Arse, Meet Elbow

Confusion continues to reign in the land of CVF.

The MoD seems unable to get it’s story straight on the conversion to conventional carrier aircraft operations and is increasingly looking like it doesn’t know it’s arse from it’s elbow.

A recent Parliamentary answer confirmed the ‘official position’ that basically seems to be that no decisions have yet been made, with the final decision coming out of an 18 month study carried out by Aircraft Carrier Alliance (MoD, Babcock, Thales and BAe) and Naval Design Partnering (NDP) team.

The date that the operational Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier enters service with the Royal Navy will depend on which ship will be converted to operate the carrier variant Joint Strike Fighter. This in turn will inform when fast jets will be deployed from the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers. We expect firm decisions to be taken on carrier conversion in late 2012 and it remains our intent to deliver a carrier strike capability from around 2020.

The generally accepted position is that QE will be commissioned as the worlds largest helicopter carrier and PoW will get the modifications to support the F35C, although it must be noted main gate for the Joint Combat Aircraft has yet to be finalised so the selection of F35C is not certain, even if it remains the preferred option. When PoW enters service, QE will be placed into extended readiness or sold, again, no decisions have been finalised.

The Carrier Alliance have been provided with funding to get the study to October, after which additional contracts will be let.

This initial funding is for £5 million

Then up pops Gerald Howarth in an interview with the Portsmouth News

The SDSR concluded we needed one carrier but clearly that has its own limitations in availability and clearly the 2015 defence review gives us an opportunity to look again in the prevailing economic conditions and see where we go from there. Clearly, all of us would like two aircraft carriers because that gives us the continuous at-sea capability.We’ve had to take some pretty tough decisions but we’re hoping to be in a position to recover that one in 2015

We endlessly debate the dogs breakfast that is the CVF programme but there seem to be a pair of immutable laws

  1. We really haven’t got a clue what we are going to do, how much it is going to cost or what will be involved in the switch
  2. Costs only ever rise
The switch to the F35C as the preferred option was taken on incomplete information and as yet we are unable to articulate the capital or through life costs of doing so.
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August 24, 2011 8:19 am

Cribbing comments from authors on other forum’s, the current mess of different stories of what happening appears to be a tussle over what should happen to QE, with different parties putting forward what they want to happen. To be frank, I am not sure given the final decisions will not be made until late 2012 that it might not be to late to add cat and traps to PoW, and I can imagine a situation where it requires ripping up one new carrier, regardless, to fit the cat and traps.

August 24, 2011 9:38 am

QE sold

PoW renamed Ark Royal

Rafeles to be operated.

August 24, 2011 10:26 am

“The SDSR concluded we needed one carrier but clearly that has its own limitations in availability and clearly the 2015 defence review gives us an opportunity to look again in the prevailing economic conditions and see where we go from there. Clearly, all of us would like two aircraft carriers because that gives us the continuous at-sea capability.We’ve had to take some pretty tough decisions but we’re hoping to be in a position to recover that one in 2015”

Sensible chap that Gen Howarth. ;)

August 24, 2011 10:58 am

At the risk of stating the obvious, it is a money question. In the 2010 SDSR the government took the unusual step in a money driven review, of not declaring a position on the second carrier and postponed a decision until 2015.

Conspiracy theorists will read a lot into this but I tend to the more innocent view that in 2010 (and still) the MoD hasn’t yet got itself into a position where it can say to the government that it can afford to give both carriers cats & traps. There seems to be some goodwill to completing the second carrier and indeed it seems the government deliberately left the option open by not cancelling it entirely in 2010. In a perverse sort of way you hope that Liam Fox can free up enough funds by closing bases and fringe assets/capabilities, so that by 2015 the MoD can say that the cost of a second set of cats & traps becomes ‘within budget’.

August 24, 2011 11:56 am

I read this part “given the final decisions will not be made until late 2012” as not only choosing the cats & traps supplier, but “freezing” the additional costs by a definitive contract
– the outcome on that may well decide whether one or both with cats & traps
– a further, down-the-line effect on the F35 orders (whether there will be two batches, well separated in time, or just the first one)

August 24, 2011 12:06 pm

The hulls are in the water. They will have a long life. It appears the technology for CATOBAR is nearly there.

I have said before here the maritime approach is an easy target because it is concrete and there are cogent arguments to support it.

It would be nice to see some of the anti’s here layout a broad brush stroke non-maritime approach.

August 24, 2011 1:19 pm

I’m not really an anti, but I’m not a Carrier zealot either.
I have posted a few times alternative views, but alternative views for a carrier free strategic raider, rather than anything inherantly different.

Basicaly, replace Carriers with stretched 128 TacTom Toting T45s

August 24, 2011 2:41 pm

RE ” carrier free strategic raider”
– how does that compare with the present mantra: carrier-assisted (str. raider) ops?

August 24, 2011 3:09 pm

I think there are many parties in the MOD and the government who would like to have both carriers with CTAS and TRAPS. Given the shrinkage in the budget deficit which is estimated to have been elimintaed by 2015 it should be relativley easy given the small cost for the government in 2015 to find the extra money. If the treasury wants a project dead it will normally do everything from posining the well to cutting off its own noce. Look at TSR2 where the prototypes and jigs were ordered to be burned for no reason. If they really wanted just one carrier they would have canceled the project even considering the penalty.

August 24, 2011 3:25 pm


‘The hulls are in the water. They will have a long life. It appears the technology for CATOBAR is nearly there.’

