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

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 Towards the mid seventies, as the US F14, F15 and F16 aircraft emerged ASR 396 was withdrawn and replaced with Air Staff Target 403 which withdrew the vertical/short take off requirement and focussed more on performance, calling for a an agile and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The RAF had issued a requirement under Air Staff target 410 for a supersonic STOVL aircraft but this was withdrawn before the MoU leaving the Royal Navy with their Naval Staff Target 6464 that called for a supersonic STOVL aircraft to replace the Sea Harrier.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.


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.


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


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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January 6, 2013 9:44 am

@TD, great post. Two other points perhaps worth adding.
– The history of this probably starts in the 60/70s with the CVA inter service battles.
– By undermining the value of STVOL a/c and carriers “validated” the decision to ditch Ark Royal and the Harriers.

With senior members of the RN still scarred by the first point, promising “jam” tomorrow allowed them to accept the second point.

January 6, 2013 10:17 am

“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.”

On the principal the we never left the BAOR in the Fulda gap only six months of the year, and recognising that CVF+amphibs will be the centrpiece of our power projection capability, I have never cared much what flew off the carriers so long as we got BOTH of them. We need a permanent ability to deploy the ATFG, not 200 days a year with a year in dock every seven.

I believe I can even be quoted in these parts as saying; “stick sopwith camels on them for all i care, just give me two carriers!”

I never believed we would actually scrap or sell the second carrier as suggested by SDSR10, it makes zero sense, but having made the swap to CTOL I was surprised that the way back to ‘sanity’ would be to argue that a switch back to STOVL would create saving that would allow us to operate both carriers (SDSR15 pending, of course. ;) ).

Two quotes from the “How do you solve a problem like CVF article:

TD – “Before starting this discussion we should all fully understand that project CVF is not a strategic priority for the current Government, if they could, they would have cancelled them in an instant.”

JBT – “Simply don’t agree. As long as the government has ambitions to use the Armed Forces to achieve significant Foreign Policy effect then Carriers, in one form or another, are the best way to so. This is what “punching above our weight” actually means; to supply sufficient military effect that you in return receive policy/command input.”

TD – “Switch back to the F35B. Complete both CVF with one maintained as an in service spare to cover refit periods. Do not replace Ocean, the role to be covered by CVF”

JBT – “While I’m not sure it will be possible to reverse the momentum behind the switch to F35c, the proposal is as close as Admin and I have come to squaring the circle over carriers, and I wish his proposal had been the status-quo-ante that emerged from the SDSR.”

Interesting article, looking forward to the rest.


January 6, 2013 10:35 am

Can I just add that there is no more “joint” in B than in C.

Either way they could/would have been a shared asset.

I do wonder if USS America/Tripoli swayed it for the UK to re-take the risk on STOVL?

January 6, 2013 10:52 am


The problem with the above is that it misses out a big chunk of what actually happened along the way.

Harrier replacement for RAF/RN > JCA requirement > lots of options > JSF STOVL preferred option (but not chosen)

Tornado replacement / Deep Target Attack > FOAS requirement > lots of options > effectively cancelled and subsumed into JCA requirement

So what happened was that requirements merged. When the long range requirement is taken into account, STOVL options look bad because they don’t go very far. The problem with the ongoing operational analysis throughout the past decade (and more) was that there was no join up between the Carrier side and the aircraft side. A decision from the start for CATOBAR would have been fine and saved WLC due to reduced aircraft WLC. As it was, the STOVL mentality prevailed and an adaptable CVF design which wasn’t adaptable was taken forwards – this is where the real problem lay because no one realised that the actual aircraft decision was forced by this back in 2002/2003.

This isn’t to say that STOVL isn’t useful, we’ll just end up operating differently to maximise the utility – but there isn’t really a nice joining up between the OA and the end result.

January 6, 2013 11:16 am

The wider and most fundamental problem is this:

Modern weapon systems are so complex and so gold plated that they simply take FAR, FAR too long to bring into service. During this time as Hannay says, requirements change, events occur and budgets and governments come and go.

You wouldn’t even be able to do a proper job fitting a bloody kitchen if the Mrs demanded a change in the workman several times and changed her mind on the design and the budget 4-5 times and then near the end decided she wanted the wall knocked down to make a kitchen / diner but then changed her mind back a couple of days later yet we act surprised when enormously complex kit either doesn’t materialise at all or materialises in a different way, into a different world for which it was originally conceived.

There has been 2 changes of Government, 17 budgets, something like 5 defence reviews, 5 military interventions, a global recession and numerous capability requirements changes since 1996 when JSF first reared its head and about the same since CVF was coined in 1998.

We have GOT to start making simpler and less risky kit.

CVF combines two enormously political and expensive and gold plated bits of kit that are co-dependent. It’s amazing we have got this far to be honest.

John Hartley
John Hartley
January 6, 2013 11:38 am

The F-35B makes no sense for the RAF. Short range attack is best done by the Typhoon. All UK F-35B should be FAA.
The RAF needs a long range Tornado GR4 replacement. If the US goes with a long range F-35E to replace F-15E, then that is the version needed by the RAF. All kit needs to reach the enemy, or they are just expensive toys.

January 6, 2013 11:40 am

the most interesting question for me is what happens now to the £1b FOAS budget line, now that we have reverted to F35b?

part of the justification for the move to F35C was that the longer legs and more flexible payload of the CTOL variant, would allow it to absorb the FOAS requirement, thus providing an ‘efficient’ streamlining of MoD requirements at a time of sparse cash.

now that we have reverted to STOVL, has the £1b budget line magically reappeared……………..


i never believed that the MoD ever had any intention of ditching the second carrier, but with an austerity CSR happening at a time when treasury hawks were looking over the shoulder of what they considered an incompetant MoD, they simply could not factor in the cost of the second CVF when politics demanded no troop cuts during herrick.


just as i predicted they very quickly found a way to chop the army by another 15,000, and shortly thereafter a future funding settlement is agreed with the treasury for a 1% year on year uplift post 2015 (also post afghan), and lo………… we can now have a second carrier.


was all this shenanigans over how to slide the carrier through the SDSR a useful way to bury the foas requirement with its £1b budget line?


or, did they merely adjust the FOAS spec so that the shorter legged and less flexible F35b was capable of meeting the requirement, thus allowing the cost benefit equation to keep both the lack of catapults (+£1.5b) and the FOAS budget line (+£1.0b), and thus changing the value for money argument instantly?

January 6, 2013 11:48 am

“All kit needs to reach the enemy, or they are just expensive toys.”

Missiles old boy. F35B is perfectly good enough.

January 6, 2013 11:52 am

Great post TD, and great contribution Hannay! Was about to say the same

Just to add: is it doctrine driving procurement or procurement decisions driving doctrine? Where is this CEPP document that was often referred to by the Forces representatives when they were called to explain the flip-flopping (poor guys, as someone else made the decisions!)
– or is it that it had to be rewritten so many times that it ended up in the bin?

January 6, 2013 11:52 am

@ Phil – i wouldn’t argue otherwise, but i want to know what happened to the £1b FOAS budgetline, and how they justified whatever happened to it………..

January 6, 2013 12:00 pm

Jedi, exactly
“they simply could not factor in the cost of the second CVF when politics demanded no troop cuts during herrick”

The capital cost is known, but where will the crew come from? I work on the rough 1 bn/ year for a brigade, but there are no rough and ready rulles like that for the RN or RAF (?)

January 6, 2013 12:01 pm

I imagine it is a very complex story. Good luck finding out.

I expect some of it disappeared when the requirements were binned through budget cuts and some of it moved to other lines, and thereafter to others.

January 6, 2013 12:35 pm


‘The RAF needs a long range Tornado GR4 replacement. If the US goes with a long range F-35E to replace F-15E, then that is the version needed by the RAF’

No thank you! As you briefly mentioned the RAF has Typhoon, which for the money invested should be able to take on more and more of the Tornado’s role as it goes into retirement. Hopefully they will keep 160, or at least more than 107 of them and be made to curtail they’re ambitions and make that a multi-role success instead of chasing the next pointy/fast toy.

As for the F35, I don’t really care who operates them any-more because the very obvious truth is that they are seen as a carrier-centric weapon more and more these days, as opposed to the very defined and split service beast that started out.

I’m fine with the RAF technically owning and operating them, as long as it’s on the understand that the needs of CVF have to be taken care of before anything else.

January 6, 2013 12:56 pm

Wasn’t onsite back in March 2012 but read your post in archives. This line stood out for me: “Instead of putting equipment into the rightful context of a national strategy we put equipment at the top of the agenda and write our strategy around it, tail wagging dog.”

I find it too depressing to trawl back through the history of CVF/JCA, so I’m going to sit this one out. See you in the present.

January 6, 2013 12:56 pm


“…is it doctrine driving procurement or procurement decisions driving doctrine?”

Nail Head Hit.

If we knew we would be going F35B we should have built 4 x 40,000t LHD to replace Vince, Lusty, Ark, Ocean, Albion and Bulwark, oh and probably two of the original 4 Bays too.

If you wind back to 3 Vince, Ocean, 2 Albion, etc you’d probably have designed a fleet composed of 2 CTOL/CATOBAR CVF and 2 LHD. But as soon as you acknowledge we can’t afford the latter you have to put all aviation capability on CVF and use LPD/LSL for the assault. If you look at the bigger picture of Europe as a whole we’ll have:

2 x CVF
1 x CdG (may never come out of maintenance)
1 x Cavour
3 x Mistrale
2 x Juan Carlos
2 x Albion (may never be replaced)

So, as a European force it is quite balanced.

January 6, 2013 1:12 pm

“2 x Albion (may never be replaced)”

Will absolutely be replaced with something amphibious of equal or greater capability.

January 6, 2013 1:13 pm


FOAS died more than a decade ago and there isn’t any funding associated. FOAS and JCA merged into FCAC (Future Combat Air Capability Study) which looked at force mix options for the future, but there was only money to go with one thing new which is now STOVL. Now we have FCAS (Future Combat Air System) which is kind of doing the same thing*. STOVL is short ranged but there is still a requirement for long range and UCAS seems to be the cheapest way of doing that.

