be accused of crying wolf. Come 2025 or 2030 we can re-evaluate the threats and look at what capabilites are needed in the replacement platform.

Before people starting shooting all this down have a think about the threats we are likely to face with a large dose of realism. I haven’t got a crystal ball but I do know risk management. There are going to be many more cuts before 2015 and additional funding post that date is not guaranteed. TO retain anything like effective force levels we are going to have to compromise in many areas choosing platforms and systems that are able to do 80-90% of what a Rolls Royce solution would deliver, relying on allies (USA) for the higher end capabilites if a major war against a top tier threat in the unlikely event this happened.

Finally on workshare and contract related to the JSF. These are not related to purchases buy individual companies and although LM have rattled there pram when other countries talked about reducing their requirements it would be they who had to pay compensation if they backed out on agreements/contracts with sub-contrators like BAe Systems.

RW
RW
May 25, 2011 7:13 am

Maybe the 25,000 reference is to LPH type (Mistral etc, even old through deck cruiser) vessels and is an indication of how short a runway they require, although if they are now claiming STOBAR like Typhoon they must be planning a big power upgrade? thrust vectoring?

Mark
Mark
May 25, 2011 8:12 am

well current reported f35 price by cape last week was that that the price had stayed at 2008 estimate of 95m dollars with an engine or 113m in 2011 dollars. This compare to Australia purchasing 24 superhornets for 2.2b us dollars or 92m dollars each in 2008. They then had a further 2.4b for 10 years support. This is were f35 will cost more but is worth it.

LJ

What we need in 10-15 year is very much the argument as we won’t have a carrier for 10 years so have no requirement for a carrier a/c now. We don’t have the money to buy f18 now anyway and also it would require addition aar support an area never addressed by people who want to switch to that option. And yes our buy and continued production at bae sites in the uk are very much an issue as full f35 production contracts are not yet signed up. Indeed bae has moved some f35 production to austrailia recently I believe

George
George
May 25, 2011 11:11 am

I could live with a Hi-Lo mix of F35 and Sea Gripen – sometimes you just need the numbers

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
May 26, 2011 1:16 am

Yes and Spain could try to retake Gibraltar or the French the Channel Islands. I fully agree we need to plan for the future but we have to live within our means and these are still shrinking and there is a high probability will continue to do so after 2015. I would be fine with 100 F-35Cs if we can afford them as well as refit the Army, build 12 or so T-26s and bring the Typhoon up to spec amongst other things. The US DoD has admitted that the operating costs for the F-35 are going to be substantially higher than the F-18 and that the overall purchase price is more than planned. Yet the true price is still not known so the former may still be affordable but will we be able to afford any 5th/5th generation platforms in sufficent numbers to make the CVF and effective fixed wing operating platform.
What I have been trying to say is that in trying to attain the goal of FF2020 we need to look at all options and not be blinkered into only considering Rolls Royce solutions to get there. As it is planned the numbers covered by FF2020 are the bare minimum required to meet the aims and goals and rely on a meaningful increase in defence spending post 2015. There is little or no room for additional costs as so there is a need to consider platforms and systems that simply get the job done without additional bells and whistles.

Chris in Virginia
Chris in Virginia
May 26, 2011 11:31 pm

Says here

http://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2011/05/24/357137/saab-to-complete-sea-gripen-design-work-in-uk.html

Sea Gripen moving towards replacing F-35C with some UK co-development? (reading between the lines)

Next step a STOBAR launch off the HMS Illustrious to show viability of Sea Gripen to the Brazilians, who are CATOBAR A-4’s now?

Wonder what a temporary set up on Illustrious would entail? You could then sell the HMS Ark Royal (forgive me for saying so) to the Brazilians… or Indians… and buy some of your Sea Gripens with the proceeds?

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
May 30, 2011 9:43 am

In Jane’s International Defence Review for June:

“The USN plans to have the MQ-8B Fire Scout rotary-wing UAV weaponised within 18 months of gaining additional funds from Congress. NAVAIR said in April that it has identified BAE Systems APKWS (laser-guided 70mm rocket)…and Raytheon’s Griffin missile.

Griffin was developed for USSOCOM. It is GPS guided, 1.09m long, weighs 15 kg and carries a 5.9 kg warhead.”

What I find interesting about this is not just that the development and fielding of ever-smaller precision-guided missiles like these presages the end of the aircraft cannon for ground strafing, but that their use by ever-smaller UAVs surely sounds the death knell for the use of manned aircraft in the CAS role.

After all, who in their right minds would want to send a manned, £100 million jet “down and dirty” where they are vulnerable to 12.7mm and 14.5mm MG fire, let alone MANPADS?