In pure financial terms I don’t think that matters much with regards to if they will even enter service. Look at MRA4, they were flying, and still got the chop. I’m not saying they should be cut btw, just that there is still plenty of time yet for someone to wield the axe.

August 24, 2011 3:27 pm

RE “Given the shrinkage in the budget deficit which is estimated to have been elimintaed by 2015”
– currently the markets are telling us about a double-dip, i.e. the 2nd one in process, and without a pronounced upswing, there will be no elimination of the deficit
… so where do we go with the defence priorities, and choices?

August 24, 2011 3:36 pm

Even bigger cuts, if the country doesn’t pick up, hard to see more money being given to the MoD in such circumstances.

August 24, 2011 4:02 pm

Erm, instead of using a carrier and JSF to bomb the enemy, buy half a dozen stretched T45s and plaster the enemy with TacToms.
CAS can be provided by Apaches off the Flat Tops.

August 24, 2011 4:45 pm

@ Topman

I hear you. :)

There will be plenty of money when the army is cut to the Household Division and a battalion of TA.

August 24, 2011 6:18 pm


I think you’re being a bit unfair here. Rather than incompetence as the title of your post suggests, I think it is all about political manoeuvring.

Basically, when the SDSR was proposed, the Government was told that the F-35B STOVL version of the JSF strike fighter was unlikely to fulfil expectations and, even if it did, it would arrive late. This led to the choice of the F-35C. It has since been pointed out that navalised version of the Typhoon could do much of what the F-35C could do while having two engines, a bit of a bonus at sea.

However, we need a Harrier replacement not only for the Navy and its carriers, but also for the RAF. The STOVL capability is useful if not important for close air support. The F-35B would give us a worthwhile capability upgrade versus the Harrier GR9.

Moreover, since SDSR, my understanding is that the F-35B is gradually getting back on track and will perform as expected. Given the advent of the Russian Su T-50 and Chinese stealth fighters and, of course, the grounding of the F-22 Raptor fleet, America realises that it has to make the JSF work… or risk EU customers going elsewhere to fulfil their combat aircraft needs. The US will invest whatever it takes to make JSF work, although it could indeed cancel the F-35B version.

While the F-35 program matures, the Government doesn’t need to take a decision on which version it wants just yet. In fact, the CATOBAR system doesn’t need to be funded until the hulls are ready.

i note that UK F-35 funding is mentioned in the latest forecasts. This is our inescapable commitment to buy test versions of the F-35B. These will enable us to see its potential.

These factors give the Government manoeuvre room to change their mind about which version of the F-35 we end up buying. it wouldn’t be the first time David Cameron has changed his mind.

If the US can get the F-35B to work as advertised, I would prefer this option.

August 24, 2011 6:39 pm

@ DomJ

Didn’t see you lurking there……..

It isn’t so much the carriers more that nobody from t’other side puts forward anything. The UK has been “fortunate” that the US has been there to allow us to do things. If all we are to do is defend Europe so be it. I am sure the Greeks and Poles would enjoy all the economic benefits that were enjoyed by >cough< German allies. But if the UK sees a need to take part in global security arrangements we need global reach that is sustainable.

This is an image from 2020 of an MRB deploying to Mozambique because of an emergence in Zimbabwe.×405.jpg

Glug, glug, glug……..! :) ;)

August 24, 2011 7:01 pm

The problem with just using T45s with Tomahawks and using Apaches for land attack, is of course, defending against attacking jets, such as was crucial in the Falklands.

August 24, 2011 7:31 pm

Changing to the F35C is the better decision the problems with f35b are many and varied.

DomJ really for apache to do cas you assume no air threat and targets within 100 miles of your target less if you want loiter time.

x as for the mrb as Libya suggests we can overthrow dictators by supporting a local militia by supplying them with an airforce and navy we may not need the stabilisation mrbs (general banging head off table).

August 24, 2011 7:51 pm

i see 500+ cruise missiles and 8 paams as equal to the task of any airforce and sam network we could face alone.

100 miles isnt that bad, enough to reach most targets, i cant imagine why we would be 50miles inland on a ‘raid’ anyway.

August 24, 2011 8:16 pm

@ x

“I have said before here the maritime approach is an easy target because it is concrete and there are cogent arguments to support it. It would be nice to see some of the anti’s here layout a broad brush stroke non-maritime approach.”

— The problem I think you’re having is that you equate CVF as being the only tool of a “Maritime Approach”. And thus anybody anti-CVF is de facto anti-Navy/anti-Maritime.

I would like to see the Navy get more money. I’m not convinced at the minute that CVF is the best way to spend said money.

That’s not being “non-maritime” or “anti-Navy”, that’s being anti-CVF.

To take this further, anti-CVF is not even anti-aircraft carrier. It’s just anti-“the ship bulding program known colloquially as CVF” (and some of the absurd arguments made in its defence).

Why can’t someone be against the CVF program, but in favour of increased escorts, subs etc?

The problem is not ours, its yours.

You’re automatically assuming that because someone doesn’t share your ardour for your pet project that they are, by default, in favour of scrapping the Navy entirely and replacing it with a world wide web of Maritime Patrol Aircraft.

That’s not the case. One can be pro-Navy, pro-maritime, Sea-seeing (what’s the opposite of blind?), without also being a supporter of the CVF program.