*Along the way there was also DPOC (Deep Persistent Offensive Capability)

January 6, 2013 1:28 pm

FOAS really disappeared in 2004 the need for the the interdiction strike capability at low level drove the range requirement of initially TSR 2 and then effectively tornado this isn’t really a requirement today and having stormshadow on typhoon answers that question the 1b is not coming back or will be used to add capability to typhoon neither typhoon or f35b are “short ranged” by any historical standard. How to give a very long range option to the uk tactical fighter fleet is add the 1500 ltr conformal fuel tanks to the tranche 2/3 a/c that would enable typhoon to exceed the range that tornado currently has. I have before said that the best and quickest way for the uk is to bring f35b in with typhoon and eventually go to an all f35 fleet, however my think on this has changed over the last year. For me now given the new arrangements in place for updating typhoon allowing easier uk independent updates and its possible further sales in the Mid East in particular, does it make sense to remove this platform considering its a area highlighted for increased engagement and surrender a 700-1000 a/c market all to the US?. if 2 or 3 more airforces select typhoon it will have more airforces using it than f35 and pretty free of itar but the us does makes a massive difference. I would now maintain a 7 sqn typhoon force with the A/c already on contract and maintain a 3 sqn f35b force. Money needs to be spent on the istar a/c fleet and limiting f35 buy will make money available.

Today a long range deep strike requirement has to consider a number of things one being personnel recover capability should a pilot be shot down and the availability of tanker and other assets, operations from a carrier are unlikely to be beyond the 100-200nm range in most likely cases and coupled with the land based a/c and ships the entire system should be more than robust enough for the uk. operations from sea must be as simple and safe as we can possible make it and to me stovl does that.

January 6, 2013 1:38 pm

@ Mark & Henney – FOAS, SMOAS, i always get lost in the acronyms.

But cheers, now you remind me we are in fact talking about the £1b Deep Persistent Offensive Capability budget that got rolled into the JCA buy when we switched to “C”.

So, what happened to DPAC?

January 6, 2013 1:42 pm


Its now on the f35b platform.

January 6, 2013 2:08 pm

I think though TD it is a very hard rabbit hole to escape from. It saturates our culture, that newer is automatically better and we remain terrified that the Jone’s will get a Sony 3D LED TV compared to our LG 2D LED TV.

One thing I have picked up from doing a bit of reading over Xmas was how little platforms tend to matter. Using the BoB as an example seeing as we’re talking planes, the Spitfire was not much better than the ME109 and the Hurrican not much worse than it. And people tend to concentrate on the differences in the platforms.

Yet, victory went overwhelmingly to us not because the Spitfire was marginally better platform wise, but because we gave the platform a decent weapon system and above all, we CONTROLLED the platforms in an effective manner. The real technology winner in the BoB was Radar and the means by which Dowding and Parks controlled their fighters. We could have won it just using Hurricanes. Especially since in the air most of the victories went to the side with the advantage of height and sun and surprise and happened in the blink of an eye – there was little turning and burning and dog fights resulted in less victories on both sides than “bounces”.

Yet we still fret that the latest Chinese superplane is going to leave us stuffed. But, as long as we maintain broad parity in the air (ie F15 level for the next 30 years) what we hang from that plane, how we control that plane and how we fight that plane is going to make a hell of a lot more of a difference than what plane it is.

So we’re stuck with F35 now, but frankly I’d have more than happily supported an F16 purchase or an F18 purchase. Or Gripen. Pretty much anything from the late 1970s onwards.

We need to get that into our heads, the platforms are secondary. In the Atlantic it wasn’t the escorts per se that won, it was the sonar that enabled them to locate the subs and the radar and the way in which the contacts were prosecuted. This is why T45 not having every bell and whistle doesn’t bother me because it has an excellent primary weapon system.

We need to go back to KISS when it comes to platforms, move the money into C3 and munitions and fight in an effective manner. I’d bet the farm we’d win in a war against the PLAAF using F4 Phantoms as long as we hung good missiles and controlled them well and used effective bounce tactics.

January 6, 2013 2:11 pm


Apologies for being a little convoluted with what I was trying to say.

I totally agree it’s still a joint project and has to serve the UK defence requirements without any inter-service stupidity getting in the way.

However I think it’s ‘joint’ in the sense that it’s going to be an RAF controlled and operated aircraft that predominately deploys on a RN vessel, at least that is until we see more than 48 airframes in service.

It can be both joint and carrier-centric at the same time, with the RAF getting a lot of it’s multi-role capabilities from the maturing Typhoon and waiting until greater numbers of the F35 are ordered to really rely on it as it’s predominant offensive platform.

With 48 airframes providing a 12 strong squadron for CVF, plus an operational conversion unit just how many are going to be around for the RAF to do anything else with them?

January 6, 2013 2:20 pm

@ Mark – “Jedi Its now on the f35b platform.”


@ Admin – “Jedi, I do believe you were one of m’learned friends  The second CVF is being built regardless of Herrick, one has nothing to do with the other, the timescales don’t match.”

What matters is not whether it is scrapped, for that is only a symptom, what matters is whether the RN gets to keep it in service, or, whether it is disposed of. ;) The cause, i.e. what we hope the forces to achieve, and how.

January 6, 2013 2:49 pm


The money’s gone so based on the idea of being persistent over a IADS f35 of what ever variety is that choice. Official it became the jca a/c and that will not change.


To a point your correct but then as was found in Vietnam the platform needs to be spec correctly to begin with. If you looking at a/c in particular the engine is the initial critical thing to get nailed down first followed by systems followed by the aero shape to package it in. There’s way you can de risk that significantly but even by comparison a simple airliner will take 6-10 years from initial start to eis.

January 6, 2013 2:55 pm

@TD. Wow, just wow! What a bunch of muppets. I’ve given the PTT the time of day in the past and listened to their arguments (one more viewpoint in the pot) but anyone who comes away from this article with that ludicrous take, has a serious cognitive problem. Besides that, this is the recap part so there’s no ‘finally’ about anything here.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
January 6, 2013 3:01 pm


You have been outed :) Clowns!

January 6, 2013 3:01 pm

“To a point your correct but then as was found in Vietnam the platform needs to be spec correctly to begin with. If you looking at a/c in particular the engine is the initial critical thing to get nailed down first followed by systems followed by the aero shape to package it in. There’s way you can de risk that significantly but even by comparison a simple airliner will take 6-10 years from initial start to eis.”

I agree about the engine but my main point was we need to lose the obsession about new models of planes being needed to close any “gaps” or potential “gaps” with the Chinese, Russians or whatever.

We didn’t really need the F35, we could have bought F16s or F18s and they’d have been perfectly adequate for decades to come as long as we polished them up a bit and used them properly. We’d have potentially saved a bit of dosh.

Mike Edwards
Mike Edwards
January 6, 2013 3:11 pm

All told this entire project is a massive mess. It will probably change numerous times before and even after the Hull is launched.

The CVF and the Aircraft for it go hand in hand, the risks were ill thought out, badly risk mitigated and the delivery too optimistic, (funny old thing the companies who will profit massively from this project are all super-onboard and won’t naysay for fear of losing it).

Lets look back at the CVA, to the bollox “Through-Deck-Cruiser” nonsense. It is all a ridiculous set of compromises, one minute it’s STOBAR then just a VSTOL Carrier, then it’s fitted for but not with, then it’s Electro-magnetic Catapults, then it’s steam ones, then it’s a Ramp. Then it’s a conventional carrier, then there is a change of government and priorities, and a Strategic Defence review. You cannot ever plan to deliver a multi-billion pound project if the goal-posts are always being moved.

If it takes over 20 years to plan something, and another 5 years to build it and it involves Politicians at every turn, don’t be surprised when it turns out to be a complete “Pot-Mess”.

The problem fundamentally is in MOD-Procurement and other than disbanding the whole sche-bang I have no idea how to solve it.

January 6, 2013 3:32 pm


I don’t personnally think that obsession is there anymore and hasn’t been for some while. F16/18 instead of f35 ill have to disagree with you there I think the reasoning and basis for why f35 is relavent and remain valid today the execution of the program however and some of the requirements remains questionable.

January 6, 2013 3:34 pm

“I have always thought Typhoon was a ‘GR4 replacement’”

Is that a red flag I see before me ;-)

January 6, 2013 3:38 pm

“I don’t personnally think that obsession is there anymore and hasn’t been for some while. F16/18 instead of f35 ill have to disagree with you there I think the reasoning and basis for why f35 is relavent and remain valid today the execution of the program however and some of the requirements remains questionable.”

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that the F35 does not represent a very fine and capable aircraft. I am simply saying we have bought an Audi A6 when a Mondeo would have been fine. Which brings me to the point that the execution was always going to be flawed because the programme was so complex it was inevitable it would be delayed and events would compromise it at every turn. A simpler programme would not have had that underlying flaw, would not have been so politicised and would probably deliver pretty much the same effects. But there we are we have it now let’s keep it for a long, long time.

Jeremy M H
January 6, 2013 4:26 pm

“We have GOT to start making simpler and less risky kit.”

You know, I imagine if the internet existed when the F-15 were built you would very much have heard this. In fact most of the exact same things (and people saying them ironically enough) that are said about the F-35 were said about the F-15. Too expensive. Too complex. Need a cheaper, simpler F-16A. Of course as soon as the F-16A hit service the people who actually were going to have to fight with the thing started screaming for more than a pair of sidewinders and a few iron bombs on the thing and it was massively upgraded (much to the original advocates annoyance).

Weapons are expensive. There is no doubt about it. But in a conflict with even a moderately equipped opposition the weapons that do the important work are generally the most advanced aircraft and weapons. I don’t have an issue with something like an F-35 being expensive. It is just the way things are going to be.


Regarding the Typhoon I just don’t see, absent big export orders, the money being there to turn the thing into a multi-role fighter on the level of the F-35. Aside from the natural limitations (not low-observable, not designed for the outset for that task) I don’t see the majority of the user base having a huge incentive to invest the money necessary to keep (or get) the Eurofighter on the cutting edge as an attack platform.

The German’s just flat don’t seem to care that much.

The Italian’s will have the F-35.

The Spanish really can’t afford to do much.

The Saudi’s have advanced F-15E variants to do their strike work so they won’t care all that much.

For those with the option the F-35 is just going to be a drastically better long-term multi-role platform than the Eurofighter. Frankly if the EF could not win the Japanese order, which was basically to do the role it was designed for, then I have serious reservations about committing lots more money to the thing long term.

Build them. Use them hard for their usable life. Don’t spend a lot of money updating them. Then replace them with F-35’s (preferably A models) from a very mature production line to get into a platform that will have a long and well supported future in front of it.

January 6, 2013 4:49 pm


I accept modern weapons are expensive. Which is why I advocate spending less on the platform and more on the things that matter like tactics, command and control and munitions. It is precisely because they are so expensive that we need to focus resources.

F15 and F16 programmes were just as controversial as the F35, as was the F18 programme. Big budget programmes always are. Which is why they need to be simpler because that means there is less time for pushing and pulling and distortion.

