Forward to Plan B

The rumour mill has been flapping faster than a shithouse door in a Force 9 on the subject of the change from F35C to F35B.

Right at the beginning of this post it is important to state loud and clear that this is only a rumour, albeit given some credibility by comments from Lockheed Martin who confirmed that a switch back could be accommodated. You can read into that what you want but I don’t think it is an endorsement of the rumour one way or the other.

The MoD is keeping tight lipped, simply confirming they are looking at all options as the annual budget planning round draws ever closer to its gripping and car crash-esque conclusion. I think I made the point a year back that PR12 i.e. this one, would be every bit as brutal as the last so in the crazy world of annual budgets and short term expedients that is public sector finance, nothing should come as a surprise.

Seeing a spot of weakness in the position many have come out with their buy the F18 proposition, these should be roundly rebuffed though.

I think we all knew the SDSR, despite its billing, was going to turn into an incoherent mess, characterised by salami slicing and short term decisions but the move to switch horses mid-stream and opting for the catapult launched version of the F35 Lightning to fulfil the Joint Combat Aircraft (JCA) requirement was a genuine surprise. It is certainly true that the vast majority of the UK JCA team only knew when they watched the SDSR unveiled in Parliament, anecdotal evidence that has emerged since would seem confirm this.

The rationale behind the decision, one would assume, came down to a question of risk.

The F35B at that time was the poster child for the woes of the programme, some justified, some not and given the build timing issues and loss of Harrier the decision was on face value understandable. If the F35B was cancelled we would have very few options open to us, made even worse by the decision to withdraw and sell the Harriers. The Harrier decision was still the right one but I don’t want a rehearsal of that, it is now ancient history.

At the time I maintained that the speed of the decision and lack of corporate knowledge of the costs of operating a conventional carrier aircraft would come back to haunt the MoD and if the rumours are true, those fears have been realised.

The MoD used a spot of smoke and mirrors accounting to justify the decision by rolling the JCA requirement into the RAF’s search for a Tornado replacement and thus saved a billion pounds.

The replacement for Tornado by the way could be the subject of any number of posts, it morphing from Future Offensive Air Capability to Deep and Persistent Offensive Capability over a number of fruitless years;

Deep and Persistent Offensive Capability (DPOC) [will] enable the timely engagement of static and mobile targets deep behind enemy lines. Additionally there will be a capability shortfall created by Tornado GR4 being withdrawn from service around 2025. An Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) is a potential cost-effective solution.

At the time, we were going unmanned crazy so the preferred route was unmanned, the Strategic Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Experiment (SUAVE) programme would take things from that point although much thought had also gone into a mix of manned and unmanned aircraft, plus cruise missiles.

DPOC was consigned to the round filing cabinet in the SDSR and the savings of a billion pounds (nice round number that) taken as part of the cost justification for the switch, the MoD argued that if the JCA requirement was met by the F35C, it could also meet DPOC requirements. Farting around with FOAS and DPOC has likely cost several hundred million pounds and delivered very little, it’s like FRES.

As I said above, the issue of risk was the primary justification but in making the switch the MoD has just swapped one set for another.

Instead of concerns about the additional cost of the F35B or whether it would be cancelled the MoD now had to worry itself about a whole raft of issues on which it had no operational knowledge, except looking over the shoulders of the USN and cribbing their answers.

The NAO recognised this, the PAC recognised this and so did a lot of other people but in the hubris laden atmosphere post SDSR anyone questioning the switch became something of a pariah, after all, the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, supposedly, wanted the F35C because of all that extra range and bomb load compared to the fat wheezy kid that is the F35B.

Depending on your view point you might see the Short Take off and Vertical Landing capability of the F35B to be operationally useful or a gimmick but it is really not the issue, it’s a pros and cons type situation with no right or wrong answer, there are implications though.

Regardless of the performance benefits, what were these extra costs and risks associated with going back to having ‘proper carriers’

Deck Crew; estimates vary but a solid assumption is that conventional carrier operations need more deck crew that STOVL; shore accommodation, welfare, pensions, pay and all the other capitation costs we know about.  Some of these can be mitigated with sharing arrangements but fundamentally, it is an additional cost.

Flight Crew; although synthetic environments and the F35’s flight control systems hold a great deal of promise, the assumption must be that maintaining carrier qualifications will require more aircraft, more aircrew and more time. This drives up cost or reduces availability. Where that relationship settles is open for discussion but the basic assumption should be we will need more time/crew or accept less mission availability and reduce the ability to rapidly surge in a crisis.

Catapults and Arrestor Gear; no sensible option exists other than the US EMAL’s and associated recovery equipment which is an additional capital cost and significant through life cost. Certainly cheaper than steam but still a considerable extra cost although the risk of it failing to deliver seems remote.

Doubts on the second carrier; by putting additional costs and delay into the programme something had to give and that something was the second carrier. Operating one carrier with F35C’s might provide a performance uplift over F35B’s but if our loan carrier is in refit or has an accident it doesn’t matter what performance advantage there is. Relying on the French might seem a reasonable option if one’s head is firmly in the sand but does anyone else think will see Rafale’s providing cover for a UK only operation?

Deck Handling and the CEPP; carrier strike has morphed into Carrier Enabled Power Projection (who thinks these up by the way, is there a training course one attends?) which is a blend of carrier borne fast jets, helicopters and in the future UAV’s, supported by other capabilities and force elements. The Royal Navy openly admit that the move to conventional aircraft handling will complicate matters in this regard, noting in evidence to a House of Commons Select Committee that no other maritime force will be doing this and that the challenges are significant. With STOVL aircraft the deck movement challenges are much fewer and we have a deep well of experience from which to draw.

Recovery Refuelling; if we operate the CTOL F35C we need a means of safely providing emergency recovery refuelling but given that no customer exists for the F35C except the USN and they have plenty of other options we would have to fund that ourselves. This would not be an insurmountable problem but at what cost?

Interoperability; the SDSR made great play of interoperability but this only means the US and French maritime forces, the F35B allows us to work with the USMC, Italian and Spanish forces, maybe Australians in the future, in addition to the US and French Navies, plus a number of other prospective F35B buyers and at the very least we would be able to carry out an emergency recovery of an F35B on almost any vessel in the fleet.

I would also ask whether the performance difference between the F35C and F35B is in a REALISTIC operational context are really that significant.

I personally don’t think they are so in light of the extra costs and other risks; simply don’t think it was worth it.

With F35B testing looking rather better and the probation period ended some of those original risks have greatly diminished.

That the F35B is more expensive to operate in isolation than the F35C is no revelation but the question when looking at this is to ask if those greater costs are balanced out by reductions elsewhere, I don’t have the answers but suspect that over the life time of the whole CVF/JCA capability these additional maintenance costs will not be that great in comparison.

The impact of operations over Libya were also illuminating where I do not think it was Ocean or Charles De Gaul that were the eye openers but USS Kearsage with its blend of Harriers, V22 and helicopters. When it was operating it provided an invaluable and flexible range of capabilities and this is what the Carrier Enabled Power Projection capability should be aspiring to.

The CVF and JCA programme (accepting they are different but related) has been shocking, a mix of corrosive inter service politics, over ambition, political meddling and financial mismanagement writ large.

It does the MoD and successive governments no credit whatsoever but the original plan of two ships, starting with Harriers and migrating to the F35B made a lot of sense. Although the planned 150 aircraft was clearly pie in the sky I am failing to see the down sides, with a smaller number of aircraft but a mix of helicopters, small UAV’s and a modest embarked force the QE class could have provided a flexible, capable and relatively low cost capability for UK defence, relevant for the vast majority of situations.

The relative priority for fast jets has to stop; at one point the UK was planning for 232 Typhoon, 150 JCA plus a replacement for Tornado whilst planning for a tactical airlift fleet of just 25 A400M, an indicator of just how we used to think before budget reality hove into view.

The rumoured cost increase of £1.8b over the next six years just to provide 1 converted carrier are truly eye watering, if true of course.

Another influencing factor would possibly have been the emergence of the USMC Expeditionary Strike Group concept in the Bold Alligator exercise earlier this year where the stand off range afforded by the V22 and potential of the F35B in this concept provided some unique insights into the future.

The UK going for a Hawkeye was always pie in the sky which also removes another justification for the switch.

Is there a way forward?

Carrying on with the decision to go for the F35C is going to add a lot of cost, I think we can all agree on that and it has to be paid for from a finite and reducing defence vote, you might think depriving other capability areas across all three services is a price worth paying.

I do not.

I also think it is insane to have only one carrier, a truly idiotic notion if ever there was one.

Whatever people might think, the original notion for CVF was strike, hence the term Carrier Strike. This has changed to Carrier Enabled Power Projection despite the switch to F35C making it more ‘strike’ than ever.

CVF with F35C is now more niche, not less.

This is emphatically not what we need from CVF, however much water has flowed under the bridge.

Libya and Bold Alligator have confirmed, at least to me, that what the UK needs in order to meet defence planning assumptions and the reality of likely operations is something more akin to an America class, a flexible aviation platform that can integrate with a variety of surface, sub surface, air and land capabilities from the UK and our allies to cover a broad range of operational needs.

If you read what Italy intends to do with their F35B and other equipment mix it is equally interesting, a model of jointery it would seem.

The future direction that CVF/JCA/CEPP should take is one of closer integration between all three services and a more rounded collection of capabilities that can be flexed up and down depending on need.

So, if I were Generalissimo for the day (verging dangerously into fantasy fleet mode) I would be looking at these ten equipment options, in addition to loads of training and a reintroduction of the rum ration;

1. Draw Down Tornado as Fast as Possible

The operating costs are significant and whilst they have delivered absolutely unrivalled service over a number of decades and at a relatively low cost, despite their critics spouting nonsense, it is time for them to go.

Air operations in Afghanistan are changing and we might reasonably ask our allies to fill any gaps before the cessation of operations.

This will save considerable sums and provide funds for other options.

2. Increase Pace of Typhoon Weapons Integration

As the Tornado is progressively withdrawn we should accelerate integration of Storm Shadow, Paveway IV and Brimstone onto the Typhoon.

I do not know if this is possible, obviously this will be dependent upon many factors, timing, availability of airframes and crew etc. but as a general objective, we should be accelerating the demise of one type against the rise of another.

This may mean some increasing risk in certain areas but if costs savings can be had it is worth that risk, the cost savings will be used to fund other capabilities within this domain.

On the nice to have list would be conformal fuel tanks but this might be promoted to the must have if Storm Shadow integration produces too much drag and reduces range, having said that the Typhoon is very fuel efficient so who knows.

Even though DPOC was cancelled it seems that Libya has shown that Typhoon, with a modest investment in weapons integration (Brimstone and Paveway IV), combined with whatever comes out of the Anglo French MALE UAV programme (Mantis), Storm Shadow and Tomahawk, could fulfil that role. Add in the F35B and I am not seeing a weak capability but one that is fearsome.

Also remember those pesky defence planning assumptions when looking at quantities, this combination may well fulfil the requirement without spending a billion.

3. Improve Apache Maritime Capability

Operation in Libya highlighted the tremendous capability of Apaches operating in a maritime context but also a number of deficiencies.

Addressing these should not in comparison be hugely expensive and possibly carried out concurrent with any Block III enhancements, there is a huge potential in Apache.

On the nice to have list would also be Lightweight Multirole Missile integration.

4. Confirm ASaC7 Replacement

Sea King is going out of service in 2016 and the recent suggestions of mounting the LM Vigilance pod on a Merlin or transferring the mission equipment directly from the Mk7’s would both appear to be reasonable on face value.

Four years is not a long time and this is a capability we should not gap if the CVF becomes operational in the same time frame by reverting back to the B model.

5. Investigate Chinook Powered Blade Fold

But what about Merlin conversion, given the relative performance differential of the two especially in regards to sling loading and moving vehicles from ship to shore I think this would provide greater value.

It would all come down to cost of course but if the price of developing a powered fold for Chinook was even close to converting the RAF’s HC3/3a’s for rotor/tail fold then my preference would be for Chinook.

Although Chinook can be accommodated in the hangar of a CVF it is not without compromise and lots of wasted space.

Providing the Royal Marines with an organic lift capability is desirable but helicopter lift should be provided from a joint pool of aircraft, used when needed.

Both would be better though, providing much greater flexibility and I might even be swayed into considering the V22 if Santa was knocking about.

5. Integrate Watchkeeper with CVF

As Watchkeeper comes into service (hopefully) this year and once the initial introduction period has finished, we could investigate operating it from CVF from the 2016 onwards timeframe.

Hermes 450, upon which Watchkeeper is based, can be launched from a Robonics pneumatic rail launcher and given the significant deck size and relatively low mass/landing speed of the air vehicle would this necessarily be a hugely expensive exercise?

Again, not sure but if we could, it would provide an extremely valuable addition to CEPP without a major project or new equipment introduction.