August 24, 2011 8:22 pm

Actually no Chris. You have the problem. But as I don’t want to get into a circular clusterf*ck like the one you did with Gabby I will leave it.

August 24, 2011 8:47 pm

To the carrier Junkies
Yea whatever.

TD is right. not even the govt knows whats going to happen, lots of people in uniform and highly ranked know what they would like to happen, but no one yet has decided what will happen.

2012 and 2015 will see a lot of things ‘on the table’ There will be shocks, especially if ‘Call me Dave’ has apparantly decided the Guards units are untouchable.

August 24, 2011 8:58 pm


cruise maybe useful in some cases but paveway iv and brimstone are the weapons of choice tomahawk just limits your options to much. PAAMS can only shoot things down it cant intercept or shadow.

chrisB a frigate navy limits your options significantly and removes a whole axis of movement that has the least political impact. You get 3 astutes for the 2 cvf or 5 type 45 which is hardly game changing escort or sub numbers.

August 24, 2011 9:13 pm

The aerial axis, if that is indeed what you’re referring to, can be covered by other means. You should also get a bloody sight more than just 3 astutes for 2 CVF.

Never the less, the fact remains that replacing CVF with other ships or with a combination plus MPA for the local role etc, constitutes an interest in things maritime.

Thus to be anti-CVF does not automatically make one anti-maritime, sea-blind, pick your bullshit title and insert it here.

CVF will likely (based on current decisions) be a component of our future Navy. It is not “The Navy” in one vessel.

People seem to be having a hard time divorcing the ship from the system in which it serves.

August 24, 2011 9:15 pm

Hi Ixion,

RE ” not even the govt knows whats going to happen, lots of people in uniform and highly ranked know what they would like to happen, but no one yet has decided what will happen.”
– and, while being correct, that is bad
– general election in between, so the first part is correct [to the comma]
– I would hate to have worked to the top of the RN (takes a life time, literally), and then be making these plans that the next Parliament might totally turn over
– it is a ‘system failure’ would you not agree? (pro or contra CVF, that does not matter)

August 24, 2011 9:21 pm


We have done this a thousand times.

One one hand we have carrier junkies

On the other we have the the CVF athiests (I say CVF as many like me favour carrier air power but not the CVF program).

Both think the other deluded.

Whatever we say money will do the talking,it will eaither happen or not, and if it does happen what use it will be, etc.

So lets not do the: –

‘CVF is the savour Of GB and RN as a ‘world power’


‘CVF is the work of Satan’


August 24, 2011 9:25 pm


It is CVF’s fate to be perhaps the touchstone of our utterly disfunctional millitary procurement, and ‘strategic’ (yeah right) millitary decision making.

You are correct, it is no way to run a railroad.

Brian Black
Brian Black
August 24, 2011 9:43 pm

The whole carrier procurement affair will go down in history for all the wrong reasons, but I’m pretty sure this is a one-way track by now. There will be a carrier, and it will have aircraft. And even after considering all the uncertainties, including the next election, I think keeping number 2 is no better or worse than a 50-50 toss up.

It’s probably a bit late to be drawing up shopping lists of what we’d like to see instead of CVF. So an early suggestion for a 2025 article – ‘How I learned to live with and love CVF’ by Think Defence.

August 24, 2011 9:53 pm

Ixion yes we have and I not starting a repeat but as you chipped in a nelly and dumbo I thought Id thru one back.

chris as astutes cost about 1.5b each and the cvf at present is about 5.5b you get 3 and 2/3rds I suppose. Nor did I say you were anti martime or any other bullshit title.

August 24, 2011 10:21 pm

the cvf program with jets is more like 10bn.

Higher running costs than 5 or 6 battleships too….

Brian Black
Brian Black
August 24, 2011 10:37 pm

Dominic, you can’t really roll all the aircraft costs into the carrier programme, as we would still be buying jets with or without CVF. Could even have bought into F35A/B had we never started the CVF programme.

August 24, 2011 11:31 pm

“It’s probably a bit late to be drawing up shopping lists of what we’d like to see instead of CVF. So an early suggestion for a 2025 article – ‘How I learned to live with and love CVF’”

Very much agreed BB, including the comment above.

August 25, 2011 1:52 am

Just wondering …with F22 never likely to be used in anger

how likely is it that the same applies for F35 ??

i.e. its too valuable to loose at the start and then too plagued by issues such as upgrade costs and the technical problems of new technologies to be a reliable force

leaving the ucavs and older jets to shoulder the workload, it doesn’t seem any stranger a fate than that which has developed for the worlds “leading 5th generation fighter”

August 25, 2011 3:49 am

@ Rw the B2 had the same problem in the early days but it has been used in more recent operations. No one wants to let a piece of kit liek the F22 out too early. Don’t want the Chinese getting any data on it. As the F35 is not suppose to be as capable and will come 10 years later I do not predict the same problem. It always amazes me how contoversial CVF is. Considering that the cost of the program is really not that much compared to Astute or T45. Even with Aircraft it comes in well below the estimates for FRES or for Typhoon. It is possibly about the way we see ourselves and our armed forces. CVF make a very large statement on the world stage good or bad.

August 25, 2011 3:51 am

@ Mark

“chris as astutes cost about 1.5b each and the cvf at present is about 5.5b you get 3 and 2/3rds I suppose,”

— I believe the cost has gone down as the project advances and newer ships are built quicker, using the newer techniques and processess developed.

