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

Thought I would nick the Royal Marines motto, Per Mare, Per Terram or By Sea, By Land because this perfectly encapsulates the operating potential of the F-35B, no, nothing to do with Bunker Hill or the colour of their berets!

After looking at the dim and distant past in Part 2, the aircrafts potential in Part 3 and the painful reality of ‘today’ in Part 4, this is a post about how the UK might operate the F-35B fleet, oh, and a handful of side issues.

As usual, have a nice video before we start

From Sea and Land

One of the reasons I think the F-35B is definitely the right choice of aircraft is because of its operating location flexibility, why else would one trade away performance for the STOVL capability.

To illustrate this I have picked a few operational examples of the flexibility of the STOVL Harrier to use them to build the case for the F-35B in UK service.


In 1975, Guatemala threatened invasion of Belize and after a short period of preparation 1 Squadron deployed 6 Harrier GR.1’s called Operation NUCHA. The UK found itself with an unusual ally; Fidel Castro supported Belizean independence and condemned Guatemala, a strong ally of the USA. This placed the UK at odds with a US ally and in the same political boat as Cuba, hardly conducive to calling on the US for help. This manifested itself in a refusal of US basing support and so the Harriers had to be tanked across the Atlantic via Goose Bay and Bermuda.

The aircraft were based at the amusingly titled Belize International Airport but dispersed into three aircraft air hides and were the only combat aircraft in service that could use the short runway.

After a period of deterrent operations in conjunction with other forces (and a well-timed earthquake) the Guatemalan forces stood down, the Harriers were withdrawn but would eventually return as 1417 Flight.

RAF Harrier GR.3 Belize
RAF Harrier GR.3 Belize
RAF Harrier GR.3 Belize
RAF Harrier GR.3 Belize

RAF Harrier, Airport Camp, Belize, Central America, 1982


The Falkland Islands

Everyone knows about the Harriers, Sea Harriers and the Atlantic Conveyor, the latter demonstrating the VTOL capabilities of the Harrier but less well known is the San Carlos FOB.

We often think that once the Atlantic Conveyor had offloading her precious cargo of Sea Harriers and Harrier GR3’s her job was more or less done but although the original concept for Atlantic Conveyor was just as a transport for the Harriers at the last minute it was decided to use her to carry two other things.

The first of these ‘others’ was a number of Chinook and Wessex helicopters and in the previous post we discussed the impact of losing all the helicopters but a single Chinook (Bravo November) on subsequent plans, especially the ill-fated landings at Bluff Cove. The loss of the vast majority of the heavy lift helicopters meant ground forces had to walk to Stanley.

The second and much less known of the trio of vital items on-board the Atlantic Conveyor was a complete Harrier Forward Operating Base that would have allowed the Sea Harriers and Harrier GR3’s to operate from land rather than far offshore on the two carriers.

Planning assumptions for the FOB included sustained operations over a 22 day period before resupply with fuel, weapons, air traffic control and maintenance facilities for 12 aircraft with a 400m runway.

There is some contradiction in the various sources used for this post on what surface materials were actually used. Some say there was a quantity of the superb AM2 matting available on the Stronmess and others indicate that the sappers had to scrounge matting material from all over the place, pierced steel planking (PSP), trackway, bomb damage repair matting and even the materials used for temporary helicopter pads on the many civilian ships were assembled and used instead, again, much of it from the Stromness.

It is hard to tell from the poor quality pictures available but the image from the Imperial War Museum looks like a smooth surface matting indicative of AM2 although the one with the GR3 below looks less smooth.

San Carlos FOB Falkland Islands
San Carlos FOB Falkland Islands
San Carlos FOB Falkland Islands - Harrier and Helicopter Operations
San Carlos FOB Falkland Islands – Harrier and Helicopter Operations
San Carlos FOB Falkland Islands - Harrier and Helicopter Operations
San Carlos FOB Falkland Islands – Harrier and Helicopter Operations

Whether it was AM2, PSP, trackway, repair matting, MEXE Pads or a combination of all of them is an interesting technical point but the fact remains that a 260m runway was established.

A set of emergency fuel handling equipment was also secured from the Stromness and a Combat Engineer Tractor (one of only 2 sent South) was used to excavate the bunding for the EBFI fuel bladders.

HMS/RNAS Sheathbill or RAF Port San Carlos was the official name for the FOB depending on which service you belonged to and it was also called Sid’s Strip after Flt Lt Sid Morris, the FOB commander.

The runway was just over 260m long with a separate vertical landing area and parking space for 4 Harriers, much less than the planning assumption of 12.

San Carlos FOB Falkland Islands
San Carlos FOB Falkland Islands

The Forward Operating Base for Harriers and helicopters had been established by 28th of May when helicopters were refuelled and the battle for San Carlos was deemed to be over. The FOB was declared operational on the 2nd of June and almost immediately used for helicopters although weather would cause problems for a few days and it was not until the 5th when the first Harriers used it.

Incidentally, the San Carlos FOB runway length was 260m long, just 17m or so short of a QE carrier.


In 1991 and Desert Storm, as the Air Power Survey Summary Report by Cohen and Keaney clearly stated;

The closest land or carrier basing put aircraft 175 or more miles from the nearest targets in the Kuwait theater and more than triple that distance for targets in the Baghdad region. The bulk of the combat aircraft flew  from  bases  in  southern  Saudi  Arabia  and  the  coastal  Gulf states;  for them  and  the  Red  Sea  carrier  aircraft,  the  targets  were  700 to  1.000  miles away,  well  beyond  the  unrefuelled  combat  radius  of most  aircraft

This ignored the use of forward bases by the USMC who made use of a forward site at Tanajib. This allowed a small number of USMC AV-8B Harrier’s to operate at less than 40 miles distance from the ground operations and without the need for extensive airborne refuelling.  They used Tanajib from 9th Feb 1991 as a forward arming and refuelling location. Tanajib was an oil field support base owned by the Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO) that already had an airstrip but this was expanded by moving 200,00 cubic yards of material and the creation of 1.75 million square feet of AM-2 matting for taxiways and aircraft parking. That Tanajib already had a runway is not in dispute but it was made practical as forward location by allowing scarce surfacing resources to be diverted from runway creation and on to parking and handling areas.

In 2003 USMC Harrier’s also played an important part in operations in Iraq.

Commenting on the operation, Major General James AMOS USMC said;

I had my Harriers flying off of highways and bombed-out runways as we advanced on Baghdad for the final showdown

The USMC Harriers initially operated from LHD’s, USS Bataan and the USS Bonhomme Richard. Both were used exclusively for Harrier operations instead of the normal rotary and fixed wing aircraft, this allowed the sortie rate and numbers of aircraft carried to be pushed up, each carrying 20-24 aircraft. This concentration on-board allowed the coalition to add over 40 aircraft without impinging on the already overcrowded runway and parking spaces on the land bases.

As forces advanced in Iraq the USMC established two Forward Operating Bases and two Forward Arming and Refuelling Points. Although these were primarily for use by helicopters the USMC Harriers did make use of them, especially the FOB at An Numaniyah and FARP on Highway 1, south of Baghdad.


USMC Harriers flying off the USS Bataan and Peleliu provided cover for six CH-53 heavy lift helicopters carrying a reinforced rifle company on November 25th 2001. Their job was to establish a Forward Operating Base at Kandahar, to be called FOB Rhino. After securing and enhancing the existing runway KC-130 and C-17 supply flights followed. Harrier deployments followed in 2002, the first coalition fast jet combat aircraft in Afghanistan.

USMC Harriers also deployed to Bagram in 2002.

In late August 2004 the UK announced the deployment of Harrier GR.7’s to Kandahar who would be accompanied by 53 Squadron Royal Engineers.

During runway resurfacing the Harrier was the only aircraft able to operate, coordinating with the engineers allowed the Harrier to use the new or old surface as it was truncated by the resurfacing work. In 2008 a USAF C17 ran off the Kandahar runway closing the runway for over 30 hours. During this period, the only Close Air Support was provided by Harriers from Kandahar using the useable length of the runway

As the main operating bases improved the need for austere forward basing disappeared but as the USMC were planning to deploy to the Helmand area it came back into the ‘requirements space’

The forthcoming operation would see the USMC move into Marjah and in support they decided to build FOB Dwyer to support rotary operations, and, Harrier fixed wing. A 4,000 feet runway and supporting facilities were built by the Marine Wing support squadrons to enable their Harriers to operate close to the area of operation, improve time on station and reduce demand on precious AAR.

The reason they built a 4,000 foot runway was to enable their KC-30’s to land and take off with supplies for the build and subsequent operations although as can be seen in the video below the aircraft took full advantage.

Lots more pictures here

AM-2 was also used extensively at Bastion

AM2 Bastion
AM2 Bastion


Apart from the RAF showing their long range rapid response capability and the RN’s superlative MCM operations the real stand out during the Libya operation was the USS Kearsarge and her combined group of AV-8B’s, V22’s and US marines carrying out a short notice aircrew recovery operation (in addition to other operations)

Now this has nothing whatsoever to do with austere basing and short take off etc. but I mentioned it just to illustrate how blending fats jet, rotary and ground forces can produce an extremely effective combination.

It is also worth noting the less than optimal logistics arrangements that the RAF subsequently recognised as a significant lesson to learn.

Making a Case for STOVL

I am always wary of using historical examples to make a case for some future capability of the other but when you look at those examples one could argue that the basing flexibility was not due to operational requirements but the limitations of the Harrier, most of which the F-35B doesn’t have and all of which the F-35C doesn’t have!

This is a fair point in some measure but reading more deeply, this flexibility and the additional capability of the F-35B means it is still a valuable capability for the UK to have.

Another counter to STOVL is that the cost differential between it and more conventional aircraft could be easily spent on improving expeditionary airfield construction capabilities and thus get the best of both worlds but without seeing all the numbers and all the myriad factors that would contribute to this kind of decision I tend to think it is a weak argument.

So the case for STOVL is not immediately obvious, it is a nuanced argument but for the UK, the decision on STOVL was not really influenced by the ability to forward deploy and leapfrog using austere operating bases anyway.

What does factor into the argument though is the flexibility to do should the UK require it and that is the main point of the F-35B, flexibility.

The job of the F-35B is simple, apply UK combat air power from sea when land basing is not a practical option but the operating concept for the F-35B is a little more complicated.

Dependant on geography, enemy dispositions, available basing or over flight rights and operational objectives they might self-deploy directly to a Deployed Operational Base with tanking support, onto a carrier or other vessel, or even direct to the target.

Whilst in theatre they could operate from the main base, the carrier deck or stage forward using a Forward Operating Base (FOB) or make use of Forward Arming and Refuelling Points (FARP). They could easily move between operating locations or stay at just the one.

The reverse journey could be completely different.

The point here though is flexibility, this is what STOVL brings.

Have I mentioned that word before, flexibility!!

Operating from austere bases or forward operating bases might be viewed as a singular but it isn’t. It could mean using a Forward Arming and Refuelling Point to reduce the need for airborne refuelling, the aircraft would still operate from an aircraft carrier, be maintained there, have the crews there and so on, but a quick touchdown, refuel and away is one end of the scale. This is similar to the Falkland Islands San Carlos FOB or USMC operations in Iraq in 2003.

At the other end of the scale is operating from somewhere like Bastion in Afghanistan, where long runways are the norm. But, should one of those runways be closed for a short period by an aircraft incident or indirect fire then STOVL provides an ability to continue operations.

No one is thinking the F-35B will be operated from a jungle clearing with half a dozen blokes and a couple of boxes of 10 man compo. Force protection, fuel, other consumables (although with precision weapons the weight of stores is much less than old school West Germany Harrier operations) and the operating logistic overhead means that is never going to happen.

Early theatre entry might mean that everything required to support air operations will have to be flown in, other scenarios might see existing local capabilities only needing minor enhancements and logistic support, all delivered over land.

As Carrier Enabled Power Projection doctrine evolves and the UK’s means and methods of operating the F-35B also evolve the leap frog onto austere/luxury bases from the carriers might equally evolve.

Supporting any fast jet is not a trivial task so I expect the default position would be to operate them from the carrier and any austere location business will be on a needs basis only

However, where there are operational or strategic advantages to be had by the boldness of forward basing, whether direct into theatre or via the medium of an aircraft carrier, we should be in a position to take advantage of it.

Enhancing the UK’s ability to take maximum operational advantage of the ability of the F-35B’s STOVL characteristics on land should be as high a priority as operating it from sea.

Yes, I did just say that.

J Stands for Joint, or Does It?

The current and expected operating model seems to be a continuation of the Joint Force Harrier concept.

Many people criticise Joint Force Harrier because it was complicated by merging two dissimilar organisations with their different cultures, manning requirements, operating environments, procedures and career development paths, the result of which was a shadow of its former constituent parts.

Without being on the inside it is hard to make any meaningful comment on the details but from the outside it seemed perfectly able to generate combat air power, in Afghanistan especially, and to great effect for a sustained period which to me at least, says success.

Of course, operating from sea took a back seat but then so did combined arms manoeuvre and many other skills sets across the services in direct response to the defence main effort that was, and is, Afghanistan.

It was not ideal of course but unavoidable, understandable and right.

Italy has a similar conundrum with the air force and navy planning to both obtain F35B’s . All 30, in two squadrons of 15, will be based at the Navy base in Grottaglie, the same base where their Harriers are based.  The Italians have eschewed the joint command approach on the UK, General Giuseppe Bernardis, the chief of the Italian Air Force was quoted as saying

We don’t want a replica of the U.K. system where the [Royal Air Force] and Royal Navy Harriers are under one single line of command. The British model creates too many controversies between the two forces

So this sounds to me like the civilian leadership at the Italian ministry of defence was too weak to impose a decision and an expensive compromise was allowed to proceed because tackling the issue was just too difficult.

This is the problem with peacetime service politics.

In the last few years, the model of jointery seems to be have been constantly undermined with a concerted campaign in the press to split the F-35B fleet into those for Carrier Strike and the QE aircraft carrier(s) and those for the RAF, with an undercurrent that continually implies that all ’50 odd’ should go to the Fleet Air Arm and a second tranche of aircraft, probably the CTOL F-35A variant, going to the RAF.

All boxed off, all very neat, everyone gets to keep their own toys

The Fleet Air Arm gets to regenerate and operate Carrier Strike without any RAF interference and the RAF, yes the RAF that needs 5 Star hotels and doesn’t join to go to sea, are allowed to operate the lightweight and sleek F-35A the same as their counterparts in other Air Forces. Both services will be relieved at not having to mix, not having to share and not getting in each other’s way.

How much of this feeling prevails within the armed forces and how much of it is just the usual mischief making by those outside is hard to tell but it needs to be addressed.

