Looking Forward to an F35 Future – Part 2 (Dredging Up the Past)

F35 JCA JSF

Although I really want to concentrate on the future I think some reference to the past to prior the great CV/STOVL swapperoo is in order.

As with most UK defence programmes of scale they tend to have a fairly complex beginning, a convoluted middle and a confused ending. Programmes like Type 26 or FRES have evolved through an alphabet of acronyms and the Joint Combat Aircraft is no different.

Ancient History

The UK had for many decades carried out research into advanced STOVL technology beyond the Harrier but whilst there was a range of promising candidate technologies other defence priorities meant that these developments never had enough funding.

Ultimately, the research was never progressed.

As early as 1969 there was thinking into a replacement for the Jaguar and Harrier, Air Staff Requirement 396 emerged as a STOVL concept and was evolved over the following years. Towards the mid seventies, as the US F14, F15 and F16 aircraft emerged ASR 396 was withdrawn and replaced with Air Staff Target 403 which withdrew the vertical/short take off requirement and focussed more on performance, calling for a an agile and multi role aircraft, the preferred option being an F15/F16 purchase.

The crisis in Belize in 1975, in which Harrier GR.3’s played an important role, started to change minds and a switch back to STOVL was likely, AST 403 was delayed in order to harmonise with France and Germany, funding was allocated to the Experimental Aircraft Programme (EAP) that would lead to AST 414 and Typhoon.

In 1983 DARPA in the USA started the Advanced STOVL programme that eventually lead into a 1986 memorandum for a 5 year programme of study between the MoD, NASA, the Royal Aircraft Establishment and the US DoD that would explore propulsion, control and configuration of four single engine STOVL aircraft designs. These were a vectored thrust, tandem fan, ejector lift and a remote augmented lift concept, none of which, funnily enough, would make it into the F35.

The RAF had issued a requirement under Air Staff target 410 for a supersonic STOVL aircraft but this was withdrawn before the MoU leaving the Royal Navy with their Naval Staff Target 6464 that called for a supersonic STOVL aircraft to replace the Sea Harrier. Both these were planned to be merged at some point but the RAF then deprioritised supersonic STOVL in favour of what would become the Typhoon and ensuring the Harrier GR.5 could enter service.

NST 6464 remained but was low key, reportedly deliberately so to keep the focus on Typhoon.

The US Common Affordable Lightweight Fighter (CALF) programme was to develop technologies that would be included in a USMC and RN STOVL aircraft and a non STOVL aircraft for the USAF. 1993 saw the US armed forces Bottom Up Review that acknowledged existing equipment programmes such as the USAF AF/X and MRF were unaffordable and from this was born the Joint Advanced Strike (JAST) programme which was mandated to mature a range of technologies that eventually matured into an aircraft replacement programme.

JAST absorbed CALF in 1994 and the resultant conceptual studies found that a common base airframe with three variants would not only complement the F22 but also replace the F16, F18, A10 and Harrier in US Navy, US Air Force, US Marine Corps and Royal Navy service.

At this point it is worth noting that the resulting JAST vision was for three aircraft, the conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) version for the USAF and RAF, yes, the RAF. The other two versions were to be a carrier version (CV) for the US Navy and a STOVL variant for the USMC and Royal Navy.

The Royal Navy’s Future Carrier Borne Aircraft (FCBA) requirement was developed in 1996 with an expected in service date of 2012.

In 1997 the Joint Strike Fighter programme was created from JAST, including BAE and a commitment from the UK for partial funding of the STOVL element.

Lockheed Martin  JAST FCBA
Lockheed Martin JAST FCBA

At this stage, the UK requirement was for a Sea Harrier replacement only, the FCBA even though the original JAST vision did include a CTOL variant for the RAF.

MDD BAE and NG JAST FCBA
MDD BAE and NG JAST FCBA

The US Joint Initial Requirements document defined an aircraft with a significantly smaller logistics footprint than the Harrier, the ability to carry two 1,000 pound class weapon internally, 4 external hard points, a combat radius between 450 and 550 nautical miles and a price tag of between $30-35 million.

For information, the CV version had a required range of 600nm and two 2,000 pound class internally carried weapons.

The 1998 SDR resulted in a merging of the RN and RAF Harrier force, establishing Joint Force 2000. It also stated that the ‘Invincible’ class aircraft carriers would be replaced with two large aircraft carriers, CVF, and the Future Carrier Borne Aircraft requirement was expanded to include a replacement for the RAF’s GR.7’s in addition to the Royal Navy’s FA2 Sea Harrier.

The Naval Staff Target 6464 then became a joint requirement.

Although the Joint Strike Fighter was the preferred option a contract was let to BAE to evaluate a marinised Typhoon. Subsequent evidence to the House of Commons Defence Select Committee confirmed that the Conventional Variant of the JSF, the Rafale, F18 and even an advanced Harrier design were also being evaluated.

Future Carrier Borne Aircraft (FCBA) then changed to Future Joint Combat Aircraft (FJCA).

In 2001 the MoD announced that the Joint Strike Fighter had the best potential to meet the requirements of the FJCA and we then joined the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) stage of the JSF programme.

There was a great deal of debate in and around 2001 whether the CV or STOVL variant would suit the UK better; evidencefrom the House of Commons produced this from Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham

A great deal depends on whether the short-take-off version turns out to perform as we expect it to, but we have already covered that point. You can argue both ways. Both versions have advantages and disadvantages. In brief, STOVL aircraft can be operated in circumstances of shortage of sea-room or wind conditions that prevent you from operating the conventional version. You have a lower training volume. The conventional aircraft carries a greater payload, both in terms of weapons and in terms of its range. So it can cut both ways. We are carrying out a great deal of analysis to see. Of course, we have expressed a strong interest in the STOVL programme because that is where we are today, with the existing carrier aircraft. I think we would need some strong evidence to change our position, but I believe it would be unwise of us to commit ourselves until we knew whether the STOVL version worked

Others have suggested various combinations of BAE, RAF, RN, civil servants, DSTL (as was) and Uncle Tom Cobbley and All wanted different versions for one or the other reason such as performance, cost, industrial benefits, flexibility, safety, timing, getting the carriers in the water at any cost and even service politic conspiracy theories.