At the very least we should but a couple of dozen Scan Eagles or Integrators to try from 2013 onwards and work up the concept of operating UAV’s from CVF, with Ocean as the surrogate until CVF comes into service.

6. Second CVF

Once more, it is all down to costs but if we are not converting one of the CVF’s could that mean that the second CVF became available?

The current plan is for it to go into extended readiness and because it would be likely never to be converted its value is limited. If however, no conversion were needed then we could still have it at a lower readiness state to provide continuous availability, covering refit periods for example.

This lower readiness state could include sponsored reserve crews, RFA or other lower cost options because the assumption would be that it would never be operationally deployed unless crewed by a Royal Navy crew, but that it must be maintained at a level of availability such that it could be transferred with little preparation.

The second vessel then becomes an active spare, at an identical equipment fit but only used in home waters and with a reduced cost crew in order to maintain that readiness.

7. Investigate Troop/Vehicle Handling Capacity of CVF

Adding a well deck would not be feasible within the scope of this proposal but an improved landing craft handling facility may be possible without too much additional cost. This would improve CVF’s operational flexibility when operating with an embarked force.

Internal arrangements might also be investigated with modular solutions for storing small quantities of vehicles, perhaps on demountable ‘racks’ in the hangar for example. The hangar is very high but space inefficient when storing vehicles.

The aim of this study would be to provide modest and low cost improvements to the embarked force facilities, some on a temporary basis, trading aviation capacity where applicable.

Obviously nothing above the max sling load of a Chinook, roughly ten tonnes, I don’t foresee Mexeflote handling facilities, ramps or craning vehicles off the deck onto landing craft as feasible!

The focus would be on air delivered embarked forces but a rudimentary surface delivery capability.

9. Do Not Replace HMS Ocean and Investigate Withdrawal of RFA Argus

Accepting the loss of vehicle and boat handling capabilities in comparison with CVF, this is a compromise worth accepting.

It might even be possible to trade Ocean against the second CVF and bring that into service proper, not as the suggestion in item 6 of a using it as an active spare.

2 CVF or 1 CVF and 1 Ocean replacement, interesting thought but as usual, dependant on cost.

Although RFA Argus provides a casualty receiving capability its main role is aviation support and training, could we use the second CVF or active spare in this role and offset one cost against the other?

10. Yes, Revert to F35B

The magic number, about 40 to 50

This provides the single CVF with a normal operating compliment of between 6 and 18. Some might see this number as too small and no improvement over CVS but the F35B is no Harrier and there would still be the ability to surge, potentially embarking USMC or other operators as needed.

There is also Apache, Wildcat, Merlin, Chinook, Watchkeeper, TLAM, Storm Shadow, Fire Shadow and men with luxurious facial hair to consider, concentrate less on the fast jet element and think about the whole package.

The question on numbers is what is the minimum needed for UK only operations, a Sierra Leone or TITSNBM!

If funds allow this could be increased (the line will be open for a long time) but the concept presented here is to get a reasonable capability at a reasonable cost, one that is aligned with realistic scenarios and actual defence planning assumptions.

At this stage I don’t care who operates them but all things (mainly cost) being equal the proposed joint force seems to offer the best of all options. As ever though, if there are significant savings to be had from folding the FAA into the RAF and no significant operational disadvantages then that would be my preferred route.

By reverting to the F35B we are still getting the significant and I think as yet, not fully appreciated, benefits of the F35’s integrated systems, still getting the industrial benefits, still providing a solid foundation for potentially replacing Typhoon with it many decades into the future (not with the B of course), still retaining the operational land/sea flexibility of the Harrier, still obtaining significant interoperability benefits with a range of allies, still leveraging the huge multi-national logistics backbone and still getting a vast improvement over Harrier.

Whilst we are not getting the benefits of the additional performance of the C variant, closing off the Hawkeye option, a future maritime UCAV route and potentially paying more for the privilege we are realising significant cost savings in other areas to balance that and allowing a true CEPP vision to emerge that leverages the size of CVF, its huge flexibility and a range of traditional land and sea based capabilities to provide something that is for want of a better turn of phrase;

Hard as woodpeckers lips!

If this is affordable, what’s not to like?

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March 14, 2012 7:51 pm

a stern gate should be a simple enough solution to getting vehicles off the ship…

i like most of the concepts but i’m wondering. why is the British military so big on the idea of embarking allied aircrews aboard its ships.

i don’t hear any other nation talking about it with as much glee as the Brits except when the Brits are around.

why is that idea so holy to your way of thinking now?

March 14, 2012 7:57 pm

@ Generalissimo TD
Excellent summary of options
You have my vote

March 14, 2012 8:04 pm

A design compromise too many if you ask me. The STOVL capability is of questionable use given not only the thirst for fuel but in addition the already limited range of the F-35 as a consequence of accommodating the stealth characteristics (which are also of questionable usefulness) and the next to useless payload.

The C-variant is still a better idea, I think

March 14, 2012 8:13 pm

Gets my vote as well. The thing I would do is look at ensuring funding for an extended range version of storm shadow and AESA radar for typhoon

March 14, 2012 8:16 pm

Ehmm… ” in the Libyan operations, US forces operating from HMS Ocean for example”
– their ship having to go away, through Suez, should things get hot there , too
– and us, being left without CSAR, were given some to “host”

Not the best example; are there others?

March 14, 2012 8:27 pm

Good article.

If I were cynical, and if this is all to happen, then I’d argue that the MOD has a jolly good PR case for the switch back along the lines of “well the MOD wanted CTOL, but the budget is no longer affordable and we are concerned with no longer playing fantasy budgets”. Showing a concern for cost and taxpayers money, and not clinging on for dear life when costs escalate is possibly a smooth PR line.

March 14, 2012 8:27 pm

Some good arguments in favour of the F-35B and two carriers.

One question the carriers are expected to last for 50 years. That is one of the reasons given for them being future proofed to convert to cat and traps. Obviously a no go if present speculation
is to be believed. Do you think the B will last 50 years and if not what will we do with two carriers only able to accommodate outdated aircraft. Should we not bite the bullet now or hope that in 20-30 years we are in a better position financially to do the conversions.

March 14, 2012 8:48 pm

I say again the Italian ASaC Merlin is in the air, can’t we just buy that?

The only easy way I can see to get vehicles loaded would be by substituting one of the lifts for a ramp. There’s no way one could be put aft.

March 14, 2012 8:55 pm

Hi x,

If an ASW Merlin is 50/50 between a working airframe and mission kit, I would bet that ASaC is at least the same… kit working, palletise it, use on more airframes, as and when needed
– loadsa money saved
– not saying I don’t like the Italian model

March 14, 2012 8:57 pm


Gd summary. The B to C capability. C has 200m extra range and can take a 2000lb bomb internally. Yes always better to have as high an internal fuel fraction as possible and C meets tornado range req better however the UK is using Paveway 4 as its sole LGB and even with a penetrator warhead ive read and it fits internal on the B model. Storm shadow is external no matter which version. As you have guaranteed carrier capability a land range requirement becomes less an issue and a carrier could close to target enough to mitgate the issue. Its all a question of risk oh and the Norwegian NSM would be nice. BTW think you forgot the 25 herc Js and 14 a400ms and 8 c17s and 25 a400ms in your air transport FJ last 15 years!!

Looks like were bailing out of afghan next year so draw down on tornado may be possible.

If you want 2 storm shadow on typhoon then conformal are more than nice to halves.

Apache agreed would want a DAS upgrade thrown in noticed the US army had apache at see in the gulf recently.

Merlin to replace seaking awacs id go for priority on that one.

Watchkeeper on CVF think watchkeeper has enough problems with the air vehicle and data link.

Absolutely vital if we revert to the B that both CVF and LPDs return to pre sdsr operating patterns this would be primary mover in accepting an a/c change.

Youre magic number is shy 40 a/c at least but well not agree there. a ucavs should be designed for a marham libya mission without refuelling and not carrier capable but thats post 2030.

March 14, 2012 9:25 pm

A very good post TD. You and I are fundamentally in the same way of thinking.

Given the scale of the budgetary challenge, the only question worth addressing is “can we afford it (capability)”? I see remarkably few scenarios where the ONLY capability we absolutely have to have is a CTOL carrier with embarked FJ air wing. It might be a “nice to have”, but given absolute financial limits and competing needs for other capabilities elsewhere in the forces, the answer to me is “it is not affordable”. Particularly as the costs of the mid-course (possible) changes from F35 B to C and maybe back to B escalate upwards.

I tend to tune out of some of the more technical debate on this matter – fuel, endurance, wing area etc of the B vs C debate. Not that those things are not important, it’s just that to me they tend to be second order questions that should be put to one side while we look at the affordability question. The only thing that matters is the cost of the entire system: CVF plus aircraft plus crew plus enabling C3ISTAR, and training plus everything else. Within that, the cost of F35B vs F35C is just a line entry.

The other interesting debate is around “Carrier Enabled Power Projection”. I’m told by a still serving mate that while that initially started in the maritime community, it is rapidly becoming a very joint way of thinking, and that the “carrier enabled” part is now coming under sustained pressure. The issue is that the Navy never advanced intellectual arguments as to what happened in weeks 2-n of the scenario: they merely wanted to make a case for the sexy CVF/JCA system to show up offshore and dominate the initial phase of the operation. Possibly unkind as smarter Naval officers will have realised that there’s a lot more to do than that, nevertheless the inter-service politics was all about preserving the CVF, so uncomfortable truths get swept under the carpet.

I think that we need a fundamental rethink. So what if steel is being cut – it can be recycled. Designs can be rolled up and put back on the shelf. BAE Systems can be told that the price of canceling the CVF contract is that they are sole source builders for 4 Juan Carlos-type ships, one of which to be paid for by DFID out of money the Indians don’t want, and to be equipped for disaster relief. BAE Systems could either buy the Juan Carlos design, or the USMC carrier design. We could still operate F35B from a Juan Carlos if we want, so we may still buy some. The RAF could replace Tornado with F35 A or B, depending on their specific requirements. Whatever, we are still going to get 90% of the CVF capability, and indeed 150% for some amphibious scenarios, and playing around with some of the public numbers, will save £4B on acquisition and more in through-life costs.

March 14, 2012 9:27 pm


I am not a great believer in modules apart from as an aid to maintenance mainly because I wouldn’t trust the MoD to buy enough! Further it seems these modern aircraft are tested so much that I can’t see how it would be worth the effort separating mission module for platform. Lots of times I have said here that the airframe that CVF should have been built around wasn’t the FJ but the ASaC/AEW/AWACS platform. When I read about the wars over those islands it is the lack of that platform more than any other capability that comes across as the most serious. It is a priority. CVF is just an aircraft ferry without it.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
March 14, 2012 9:39 pm

James, as I stated the other day to much shock I do think that looking at the whole concept again, a Juan Carlos/America class purchase would have been ideal if the F35B was going to be bought.
It is I believe now far too late, the NAO report stated that we even in 2010 we would only save £1 Billion by cancelling both carriers. the extra saving were made by cancelling F35 until 2025.
Love to see teh figures that show that running 4 Juan Carlos class (with identical Ships company to a CVF) would be cheaper than running 2 X CVF.
Steel has gone beyond being cut, it is being assembled. There is also the sever national humiliation and loss of prestige in world terms of cancelling. Much the same as anyone who puts on camo is seen as the army the entire Uk armed forces would lose that little bit of kudos and respect from any cancellation decision, sometimes the (their British don’t mess with them saves lives).
In short we are past point of no return now so lets get 2 massively useful 65k hulls in the water and develop as we go along.
The first T23 HMS Norfolk entered service without even a command system, the last will leave the service with the best ASW helo in service, the best towed array sonar in service, a superb command system and the ability to engage air contacts out to 18NM thanks to CAMMS and Artisan. Who knows what a 2030 CVF may look like but it wiont look like anything if we cancel them now.

March 14, 2012 9:42 pm

Don’t think that there is a simple return to the B, if the ski jump is already being removed from the QE it may be too late for it to be easily retro fitted and thus 2 ships are not available for the B , we seem to have forgotten how challenging its going to be to get the B both up and down with any payload. Must have the ski jump!!

Also while it may seem that the B has avoided many of it’s critical engineering problems I don’t think there has been enough mention of the potential cost and performance issues that remain with the engine and power train for the B. The USMC have still not fixed the drive for the V22 and we could never afford the maintenance levels that they accept.

All the focus on price gets put on Lockheed, who have no impact on the most poorly controlled costs at the moment which are with Pratt and Whitney, with the F136 killed off (a simply mad idea) I reckon the engine price for the B will become a nightmare.

My remaining feeling is that if the rumours started with Jim Murphy… they are odds on to be wrong, single bright spot may be the close relationship between David and Barack which may influence the UK to deliver the two carriers in support of the US need for carrier support as the Indy retires and they spend a worrying time with only ten.