The F16 is an excellent example of what started out as a relatively simple, good enough plane being matured incrementally into what it is today. There’s simply nothing stopping that design going on for decades longer and still being very effective. The engines and electronics will be incrementally improved, the munitions likewise all done without the politicised screaming and shouting and all done in a far less risky manner and you get your planes far earlier.

And personally I think you have it something of the wrong way around, the advanced weapons and aircraft are absolutely useless without proper command and control and support and tactics.

January 6, 2013 4:57 pm


Wrong on so many levels regarding typhoom


Also the Saudis are extremely interesting in typhoons air to ground capability the US kit is all itar restricted and they particularly want storm shadow on typhoon. And Japan was always buying a US a/c.

January 6, 2013 5:10 pm

Interesting post, thanks all. Some random thoughts:

1. Talking of changed circumstances, not sure total neglect of F-35A in UK debate will look sensible in 15-20 years time when USAF enters the field in a major way and exports start entering service around the globe… We’ll have to wait and see…

2. ‘Tail wagging dog’ seems a repeated problem in this saga. E.g. the importance of cross-deck coalition ops. Prudent reality checks wouldn’t go amiss…

3. I suspect that F-22 performance on complex exercises (96:0 kill ratio?) indicates it DOES matter what platform you bring to the fight, although granted C3 & TTPs etc are also important. The step-change in F-35 over F-4, F-18 (& Typhoon) etc doesn’t seem to have been assimilated yet (perhaps unsurprisingly at this stage).

January 6, 2013 5:23 pm

“I suspect that F-22 performance on complex exercises (96:0 kill ratio?) indicates it DOES matter what platform you bring to the fight, although granted C3 & TTPs etc are also important. The step-change in F-35 over F-4, F-18 (& Typhoon) etc doesn’t seem to have been assimilated yet (perhaps unsurprisingly at this stage).”

That’s quite a base analysis.

How do you know what proportion of those 96:0 is down to good tactics and control?

TTPs are completely and utterly fundamental. As is command and control. More kills are achieved on the bounce than in tight burning dogfights and the stealthiness of an F22 is not such a big game changer when you realise that they won’t be radiating. They’ll be getting vectored onto you, you’ll be getting vectored onto whatever great big bloody radar is illuminating you. It would all be a massive great big game of chess. Take out the big radars and the F22 has to switch on its radar to get you and you’re both suddenly far more equal. Thus the F22 relies as much as ever on good command and control and TTPs.

John Hartley
John Hartley
January 6, 2013 5:31 pm

Range of combat aircraft is tricky as there are many factors (exact weapons,weather,etc), but rough figures for unrefuelled combat radius are F-35B 450 miles, Tornado GR4 700 miles, F-111 1200-1500 miles depending on variant. It is no secret that I want the RAF Tornado replacement to have F-111 range, or as near as dammit.
Over the years I have championed Nimrod MRA4 with Storm Shadow for B-52 like global strike. Then British involvement in the US 2018 bomber. Then the FOAS Typhoon with stretched fuselage, internal weapons bay & conformal tanks. I would have raised the bypass ratio on the EJ200 from 0.4 to 1 to 0.8 to 1 for more range. Voila, a European regional bomber, but the problem is that only the UK needs it. Spain , Italy & Germany do not, so UK would be stuck with the development costs.
This is why I now favour the mooted F-35E. We could piggy back on US R&D. The F-35E would have a new engine that acts in high bypass for economical cruise then reverts to pure turbojet for combat.
OK you can extend the reach of an F-35B by giving it Storm Shadow, but that is still 250 miles less than Tornado + Storm Shadow. If it cannot reach the enemy, there is no point having it. F-35B only makes sense if you put it on a carrier & move the carrier to the enemy.

January 6, 2013 6:02 pm

F-22 would be good if it stopped poisoning its pilot…

John Hartley?

Where is the budget for this though? Maybe if things start to pick up later on but there are bigger fish to fry with that sort of budget. We would have to cut more and I don’t see that being worth it when the Typhoon could do this with conformals and full integration of storm shadow to a decent effect.

What happens to the Clyde and deterrent if Scotland did become independent? We will need to spare money for that eventuality as that is almost a threat to national security as we might have to move our deterrent south of the border and that would be dangerous work.

On this I am kind of with Phil, a decent equipped aircraft will handle itself for a number of decades for the future. Remember strategy should affect what platforms we buy not the other way round. This is why the CVF an issue.

Let’s just hope the F-35B works and we can integrate stormshadow and AESA onto Typhoon to replace the Tornado.

John Hartley
John Hartley
January 6, 2013 6:28 pm

All of this is stretching into the future (2020). We will know which way the Scots are going in 2014. we should have a forward plan now, that can be adjusted if need be. An F-35E would not be ready til 2020.

Jeremy M H
January 6, 2013 6:53 pm

I don’t think it is possible to make an airplane that does anything useful that is not a complicated program. Worldwide that is always going to be the case for anything this complicated. Civilian or military. 787, A380, Eurofighter, Type 45, F-35 all are going to run over in terms of cost. It just kind of is what it is.

I think the notion that the F-16 can soldier on effectively for another 20-30 years is silly. Sure, if you throw an unlimited budget for growth at it it could (won’t look much like an F-16 anymore) but I think it is also important to note that a new, latest model F-16 is not much cheaper than what full rate production F-35A’s will cost. To use it for similar missions you either need more support aircraft, more expensive standoff weapons or more of them to perform a more robust SEAD.

In that respect I would say the F-35 basically represents a new F-16 (40 years later). At some point the baseline of capability expectations gets reset and the F-35 is basically going to come equipped with the things that everyone has found they use on the vast majority of missions. I would agree with you in as much as I would not advocate most nations buying the next greatest thing to come out of the US nor would I suggest funneling money into a 5th generation Eurofighter type program. The F-35 will be sufficient for many years, get it, upgrade it as others do and build weapons systems and tactics to maximize it.

While I don’t disagree that tactics and people and command and control are important I don’t think you can put one above the other. How much better would those areas have had to have been in GW1 to get the job done if you take F-117’s out of the equation while still getting the same level of results? Everyone is working on tactics. One can’t ignore one side of the equation and it is a hell of a lot simpler and safer for my force to design tactics around better platforms.

I think the example provided with the F-22 is actually pretty relevant. Why would one assume that the tactics of the other side were not equally as thought out? The fact is that if both sides are equally competent the F-22 is going to have a dramatic advantage in air to air combat. No tactics are going to cover that up. Even if you can see the radar illuminating you (not easy with LPI sets) what are you going to shoot back at it with?

Like everything there is a place for tactics and command and control. But it is part of the puzzle. Just like anyone claiming the platform is all that matters would be wrong so is anyone claiming tactics can offset a massive disadvantage in situational awareness.

January 6, 2013 7:11 pm

it depends on what you are designing and what immature technologies are being worked into the design. Multirole is always going to be a problem because it will never be perfect for anything.

January 6, 2013 8:10 pm


I’ll be interested to hear what you have to say about the FOAS etc.. The Typhoon seems under-developed and I think it is fair criticism that the RAF are looking forward to the next new shiny pointy toy. Personally I’d keep costs and complications to a minimum by placing all 48 F35Bs with the FAA.

Could most of the RAFs requirements be met by the Typhoon – I think so. Is there a need for ISTAR/MRA/DPOC? I think there is and the RAF would be better investing their energies in developing these and better refueling capabilities. We would still have stealth stuff ….. just FAA instead.

Priority one must be the Typhoon and frankly that should be 170 bids, not the low 100 odd ….. what a waste of planes to bin them early.

January 6, 2013 8:29 pm

Here we are again – deja vu take 144. Glad we’re all on board now and nobody’s going on about navalised Hawks any more. I’m assuming that TD took his hols. in Christchurch NZ – they really know how to put a container to use there -puts the Homebase ad. to shame!

My take on the last 100 years/18 months/however long this discussion has been raging:-

1. F-35C decision was correct but 10 years’ late. F-35B is, therefore, correct now (aka only game in town). See my previous comments (no – I can’t remember them either) re. ideally we would have bought Cs AND Bs, ‘silver bullets”, impracticality of qualifying additional aircrew for arrested landings etc..

2. Carrier plans published all those years ago showed F/A-18E/F in the hangars. Conversation with Carrier Alliance bloke at Yeovilton confirmed this capability, ie. any aircraft that could fit but the drawings specifically showed THIS one. Why the ski-jump? Steel is cheap (I remember that documentary) but that didn’t change the STOVL mindset. Most non-US carriers have a ski-jump. They also have arrestor wires. Why was this option not chosen. Rafale can use a ski-jump. Fixed wing UAVs could be used too and tanker/COD/AEW options would be wider. We’ve seemingly had parallel ideas all along – a bigger ship was possible and steel etc., so all things were possible while STOVL was always the preferred option. Not the first time that man has been distracted by size then?!

3. Main problem with B is payload (no. of weapons) and range/bringback. Meteor must be fielded and strike range increased by missile and/or tanking. Have you seen the news re. the Chinese buying the Tu-22 production line?)

4. 2 carriers is essential and we all pray we will see the day when the 3rd. is ordered on a proper timetable to stop this ‘we must re-invent capabilities every 30 years just like that” mentality.

5.We’re only going to have 48 Bs to play with for 10 years (starting?) so let’s see how often they get a whiff of ozone!

PS Apologies to The Other Chris for often being The Absent Chris and leaving him as The Only Chris.

Happy New Year.

January 6, 2013 8:40 pm

I just lost a load of stuff so I’ll just carry on from where I was

“But it is part of the puzzle. Just like anyone claiming the platform is all that matters would be wrong so is anyone claiming tactics can offset a massive disadvantage in situational awareness.”

I’m not advocating tactics being the be all and end all. I specifically said command and control, tactics and munitions count for more than airframe as long as that airframe is broadly capable. So in the BoB the RAF had excellent command and control which enabled it to position fighters often to bounce the Luftwaffe where they caused more losses than in dog fights.

January 6, 2013 9:09 pm

“PS Apologies to The Other Chris for often being The Absent Chris and leaving him as The Only Chris”

— You forget the other, other Chris’s. We should form a TD gang.

January 7, 2013 12:02 pm

“4. 2 carriers is essential and we all pray we will see the day when the 3rd. is ordered on a proper timetable to stop this ‘we must re-invent capabilities every 30 years just like that” mentality.”