“Nor did I say you were anti martime or any other bullshit title,”

— My comment in that regard was not aimed at you.

August 25, 2011 8:01 am

BB I agree with your comments also.

Chris I think the first 3 cost over 6b and next 3 below 5b not sure what boat 7 cost. As for responding to your comment i was a bit ott.


August 25, 2011 8:05 am

Ops sent above post to early

Rw don’t see that being a issue the us need to replace almost it’s entire fighter fleet due to significant fatigue issue across the board whichhas lead to a number of fleet groundings. They intend f35 for this purpose it will be used it won’t have the same issues as f22 indeed a number of techs developed for f35 will/ are being retro fitted to f22 to help improve it’s reliabilty

August 25, 2011 8:16 am

Great point, Martin

“Even with Aircraft it [CVFs] comes in well below the estimates for FRES or for Typhoon. It is possibly about the way we see”
– “ourselves”; Typhoon – the last hurrah of British aicraft development (fun for those who were on the ride, but starved out other budgets?)
– “and our armed forces”;CVF & off-the-shelf (almost! ots)strike planes = buy what is needed
+ which one is nationally more important: to be able to build warships or DESIGN warplanes from scratch
+ in the long run F-35 will do as much to sustain aircraft building in the UK as Typhoon (was it 18% of 2000 planes vs a higher percentage of a couple hundred)

FRES is not really in this league as it will never, in my view, materialise on the envisaged scale

August 25, 2011 8:39 am

you have to include aircraft costs, its a fundamental part of the carrier!
Its like stripping paams out!

why wont the 22/35 be used?
Every other stealth aircraft has been, typhoon and rafale are hardly hanger queens.

they are all controversial!!!
Well, astutes just expensive, the 45s should never been gutted or killed, we’d have been better with rafel than typhoon and fres makes on weep

someone else
the entire usaf is past its use by date, airlift, tankers, sigint, fighter, bomber

August 25, 2011 10:27 am

“you have to include aircraft costs, its a fundamental part of the carrier!”

Sure, but those aircraft will be in the RAF if they aren’t in the FAA.

If they aren’t then we aren’t talking about a better allocation of resources, we are talking about lesser ambitions with smaller budgets to match.

August 25, 2011 10:40 am

Not true “the entire usaf is past its use by date, airlift, tankers, sigint, fighter, bomber”
– the fighter shortage scare has been created to push (the ever-increasing) F-35 funding on the Hill
– Congress got a very in-depth study to counter that, it even factored in various flight hour assumptions and maintainability (with probabilities) to make the fleet projections reach far enough into the future, without falling on a single assumption (that might turn out to be critical & wrong)

August 25, 2011 10:41 am

“Sure, but those aircraft will be in the RAF if they aren’t in the FAA.”

Not sure I buy that.
We’re likely to get 40 F35’s, all navy, if we werent buying carriers, we wouldnt buy a single F35.
Sure, the government still claims 160 F35s, 80 each, but the government was claiming 260 Typhoons were still planned, right up to the day they cut every damned one they could.

We are buying carrier aircraft, because we are buying carriers.
If we cancelled the carriers, the F35 order would have gone as well.

Brian Black
Brian Black
August 25, 2011 10:46 am

Hi, Dominic. The F35 for CVF are not an additional number of airframes; without a carrier we would end up with a greater number of land based fast jets instead.

And without CVF the RAF might still be seduced by the magical stealth properties of F35A, and we might also still have been tempted to buy BEEs too as a Harrier replacement. So without CVF we could still end up with a very similar looking core fast jet fleet.

And yes you can strip out the PAAMS development costs from the cost of CVF too, as that was originally part of the Horizon programme; and when we pulled out of Horizon PAAMS was attached to the T45 programme, and we would most likely still want area air defence without CVF – to support amphib ops for example.

August 25, 2011 11:02 am

Think the current numbers are 138 planned f35. I would expect this to fall to about 100 to go along with 100 typhoon. Below that total of around 200 jets and your below critical mass. Typhoon and f35 price wise next to no difference. F35 now replaces tornado and Harrier the RAF have been saving for some time that typhoon cannot meet the tornado replacement spec. We also would not get f35a as we can’t aar it. Tornado needs replaced and no sign of ucav for 20+ years you get what you get.

As for us fighter fleet structure fatigue on f15 ground 400 of them within the last 2 years and issues on early f16 caused something similar. Also about 100 p3 were grounded due to wing fatigue issues not that long ago either.

August 25, 2011 11:14 am

I couldnt comment on a “fighter shortage”, but virtualy everything in the USAF is due for replacement.

A10 were brought into service in 78
The C130J is new enough, but massive numbers in US service arent J’s, most arent even H’s, most are from ther 70’s again

The B1 and B2 are new enough, late 80’s early 90’s, and little enough use, but the B52’s were all built before 1963!

The C17s are new, and the C5s arent exactly ancient, but they arent getting any younger.

Even the youngest E3s are 20 years old…

August 25, 2011 12:13 pm

@ Dom – “We are buying carrier aircraft, because we are buying carriers. If we cancelled the carriers, the F35 order would have gone as well.”

According to Trouble @ Warships1 jets are all about generating “FEAR” which is some acronym for the number of deployable aircraft that can be sustained on operations, and one of the main reasons that Harrier got canned.

August 25, 2011 1:25 pm

that’s the one admin, cheers.