Funds being found from outside the MOD to deliver on strategic considerations ( as the afghan costs decline) i.e. some sort of contingent funding

Brian Black
Brian Black
March 14, 2012 9:52 pm

Might year-on-year costs for increased deck crews be seen as preferable to a larger up-front lump sum for buying the B? The C might be prohibitively expensive to buy in substantial numbers, what if B cost 20-30m more up-front; and what if we subsequently find some nightmare price tag attached to maintaining the lift fan? Going STOVL now is not a risk free option.

March 14, 2012 9:53 pm

@ James

If cost was the only consideration then we wouldn’t be buying the F-35 at all.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
March 14, 2012 10:01 pm

We hear a lot about increased through life costs due to deck crews etc. however the RN have never asked for an increase in manpower for CVF. AH will be a sideways entry profession and we will be paying the people whether they see out their career doing current jobs or as chalk heads on a CVF. Sacrifices will be made elsewhere in the manpower plot to keep overall manning levels flat.

March 14, 2012 10:03 pm


it’s acquisition plus support costs, not only support costs. Plus, under my scenario, DFID pay for their own ship and people. So it’s really only 3 JC-types vs 2 CVFs in MoD costs.

You are also only taking the published (NAO) figures for contract costs, or rather DIS-costs. Within the IT world, we are being threatened with primary legislation if we don’t post-facto renegotiate prices of our contracts, margin, etc. Why should not the same not apply to BAE Systems? Particularly if they get the work to build 4 x JC instead of 2 x CVF?

March 14, 2012 10:05 pm

I wonder how much time and money could be saved if they quit doing all these “studies” and just get down to business.

I do agree with the Tornado draw down, with the reduction of ops tempo overseas, there is a short window for upgrading to Typhoon and getting it intergrated, the longer this is delayed, the bigger the “window of vulnerability” to being caught without.

Also agree with James. Carriers are nice to have, good to hold, but when you go broke, consider it sold! Without the funding to build, maintain and sustain carrier ops, all this is going to do is give someone the “Varyag 2”. Military spending must always be considered as a subset of the economy, then military utility, not utility, then realise you can’t afford it. Look at N.Korea or Indonesia or Russia during the breakup. All the military hardware, but most of it “not servicable” due to lack of parts, either by embargo or poor economy.

As an aside, do you think a fix percentage on military spending, say 2-2.5%? as part of annual budget is a good idea? It would force the armed forces to live within their budget vis a vis the bigger economic picture, without the risk of breaking the bank, and in times of conflict, can be increased temporarily. This would also force a slow stockpiling of equipment rather than large tract buys, smoothening expenditure flow and production.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
March 14, 2012 10:16 pm

James, I am quoting the figures from the only proper survey ever done and they are 18 months wort of construction and support contract signing out of date.
I am not a contract lawyer but if you want to go and take on BAE over billion dollar contacts because it happens in IT crack on. What happens when they simply say, ok we are shutting our UK yards? You guys get the social security bill. Big picture stuff.
The Ozzies are paying 1 Billion a pop for their Canberras so DFID may not fancy spending 15% of an annual budget to buy us a Ship?
You may well have the answer taht was correct at the time but we have crossed our Rubicon ref Carriers and it now only remains to get the best out of them.

Peter Elliott
March 14, 2012 10:18 pm

Agree on the critical importance of the AEW&C system. Unless we leapfrog to swarming UAVs (unlikely) then altitude ceiling is the key.

Sea King, 3,050 Ceiling, 228 KM radar range
Merlin, 4,575 Ceiling, 279 KM radar range
Osprey, 7,620 Ceiling, 361 KM radar range
Hawkeye, 10,576 Ceiling, 425 KM radar range

On this thread we can’t have Hawkeye so it has to be Osprey. It can lift 9,070KG as well so palletise the kit and the ‘spare’ airframes can be made to work for their living. They can do your COD, some ferrying of marines, and maybe a bit of medium range MPA. You could even palletise some fuel tanks for rescue AAR.

March 14, 2012 10:22 pm


If they ever resorted to threats like that, they deserve a kick in the arse. You can set up a military/government affiliated nationalised company to build stuff to armed forces requests instead of market pressure, yay. :)

March 14, 2012 10:25 pm

‘Sacrifices will be made elsewhere in the manpower plot to keep overall manning levels flat.’

That sounds like some effort to produce that. I’ve seen the navy have problems in manning, highlighted today with the pinch points trades list in the AFPRB. Sounds like it’s going to be a juggling act. I don’t pretend to know the numbers but unless there are cutbacks in other areas I can’t see it being sustainable long term.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
March 14, 2012 10:25 pm

Observer, well it would have been in response to HMG trying to rip up signed contracts and re negotiate. The problem we have is that we save pennies that cost us millions. We send civil servants and mediocre HMD employed lawyers to negotiate contracts with the “varsity”, that private companies retain.

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
March 14, 2012 10:26 pm


Your thoughtful musings prove only one thing – the complete collapse of our military capabilities and the hugely inflated unit cost of destruction that underpins any thoughts of progress.

I don’t know who to blame but the whole military industrial complex is optimised for only one thing – spending other people’s money.

Case in point – we flog Harriers to the US at $2mill per airframe plus 100 containers worth of spares.

We talk about a short term assignments for the F/A 18 and all the talk is whether we will be able to get build slots before the line shuts – you couldn’t make it up.

Everything the MOD does is in slow motion.
Even then it is two steps forward – one step back followed by another review – again and again and again.

The decision should not be about B or C.
It should be about what type of RAF we want regarding fast jets.
My thoughts are make everything mobile – living out of containers and making sure all the new stuff will fly off an Maersk Triple E.

So for me the future is getting the Harriers back – light fighter spec is needed.
The future is working with 2 squadrons of F/A18s for 10years to get the basics working.
It means a lot of scrap iron engineering to get a prototype carrier in the water in 24 months.

The main thing is getting things to move fast.
The whole military industrial complex is fat, slow and breathing out its erse.

We have plenty of money to spend on contractors.
We have lots of money to spend on feasibility studies.
We have nothing to spend on actually doing something.

The Navy needs money spent on it.
The unit cost structure has to be torn down.

We need to go C not B – when the time comes and the discover value – real aircraft that does a real job for the new invigorated, expeditionary RAF.
We need STOVL but it needs value and numbers – Harrier 3 – packs the batting and provides flexibility.

Currently we are in the worst possible position.
Shaving costs but chopping capabilities.
We need TVM – Total Value Management.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
March 14, 2012 10:30 pm

Topman, It is a juggling act but in the longer term we are moving to fewer and leaner manned platforms. For instance Astute will have 30 fewer people onboard than a Trafalgar but nobody trumpets the reduced through life manning costs there. it is about balancing numbers within the agreed Naval manning limits.

Brian Black
Brian Black
March 14, 2012 10:36 pm

Dave Cameron on F35b, 19th October 2010, column 778.

“This is another area where the last Government got it badly wrong. There is only one thing worse than spending money you do not have and that is buying the wrong things with it, and doing so in the wrong way. The carriers are unable to work effectively with our key defence partners, the United States or France. … They ordered the more expensive, less capable version of the Joint Strike Fighter to fly off the carriers”

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
March 14, 2012 10:37 pm

All Pats @ 10.18

Regarding BWoS and the 3K people they hold hostage – sorry employ on the Clyde the issue is use them or lose them.

That can be shipyards, facilities or workforces.
They can’t even be bothered to move into new product areas.
You know the go-go world of the emerging market in RAS tankers.
Why should they when they can just fleece the tax payer at the drop of a pen.

As things stand shipyards are a strategic national asset.
They should only be rented by the state to people who want to use them.

March 14, 2012 10:39 pm

I see that, I think just about every piece of kit going has ‘ less manpower’ stamped all over it. A juggling act it will be, the navy are in a state of flux and are short of people in all sorts of areas. I’d be very surprised if in 5 – 10 years there weren’t the same numbers of shortfalls. Not that I think you aren’t trying or anything. It’s just a big challenge manning is a tricky business and the carriers are going to a big pull on manpower for a long time to come.

I guess that also begs the question if the carrier is top of the list what is at the bottom?

March 14, 2012 10:42 pm


£3.75B saved in one year from central government IT contracts, all of which continue in renegotiated form. More for this coming year, more again next year. Will probably top out at around £12B in savings.

BAE Sys are not going anywhere. It’s all bluster. They know they make money from HMG long term. Even if they did decide to abandon ship, they can’t take their facilities and workers with them. They make a reasonable amount of money in the USA, but they cannot move across wholesale. If they somehow did move, offer the facilities and existing support contracts as a job lot to Thales, Selex, Raytheon or GD and you’ll have a buyer, maybe not at market value, but at a small discount.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
March 14, 2012 10:43 pm

FBOT, I agree ref the ship yards, i believe you underestimate the complexities and actually the tasks a warship has to achieve though. You say Maersk Triple E which with a 14.5M draught we are meant to berth where? Which Ports could it visit on defence diplomacy visits etc?

Peter Elliott
March 14, 2012 10:44 pm

I guess that also begs the question if the carrier is top of the list what is at the bottom?

Multi role brigades? ;-)

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
March 14, 2012 10:50 pm

Jmaes, i do not doubt you but there has been a remarkable lack of crowing or even reporting over such a massive saving. perhaps you mean 3.75 Billion overall as listed below from a parliamentary question.
Andrew Bridgen, MP for North West Leicestershire, welcomed the news that the Government has made £3.75 billion of cash savings in just ten months from May 2010 to March 2011.

Last year Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude promised to leave ‘no stone unturned’ in the hunt for savings from central Government spending. The Government has done just that to save billions of pounds of taxpayer money.

The money saved includes:

£870 million saved by cutting spending on consultants
Nearly £500 million by spending less on temporary agency staff
£800 million saved by negotiating better deals with suppliers
£300 million saved from IT projects
£90 million saved by better monitoring the properties Government rents
£400 million saved from marketing.

Even so £300 million is not to be sniffed at.

Peter Elliott
March 14, 2012 10:53 pm

Yes, we could fund almost 4 MOD feasability studies with a budget liek that!

>Even so £300 million is not to be sniffed at.

March 14, 2012 10:59 pm


Does that include the NHS computer at 12b which didnt work.

March 14, 2012 11:08 pm


those were not the figures I was thinking of, but rather through contract savings for the main contracts. Target is £12B in three years. I will grant you that some are for cancellations – around £1.2B in the NHS for example. I’ve got the figures on a Powerpoint in the office – I’ll see if I can dig out the details.

Nevertheless, as a principle, it shows what “can” be done if a Government is prepared to act tough. I see no reason why the Government could not turn around and say “either you talk about changing this CVF contract for something we can afford and both Government and industry take a bit of a hit on sunk costs, or we just cancel it and you close down your ship building business. If you are prepared to act responsibly, we’ll give you the work of building 4 ships to keep your business open”

JC-types seem from a Google to cost £500M (the original was £300M), in comparison to £6.5B for 2 CVF. JC-types will be cheaper to run each year, even if the ship’s company is equally sized. And, I would argue, for all but one or 2 completely specific scenarios, they are more useful than CVFs.

Brian Black
Brian Black
March 14, 2012 11:09 pm

Just to add some grist to the rumour mill.
Reports out of Sweden suggest that their defence department has been in talks with an unnamed partner nation, with an intent to share costs for further development of Gripen in order to meet requirements beyond 2020. This has been concurrent to reports of jitters in the UK’s F35 procurement plans (source – teh internets).
Could funding a navalised Gripen provide a viable cheaper solution to the F35c while, more importantly, avoiding the embarrassment of going back to an aircraft branded as Labour’s mistake, and also again highlighting the sale of Harriers in return for a handful of magic beans?

March 14, 2012 11:10 pm


some of the NHS contracts are still going, some bits are cancelled. It’s a spotty picture.

March 14, 2012 11:15 pm

‘Could funding a navalised Gripen provide a viable cheaper solution to the F35c while, more importantly, avoiding the embarrassment of going back to an aircraft branded as Labour’s mistake, and also again highlighting the sale of Harriers in return for a handful of magic beans?’

I can’t see how since we would be starting from scratch.

BTW how much do you think we should have gotten for them?

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
March 14, 2012 11:16 pm

James, The Australians are paying £1 Billion each for their Canberras, read Ozzie JC class and that is allowing a lot of construction to happen in Spain to make it cheaper.
As specific units possibly they are more useful but you have to think of whole fleet capability and name me a scenario where 2 JC or even 3 are better than 1 or 2 LPDs a bay or 2 and a CVF.
it is the equivalent of you argiung that all brigades should be mechanised as they offer mosy versatility and forgetting they could be supported by Infantry or Armoured Brigades.

Peter Elliott
March 14, 2012 11:17 pm


I think we will eventually get our Juan Carlos clones, but as a replacement for the Albions, not for the CVF. Just depends how long the Albions take to rot. Could be a long time if we’re only using one at a time.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
March 14, 2012 11:18 pm

@TD God bless capitalism.