The F-35B is not a toy to be coveted and hoarded but it is an expensive national asset that must be operated for maximum effect at minimal cost across all three services.

That is not just the voice of someone who sees the cost of everything and the value of nothing but a realist, one who understands that every pound spent on one thing is a pound not spent on something else. It is OK herumphing into your Telegraph but no amount of complaining about what should happen is going to make financial reality go away.

The MoD will have enough cost pressure in the coming decades without creating a wasteful practice from a bygone era so when I look at this issue I have zero sentimentality that comes with conveniently having no vested interests.

So the question I have is how, to put it bluntly, can the UK afford two operators of the same aircraft and managed under a common or joint structure?

The answer I instinctively come to is simply, it can’t.

But before this argument can progress I think it must be determined whether there is an additional cost, again, I honestly don’t know but despite the facile arguments of harmony guidelines and hotel bills is it logical to assume a cost penalty for duplication?

Generally speaking, one obtains economy of scale by the elimination of duplication, this being a fundamental principle of organisational design since the industrial revolution. If we assume there is a duplication cost penalty the next step would be to determine what it was.

Finally, once the cost penalty has been defined it should be asked if any operational benefits accrue that balance out this cost differential.

I wonder if the Joint Force Harrier was a compromise, a compromise that allowed both the RAF and FAA to maintain their distinct service ethos, in short, stopping short of achieving the logical outcome because the service chiefs saw their service before the services and the civilian and political leadership of the MoD did not have the bottle to tackle them.

So accepting there are many ifs buts and maybes that we don’t know, my instinct would be to veer towards a single operator.

Surely that would be the Fleet Air Arm because isn’t the F-35B designed to reconstitute Carrier Strike for a Maritime Strategy in a Maritime Century?

I am of course being a little mischievous there but I just want to be clear that if a single operator is the way ahead (and it’s a big if) that single operator should be the one that is the most cost effective and operationally effective against the whole gamut of tasks that constitute operating this aircraft, not just the naval aspect.

When you look at the comparative size of the RAF and FAA it should be pretty obvious which one is the larger and correspondingly, which one has the critical mass to sustain and operate fast jet combat aircraft.

When I suggest the RAF should operate all the UK’s F-35’s it is usually met with howls of derision and accusatory overtones, the RAF don’t join to serve on ships, the aircraft is a fundamental part of the ships ‘system of systems’, operating at sea is so much different and the RAF won’t devote enough attention to carrier operations as they should and will instead spend all their time flying from land bases, shudder the thought and remember the thirties.

All reasonable enough concerns but back to my original point about the costs of duplication and is it worth it, the consequence of any additional cost or unwanted second order effects i.e. a loss of capability elsewhere and the need for an unsentimental view of the whole issue of operating these extremely precious aircraft.

This also generates another question, are we just talking about aircrew or aircrew, deck and engineering personnel?

Again, this would come down to a look at the numbers, career management and sustainment issues. Safe operations at sea would also be a major factor in any decision, with this in mind one can easily see a compelling argument for retention of deck crew within the maritime domain.

Whole ship operations mean a certain degree of additional training would be required for aircrew and engineering personnel operating aboard ship, it has been done many times, the RAF and AAC have demonstrated they can operate from aboard ships. Many point to damage control being a key part of this naval skillset but are we really expecting our extremely expensive aircrew to be knocking chocks of wood into holes and manning a hose?

Is there any reason that naval aviation specific skills, the knowledge of operating in confined spaces, strategy and tactics, be the sole preserve of one service unable to be learned by another and as for people in the RAF not joining up to go to sea and I would point to many examples of maritime deployments and without sounding too harsh, its something they will just have to get used to. RAF service personnel are still service personnel and understand the needs of the service come first, if that means out of a large pool of F-35 aircrew some of them must spend an extended period of time aboard a QE aircraft carrier then so be it. Aircraft need to go where they are needed and so must their aircrew and engineering team.

My basic position on this is the aircraft themselves are going to be very expensive, expensive means scarce, scarce means there is an absolute need to sweep away any sentimentality and start thinking about efficiency.

If this drive for efficiency arrives at the existing and planned joint model of operations, fine, if not then I think we should take it as far as it will go and it’s only one opinion amongst many, that destination, for me at least, means a wholly RAF owned and operated fleet.

Not because I am anti RN or because I just don’t get it but simply because I do get the cash situation and therefore don’t think sacred cows are worth keeping if it means a loss elsewhere.

The operating model for the UK’s F-35B’s was always to have a permanently embarked force of Fleet Air Arm aircraft aboard the two carriers and then in times of need, surge the RAF aircraft onto them carriers.

These aircraft would then, as the campaign progressed, move to austere operating areas ashore and then as those austere operating bases were improved would continue to operate or advance to others in the traditional campaign from sea to land operating concept.

It was eminently sensible, flexible and more than anything, doable.

The only problem with this scenario is that it assumed about 150 aircraft and two carriers.

Having permanently embarked aircraft sounds a little like tokenism, a marker for the outer barriers of a mini empire and an emphatic statement that the FAA is still in the fast jet business. The Secretary of State for Defence has recently made clear in that delightfully ambiguous manner that politicians do that current assumptions are for such a permanently embarked force.

My view of the aircraft carriers is that they are a flexible, aviation focussed, multi role ships equally able to operate equally with just fast jets or no fast jets depending on the operational requirement.

Training and concurrency requirement for operating at sea, especially for deck crew, means that the result of ‘where they are needed’ may well in practice mean some F-35B’s are always in effect, aboard, but that is different to saying there should be 6 or 12 or some other arbitrary number permanently aboard.

We need to operate the very expensive aircraft carriers and very expensive aircraft in a flexible manner, free of dogma about an aircraft carrier without aircraft or notions about how many aircraft look ‘right’

This puts me in the ‘idiot’ bracket, those who view aircraft carriers as just mobile airfields and not a complex collection of systems, perhaps so, but can the UK afford to view them as anything different?

So I would simply forego any notion of a permanently embarked aircraft group and embrace the flexibility that the size of the carrier, the skills of all three services and the capabilities of the F-35B offer.

I know this is a controversial suggestion but surely worth considering if it saves money, and therefore other capabilities, elsewhere?

Related Issues

Without delving too deep, there are a few side issues worth looking at.

One Ship or Two

Although this is an F-35 Lightning II focussed series of articles you cannot ignore the QE carrier and the questions of design and the ‘big un’ of one ship or two. As it stands the current decision is that only one carrier will be bought fully into service but in making the switch back to F-35B the assumption/mood music/hopeful wish is that the second will be bought into service and HMS Ocean not replaced.

There is some logic to this because it is a means of maximising the investment in the CVF programme (ignoring the sunk cost rule) and means that there is a more than reasonable expectation of having one always available, or as close to always available as possible, at least able to meet the ‘5 days notice to move’  aspiration.

I have more of a question here, more than a suggestion.

If the goal is to ensure one carrier is available at all times, within reason, where the primary reason for non-availability in a one ship fleet is maintenance periods, would it be possible to hold the second at an enhanced level of readiness?

This would see the second vessel not bought fully into service and not sealed and tied up either. Instead, it would be at an intermediate level of readiness, still maintained at short notice to move and used as a training vessel in UK waters only. Crewing could be a creative mix of RN/RFA and even RNR, retained reserves and contractors. During maintenance periods or as a result of unplanned downtime the normal RN crew could be transferred and away you go.

I can see the limitations, the transition time, issues of responsibility and maintenance so it’s only a bit of out aloud thinking but if there is a middle path, it should surely be worth a serious look.


There are a number of options to fulfil the CROWSNEST requirement after the Sea King ASaC Mk.7 go out of service in 2016 but it seems the lowest risk and possibly lowest cost is to port the equipment over from the Sea King ASaC7’s into either a number of Merlin HM.2 or possibly the airframes that will not be upgraded. Alternatives such as a V-22 based or LM Vigilance pod might look attractive but given the funding situation, not sure they are practical options. I even wonder if the MoD might look to squeeze an extra decade out of the capability by raiding the large number of Sea Kings it owns across the RAF and RN, especially as the SAR aircraft will be looking for a home soon.

The expected in service date is 2020 which means a 4 year capability holiday

Life After GR.4

The current ‘out of service’ expectation for the Tornado GR.4 fleet is currently early 2019. The 2010 SDSR confirmed a reduction of force elements from 40 to 15 by 2015 which would point to a fleet reduction from just over a hundred to about 40 and then to the final number in 2019 from there. As Afghanistan draws down, support contracts are possibly harmonised and the Typhoon comes into service the three will meet.

Much of what comes next is dependent on a complex series of interlocking programmes and decisions; what happens with Tranche 1 Typhoon, what capabilities Typhoon 2 and 3a will have, the Typhoon P1E upgrade, what will be happening with any future European UCAV, the speed and capability of the F-35B introduction into UK service and of course, how much cash the MoD has.

There does seem to be an assumption that the UK will buy another tranche of F-35’s beyond the indicated first batch of 48. Jon Thompson from the MoD has stated such in oral evidence to the House of Commons Defence Select Committee but these are ‘plans’ and not ‘done’s’

Many also think that the CTOL variant, the F-35A, will be obtained in this subsequent tranche of aircraft. Some have pointed to the refuelling configuration of the F-35A as a barrier to this but the A variant can also be fitted with a probe rather than (or in addition to) a receptacle.

The F-35A does have a number of performance and cost advantages compared to the F-35B but the degree of commonality between the three variants is roughly 30% so it would not be far off a different aircraft with all the attendant logistic and support costs. Keeping the second tranche of F-35’s as the STOVL B variant means the UK would have the advantage of a homogenous fleet with the attendant cost and logistic support benefits but the B variant will also likely be the most expensive to purchase and support. As the Tornado draws down from RAF Marham the F35 looks increasingly like it will take its place at Norfolk airbase

With the proximity of RAF Marham to RAF Lakenheath, the home of the three F15 squadrons of the 48th Operations Group, the potential future F35-A operations and support synergy with the USAF in East Anglia is obvious.

Others think that a second tranche purchase of F-35C’s would be more appropriate, given its longer range and proximity to the FOAS vision.

It could also mean the F35B is obtained in multiple tranches, up to our initial planned purchase. This would delivery maximum flexibility and at least mean a single type in service.

Availability rates and training requirements of the F-35 will also dictate final numbers obtained and possibly even squadron size. Fleet management is complex enough, managing maintenance periods, manning and a host of other factors and that is before you look at the effects of operations so the final decisions will be based on one of those crossing line calculations that you need detailed information on many variables, detailed information we won’t have (or indeed any F-35 operator) for a few years yet.

In a post 2020 world, the UK might be down to just over 150 fast jets, around a 100 non Tranche 1 Typhoons and 50 odd F35B’s.

Some might view this as apocalyptic but if it could be combined with a post Afghanistan MALE UAV purchase, improvements in precision strike from sea (medium calibre gun and Tomahawk), an increasingly capable GMLRS (with a the PLUS model and maybe ATACMS) force, the modernity and availability of a combined F35B/Typhoon fleet and the range of precision guided weapons deployed on them both as described in the previous post I don’t think it is as bad as might at first seem, especially when one considers defence planning assumption and likely threats.

More would be good and sustaining at a critical mass always brings challenges but there are many other competing demands of the defence budget, however ‘in balance’ we might like to believe it now is.

SDSR 2015 should confirm decisions on the UK F-35 programme AND the second carrier (for they are connected) and also provide greater clarity on the in service date ranges but until then we are going to just have to continue reading between the lines and making all manner of wild assumptions!

What happens after Typhoon, possibly towards the end of the 2030’s, is where it gets interesting.

Whatever happens, the end of the decade and beyond looks increasingly like a very complicated time for UK fast jet aviation.

Are Any Improvements Possible?

The first of the answer is another question, what for.

If we look at the original concept of operate at sea, transition to land and leap frog forward it is still valid, not so much because that would actually be the order of things but because it gives the UK a range of options.

That’s the main reason I think STOVL is so attractive, options.

This is fantasy fleets but the ability of the UK to rapidly deploy air power, by sea, air or land will give us enormous strategic advantages. Air power does not just mean the F-35B but also transport aircraft, unmanned systems and ISTAR assets.

These air power assets can then act in a primary role or in an integrated enabling role with sea and land capabilities.

This sounds dangerously like I am advocating an improvement in ‘raiding’ capabilities, yes and no. I still think the concept of so called strategic raiding is nonsense but the ability to rapidly deploy decisive effects, combat or otherwise, should still very much be at the top of the shopping list.

The UK is not some capability in this area and like all three services, the RAF has moved to an expeditionary stance since the end of the Cold War. The RAF used to have its own Airfield Construction Branch but this was transferred to 39 Engineer Regiment Royal Engineers in the mid-sixties. The RAF now maintains a pair of Expeditionary Air Wings based at RAF Wittering and RAF MArham, Number 42 (Expeditionary Support) Wing and Number 85 (Expeditionary Logistics) Wing, each with 4 squadrons.

Number 42 (Expeditionary Support) Wing comprises 71 (Inspection and Repair) Squadron, 5001 (Expeditionary Airfield Facilities) Squadron, 5131 (Bomb Disposal) Squadron, 93 (Expeditionary Armaments) Squadron and a Headquarters Squadron.

Number 85 (Expeditionary Support) Wing comprises 1 (Expeditionary Logistics) Squadron, 2 (Mechanical Transport) (MT) Squadron, 3 (Mobile Catering) Squadron and a Headquarters Squadron

There is a good description of the roles of these units at Defence Management

I look at these in the same way as I look at FAA aircrew and wonder if there are economies of scale to be had by transferring the function into the Army’s Royal Logistic Corps, EOD, transport, ammunition handling and catering are all to be found in the RLC. Same with the expeditionary airfield functions, except this time into the larger Royal Engineers organisation. These organisations are used to supporting the RAF’s and Army Air Corps helicopter fleet so the simple question is, are expeditionary airfields any different and could we achieve more for less by rolling organisations together?

Whatever the organisational constructs there is also the question of equipment and capabilities.

In 1964 the RAF, together with the air forces of the USA and Germany agreed to conduct a series of trials to investigate STOVL operating concepts using nine equally purchased P1127 that were called Kestrels. The US Army and US Navy were also to be involved and the programme would cover dispersed operations from unprepared and artificial surfaces, operating from grass surfaces and dispersal from the main base. These were in response to the obvious Warsaw Pact threat to fixed airfields.

RAF Harrier GR.1 Road Operations
RAF Harrier GR.1 Road Operations

Part of the trial included surfacing materials, standard Class 30 trackway, a spray on fibreglass treatment and a specially designed system called the MEXE Pad were tried. All were satisfactory but the MEXE Pad, interlocking aluminium planking pinned at the edges, was found to be the best.