And that mentality applies across the piece, T45, Astute, T26 etc etc. Totally crazy and always get block obsolescence issues

January 7, 2013 2:40 pm

John Hartley wrote that “the range of combat aircraft is tricky as there are many factors (exact weapons, weather, etc), but rough figures for unrefuelled combat radius are F-35B 450 miles …”

Yes, it is tricky, which is helpful for the marketing spinners. The original brochure gave the F-35B combat radius as 458nm, but that, to the spinners’ dismay, has since been reduced to 386nm (when also the take-off roll was increased significantly). That, of course, is based on a calibration flight by a test pilot (reported, not confirmed, to be at 0.8M and 20,000 feet) and the combat time was perhaps sufficient to fire its missiles or drop its bombs before scooting for home and hitting the deck on its first approach. We have not yet been given the figure for reserves, which, as there will be no buddy refuelling for British aircraft, is of substantial interest.

This has been an extremely interesting discussion, but it has ignored the reports from independent American analysts giving us what the pilots and engineers are saying off the record, a very different story from that the politicians and marketing men are telling us. Over here we are told of future operations being “high-tempo”, which means what? Five sorties per day? Over there we learn that one sortie every two days will be expected because of the curing time for the stealth repainting. True? I don’t know, but it underlies much of discussion there. Cracks in the skin have reduced flights to no more than 0.8M and 4.0g. (The A and C will have 9.0g maximum, but the B will be cleared, if at all, to 7.0g.) Vertical landings with a full load are now out, and will be replaced by roller landings, which on the deck of our carrier is not feasible. The alternative is to dump some of the ordnance, but even if we could afford this financially, we couldn’t operationally because the supplies would be exhausted too quickly.

Then there are the financial angles and the ultimate effects of the production concurrency. As is well known, to compensate (?) for the accumulated delays in the schedule, aircraft are being produced before the development is complete, and these will have to return for expensive modifications. Now that cracks have been reported in the bulkheads, to the huge expense of these must be added that of stripping and rejigging. Where will all this end? No one knows. No one will quote a firm price for what we are planning to buy. The Americans cannot, and no one in the MoD has a clue. (Situation normal, then.)

Actually, nothing is certain. Tactically the aircraft is a disaster. I wouldn’t try to run a CAP on what we’ve been promised so far, and having looked at the carrier’s hull I wouldn’t take it within 200 miles of a hostile shore. In the tropics, where our future conflicts are most likely, temperatures will be critical. As for the carriers, apart from their vulnerability to cheap hand-held missiles with HEAT and SAP warheads, after becoming operational from 2020 they will just be sitting ducks for the new generation of supersonic, surface-skimming, coordinated cruise missiles arriving together on multi-azimuth attacks.

The only reasonably safe aircraft carriers of the future will be submarines and their aircraft will be Tomahawks and Tridents and their successors. From around 2020 all surface capital ships will just be targets. Sorry! But I’m not writing the rules.

January 7, 2013 3:02 pm

I’m going to break from the crowd and say I found this post to be a little disappointing. The background and history is well compiled, but the analysis has more smugness and hindsight then insights into the engineering challenges (and inherent risks in the integration of still-in-development technology). Particularly this statement;
“In short, the decision to switch was a massive cock-up based on hubris and arrogance.”

Really? I know TD never agreed with the decision, but I’m struggling to see a justification for either of these terms.

My view is that both the decision to switch, and the decision to switch back, while taken together in hindsight look stupid and wasteful, but when taken separately, and with consideration of the information available at the time along with the political pressures, are entirely sensible.

Back when the switch was made to the C model the B model was on the ropes, with high risk and uncertainty around its future. The C model was the lower-risk alternative, with a superior mission profile and lower unit cost (albeit a higher through-life cost, but to a short-term-thinking Government a cost deferred is a cost avoided). The carriers we designed with the capacity for catapult conversion, so it seemed like a feasible switch (there are lots of peripheral issues around integration with allies, but these I consider secondary issues).

Fast forward a bit and the ACA has crammed an 18 month £100million-ish study and re-design into 9 months, largely by sucking up a lot of engineers laid off by the Harrier retirement. Its reached what I’d guess were the following conclusions; while the carriers were designed with the intention of allowing a conversion to catapults, it was envisioned that steam catapults be used, not electromagnetic. Nuclear carriers produce steam as a waste product, and while our non-nuclear carriers don’t this could have been overcome with the inclusion of steam generators if we had the spare power capacity in the design to run them (and I suspect we didn’t).

Electromagnetic catapults would therefore be ideal, but the requirements of integrating this system would have only become clear in recent years as the development of the technology matured. It would probably have become apparent that while the support requirements for the two systems were initially assumed to be similar they turned out to be radically different, resulting in a good deal of additional design work and modifications to the fabricated ships structure. Add onto that the fact that the system simply couldn’t be boxed up and sold to us from the US, and would require substantial modification to be used in the configuration we were after, and that the American’s refused to let us share in the program and do it ourselves.

By this point the B model was safe, and the C model was now looking like the high-risk choice. With all these details laid out, it was clear that the right decision was to turn back.

Now I’m not an engineer working for the ACA, but I think I’ve enough experience in big ship programs to make this guess at how it all panned out. It’s a bloody nightmare for sure, but that’s the game of uncertainty and risk management we play when developing new technologies. It would certainly have been nice to know the conclusions of £100million worth of study and design work without doing it, but to judge people in retrospect for not owning a crystal ball is indeed ‘hubris and arrogance’. Nothing is gained from the hindsight of armchair admirals.

We can only ever make decisions based on the best available information at the time, and often program managers with have no other choice but the least bad option. It would sure be nice if we could halt major programs while we investigate the full implications of making a given decision, but the momentum change is so significant it incurs substantial costs in of itself.

January 7, 2013 3:13 pm

I’m with Phil on thinking that it’s less the airframe itself that’s important and more the stuff that goes onto it that matters. So yes in hindsight we could have bought some slightly older but far cheaper aircraft to incrementally upgrade with the latest electronics and missiles etcetera. That sort of approach does seem to be far less complex and politicised than what we currently have with the Lightning.

Having said that we know we have spent a hell of a lot of money on Typhoon and are going to invest heavily on the Lightning, so the only important element now is finding ways to maximise they’re utility within the parameters of our financial constraints.

Ditching some of the older Typhoon’s early and only upgrading the others to a limited multi-role standard isn’t a good return on our investment. Yes further upgrades will cost more money, but relative peanuts compared to the original programme. With only 48 Lightnings available for the foreseeable (post Tornado) future the unmissable fact is that they are going to be fairly heavily occupied with carrier ops, making Typhoon at least a partial offensive/strike replacement whether people like it or not.

Get as much as can squeezed out of Typhoon whilst incrementally buying Lightning so we end up in 20-30 years with a 1 type, fully carrier capable (fully cooperative and joint) fleet.

January 7, 2013 3:17 pm

@Scribbler: if even capital ships are merely targets, then every airfield in the world needs to be declared a write off. After all, they don’t move :-)

Seems a bit of a “the tank is dead, just look at all those ATGM’s” type of comment. Since a ship can move and fight back, it’s not quite a sitting duck. I’m not sure why I should be worried about light anti-tank weapons when aimed at a CVF, unless you expect it to trial it’s coattails 200 metres from shore a la ARA Guerrico :-)

The F35B is going to be a Harrier+ in terms of range…we all know that. For everything except a stand up fight against the Chinese, that’s just fine. Any sort of CAP is better than a 40km radius SAM bubble from each T45, and a CAP is considerably less challenging than a overland penetration.

With regard to a few matters of fact:-

– “one sortie every two days will be expected because of the curing time for the stealth repainting”: the F35 is specifically designed to use “baked in RAM” to avoid the monkeys re-applying putty. Barring “day 1” ops, it’s probably going to be carrying external stores, so stealth is of less importance anyway.

– “The A and C will have 9.0g maximum, but the B will be cleared, if at all, to 7.0g”: the C is to be rated at 7.5G. 7G is what the AV8B is rated to now

– “Vertical landings with a full load are now out, and will be replaced by roller landings, which on the deck of our carrier is not feasible”: SRVL has been trialled on the VAAC Harrier back in the 90’s, and explicitly developed for in the F35B. Perfect it ain’t, but feasible it is.

– There are quite a few prototypes with cracking problems. Hell, the F18 suffered from them extensively early in it’s service history, but managed to overcome them. It’s not quite a disaster yet!

Your points about tropic temperatures and bring back of unused weapons are very valid. But they don’t quite justify the over-generalisations :-)

January 7, 2013 3:22 pm

@SteveD: I suspect the big lesson from CVF is that the aircraft should be ready before the hulls. A decision back in 2002 to buy the F18, would have seen CVF arrive on time and on budget by now, or by 2015 if we wanted EMALS

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
January 7, 2013 3:38 pm

Scribbler had better be careful, the PTT will not be happy :)

Anyway only 2 types of target, nuclear and conventional!

January 7, 2013 4:06 pm


Air density is higher at 20,000ft than at 30,000ft (x 1.4 ish). I guess this will have the effect of reducing range a bit?

Added to this a high safety margin of reserve fuel for the landing during testing???

The Other Chris
The Other Chris
January 7, 2013 5:16 pm

“PS Apologies to The Other Chris for often being The Absent Chris and leaving him as The Only Chris”

Heh heh. Happy New Year too!

The house move is finally complete and a Guest Article (promised to TD back in November, apologies) is on the way.


“You forget the other, other Chris’s. We should form a TD gang.”


January 7, 2013 5:20 pm

@ wf

“… if even capital ships are merely targets, then every airfield in the world needs to be declared a write off.” Not really. Airfields, of which there are thousands “in the world”, can be repaired. Carriers, of which we shall have two, when sunk are more difficult.

“I’m not sure why I should be worried about light anti-tank weapons when aimed at a CVF.” A swarm of fast MTBs manned by martyrs with light ATGWs would certainly worry me. I flew cover around our two carriers in the Gulf back in 1961 when Kuwait was threatened by Iraq and the RN was worried by reports that numbers of fast MTBs were moving down the river at night with hostile intent. That brought home how difficult it can be to create a sure defence when MTBs can lurk in the shadow of non-belligerent sea traffic, and the attack on USS Cole in Aden many years later demonstrated how much damage a small charge can make to a warship.

I agree with what I think you mean about stealth. Makes one wonder why we are willing to pay so much for it. We should think of it as the new version of that other infamous time waster and money waster, the swing-wing, whose only benefit was to persuade the Soviets to waste their time and money too, when they could afford the money even less than we could.

I seem not to have heard about the C being rated at 7.5g. Getting sleepy in my old age. Will the B make 7.0g? With the weaknesses now being identified and the consequent modifications creating extra weight, that target may slip backwards.