I don’t think there is any doubt that the degree of service and industrial politics was significant, it is unlikely that we will ever get the full picture.

There is no definitive right or wrong answer, any choice is a collection of compromises.

It is also worthwhile to put the decision in the context of the period. The 1998 SDR envisaged a transition from the Cold War to a more interventionist expeditionary stance using joint forces, the Global Force for Good and Jointery themes. The rise of China, a US Pacific pivot and long range operations in land locked countries were simply not on the horizon.

The STOVL option remained the preferred choice for any number of reasons and although its only an opinion I think STOVL won out because it offered a sensible solution at a sensible cost, based on decades of experience of operating STOVL aircraft, a big chunk of design expertise and the improvements on offer from the Joint Strike Fighter when compared to Harrier.

Another factor that came into play was the perceived likelihood of attacking targets from the sea where the additional range of the CV was not that important and the higher sortie rate offered by STOVL meant for a given effect, you could deliver with fewer aircraft.

Fewer aircraft equals lower capital and through life cost.

And that was that, simple really.

In September 2002 the Secretary of State for Defence announced that the STOVL Joint Strike Fighter had been selected for the FJCA requirement with a planning assumption of approximately 150 aircraft split between 60 for the Fleet Air Arm and 90 for the Royal Air Force.

It was also decided to prioritise the strike capability of the existing carriers by withdrawing the Sea Harrier in 2006 and upgrading the GR.7’s to GR.9 configuration.

The In Service Date was defined as the ability to conduct sustained operations with 8 aircraft in 2012, production of UK aircraft having started in 2009.

BAE flew their Raven UAV in 2003.

In 2004, because of weight growth issues across the variants, but especially the STOVL variant, the programme was delayed and over 600 changes made, many of which were also incorporated into the CV and CTOL variants, something that many seem to overlook. This also resulted in a reversion to the original requirement of a single internally carried 1,000 pound weapon in each bay, during the initial design this had increased.

It is important to note that the original requirement for the STOVL variant was for a single 1,000 pound weapon per bay.

In the meantime, CVF had also grown from a smaller estimate to 65,000 tonnes.

The RAF started investigations into a replacement for the Tornado as early as 1990 but in the late nineties the Air Staff Target 425 was established for a long range and low observable strike platform called the Future Offensive Aircraft. BAE was contracted to carry out studies including collaboration with Dassault.

FOA became FOAS in 1996

The RAF’s Future Offensive Air System or FOAS programme shifted from an aircraft replacement to one that investigated the options for replacing the capability provided by the Tornado GR.4 aircraft, a subtle but important difference. It was intended to deliver a capability by around 2018, when the Tornado was due out of service and included manned aircraft, cruise missiles delivered from transport aircraft and unmanned systems.

FOAS CALM
FOAS CALM

Under FOAS the BAE Repiica UAV was produced in 1999 for £20m to develop UK only unmanned stealth technology.

There was also some talk of having a JCA or Typhoon act as a leader for a number of unmanned aircraft, similar to the later US Wolfpack concept, this idea did creep forward into FCAC.

In 2005, the FOAS programme was closed and replaced or redefined with another set of acronyms, SUAVE and FCAC.

In 2003/2004 by the way, BAE flew their Raven, Corax and Herti unmanned systems.

The Future Combat Air Capability (FCAC) made the financially pragmatic decision to use existing or ordered equipment and weapons to meet the original FOAS requirement but in addition would also investigate armed and unarmed unmanned systems under the Strategic Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Experiment (SUAVE).

The Joint Combat Aircraft was assumed to be the manned element of FCAC and a more European flavour to unmanned combat vehicles was widely seen as a means of sustained the European aerospace industry post Typhoon, the Joint Strike Fighter being widely acknowledged as having the fifth generation manned aircraft sewn up.

At about the same time as FOAS was morphing into FCAC and SUAVE Jane’s reported that the UK was reviewing the selection of the STOVL variant, obviously no coincidence.

A greater understanding of the JSF’s engineering issues and a desire to see the FCAC vision realised with a longer ranged aircraft that could carry more than the STOVL variant meant that the decision making process was again reviewed although it was clear that there was not enough detailed information on which to make a decision to switch horses mid race.

The ‘desire’ was to have the JCA undertake missions previously earmarked for the manned element of FOAS.

The temptation of more more more was evidently proving difficult to resist.

Champagne tastes and brown ale wallets on the part of the services, miraculously though the MoD remained steadfast with the UK remaining with the F35B because yet again, the balance of all things pointed to it being a sensible choice.

A December 2005 report from the House of Commons Defence Select Committee looked into CVF, JCA and MASC

Highlights from the report include

  • In service date of the two aircraft carriers was still 2012 and 2015
  • The estimated cost of the two carriers was between 3 and 4 billion pounds
  • Slippage of the main gate decision would generate capability gaps
  • The Alliance Agreement was yet to be concluded
  • Continued uncertainty about the build programme

On the JCA, it reported that all alternatives such as the F18, Rafale and Typhoon had been rejected on cost grounds.

This particular piece of evidence is of note;

Q141 Robert Key: Now the decision has been taken to change the bring-back of the characteristics of the aircraft and the reduction in weight will be achieved by having one 1,000 lb bomb not two; does that have an impact on the operational performance of the aircraft?