Up until the withdrawal of the Harrier, MEXE Pads were still in use for training.

Harrier landing on a MEXE Pad
Harrier landing on a MEXE Pad

They were also used for the San Carlos FOB mentioned above and were 50 foot by 50 foot, used for vertical landings.

Over the next couple of decades the RAF and RE refined the concept of dispersed operations although these were compromised by having to use peacetime locations, not the likely wartime locations which would have made much greater use of hard surfaces, roads, car parks and buildings for example, which would have much reduced the logistic requirements.

Also obtained was the US AM-2 aluminium planking or matting.

I read that the vast majority of the UK’s AM-2 matting stock went down with the Atlantic Conveyor but we used a large quantity for RAF Stanley soon after although I don’t think we have purchased any since then although we have trialled products from Faun.

I am going to look at expeditionary airfields in a separate post but on the wish list would be an expansion in the UK capacity and capability for expeditionary airfield survey, repair and construction to support not only the F-35B but other aircraft as well.




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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Pete Arundel
Pete Arundel
February 10, 2013 1:08 am

For you, TD, the RAF is a Sacred Cow!

I know better than to even consider engaging in arguments about this subject on Think Defence . . .

February 10, 2013 1:36 am

Great post TD, well worth the wait!

No news on the Typhoon tranche 1’s then? Their have been rumblings over the last few months about them being retained for a while, staying at RAF Leuchars longer than expected and more squadrons being stood up to bridge the gap between Tornado and extra Lightnings.

Just suppose Typhoon production hangs on through exports until around 2020, would it at all be logical or advantageous to go for a follow on tranche 3 order to replace the earlier models, keeping 150-160 Typhoon’s in service and only 50-60 Lightnings primarily for carrier ops with some very limited RAF usage? Not saying I necessarily think it’s a good idea and we shouldn’t just go with extra Lightnings, just a bit of ‘blue sky thinking’ that I thought was worth discussing.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
February 10, 2013 1:50 am


“but the degree of commonality between the three variants is roughly 30% so it would not be far off a different aircraft with all the attendant logistic and support costs.”

The aircraft are designed to be very easily supported by a common logistics chain. How often are you going to replace the unique features such as the lift fans and wings, compared to swapping fuses and avionics and radar systems which are almost 100% compatible.


Would it not be fairer to say that the aircraft are approximately 30% unique and the unique features are almost exclusively major structural components which are not a feature of day to day logistic and maintenance chains.

Did not see too many issues with JFH and we manage JHC so I think we will almost definitely see a Joint Force F35.

February 10, 2013 3:20 am

The logic makes sense.

Only one failure, the meaningless ‘system of systems’, normally a reliable indicator of either someone who hasn’t a clue what they are talking about or is an incompetant bullshitter. I’ll put it down to an inadvertant lapse in this case. Systems have sub-systems and a boundary, the boundary defines the system of interest and can be wherever it makes sense for the purpose at hand.

February 10, 2013 8:55 am

I have no problem with a joint organisation supporting the F35B. What concerns me is the operational ownership and the fact that the a/c will have a number of roles, all of which are required and need a certain level of training and readiness.

The argument of a large Harrier numbers operating from land bases died with the cold war. I don’t think there is any concern by the RAF that the loss of airfields is a high risk when planning for defence purposes.

I think the number of potential operations involving the F35B not involving a maritime element will be few. Either they will be operated from carriers or ferried by carriers / other maritime support ships. The CVF will therefore be the most likely operating platform by far which will itself require a layered air defence, and particularly CAP, much neglected so far this century. We cannot see a situation where CAP is ignored which will be needed for any hot operation with a peer or near peer nation.

If we see the role of the F35B three fold; CAP, strike and CAS, you could argue that the FAA could do all three but the RAF the last two.

A joint ownership of the F35B is therefore a must in my view to ensure all roles are treated with the importance they deserve.

Wooden wonder
Wooden wonder
February 10, 2013 9:03 am

Thanks TD well thought out post.

Just on the ‘capability holiday’ given someone has accepted the increased risk to any lives or expensive kit that gets put in harms way do we have to make it sound jolly (all deck chairs and knotted hankies)? Maybe we should call it as it is – monstrous FUP ? Or when the lead ( or super sonic sea skimming missiles) start flying is that when UORs raid the wallet… Tough one and damn uncomfortable.

February 10, 2013 9:57 am

@ TD – Great article

However I have a few concerns with your proposals. Firstly I don’t think the F35B and more importantly its maintenance crews will be able to simply hop on and off the carriers as required. The environment of operating and flying off a ship is very different. The RAF has a terrible record on the two occasions when carrier air have been transferred to it of basically killing it off. If the carriers don’t operate aircraft permanently then there is little point in them going to sea and in that case a very good chance that a future government looking at an RAF doctored map of the world decide they are no longer required.

One very good point you do make is about airbase crowding. It easy to forget that even when we do have a foreign air base to use its likely to be very crowded and F35B offers options. However I am still unclear just how capable F35B will be in operating from austere conditions. I certainly cant see it being as flexible aas harrier.

In terms of disbanding the FAA for economies of scale, the way I see it we can reap the benefit of those economies of scale i.e. maintainance, weapons int and training simply by having both services operating the same aircraft. Eventually going up to a total force of 100 F35B’s split 50.50 with the FAA and RAF with 100+ Typhoons and some form of UCAV to replace the Tornado. I see this type of force as affordable and flexible covering all the areas we need. The FAA F35B’s can be permanently embarked with the RAF used as a surge force. If the conflict is on land and away from the sea then we can do the reverse.

February 10, 2013 9:59 am


I think you make a very valid point about using the inventory to extend the life of Asac7. I am all for the new Merlin version however I can’t see anything wrong with Asac7 if we can keep them in the air. It will certainly solve one of the major budget crunch issues we are headed for.

Ace Rimmer
February 10, 2013 10:31 am

As an aside, looking at pics of the F-35B, and the wing mounted nozzles, how does the efflux from these affect the stores mounted on the inner wing pylon?


Looking at the official pic on wikipedia, it looks as though anything large like an external fuel tank would get a good hosing from the nozzles due to its width, as would any anti-ship missile with sufficient girth. What’s the consensus of opinion?

February 10, 2013 11:13 am

TD interesting post

I think your wrong on the 30% commonality between variants its much higher than that especially from the training and logistics side.

On fast jets and who operates them well uk fastjet pilots do elementary flight training(tudor)then basic flight training(tucano) and then advanced flight training(hawk) I think pretty much entirely run by the airforce that’s before pilots go to the particular aircraft. I would assume those wanting the FAA to have all the f35b would like the airforce to continue providing trained pilots or would they like to take on 1/3 of the manning and running cost from there current budget. I think even when shar was operating the rn were struggling to maintain 2 sqn of 9 aircraft with sufficient crews so how they plan to get to operating 20 odd operational f35s with a higher pilot to aircraft ratio I think would be a stretch on there own. Ihaving rn personnel operating within a join structure is acceptable going fwd.

On crowsnest how much is it really a capability gap between 2016 and 2020? Illustrious goes next year? And QE starts working up 2018 for operations 2019/2020? So between 2016/2020 will the RN be able to operate beyond land based aircover or allied aircover against significant air threat between those times I’m gonna say no.

And no tomahawk and mlrs will not reduce the requirement for deployed fastjet capability.

John Hartley
John Hartley
February 10, 2013 11:29 am

If the RAF try to operate F-35B from a grass strip, the downblast will dig a hole & bury the jet. F-35B will end up being operated from proper airbases, so why STOVL? Might as well get a cheaper longer ranged CTOL F-35.
This is why UK F-35B should be RN FAA only.
I have looked at the abandoned FB-22. The standard length airframe version, but with bulged weapon bay doors(for a bunker buster) & a new larger wing. What if the wing was made by BAE & the engines were F136 part built by RR? A good chunk would be British. A GR4 replacement with an 1800 mile combat radius (450 miles for F-35B).
Of course we have to give our money to third world dictators, EU fiddles & Gordons half million non-jobs, instead.

Swimming Trunks
Swimming Trunks
February 10, 2013 12:09 pm

@TD – another excellent post. RE: STOVL and expeditionary OPs. The recent photos of the “Carrier-Killer” tests in the desert didn’t worry me much untill I stopped worrying about carriers and thought about airfield denial. The RAND corporation had some similar fears awhile back:


February 10, 2013 12:19 pm

‘I think you make a very valid point about using the inventory to extend the life of Asac7’

Like both yourself and TD I don’t much care whether we keep the Sea Kings around or go for Merlin, both would do fine, as long as any decision minimises the capability gap and provides an affordable solution.

‘Eventually going up to a total force of 100 F35B’s split 50.50 with the FAA and RAF with 100+ Typhoons and some form of UCAV to replace the Tornado. I see this type of force as affordable and flexible covering all the areas we need. The FAA F35B’s can be permanently embarked with the RAF used as a surge force. If the conflict is on land and away from the sea then we can do the reverse’

Yeah that sounds pretty good to me, it sounds like the most logical and balanced outcome.


Slightly drunk when at 1:30am I mentioned buying additional Typhoon! Although I’m still wondering (more as devils advocate) if it’s at all feasible?

February 10, 2013 12:24 pm

Can the F-35B operate from normal runways in short take off/landing mode or does it blow the tarmac apart?
Just asking because if they can then it adds the flexibility of getting airpower into smaller airports quickly for a show of force and solidarity. For example a UK version of Mali. Having a handful of F-35Bs on the ground would be a huge indicator of will, and really raise the stakes for any bad guys.

February 10, 2013 12:38 pm


To me one of the key problems resurfacing here is trying to reconcile the desire to keep the FAA in the fast jet game with firstly the imperative to gain as much commonality of aircraft type as possible and secondly the distinct disadvantages of trying to get one aircraft to perfectly fit the needs of two very different operators.

February 10, 2013 12:48 pm

Re the FAA v RAF argument.
The flight training will be joint/PFI, I imagine the technical training will be joint soon??, much of the project work is MOD, so I dont see the saving in taking all fast jets into the RAF, unless you are proposing that the FAA is disbanded with all helicopters going to the RAF as well?
I do think all the F-35Bs should in one service though, especially with the reduced numbers. However I think they should all be FAA – if they are to be deployed on ships they should be in the service with that deployment lifestyle.

February 10, 2013 1:21 pm

@ Chris m – agreed I don’t see it saving any money. In terms of carrier structure etc we have to remember that FAA officers are part of the navy and will progress in the navy structure once they finish flying. I think the joint force concept is the best idea but FAA should concentrate on CAP and RAF on strike and CAS.

Turkey now seems to be kicking up a stink with its F35 order and is looking for more work share for its order of 100. Seems pretty clear that HMG will have to go above 100 sooner than Hammond would like.

February 10, 2013 1:31 pm



“For getting off the ship, Cordell said that there are three short take-off modes that the team tested: manual, semi-automatic and fully automatic. Originally, the test team had only planned to do manual take-offs, but soon expanded the scope to include the other modes. Kelly said he had flows about a half-dozen automatic mode take-offs himself.

Cordell said that one piece of good news is that the “outflow” from the jet’s exhaust while hovering is less intense than expected. “It’s counterintuitive, but the jet has a less harsh environment hovering at 40 feet than it does at 100 feet,” he said. Engineering models had predicted the outcome, but skeptics — Cordell included — had doubted those conclusions.

The hazard zone around the jet therefore has shrunk to about the same size as that of a Harrier, he said.

Similarly, the “outwash” on take-off is far less harsh than anticipated, Cordell said.”

February 10, 2013 2:11 pm

I’m actually with TD on the rational behind a single fleet operating from a single service.

FAA doing CAP and RAF doing Strike would be lovely…if we had the numbers. You can maintain that with a force split of around 80/60 (as originally intended) but with at most 100 F35B to play with you would have a split of 60/40 or 50/50, both pathetic amounts considering the operational challenges they have to overcome.

The only clear and present barricade against full land/sea interoperability is people with a vested interest trying to shoot it down. It may be a difficult and long-winded but as TD says their isn’t the money for anything else, short of taking cash from elsewhere to pump into two separate fleet set-ups it is really the only and best option.

This isn’t the time for nostalgia and ‘this is mine, that’s yours’ crap!

February 10, 2013 2:14 pm

@ John Hartley

Do you think there is enough need for a GR4 replacement to warrant a new design vs putting the money into a UCAV and buying more F35 s?

February 10, 2013 2:19 pm


As for the qualms about the F35B in RAF service, whilst I agree that it isn’t strictly necessary for them to have a STOVL fleet I think the advantages of commonality do outweigh the drawbacks. A mix of the former with a maturing Typhoon fleet and some eventual UCAV’s should hopefully combine to take over the job of ‘strike’ from the Tornado.

Maybe then look at how well the F35A is performing around 2030 and consider it as a candidate to take over from Typhoon, although that’s obviously so far off it’s barely worth thinking about.

Oh and as ChrisM said it may be occasionally useful to plonk a few F35B at small airstrips/airports in a rush when necessary as a sign of commitment and resolve to an operation. That sort of thing does show that STOVL jets may be useful outside of carriers, if not actually vital.

February 10, 2013 2:29 pm

An interesting post TD. I think you make a cogent argument for all the F35Bs to be wholly RAF owned. On the other hand, there’s no reason the FAA can’t spend most of it’s time operating on land. The Marines do it, after all. Sigh, I used to be indecisive, but now I’m not so sure.

Just on the question of keeping the 2nd QE in “extended readiness” (you don’t mention what you’d do with the 3rd, btw ;-) ), what happens when Ocean goes out of service – do you propose an LPH replacement?

“Having permanently embarked aircraft sounds a little like tokenism,” – No sorry TD, you only get good at something by constant practice. ALL F35B pilots need to get used to deploying at sea and their skills need to be kept current. This means regular deployments, even if that often amounts to pootling about in home waters on the second/third carrier (I’m not letting that lie).

Edit – JH’s FB-22s seem a bit left field. Now if we could stick a couple of lift fans in their wing roots….Oh, he meant for the RAF. Makes more sense now.

February 10, 2013 2:34 pm

If your looking long term radically different model of the high end strike capability then you need to look at 1st defence planning assumptions, the US pivot to the east, if we want a single type fast jet fleet and if that is f35 and the industrial issues/export engagement questions that comes with that. Then taking our current equipment and budget do we wish to continue with nuclear submarines and spend 1/4 of the equipment budget on them should tlam stay with the sub fleet or go to the surface fleet or that capability go to a new fututre a/c? Does the mod/navy accept if we continue as is with the current equipment plan mean we may never have an lmpa capability restored or is the strike capability outway that need. If we sit and stop at sdsr 2015 there could be a radically difference structure for the future.