March 14, 2012 11:20 pm

I agree TD, it’s a thing I see a bit but no-one says how much they think they were worth, and to who else we were going to sell them. The US needed them and there was only place to go shopping. To my mind we needed each and came to a price that we could agree on, therefore it was the right price.

March 14, 2012 11:34 pm


1. re JC price: it’s only from a Google. The original was 360M euros – that’s a stretch to £1B the Aussies are paying. There must be something else to account for such a difference?

2. Re whole fleet capability. Turn all of that logic around. I don’t much care if the answer is LPDs, Bays, JCs etc and I certainly understand about battle grouping capabilities.

I do know that 2 CVFs + variable numbers of JCA of either B or C model + a spastic procurement programme + a financial crisis + only one scenario in which fast carrier air is the ONLY answer to a problem = an unaffordable nightmare. And it is time to stop it.

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
March 14, 2012 11:42 pm

All PATS @ 10.43

Either we run at 14.5m draught and we use ballast water to get the ship to that level on the high seas or we do a fag packet re-design to a twin skeg layout and reduce the hull depth by 3-4m.

Either that or it spends all its time doing soft diplomacy by visiting container mega ports across the world.

My thoughts on sizing are –

360m x 42m x 11m draught / 22m depth to main deck.
Then you add the hangar / flight deck slices – 72m wide / 15m high.
The hangar would be 180m x 25m x 8m plus open workshop area at the stern.
Looking at 90K tons fully loaded displacement.
Probably go large with 120MW motive power for 28 knots.
The two island idea would come in handy to hide the two large funnels – one each for the forward and rear engine rooms.

We can but dream.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
March 14, 2012 11:49 pm

James, I agree on the stretch in price but that is the price they are paying for them. The original rice was 2005 as well. they look almost the same ships. As for fast carrier air being the only answer, since when have we stopped deciding having the best answer available. heavy armour has never been the only answer to any conflict we have had to get involved in since the end of the cold war but we retain it.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
March 14, 2012 11:52 pm

FBOT the Triple E is already slated to be a twin skeg design
you can only dream, but the question arises why no single naval architect in the world ever has thought of this?

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
March 15, 2012 12:02 am

All PATS @ 11.52

You should ask Sir James Lithgow the same question?

As for the mild steel prototype – the Maersk Sovereign is looking good if a little bit fat – any thoughts on the going rate for a second string 15 year old containership?

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
March 15, 2012 12:09 am

FBOT I do not only include the UK in this, China, India and Brazil all are developing carriers yet none have seen the solution you propose? They all have container ports and are well aware of container ships. Yet nobody has developed the idea. Also no container ship manufacturers have designed one for sale. Two conclusions spring to mind. One is a world wide conspiracy, the second is, that it is not that simple.

Brian Black
Brian Black
March 15, 2012 1:30 am

FBOT, a Maersk Triple E is cheap to buy if you’re Maersk and you’re buying 20 of them; and it’s a cheap and efficient way of moving a container, as long as you’re moving 18,000 of them – a 165,000t ship to carry a dozen F18 is surely just a lot of unnecessary dead weight to push about. And you won’t easily fly from a Triple E anyway with those two big structures in the way. You seem to be suggesting taking a wholly unsuitable ship, and then magically changing every aspect of that ship in order to turn it into another ship with a completely different function. I don’t see how that works, or even addresses a real problem.

March 15, 2012 1:48 am


Before you could do 1 (draw down Tornado) you would have to have 2 (Typhoon weapon integration) complete and operational in adequate numbers, which means that in practice drawing down Tornado is a medium term proposition if it is to be done without that newly fashionable resource of a capability holiday. I do wonder which way to take your statement “the operating costs are significant” while saying they offer “absolutely unrivalled service….at a relatively low cost”.

The RAF, during Libya, said (per Air International reporting) “The Tornado… out there doing things that other types can’t do”.

And for all the mud thrown at it, it seems to be forgotten the Typhoon is still a new fifth generation aircraft and rumoured to not look to shabby measured against a Raptor. You do not say whether the tranche 1 Typhoons should be spared.

And while the performance spec of F35A, B or C is the topic of the day, in the face of a number that is only going to go down everyone is avoiding the awkward but fundamental question of what is the minimum number of fast jets the UK needs?

As far as finances go its easy – we are still skint. For all the congratulating going on for closing the 38billion funding gap it seems to have been forgotten that this new virtue and what remains of our future equipment budget has come at a cost we wouldn’t by choice want to pay – the army being reduced to its smallest size since whenever, ditto the navy, MPA is gone, and all sorts of other things have also suffered the knife.

Against this reality, that any new expenditure comes at the expense of a sacrifice of basic capability elsewhere – unless the proposition is that the RAF with a fast jet fleet of just 107 Typhoons is adequate – why forgo the perfectly good Tornados and the tranche 1 Typhoons (170 aircraft in total) to gain a handful of F35 for land based operations? How does spending money we don’t have, to end up with significantly lesser numbers at the end of it, make the RAF or the taxpayer better off?

Treating carrier requirements as a separate subject, the option that maximises the RAF numerical strength through to at least 2025 (the original OSD for Tornado) is also the cheapest, to simply to leave things as they are; draw whatever size forward fleet you want from the 117 Tornado airframes, until those airframes are life expired, and the 160 Typhoons, completing the investment already made in the Typhoon bearing in mind that the RAF is still taking delivery of new Typhoons that could still be flying in 2040.

Brian Black
Brian Black
March 15, 2012 2:02 am

Sir James Lithgow converted merchant vessels to enable the carriage of three or four light aircraft with minimal aviation support facilities (deck wind-breaks rather than hangar in some cases) for submarine defence. I suppose a comparable approach today might be to fit a helipad to a merchant vessel, to support a light helicopter during transit through high risk zones – for defence against Somali pirates rather than nazi u-boats. Maybe not the best solution to that problem, and not really anything to do with aircraft carriers.

March 15, 2012 4:07 am

what US force operated off the HMS Ocean during the Libyan conflict???

March 15, 2012 6:25 am

I do feel a little sorry for the MOD on the choice it has to make. It basically has to pick one of its most significant and possibly last ever manned aircraft. This plane might be with the MOD until well after 2050. Worse of all it has no real idea of what it will cost. How it will perform and even if it will be built. Given the problems that appeared with the B variant and the potential to replace the FOAS with the C variant I think it was the right call to atleast think about the C option. I think it was really silly to announce it to the public and our allies. Given the relative costs of the switch I think it is becoming clear we will have to go back to the B version given budget assumptions. Not having a budget for E2D really removes the benfits of the switch anyway.

The RAF who hae squandered the lions share of the procurment budget on Typhoon and MRA4 are really starting to p**S me off. After mortgaging the entire MOD budget to get Typhoon they now seem to want rid of it. Tornado should go immmediatley even if we do end up with a “capability holiday” which did not seem to matter when we were talking about carrier strike. Use the £7 billion saved to put carrier strike back in for 2015 and upgrade all 160 Typhoons to Tranche 3 standard.

March 15, 2012 6:28 am

Hi BB,

RE ” talks with an unnamed partner nation, with an intent to share costs for further development of Gripen in order to meet requirements beyond 2020.”
– I think it rather points to Brazil, rather than UK
– none of the current customers have gone further (or intend to) than S. Africa integrating own missiles onto it (the early version, not NG)
– Sweden shared CAD/CAM drawings with Brazil about two years ago(officially as part of the evaluation, but that is not normally done – however, with Brazil there is the carrier angle to explain it)

March 15, 2012 6:51 am

Hi RichardW,

What you say is on the same lines I have been thinking all along. Also, you answer the unanswered question with
“Treating carrier requirements as a separate subject, the option that maximises the RAF numerical strength through to at least 2025 (the original OSD for Tornado) is also the cheapest, to simply to leave things as they are; draw whatever size forward fleet you want from the 117 Tornado airframes, until those airframes are life expired, and the 160 Typhoons, completing the investment already made in the Typhoon ”
– the separate question is to get 6 or twelve operational on a carrier, so the initial F-35 purchase goes down to about 20
– just that the Tornados are going through their last upgrade, so that will make their numbers 96 (not 117)
– in this scenario the remaining airframe hours of the early Typhoons are neither here or there; wear them down in training and QRA and don’t waste money on the upgrades, rather get the new ones to AESA, Meteor, ground-attack etc but take a holiday for a decade with conformal tanks and SS (two instead of one carried is the only sensible configuration in my books)

March 15, 2012 7:00 am


USAF provided CSAR Pavehawks for the British Apaches force aboard HMS Ocean.

March 15, 2012 7:03 am

Hi Martin,

RE “Given the problems that appeared with the B variant and the potential to replace the FOAS with the C variant I think it was the right call to atleast think about the C option. I think it was really silly to announce it to the public and our allies.”
– without doing that (enhanced capability claims) the SDSR would have looked too much like what it really was, a pure cost-cutting exercise

TD had a list of all the “goodies” that (were to) go with Force2020, would be nice to have it up again after the March 28 and April 12 (forthcoming) announcements

March 15, 2012 7:13 am

@ James (9:25 post of last night)
“the cost of F35B vs F35C is just a line entry.

The other interesting debate is around “Carrier Enabled Power Projection”. I’m told by a still serving mate that while that initially started in the maritime community, it is rapidly becoming a very joint way of thinking, and that the “carrier enabled” part is now coming under sustained pressure. The issue is that the Navy never advanced intellectual arguments as to what happened in weeks 2-n of the scenario: they merely wanted to make a case for the sexy CVF/JCA system to show up offshore and dominate the initial phase of the operation. Possibly unkind as smarter Naval officers will have realised that there’s a lot more to do than that, nevertheless the inter-service politics was all about preserving the CVF, so uncomfortable truths get swept under the carpet.”

Funnily enough I came to same thoughts, reading the British Maritime Doctrine document, especially on “the Navy never advanced intellectual arguments as to what happened in weeks 2-n of the scenario”.

It is a well written document, well worth the read and there is a reference to the Joint Doctrine doc (which I couldn’t be bothered to dig up, yet), but having said all that I think you have hit the nail on the head

March 15, 2012 8:27 am

“The current plan is for it to go into extended readiness and because it would be likely never to be converted its value is limited.”

I disagree, for i have always thought that the cash would be found to outfit the second at its first refit.

However, as i am on record here as saying; i don’t care what we fly of the carriers as long as we get both, and [if] the only way to get both is to fly F18 or F35b then i’d take those options in a shot.

That said, at this stage I am far from convinced that the MoD is seriously contemplating a second switch, unless the change to Hammond has watered down the original Fox inspired enthusiam for carrier power projection.

March 15, 2012 9:01 am

Hi TD.

Longtime admirer of the site, moved to post for the first time because I think you’ve summed up this situation perfectly!

I love the idea and the history of RN carrier aviation as much as the next – clue’s in the name! – but we have to be realistic. We have not te resources nor the need, frankly, for a high end strike carrier anymore. What you have outlined I have thought for a year or two is the most flexible and affordable solution over the longterm. And the only one that has got a cat in hells chance of producing two CVFs fitted out for fast jets.

Now that Dave B has been spared, we must go back to Plan B, despite the reservations about its performance and cost. As someone posted, a new Minister on a mission to balance the books once and for all has the ideal political explanation for reversing his predecessor’s decision.

Two final thoughts:
As I understand it CVF has been designed with an EMF in mind. Ship’s company is published as c.680 but there is accommodation for 1450 – 1600 depending on your sources and a number of unused compartments that could be given over to an EMF. So it must possible to accommodate Air Group + staff + a few companies of Royals, yes?

Second, absolutely, sacrifice Ocean for PoW. The flexibility, capability and capacity of CVF trumps a small vehicle garage and 4 x LCVP every time. Then the CVFs can rotate as intended so one is always at high readiness and the other is often available for aviation training etc. The issue post SDSR as I understand it is crewing: Illustrious + Ocean = 700 + 250 ( yes?). QE + PoW = 700 + 700. Where does the shortfall come from?

But then what do I know: I’m an architectural historian!!

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
March 15, 2012 9:41 am

BB @ 1.30 / 2.12

I see you are lost in the trees looking for a forest.

Maersk E / Triple E – not the exact hull though it would be close, it is more the platform technologies, the component set and the build / operating efficiency.

You mention Maersk by them by the dozen, fair point but if it was just two – options not taken up – the builder would just charge them a 10% premium and sell the build slots to MSC / AN Other / MARS.

Govan has great record of building a whole range of ships in the past 25 years – from a cruise ferry to gas tankers, a rocket ship to an escort carrier. 

Unfortunately BWoS are in charge and the thrill has gone.
Caught up in a hostage situation where if the money isn’t handed over the Jocks get it.

No wonder Dave the Rave is warming to independence.

Now onto the ships themselves.

First up is your point about a funnel and a bridge getting in the way.
Trusty blow torch in hand and it would be three months work to replace them with something more appropriate.
The MSC layout lends itself to the trendy “Two Island” look that is all the rage in London and Paris.