August 25, 2011 3:11 pm

Like it or not, the carriers will be built, but the more we fanny about deciding on role/configuration and what aircraft, the more expensive it’s going to be. The governments/MoD’s current choice of F35C is frankly absurd. This aircraft is going to be horrendously expensive and in comparison to the cheaper F-18 super hornet, will be far less capable in so many areas. If we are going for a conventional carrier we will need a solid workhorse and the F-18E/F is a proven design.

Now, I know we don’t yet know what F35C costs will actually be yet, but at current costs projections, new build F-18E/F come in and almost half the cost of a F-35C. Hell, in a few years time the Australians will be wanting to get shot of a few themselves, so there is an opportunity to pick up a few additional airframes on the cheap from them.

Also obtaining a few F-18G Growlers would give the RN a capability it has never had before.

I believe we can’t afford F35 anymore and the sooner a decision is made to cancel it, the better.

August 25, 2011 6:23 pm

“We are buying carrier aircraft, because we are buying carriers. If we cancelled the carriers, the F35 order would have gone as well.”
But Dom, I presume instead of the QE class you’d prefer three smaller carriers at about the Illustrious’ size (that would have been my preference). They would need aircraft anyway.

Aussie Johnno
Aussie Johnno
August 26, 2011 4:13 am

This one is for Bergandale 25 Aug.
When the RAAF bought its F-18F’s it was as an interim force so the contract contains a provision to trade them back to the USN some time after 2020. So no cheap surplus I am afraid, but whichever cat and trap aircraft you go for it is really going to cost you. The thing that made the Harrier (and the F-35B) attractive was that it could operate from an unassisted flat surface (the sky jump was a capability enhancer not a capability maker). The cost of moving to cats and traps aviation for QE or PoW, or both, is going to make eyes water, which ever way you go ………and that is bad news for the RN and your MOD generally. What makes a capability good or bad in the big picture is what it does to other capabilities.

August 26, 2011 8:48 am

Now that it is likely that we will keep both CVF, is interoperability with French / US carriers still as important…? Perhaps just going STOBAR now on both (and choosing aircraft that support this) will be the most cost efficient vs capability option… We could upgrade to CATOBAR later if required, but perhaps we should just design the future UAVs not to need it. Sea Griffon anyone… :)

August 26, 2011 10:15 am

The US Navy are questioning the F35 both for cost and for variants, the upshot of which IMO will be a large drop in F35 numbers and the end of the F35B (which would have destroyed the decks of any amphibs it tried to land on, in any case). Official Questions Need For JSF Variants

As I’ve blogged before I don’t see an active future for the F35, the likely additional reductions to the US Defense budget will require large scale program closures or reductions and F35 is one of the biggest, so must suffer.

With these reductions and the total mess that is the F22 (still grounded and now looking at a scenario where pilots need to recertify to fly !!) there will be little US appetite to commit to a sole source F35& F22 (equals Lockheed ) future. They will most likely continue the strategy that has been seen for Comanche, Sea wolf and Zumwalt of shifting to numbers at the expense of high end capability as they look to reset forces with the Chinese as the most credible opponent.

So my bet there will an increase in F18 numbers, at an additional cost to F35, which will have two US variants – the F35C for the Navy and Marines and the F35A for the USAF. Total US F35 numbers will be less than 1000, the F15 and F18 fleets will be upgraded and as has been demonstrated for F22 there will be buddy configurations with the older aircraft supplying ECM ( F18) or comms and additional stealth payloads (F15 silent eagle).

But the long term future will go towards the X47B for the navy and a combination of the next generation bomber and reaper derivatives (jet powered such as avenger) for the USAF.

This buddy arrangement is somewhat like the typhoon tornado partnership over Libya but obviously tornado will go so the question is does the RAF

1. buddy typhoon and lightning II F35C
2. as above but deep strike goes to a UAV (taranis type)eventually
3. buddy F35 with nexgen grippen for offence with typhoon for defence

for the RN the question is

1. buddy sea typhoon with lightening II F35C (equals STOBAR)
2. as above but deep strike goes to X47b or sea avenger (equals cats and traps & STOBAR)
3. buddy F35 with sea grippen (equals cats and traps)

IMO its option two for both that makes most sense and is why RN needs to build QE as per original spec with ski jump and later fitted with the arrestor gear that is chosen for POW as either an immediate upgrade or at the first refit.

Both carriers are therefore needed for a full scale deployment but either is creditable for medium scale ops QE provides sea typhoon while POW provides sortie rate.

Single spec for most UK typhoons being typhoon 2020 with carrier capabilities such as thrust vectoring, plus captor –e AESA radars (now funded ) and conformal fuels tanks.

UK F35 s being the F35C as currently planned so all carrier capable and with limited strike capability through the range of the adopted missile which will be the kosnsberg joint strike missile.

Deep strike therefore both RAF and RN moving to UCAVs before 2030 and probably before 2025.

August 26, 2011 10:34 am


option 1 for the RN is also (cats traps and STOBAR)

Brian Black
Brian Black
August 26, 2011 11:04 am

HI, RW. Having a mixed aircraft fleet that requires one carrier for STOBAR and one for cats n traps, and requires both to be deployed to provide the full range of available capabilities, would be a crazy set up. Additional costs for no particular reason; and losing the extra availability and endurance afforded by keepig both carriers, and keeping them both at the same spec.

I think you’re just about crazy enough to head the MoD’s carrier procurement programme. Get your application in now!
On the issue of whether the US might slash he numbers of F35.