Commodore Henley: The requirement for the UK, if I could just clarify is actually one 1,000 lb bomb either side. The original requirement for the UK was just that. There was a requirement for the UK aircraft (and the requirement document laid it out) that we would have a 1,000 lb weapon either side so we could carry two 1,000 lb bombs. At one stage in the programme we believed that we had enough spare capacity in the STOVL aircraft to move towards a common weapons bay with the other variants, which has a 2,000 lb capacity weapon bay.  That is not the same as saying you can fit two 1,000lb bombs. It means you can fit a single 2,000lb class weapon. The UK does not have any 2,000lb class weapons in its inventory, which is why a 1,000 lb class weapon was being deemed suitable. As part of the weight reduction studies we did we reverted to the original design and therefore, no, there has been no impact on the UK requirements of that change

2006 saw further wobbles, mainly relating to the ITAR ‘software codes’ issue and a Plan B was discussed should agreement not be achieved.

Sabres were rattled, plans for a marinised Typhoon trotted out again and the MoD was being courted by Boeing and Dassault with renewed vigour.

The saga continued towards the end of the year as speculation gathered pace but a dose of dawning reality and some compromise resulted in the MoU for the Production, Sustainment and Follow-on Development (PSFD) phase being signed in December 2006 by the UK, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, BAE and the RAF completed Project MORRIGAN that integrated a HERTI UAV into an operational context in Afghanistan to develop tactics, techniques, procedures and doctrine.

Rumours and speculation aside, the F35B remained the aircraft of choice.

This BBC article from 2007 reported on work carried out by QinetiQ at Boscome Down with a tornado and BAC-1-11

[browser-shot width=”550″ url=”http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6514413.stm”]

The trial involved the Tornado pilot controlling the BAC-1-11 and three simulated aircraft whilst airborne.

An interesting concept but the Tornado is obviously not the future aircraft of choice and whether a single seat and therefore single pilot could manage the workload is another matter, perhaps this concept has merit in the absence of non line of sight communications but perhaps something like a business jet platform standing off would be a better option.

As interesting as it is, it did not progress beyond these trials.

Stand by stand by, acronym change ahoy, or should that be ahead.

Remember FOA, FOAS, FCAC and SUAVE?

All change

2008 was now time for Deep and Persistent Offensive Capability or DPOC, from the MoD;

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

SUAVE would gather evidence to inform a planned Initial Gate Balance of Investment Decision in 2011 for either manned or unmanned equipment from 2018 onwards. SUAVE would employ a twin track approach of with projects TARANIS and CHRUCHILL. TARANIS is the well known UCAV technology demonstrator and CHURCHILL was a technology collaboration programme with the USA.

It is around this period that things start getting interesting as a wave of reality washes over the MoD as it starts the slow car crash of realising the hope was not actually a sound strategy when it came to funding.

The cupboard was bare and it would not have escaped anyone’s attention that the New Labour period was coming to an end.

Anyone with any understanding of history would fully appreciate that the Conservative Party’s reputation for being ‘good on defence’ was an illusion, the Nott White Paper, Options for Change and Frontline First being evidence for the prosecution.

The Conservative party, when in power, had form for being unkind to naval aviation.

The RAF naturally wanted to retain the funding line for Typhoon but realised just how much they had blew on various flavours of FOA, FOAS, FCAC, SUAVE and DPOC with, let’s be honest, the square root of zero to show for it.

With funding for an unmanned system only ticking over, continuing arsing about with the Europeans and a seemingly endless trickle of budget bad news it was obvious that those in light blue looked upon the JCA with covetous eyes.

Which, brings us on to the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review

Recent History

As described above, the original plan was for the RN and RAF to use the same aircraft to meet the Joint Combat Aircraft requirement.

This made a lot of sense, the RAF could supplement or surge the carrier borne air wing as conventional carrier take and landing skills are hard to obtain and maintain. The Fleet Air Arm could participate in ground operations (as the Naval Strike Wing has done in Afghanistan) in a common operation.

It was a pragmatic and sensible choice.

In the run up to the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) there were a spate of rumours that indicated a switch from STOVL or the F35B to the CV variant, the F35C.

Numerous articles appeared online, forums were awash with posts and even Think Defence joined in with a number of posts from me and others.

In September 2010 I wrote;

CVF remains fully justified in whatever strategic stance we take.

The F35B would seem to provide the greatest flexibility and capability at the lowest cost.

Options still remain on numbers and how it is operated in a wider context, such as turning the CVF pair into a multi role air/amphib or disbanding the FJ element of the Fleet Air Arm

This post appeared at roughly the same time as the RUSI piece on strategic options which provided a nice backdrop.

Later in the month the Guardian published a story about plans to reduce costs of CVF/JCA by switching to the CV variant.

My reaction was one of puzzlement.

In fact, I wrote a post called I Am Puzzled.

The thrust of this post was, besides me pompously dismissing it as nonsense, was how it would remotely reduce costs in any way shape or form.

I am puzzled how adding cost reduces it, either in short term or long term.

Am I being thick?

In the comments and with the wonderful 20:20 hindsight us armchair generals can have the mood was generally, shut up you divvy :).

I went on to say

I would have thought the MoD would not be seeing any change from 500-750 million by the time all the costs are taken up, depending on which version of cats we go for plus deck landing system etc. Delaying CVF by a year put £1billion onto the price tag for the pair, putting yet more delay AND adding kit is going to be way more. Given we are only going to be buying around 50 aircraft the difference is going to have to be at least £10m and absolutely crucially, this is before we start plugging in the through life cost differentials of CTOL and extra delay costs.

Whichever way you spin it the numbers would seem to point to F35B being the cheapest option

I was of course completely out of step with most commenters, bloggers and forum participants except for a number of m’learned Think Defence fellows.