Something else to think about – most economical?
Daily fuel burn – 14knots / 18knots / 22 knots

Invincible @ 20K tons
Nellie and Dumbo @ 65K tons
Maersk related hull @ 90K tons 
We could get Ladbrokes to run a book on it.

The point about Sir JL was more about process and attitude rather than the subject matter even though it was close.

Existential crisis and yet the Admiralty / RN establishment is playing games and not up to providing the goods which in todays techno babble would translate to hardware solutions.

Remember they were in the process of upsetting the US.
They took 6 months to build an Escort carrier and we took 5 months to equip it to the RN’s liking – international incident blew up over it and the RN looked like spoiled public schoolboys when the issue went mainstream.

Consequently the Admiralty had form on the issue.
Over complex solutions, no flexibility or imagination and late to every party.

To the Admiralty the escort carrier should have been HMS Unicorn.
With 12 months set aside to remove the HD overhaul equipment.
Given its war record my joke is very close to the truth.

That was then and this is now.
We cannot afford £80mill feasibility studies.
Just as we cannot afford £127mill concept generation and system selection phases.
We have money but we waste it propping up the middle class welfare state that is MOD procurement.
We talk in billions for just about everything down to the most trivial of changes – kitchen sink numbers made up to scare the politicos fartless and play games with the enemy.

Please note that the bad guys are the opposition – the enemy is those on your side that wear different uniform or if the wear the same uniform they are based in Devon rather than Hampshire.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
March 15, 2012 9:52 am

R38 Ther is abit of flex, every swap from 42 to 45 needs 100 less personnel and from Trafalgar to Astute 30. Add inless hulls and a bit of reorganisation of shore billets and it is manageable.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
March 15, 2012 9:56 am

FBOt, you have not answered my question as to why the Uk, US, France, India, China or Brazil has ever taken up your option and why yards have not tried to sell it. Fuel burn at steady speeds are very containership, but definitely not very flying ops where speed is up and down continually and the ability to rapidly accelerate and decelerate is essential.

March 15, 2012 10:04 am

Never thought i’d say it, TD, but this time i agree with you for once on the carriers. You have exposed a way forwards that is exactly the one i envisaged all along, although with the C variant. I was an ardent sustainer of the C, so long as the conversion cost estimates were low enough to make it possible to aim for a post-built refit of the first carrier (since PoW would be converted during build).

But now, if i have to believe the Telagraph and the conversion cost has grown so much, i’m all for a return to the B, because it would prove impossible to convert the second hull, and 2 CVFs operative are an essential requirement, and both must be capable of using all: F35, Apache, helicopters etcetera.

Once we have two CVF with 12 F35 aboard, space for 600 troops and a good lot of helicopters, i think the RN has exactly what it needs, replacing the lost carrier capability along with LPH capability.

However, this would have happened also with the F35C, with some advantages on the aircraft side, had conversion costs been lower.

I must say once more that USS Kitty Hawk did all of what CEPP envisages already in 2001 for Afghanistan ops, flying some 600 strike sorties with 8 to 12 F18 routinely embarked alongside the army special forces aviation regiment, with its helicopters and troops. It served as a forward assault base for heliborne troops while carrying a limited fixed wing airwing, and did it well.
The US of course do not techically do it routinely in peacetime, but it is perfectly feasible, and it would have been done on CVF just as well.

Catapults are not a real issue for the CEPP methods.
Conversion costs being too high and cancelling the advantages of buying C are the real issue.

So, let it be B again, with both vessels retained.

“If you read what Italy intends to do with their F35B and other equipment mix it is equally interesting, a model of jointery it would seem.”

Not really. The recently announced cut has put an end to the (very naive and in-the-air) voices of collaboration since the F35B order of the air force is chopped off.
From 69 F35A and 40 F35B for the air force and 22 F35B for the Navy, with the two B fleets (possibly) being based on the same airport to share some support, we are down to 90 airplanes, which will be 68 F35A for the air force and 22 B for the Navy or, if the B proves still too expensive and worrisome,
75 A and a bare minimum of 15 Navy B, just for Cavour and with practically nothing at all to spare.

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
March 15, 2012 10:09 am

All PATS @ 11.52 / 7.13

All the new big Maersks start off as twin skeg and then the bean counters get involved with the latest Wartsila brochure claiming that one prime mover will be enough and the fact that the trad layout is 5-7% more efficient.

As for the lack of dynamism in carrier design.

Blame the Yanks, group think and the power of the military industrial complex plus lack of an existential crisis to get the creative juices flowing.

Carriers are simple beasts.
Cruise ships are more complex.
Unfortunately we do not have a fully formed market for carriers.

We have Nimitz apostles – lodge now opened up in China – who have a gold standard to keep to and a clueless political caste trying to balance photo ops with a limited budget. The one given in this fluid situation is the contractors profitability and share price.

Sea control ship – RIP.

As for your other stuff – can you explain your timing method?

When will the RAF lose credibility – 8 / 6 / 4 / 2 squadrons of fast jets?
It needs to get mobile and learn to live out of containers for half the year.
The RN does the housekeeping for 3 months then the containers can be moved to a patch sand “liberated” by the grunts.

Please note that you can get a 5 star tent so everyone will be happy.

For the record I would build 6 Maersk based carriers.
Send them out Noah style.
1 – planes
1 – stuff
Element of protection / redundancy it things get hot.
The big trick would be to tart up a MARS to look like a decoy and take one for the team.

Chevaline style RN.

March 15, 2012 10:16 am

@ Brian B re wheel/deck house and uptakes structures on Triple E

With no containers to move there is no reason why the uptake for the port engine can’t be routed out to starboard. Nor indeed for the wheel/deck house to be where it is either. “IF” (big if in quotes!) it were to be used for military purpose my main concern would be the engines sharing the same space. But moving an engine further forward a couple of frames wouldn’t be too much of a problem either. The shaft would still be shorter than many current container designs. I think I am right in saying that the Triple E is too big for US ports.

March 15, 2012 10:21 am

Hi R38,

It is not this bad “The issue post SDSR as I understand it is crewing: Illustrious + Ocean = 700 + 250 ( yes?). QE + PoW = 700 + 700. Where does the shortfall come from?” (APATS already mentioned some efficiencies being made) as of each of the ship pairs only one of each pair, at any one time (to 2018-2020) would be manned, and thereafter Ocean & Lusty gone
– but the overall numbers are being cut, that will matter

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
March 15, 2012 10:22 am

FBOT I agree with you ref the mobility issue and the whole point of an F35B TAG would be that it could move ashore when it had to. So it is the world wide conspiracy then.
As for aircraft carriers being simple beasts. A cruise line is a big ship with accommodation, a swimming pool and places to eat and watch movies.
An aircraft carrier carries, lots of people, feeds them and entertains them with gyms etc.
Then we add on state of the art encrypted comms, ops rooms, planning rooms, elevators and hangars, magazine compolexes, ability to re route power etc for battle damage, AVCAT, CIWS. Fixed wing aircraft, rotary wing aircraft, rhibs medical facilities. CBRNDC preps and the ability to shut itself down into air tight citadels etc. Anyway it made me chuckle.

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
March 15, 2012 10:23 am

All PATS @ 9.56

Two things weaken your argument

1) Carriers aren’t speedboats so change is gradual.
2) Nellie and Dumbo are underpowered by carrier standards.
80MW tractive power for 65K tons / 1.2MW per 1K tons displacement is very Atlantic Fleet battleship in 1926.
My thoughts are 120MW for motive power at 90K tons displacement.
Not a huge improvement but heading in the right direction.

As for your comments about why no-one is going down this road?
Because no one has been forced too – they are used to spending lots and if the price goes up they cut the numbers.

That is thevUS sorted out

March 15, 2012 10:23 am

@ FBOT re Triple E

Just found this,

We could call her HMS Temeraire.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
March 15, 2012 10:24 am

X it has a 14.5M draught it is too big for any port in the Americas!

March 15, 2012 10:33 am

fbot; and who will be serving on this decoy ship so they can ‘take one’ for the team?

March 15, 2012 10:34 am

APATS said “Then we add on state of the art encrypted comms, ops rooms, planning rooms, elevators and hangars, magazine compolexes, ability to re route power etc for battle damage, AVCAT, CIWS. Fixed wing aircraft, rotary wing aircraft, rhibs medical facilities. CBRNDC preps and the ability to shut itself down into air tight citadels etc. ”

But how much of that is just steel and network cable and intelligent electrical switchboard. A quick look at SOLAS or regulations for fast cargo from the classification societies actually approach military standards. The main difference being fire fighting or should that be the ability to fight fires manually because many new builds are coming with sprinklers and gas quenchers? One of the things the RN did do to help fire fighting in the T23 was to go for double bulkheads to stop conduction.

March 15, 2012 10:38 am

@ APATS re Triple E

I remember when I read the specs first time. I thought it was a typo. I don’t see container ships as fighting ships but all that volume is wasted just moving iPads and flatscreens about.

March 15, 2012 10:40 am

@ Topman

Me and Chris B are navalising some Ghurkas at this very moment. No need for countermeasures. Modern missiles are that intelligent even they are scared of Ghurkas.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
March 15, 2012 10:42 am

A 14.5M draught is greater than an Albion class docked down!

March 15, 2012 10:46 am

@ x i wonder if he is going to go down the afco and get his name down?

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
March 15, 2012 11:01 am

Carrier Issues – Take 2

Rest of the world.
The main reason is that the main cost driver of carrier aviation is the air wing.

Second string navy goes Harrier / helicopter.
Capital cost of the air wing is £2bill – 20 + 20 – 50% at sea.
National prestige means a converted container-ship  won’t do.
Doesn’t look like a big boys toy and the facilities won’t cope.
Consequently they will pony up the £500mill for a proper warship and they won’t look so closely at the design that they will see the COTS equipment and build practices that were involved.

The bare hull will be cheap and the profits will come from the sensor / weapons fit – everybody happy. 
Second string navy gets a flagship.
Politician looks good on national defence.
Airforce gets closer to new tech and better planes in the future.

Unfortunately we have neither the money of the US or the national drive of a second string navy to make things happen. We have a high cost / low output infrastructure and a rapacious military / industrial complex that is one and the same all too often.

We have a RN capability that we want to renew.
We have a RAF capability that they want to renew.
We have little money and a high cost base.
We have been re-trenching for 20 years.

Some improvements in specifics but the numbers and capabilities have shrunk.
Consequently is it business as usual just less of it or is it transformational?

Nellie and Dumbo started out with all the right intentions.
Unfortunately they are now like cuckoos in the nest.

We have a RAF which wants the best, the very best from its friends no matter the cost and no matter the numbers. It behaves like an ageing millionaire on the pull jumping from last years hot babe to this years hot babe with no looking back.

I am now actually starting to feel sorry for the team behind Typhoon.
Used and abused to hoover up resources then dumped when something newer comes along.
It is certainly no way to run an air force.

We should be looking to get our limited fast jet fleet mobile.
That means making them flexible.

All Apaches / helos should be carrier friendly.
All F35s / new fast jets should be carrier friendly.
All next gen air assets should be carrier friendly.
We need to stop planting £5bill worth of tax payers money on one runway in Norfolk.
We cannot wait for the enemy to come to us.
We need to be able to go to the enemy.
Just make sure we pick our friends better the next time.

If we want flexibility we will need more carriers.
If we need more carriers they will have to be cheaper.
That is where the the Maersk class carrier comes in.
We should do this because we are a mature carrier user.
We have tried the other stuff and now we need to do better.

Finally Cruise ships are more complex than carriers.
Their design is more mature, flexible and economical.
They are a live issue with a knowledgable design Eco system.
Carriers for us are a challenge.

A case of a 44 ton truck built by a Fiesta design team.
It will work but we could do better.

March 15, 2012 11:06 am

@ Topman

I think a week’s course in HMS Excellent at Phoenix would sober his thinking. I know when I am onboard a ship below the waterline and I put my hand on the hull plate and I can feel the cold of the water and I become very aware of how thin modern plates are and there is very little holding the power of the sea at bay. Eeek!

Saying that I have wondered about how container ships could be made unsinkable. Even a loaded container is buoyant. And I wondered what filling the bottom three rows with containers filled with oil drums filled with foam would do……..

I am very disappointed that nobody has suggest spreading the prime movers throughout the hull.

And I find talk of working out of containers silly. The only way a vessel like this would work is if modules are built using the ISO container dimensions as units. That is to say a module is so many multiples of 8ft high and wide and fits within frames. Just at Maersk concept shows. (It would stop smoking spreading to I suppose.)

March 15, 2012 11:10 am

‘I am now actually starting to feel sorry for the team behind Typhoon.
Used and abused to hoover up resources then dumped when something newer comes along.
It is certainly no way to run an air force.’

What are you talking about?