“SRVL has been trialled on the VAAC Harrier back in the 90′s, and explicitly developed for in the F35B. Perfect it ain’t, but feasible it is.” It’s night in a tropical storm, high temperature, choppy sea, low cloud and visibility poor in monsoon rain, and I have to do a roller on a cluttered deck and without a barrier? So how does my wing man feel when he sees he has to crash behind me? Remember, there’s nowhere else to go.

“It’s not quite a disaster yet.” Well, yes, and no. It’s not yet a political disaster because, like all Ponzi schemes, it survives with the investment of those who are dragged into it, and senior officers near retirement, inept civil servants and ignorant politicians are easily trapped by the glamour. Wow, it’s fifth generation and the SDSR described it as the best in the world!!!!!!! But it is already a financial disaster. As I wrote, no one knows what it will eventually cost, but using the figures that have been leaked, together with the USN budget office figures, my American colleagues have calculated that we shall be paying a minimum of £150 million per unit fly-away. That, in my book, is a disaster. (However, mindful of the most recent PAC meeting on the Typhoon, when one of the MoD representatives said that the unit price was £72 million and an MP said that if we were to have 107 Typhoons in service in 2017, then with the programme cost agreed at £20.2 billion it would put the unit price at £188 billion, we must recognise that for the true facts it may be hard to find agreement. In case anyone missed Hansard on this, then I should add that the MoD man complained that the MP was including all the development costs in his calculation. I wonder where the MoD thinks the money for R&D is found. Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Brussels?)

January 7, 2013 6:26 pm

Welcome Scribbler.

In previous posts on this subject I’ve been a lone (and inexpert, I know) voice on the potential hazards of SRVL. People here are convinced it will be easy. I wonder why the Marines haven’t done it for the past 30 odd years on their smaller decks. I mean, if it’s so easy….

January 7, 2013 6:33 pm

That might explain the current US debt :-)

January 7, 2013 6:47 pm

Srvl is designed to meet a very specific uk require in a certain part of the world the us marines have not got a similar requirement and therefore are unlikely to use it.

From mod

Under the headline ‘Fit for Purpose’, a letter in the Sunday Times from the First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope responded to criticism of Carrier Strike by Rear Admiral Chris Parry.

The published letter read:

“Far from being ‘unfit for sea battle’, the Queen Elizabeth Class carriers will be the largest ships the Royal Navy has ever operated, launching the most advanced fifth-generation stealth fighter available (‘Dinky toy carriers unfit for sea battle’, last week). Jet-to-jet mid-air refuelling is not a requirement for our operations and is not necessary [to ‘attack targets at long range or carry heavier bomb loads’]. The carriers will be able to operate within strike range of the vast majority of nations and, in extremis, in conjunction with both UK and coalition air-to-air refuelling aircraft, would be able to support longer range strike missions as required.”

The full version of the First Sea Lord’s letter also included the following:

“The idea of adding further expense with a jet-to-jet refuelling variant of the Lightning for such a limited payload advantage at this stage of the project is misguided and would simply reduce the number of strike jets available. It is now important that the wider Defence community follows the example of the Service Chiefs in acknowledging the huge success that has been achieved to develop the carrier and jet programmes so far and by working together ensure we maximise and exploit the considerable investment and future potential of both. I am confident we will deliver a world-class Carrier Strike and Littoral Manoeuvre capability.”

January 7, 2013 6:55 pm

“Srvl is designed to meet a very specific uk require in a certain part of the world” – How do you know this? I have seen no statements to this effect. All I have seen is Phil Hammond saying we will need SRVL for our carriers – he didn’t qualify his statement in any way.

January 7, 2013 6:58 pm

If this is now the official nomenclature “Carrier Strike and Littoral Manoeuvre capability” I quite like it
– two distinct but mutually supportive capabilities
– each of which can be flexed by very different means

January 7, 2013 7:03 pm

Reference my post at 1720 today.

My apologies to all. In the last paragraph the £188 billion should, of course, be £188 million. My mind knows the difference but, seemingly, my fingers don’t.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
January 7, 2013 7:05 pm

Couple of things :

TD – If you’re going back into FOAS etc, you’d better make sure you have FCBA included, which is where the whole thing started. As Hannay suggests, there is more to the history than this part suggests.

Phil – The Spitfire / 109 analogy omits one crucial point. Fat Hermans merry men were busy flattening Chain Home and the 11 group fighter stations and doing very well at it, irrespective of Radar & C2. The thing that changed the game was that the target set shifted to further inland at which point due to fuel reserves the 109 escorts became much less effective and the Luftwaffe began to take serious casulaties from a Fighter Command that had been given a chance to reconstitute. Not to say your points re C2 are wrong, just not the whole story. Numbers have a logic all their own. It may also be a moot point re missiles if the RoE in force prevent you using their full capability. The USAF/USN struggled over Vietnam despite having “good” missiles AIM9 (not AIM7!) and having a very good C2 and battle management team (Red Crown, Hillsboro). What turned it around was using the strengths of the aircraft and usable weapons systems (relative to the oppo) to best effect.

Chris – The old designs dating back to 1994 (and subsequently) did show F18E, but those were explicitly for the CTOL options, prior to the mutation of what was CALF, JAST and SSF into the F35 – at which point I imagine the F35C would have started to appear.

STOBAR designs were only really considered post-1997 and used what was then designated NEF2000 – you can guess what that was. STOBAR was (rightly IMO) dismissed on a number of grounds – to get a useable ship you’d have to be big enough to fit catapults anyway, STOBAR T/O at reasonable operational weights puts a shedload of stress on the nose gear and requires some form of thrust vectoring to maintain acceptable height off the ‘oggin before you reach fully wingborne speed and is also an appalling way of operating a deck. Lots of good (and costly) reasons not to do it and that’s before we examine the claim that it would allow other aircraft to operate off a carrier. The only aircraft tested off the ski-jump at Pax River in the early 80s were T2, F14 and F18. To the best of my knowledge no other tests have been conducted since – although a much smaller ramp (akin to the small ramp fitted to Foch during early Rafale trials) combined with a steam catapult (called CRAT) was modelled by NADC in the early 90s.

If you exclude LPH/LHD decks, there are about 20 “carrier” decks in the world atm. Of these 11 use CTOL and while the remainder all have ski-jumps, only three have wires.

Peter Elliott
January 7, 2013 7:11 pm

“why the Marines haven’t done it for the past 30 odd years”

Because our carriers will have bigger decks than any US Amphib ever, becuase USMC have never used the ski jump, becuase we only developed the VAAC technology 10-15 years ago, becuase we’ve developed a whole new stabilised deck lighting scheme and they never did, becuase they can afford to have a Nimitz riding shotgun over any serious op, becuase the US Navy would get jealous if the Marines tried to do ‘propper’ avaiation…

…basically because we are skint and so have no choice but to innovate. It does not follow that the innovations are worthless, unecessary or worse than what has been tried before. Proof of the pudding will only be found in the eating.

The high cost of F35B vs C must be compared with low cost of QEC vs USS Ford in both capital and crewing. For overall lifetime costs of a working aircraft carrier we may just have grabbed ourselves a bargain.

Peter Elliott
January 7, 2013 7:20 pm

Oh and I’m not sure anyone said it would be easy. But then – neither is any other form of naval aviation. If you want to be in the game at all then risk management comes with the territory.

January 7, 2013 7:25 pm


Pretty much agree with everything you said. Not entirely convinced about the reasons to revert back to the B but my suspicions too focus on lack of power. The CVF isn’t exactly fast and it’ll need both knots and stored power to work catapults.

January 7, 2013 7:25 pm


He doesn’t need to qualify the statement if your covering all potential uk requirements you need to use srvl. The us marines have different requirements and will not use it. Unless its needs practised (which it most likely will) the uk won’t be doing it very often the a/c will recover with a bigger margin than harrier in vl config.

January 7, 2013 7:28 pm

“…becuase the US Navy would get jealous if the Marines tried to do ‘propper’ avaiation…” – As illogical as that sounds I suppose I have to accept it. The same answer cropped up when I asked why they never put ski ramps on their ships, especially the new “aviation centric” LHAs. Stranger things happen at sea. :shock:

John Hartley
John Hartley
January 7, 2013 7:40 pm

I thought F-16 & F-15 also went off the ski ramp? STOBAR carriers have wires, so add the Russians, Indians & Chinese. A nuclear CTOL carrier will launch more aircraft than a conventonal STOBAR carrier, but the STOBAR carrier is a lot cheaper. I still favour STOBAR for QE/PoW. Not perfect, but more flexible than just STOVL.

January 7, 2013 7:49 pm

“Fat Hermans merry men were busy flattening Chain Home and the 11 group fighter stations and doing very well at it, irrespective of Radar & C2”

That’s simply not true.

Radar coverage was maintained throughout, it got a bit ropey I believe for a few hours once when Jerry cut the power but that was complete luck they had no idea they had done it and hadn’t set out to. Their biggest successes were scored by a small Gruppe using ME109s and ME110s as fighter bombers.

The radar and control network remained in being throughout the battle. It came under pressure but never once did it break. Same with the aerodromes, Fighter Command left one, I can’t remember the name of it, but otherwise they never managed to knock out an airfield for more than a few hours and Park was simply not concerned about it since there were so many aerodromes from which to refuel and re-arm.

More victories were scored on a bounce. In big dogfights scores for both sides plummeted. Radar and control enabled the RAF to get its planes high so they could bounce and thus score more victories. Without good command and control the Spitfire would have fought at a permanent and very serious disadvantage. The command and control also allowed Park to work out which formations were purely fighter and thus ignore them and which were more dangerous and go after them.

There is also evidence that RAF tactics were killing more RAF pilots than the enemy. Inexperienced squadrons were routinely murdered once they moved into 11 Groups AO even on Spits. Experienced squadrons binned the RAF tactics book and fought more loosely like the Germans and they would invariably up their scores even on Hurricanes.

January 7, 2013 8:13 pm


Excellent article. Totally fascinating. Thank you.

I think the various posts take a quite lot for granted. For example, a major and genuinely unanswered question is whether the F-35 will be as capable as promised. How long can delays and failures to achieve test schedule milestones be tolerated? The desire to field a highly flexible platform with excellent situational awareness for the pilot and the ability to control multiple weapons systems is certainly valid, but there seem to be doubts about whether the basic aircraft platform will ever be as good as either an F-16 or F-18 in terms of power, speed and manoeuvrability. Concerns have also been expressed about whether any F-35 version can actually fulfil mission requirements.

At this stage of its development, such basic issues should not be moot, surely? It may be that the F-35B is better than the Harrier, but various reports suggest that it is a very poor machine for a 5th generation combat aircraft and not the promised leap forward. Are adverse reports rubbish? I just don’t know, so I am interested to know whether ongoing issues are merely froth or not. What are the outstanding development issues and can they be overcome?