February 10, 2013 2:40 pm

Interesting article TD. The merits of STOVL are well covered, but, I fear there is something of a flushing of the infant with the bathwater about your logistics proposals.

Pushing the FAA support elements out in favour of more flexibly deployed RAF structures does miss out on the whole maritime operational environment thing. You asked “do we need heavily trained personnel knocking in shoring timbers or holding a hose”…well the answer is ‘absolutely bloody right yes we do’. What happens if the knuckle-dragging amongst the ships company happen to have been decimated in the dama…do we lose the ship because those who are still able-bodied are too precious to be asked to wield a firehose?.

Likewise the RAF, to their credit, really seem to have focused on the concept of Expeditionary Airfield ops…I claim little knowledge of their procedures and capabilities beyond open source reading, but, they seem to have built a lot on their ability to work closely with RAF heavy lift. It seems counter-intuitive to lose that synergy by pushing it into the green which their somewhat larger and slower deployment mindset.

In both cases the specialised jobs of supporting the deployed elements can not be eliminated or done ‘near-enough’ so it would mean having to train light-blue types to do the dark-blue job or green types to do what the light-blue are doing. In both cases it would seem eminently more sensible, to me, to train the RAF or Army lads to be able to augment the abilities of the specialist teams….not replace them.

February 10, 2013 3:01 pm

“Finally, can the UK afford two air forces, I don’t think it can”

Where would the duplication actually be? Flight training and technical training is rapidly becoming purple anyway, and much of the home basing support is going private

February 10, 2013 3:16 pm


I think the question may have asked the wrong question or the extrapolation of its meaning maybe wrong. There is only 30% of structural parts which which are identical in every way between variants. But there are many parts which start from the same billet and end different shapes or composite panels that are made from the same material but have different shapes. You buy an f35 simulator/trainer or an f35 alis terminal not an A,B or C variant specific one. Likewise with the onboard systems and cockpit. Does this mean only 30% cross over by operating two different a/c variants I don’t think it does.

February 10, 2013 3:48 pm

, just curious why you think the maritime defensive counter air mission could not be carried out by the RAF?”

Because the a/c need to be a integral part of the overall carrier group defence, trained and permanently available. Part time RAF assets does not cut the mustard in my view. Would be a bit like the Army owning all the CAMM launchers and deploying them on ships as needed…

February 10, 2013 3:54 pm

“Finally, can the UK afford two air forces, I don’t think it can”

I shall miss the RAF. The Alsations, QCS, Red Barrows……

February 10, 2013 4:26 pm

@TD: I really don’t see why we’re wittering on about “two air forces”. Aircrew and trade training has been joint for a long time now, so the additional costs for having two organisations is minimal.

What counts are the tasks said aircraft are required to perform. History says that when the RAF is put in charge or delivering maritime air defence or antiship strike, it starts by declaring it’s entirely possible from land based airfields. When this proves impossible, it declares it’s not needed, then says it’s too expensive.

But the role is still a requirement. It’s not just 82, but any form of operation outside NATO Europe will require it. And punting on it makes the RAF look pathetic, more interested in feathering their own budget than performing the roles they declared they could.

February 10, 2013 4:45 pm

The question from day one of CVF ops will be: where do we draw the right CO from? Can we expect a former destroyer skipper to fully understand the requirements of carrier ops? The answer to this question can only be, that the RN itself must be open to an aviation-bound carreer path. This requires at least FAA F-35B pilots.

The maintenance crew should also preferrably be FAA, because of the reasons given above. There needs to be esprit de corps, a consistent chain of command, no artificial barriers. Always problematic to achieve, if the RAFs crew would have no secondary say damage control task, as any matelot is expected to do.

This renders the aircraft itself. Are there any savings to make from painting the planes in RAF- rather than FAA-colours?

On Vigilance-pod: wasn’t a prototype expected to fly early this year?

As I recall, the pod itself weighs approximately the same as a Stingray. So, every helo capable of carrying two torpedoes could carry a Vigilance pod. The picture I get is, that we are short of medium transport helos, short of ASW-helos, but we have an up and running Wildcat production line. This would also lower operaing cost.

And then there is a low-hanging fruit: the Wildcats Seaspray is from the same family of radars as the Vixen. Providing more computing power and a differently shaped, preferrably double-headed antenna may suffice to turn Wildcat into an effective AEW-bird.

Finally, the dispersion of rough-field knowledge between the army and the RAF hints at a serious administration problem. If you ever thought, what the RAF exchanged its FOB-building guys for, and if the answer is RAF regiment, then this is a perfect example of fantasy force shaping.

February 10, 2013 5:09 pm

The money isn’t the RAF’s it is HMG’s (ours). They don’t have agency. So it isn’t a question of the RN finding money to operate F35b from their “budget”. The trouble is this isn’t Joint Force Harrier. We aren’t talking about an old airframe operating off old small carriers close to home in a relative benign maritime security environment. We are talking about an aircraft technology wise that is beyond the RAF’s front line fighter operating off large carriers that have been a considerable investment in a maritime security environment that looks growingly uncertain the key theatres of which will be some distance from Europe. In a way letting the RAF run JFH was understandable. How often did JFH actually deploy to the Invincibles? Not often. But if QEC/F35b is going to work that can’t happen; for it to work it, for the UK derive value from the system, the RN going have to operate on a USN or MN model. And as I keep saying YOU DON’T JOIN THE RAF TO GO TO SEA. The sea is a fatiguing environment; even some sailors don’t like heavy seas. Really some here have go to get past their Cold War Eurocentric black and white WW2 film view of airpower. It isn’t us pro maritime bods who are out of touch it is you small-minded-its-a-plane-the RAF-must-fly-it wallahs. Aeroplanes are just vehicles. You are embarrassing yourselves. Get over it.

February 10, 2013 5:11 pm

M, Martin, WF – the whole ‘training is becoming joint so costs [of maintaining two separate fixed-wing orgs] would be minimal’ argument, fails to address the other end: – once they’re in, maintaining a viable & cost-effective career path, both for the individual and the taxpayer. Small specialised communities can be difficult to maintain, as even a small miscalculation on your recruitment vs retention estimates (eg more want to join BA or Virgin this yr) leads to a proportionally larger, personnel pool disruption (hence large bonuses have often been needed even for the combined JFH). Submariners, another small community, can at least transition to the ASW escort fleet to still utilise their expensively acquired skills; but where do skilled FAA pilots go, once the reflexes or family demands, rule out back-to-back sea tours?– tell the rotary fleet how to do their job? Fixed-wing: training, command and NATO slots are very scarce for a standalone community of say 2-3 sqns. You could go joint on those types of posts, so to nab some of the more numerous RAF openings, but that then erodes the argument of being separate in the first place.

February 10, 2013 5:24 pm

@Wstr: FAA fixed wing pilots can of course transfer to other branches of the RN once they reach the end of the pilot line. They are, after all, naval officers rather than just pilots. Plenty of FAA went on to command surface ships for example.

RAF pilots on the other hand, can only go onto high command. You couldn’t put them in charge of a RAF regiment squadron, for example.

February 10, 2013 5:33 pm

They’re going to be used at sea and on land.

For fer christsakes have a sea and land based organisation operate them.

I wonder if that has ever been tried before? Hmmmmm.

The answer is really simple.

If the pilots don’t like Purple then they can resign their commissions and piss off. There’s loads of capable people who would take their place in a heartbeat.

Of course nearly all won’t piss off because they are professionals and probably give little in the way of a shit if they are away from home on land or at sea as long as they are strapped onto several thousand pounds of thrust.

Again if they are not of that ilk, they can piss off.


February 10, 2013 5:40 pm


I thought the single service commands now had control over there budget was that not part of the sdsr shake up.
Maybe we should follow the French navy model but then you were dead against that model during the recent escort thread.
As for the raf not going to sea the same could be said about the navy not joining up to deploy by plane to a desert airstrip 1000 miles from the sea. Of course if we can’t get by in a joint force that fixed wing aviation from the sea could always be retired permantly.

February 10, 2013 5:47 pm

@X I’m not saying I agree entirely with TDs proposal (still identifying the traps in my head) but saying ‘…you don’t join the RAF to go to sea..’ Is wrong (at keast it cannot be upheld in all cases). You join -any- service branch with the expectations of the day. There was a time Women joined the RLC with little regard in recruitment material or training that they could venture into direct ground combat – instead convoying snug behind linear FLOTs and too mundane a tgt for Spetsnaz. Those days are gone and new recruits signup with revised expectations. Similarly as JFH/JSW lasted over a decade; many RAF recruits joining up and requesting the media-friendly Harrier force as their preference, DID indeed join the RAF with possibility that they may go to sea; unless you want to claim they were ignorant or deluded. As do AAC & RAF helo personnel right now, knowing that Apache and Chinook have been used and continue to be earmarked in future plans, as participating in seabased tailored airgroups.

February 10, 2013 5:56 pm

Pretty sure even the USAF operated aboard rn warships for Libya as well.

February 10, 2013 5:58 pm

I know that. Cmdre Mike Clapp CATG in ’82 was ex-Buccaneer crew. What you have done though is lose the bulk of your flying investment. Nothing wrong with that, just that its hard to maintain a community / steady training pipeline the smaller it gets; it’s too easy to get into a position, where you’re facing either the recruitment coming in fits and starts or you give up experienced crews early in their careers in maintain flow. Not saying give it all to the RAF, there may be value in maintaining a joint org, but IMO the fixed-wing FAA as projected in the F35 era, is too small and would need to grow -if- it was to truly restore itself as a viable standalone separate org.

February 10, 2013 6:28 pm

Surging an aircraft and its pilot to a forward deployed CVF, whether the aircraft is a Harrier or a F35 is the easy part. Surging the required extra personnel will be much harder.

So as long as the RN has enough Aircraft Handlers and Maintainers on board that ship so that any surge force do not become a operational burden to the already embarked Air Group. Then it should’nt be a problem.

I don’t believe that any RAF personel would refuse to serve at sea. However, all RN personnel are trained to fight fire at sea and as others have said before, bash wood in to holes in the side of a ship. That’s what they train for from start to finish of their Navy Careers. Look what happened to HMS Endurance when she sprang a leak a couple of years ago. What good would any Army/RAF personnel have been in that situation, except getting ready to man a lifeboat? RN Aircraft Handlers are trained Firefighters and may have to face this –


The RN are gearing up to increase Aircaft Handler Recruitment in the next couple of years, to coincide with introduction of CVF. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aircraft_Handler

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
February 10, 2013 6:39 pm

I like Phils point, there are going to be stacks of people wanting to fly the latest and shiniest toys. Now we have had JFH and we have JHC.

There will be a Joint Force F35, the only issues will be the integration at Squadron level, both maintainers and Pilots. Will we see a 66% RAF 33% FAA split or a mix through the Squadrons.

The ONLY way to actually have a viable force means that the squadrons have to take their turn on deployments whether it be to a strip in Afghanistan or a 6 month Cruise E of Suez on a Carrier.

If you do not like then F off because I don’t want to serve with you anyway.

John Hartley
John Hartley
February 10, 2013 6:51 pm

A Tornado GR4 replacement needs to reach the enemy or it is a waste of taxes. F-35B can only do it if launched from a carrier. RAF Strike needs to be long legged, so F-35C or E , FB-22, LRAS-B, or stretched Typhoon FOAS.

February 10, 2013 7:00 pm

Simon257 said “I don’t believe that any RAF personnel would refuse to serve at sea.”

Well that’s another oft heard mantra here isn’t it? Flexibility, flexibility, flexibility….

So we have a group of maintainers who sign up to work at sea. And another who join a land based service. Surely to be flexible it would be better to just have the former not the latter? Just throw money at recruiting and training those who will maintain the aeroplane anywhere. But no of course here that would be unacceptable here because that would mean investing in the RN and the RN having a capability that the RAF don’t have. It is as if some of you think the military history of GB began on April 1st 1918.
Pilots aren’t the problem. They are the tiny percentage of personnel involved in the project.

February 10, 2013 7:32 pm

I wonder how serious the USMC is about forward operating the F35B, it’s a very complex aircraft. They at least are geared up towards it, but is RAF? I think TD may be rather over-egging this capability in his article.

“RAF Strike needs to be long legged…” – Yes but how long legged? FB-22 and LRAS-B aren’t going to happen; Euro consortium not interested in long range Typhoon and RAF can’t afford to go it alone; F35E unlikely to happen (USAF will have new bomber). Doesn’t leave many options. Except of course F35B/C flown from carriers. Which just brings us back to the question – who owns them and the maintainers, RAF or FAA? Economies of scale favour RAF but specialist maritime skills favour FAA. Or we have a Joint Force with both services represented – but then in what mix?

I’m glad I don’t have to make these decisions; I just get to sit on the sidelines and heckle.

@X – If we got rid of the Red Arrows we’d have to cancel every bit of a do in the country. Can’t have a bit of a do without the RA to close it. How would the Queen know when to get back in off the balcony?

February 10, 2013 7:38 pm

If the idea of an all RAF owned and operated fleet is too extreme and does away with the advantage of ‘sailor aircrews’ and Esprit de corps then perhaps a good compromise is to build on what JFH started.

Have the RAF technically own and maintain the aircraft and take care of most/all of the training (both of which it is already likely to do) and only ‘loan out’ aircraft for 1 or at most 2 FAA squadrons.

I think the most important aspect, no matter who owns and runs what is to make sure that the F35 force as a whole can easily transition between land and maritime operations, which works both ways and means regular rotation of squadrons and aircrew between the different environments. I don’t really buy what X says about ‘no one joins the RAF to serve at sea’ because whilst I get that it could be a challenging switch to make I think it should be expected of service personnel in all branches to go where they are required.

A compromised RAF/FAA split in operational/front-line terms could hopefully strike the balance between maintaining RN identity and career paths etc whilst allowing the wider F35 structure to be fluid enough to provide what we need and when we need it.

I want to see an eventual 100 airframe ‘Joint Force Lightning’ with 3-4 RAF and 2 FAA squadrons, the former focusing on strike and the latter on CAP but with enough rotation between environments on training and observation to make sure that whilst the individual identities are preserved in some shape of form the effectiveness of the fleet isn’t compromised.

It will certainly be a challenge, but I don’t think it’s impossible. If JFH had had the right numbers and Afghanistan hadn’t got in the way it could have served as a very useful template for what Joint Force Lightning needs to achieve.

February 10, 2013 7:45 pm

“If JFH had had the right numbers and Afghanistan hadn’t got in the way…” – Wars are such a bloody nuisance to planners, aren’t they?