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

So pre SDSR, although there were a very small number of people who actually though sticking to the original plan of the F35B was sound, the die was set and it seemed like a switch to the CV F35C was inevitable.

On the 28th September 2010 the National Security Council met to consider Carrier Strike and included discussion on;

military requirement for aircraft carriers, the degree to which protecting the industrial base should be a constraint in decisions on Carrier Strike, whether to retain Harrier or Tornado fast jet aircraft and the risk of loss of continuity in Carrier Strike capability if Harrier was retired

No decisions were made during this meeting because the SDSR process had yet to conclude but it directed the MoD to carry out more analysis specifically to include the option for completing one carrier fitted with catapults and arrestor gear to enable compatibility with the CV F35C and French ships and aircraft.

The National Security Council includes;

  • The Prime Minister
  • Deputy Prime Minister (Chair)
  • The Chancellor of the Exchequer
  • The Foreign Secretary
  • The Defence Secretary
  • The Home Secretary
  • The Secretary of State for the Department for International Development
  • The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change
  • The Chief Secretary to the Treasury
  • The Minister for Government Policy

And of course, the Chief of the Defence Staff on as as needs basis

Quite what the minister for windmills would have to say on am equipment issue or indeed, why equipment selection should be a matter for the NSC is not clear.

Other options the MoD was instructed to consider included bringing the Future Surface Combatant forward to compensate for not proceeding with the second carrier.

Obviously, Carrier Strike was not the main priority and as has been demonstrated subsequently, if the Government could have gotten away with complete cancellation it would have.

A second meeting of the NSC was held on the 7th of October and used briefing materials prepared by the Ministry of Defence in response to the NSC’s request at the previous meeting.

In less than 2 weeks the MoD had to prepare estimates for major restructuring of a number of a number of in progress and complex major projects.

Sucks to be a Civil Servant!

The four options were analysed over both the 4 year Comprehensive Spending Review and 10 year MoD planning cycle.

The National Security Secretariat briefing prepared for the final National Security Council meeting on 7 October put forward four options

This is important to note, the briefing papers for the NSC were prepared by the NSC Secretariat, NOT directly by the MoD

The 4 options were as below

Carrier Strike Options

Looking at the above (an extract from a National Audit Office report) it should be clear that Option 1 offered a significant cost saving but was operationally neutral, had a neutral industrial impact and would have a positive impact on interoperability with allies.

The meeting on the 7th also had another option that was presented by the Secretary of State for Defence, Liam Fox MP

This fifth option WAS NOT prepared by the NSC Secretariat but would ultimately be the one chosen.

Carrier Strike Options

Tornado was not mentioned, although would be reduced in strength but this option offered a lower saving than Option 1 and would have some negative impacts from an operational perspective.

No decision was reached by the National Security at this meeting

As the Comprehensive Spending Review and Strategic Security and Defence Review was iterated Option 5 was selected

On the 19th of December 2010 the Strategic Defence and Security Review was published called Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty.

The Tornado or Harrier issue was also addressed by the NAO

Affordability constraints meant that as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review, one of either the existing Tornado or Harrier fast jet fleets would have to be retired. The choice was discussed in both National Security Council meetings and the National Security Secretariat briefings clearly set out the implications of either choice. In terms of overall contribution to United Kingdom fast jet capability and operations inAfghanistan, Tornado was assessed as more capable. Harrier would be the preferred choice if a continuous Carrier Strike capability was maintained and would better support the immediate establishment of a UK-French Maritime task force. Retiring Tornado would save £380 million less than Harrier over the four-year Comprehensive Spending Review period but £620 million more over ten years.

And so it came to pass that the SDSR announced a switch to the CV variant of the Joint Strike Fighter.

What puzzled me more than anything else about the swap decision was that it how and why was made in such haste?

At time of the pre SDSR rumours about a move to cats and flaps I was steadfast in my opinion, as above, that it would not happen and that the rumours were just the usual pre review leaks designed to test the waters or establish a negotiating position.

The reason I was certain that it would amount to nothing more than rumours was because every single time the MoD had looked at the issue the STOVL option had always come out best overall, not on an isolated aircraft basis, but across multiple lines of development and taking into account a broad range of factors, some outside the MoD

Despite commenters arguing about the detailed specification of one version of the JCA or the other what they should have understood was the in steadfastly retaining STOVL as the preferred option was the first time the MoD had managed to impose some fiscal discipline on the overgrown children in charge of the services who were constantly striving for that unaffordable extra mile.

The F35B was the MoD decision exactly because it was the cheapest, there was no Harrier mafia or other such nonsense, the chaps with complex spreadsheets had decided on option B was because it allowed a force to be established that could operate at sea or land interchangeably at a minimum cost.

Detailed operational and financial analysis at a level that most think doesn’t happen, but does, based on several decades of operating a land and sea based STOVL aircraft goes a long way to providing confidence in a decision.

Post SDSR there was an outpouring of optimism and more or less everyone, especially those chaps in the various online RN/FAA supporters clubs, made great play of the fact I and a few ‘CV deniers’ were  wrong

Ha bloody ha.

I remember commenting and writing at the time that the decision was made in haste, with incomplete information and that it would come back and bite the MoD firmly on the arse.

I thought those in the driving seat had in various combinations been;

  • Hoodwinked by an over optimistic ‘proper carrier’ lobby
  • Dazzled by the RUSI Strategic Raiding nonsense
  • Over cautious about the risks and uncertainties to the F35B which by then had been largely sorted
  • Hopelessly optimistic about the capital and programme costs of conversion plus associated costs because of the time constraints
  • Hopelessly optimistic about the through life cost estimates
  • Over reliant on a vision of French cooperation
  • Willing to sacrifice common sense to meet other programme commitments
  • Too hasty, basing their decisions on incomplete information and not having the rigour to demand clarity

In the Ancient History section above I described the meandering and multi acronym quest to find a replacement for the RAF’s Tornado’s which had variously included a collection of manned and unmanned aircraft and cruise missiles.