In terms of replacing Tornado, I don’t think we should go for an all F-35 fleet. I think we should seriously look at what Boeing proposes for the FXX replacement for the F-22 and F-15. This will benefit from much more focused procurement goals to hopefully provide an aircraft that enters services on time, on budget and on brief so that it fulfils combat requirements. It should offer not only a Tornado strike aircraft replacement but also an air superiority fighter capable of replacing the Eurofighter.

The other key question I’d like to see answered by you TD, is whether the UK would have been better off having four Cavour-type vessels than two larger carriers. The Cavour is highly flexible can easily switch between aircraft carrier and marine heliborne assault roles. Lest we forget: the Falklands Campaign showed how vulnerable ships are to modern missiles and submarines. Perhaps we need more smaller ships instead of fewer large ones? Four Cavours (I believe we could even afford six for the same costs as our two carriers) would give us a power-projection capability that two very large carriers cannot. I may be misguided, but no one has yet presented a credible argument for what the QE2 and POW can do that four Cavours could not.

Peter Elliott
January 7, 2013 9:14 pm

@ Monty

More crew needed for 4 Cavours – so whole life costs are higher.

January 7, 2013 9:33 pm

JH as been pointed out by APATS (I think) STOBAR is like taking the bad points of operating a CTOL carrier then mixing in all the bad points of a STOVL carrier. Once you have access to a supersonic multi role stovl aircraft that can carry a similar amount of ordinace I’m not sure why you’d bother with STOBAR just down the extra wear and tear on the airframes and increased training/hazard from arrested recovery. The Russian, Chinese and Indian navies operate chopper based AEW, ASW, SAR and COD (if at all) so I fail to see how STOBAR is in anyway more flexible than a STOVL carrier?

The Russian, Chinese and Indian carriers will/are used for fleet protection more than strike operations so I’d be really interested to know how far a fully bombed up MIG29/J-15 will actually go once you’ve a) got it off the deck and b) factored in the fuel margin for several go rounds at trying to get back on and where it actually needs to get to.

January 7, 2013 9:37 pm

“F35B makes not sense for RAF”

No but it makes brilliant sense for UK PLC.

For far too long RAF has been trying to sell an ridculous case for land based air power. Where in his world is it relevant beoynf stategic lift?

January 7, 2013 9:50 pm

It would indeed be interesting to know the take off load of the SU33/MIG29/J15s. Unfortunately, their embassies are not responding to my polite enquiries. Are they subject to FOI requests? :-)

January 7, 2013 10:02 pm

Monty I seriously doubt that the Cavour can generate the max number of sorties per day in our requirements it’s not much bigger than an Invincible class carrier.

I think it’s a given that we will rarely have enough aircraft and maybe even crew on board a QE to actually hit that requirement but the point remains that if we choose to do so we can. Four of the things would cost more than the two carriers we are getting as you have four lots of kit to buy instead of two, sensors, C and C equipment, comms equipment etc is all expensive then you have to actually build them then man them.

I’d rather we wait for Bulwark, Albion, Ocean (once her refit completes) to clap out (given that I suspect Ocean will be forced to continue for longer especially once Lusty hopefully becomes a museum) and replace the LPD and LPH with 2x LHAs or LHDs similar to the Canberra class LHDs at that time which I’d have thought would be lates 2020s early 2030s.

January 7, 2013 10:03 pm


Its a pain in the ass, but FOi and all that, ultimately, is what we are defending.. ;)

January 7, 2013 10:09 pm

I suspect QE and POW wil replace both Lusty and Ocean, given the enhanced air capacity and bugger all air.

F-35B wil be useful, like harrier was useful. Not in terms of statistical comparisons with x fighter or y nation, but the ability to be in the right place at the right time.

January 7, 2013 10:18 pm

My take on ski-jumps on US LHD/LHA…

Wasp: 1200t AVCAT – enough for 30 medium copters – needs 9-10 spots to make it effective – no space for ski-jump.

America: 2400t AVCAT – enough for about 30 V22 – needs 9-10 spots to make it effective – no space for ski-jump.

Putting a ski-jump on them would make one spot impossible to use (the ramp) and another very difficult to manage due to the fact that moving copters to/from the spot (forward starboard) with the ski-jump in the way would make the spot behind it a bottleneck. This gives only 7-8 spots, a need for something like 24 aircraft and 1900t AVCAT giving 500t of load back to the ship for assault and landing craft.

It will be interesting to see how the Flight II America class pan out.

John Hartley
John Hartley
January 7, 2013 10:22 pm

With STOVL we have the choice of one aircraft, the F-35B.
Adding arrester wires to QE/PoW means we can operate F-35B + any agile modern fighter (Gripen/Rafale/Typhoon/F-18, etc) Granted you would have to learn the old art of steaming into the wind, full ahead. You might be able to operate a short field biz jet, perhaps the Grob SPN if it ever gets built.

January 7, 2013 10:23 pm

“It would indeed be interesting to know the take off load of the SU33/MIG29/J15s. ”

Apparently its limited by the load on the front nose wheel. Engines gives some insight ..

I think its fair to say the take-off load is going to be quite substantial for an aircraft and ramp designed to work together, probably close to its MTOW.

January 7, 2013 10:29 pm


Correct. Its F-35B.

You might want some cpacity to operate watchkeeper or mantis, but it isfinancially crippling if you ask BAe to do it. Best idea down the line is this Augusta Westland civvy tilt-rotor thing.

January 7, 2013 10:37 pm


The none of those aircraft are designed to take off from a ramp, only the F18E/F/G and Rafale are designed for carrier ops (cat launched natch) and yet do those aircraft match OUR UK specific requirements. I can guarentee that there will be things that don’t in either the avionics fit, sensor packages, weapons integration or just how we do things from a maintenance point of view then you have to start making changes/adding subtracting requirements for what is a piddling buy of aircraft in the grand scheme of things.

All we have are tests done with the F18 on ski ramps years ago (but not the Superbug which may as well be a different aircraft and it’s still shorter ranged than the F35B. Russian and Chinese aircraft are a non starter for political reasons let alone the fact that they are not NATO standardised.

January 7, 2013 10:40 pm

Getting 4 or more Cavour’s instead of CVF would have been a mistake. They aren’t much larger than the Invincible class and can’t handle much more than a dozen jets given the size of the flight-deck and hangar. So even getting 2 or 3 of them together wouldn’t yield the same capabilities as 1 CVF.

Maybe 3-4 ships roughly the size and shape of the America class would have worked, but it’s a bit late to do anything about it now!

As TD and others often point out, air is cheap and space is good! Id rather have more room than I need in the present because it provides for the ever murky future.

January 7, 2013 10:41 pm

But PX the AW isn’t marinised, it doesn’t have folding rotors for stowage below decks, it’s not a military aircraft so it won’t be using mil spec anything so we’d have to persuade several other nations eg India, Italy, Japan, Brazil that they really want one too for their carrier/amphibs at which point you’ve just replicated a smaller less powerful Osprey.

January 7, 2013 10:51 pm

Plus I don’t believe the AW is designed as a cargo carrier so it has no scope for palletised packages contained Data Processors, work stations and sensors for say AEW, AAR, ASW or whatever other ideas come up as I don’t think theres any way to get them in and out. There’s talk of making a bigger one but it’s only talk.

January 7, 2013 10:58 pm

“The none of those aircraft are designed to take off from a ramp”

The F-35B certainly is, only 10% of its weight is on the nose wheel, hence its can hit the ramp at maximum speed and gain maximum benefit. Harrier was 50% weight on the front. SU-33 is particularly well designed for low speed handling off a ramp.

Jeremy M H
January 7, 2013 11:29 pm

RE: US Amphibs not using a ski-jump

Simon has this one exactly right. The primary mission of a US amphib is to generate a large number of helicopter sorties to put troops ashore as rapidly as possible. The main advantage of a ski-jump is really payload but that is not nearly as much of an issue for aircraft operating in close air support as it is for anything else. The weapons are generally lighter there (Mavericks, CBU’s, 500 pound bombs ect) than a pure strike mission. Giving up a deck spot for the ski-jump would not be worth it given what the mission is.

January 7, 2013 11:35 pm

Well lets hope AW are punting in the right direction ;)

January 8, 2013 12:47 am

PeterW hence my point about the requirements because we are a tier 1 partner in the JSF project we have a say in shaping the requirements for the design and development portion of the project. The other Western fighters mentioned in terms of Stobar already exist so we’d be spending more money generating requirements to change them or be stuck with a platform for decades that does not fulfil our requirements without expensive changes and with an unknown/unfunded roadmap.

January 8, 2013 12:53 am

Actually as memory serves the SU-33 is also very large, heavy and a maintenance pig which is why the Russians are ditching it for the MIG-29K it’s also not multi role!!

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
January 8, 2013 10:30 am


“Simply not true”? I think the official history of the battle (http://www.raf.mod.uk/history/phase2ofthebattle.cfm) may have a different slant. However – point being the change in target set was at least as much to do with the outcome as the C2 – which is not to say that the C2 was not important, of course it was.

SteveD – meant to say last night your take on the programme is largely spot on.

Those burbling on about Cavours or LHDs need to understand that every single independent study into the relative cost-effectiveness of small vs large aircraft carrying ships has (without exception) found that large ships are better. You get step changes in what you are able to do with larger ships, even without considering AEW / AAR aircraft.

January 8, 2013 10:39 am

Does anyone know what the specific part of the world is that requires SRVL? I’m presuming it’s somewhere hot (it can’t be hot-and-high because a carrier is always at sea level). But the Americans will operate in the Gulf off LHAs and they don’t seem to care. There’s some target in Iran or Pakistan we have a special interest in?

January 8, 2013 12:36 pm


I remember reading the information below last year on PPRUNE from a chap called ‘Engines’ who looks to have some awareness of the JSF project and this seems to line up with a LM graphic I remember seeing on F16.Net.


Once again, for the avoidance of doubt.

The F-35B is required to be able to recover to the deck using a VL with a full internal weapons load of 2 1000 pound JDAMS and 2 AIM-120s. This drives the KPP (Key Performance Parameter) for VL Bring Back (VLBB). The F-35B meets this KPP under the climatic conditions specified in the JORD. The UK initiated the RVL studies because they want the aircraft to be able to do this at even more demanding conditions in the Persian Gulf in summer. I’m tempted to write this in capitals, as many don’t seem to get the simple fact that the F-35 can bring back its weapons to a VL on a hot day. Not, I freely admit, on a super hot day.