March 15, 2012 11:13 am

@ x

I’m not a navy type, so I don’t know a great deal of container ships, but going by those that are, the idea seems to by the raf equivalant of those that suggest instead of AD a/c we just need a 747 with 20 AIM 9 on it.

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
March 15, 2012 11:18 am

Top Man @ 11.10

The RAF high heid yins only get excited now when they are talking about the F35 as it is their new latest flame.

With the Typhoon the thrill has gone.
They are now only having to deliver what they promised.

My thoughts – Push comes to shove.
Typhoon numbers / capabilities will be butchered to make the F35 affordable.

March 15, 2012 11:41 am

OK i’ll play along. You base this on what?

Peter Elliott
March 15, 2012 11:53 am

One thing FBOT is right about: any airframe we buy smaller than Voyager/Atlas ought to be made carrier capable if we can possibly manage it. Not many people queuing up to fight us at home and when we play away a QE will usually be involved.

Gets pretty hard to achieve without CATOBAR :-(

This is one reason why I think we might get more fudge with 20 F35B in 2016 for HMS QE but future conversion and F35C postponed for more studies.

Peter Elliott
March 15, 2012 11:54 am

Do we know if Converteam are still developing EMCAT? Or did they pack up and go home after we ordered EMALS?

March 15, 2012 11:58 am

Just getting silly now. Why can’t we have a serious debate on carrier strike without talk of converted container ships, floating barges or any number of hair brain schemes

Peter Elliott
March 15, 2012 12:07 pm

Probably becasue we’ve all been round the sensible discussions so many times over the last n years we’re all sick of them.

Just want it sorted now.

Brian Black
Brian Black
March 15, 2012 12:20 pm

I’m sure that merchant ship designs do have a place in the worlds navies – the Karel Doorman, the Kiwi’s Canterbury, the USN’s cat ferry thingys, for example, are all based on existing commercial ships. However, I can’t see a container ship filling the role of carrier.

The QE ships are expensive because they are a class of only two, rather than 10, 20 or 30; because they’re built in the UK, rather than Korea; Because they’ve been subject to political mismanagement and dithering; because they’ll be crewed on a military scale, rather than just a dozen souls; and because they’ll be equipped with all the military bells and whistles required for a navy ship and aircraft carrier regardless of the origin of the base design.

The second QE is meant to cost less than a billion quid. Once you’ve taken an off-the-shelf cargo ship, redesigned the hull, moved the superstructure over here and the engines over there, popped in a hangar somewhere and topped it off with an aircraft deck, you will no longer have an off-the-shelf ship. You will have a new and unique ship that does not benefit from the economy of scale that the original ship had.

All the metal bashing for your new ship will be subject to the same costly design work and feasibility studies that any new purpose built carrier would face; it will be subject to the same political meddling as any large military programme; and all that before you start the work; then you have the problem of trying to unbuild and then rebuild a ship from inside, rather than quickly building new modules that are then assembled together.

If you want cats-n-traps, the same or greater costs as a purpose built ship; and then all the same costs for weapons, coms, survivability, etc.

To have got cheaper QEs, they could have been built abroad and politicians could have avoided poking their sticky fingers in. Those two things alone would have made a far greater impact on the programme costs than trying to expensively bastardize a container ship or two.

March 15, 2012 12:32 pm

@ Topman

Surely you mean an RAF 747 fitted for but not with 20 AAM. I think FBOT is playing Devil’s advocate. I think what we have to bear in mind in that we can become insulated in our little worlds of expertise. But we should also give weight to the ideas of experts in those fields of which we are not expert ourselves. Um. To be honest some of argument here is in the inverse of those who argue SSNs can replace SSBNs.

March 15, 2012 12:38 pm

I agree I’m all for that but there comes a point where an idea just isn’t practical.

March 15, 2012 12:38 pm

@Brian Black: hear hear. We would have been much better off deciding back in 2000 we needed to sustain carrier air and taking a logical sequence of decisions:-

– main cost and risk is aircraft
– hence pick aircraft option with lowest risk
– build out carrier requirement from there

The cost of delaying orders, then stretching out delivery, then changing requirements in such a fundamental way is criminal. Compared to Typhoon, A400, T45 or Trident, CVF is cheap for the capability it provides

March 15, 2012 1:08 pm

“Just getting silly now. Why can’t we have a serious debate on carrier strike without talk of converted container ships, floating barges or any number of hair brain schemes”

Well, so I guess no one’s fond of escort carriers any more :)

They did sterling work in WWII, including Coral Sea.

Fluffy Thoughts
Fluffy Thoughts
March 15, 2012 1:22 pm

Ooops, those Canucks…!

With a high-level defence agreement between the UK and the ‘States due next month, why not:

Initial F-18C/D squadron leased from the US desert,
Lease – a’ la Oz – for F18F/G towards the end of the decade,
J35-C to be run-up by the RAF until 2025, and
Further purchases for the RAF thereof (whilst the oldies are expending their ‘hard’ landing allocation with the FAA?

FInally – please Santa – 12 P8 purchased over the next fifteen years.

On the cats-n-traps: Does anyone know if the cost includes a third set of RR-engines? ‘swerve’ often implies that their is space in the design (ergo: 120MW for spurts)…?

Brian Black
Brian Black
March 15, 2012 1:28 pm

I wonder whether Cameron is being nudged towards the American’s favoured variant for our Navy while he’s being soft-soaped in the States.
And I wonder whether Cameron is wet enough to bend towards the American’s favoured variant if they are nudging – I suspect he is.

March 15, 2012 1:28 pm

Took me a while to figure out RR meant Rolls Royce, not Recoiless Rifle. :P

March 15, 2012 1:31 pm


There might be some good reasons for leaning towards the “favoured variant”. Since the US is controlling the development path, their love child is going to get the biggest share of papa’s money for R&D. Following them means that you can piggyback off their research instead of funding your own.

March 15, 2012 1:33 pm

So if F35B is now a done deal, and no cat and traps, that leaves a helicopter of tiltrotor as the only other aircraft that could be operated from CVF.
Normal air group twelve F35B, six Merlin ASW, four Merlin AEW. The short range F35B can be fitted with external tanks, as not every mission will need stealth mode. Someone somewhere will be able to work out, what that does for range and endurance.

Now a bit left field is there and value in a V-22 Osprey fleet? Four for AEW, added hight endurance gives better radar coverage etc, another two for COD/tanker duties. Boeing is looking at a tanker version now. Another six to twelve for transport. Being able to sit 400 miles offshore with a company of SAS, SBS or RM’s is a huge plus for British forces. Or 800 miles for a one way flight, to reinforce that garrison down south when the South American ninjas put MPA out of action.

March 15, 2012 1:50 pm

@ X and Topman

“Me and Chris B are navalising some Ghurkas at this very moment. No need for countermeasures. Modern missiles are that intelligent even they are scared of Ghurkas.”

And the best thing is, the more intelligent they make them, the more scared of the Navalised Gurkha they become.

We’ve even designed a new weapon for them, the “Sea Kukri”. It has almost unlimited fuel, but the only downside is that once its been fired, it must draw oil…

Peter Elliott
March 15, 2012 1:52 pm

@ Jim

I say yest there is. You could also have pallets and pods for Electronic Warfare or Battlefield ISATR as well.

No sense having CEPP without the ability to manage the battle space – and the whole idea of QEC is to project power without/beyond allied airfields.

March 15, 2012 1:52 pm

Regrettably, an inordinate amount of attention is being allocated on big ticket / high profile projects, in most countries with a substantial military.

March 15, 2012 2:26 pm

The second QE is meant to cost less than a billion quid.

I’ve pointed this out before. It’s not the carriers! The project is just fine on that level and everyone ought to calm down. It’s the aircraft.

Even with the “old” engine, Rafale will take off with its full load from 220 metres with 10 kts wind. You know it makes sense…

March 15, 2012 2:52 pm

Hallelujah, boss!!! Finally, we seem to find some common ground on this one. As a long-time proponent of both CVF-as-a-british-LHA, F-35 and V-22 I welcome your insights.

I agree on Tornado, I always did. That we retired Harrier instead of Tornado was an error IMO, but let’s forget this. Anyone looking at the decision to close the navigator school knew, that retiring Tornado was always intended starting PR14 or 15, providing the then-government with an easy excuse.

We will have many problems to replace them with Typhoon. It’s not just a matter of equipment, we currently only possess 8 Typhoon-pilots capable of A2G-ops, and even if we had: they cannot make good the fundamental flaws the Typhoon as a low-flying aircraft has.

Starting in the early 2020s, we could buy F-35As or Cs or even later letters to replace Tornado in RAF-service.

Apache’s maritime capability is not urgently needed, because we get Lynx-Wildcat. The Wildcat has a very flexible SELEX Seaspray-radar kit, whose electronics are coming from one family with the Vixen. I wonder, if a simple upgrade on the Wildcats radar-electronics could bring us some form of low-budget-AEW at least.

Agree on the Chinooks blade-folding. We could always use the Merlin HC3s for landbased SAR-duties, which we have to replace anyway in the next few years.

Where I do not agree, is the case for Vehicle-stowage and landing crafts for CVF. We had it about the MLPs as generic ship-to-shore-connectors on the other auxiliary-cruiser-thread. We have vehicle capacity in abundance, available at short notice, but no idea how to bring’em ashore directly from ro-/ro vessels. The current answer – LPDs – are simply not usable as a vehicle unload-hub.

On the F-35 Bravo, I agree with most of your points. The single difference being: choosing the B doesn’t close us from using UCAVs. First, we will retain the capability to introduce cats at a later point, second, it seems to be vastly easier to land a UAV using vertical landing than using arrestor wires.

March 15, 2012 2:56 pm

@S O
“Regrettably, an inordinate amount of attention is being allocated on big ticket / high profile projects, in most countries with a substantial military.”

It’s a new kind of cancer called ‘typhoonositis’.

March 15, 2012 3:05 pm

“Now a bit left field is there and value in a V-22 Osprey fleet?”

Yes, there is. Especially for AEW, COD and AAR in the carrier role.

Then, we at later point incorporate ASW-equipment, we would have a fully carrier capable MPA, which can additionally land on any escort. Perfect Merlin-replacement

Buying like the Japanese at a constant minor trickle of one or two aircraft a year, we could easily support a 30-60 aircraft fleet.

March 15, 2012 3:07 pm


Thumbs up for the new Ghurka multi-purpose anti-ship pokey thingy :)

March 15, 2012 3:12 pm

There have been a few bad rumours about the Osprey’s maintainance record. How bad is it really?

March 15, 2012 3:24 pm

V22’s readiness record isn’t wonderful: around 65%. It’s cost of ownership is very high too,15240,208954,00.html

Initially in Iraq, it was more like 50%. I think a Merlin AEW option looks like a much better way of doing things. It doesn’t have the ceiling, but it’s probably good enough

March 15, 2012 3:30 pm

“The rumour mill has been flapping faster than a shithouse door in a Force 9”

Amen to that TD.

Some pretty ideas floating around on this thread, gonna read them through when I have the time…going somewhere hot and dusty tomorrow :/

B was what we put a lot of thought and plans into, but these rumors must be playing havoc with the CVF design & costing teams… and then after we’ll rant about ‘their’ delays and cost over-runs!

One idea is to have a joint Conversion unit, with a ’20 Sqn’ flight for the primary conversion and land operations, and a ‘899 flight’ for the Naval ops, I like that.

Just an idea.

I think retiring the tonka early would be a bit too edgy; unless typhoon is fully ready and equipped for the role (with 2 or so extra sqns to take up the role, as there isn’t much typhoons to go around).

I think V-22 is a bit too far fetched; I mean, barely enough money for F-35s’…I think Merlin is where its at, for now…Boeing doesnt actively market the tilt-rotor… maybe for future force 2035 ;)

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
March 15, 2012 3:33 pm

Alex @ 2.26

At last it all makes sense.

The great unifying conspiracy theory now covers the cost of a ship and the costs to convert that ship

The figures you are quoting are straight out of the BWoS school of economics. To them “Catch 22” is a text book not a novel.

The current cost of the PoW is £952mill or thereabouts because …

BWoS could find £962mill of penalty clauses in the contract for PoW termination.

That is the bait – save money by building.
Then comes the switch – Mr VFM has left town, here is Mr Hard Nosed B’stard to deal with your query.

You want CATOBAR then that will cost you £1.8bill or thereabouts.
So much up front plus a 50 year service contract for your grandchildren to fund.

Easy when you know how.

If you really think we could build the PoW for under a £1bill then we would have an export industry for the third and the fourth – aka DoY + PR.

March 15, 2012 3:37 pm

“There have been a few bad rumours about the Osprey’s maintainance record. How bad is it really?”

— Worse than is often reported. A while back the measure for which accidents had to be reported in which category (major, minor, etc, I think they use an alphabetical system) was changed so that any accident that caused less than I think $1 million worth of damage could be classed as just a minor incident. Some of those “minor” incidents have involved ground collisions and Osprey’s taking off without pilot input if I remember correctly (which to be fair, my memory can be a bit shit sometimes).