I think that if that were to happen, rather than simply looking at increased numbers of F18 to bulk up the numbers as a long term solution; the US would piss money into another fantastically expensive aircraft programme, and also begin rolling forward another procurement snowball as the need for a replacement aircraft increased.

Could happen, but I think it would just lead to more costs with no finished product to show for it. For what it’s worth, I reckon they’ve got to stick with this now and see it through to the bitter end.

Brian Black
Brian Black
August 26, 2011 11:14 am

Here’s a question for you folks.

Both Italy and the UK put money into F35 development in the expectation that the programme would return a STOVL aircraft. That seems not to matter to the UK any more; however, the Italians were planning on using F35B for little ships (I think they intended to buy about 40 or so Bees, split between their navy and air force).

As a tier 2 partner in the programme, they chipped in a billion or more USD. Does the Italian’s contribution come with any penalties against the US DoD or manufacturers if they suddenly decide to pull the plug on F35B?

August 26, 2011 12:13 pm

RE “buddy F35 with nexgen grippen for offence with typhoon for defence”
– Gripen NG (as calculated between the pre-offer to the Dutch and the deal with the Thais) costs 50% more than the “std” Gripen
– that makes it only 15-20% cheaper than mass produced F35s
– such a difference will be negated by having to operate more fleets, ie. a mixed fleet

August 26, 2011 12:18 pm


a crazy option if one had hindsight but two carriers both flying F35C is also crazy if F35C is only providing the RN and RAF with a limited range of US munitions, we won’t be able to use many of our preferred types on F35 (either in board or on pylons) because there will be massive costs directly to us for their integration on F35 – neither Lockheed nor the US will pay that bill.

The idea that there is going to be a happy end to the F35 from the UK viewpoint is idealistic, US economic problems mean that for us affording some (with a less than desired munitions fit) is the best we can do. This has nothing to do with best value or our preferred F35 outcome it’s about sunk costs, relevant costing techniques and basically balancing future cash flows against actually available options. In that context it increases the value of Typhoon and with the Indians also likely to adopt Typhoon for both carrier and land it’s not daft for the UK to think on those lines.

If you think that’s crazy, fine, but it’s the economic reality and its being driven by the US deficit and congressional politics not what is best for the UK or what the MOD would prefer. As to sticking with the F35 till the end I agree the US cannot drop it completely, if for no other reason than development timelines. But the US will reduce numbers just as for F22 and they will look to a new project but it won’t be a manned one and it won’t be fantastic, you should follow the comments of Ashton Carter etc.. on the next generation US bomber and other future US projects.

As Secretary Gates said the US is looking for the 80% of cost effective capability, the days of “exquisite” capabilities are long gone.

We will have trumped up the costs of integrating our preferred munitions on Typhoon and so it will remain an important part of our force projection. (As per tornado currently in Libya and why we kept it over harrier, the integration status)

Re tier 1 or 2 F35 partnerships they are about industrial participation, nothing to do with type configuration that comes with purchase of development aircraft which is why we’ve bought 3.

So no impacts on F35B from Italy, since they have not even purchased development aircraft – the Italians still get some work share even if they eventually cannot buy any F35Bs because it’s cancelled. But they might only protect the type and value of their share by increasing their F35A purchase. They’ve also looked at an F35 assembly facility (which they have to fully fund) and with the UK change to the F35C and the US marines likely to be forced to use the F35C only, they are not in a good place F35 carrier wise.

Gabby I’m sure will comment.

August 26, 2011 12:19 pm

“Does the Italian’s contribution come with any penalties against the US DoD or manufacturers if they suddenly decide to pull the plug on F35B?”
– didn’t they get a disproportionate workshare for such a “tiny” purchase (we still figure @ 138 in those books)

August 26, 2011 12:25 pm

There is a richer version of this report somewhere (great graphics with projections etc):
re future numbers and how they will be affected by mandatory retirement of some types

Brian Black
Brian Black
August 26, 2011 2:37 pm

Hi, RW. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you’re completely insane, just touched by madness.
As you perhaps suggest, X47b and similar will soon be more suited to the higher risk early strike missions than F35. And we would be in a much better situation now if years ago at the outset of Eurofighter design, someone had the foresight to predict the potential of a growing carrier market within that aircraft’s lifetime.
I’m not yet convinced of our apparent need for F35, or that the MoD have taken a proper look at other solutions.

August 26, 2011 3:00 pm

HI back BB

I agree that F35 is now bypassed by UCAV technologies in the past I’ve proposed CVF to be UCAV only from the start but that is even more “touched by madness” or “foresight”

I’m sure we’ll get F35s anyway and there are man in the loop issues that it will deal with for a decent period

We’ll get less F35s as the cost goes up so they really need to work, that’s why I think buddy formations will be the best option, I also think they will muddy the waters for opponents who will face a hybrid capability with unknown strategies.

August 26, 2011 3:05 pm

“or that the MoD have taken a proper look at other solutions”??
1- USN with all “eggs” in the same basket (almost)

Navy and Marine Corps
F/A-18E/F strike fighter (Navy) 380
F/A-18A/B/C/D strike fighter (Navy and Marine Corps) 620
AV-8B VSTOL attack plane (Marine Corps) 125

… with a plane that is not aging as well as the contemporary F-15 (more capability added through later versions)
… they’ve realised this and are starting to come up, from behind the curve (DID 22 Aug, from a 19 Aug press release):
“F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet Block IIs fighters are beginning to enter service with the Us Navy and Australia, carrying significantly improved AN/APG-79 AESA radars and other electronic upgrades. Recent years have seen another spreading improvement within global fighter fleets, however: Infra-Red Search & Track (IRST) systems that provide long range thermal imaging against air and ground targets. Most of these deployments have been on Russian (MiG-29 family, SU-30 family) and European (Eurofighter, Rafale) fighters, or special American exports (UAE’s F-16E/F Block 60 Desert Falcons, Korea & Singapore’s F-15K/SG Strike Eagles).”