RVLs – I certainly don’t claim that ‘they are not a problem’, mainly because they have not yet been tried. However, citing Harrier GR1 problems as a reason not to attempt them in a 35B is not relevant. The Harrier’s ‘bicycle’ landing gear layout caused immense problems in its early days (P1127 onwards) and the GR1 still had some major issues that were only partially fixed on the GR3. The AV-8B’s revised outriggers were, in part, an attempt to improve deck handling. On top of these, the braking performance of the Harrier was marginal at best. Finally, Harrier flying qualities at RVL speeds were really not very good.

F-35B has a good stable gear layout with very powerful main gear carbon brakes controlled by a sophisticated computer driven system. It’s flight control systems are 50 years on from the Harrier, and precision RVL approaches should not be a high workload event. That’s what the guys doing the test flying say.

CVF is a big deck with a longer run out area, and will be a lot more stable in roll and pitch than legacy Harrier ships like CVS or LPDs.

January 8, 2013 5:21 pm

Thanks to all for the ski ramp/SRVL responses. Quote from that Engines bloke which I thought bore repeating: “Actually, I never quite got over being awestruck by what a brilliantly simple and effective device the ski jump is – it’s very nearly something for nothing, makes aircraft far more effective and gives safer launches. Another quite brilliant contribution to naval aviation from the Fleet Air Arm and Britain. Let’s just all be proud for a moment, shall we?”

I read somewhere, might have been on the LM F35 website, showing the number of vertical landings made (in the 100s IIRC), but no mention of a single ski jump launch or SRVL. Now that we own two F35B and we have our own RAF/RN pilots trained up, I wonder when they might start investigating ski jump launches and SRVL – on land I mean.

What I’m getting at is, when do “our” F35s really become ours and not just part of LM’s test programme?

January 8, 2013 5:49 pm

None of our F35’s are part of the flight test program it’s a seperate ‘project’ as it were. They are part of the flight school and training cadre. I think ski jump testing is late this year or early 2014. The ramp has been built at Yuma I think.

January 8, 2013 5:51 pm


There is a ski jump already in place at pax river when the uk ditched the b I believe the testing scheduled was rejigged and the ski jump testing was pushed back as not one was going to use it I think its been changed again and may happen this year. It will be done by test pilots and fully instrumented test aircraft at pax not the jets or uk pilots training at eglin.

January 8, 2013 6:26 pm

@mmoomin and Mark – Excellent level of service, gold star each.

John Hartley
John Hartley
January 8, 2013 7:36 pm

If you have a sole supplier, what incentive does that sole supplier have to keep costs down & standards up, if he knows you have nowhere else to go? This is why I favour the STOBAR option for QE/PoW. If F-35B falls off its perch, I think the MoD would drown in proposals for STOBAR versions of existing jets,( Seaphoon,Rafale, Sea Gripen).

January 8, 2013 7:44 pm


Don’t agree with that source. Just because its an RAF history doesn’t mean the research is sound. Park certainly didn’t share the ‘desperation’ and as said, they didn’t knock out a single aerodrome. Their main successes ere scored by a Gruppe. 210 I believe.

January 8, 2013 9:02 pm

An interesting discussion here, with a BoB sub-plot. Thanks to all those who have risen to my STOBAR (now I know what it stands for!) query. It’s just that people slag it off as useless when STOVL aircraft use the same ski-jump technique and that’s seen as miraculous (by some).

Thanks to Not a Boffin for dating my memory of a drawing (in Aircraft Illustrated , I think) to 1994.

Re. losing ships in the Falklands. We lost ships because we had no organic AEW! We were making do (always the British way) with “Through-Deck Cruisers” and a fighter cobbled together from the remains of a 1950’s research programme and some other bits. Would that their successors (and rebuilds) were still in service.

January 8, 2013 9:13 pm

JH thats not really the flexibility that you think it is. I’ll tell you what would actually happen.

Each of those planes won’t fit our requirements for a carrier borne aircraft off the bat. So what we will actually do is spend yet more money within the MOD generating gods knows how many requirements, then if we have an open competition then several contractors will have to submit bid proposals, which will run to forests of paper work. Then there will be a down select and a year or two worth of testing, trials and faf. Then there will be an actual contract signed, then development work will start proper on the platform, the avionics and the sensor fit then several years down the line there will flight testing, certification, weapons integration, not to mention reams of documentation, spares and reapairs all the CLS crap to sort out all before it gets anywhere near the IOC and then release to service.

The upshot is that it would be years before we got any aircraft. We would have to cut apart two completed aircraft carriers or stall the work (costing billions in delays). The reality is that of F35B fails we can kiss organic sea borne carrier air good bye for good.

The time to select CATOBAR/STOVL/STOBAR was during the design phase. All options were considered from lengthening the Invincible class CVS to 30,000 tonne carriers to 50,000 and up and STOBAR was rightly discarded after the analysis.

If you want to be bored/have an hour to kill looking up in google for these two papers shows that quite a lot of thought actually went into the QEs.

CARRIER STUDIES” written by J.F.P. EDDISON, RCNC (member of the CVF project in the Director Naval Architecture & Future Projects). Presented at the Warship 97 Symposium on Air Power at Sea at the Royal Institution of Naval
Architects in May 1997. Which shows how the CVF key user requirements were shaped.

The paper titled “THE DESIGN OF HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH AND HMS PRINCE OF WALES ” written and presented by S T D Knight (Platform Design Director of the Aircraft Carrier Alliance at the time of the paper, and an ex member of the MOD Directorate of Future Projects (Navy)) at the Warship 2009 – Airpower At Sea Conference, which was organised by the Royal Institution of Naval Architects”

In addition junking the JSF screws British industry as BAE make the back end of each aircraft and Rolls Royce make the Jet fan assembly for the STOVL model, not to mention lots of other smaller suppliers.

January 8, 2013 9:28 pm

That and it’s a small buy of aircraft so we’d be on the hook for all of the costs and the roadmap going it alone and it’ll just cost a lot of money later down the line or we’ll end up dropping the capability. Look at what happened to the Sea Harrier.

As for Seaphoon I’ll eat my hat if you could convince the Germans, Italians and Spanish that they needed a STOBAR multi role version of the Typhoon. They can’t even agree on Tranche 3B.

January 8, 2013 9:47 pm

“That and it’s a small buy of aircraft so we’d be on the hook for all of the costs and the roadmap going it alone and it’ll just cost a lot of money later down the line or we’ll end up dropping the capability…” – MRA4 anyone? Oh sorry, wrong thread. ;-)

John Hartley
John Hartley
January 8, 2013 10:56 pm

Well the Indian deal means STOBAR versions of Seaphoon & Rafale have been proposed. If we ponce off the Indian deal(should it happen) then the UK is NOT stuffed for R&D.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
January 8, 2013 11:31 pm

Dream on John. I could be wrong, but the Indian MRCA has cock-all to do with flying off ships – it’s more wishful thinking and supposition by speculators. The MiG29K appears to have that sewn up.

The MoD would indeed drown in proposals for STOBAR should F35B get canned. None of them would meet UK requirements or be affordable…….

January 8, 2013 11:52 pm

Nope NAB is 100% correct the MMRCA is Rafale only Typhoon lost out and it’s not the naval variant as far as I’m aware. Strangely the F16, F18E, gripen and MIG-35 were all eliminated before down-select, because they didn’t meet the IAF’s requirements which included the ability to operate at high altitude and in hot conditions, funny that (the losers were all ‘cheaper’ than the Rafale and Typhoon), which just goes to show that the Indian MOD/treasury must have actually listened to the IAF because I fully expected the cheapest fighter to be awarded in a volte face by the Indian treasury.

The Indian Navy already fly MIG-29K and more are being delivered. The MIG did some testing during the shakedown cruise on the ex Gorshov last year before it crapped out.

The men in stripy suits with shiney shoes (sales and marketing) at BAE probably got as far as the video of a ‘SeaPhoon’ taking off from INS Vikramedita with screaming ‘sitars’ as the backing track.

January 9, 2013 9:44 am


“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.”

Is there any mention of endurance in the stuff you’ve read.

If not I think someone needs a good wallop in the chops as endurance provides persistence of “cover” under which you can do the real job.

Is the general ethos that if an enemy jet is detected on the horizon an F35 will be scrambled (i.e. no CAP)? If so, we’d be better off with Seaphoon or a Mig29.

Is the general ethos that an enemy will be shot down by Aster30? If so we can do without carrier jet power altogether.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
January 9, 2013 9:56 am

An interesting observation, which actually stems from the loss of the original intent of FCBA when rolled into FJCA and so on.

People talk about range because it is assumed that the aircraft are there to do “Strike”. The DCA element has been forgotten to a degree, which is unfortunate as it is one of the core elements.

Way back when, both DLI and CAP stances were assessed – the real differentiator IIRC between the “conventional” (ie F18/NEF2000) and the LO (SSF) being combat exchange ratio.

No-one in their right minds (and certainly no-one in dark blue) signs up to the “AD is via SAM” line. Although some CS and others still need educating…..

John Hartley
John Hartley
January 9, 2013 10:15 am

Sadly the Indians were taught defence procurement by the British, so decisions are long & twisted. The first batch of Western fighters will be for land, but the long term view was to use the same type on carriers. Modifications for STOBAR are limited to a beefed up nosewheel & 2D thrust vectoring, So not hard. Both Engine types have been tested & offered with thrust vectoring, So again not starting from scratch.
Look QE/PoW will be STOVL with the F-35B. If for some reason the F-35B turns out to be duff, then have a back up plan. STOBAR seems a realistic, affordable back up. More so , if we adopt whichever STOBAR Western fighter India ends up adopting.

January 9, 2013 10:50 am

This snippet from wiki of all places…

“The requirement for the FCBA was set out in Staff Target 6464 which specified a carrier-borne aircraft capable of air defence of naval and ground forces and self-escorting ground attack.”

It seems it was the 1998 SDR that was the point of change which created (eventually) JFH and prematurely ditched FA2 meaning that Harrier (and subsequently F35) is seen primarily as a strike platform.

It seems that the focus on air defence has shifted to ground attack, which I find interesting as it concurs with many people’s views on this site who see Typhoon as a strike aircraft.

I think this stems from too much air dominance and too little resistance from enemy jets in the recent past. We seem to take air superiority as granted and are getting overly complacent.

January 9, 2013 11:02 am

@Simon: “I think this stems from too much air dominance and too little resistance from enemy jets in the recent past. We seem to take air superiority as granted and are getting overly complacent”. Agreed. But I would replace this with “I think this stems from too much military dominance and too little resistance from high end enemies in the recent past. We seem to take military superiority as granted and are getting overly complacent”

January 9, 2013 1:23 pm

JH I’m not sure where you got your information from but I’m 95% certain it’s wrong.