As it became obvious that TARANIS was destined not to evolve into anything substantive and BAE would not wait forever the RAF made the JCA programme a target for the FOAS/FCAC/DPOC/Tornado GR.4 replacement and so was used to justify the switch to the F35C whilst still protecting Tranche 3 Typhoon.

DPOC was cancelled and its magically round and convenient billion pound future money budget was rolled into the decision to show savings, completely illusory savings.

Clearly, the Royal Navy didn’t really care as long as the carrier project stayed on track so was likely aircraft agnostic but generally happy with the end result, having a ‘proper carrier’ to support Carrier Strike and Carrier Enabled Power Projection.

Surely the Government wouldn’t build the second carrier and put it into extended readiness, that was the gamble the RN were prepared to take in order to get back to being a proper carrier force again.

The RAF had decided to abandon the flexibility of the F35B and between them thought pissing off the USMC and the resultant damage to the JSF programme was a price worth paying.

Smoke and mirrors accounting, bringing the extremely expensive cake and arse party that started with FOA and ended up with making FRES look like a model procurement effort to some sort of conclusion and enabling a new and ambitious Secretary of State for Defence to make the previous Labour government look like idiots all made the switch obvious, in hindsight.

In a later post called How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria Or CVF I described what I thought were the options post decision.

Option 1 – Carry on Normal Jogging with the F35C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obviously I was completely and utterly wrong on the politics angle.

Another option I proposed was switching back to the F35B

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

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

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

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

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

Other; it would be embarrassing flip flopping

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

That was a 400 comment post; the debate was fantastic, a great credit to the Think Defence commenters.

As we have seen, many of the SDSR decisions were made without any form of robust underpinning analysis beyond ‘it will be OK I am sure’ and have since gone on to be reversed or subject to desperate backfilling.

Monitoring the Parliamentary Question in the period after the SDSR it became abundantly clear that the SDSR had made a number of decisions across multiple domains without the full facts, answer after answer (not just on CVF/JCA) would come back with the ‘subject to further studies’ response.

An August parliamentary answer confirmed the uncertainty

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent, Labour)

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether planned adjustments to the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers will make them compatible with French Rafale aircraft.

Peter Luff (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Defence Equipment, Support and Technology), Defence; Mid Worcestershire, Conservative)

The conversion of the operational Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier will allow the more capable carrier variant Joint Strike Fighter to be operated. The change in aircraft launch and recovery equipment will offer improved levels of interoperability with our allies’ aircraft, including the French Rafale. Further work on interoperability will be undertaken as part of our conversion investigations, which are expected to conclude in late 2012.

One thing that wasn’t apparent at the time was that the F35C would not be interoperable with the Charles de Gaulle so unless the French went ahead with the CVF design PA2, the whole interoperability thing would be one way.

The final decision on which of the carriers would be converted and how much was at this point ‘subject to study’

This initial study was let for the price of £5m

The ‘conversion cost’ of CVF was confused with the physical installation of the EMAL’s catapult(s) with the whole gamut of equipment, manning, training and logistics factors that would have been the consequence of ‘converting to our aircraft choice’

When various people were throwing around estimates, digging up costs that the US Navy were about to pay and make extrapolations they simply failed to grasp this fundamental point, the metal bashing was but one line in the spreadsheet.

I also noted that a number of anecdotal comments that I had seen online about the project team at DE&S being just as surprised at the change as those outside the MoD. If this is true, it meant that the much of the detailed operational and support costing analysis expertise was bypassed, the same hugely experienced team that had repeatedly come back with the STOVL as the answer.

It is only supposition on my part but this smacked of wanting the answer to be C come rain or shine and deliberately ignoring the inconvenient realities by doing the equivalent of putting your fingers in your ears and muttering la la la

By November 2011 Liam Fox had resigned and there was a new sheriff in town, a sheriff with a sharp pencil who no doubt looked at the emerging conversion estimates.

No doubt, he demanded rigour in the run up to the forthcoming planning round (or whatever it is now called)

In early 2012, on a post about Libya, I came up with this depressing prediction;

The MoD also faces a realisation of the costs of JCA and CVF conversion, these are as yet unknown but this year will see several chickens returning home to roost. When the full cost implications of the rushed decision to switch to CV are known and combined with increasing PFI costs and general cost inflation the next couple of planning rounds will be equally brutal as the last.

In March the rumours of a reversion to STOVL began surface.

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In the linked report above it was also reported that the study had chewed through half of its £80m allocation.

An MoD spokesman told the Daily Telegraph;

We are currently finalising the 2012-13 budget and balancing the equipment plan. As part of this process, we are reviewing all programmes, including elements of the carrier strike programme, to validate costs and ensure risks are properly managed

Woah

The cat was out of the bag, the internet erupted and the pro CV lobby spin machine went into overdrive.

Numerous articles, tweets and blog posts all said the same thing, the F35B was complex, more expensive, basically rubbish, would damage relations with France and the US, would relegate the Royal Navy to the Sunday League and be responsible for global warming and the coming Mayan end of the world.

In what turned out to be a monster comment count post, 1,210 in fact, I wrote that the battle between the B or C was not about bring back payloads or unrefuelled range but simply, the MoD’s credibility that was at stake.

Read it here

Never in the field of human conflict has so much embarrassment been caused to so many by so few.

It has been obvious to me for some time that the commodity the MoD lacks the most is credibility.