I’m coming round to the view that TD touched on in his article – F35B goes to FAA, future buy of F35A (or E if available) and UAVs to RAF.

February 10, 2013 7:55 pm


Putting the conforms on typhoon give its fuel capacity well north of 20k pounds of fuel which is a very simple way to go a very long way.


F35 will not be split strike and cap they are full multi role a/c and be trained as such. Afghan didn’t hobble JFH it showed it worked as planned I recommend reading ade orchards joint force harrier. JFH was in my view hobbled by a poor royal navy decision 15 years previously not insisting on av8b plus jets with blue vixen.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
February 10, 2013 8:05 pm

If we are to get the best out of operations involving very expensive aeroplanes on a very expensive CVF we need at least some Commanders with real expertise in running those operations in a maritime environment; those commanders will need a career path that will start by flying operations off the CVF, then planning them, and then commanding them…which means at least some sailors will need to fly fast jets; unless the RAF F35b specialists who will learn how to do the first two will in due course of time learn to command warships in a hostile environment.

Could the two shades of blue please stop “getting their retaliation in first” by calling for one another’s abolition ten minutes in to each and every exchange about this subject…it causes great distress to those of us not part of either, but convinced of the need for both…because of the issue of the necessary expertise to exercise command in a specialised environment.

February 10, 2013 8:33 pm

@Mark and Wiseape

I wasn’t so much saying that Afghanistan was the problem, sounds like the Harrier did a great job and that sort of deployment was of course part of it’s role. My real point was that the decisions made prior to the deployment, both going back over many years about Blue Vixen and other details but also the decision to draw the fleet down to 70ish airframes meant that once Afghanistan got going the Harriers were solely focused on that and nothing else.

A larger, better equipped Harrier fleet with increased commonality would have reaped far better results in the joint set-up. Id argue that whilst a great template Joint Force Harrier never had the freedom and resources it needed to get the job done.

And of course lets not forget the reason why 8-12 Harriers had to be committed to Herrick for many years was because of the Tornado’s complete unsuitability for the task in hand.

February 10, 2013 8:40 pm


‘F35 will not be split strike and cap they are full multi role a/c and be trained as such’

I’m aware that the F35 can and will be expected to be multi-role. What I meant was that whichever squadron is carrier based at any given time is going to have to provide fleet defence first and foremost and recognise that reinforcements would be needed to prosecute a truly aggressive operation.

So yeah all of the people and airframes will be multi-role but they are going to have to focus on more specific roles at different times, largely dependant on where they are operating and in what context.

February 10, 2013 8:43 pm


To a point yes if we had of had a 4 sqn harrier force in us marine/italian/spanish navy config and hadnt delayed the stand up of the typhoon force in the 00s I would have fully expected the decisions of sdsr 2010 to have been a harrier and typhoon force going fwd. Which would have put us in the enviable position of not having to order any new fast jets until 2025 at the earliest which could have freed up many billions for other things (US marine early f35s are replacing the hornets first). Instead bickering thru the previous defense reviews left them a busted flush.

Tornado maintaining a squadron deployment in Iraq probably also had something to do with it.

February 10, 2013 9:14 pm

Apache and army fixed wing to the raf then :)

February 10, 2013 9:18 pm

lol some of the comments here… especially x’s cartman-like rants :D

Interesting read TD, but I think a RAF/RN split is the most sensible, just look at what kind of rants it brings civvies into (read x’s), its similar at times in the ranks, and is basically a waste of time; since the force benefits the most from being purple, with a light blue focus on strike and a smaller dark blue focus on air to air (it was this that enabled the FAA to perform so well in ’82).

In the end the job will be done when needed regardless – I don’t see why costs would rise in 2 services using them when it comes from a central joint pot; the RAF can maintain the core costs whilst the FAA (RN) handle the costs that the FAA (a niche Air Arm…not an air force in its own right; which many here forget) needs to maintain at sea deployment… all the aircraft are owned under an umbrella that is the joint force, but a dedicated number of airframes that have to be at sea. Thus we get our naval section… no poxy ‘fly navy’ stickers or RAF logos on the airframes… just HM Forces roundle and fin flash, which ties into your “The F-35B is not a toy to be coveted and hoarded but it is an expensive national asset” statement.

Alas, all these comments and your post is mostly conjecture – we’ll find out eventually, meanwhile the arguing helps pass the time :P

Though I agree with the crowsnest idea, some have been a bit too over-enthusiastic with it… with precious little money left; keeping it as it is for now would help reduce the strain on other naval aviation projects; namely the Marine Merlins.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
February 10, 2013 9:23 pm

Royal Marines and RAF regiment to the Army, RLC stuff and Marchwood to the RN :)

Seriously, Joint Helicopter Command works, Joint Force Harrier worked. No need to reinvent the wheel here. Joint Force F35 is a simple safe option that minimises disruption, saves massive Political infighting and delivers what will be required.

February 10, 2013 9:31 pm

It was a lack of appreciation of the requirements of naval aviation and a “head in the clouds” attitude to wasting money that means we do not have F-18, AV8-B or Rafale, all of which would have avoided duplication, saved money, provided naval jet power and provided better longevity than a run down fleet of SHAR, one-trick GR7/9, airstrip hogging Tornado and the frankly excellent Typhoon that just needs a rejigged undercarriage to do everything we need.


February 10, 2013 9:48 pm


Above I pointed out why JFH was a penguin of a different hue. As for JHC the reason why it works is the primary users are pulling the strings. All you arguing for there is for Chinook to be moved to the AAC. (Obviously Junglies would have to stay with the FAA…..)

I am bored going over the same arguments. I shall leave you all to just agree with TD as per normal. And I will have to content myself with being right and that I did my best to put you all on the right path.

I am going to watch the hi-lights of the game in Dublin, again.

John Hartley
John Hartley
February 10, 2013 10:07 pm

If you want to avoid duplication, then F-35B should go nowhere near the RAF.

February 10, 2013 10:45 pm

@ X

I think you took my post the wrong way. I never mentioned flexibility! The rest of my earlier post, I thought I was agreeing with you really!

If any serviceman or woman who refused to be deployed, without an extremely good reason, from whatever service. They would be committing career suicide, plus getting a one way ticket to Colchester Military Corrective Training Centre. As most Aircraft Techies will have one eye on a future civilian Aviation related career. That persons reputation would follow them whether they went. And they wouldn’t get very far!

February 10, 2013 11:02 pm

If the actual services are anything like this then I propose we shut the whole lot down and spend it on social housing!

Personally I think that as long as the initial training is kept joint then it should work fine to have RAF and FAA with a bit each (FAA regular, with RAF as a surge) and you’ll probably not save any more money doing it any other way.

The service against service debate I’ll leave to others this time, suffice to say that I can’t really believe some of the arguments. A quick dip into real history would shoot down many of the wierder arguments.

Brian Black
Brian Black
February 10, 2013 11:19 pm

Joint Helicopter Command and the likely jointiness of the F35 force demonstrates the military’s recognition that these assets should be in one arm or another, but also that they’ve decided to fudge the solution.

On the issue of using the STOVL wonder-jet from austere forward bases. Wouldn’t the lightweight Hawk be a logistically easier deployment in many circumstances, rather than the big, fat, gas-guzzling Lightning? Quite capable of bombing a Tuareg tent or two, having a squadron of Hawk strike-fighters would give planners a cheap alternative option for forward deployed jets. Perhaps swap the Red Arrows’ old trainers for new (khaki) Hawk 200, thereby also justifying their pretty but otherwise pointless existence.

Iain Menzies
Iain Menzies
February 10, 2013 11:20 pm

This is alittle off topic….but having read comments here for the better part of a year….I kinda want to ask…Why does the UK need a tri-service armed forces structure?

February 10, 2013 11:39 pm

@ Simon257

I was carrying the conversation on. My point simply was FAA maintainers know they are going to sea but obviously can work on land. Look at the Junglies. So they are flexible. And that is what many here bang on about. But when you suggest just recruiting sailors not airmen to look after an aircraft being purchased primarily because it will fly off a ship you (well me) are accused of being pro-navy extremist. Sailors were hauling their guns across the veld in support of the Army long before the RAF was even thought of. Flexibility. I just get tired of the one way traffic here.

Service men have career paths. They choose their trades. What do you think happens to unpopular trades and branches? They get gapped and when service personnel are “volunteered” to work in unpopular branches it isn’t unknown for them to vote with their feet. What then of the sunk costs in training and such? That CVF won’t be worked as hard as US carrier probably is more of reason for F35b support to be wholly FAA. As I said above pilots aren’t the issue. They are are only a small percentage of the personnel. It really is inconsequential who the pilots belong to really. Considering this is the 21st century some here have a very 19th century attitude to personnel issues…….

@ Chally

February 10, 2013 11:46 pm


When was the last time the fleet air arm deployed an entirely navy manned Sqn of 12 fixed wing fast jets to sea?

February 11, 2013 12:00 am

TD said ” I think I am in a majority of 1 on this issue”

Are you unanimous on that? :)

February 11, 2013 12:03 am

Mark asked “When was the last time the fleet air arm deployed an entirely navy manned Sqn of 12 fixed wing fast jets to sea?”

Probably a good few years after the RAF shot down an enemy plane in combat….

February 11, 2013 12:38 am

@ x

I think you’re worrying too much about this issue. People don’t join up asking to work on one a/c type (well they can ask). There are many a/c types in the RAF, people are sent all over and to various postings, of which Lightening II is one. As to the ‘no-one joins the raf to go to sea’ many did just that http://raf-lincolnshire.info/marinebranch/airsearescue.htm ;)

@ everyone
The RAF do the sea survival course (I forget at which navy base) same as all others who go to sea. Loads of people in the RAF have done it and will no doubt do it in the future.

February 11, 2013 2:49 am

TD – I will NOT accuse you of being anti-RN, or Pro-RAF, I will however accuse you of being misguided to an extent, of course this is only my opinion, and you are allowed your own :-)

I see no truly valid reason for land based STOVL ops in the context of the current threat matrix, and as to flexibility, well true enough, but all your examples are somewhat bogus in that if we had QE/F35B (or even better C) instead of “helicopter carriers” with short legged Harriers, then FOB’s in Belize and on the FI might not have been required at all.

Nope to me this whole, from the sea, to the land, leapfrogging “flexibility” as CONOPS is bollocks. Its simply financially driven expediency being dressed up as doctrine. If we are broke then let’s admit it, run the worlds biggest LPH, or sell the carriers to China !

The idea of RAF maintainers who’s basic military training covers small arms and airfield defence roles, which are enhanced with pre-deployment training to fit into a “force protection matrix” also being cross trained in Naval damage control and fire fighting, seems ludicrous to me, even though I have been both a Matelot (inc. WAFU for a while) and a part-time Squaddie ! Mind you, time to research USMC doctrine and TPP’s ????

February 11, 2013 4:27 am

jed, to be fair, some of the examples he quoted in the article above stem from a time when the UK was NOT broke. Are you then claiming that the government was so presentient to the point where it knew it was going to go broke in 2008 and planned military ops with that in mind 2 decades before?

And you mentioned that there is no vaild reason, but note the qualifier “in the context of the current threat matrix”. That does not mean a new threat parameter will not be introduced suddenly without prior consultation. History is a chronology of humans being blindsided by things that no one planned for, and in that light, it would behoove the military to retain the “flexibility” to react to unexpected situations, even if it meant moving FAA to airfields that don’t move as much.

“but all your examples are somewhat bogus in that if we had QE/F35B (or even better C) instead of “helicopter carriers” with short legged Harriers, then FOB’s in Belize and on the FI might not have been required at all.”

Can’t find this part, where was it? I admit to being a little wall eyed, apologies in advance.

February 11, 2013 8:04 am

@Observer: A lack of funding in naval aviation has been going on since the previous Ark Royal was canned and before. The Harrier was designed for the cold war when it was expected that all the airfields would be out of action within 24hrs. One thing the UK is good at is cobbling something together and being adaptable – FOBs being one.

I like the adaptability of the F35B but beyond flying from the CVF and some close air support for our JEF commando units (:)) can’t see the point. The RAF should be concentrating on increasing Typhoon and UAV capabilities.

February 11, 2013 9:55 am


“Wouldn’t the lightweight Hawk be a logistically easier deployment in many circumstances, rather than the big, fat, gas-guzzling Lightning?”

Yes it would, but, it cant fly off a STOVL carrier. The point here is that one type, one logistics chain, one training stream does both expeditionary roles where no convenient Typhoon-length secure hard strip exists. If you just want to whack Jihadi’s and their donkeys, and watch tents, then you want a Reaper or armed Mantis anyway…nothing manned just something that can orbit way the hell up and spot for movement…the UAVs also have the obvious secondary uses in ISTAR, comms relay etc. The Hawk200 would be a one-trick pony and we need more from the pony club these days.

“but all your examples are somewhat bogus in that if we had QE/F35B (or even better C) instead of “helicopter carriers” with short legged Harriers, then FOB’s in Belize and on the FI might not have been required at all.”

True, but, we’re going to have a single deployable flight deck at any one time. 2nd CVF will be at Xwks readiness plus Ydays storing and transit. Having the ability to push TACair ashore to a short field airstrip (like say Stanley airport) de-risks the single deck dependency.

February 11, 2013 11:09 am

@ TD – I think it is naive to say that politicians should control the service chiefs and prevent the RAF from dumping carrier air. If we have any abundant resource in the UK its stupid politicians and sneaky service chiefs.

If the carriers are viewed simply as floating airfields to be used only when there are no near by air bases then it won’t take a long time until they are scrapped.

As APATS points out JHC seems to work well. JFH was cobbled together but again worked ok. I don’t see any savings in an all RAF force as opposed to a combined pool of aircraft with joint basing and training but simply have dark blue squadrons and light blue ones.

My own personal hope is that once the politicians realise the political and military weight a QE gives them we will see them protected and better funded. The ability to deploy 12 or in a push 36 F35’s from a carrier is something we have never had even when we had the old ark royal. It could literally carry out and op like Libya single handed.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
February 11, 2013 11:15 am

Interesting, but TD is basing an argument on a couple of false premises.

1. That there is some sort of “duplication” cost involved in having RN f/w aviation.

2. That the F35B would be providing “maximum effect” by sitting at home base in Lossie / Marham / wherever.

Dealing with the first point. There is no additional overhead in having RN squadrons of fixed-wing – primarily because there is an existing RN aircraft engineering, operation and support organisation called the Fleet Air Arm that supports not just f/w, but also a large fleet of rotary wing. Much of the overall aircraft overhead is already “joint” (MFTS, joint AE training, IPTs, MAA etc) and aircraft depth engineering and logistic support is moving more and more in that direction (SKIOS and Merlin IOS and the Harrier support contracts before that). What one is left with is the actual squadron personnel and equipment which would be required whoever owned the aircraft. At that point, it doesn’t really cost anything else, the budget should follow the operator as should things like the flying training budget – that too is a “joint” serial, not an “RAF” budget.