2 – LCA: very capable, but not front line
3 – SeaPhoon & SeaGripen: paper designs
4 – Russian? They only have the Mig29K because the Indians funded it, some of the Sukhoi’s are so big that they have to fly them empty, as stripped down trainer versions

I am all for the UCAS top-up for numbers (indeed have speculated that preparing for them is a reason for curtailing the F35 numbers in the first UK order, while wait&see when they will be for service, rather than trials)… then again in-service date for F35 is now 2017 (?) and for us later.

August 26, 2011 3:19 pm

All that article is about a cost analysis for budget cuts just as the def sec did here we get the leaks rn cut to 12 frigates ect. For the marines to lose the f35b renders the lha ships vulnerable to cuts the us expeditionary strike group doctrine compromised. The navy have always wanted a stealth capable a/c and have a working paper to have an all f35c fleet. Further more Boeing is pushing a 6 generation a/c to replace superhornets from 2025. The issue surrounding the grounding f22 is potientaly a huge problem as the oxygen system is installed in virtually every fast jet and trainer in the us inventory.
As for ucav I find it totally bonkers that people are pushing as an option the x-47 considering it has so far completed exactly 1 30min test flight at a height of 5000ft. This is prior to a fly off to see if it’s even going to be built. The USAF recently disclosed that the global hawk costs $35k per hour and the U2 it will replace costs $32k per flight hour for those that think these are the cheap option.

August 26, 2011 3:35 pm

RE “USAF recently disclosed that the global hawk costs $35k per hour and the U2 it will replace costs $32k per flight hour for those that think these are the cheap option.
– cost one thing, capability another
– persistence an important part of the latter
– BAMS, similar to Global Hawk, will give a persistent surveillance of all key parts of the various oceans for 25 planes (57 will be procured, just to make sure), some “scale” established with a couple of data points:
Sea Avenger UAV-$20 million
F-35 Lightning II-$133.6 million
RQ 4 Global Hawk-$178.03 million
P 8I Poseidon-$279.84 million

UAVs are reality; UCAS designs will still have to prove themselves (and as said, are years away from service)

August 26, 2011 10:33 pm

I would say UAV’s of all sorts are still very much in the early stages of development as yet, and their record for reliability and survival in warzones where the enemy possess anything more than AK-47’s is highly questionable at this stage.

I certainly think there is much, much more work to be done before we hand over the entire trust of our airpower to unmanned units.

August 26, 2011 10:52 pm

The link below sheds some new light on exactly what the x-47 is and will be used for it makes for interesting reading.

chris I agree

August 26, 2011 11:22 pm

RE ” and their record for reliability and survival in warzones where the enemy possess anything more than AK-47′s”
– fully ageed, we must recognise that UAVs over a real battlefield are consumables; not assets (in the normal sense; can be of great utility while they last). Four of the same kind of Israeli design that we parade as our own came down in quick succession in the Georgia/ Russia conflict, as soon as the Russians started shooting

August 26, 2011 11:35 pm

I remember Clive Sinclair once put forward the idea of a massed robot army that just carry explosive. His idea was that you could you shoot down so many aircraft. But it would be impossible to stop a million or so robots. Or something like that. It may have even been nuclear weapons the robots would have been carrying.

August 26, 2011 11:46 pm

Hi Mark, thanks for the link

At least there was one grain of truth in it:
” Northrop Grumman is growing the X-47 and adding work on ISR to leverage the bomber program. That’s no surprise. The bomber will be significantly larger than the ISR design. Phantom Ray leverages X-45 because [General Atomics’] Predator derivatives and Boeing’s new Phantom Eye ISR designs wouldn’t survive except in a permissive environment. A bomber adjunct platform would have to be as survivable as the bomber.”

Otherwise. it – the article, with too many quotes to count, but all authorative – was designed to omit the following
1. first we will shoot the satellites out of the sky, so targeting a moving thing, even as big as a carrier, for a ballistic missile becomes impossible – sorry, not shoot, zap, as “we” have assets at the same height that might be taken out by the debris

2. Then “we” will have this adjunct go and find the launch bases

3. Then we will send our hundred or so bombers, not to zap them, but to take them out

4. Then we will have that “adjunct” sneak in again (being designed to be persistent; without pilots), by stealth and do damage assessment. The pilots are back to base and have done a p while a weapon reload has taken place. Not in Japan, Guam… but Hawaii or Australia, well out of the “first-strike” reach of the current OpFor missiles, and go back again, if “job not done”

August 27, 2011 3:25 am

Not sure if anyone saw this previously or pointed it out, but RUSI have a new edition of their online journal out. I certainly didn’t know it was out. June addition!

August 27, 2011 6:58 am

the us created stealth aircraft after simulations repeatedly showed that the usaf would last less than three weeks in war.

In that context, uavs aint bad.
They are consumables, in war, most things are.