Credibility with politicians, credibility with the Treasury, credibility with the media and last but by no means least, credibility with service personnel

Incompetence and your common or garden fuckwittery are closely associated with the senior staff, the decision makers, at the MoD, in fact, the MoD is so closely associated with incompetence that no one is actually surprised when it can’t even get buying ladders right. What chance do they have with aircraft, ships and vehicles when at every turn, there is a banana skin?

Can we blame the media for taking the easy line, Treasury officials for being openly scornful of MoD project accounting, the National Audit Office for copying and pasting the forward to their Major Project Reports from the last one and everyone else to just shrugging their shoulders when the latest hugely expensive cock up is revealed?

The decision on CVF and JCA is about nothing more than credibility, the ability of the MoD to live within its means without indulging in fantasy procurement and then having to run cap in hand to the Treasury with an Urgent Operational Requirement every time there is a whiff of gun smoke.

Blogs and Internet forums are often criticised for indulging in fantasy fleets but it strikes me that the biggest proponents of the art of fantasy fleets are the professionals.

So if the most economic and balanced capability is CVF with the F35C then so be it, if it is F35B then equally, great, maybe the best answer is an F18, Rafale, Sea Typhoon or Sea Gripen?

I have my own view, the F35B, but it is one amongst many and based on zero intimate knowledge!

But in making the decision I hope we ask those tough questions and answer with an honest reply.

For a department that so desperately needs to establish some measure of credibility there will be no more second chances.

It was a bit of a ranty post to be honest but fun to write.

The MoD had still failed to confirm the rumours at this point but shortly after the decision was confirmed in a statement to the House of Parliament by Phil Hammond MP, Secretary of State for Defence.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Carrier Strike programme.

The Strategic Defence and Security Review considered the carrier strike programme, put in place by the previous Government, as part of a wide ranging review of options for delivering effective future defence while dealing with the black-hole in Labour’s Defence budget and the unaffordable “fantasy” equipment plan bequeathed to us by the Party opposite. While the Review confirmed that carrier strike would be a key capability in delivering Future Force 2020, it also recognised the unsustainability as a whole of the Defence Equipment Plan we inherited.

The strategic decision on carrier strike which emerged from the SDSR process was to convert one carrier with catapults and arrestor gear to operate the Carrier Variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, facilitating greater interoperability with allies, with a decision on the future use or disposal of the second carrier to be taken at the 2015 SDSR. The decision was also taken routinely to embark 12 fast jets while retaining the ability to surge up to the previously planned level of 36 aircraft. As the House would expect for such a complex and high-value project, the strategic decision taken at SDSR was followed by the commissioning of a detailed programme of work to look at the costs, risks and technical feasibility of all aspects of the proposed solution. That study was expected to take eighteen months, completing by the end of 2012.

Since I took on the role of Defence Secretary in October last year, my overriding concern, after current operations and the welfare of our Armed Forces, has been to ensure the deliverability of the MOD’s Equipment Plan and the achievement of a balanced and sustainable budget. That will give our Armed Forces the assurance they need to carry out the massive transformation that will deliver Future Force 2020 – the concept for our Armed Forces set out in the SDSR. The Carrier project is a large element of the Equipment Programme and I have worked closely with the new Chief of Defence Materiel, Bernard Gray, to assess the technical and financial risks involved in it.

It quickly became clear to me that a number of the underlying facts on which the SDSR decision on carriers was based were changing:

First, as the programme to convert a carrier to operate with a catapult system has matured, and more detailed analysis has been carried out by suppliers, it has become clear that operational Carrier Strike capability, using the ‘cats and traps’ system, could not be delivered until late 2023 at the earliest, considerably later than the date envisaged at the time of the SDSR of “around 2020”. Because Britain’s carriers will have all electric propulsion, and therefore do not generate steam like nuclear powered vessels, the catapult system would need to be the innovative Electromagnetic version (EMALS), being developed for the US Navy. Fitting this new system to a UK carrier has presented greater design challenges than were anticipated.

Secondly, and partly as a result of the delayed timetable, the estimated cost of fitting this equipment to the Prince of Wales has more than doubled in the last 17 months, rising from an estimated £950M to around £2Bn, with no guarantee that it will not rise further.

Technical complexity and the cost of retrofitting cats and traps to the Queen Elizabeth, the first carrier, would be even higher, making it unlikely that she would ever, in practice, be converted in the future.

Thirdly, at the time of the SDSR, there was judged to be a very significant technical risk around the STOVL version of JSF and some commentators were speculating that it could even be cancelled. Indeed, the STOVL programme was subsequently placed on probation by the Pentagon However, over the last year, the STOVL programme has made excellent progress and in the last few months has been removed from probation. The aircraft has completed over 900 hours of flying, including flights from the USS Wasp and the US Marine Corp has a high degree of confidence in the in-service date for the aircraft. The balance of risk has changed and there is now judged to be no greater risk in STOVL than in other variants of JSF.

And fourthly, further work with our allies on the best approach to collaborative operation has satisfied us that joint maritime task groups involving our carriers, with co-ordinated scheduling of maintenance and refit periods, and an emphasis on carrier availability, rather than cross-deck operations, is the more appropriate route to optimising alliance capabilities.

Mr Speaker, when the facts change, the responsible thing to do is to examine the decisions you have made and to be willing to change your mind.

However inconvenient that may be. Doing what is right for Britain. Not burying your head in the sand and ploughing on regardless, as the last Government so often did. A persistent failure to observe this simple principle is at the root of many of the MOD budget problems that we inherited from the party opposite. I do not intend to repeat their mistakes.

The decision taken in the SDSR to proceed with a carrier strike capability, despite the massive challenges we faced with the MOD’s budget, was the right decision.

The decision to seek to contain costs, by going for “cats and traps”; on a single carrier with greater interoperability with allies, and the cheaper CV version of the JSF aircraft, was also the right decision, based on the information available at the time.