The second point is a bit more important. “Effect” is a bit of a buzzword, but it is something that is integral to naval forces through what is known as “presence”. Now – if we are going to buy these jets and ships, they can do one of two things. They can sit on the airbase / tied up alongside in Pompey and generate no effect, or they can deploy and generate effect through presence. The cost difference between the two is likely to be marginal and limited to ship fuel, maintenance and a potential small increase in aircraft maintenance cost. However, for that additional cost you get the ship and airgroup deployed to areas of interest and able to exert an effect and influence, rather than being some form of nebulous potential effect back in UK. It’s an interesting fact that of a UK fast jet force of 12 squadrons (10 if you remove the OCU), a total of 6-8 cabs (half a squadron) are currently deployed and exerting effect. And the squadron staff for these rotate through every three months. As a contrast, 5 from a total of 19 DD/FF are currently deployed, as are 4 from a total of 16 MCMV and are typically away for six months.

That is not having a pop at the RAF – they do have a large FP and SH det in Kandahar, There is the C17 and Sentinel op ongoing in Mali and the transport force is busy supporting the Defence main effort on Herrick. However, it does illustrate that unless they deploy to an airbase or on exercise near theatres of interest, the effect they can produce is limited – and dependent on permissions, logistics etc. There are logs tails associated with the RN, but they are more regularly used by the nature of the beast.

What the above is intended to illustrate is that the services think and operate differently. If it is agreed that embarking the cabs is the best way to get effect, then we next have to ask who is better suited to operate them in that mode?

Lets start first with some of the misconceptions in previous posts. There seems to be an idea that the RN provide the “deck crew” and this is somehow not part of the squadron. Wrong. A large proportion of the bombheads and chockheads on the ship come from the squadrons – there are a few from the ships Air department. Similarly, first-line engineering support is provided by the squadrons, but second-line is supported by the ships Air Engineering dept, which also supports the other aircraft types on the ship, a major departure from RAF culture. What that means is that to be effective, any RAF squadron would have to slot into this organisation straight away and sustain it. That also includes the detail of having to fight fires and support damage control activities. The Basic Sea Survival course at HMS Excellent that Topman refers to, does not do that. It is a very basic safety at sea course which gets you to a point where you know broadly how to report fires at sea, how to stay safe and how to abandon ship if required. It’s nothing to do with real naval firefighting or DC activities, more a duty-of-care type course that prevents you being a total liability on board ship if something goes wrong.

As has been pointed out by others in posts above, there is also a requirement to provide aircraft operating experience in RN ship posts (Cdr Air, Cdr AE, FDO etc) which need operating expertise and hence postings in earlier career stages. The need to have air-minded senior officers in the RN is also a part of this. Every time they have been short on the ground, trouble has followed.

Some one mentioned the RN having trouble manning their squadrons. Historically, that hasn’t been a problem – the RN happily ran 800, 801 and 899 for over twenty years in the SHAR era, with only the occasional RAF exchange officer. Where things did go wrong was the move from Yeovilton to Cottesmore as part of the JFH construct, coupled with an RAF insistence on squadrons being manned to their qualification scales, which caused a bit of a problem, particularly when the relevant courses were run infrequently. I think one might have had a similar issue with the RAF harrier force manning, had they been forced to move from Wittering / Cottesmore to Somerset.

That brings us to the idea that the RAF don’t want to go to sea. Putting to one side the rather spurious example of the long-defunct air-sea-rescue boats, it has rightly been pointed out that service discipline requires you to go where you’re told. Absolutely right. However, what actually happens is that if people don’t want to deploy, in the longer term, they’ll vote with their feet and PVR or similar. Some years ago I was doing a job that required estimating what would need to be on various ships to allow all UK rotorcraft to operate. On visiting the RAF SH force, the feedback I got from all concerned (at SHF and squadron level, officer and NCO) was “We’ll do it if ordered, but we don’t want to do it”. This was while TELIC was ongoing, but before Herrick ramped up, so Op Tempo wasn’t a major factor.

What that indicates is a real reluctance and when faced with high turnover rates, what will inevitably happen is that the RAF head-shed will try to reduce this factor by either shorter or more infrequent embarkations, thereby reducing the effect delivered and also reducing long-term safety and capability. There is a reason that every major operator of aircraft at sea has their naval air arm in the naval service and it has absolutely nothing to do with 5 star hotels or working weekends. It is simple common sense based on what works and has worked historically.

Finally – all this nonsense about one service doing “CAP” and another doing “strike” is pure b0llocks. The only reason we have “single-role” squadrons at the minute is that the aircraft are not (yet) multi-role. Hopefully, the Typhoon squadrons will eventually become fully flexible – you can’t really do that with the GR4 (or the F3 and GR7/9). F4 squadrons used to be somewhat multi-role and the USAF F15E squadrons certainly are, as are all USN fast jets. The FAA quite happily did air defence, ASuW (with Sea Eagle), reconnaissance (with the in-built camera) and air to mud in the same squadron with the same aircraft type. Could have done with a better air to mud capability, but that’s a function of the aircraft, not the service.

Hopefully, that’s a rational counter to the Aircraft = RAF, Ships = Navy, Tanks = Army assumptions that seem to prevail around here.

February 11, 2013 12:22 pm

“In a post 2020 world, the UK might be down to just over 150 fast jets, around a 100 non Tranche 1 Typhoons and 50 odd F35B’s.”

Yup, I reckon that’s about what will happen.

So 50 odd F35Bs would be operated by the Expeditionary Force and the 100 Typhoons will be operated by the Home-Island Defence Force. Some might say the EF is the FAA and the HIDF is the RAF, but I’d stand way clear of that argument ;-) Whichever way and whatever we call them they will work differently but could (and should) cross train.

Hopefully the Typhoons will be able to augment the expeditionary F35s in times of need by someone realising that building a STOBAR carrier provides for our entire fleet of jets if push comes to shove. Usually however, the “wires” are not used and the carrier operates a STOVL jet and copter mix.

Alternatively we should go for an F35C only fast jet fleet which would provide long-range strike and CATOBAR carrier capability to work on CdG and 10+ USN carriers, leaving CVF as a ma-hoo-sive, ex-bleedin-spensive LPH.

February 11, 2013 12:25 pm


‘There are so many combinations and permutations with fast jets over the next couple of decades combined with so much rumour and spin its hard to see through the fog. Note sure on additional Typhoon, do you think production will still be active then?’

I agree that one could go quite mad trying to see through the fog and work out exactly what will and won’t happen.

With very rough ‘back of a fag packet’ notes it looks as if the primary customers will still be getting the last few Typhoon’s between 2015-2017. Also knowing that the Oman order has just be signed, the Saudi order is still going and that they are still pursuing a couple of other potential customers means that production, even if it’s low rate will surely be going for a few years yet?

The Typhoon/Hawk package that Oman went for with it’s associated support framework looks like a really good deal, I can’t understand why other customers haven’t taken the bait yet.

February 11, 2013 12:40 pm

What is it with this bloody obsession with strike, it’s such a vague term and I swear half the people who mention it want long-range for long-ranges sake without any really compelling argument for what they advocate.

It can’t be denied that Typhoon and F35B are not designed for long-range strike, but it’s equally clear that given the right modifications they will be a capable enough alternative for 95% of the possible scenarios.

Their is no money for a third fast jet type fulfilling a niche role. Make do with what we have and wait for UCAV’s.

February 11, 2013 12:52 pm

The only reason why RAF aircrew started appear more frequently in the ranks of the old FJ squadrons embarked on the old FW carriers was the decision to scrap CVA meant a draw down. I won’t get any house points for this but Ward describes the gap between CTOL and STOVL era in his book.

If uniforms don’t truly matter then stick all future F35b maintainers through Raleigh and all prospective pilots through Dartmouth. If we are truly reliant on RAF engineer teams send them to sea. By the time F35b is 10 years in service there will be enough FAA experience (and industrial support) that RAF participation won’t be needed. You could do similar for Chinook support send the pilots to Sandhurst and maintainers to where ever the Army does it NE training. Again in 10 years time it won’t matter about the RAF wanting or needing to be deployed into austere places like Afghanistan because Chinook will be an AAC airframe.

Around here can’t be done really means don’t argue for the RAF to loose something. As I said above and will say again the problem around here isn’t the likes of me being pro-RN or pro-maritime because at least the likes of me have some vision and think outside the box. I am fond of the RN but I argue for what I argue because to me its logical. I think it is the pro-RAF bods here confuse being pro-airpower with being pro-RAF. I know TD likes his little list of all the stuff the RAF have done post war. But when you read that list two things are very apparent. The RAF always acts a support to the other two services, yet many here see the RAF as the driver. Two the list contains lots of events for the 50s, 60s, and even 70s when the UK still had a lot of overseas possessions and influence in former colonies; the always convenient runway in theatre. The latter aren’t always there now. And if there is a convenient runway in theatre it is more often than not because of American influence. An influence that is weakening and more interested increasingly in the Far East and Pacific.


That was a good post; the choir thanks you. I don’t have the time or the inclination to sit down and write essays when I post. I post for fun in the midst of hectic days. But it is nice to see what I know laid out properly. Thanks for the bit about “voting with feet” especially.

February 11, 2013 12:53 pm


I don’t think there’s an obsession with “strike”. Simply a tactical need to hurt the enemy at arms reach… obviously, this is not needed all the time but even a CAS biased aircraft may be called on to take out a bridge 48-hours away (by MBT, for example) to stop the enemy gaining a tactical advantage.

Compromising on reach is foolish. Compromising on endurance even more so.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
February 11, 2013 3:09 pm

You’re missing the point about “effect”. Sitting at Marham training is not actually influencing anyone – hence the description of “nebulous potential effect” – not actual effect, because it is geographically removed. If you want to deliver influence and effect, during normal peacetime operations, it tends to require being in a theatre of interest. It is difficult to get sustained deployments of RAF in a geographical theatre because it tends to require permissions – it doesn’t matter how much they have improved their deployability. There are plenty of examples – Op Deny Flight etc but they tend to require an actual conflict issue or “peacekeeping / making” role to unlock permissions – and a base.

Support to land ops is of course providing effect, because there is an operation on. That effect can come from a land or sea base, makes no odds – depends on which is the more appropriate at the time. A relatively transitory op is probably best off a ship because it means you don’t have to build up shore-based infrstructure and lets face it, we’ll only get one or two ships so they’d struggle to sustain a permanent op for more than a few months. It can be done – two CVS managed to keep a permanent Adriatic station for a couple of years in the 90s, but it was hard work. More sustained operations (several months to a year) are probably better land-based – assuming you can get one!

On duplication, if you can identify those organisations or costs that are duplicate, then fair play. But the fact you haven’t been able to and that a few posters (not just the usual suspects) have suggested there are none, points to one conclusion. Your “fundamental truth” also ignores the relative efficiency of organisations. We should all be aware of a force of perhaps 4000 people that successfully operates a fleet of well over 100 aircraft, from two and a bit bases, including all but a fraction (the Hawk) of it’s engineering support. Contrast that with a force that operates probably four times that number of aircraft from an overall establishment of 30000+. Even allowing for “overheads” like the UK radar and reporting chain, the Rock Apes etc, I’m struggling to see how they compare. part of teh answer undoubtedly lies in the variety of roles and missions undertaken and the disparity of aircraft operated, but that cannot be the whole story.

History is usually a good indicator of whether things work or not – as is universal practice. You may not like it, but the indisputable fact is that every other power that deploys significant numbers of aircraft at sea does so from a naval air arm. That isn’t by accident. It is also a fact that when the RAF has controlled naval air, that capability has suffered. From the stagnation in the thirties to the reduction in JFH FE@R of the noughties, when in charge, the RAF has neglected the capability in preference to what it understands. Your argument appears to be that despite it not having worked on two previous occasions and despite everyone else in the world doing it one way, in the future we should do it the way that has previously failed. Hope over experience is – I believe, the expression.

Not all the RM do the DC training. AIUI, it tends to be limited to those permanently embarked (eg the ASRM) and operating integrally to the ship. Having said that, the commando units don’t tend to be mucking about in high fire-risk zones and are treated more like “cargo”. Those undertaking aviation ops as a fundamental part of the ship most definitely are, although I don’t know whether the Apache det did the training or not. I’d have hoped so.

February 11, 2013 3:21 pm


“I don’t deny the effectiveness of exerting influence through naval means but then I don’t see that as the only avenue either”

The issue here is that there can be geographic and political factors that can and have made those naval means either the only avenue available or a vital additional avenue in a wider gameplan. There can also be factors that deal the naval approach out of the game of course, but, it is easier to control/deny land than sea in most cases.

“Just another question, do the RM do the full on damage control stuff and did the AAC/REME do the same for there recent HMS Ocean deployments?”

Those are, with all due respect TD, spurious examples as neither the booties or AAC lads displaced trained RN personnel in the manner you are advocating the RAF would do?.

February 11, 2013 3:55 pm

When I was involved with cadets I saw a good number of teenagers go into the armed service. Even 16/17 year olds know the RN means life at sea, the Army camping on a two way range, and the RAF mostly meant the UK and a comfy bed. I have known kids leave the RN after 3 years because they didn’t just like going to sea. But many more stayed on or did another 3 years because they knew what they were getting into. Expecting the RAF to manage career expectations is a bit unrealistic. If F35b is being purchased for CVF. And that means going to sea. Sorry. But there it is.

Further it seems odd to methat some have a problem with the idea of the RN supporting the Army ashore. My readings suggest that during Op Banner the Army knew a helicopter pick-up by FAA would always happen what ever the weather or time and would land on a particular blade of grass if so ordered. While a RAF pick-up was more Ryan Air. What was important to the Army was “level of service” not “which service”! And I bet if I go look I could find other examples in Malaya or Indonesia or at Suez.

Swimming Trunks
Swimming Trunks
February 11, 2013 3:58 pm

RE: Other roles for aircraft carriers. I recently came across this RAND report about alternative/additional roles for the USN carriers; might be relevant for ours when they come into service?


February 11, 2013 4:10 pm

@ X,

Seek help. Seriously.

On the one hand you say uniforms don’t matter and then in the other immediately use this as a reason why the FAA should take it all. If uniforms didn’t matter you wouldn’t be contesting TD’s point, you would just shrug your shoulders and say “uniforms don’t matter, so I’m fine with whatever”.