March 15, 2012 3:43 pm

@ FBoT, you got anymore news on you suicid… sorry decoy ships or mine from 11.41?

March 15, 2012 3:45 pm

Hmm, the original £3.5bn went up to £5.5bn because of the Brown slowdown (i.e. £2bn gone in thin air.) =£1.75bn per hull.

Obviously, the design and the infrastructure work aren’t done all over again for each hull. You could choose to allocate that to the first-of-class, in which case it would be more expensive and subsequent ships cheaper. Or you could break it out as a project in itself. Or you could levelise it per-ship.

March 15, 2012 3:54 pm

It isn’t MV22’s readiness record that bothers me more that when it looses an engine it suddenly becomes a very expensive brick. At least fixed wing and conventional rotor crews may have some chance of escape.

@ Chris B re Sea Khukuri

The Indians will buy it!!!!!! As long as we get a Russian company to front the sales………

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
March 15, 2012 4:00 pm

Topman @ 3.43

We have one CVF with 1600 people on board including some adventurous RAF types living in 5 star containers on the flex deck.

We have 60 hard working RFA types on a 40K ton tanker each with their own choice of bolt / priest hole.

Then we have the problem – incoming.

First we have tried to stop it being launched but we are up against resourceful, persistent blighters.

Next we have tried to shoot it down but we got one / missed one.

Now it is down to the CIWS / chaff / countermeasures and prayer.

Plan A is to have two ships but generate 3 targets – and hope it will hit the one in the middle.

Plan B is in extremis offer up the lower value target as the Sacrificial offering.

500lbs / kgs of HE versus 15K tons of steel spread over 220m and 20K tons of fairly viscous liquids. Casualties if the missile try’s to puncture the main deck?

Call it the (improved) Atlantic Conveyor solution.

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
March 15, 2012 4:08 pm

Alex @ 3.45

Check your numbers.

We were well beyond £3.5bill even before there was any talk of a politically inspired slowdown.

March 15, 2012 4:11 pm

sounds like the (improved) most stupid ideas i’ve seen. I take you’d be at that front of the queue? Sounds like you’d have no end of problem filling those posts.

March 15, 2012 4:28 pm

@TD –

Love your post! Some really great points about the cost differentiation between CATOBAR and non-CATOBAR operations. I think it’s hard to argue that, if the choice is between 1 CVF with F-35C and 2 CVF with F-35B, then the B is definitely the way to go. This is doubly so if the CVFs will be used more akin to US LHA, rather than strike carriers, though at that point I’d think (like some other comment-ers) that big-deck LHD (Wasp-like) might have been the way to go all along.

In my mind, the biggest advantage that the F-35C model provides over the B model is greater survivability to its carrier in a future anti-access environment. The longer range of the C variant translates into better stand-off capability and freedom of maneuver over the B variant. For the US military, this is less of an issue – the B and C variants are meant to be complementary, with the carrier-bound C variants destroying hostile anti-access capabilities while the amphib-bound B variants focus on providing air support for the amphibious forces.

If Libya is the model for future operations (in which the enemy has negligible anti-access capabilities), then I can see how the marginal advantages offered by the C variant might not be worth the cost. If, however, future maritime operations take place in more dangerous operating environments, a force equipped only with F-35Bs might find itself at a disadvantage.

Going forward with the CEPP/F-35B concept, how does one hedge against the proliferation of more sophisticated anti-access capabilities?

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
March 15, 2012 4:56 pm

Topman @ 4.11

Tell that to SW, explain where he went wrong in 82.

March 15, 2012 5:04 pm

From the link Fluffy Thoughts posted
“Ottawa has budgeted Can$8.5 billion to buy 65 F35 fighter jets ”

I was wondering what their special interest was in getting the partners together in the premeeting in DC, before Australia.

If they do pull out, their 65 minus 42 for Japan minus 20 for Israel (that Congress was pushing to come out of the USAF slots)… nothing changed!

March 15, 2012 5:09 pm

Did any of you know that the F35A is a potential tactical nuclear bomber?
Reading the FY2012 budget of the US forces i found that the F35A weapons bay have been designed with a requirement for possible future integration of the B61 nuclear bomb.

Honestly did not know until today, personally… Curiously, only the A is mentioned, but the C should automatically be capable of taking it as well, since the weapon bay is the same.

The B’s bay is smaller, shortened by some 14 inches, so it is a whole different story.

Of course, this is of no interest to the UK, but i found it interesting.

I’ve also tried to work out an updated list of weaponry which will be available for the F35 from 2015, with the Block 3 software and readiness level.


-GBU-12 Paveway II 500 lbs
-Paveway IV
-JDAMs (1000 lbs, 2000 lbs, BLU-109)


– Gun pod (for B and C)
– GBU-12 Paveway II 500 lbs
– ASRAAM(?) (until now i was sure it was going to be integrated 2 internal and 2 external, now i’ve found reasons to not be sure of the external integration anymore)
– Sidewinder 9X

This is what the F35 (any variant) will have at entry in service.

MBDA is working to ensure that internal carriage of 4 Meteors is a possibility from Block 5 or Block 4 software.
Curiously, no mention of external carriage for now.

Brimstone 2, Storm Shadow, Paveway III and 1000 and 2000 lbs Paveway III also follow in the later blocks, NOT with block 3.
Brimstone can be integrated on external and internal pylons both.
Curiously, again, there seem to be no current thought into integrating Paveway IV for external carriage, which i find weird.

The B variant has not only the shortened bays, but the air-ground stations inside the bays are for 1500 pounds against 2500 for the A and C variants;

The middle external pylons under the wings on the B are rated for 1500 pounds, against 2500 for A and C.
The external fuel tanks and Storm Shadow can only be fitted to the two innermost external pylons (5000 pounds).
No fuel tanks AND Storm Shadow. One or the other.

“We were well beyond £3.5bill even before there was any talk of a politically inspired slowdown.”

Not really. I should check to be 100% sure but i’m pretty certain that prior to the 2008 slowdown the project was roughly in balance, with no serious cost overruns, according to the NAO.

March 15, 2012 5:19 pm

i’ll leave that too, seen as your the naval expert keen to tell all the world’s navies how they are doing it wrong.

March 15, 2012 5:57 pm

Hi Gabby,
“The B’s bay is smaller, shortened by some 14 inches, so it is a whole different story.

Of course, this is of no interest to the UK”
– The compacting of Meteor has been worked on the basis of the longer internal bay?

“Brimstone 2, Storm Shadow, Paveway III and 1000 and 2000 lbs Paveway III also follow in the later blocks, NOT with block 3.”
– same for JSM, Norwegians very upset

“[On B]The external fuel tanks and Storm Shadow can only be fitted to the two innermost external pylons (5000 pounds).
No fuel tanks AND Storm Shadow. One or the other.”
– isn’t that old warhorse, Tornado, wonderful afterall (as there is no programme for the Tiffy to become longer-legged, even when it finally gets SS)

March 15, 2012 6:30 pm


Does this mean the B can only carry ASRAAM internally as the AMRAAM and Meteor have a length of 12 feet, 3.7 m ?

March 15, 2012 6:37 pm

“Does this mean the B can only carry ASRAAM internally as the AMRAAM and Meteor have a length of 12 feet, 3.7 m ?”

Both Meteor and AMRAAM can be carried. MBDA studied Meteor integration in the short bay of the B, with a study funded by the MOD in 2005, well before the (temporary?) switch to the C.
The problem with Meteor were the fins, not the lenght. MBDA fixed that with a fin redesign reducing their sizes by 20%.
Also on the F35B, you can fit 4 Meteors in the bays, one on the rail on the weapon bay door, the other in place of the bomb on the main pylon.

“No fuel tanks AND Storm Shadow. One or the other.”

Israeli working to develop an F35 Conformal Fuel Tank. God bless them!

“as there is no programme for the Tiffy to become longer-legged, even when it finally gets SS”

Not yet, at least, but, again, Conformal Fuel Tanks are a readily available answer and, while there is no program for now, RAF pressure, for what i’ve read, has won and the Tranche 3 Typhoons will come CFT-ready.
Fitting CFT then becomes a real trivial exercise.

March 15, 2012 6:39 pm

The easiest way to compare a/c range without going into sfc,drag cals and all the rest is to use the a/c fuel fraction which is the total fuel carried divided by total take off weight. Higher the percentage the better it is. F35B and typhoon without conformals carrying 2 storm shadow would be similar and tornado and f35C would be similar with in fact tornado being the longest of them all. With the advantage of positioning f35 closer to target as its on a carrier a bonus. I will add that internal fuel volume is alway preferable as external tanks have a larger drag penalty and remove stores holding. Way back when there was an option of a split buy of f35c and b on the cards as all the expensive bits are the same.
All variants are nuclear capable. And meteor and amraam are the same length I believe.

As for aew ect way up the thread e3d sentry has a 4000nm range and plenty of space for crew rest and aar capable. Any serious operation would have one in attendance so carrier aew ect would be for gap filling or niche roles which a helicopter variant can accommodate for the UK.

March 15, 2012 6:41 pm

“It isn’t MV22′s readiness record that bothers me more that when it looses an engine it suddenly becomes a very expensive brick. At least fixed wing and conventional rotor crews may have some chance of escape.”

You do know that the engine nacelles are connected and that one engine suffices to at least make for a safe landing.

“There have been a few bad rumours about the Osprey’s maintainance record. How bad is it really?”

Not as bad as the NH90-cabin bottom.

Yay, bad rumours. David Axe on his Dangerroom-Blog ( is one of the main opponents. The only problem is, that he constantly constructs ‘truth’ around pre-LRIP crashs and later minor mishaps, like broken gear boxes, or engine failures. All in all, 10 mishaps in 10 years, none of them recorded after 2009.

Then there is a guy named Carlton Meyer, he is a very aggressive contra-V-22-commentor. It must suffice to say, that his arguments are constantly being flogged in professional US defence forums by active service personnell. The rest of his rather pointless page indicates, he is a Marines-opponent (to cite one of his headlines ‘Just Eliminate Our Second Land Army’).

Both of them seem to forget the actual safety-record of both the Chinook and the CH-53 in the last 10 years.

The readiness is 65% for ALL Osprey in service, which also includes the vastly more insufficient Block A aircraft. The Block B aircraft in Afghanistan managed up to 80%, which is really not bad.

Yes, the maintenance cost have risen, to roughly $121m an aircraft over 30 years, or $4m a year. Per flight hour, the number is currently around $10k, if we look at the details, it’s $12k for Block A, and $8k for Block B.

It all depends on how you crunch the numbers.

March 15, 2012 6:50 pm

Hi Jim, A and C can take 6 AMRAAMs, as for the “B” picked up this from Warships1
“It depends on how long the bays actually are. The internal bays on the A/C are able to hold an AGM-154 JSOW which is 160 inches. It is known the B’s bays are 14 inches shorter, so that leaves it able to carry a weapon of up to 146 inches, just enough room for an AMRAAM to fit on the main pylon. Whether the Bays on the -B are wide enough for two AMRAAMS is unknown.”
– sounds inconclusive, but some weapons can be just dropped and some actually have to be fired off the pylon
– I forget for which missile they are now building an extending arm so the capacity (internally) becomes 4, instead of 2

March 15, 2012 6:59 pm

@TD, I agree with the thrust if your post in that you cannot have just one super CVF and it be more than a “penis extension” for the navy (sorry France…)

I do also agree that to man a 2nd carrier, the LPH replacement and Argus must go.

These carriers should be multi-role vessels having an appropriate level of air defence, strike and amphibious assault capability. However, switching back to the F35B is tempting but feels another short term fudge – get cats & traps now and it opens up lots more options.

Looking at capability:
– amphibious assault: Chinook or Merlin
– strike: Apache or UAV
– air defence: could be done by a squadron of 12 F35C or even an alternative like Griffon.

The RAF should upgrade it’s Typhoons, scrap the Tornado to invest big on UAVs that could be carrier based. All carrier craft for FAA only – 30 could be enough to support a front line squadron of 12. Therefore, pay for the cats by having fewer a/c.

Longer term I would actually replace the LPDs with another CVF as helicopter assault is much more likely than a beach assault. If needed the Bays would be enough.

March 15, 2012 7:09 pm

@ gabby you mentioned pw 2 500 lb. Is it a us only weapon?