India initially wanted a light fighter replacement for the MIG 21. That was destined to be the indigenous TEJAS (which was also destined to be placed aboard Indian carriers alongside the MIG 29K) as time has gone on and the Tejas has had engine issues and development problems and the Mig 21’s and other IAF have had maintenance problems and started to fall apart the requirement became about buying a medium multi-role aircraft. There never was a naval element to it. Why would the Indian Navy be spending money on an indigineous carrier borne aircraft and the MIG29 right now, only to replace them with MMRCA aircraft it makes no sense.

India also operate the SU30 as their interceptor and ‘Heavy’ fighter (which they have just bought more of). They are co-developing the PAK-FA with Russia as their fifth gen fighter.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
January 9, 2013 5:28 pm

There. Are. Currently. NO. Western. STOBAR. Fighters.

EJ200 thrust vectoring has thus far only been in the form of a bench test on an engine. This has had some limited integration with the engine FADEC. However, to the best of my knowledge they haven’t even looked at the Typhoon FCS yet. I’ve no idea exactly how many millions of lines of code the FCS contains, but re-writing it to account for thrust vectoring does not strike me as “not hard”. A more realistic description might be “f8cking expensive and time consuming”.

I have been called a pessimist before……..

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
January 9, 2013 5:51 pm

That’s a rather definitive statement TD. I think I’d be in the “should not and probably won’t be” camp……

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
January 9, 2013 7:21 pm

Yes – definitely better context. I think Jeremy Blackhams statement should be required reading for those seeking to understand how we got here.

January 9, 2013 7:25 pm

The tyhoon doesn’t have stealth, and stealth is need and the f35 is the jet for the future, but coats cuts, that the RAF want sone many and the navy want this much and so both will get less, the answer to all this is make the budget bigger, get more troops and give everyone what they want and get better equipment, and don’t get the Merlin for aew, get the v-22 for aew.

John Hartley
John Hartley
January 9, 2013 7:54 pm

Why does having a back up plan cause blood pressure to rise? It is a sensible contingency. If India is not looking at Western STOBAR, then why those Eurofighter Typhoon STOBAR artists impressions? Did they produce them for the hell of it?

January 9, 2013 8:04 pm

Regardless of any pr brochures ( tis there job to sell things after all) the landing requirement for an aircraft carrier will size pretty much you’re entire aircraft from the weapons pylons to control surfaces wings landing gear aft fuselage ect its were all the initial design cost is and where all your thru life cost come from in training and constant practise. Typhoon would require a complete redesign for this task this is hard for some people to understand but it is reality.

Only one country can afford to do effective ctol/(stobar) operations every other nation either has a very part time capability or a half assed capability or both. The uk would very much fall into the other nation category if it went this route. Make no mistake if f35b doesn’t work we are out of the fixed wing carrier business indefinitely unless we ask for the harriers back.

Mike Wheatley
Mike Wheatley
January 9, 2013 8:07 pm


Post #417 on this page discusses the operation of the J-15 of their carrier, with the ski ramp:


January 9, 2013 8:24 pm


I think you’re a little harsh on MOD over FOA, FOAS, FCAC, DPOC etc. given that actually very little money has been spent on these things. We’re a few magnitudes away from a FRES-style cock-up. By far the largest funding item relating to this from the EP is Taranis at <£200m – which gives extremely valuable knowledge to the UK.

Otherwise money is spent on industrial sustainment through the research programme; this is vital to ensuring that UK Industry maintains relevant capability for the future, but is far far less than making a decision to actually build a new aircraft.

The main point to realise is that we need to design and build a new UK aircraft in the next few years to sustain UK Industry. If we don't, there will be no UK Defence Aerospace Industry to speak of.

I disagree on STOVL being the sensible choice. The ~25% lower through life costs of CV are a strong argument. Probably the operational argument swayed it as the RN was used to operating STOVL aircraft.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
January 9, 2013 8:38 pm

As I understand it the decision (to revert to STOVL) was a combination of the following :

1. Senior RN (non-aviators) rather uneasy regarding “risk” of CV ops compared to STOVL. Plus unease of only having one ship.
2. Realisation in RAF that CV-ops meant significant numbers of a/c and aircrew would have to embark on a regular basis for sustained periods.
3. Consequent switch from original meaning of “conversion budget” to revised meaning including through-life DLOD led to huge cost number.
4. STOVL off probation reduced perceived risk of cancellation – one of the prime drivers in the let’s do CV decision.

January 9, 2013 8:47 pm

@TD – Excellent update to a good article to start with. If all those acronym changes meant a change of logo on stationary as well we’ve spent a fortune! Like Hannay I disagree with you on STOVL over CATOBAR but that argument is in the past now, the argument now is what do we call the third of class? :-D

Edit – just to clarify, I mean i preferred CATOBAR in the first instance, back in 01/02, when we made the initial decision to go STOVL.

January 9, 2013 8:48 pm

JH because the Eurofighter consortium are desperate to sell Typhoons. For the partner nations the commitment is for 620 aircraft. Currently they are all trying to get out of that total number of airframes bought. As for stobar Seaphoon they’d have probably stuck a jimbo smiley face and clown hat on it if they thought it would help sell it to the Indians. None of which means there was ever a real requirement for it and the Seaphoon is brochure vapourware.

Factor in that the plane won’t be truly multi-role with modern avionics, sensors and weapons integration until 2019 and you can see why they want someone else to pump cash in to aid the development of those self same capabilities. Bearing in mind that the fighter is currently not attractive to buyers due to the current lack of those capabilities it’s like a never ending vicious circle.

I don’t think anyones blood pressure is up. You are making assumptions about the way defence procurement of major platforms work and people are just pointing out the fine detail of what actually happens. This far in with this much money spent there is no ‘contigency’ plan any new piece of kit will just restart the whole procurement and development cycle again after wasting lots of money See MPA as a case in point.

Sure you might in theory maybe cut down on the flight certification and trials phase somewhat as it’s only a ‘simple change’ to a complex aircraft that was never designed for the task originally but I rather suspect the reality would be very difficult. Imagine being the person that signs off the safety statement on a new naval fighter without redoing all of the tests and trials. Look at the F18E compared to the F18C/D it’s a totally different plane I bet that started out as a simple ‘cheap’ upgrade too…….

January 9, 2013 10:23 pm

I can understand the F35B/STOVL choice.

What I struggle with is the short-lived switch to F35C/CV and the money waste that ensued.

With B on probation STOVL CVF could still have provided LPH services amounting to double what we can currently field (which is about what we actually need). The F35B risk was therefore nothing worse than what we already had and the reality of the situation may well have meant re-opening the Harrier II production line (I mean AV8-B/C here really) to satisfy the USMC and plenty of other international customers.

The UK would have been the only nation that could possibly have “converted” to CATOBAR if absolutely necessary.

John Hartley
John Hartley
January 9, 2013 11:00 pm

Of course everything is impossible & we should have saved money by living in caves. Nothing will come of this invention of fire as it is far too tricky & bound to lead to technical problems.
Britain is doomed. Its not immigration, bankers, climate change or spongers that is the threat. It is our can’t do mentality.

January 9, 2013 11:12 pm

Hartley: yeah, we get a lot of “not possible”. The Falklands was said to be hopelessly dependent on subsidies, until someone post war asked why thousands of square miles of fishing grounds were not being monetised. Plenty of other examples….

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
January 10, 2013 7:53 am

TD – actually no. When the F35C decision was announced, the “conversion cost” was clearly aimed at changes to the ship. When you consider that £2Bn as a TL DLOD figure would be over 30 years it’s chump change. What I suspect happened is that people started adding all sorts of other start-up costs (like buddy-buddy for F35) which may or may not have been based on reality plus a healthy dose of “risk” and hey-presto, massive increase in up-front costs.

No point in re-opening the debate, it’s done, but the CV vs STOVL argument was not as clear cut as has been portrayed.

January 10, 2013 8:56 am

“Of course everything is impossible & we should have saved money by living in caves.”

Some say the caves were a bad idea and no one should have left the oceans!

January 10, 2013 10:09 am

As NaB says “Consequent switch from original meaning of “conversion budget” to revised meaning including through-life DLOD led to huge cost number” I believe this is what happened

The fact that it was not released (in figures), or even articulated properly, discredits all levels involved
– No 10, MoD and the top brass
– the huge leap destroys all credibility (despite probably being the “facts”)of procurement planning and management, including linking to strategic objectives, just because Corp Comms is not being done properly

Well, let’s see what NAO has to say (TD, will there be a thread on it?)

January 10, 2013 10:18 am

Hi mmoomin, Re
“because the Eurofighter consortium are desperate to sell Typhoons. For the partner nations the commitment is for 620 aircraft. Currently they are all trying to get out of that total number of airframes bought. ”
– consequently it is also consortium member states who pitch nearly new tiffies against refurbed F-16s in proc competitions
– as such a good thing (will help to keep the prgrm ticking at the new production end)but will devalue the prospects of the consortium getting a proper price for new sales

The crunch will come if and when the Italians manage to follow through with the F-35 as the announced plan is to dump all their tiffies (which, for this reason, have been kept on a low spec)

January 10, 2013 10:26 am

Hang on John a supersonic STOVL jet is a far more wonderous piece of high end technology than your STOBAR jet. If you used that argument you’d never get a STOBAR jet because it’s not the optimal solution which would be CATOBAR which only works if you have lots and lots of money ie the USA, look at the manning requirements for a US CVN it’s shocking. How many western carrier fleets use STOBAR by the way?

Given that the Chinese and India are using Russian built carriers and both historically have bought their arms from Russia I can’t say it’s a suprise that they have STOBAR carriers it’s their only option as the Russians could not get CATOBAR or STOVL to work properly.

January 10, 2013 7:55 pm

Simon: “Is there any mention of endurance in the stuff you’ve read.

If not I think someone needs a good wallop in the chops as endurance provides persistence of “cover” under which you can do the real job.

Is the general ethos that if an enemy jet is detected on the horizon an F35 will be scrambled (i.e. no CAP)? If so, we’d be better off with Seaphoon or a Mig29.

Is the general ethos that an enemy will be shot down by Aster30? If so we can do without carrier jet power altogether.”

I’ve been asking similar questions for a while now: Apparently, the Laws concerning objects in motion (endurance, intercept geometry, velocity vectors etc) are, like, sooooo 4th Gen – the F-35 is above such things.

You hater! :P

January 10, 2013 8:08 pm

is the norm and has been for about a thousand years.

January 10, 2013 8:27 pm