August 27, 2011 8:38 am

“the US created stealth aircraft after simulations repeatedly showed that the usaf would last less than three weeks in war”

Source please? I fail to see how the worlds largest air force could be decimated in three weeks, short of a mass of nuclear strikes on their air bases.

SAMs are good, but not THAT good.

August 27, 2011 9:04 am

something on a discoveryish channel years ago.
So maybe a naff source.

Then again, how long did argie air last against our woeful fleet airdefences?

I’m on my mobile so cant check, but i’m sure i remember a raid on iraq in 91 that went badly.

August 27, 2011 10:11 am

found a few references to a pentagon report in the early 80s that say the usaf would be gone in 17 days against the soviets.

August 27, 2011 10:20 am

RE “Source please? ”

There is a better source, TV reporting may have changed the message.

Last autumn I made some detailed contributions about the simulation exercise facilitated by the RAND Corp/ Think Tank (to get unbiased outcome).

The exercise was yonks ago – needs to have been for these remedy plans to near production.

Ran somehow like this:
We have sailed Carrier Task Forces to the Taiwan Strait several times, for demonstration effect. Now that the access denial systems have become both the focus of the still technologically inferior OpFor but have also greatly improved, what would be the outcome if shooting starts and gets out of hand, to a full-blown engagement?

Then existing F22s were helped by F35s (it was a simulation!) but mainly the purpose was to find out the limits of carrier air as
– types flown are rather short ranged (A12 might be flying if the higher capacity EMALS had existed when the design was aborted… we are now talking about the NextGen for that requirement)
-carrier sortie rates can be pulsed (optimised from every angle over the decades) but not maintained at that level in a sustained conflict
– distances lengthened by the sharper anti-access threat (to carriers themselves) poses a stiff penalty on transit times (therefore numbers in the engagement; land bases being few and even further away) and weapon loads (due to increased fuel load required)

End result: The superior aircraft ran out of missiles before they ran out of targets (those being land-based and right next to the engagement area); even the land-based tankers then got shot out of the sky (having lost most of the fighter screen between them and OpFor)

Conclusion: to keep carrier air relevant, have to have assets that can go for OpFor bases, take them out and then, still in a v hostile environment, also deal with the anti-access systems (air & sea) which are
– more mobile and dispersed and camouflaged
– and more numerous
than the bases for air assets

NB Not all of the strength of the USAF (2/3 of the total US airpower) could be brought to bear in this scenario, due to the area chosen for it, which severely affected the availability of land bases

August 27, 2011 10:28 am

tactical nukes against bases in “early 80s …that say the usaf would be gone in 17 days against the soviets.”?
– today would not be true, leaving even the nukes aside

August 27, 2011 4:12 pm

Tactical nukes would knock out stealth and none stealth alike though?

August 27, 2011 9:21 pm

all I wanted to say that the 80s study is not valid
– we could go mini-MAD with standing stealth patrols and all that craziness that was part of the world I grew up in
– the world today is more complex but not nearly as bad

August 27, 2011 10:22 pm

I just find it very hard to believe that the US would commit its entire air power assets into an operation and not exercise any kind of numerical management or use any of its other assets.

Dom J, I understand the Falklands example, but there’s a big difference between the Argentine air force of the 80’s and the US air force of the 80’s.

I think sometimes with these simulations they get very carried away and seem to skip some important details.

August 27, 2011 10:42 pm

Ermm “skip some important details”
– of course, but what exactly
– if you put in F35’s (range, weapon load, all other characteristics) a decade “too soon”(or two, with the present knowledge of the in-service-date), what is it that is being missed?

Surely, the example quoted was specific, and the questions now posed are generic, but anyway

August 27, 2011 11:06 pm


– Formations
– Tactics
– Support

Both allied and enemy. All make a huge difference.

August 27, 2011 11:20 pm

Have to talk to my friend; he linked the main NATO nations’ simulation platforms to give a theatre (Europe) wide picture (still with realistic assumptions; assumptions at too low level can be turned upside by strategic choices – and then the whole thing is a useless exercise altogether)
– having said that, the RAND exercise came under heavy criticism at the time, just because the outcome was not to everyone’s liking

August 28, 2011 1:07 am

I remember reading that study being criticised, but it was because of the conclusions that certain commentators made, including that bonkers Australian bloke (forget his actual name).

They used F-35 losses as a statement of “see, this is how it will perform in air-to-air! We should buy the F-22!”

Without realising that the F-22 suffered similar casualties, and the result of both was due to the loss of the tankers. In “air to air combat” (however that was simulated) the tests validated the superiority of the ‘stealth’ jets.

And I still fail to see how the US air force could be wiped out in 17 days. By whom? What military force has such power? What US military commander(s) would continue to throw their forces to the wolves if it was obvious that they were being slaughtered en masse?

It just doesn’t make much sense.

August 28, 2011 8:06 am

Tried to say this same ” I still fail to see how the US air force could be wiped out in 17 days. By whom?”

Alan Garner
Alan Garner
August 29, 2011 1:05 pm

Obviously the whole USAF couldn’t be wiped out in such a time scale by anyone not using nukes.

The phrase “wiped out” would attribute itself to a Cold War strike. However I would imagine the US has done studies where a deployed force has been made combat ineffective due to integrated air defence, or a future scenario with opfor using Russian or Chinese stealth.

August 29, 2011 10:25 pm

Anyone know what state the Ark Royal is now in, any recent phtographs?