March 15, 2012 7:38 pm

I don’t want to give short shrift to the flow of the comments thread, so feel free to step round me — being a day late into the scrum I wanted to reply directly to TD as the post stands, since it does very well covering the ground and the arguments the blog boss means to cover. (Great lead graf as well, boss. Ought to be making the Twitter rounds on that one. And out here in the wilds of N. America I take mail-order chocolate digestives in lieu of cash :)

– The case for utility of a VSTOL airframe is well made, based on VSTOL’s virtues when designed right.
– Question is, is F35B a good VSTOL platform or not? I would still like assurances, beyond the much better administration of the program than previous, if MoD shifts back to the amazing deck-melting wonder plane it, well, won’t be. That may sound a little flippant but it is really one of the two core concerns about B and any parliamentary or internet watchdogs with a good snout should get to it.
– The second core concern about B is, have you “future proofed” the carriers? (One of the only bullshit bingo phrases I can stand.) What you’ve done with such a build is guarantee the need for Dave-B’s successor; who will design and built it? There’s certainly a potential export market even before you reach the USMC’s big order to keep their Wasps and Americas equipped with air cover through-life. With fast-jet assembly and tip-to-tail design in the UK being smothered quietly by a company (ah, irony — the lost law of thermodynamics) that still calls itself British Aerospace, does that present a long landscape of future insecurity? Yes, the UK’s on to build parts for F-35’s full run, probably as an early condition of an eventual mega-merger between BAE (no longer British nor aerospace) and LM — they can become for overpriced, overdesigned, and over-engineered weaponry what Jardine-Matheson was to drug running — those British facilities could still get Dagenhamed in the long run. Will that long run affect what goes on carrier decks as Dave-B wears down, or (both with F35B and successor) stovepipe MoD into a single supplier rather than browsing a market that may recoil back into diversity after the slow-action cluster***k of F35?

After that, however, I part company from “C” partisans on two big counts:

– If (as others have surely said) this is what it takes to get two carriers and actual aircraft aboard in a timely fashion, then God-bleeding-speed and get on with it. That’s badly needed not because CARRIERS RUL3 AW3SOM3 OK !!1!!ELEVNTY! but because of the world into which we’re voyaging in which something of the scope and scale of “another Sierra Leone” will, pardon my Saxon, look like a fucking garden party.

– Also my opposition to something which comes up very often on this subject: F35C gives the RAF (as part of a joint aircraft force) and the country “another Tornado.”
– Oh, sweet merciful Jesus and Buddha on their tandem bicycling to bingo night in Felixtowe, no. No, no, no, no. Standing athwart history yelling “STOP!!!” no. The absolute ***last*** thing the RAF needs is “another Tornado.” It is too much bomber to do dedicated CAS, and not nearly enough bomber in terms of legs over distance and payload for “first-day” standoff strikes followed by “massed fires” dropped from pylons on now-exposed targets from a minimal number of airframes (due to cost).
– The RAF has a Tornado fetish the size of the Admiralty’s frigate fetish. Both services are run my men who, many of them, made their careers and their names aboard those platforms, have defended them as the most reliably “relevant” weapons systems in their respective services, and argued for their use in deeply inappropriate missions (Type 23s to bust drugs off Antigua, Tornados to do pint-sized strategic bombing at vast refueling costs) to protect them from the Treasury axe. And they have so fixed their designs upon them that their ability to adapt and operate in a new strategic and combatant environment has suffered. I’ll be glad of a decent T26 if it comes out of the draughtsman’s shop, but what the RN needed is a Burke with a proper, competent sonar fit (i.e. 2087) which they could’ve had with an “all rounder” T45 plus new minesweepers stretched (for seakeeping and a Wildcat hangar) to double as sloops. And what the RAF needs?
– What the RAF needs is explicitly **not** a “new Tornado.” Develop the Typhoon properly and you get some secondary mud-moving out of an air-superiority airframe. What the RAF actually needs, for strike, is a truly modern — in range and payload — heir to Vulcan.
– In another thread I fag-packeted one option: a militarised Bombardier Global 8000, strengthened to carry half a dozen air-launched versions of the Missile de Croisere Naval (ex-SCALP Naval) or the equivalent arseload of JDAMs. Cruising speed equal to Vulcan, tremendous range (if you kept even two-thirds the range of the civil model, with MdCN’s range tacked on, you have a combat radius around 3600 nm. Fly yourself to Ascension or Akrotiri without refueling, then operate from the strips to hit anything (Ascension) from Paraguay to (Akrotiri) the Indus. And it concentrates the “first-day air” option on air and naval saturation of key targets with standoff fires, to overwhelm older ADA networks or make a modern one reveal itself to counterbattery missiles.
– Given the RAF’s shopped Harrier and has no interest in taking on the Apaches, however, that leaves dedicated fast-jet CAS high and dry. And Dave-C does not seem well designed to loiter in that role.

As for this whole “let’s turn the QEs into the LPHs I think we should have built in the first place” thing?

– Oh, crumbs, no.
– Reconfiguring, if it could be done, would be a botched, nightmarish money pit in BWoS’ hands.
– Also if you bought a dedicated LHD it takes
* less crew by about 2/3rds
* much less money
* is designed keel-up for the job
– That doesn’t mean I’m in favour of the RN’s traditional “country house” approach to skittering masses of one-trick platforms. But in this case there is a very real question about ability to do a given job *and* about what jobs need doing.
– Carriers and LHDs are not the same anymore than an AS90 is a tank, or a light ISTAR platform is a long-range interceptor: there are some general similarities that fall apart in the details.
– An LHD does what it does because it has the well deck, landing craft, maneuver design to its engine-propeller-keel arrangement, lane space, and design configuration to carry nearly all of a battlegroup (plus attendant helis) to an amphibious assault.
– A carrier’s specifically designed to load, command, and provision a proper force of fixed-wing aircraft — and it does need to be proper in numbers — not to fulfill the RAF or Sharkey Ward’s dreams of “Carrier Strike” but because you need that many airframes to give full air cover to your task force wherever they may have to roam.
– T45 is, if PAAMS works, a great system, and CAMM is a step up from Sea Wolf’s already credible point defence. But if you have a Redfor that can both saturate you with land-launched ASMs and aircraft, if you have two or three T45s trying to process all of that and your T26s hoping nothing bleeds through CAMM’s engagement cycle, they just have to fling enough cheap crap till you run out of Asters. Instead, you can do as the Talmud suggests and “rise and kill them first” with fast air on CAP. As for CAS, it needs to be loitering, persistent, able to engage enemy jets if necessary (to sound like Nick Carter it is incumbent to plan for the worst you’re likely to face, not the most frequent) and don’t get me started on the ability of six AV-8Bs and four SuperCobras to do more than stretch their limits covering a single battalion landing.

So the QEs need to develop as they are because:
– No one else in Europe has that capability if they operate outside land cover in the Mediterranean. Even if they do, but are staging a considerable (brigade or better) landing of forces, you need lingering CAP/CAS in strength while your refueled air forces are doing things to the rear of the beachead.
– Even the French, if CDeG’s reactor cooperates, are borderline (you can fit “forty aircraft” aboard if they’re Dauphins with rotors tidily folded; in serious war conditions it’s two dozen Rafales plus AEW and a couple of ASW helos, the low end of the envelope from a single available carrier platform.)

Both the interest and the ability of the US to involve itself in conflicts in Europe’s zone of immediate danger (Arctic, Balkans, pretty well all of Africa, overseas dependencies) is going to slim down in the next four years, and if one goes asking “POTUS after next” (whoever’s in the White House post-2016) for help beyond satellites and stores they will probably be gravely disappointed. It’s not that I think Britain needs to wave about shouting “We’ve got a great big tonker!” It’s that, if the UK or European interests more generally are faced with an urgent, violent conflict that requires either loitering as well as standoff fires, or securing a beachead to surge ashore well-armed land forces from Ro/Ro platforms, then somebody needs to have that capability. Right now, even though they were thought up in the Nineties to play Mutt and Jeff with the USN, even though they were designed to carry STOVL because the bright minds of the Admiralty thought they could sneak a “big Harrier carrier” past the sociopaths of the Treasury, they have a role yet to play.


Fifty should do:
2×15 in squadron (one FAA squadron assigned to each carrier living and working in rotation with it, the ability to surge the second squadron aboard when needed, plus an extra airframe or two sucking up the squadron’s spare pilots or drafted instructors to make 32 in a “Falklands Ho!” sort of situation)
12x spares
8x OCU in some sort of joint-pooled relationship with Yanks, Spaniards, Italians, whoever.

Buy 160-180 properly kitted Typhoons and a *proper fecking bomber* for the RAF so they can do their appropriate jobs.

That’s all I’ve got. (Yes, I realise you’re probably glad of that by now ;)

March 15, 2012 7:43 pm

@ McZ

Still has the aerodynamics of a brick. Yes BTW.

@ Repulse said ” Argus must go.”

Steady on chap. That’s my favourite RFA you are talking about.

March 15, 2012 8:10 pm


I see you point with the Bombardier Global 8000, six ALCM in a rotating bomb bay like the Buccaneer. We would only need a small squadron of around 12-18. Shame it would never happen, we would spend billions on it like Nimrod only for it to be canceled.

March 15, 2012 8:41 pm

“pw 2 500 lb. Is it a us only weapon?”

The GBU-12 Paveway 2 with 500 lbs MK82 warhead?
No, it is not US only, far from it: i think it is very, very, very common and in widespread use in the arsenal of most NATO countries.

Although in the UK it might have been replaced entirely by the Paveway IV, since it also is 500 lbs. You should know this better than me, though…!

“the LPH replacement and Argus must go.”

LPH(R) is unofficially but effectively gone since as far back as 2006.
Argus is a whole different story. I believe she’ll be around for a long time, even past the current 2020 OSD.
It is a wonderful vessel, cheap to run and incredibly flexible. I wish there was another like her, indeed!

March 15, 2012 9:08 pm

@ Gabby re Argus

She, not it, is a wonderful vessel.

March 15, 2012 9:47 pm


You are of course most evidently right. My bad.

John Hartley
John Hartley
March 15, 2012 10:49 pm

Various points
The D Telegraph 9 Dec 2002 reported on a firm called Intelligent Engineering. They had come up with a cheap way of making icebreaker hulls. Two steel plates with polyurethane in between. If future resource wars are in the polar regions, then the RN needs a few ships with hulls that can cope.
While I would like the UK to have a maritime patrol aircraft in the MRA4/P8 category, I would settle for a few cheap aircraft rather than nothing. King air twinprops can be bought in a maritime patrol configuration. They can even carry/deploy/monitor 2 sonabuoys. I admit they are useless for mid Atlantic winter storms, but some coastal capability is better than nothing.

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
March 15, 2012 10:52 pm

One question for the historians on here – budget share.

I have seen figures that suggest the current budget is split as follows –

Capital / investment = £10bill pa split fairly evenly – RAF in the lead.
Running costs = £25bill pa split 60 / 20 / 20 – Army / RAF / RN.
Not sure if this includes pensions.

The capital bit seems low but these are the best figures I have seen.
Ties in with the numbers in the various services.

Now the question – how does this compare with the historical post WW2 situation?

I have seen comment that suggests that when East of Suez was active it was the RN that had the biggest budget especially on the capital side.

The article made the point that the withdrawal from East of Suez and the cancellation of the CVA-01 carrier was the time when this changed and the RN went into both absolute and relative decline.

Any thoughts – both on the current and historical figures?
I have to admit I am pro RN – it is the only thing we have been good at long term – consistently over the past 300+ years.

March 15, 2012 11:00 pm

TD: “Although RFA Argus provides a casualty receiving capability its main role is aviation support and training, could we use the second CVF or active spare in this role and offset one cost against the other?”

Repulse: “I do also agree that to man a 2nd carrier, the LPH replacement and Argus must go.”

Gabriele “cheap to run and incredibly flexible”

Bravo Gabriele and x!

Argus (or a similar spec. replacement) is vastly, vastly, vastly cheaper to operate and maintain than a CVF for the training and aviation support roles. 80 RFA + 40 RN personnel for routine operations vs nearly 700 RN to man a CVF. Cheap, economical medium speed diesels (do you like that FBOT?) vs thirsty GTs. Merchant simplicity vs warship complexity. Etc.

If you go modular on the PCRF and say you’ll stick it on another platform when required, you either have to charter a suitable platform (good luck!) or tie up one of the dwindling number of other large platforms (e.g. a Bay) doing PCRF when you really want it available for steelier stuff.

Argus isn’t quite the multifunctional goddess she once was – the last refit removed various flexibilities (vehicle ramp) and capabilities (down to 3 spots on the flight deck, one lift, etc.) trying to turn her into something almost but not quite complying with Merchant rules for passenger ships in an attempt to follow Merchant regulations. I don’t think she’ll be in a fit material condition to extend beyond 2020, by which time she will be nearly 40 years old.

We can only hope and pray for an equal replacement, but I will be surprised if one is procured. I foresee Argus and Diligence as the next RFAs on the chopping block for retirement without any replacement.

BTW x, she’s an ugly, vile, pig of a vessel and one of, if not the, most generally despised in the RFA. :-) (Could be toss between her and Fort Victoria)

March 15, 2012 11:19 pm

@ Anixtu

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder dear sir.

You will be telling next you don’t like the beautiful sound Diligence makes…….