You also seem to be under some weird conclusion that you are in fact a modern day genius of theoretical military understanding and that everyone else are mere sheep, toeing the line, because they have the temerity to ask legitimate questions about why you think everything should be painted Navy blue.

People argue certain things in favour of the RAF because there often appears to be no legitimate reason why the RAF shouldn’t retain certain capabilities. You on the other hand think everything should be Navy, without having any good reasons why, then acuse others of being dogmatic? It doesn’t really tally mate. You’re like a parody of your own arguments.

@ NAB,
“It is difficult to get sustained deployments of RAF in a geographical theatre because it tends to require permissions – it doesn’t matter how much they have improved their deployability”
— This is one of the oddest myths that seems to persist about the RAF vs Navy debate, and one that’s been addressed multiple times now by Sir Humphrey on the Thin Pinstriped Line blog.

In other words, sustained Navy ops require permission and land based support (in the form of use of ports) just as much as the army or air force would. The MoD recently posted a bit of news about ongoing operations in the gulf and made it quite clear that Royal Navy operations in the region are supported from bases in Qatar and Bahrain. And as Sir Humphrey has pointed out in the past, pretty much all our Navy operations (and those of other nations) require a degree of land based assistance (in theatre), the more so as the demands of operations increase.

It’s really become the “go to” argument to support Naval vs RAF arguments, and yet for a long time now has been a busted flush.

“We should all be aware of a force of perhaps 4000 people that successfully operates a fleet of well over 100 aircraft, from two and a bit bases, including all but a fraction (the Hawk) of it’s engineering support. Contrast that with a force that operates probably four times that number of aircraft from an overall establishment of 30000+”
— I don’t see how you can complain about TD being disingenuous or missing a point, when you’re clearly just manipulating those figures to try and make a point.

That 30,000+ covers everything from the flying of the over 800 aircraft in service to the day to day admin of the force. The FAA mainly is just the flying portion, with a lot of the other needed enablers handled by others, such as security etc, or with capabilties provided by the RAF as part of the joint enterprise.

Interestingly enough, as it turns out based on those rough figures the RAF would actually have a lower personnel per aircraft ratio than the FAA.

February 11, 2013 4:15 pm

@ x,

“Further it seems odd to methat some have a problem with the idea of the RN supporting the Army ashore. My readings suggest that during Op Banner the Army knew a helicopter pick-up by FAA would always happen what ever the weather or time and would land on a particular blade of grass if so ordered. While a RAF pick-up was more Ryan Air. What was important to the Army was “level of service” not “which service”! And I bet if I go look I could find other examples in Malaya or Indonesia or at Suez.”

— Sounds like bollocks to me, largely driven by your Naval cheerleading.

If I were you I wouldn’t dip too far into the history of a lot of these far flung campaigns, because you might not like what you find. Or in other words, you pick up pretty much any written account of a campaign, from Malaysia to Herrick, and all you read consistently is praise for RAF helicopter pilots.

But don’t let facts ruin a good rant mate.

Edit: I should point out you also hear a lot of excellent stuff about Naval pilots. Funnily enough it would seem that once deployed on operations, both services personnel ramp up their efforts and do everything they can to support the forces on the ground that need them.

Who’d have thought it, it’s almost like they’re trained professional with a strong desire to help comrades in arms? Eh.

All Politicians are The same
All Politicians are The same
February 11, 2013 4:30 pm

The Basic Sea Survival course at HMS Excellent that Topman refers to, does not do that. It is a very basic safety at sea course which gets you to a point where you know broadly how to report fires at sea, how to stay safe and how to abandon ship if required

Sorry but bollocks. BSSC is all RN Officers and ratings complete prior to be let loose in their first complement jobs.

The whole Damage Control and Fire Fighting training is a bit of a red herring. It is a 1 week course.


This is the course that RN personnel do before their first sea draft.

Between sea drafts and after a shore job you would go and do this before returning to sea.


People who have Command roles in a CBRNDC environment will complete this course.


February 11, 2013 4:43 pm

Oh for the love of…

The reason nobody can find a perfect way to reconcile the needs and cultures of the RAF and FAA is because their isn’t one. Questions over why people join any given service, over maintaining ‘esprit de corps’ and doubts over real world effectiveness are all important, but they can’t be allowed to eclipse financial realities and operational imperatives. A compromise must be reached.

Joint Force Harrier was a good idea that slowly fell apart because of under-resourcing and inter-service rivalry from the start. It’s a miracle it provided such sterling service for Herrick under such conditions.

The lesson isn’t that the Joint Force concept is a bad thing, it’s that it needs proper commitment and funding to translate the intention into operational reality. Unlike Joint Force Harrier the RAF aren’t going to let Joint Force Lightning wither away at the sidelines because without Tornado it represents the only way for them to get in on the fast jet game after Typhoon.

The chances of the FAA fielding a large fleet of F35B on it’s lonesome are zero, and splitting the RAF/FAA fleets into two small groups of around 50 aircraft would (even if possible) present more limitations and challenges than it’s worth.

The best compromise is to probably have a small portion of the eventual fleet of around 100 aircraft (doubt the Americans will let us by any less) loaned out to the FAA to provide a constant low-level capability at sea, thus also keeping a small core of fast jet pilots (esprit de corps), with the rest of the fleet in RAF hands (and all of the training and heavy maintenance done by one RAF supply chain as well), rotating between land based ops and acting as carrier reinforcement squadrons. Factor in pilot exchanges between the two and you have a very flexible force that’s able to respond differently as each situation dictates.

February 11, 2013 4:45 pm

.B: I think you might find the provision of an airfield and a partly land base supply corridor a slightly more involved business than asking for a fleet RFA tanker to call in for some dieso once in a while :-)

February 11, 2013 4:52 pm

@ Swimming Trunks – An excellent find. Almost a bible as to how QE class could (and will be) during there liftime.

February 11, 2013 5:01 pm


The planes will go to sea. Therefore there quite easily must be some sort of matelot element to the force. It will also need the synergies needed from a large organisation operating lots of fixed wing planes with all the institutional experience and knowledge, logistical support and training infrastructure. Therefore there must be an RAF element to the force. It will spend most of its time on land and will be dependent on RAF synergies so it needs to be a mostly RAF Purple Command. Whether the majority of matelots stay in a designated naval squadron and the pilots spread out is a question of detail that doesn’t effect the main conclusion.

It’s really that fucking simple. The RAF can use those planes without much ado, they cannot effectively do so at sea without the Navy. We cannot afford duplication. Therefore Purple it is.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
February 11, 2013 5:05 pm

At the risk of being permanently banned from the site, and as laymen with family connections to the Volunteers going back to the Imperial Yeomanry in the South African War…but nothing in any shade of blue…

1 If we agree that we need both Warships and Aircraft…

2 …and if we agree that one bigger organisation provides important efficiencies and economies of scale…

3 …the only wholly rational conclusion is that the organisation that only has Aircraft needs to be swallowed up by the one that also has Warships.

So my question is do we not really need Warships, or is our commitment to efficiencies and economies of scale actually a rather flexible one?

Just asking…

February 11, 2013 5:13 pm

I think it’s mostly propaganda and bullshit. The reality is they have the mass and sheer power to make austere non austere pretty fast. They’re still obsessed with Guadalcanal and that is hurting US defence as a whole.

February 11, 2013 5:16 pm

Cripes things have picked up a bit!


If you want true efficiencies you need division of labour. Each team concentrating on the job that it is good at.

If they happen to use the same tool they can share the same support and maintenance infrastructure. You then end up with three teams: A, B and the “tool support” team.

If following this you want one of the teams to operate in a different physical location you’ll need a proxy or local representative in that location to support the tool.

This is fundamentally why I don’t subscribe to your particular “efficiencies” theory. I see two distinct jobs. Perhaps this is where I’m wrong? Perhaps we can deploy a carrier for gunboat diplomacy without an airwing? Perhaps the light blues are highly adept at supporting ground forces? Perhaps an RAF squadron would be happy spending all their working life on-board ship?

Ultimately if there is no “job” or “functional” difference then we should have a single fast jet department. I’m just not sold on that… yet.

February 11, 2013 5:19 pm


“Lets change the subject then, what is everyones thoughts on the whole USMC style leapfrog forward, fly from austere base thang”

Okay, sorry.

I did picture in my mind a kind of ship that grounds itself, unrolls a massive mat of AM2 up the beach and operates jets from the beach. A kind of naval, fast-deployed, ground-based airstrip.

Jeremy M H
February 11, 2013 5:26 pm


I personally don’t think the US Marines will focus that much on the austere base approach. They will use their amphibious ships since there is such a profusion of them around for the work. I could see in certain instances the establishment of a quick turn base for gas and bombs but still think you would see something like a sortie from the ship for a strike, hit the quick turn base for another strike then return to the ship.

It will just come down to the relative dollar value of the assets. No one is going to be eager to take an F-35 somewhere that increases the chance of an engine eating a rock and going down if they don’t have to.

A Harrier was only marginally more expensive than say an AH-64. An F-35 is much much more expensive and represents a lot more capability. To the Marines the A-V8B basically represented an attack chopper that could operate in a more opposed air environment and would get there faster. It brought other fringe benefits to the table but it was bought to bring iron to targets quick.

The F-35 will really enable the Marines to conduct a deep battle. I would imagine that they will leave the CAS work the A-V8B did, and for which the close to the front line bases were critical, to AH-1Z’s and drones.

February 11, 2013 5:30 pm

Why the hell does the USMC need to fight the deep air battle? It’s absurd. Why do they need to fight the air battle at all? Again, absurd.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
February 11, 2013 5:40 pm

@TD – I like the whole “USMC style leapfrog forward from, fly from austere base thang” – and although I agree with about how real it is likely to be in any US context , I think it might be a serious proposition for the UK – because we don’t have the mass, and will not be getting it any time soon.

Oddly enough, I think we will get the mass in the end – but not until we are holding Mediterranean Sea-Lanes and Balkan Passes against the Black Banners of the Caliph…so we will need to make do and mend for years until our prevarication conjures up the Existential Threat that Western Policy Makers wilfully refuse to contemplate…

February 11, 2013 5:42 pm

The truth is if the US Army could get away with it they would be flying their own fixed wing CAS. And once they are doing that they might as well be flying the air superiority missions. Because without events on the ground their would be no need for CAS and no need to protect the airspace.

The USMC do what they do. Get over it.

February 11, 2013 5:48 pm

TD asked “How far back do you want to go?”

Well King Alfred founded the navy……..

You cling to your tri-service model matey. It is what we are going to get anyway. It is a compromise and fudge. But just because it happens doesn’t mean it is right.

February 11, 2013 6:05 pm

Calm down x, your opinion is right to you – but thinking that its all and sundry and ‘more’ than others is a bit silly. Its just your opinion.
Its just the internet.

“It is a compromise and fudge.” that’s life, you get what your given… I think its the better of the evils… to say the FAA is all accomplishing is folly, comparing the two services is folly, and arguing it over the internet is rhubarb folly as well.

Calm down and have some tea :)

February 11, 2013 6:06 pm

@NaB – “There seems to be an idea that the RN provide the “deck crew” and this is somehow not part of the squadron. Wrong. A large proportion of the bombheads and chockheads on the ship come from the squadrons” – Ah, I was under the impression “deck crew” came with the ship, not the aircraft. Just to be really clear, are you talking about the guys in the coloured vests on the flight deck, and/or the guys with spanners in the hangar? By “deck crew” I mean the former.

B – “In other words, sustained Navy ops require permission and land based support (in the form of use of ports)…” – Yes but politically, letting a navy use your port, e.g. for crew rotation or refueling, is one thing, but letting someone fly combat missions from your airfields is something else entirely – I think you’re comparing apples with oranges there. btw, 108 yards!!

@Challenger – “The reason nobody can find a perfect way to reconcile the needs and cultures of the RAF and FAA is because their isn’t one.” – You may be onto something there. If we armchair admirals/generals/marshalls can’t agree, imagine the arguing and backstabbing the professionals must get up to! Then again, they’re professionals, so perhaps they behave accordingly? One can but hope.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
February 11, 2013 6:08 pm

ChrisB – you are being disingenuous in your use of the Qatar and Bahrain examples. A large part of that is due to the component of the force out there being MCMV, which being relatively short-legged and lacking in engineering support require a support vessel (currently a Bay, but sometimes Diligence). Yes logs support is required from third parties for naval forces, but it does not usually require putting a large military footprint ashore. As wf points out, it’s usually much less intrusive than that.

I see you appear to be counting the Grob trainers as part of your force structure. From a fast-jet force of under 200 Typhoon / Tornado, through an SH force of around 110, an AT force of under 40, an AAR force of about 12, an ISTAR force of 15, SAR force of 20 and however many Hawks we have left (say 60?), plus a few King Air & Tucano, I’m struggling to see how you get to 800 (even with the Grobs and the gliders)! Your assertions regarding day to day admin and security are also way off the mark. Last time I looked, the force and personnel admin was done by the relevant helo force head shed (CHF, Merlin HF, Lynx HF and 849 NAS) as is the conversion and operational training (702, 750, 771/848/849, 824 NAS). The engineering support for these is provided entirely in-house or via the support contractor at Heron or Seahawk for which the FAA pays. In fact the RAF sends it’s HC3 cabs to Merlin IOS at Seahawk, although I’m sure they pay for that.

If you’ve ever been to Seahawk or Heron, you’ll notice that “security” is provided by mixed RN/RM (predominantly FAA or CHF) with MoD plod, just like any other naval establishment. Last time I looked, the navy also runs all the shipboard courses for aircraft handlers, runs the aircraft engineering courses at Sultan etc and manages it’s own personnel chain. The FAA also maintains a range of relevant Fleet and Air Pubs such as BR866 and the various APs and tactical manuals for aircraft in service, so I fail to see where your idea that it’s just some sort of naval flying club supported by the RAF comes from.

Initial rotary flying training is a joint organsiation (DHFS)and advanced fixed-wing is going that way with MFTS. The RN budget funds part of these too as it does for the MAA. As posted above, the UK radar and airspace control element and the Rock apes are identifiably, pure RAF functions and I exempted them.

I’m afraid if someone’s manipulating figures, it ain’t me.

APATS – last time I looked there was a subset of that course that covered the basics I described. I’ve done it and I assumed that is the one the embarked RAF do. If they do the full weeks course, then fair do’s.

The entire thrust of this and the previous post is not to denigrate the RAF – far from it. It is merely to try and counter some of the assumptions on here that it is a better use of aircraft to have them sitting on a land base training, rather than exerting influence while deployed, or that there is some vast cost-saving to be had by concentrating ownership in one force. I doubt that there is and the impact on safety and capability is unlikely to be worth it.