But the facts have changed. I am not prepared to accept a delay in regenerating Britain’s carrier strike capability beyond the timetable set out in the SDSR.

And I am not prepared to put the equipment plan, which will support Future Force 2020, at risk of a billion-pound plus increase in the carrier programme and unquantifiable risk of further cost rises.

So, I can announce today that the National Security Council has agreed not to proceed with the “cats and traps” conversion, but to complete both carriers in STOVL configuration. This will give us the ability to use both carriers to provide continuous carrier availability – at a net additional operating cost averaging about £60M per year. As we set out in the SDSR, a final decision on the use of the second carrier will be taken as part of SDSR 2015.

We will switch the order for JSF aircraft from CV to STOVL, which we can do without delaying delivery and, by making this announcement today, we can plan on the basis of the first operational aircraft being delivered with a UK weapons fit package.

We expect HMS Queen Elizabeth to be handed over to the Navy in early 2017 for sea trials.

We expect to take delivery of our first test aircraft in July of this year, and we expect the first production aircraft to be delivered to us in 2016, with flying from the Queen Elizabeth to begin in 2018, after her sea trials are complete.

We have discussed this decision with the French Government and with the United States. The French confirm that they are satisfied with our commitment to jointly planned carrier operations to enhance European-NATO capability.

The United States, on whose support we would rely in regenerating either type of carrier capability, has been highly supportive throughout this review and I would like to record my personal thanks to the Secretary of Defense, the Pentagon, the Navy and the Marine Corps for their high level of engagement with us. I spoke to Secretary Panetta last night and he confirmed the US willingness to support our decision and its view that UK carrier strike availability and our commitment to the JSF programme are the key factors.

The Chief of the Defence Staff and his fellow Chiefs of Staff – all of them – endorse this decision as the quickest and most assured way now to deliver carrier strike as part of an overall affordable equipment programme that will support Future Force 2020.

Mr Speaker, this was not an easy decision to take. But our responsibility is to make the right decision on the basis of the facts available to us. Neither I, nor any of my colleagues came into Government expecting decisions to be easy or pain-free.

I have a responsibility to clear up the financial mess we inherited in the MOD, just as we are clearing up the mess we inherited across Government as a whole. To set a balanced budget. And an affordable, deliverable Equipment Programme. With manageable and bounded risk.

This decision addresses one of the last impediments to me announcing the achievement of those objectives to the House, and I hope to be able to do so very soon.

But Mr Speaker, it isn’t just about balancing budgets, critical as that is. It is about the UK’s Defence – secured by having an appropriate and sustainable military capability. This announcement delivers an affordable solution to securing that capability and, with 2 useable carriers, gives us the option of continuous carrier availability. It confirms the expected delivery of the first test aircraft this summer; of the first production aircraft in 2016; of the first carrier into sea trials in 2017; and of the first flight of the JSF from the deck of the carrier in 2018, with an operational military capability in 2020. It confirms the support of our principal allies – the US and France. And that of the Defence Chiefs.

Mr Speaker, it shows that we, at least, are not afraid to take difficult decisions when they are right for Britain. I commend this statement to the House.

The decision made, another bout of angst followed.

A great deal of criticism centred on the unmanned options for CVF

It locks the UK into the F35B box, tying the destiny of the vessels and British airpower at sea to a plane that still does not really work and still risks being a failure. It ties the long-term defence equipment programme to the most expensive and less capable aircraft of the trio. And it makes the carriers effectively outdated even before they enter service.

What complete horseshit.

Funnily enough, I saw very little official during the switch to CV that mentioned future carrier launched unmanned systems, specifically UCAV’s. This seemed to be the preserve of the press and other commentators but their main bone of contention was that in reverting to the STOVL F-35B the UK effectively shut itself off from a UCAV future as defined by US Navy plans and systems, especially what would spring forth from their UCAS-D , the recently tested Northrop Grumman X-47B.

It’s a fair enough criticism in some regards, there are no STOVL UCAV’s on the market or in any kind of serious development.

Does that argument stand up to further examination though?

The first thing we need to understand is the RN is not the USN, the UK is not the USA.

Both nations have completely different strategic drivers and peering over in the gentlemen’s room and feeling a pang of jealousy is a very poor basis for spending lots of money.

The US pivot to Asia imposes a completely different set of requirements to the UK, we might discuss the folly of such a strategy but it is there for all to see.

For the US Navy, a move to longer range unmanned systems makes perfect sense in order to counter China’s layered anti access capabilities; everything from fast attack craft to their DF-21 anti-ship ballistic missile is designed to push the US Navy away. The distances involved and obviously maritime geography of the Pacific theatre, with its scarcity of land bases, mean that even the range of the F-35C is looking increasingly inadequate and the two thousand odd nautical mile range of the X-47B make’s perfect sense.

Perfect sense for the US Navy,

The UK on the other hand could be reasonably judged to have little strategic interest in the Pacific except for federal behaviours towards allied and the Five Powers commitment.

This reality puts the conversation about carrier launched and recovered UCAV’s into some perspective, it would have been nice to have the option but it is not some strategic blunder as painted by others.

The second element to this issue is the notion that the UK would have been able to coat tail the US Navy’s implementation of their UCAS vision.

In the absence of a replacement for Typhoon, Rafale and Grippen the European defence aerospace industry and governments knows full well the only game in town is the UCAV. Whatever we might think about the merits, or otherwise, of European development partnerships, the Taranis, Neuron and Barracuda projects are going to have to, at some point, come together.

There was no way the UK was going to absent itself from a future home grown UCAV project (even if it might be in a European partnership) by jumping into the Northrop Grumman UCAS party. The requirement for naval operability would have been one that was wanted by, at best, two of a future European UCAV project partners and therefore likely to create disagreement in the ranks, hobbling the project from the start. It is not even certain that France and the UK would define a maritime requirement anyway, as I said, the strategic drivers are wholly different.

Finally, if most UCAV concepts call for intercontinental ranges, in excess of 2,000 miles, the likelihood of needing a carrier become lower and lower.

So with a complicated industrial background, a completely different set of geographically imposed requirements and range based pragmatism, the maritime UCAS argument in favour of cats and flaps for the QE carriers becomes very weak.

Another point raised as a ‘down side’ of the reversion was what after the F-35B.

This one always amused me because people seemed absolutely certain that the aircraft carrier would outlive the aircraft and that just because there is no planned replacement now, there never would be.

When the harrier entered service, can anyone point to the plans for the F-35B?

I would point out that if the original plans for the UK Harrier fleet were kept to, it would have been in service in one way or another for over 50 years before being replaced by the F-35B.

But what about an unmanned replacement, see above.

So when I think about future aircraft I don’t see a big issue, at least not one that requires us to spend the extra on going CV now.

We heard comments like ‘if we are going to do it we should do it properly’ or this is a ‘short term financial decision’ but that sounded like business as usual and a very short cut to increasing the size of the budget black hole.

The MoD has to live within its means; I am not sure why so many people had difficulty understanding this fundamental principle.

It is not an option to raid the other services future equipment programmes either, CVF/JCA should not be allowed to dominate the equipment programme and future operating budgets because it is one of many things we need to be spending money on.

Everything is connected, everything is important.

It was also clear that neither the RAF or RN covered themselves in glory with their leaky/briefy games.

Like Marvin the depressed robot in a Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the general reaction to the decision was to adopt a sloped shoulder air of resignation, oh, ok then, it’s not ideal but better than nothing.

‘I suppose we will just have to get on with it’ was the majority view but I thought it was entirely positive news and instead of sulking should view it as such.

On a later Telegraph article a commenter said this

In short, the decision to switch was a massive cock-up based on hubris and arrogance.

Harsh, but easy to agree with

I don’t think you can just blame the MoD though.

Liam Fox and David Cameron clearly revelled in the decision to switch primarily because it made the previous Labour government decisions look poor.

Easy sound bites like cheaper, longer range and a greater bomb load were simply too tempting to ignore.

But it is the Service Chiefs and MoD Investment Board that were also responsible for providing the impetus and frankly shoddy estimating that provided the new government to make the decision.

All are equally guilty.

It is far too easy to say the decisions were right at the time, shrug and carry on.

No, it was not the right decision and was rushed in any case.

Making huge decisions like this on what must have been a fag packet is not acceptable.

Regardless of the decision making process, risk factors used, degree of uncertainty or assumptions left untested, the decision was reversed and we are back on track to take the STOVL variant of the F35 Joint Strike Fighter to fulfil the Joint Combat Aircraft requirement.

Apart from providing the odd person like me with the opportunity to be smug git we are pretty much back at square one. The transition plan of Harrier to JCA has of course fallen by the wayside but at least there is still a firm commitment to maintaining the capability as defined by CVF and JCA.

The cost of the conversion studies; depends on the definition, where the lines are drawn and when the answer is given.

As much as £250m or less than £50m

Whatever it is, it is still a shedload of cash the MoD cannot afford.

The National Audit Office is having another look at Carrier Strike and due to report later this year so we may well discover the facts behind the decision. I do hope they concentrate not on the numbers or even the outcome but the decision making process, there are lessons to be learned there.

Despite the SDSR blip CVF is back on track but it doesn’t stop the Official RN/FAA Cheerleading Squad dredging up the past and bemoaning how unfair it all is.

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Shit like this needs to stop.

It is time to put all the nonsense in the past and crack on with making CVF and JCA a success.

If I were to summarise;

  • For some reason, the NSC’s Option 1, by far the most pragmatic option was rejected
  • Liam Fox and the Service Chiefs were dazzled by the Strategic Raiding fad and prestige of operating a mini me USN style ‘proper carrier’
  • Liam Fox allowed the switch decision to proceed based on estimated costs because he could not resist scoring a political point over the previous government
  • Liam Fox did not have the balls to defer any decision until after the SDSR deadline and so went forward with cost estimated prepared in weeks
  • The Civil Service failed in its duty to provide some measure of decision making governance
  • The Service Chiefs had the same cavalier attitude to information assurance and ignored all the previous work that consistently pointed to STOVL as being the most sensible option
  • The Service Chiefs were tempted by the delights on offer from the F35C
  • The RAF, specifically, saw an opportunity to simultaneously protect Typhoon and get a Tornado replacement at the expense of operational flexibility
  • Everyone was prepared to ignore the realities of the F35B development issues because it fitted their agenda
  • Phil Hammond, to his great credit, stood up to the Service Chiefs and demanded a rigourous analysis, the same rigourous analysis that should have happened, and in fact, did happen many times before
  • Phil Hammond made a brave decision to revert
  • There are still a whole gaggle of bitter and twisted people who just don’t get it and are prepared to put in jeopardy the programme(s) to further their agendas

The only one who comes out of this debacle well is Phil Hammond

The next posts will look at why the decision was correct, current status and a handful of thoughts on maximising the UK’s considerable investment in both the F35 and CVF.

Other posts in this series

Looking Forward to an F35 Future – Part 1 (Introduction)

Looking Forward to an F35 Future – Part 2 (Dredging Up the Past)

Looking Forward to an F35 Future – Part 3 (The Promise)

Looking Forward to an F35 Future – Part 4 (Down to Earth with a Bump)

Looking Forward to an F35 Future – Part 5 (By Sea By Land)

Looking Forward to an F35 Future – Part 6 (Summary)

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