Part of having an open mind is also to consider whether history is telling you something and applying experience and information to determine whether a proposition is likley to work or not.

And I’m with Phil – the likelihood of F35B operating from rough strips is zero Cobra 1Z will do that nicely. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t operate from LHA/LHD. Whether “that” aircraft needs to be fifth gen is a bit of a moot point – there wasn’t ever going to be a parallel jet funded.

Wf – yep, chockheads, bombheads, badgers come mostly from the squadrons, although there are some in the air department of the ship.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
February 11, 2013 6:20 pm

Sorry – WiseApe, not Wf, edit timed out.

February 11, 2013 6:28 pm

“The USMC do what they do. Get over it.”

Make me.

February 11, 2013 6:45 pm

@Nab – Thanks for clarifying.

@X – Rugby highlights from Dublin? That will be the few minutes when the ball was in play and below head height?

Jeremy M H
February 11, 2013 6:54 pm

The idea of the deep air battle is really fairly important to a rapid reaction force which is what the USMC is supposed to be and it is kind of silly to dismiss it out of hand. When one is operating as a light infantry force with just a bit of armor to back you up it is important to be able to shape the battlefield at a distance. F-35 can do that. AH-1Z’s can’t.

There is tremendous value to both the USMC and the United States Navy in having the Marines be able to take care of themselves and thus free the CVBG’s for other assignments and that is what the F-35B is about in my view.

If a MEU lands on a hostile coast of some sort it is immensely valuable to be able to push the fight out beyond the range of artillery and helicopters. That is what the F-35 would excel at doing and it fits within the Marine concept of operations in the United States. The whole idea is that the MEU (or the larger Marine formations) can largely handle themselves without help from the Air Force of Navy. More than that the MEU’s are fairly light forces when it comes to armor and are very chopper dependent for mobility. The F-35 is a great choice for sanitizing the area of nasty things that might get in the way of that.

This is not all that critical in most of the operations we have seen recently because they are big joint operations but it very well could be in the future if the Army and Navy find themselves otherwise occupied. That is a huge part of the value of an ESG is that if your carriers are busy handling major operations you can park it off Libya to take part in some sideshow operation. You get some airpower, a reasonably capable land force, some armor, some choppers and all the support you need to operate that force for a decent amount of time.

The F-35B’s in the USMC will train very heavily to support expeditionary operations of the Marines. They will largely live at sea. They might as well wear Marine uniforms while they do it.

February 11, 2013 6:58 pm

What are those ten half empty super carriers for then?

February 11, 2013 7:31 pm

@Jeremy MH: I suspect Phil is particularly exercised about the Marines F18 component, which can only (and usually partially does anyway) operate from CVN’s and non-austere land bases, rather than the Harrier/F35B stuff that can operate from LHD’s or austere strips. He’s probably right. Even in a divisional size amphibious landing, the cost of tying up valuable LCAC/helicopters shipping large quantities of fuel etc ashore for a FARP is likely to be prohibitive given the payback, compared to just leaving the aircraft on the LHD’s.

February 11, 2013 7:33 pm

Wow, things have warmed up a bit today haven’t they…

@TD, my tuppence on ” Lets change the subject then, what is everyones thoughts on the whole USMC style leapfrog forward, fly from austere base thang” – nice additional string to the bow, but not the main show. The RN really wants a replacement for the Harrier and the RAF wants a replacement for the Tornado.

Seems to me the RAF is only going along as it’s seen as the only show in town.

48 a/c operating from 2 CVFs would give the FAA the ability to provide a carrier task group available 100% of the time. As we would be the only other nation apart from the US with this capability uncle sam will not really care how many we order – so why not stop there?

So the real question is what does the UK really need to replace the Tornado with… I’d say upgrade and keep Tranche 1 Typhoons and invest in some UAV R&D… single RAF fighter type, must surely pass the ruthless removal of waste test?

Jeremy M H
February 11, 2013 7:37 pm

Carriers are for major strike operations against capable opponents or for sustained major flight operations against just about anyone. If the USN can get away with supporting an operation like the pimp slapping of Momar down in Libya without wasting the time of a carrier more power to them. In peacetime it is just kind of a nice thing to show you can do. If the US were in a major war scenario (which you have to plan for to some degree) the ability to still slap around some tinpot with an ESG is incredibly valuable because the carriers will have important things to be doing. There are any number of states that might act out if the US appeared to be otherwise busy and the Marines are very well structured going forward to resolve these sort of disputes without a lot of outside help that may or may not be there for them.

Even with 10 there are still only so many to go around at any one time so you can’t count on there being 10 around to use. It would also be a mistake to see them as half-empty. While one can’t surge a carrier one could surge additional aircraft onto a deployed carrier if it was felt necessary.

The USN has around 90 fighters (F-18A-D, F-18E-F, F-18G) for every carrier. Plus the USMC contributes a number of aircraft to the big decks as well. That they elect not to fill the decks does not mean it could not be done in a major war scenario. And they are not really empty at the moment anyway. CAW-2 for example has 4 squadrons of strike fighters (48ish aircraft), 4 or more E-2’s, 4 or more F-18G’s, a dozen or more UH-60’s of various versions and at least 2 C-2’s. That is 70 aircraft on a platform rated for 85-90. Basically it is operating a squadron short. But this flexibility lets you bring aboard things like more Growlers if you are supporting joint operations or more helicopters to support ASW or amphibious operations with that extra space.

February 11, 2013 7:37 pm


It depends on the details. How much logistical effort does it absorb to establish a FOB or FARP for what sortie payoff versus simply conducting air to air refuelling or accepting the longer sortie times?

If establishing a FOB yields real and tangible benefits then it’s something we should develop as a capability. It would mean keeping the RAF Regiment though. Every silver lining has a cloud.

Jeremy M H
February 11, 2013 7:41 pm

I agree on the inshore bases. The Marines, or anyone else, are most likely to use just a quick turn base if they can do it. Even that would be a rarity. If the aircraft left a ship it is very likely to continue operating from there.

February 11, 2013 7:43 pm

“Carriers are for major strike operations against capable opponents or for sustained major flight operations against just about anyone.”

I thought the USMC needed to be able to “shape the battlefield” in depth. Now you argue it’s the carriers that do this?

And quite how is an amphibious force able to handle things on its own? It doesn’t own the floaty things it conducts operations from (cue x telling me the Marines are under the Dept of the Navy) so why does it need to have penny packets of planes operated off more assets it doesn’t own when there are enormous super carriers that are operating at almost half strength because the Navy doesn’t have enough planes to fill the decks properly anymore?

It makes no logical sense. The Marines do not operate independently. Ever. So why do they need to have fast jets? The Navy has empty slots on CVNs so the Marines can fly penny packets of AV8 and soon F35.

February 11, 2013 7:49 pm

In order then,

@ TD,
“Lets change the subject then, what is everyones thoughts on the whole USMC style leapfrog forward, fly from austere base thang”
— Probably, like Phil said, it’s not going to be a big thang. There’s opportunities for it I guess. If you look at Mali, most of the French air operations (combat) have been conducted from neighbouring countries like Chad. There’s an airstrip next to Gao (the cities airport) but it was in a poor condition when they showed up. In theory F-35 would allow you to use something like that as a forward base for CAS if you needed it. Then we have the example of ‘those islands’ and the possibility of off loading aircraft to a forward base. So a potential, but not highly likely.

@ wf,
“I think you might find the provision of an airfield and a partly land base supply corridor a slightly more involved business than asking for a fleet RFA tanker to call in for some dieso once in a while”
— And I think you might find it’s a lot more involved than that.

@ GNB,
“3 …the only wholly rational conclusion is that the organisation that only has Aircraft needs to be swallowed up by the one that also has Warships.”
— How is that rational? One organisation runs warships of all shapes and sizes from nuclear submarines to river patrol boats, large carriers, modern destroyers, amphibious assault ships, some helicopters and in the future potentially a handful of modern combat aircraft. The other runs a wide array of aircraft of all shapes and sizes, from front line fighters, to large tankers, to heavy transport aircraft to ISTAR assets, along with some helicopters. Or to put it into other words, they’re almost two completely different businesses, run on different models, for different purposes, with different corporate aims, neither of which look especially capable of consuming the other successfully.

@ x,
“And once they are doing that they might as well be flying the air superiority missions. Because without events on the ground their would be no need for CAS and no need to protect the airspace.”
— Except for the fact that a lot of USAF and RAF air operations in recent decades (and throughout history) have been done for objectives other than supporting the army, and that contest for air superiority is often required in environments well away from land or sea forces. Hence why so many nations have air forces, because they understand (like us and the Americans) that air warfare at times falls into its own domain, as well as operating in support of other forces.

I mean, it’s almost like the concept of army and navy aviation has been tested before, possibly even in battle, and that various groups throught history have come to the same conclusions that a separate air force might be quite a handy thing to have around. Funny that.

@ NAB,
“you are being disingenuous in your use of the Qatar and Bahrain examples. A large part of that is due to the component of the force out there being MCMV, which being relatively short-legged and lacking in engineering support require a support vessel (currently a Bay, but sometimes Diligence). Yes logs support is required from third parties for naval forces, but it does not usually require putting a large military footprint ashore. As wf points out, it’s usually much less intrusive than that.”
— Ah I see. When it’s air forces requiring land support, it’s terrible. Permissions needed all round governor etc. Like when the RAF drops in on a foreign ally and uses their bases, bringing a bit of support with them. But when its Navy ships? Oh that’s fine, just a bit of fuel, no problems, move along here, no permission needed.

The Bahrain example was chosen because the MoD has recently made the point about the Mine vessels coming into the base. And others, like Sir Humphrey and I believe APATS in the past, have made the point that it is far more complicated than just ‘stopping for fuel’, ranging from stopping for minor repairs, provisions, rest, re-arming if the units are engaged in some sustained op. Which often requires the RN to put down support personnel ashore to organise the logistics of such.

Or to simplify the point and take it back to the original barb that was chucked at the RAF; no land base, no sustained operation. I don’t care if you just had to stop to pick up essential tea bags, you’re argument hinged on the fact that the RAF needed permission to use bases for support, while the Navy doesn’t. It does. So your point is invalid.

“I see you appear to be counting the Grob trainers as part of your force structure”
— You counted every RAF personnel in your argument, but presumably now you don’t want to count all the aircraft? It almost sounds like you’re trying to back out of it. Some may only be gliders or basic trainers, but they still require personnel to operate them, look after them, and look after the facilities, spread around the country, all of which goes to your personnel count. The figure came from a Hansard answer (question by Thomas Docherty, answered by Peter Luff).

“so I fail to see where your idea that it’s just some sort of naval flying club supported by the RAF comes from.”
— It’s easy, I didn’t say that, that’s why you fail to see where it came from. I believe they call that a strawman.

So you ran off a bunch of FAA functions and at no point did it strike you as ironic that the RAF would require most of the same, but on a much larger scale (greater number of air bases for example). Nor did it strike you as being pertinent that large transport aircraft for example would contribute a reasonable level of personnel to do all the loggy handling. Or that you’re comparing the day to day squadron level admin of the FAA against the entire organisational admin of the RAF. Not to mention all the functions that reside in Whitehall and DE&S. Or the fact that we have major bases in places like the South Atlantic and Cyprus. Or that the RAF handles a lot of its own ISTAR, electronic warfare, communications, etc, etc, on a whole service level.

Of course all this should be obvious, unless you’re someone trying to make a cheap, ill thought out, snide point based on service bias… oh wait.

@ WiseApe,
See above about bases, but in addition, what would be the big political difference between aircraft flying combat missions from your soil or you allowing your ports to be used to support naval combat missions? Both are as bad as each other and make you just as liable in the eyes of your enemy, who are not stupid.
“btw, 108 yards!!” — So how did your team get on the Superbowl? Oh that’s right, you weren’t there, because only the two best teams in the country make it ;)

February 11, 2013 7:52 pm

“If you think about it, the closer to the action you get, the fewer number of aircraft you need for a given effect so the calculations might not be as one sided as you might think, plus of course there are lots of other benefits, even operating it as a FARP rather than a full fat FOB”

But you have to get the kit there, fire up a logistical supply line and stag on it.

I don’t have anything like the staff information I’d need to know if it was worth it. It would probably depend on the situation. But I am sceptical because I don’t think CAS offers much more than what we can fire from the ground on already established overland supply lines amongst ground units.

Is it worth opening up a FOB or FARP to deliver what organic ground firepower can? And if we’re using it as a staging post for deep strikes is not AAR better?

February 11, 2013 7:53 pm

The argument goes is that every Marine aviator is a Marine first. They identify with the man on the ground and it makes them perform better. If you think of the USN aviators provide fleet protection and strike and USMC provide air cover over the AOA and CAS. They complement each other. Aeroplanes are only vehicles after all. Are you going to go on to argue for the AAC to be given to the RAF so the latter can operate AH64? Do you think the USN and USMC should surrender all air power to the USAF? As I said above even the US Army would like to be shut of the USAF. Odd that the world’s best equipped armed forces find it more efficient to operate their own air arms. Of course we are not the US. As we all know from our commercial lives better to farm activities that aren’t core to the business. Always works better.

February 11, 2013 7:54 pm

@ Chris B

I never ever read anything you post to me. What you say on the whole isn’t worth reading especially on this topic. Save yourself some time and don’t bother.

February 11, 2013 7:55 pm

” While one can’t surge a carrier one could surge additional aircraft onto a deployed carrier if it was felt necessary.” – Just out of interest, when the USN surged two CBGs to the Gulf because Iran was sabre rattling about closing the Straits of Hormuz, did they beef up the airgroups deployed on those carriers? Granted they weren’t in a shooting match, but they could realistically have anticipated being in one.

February 11, 2013 7:57 pm

“The argument goes is that every Marine aviator is a Marine first.”

Smnoke and mirrors. How many Grunts do they send up in an F18 to see what its like to fly CAS?

You do not have to be cold wet and miserable to know being cold wet and miserable sucks. You do not have to be a ground pounder for a few weeks to understand the difficulties on the ground.

It’s a lovely etho’s but its not about having more effective CAS, it’s about having a service etho’s. Very different things.

February 11, 2013 8:00 pm

“I must admit to still thinking the austere base thing is an important capability to have but not necessarily just for the F35B, transport and rotary as well, possibly even airlanding it”

If it’s worth it then I would have no objections to it.

And I agree, before CAS offered a dynamic, over the hill capability.

Then it offered a dynamic, over the hill and precision capability. Very useful indeed.

Now we have all that organic to ground units. GMLRS, EXACTOR and even tube artillery is pretty accurate even without precision rounds (which I think we’ll have to invest in if we want our tube artillery to remain relevant since although I think its accurate enough I am sure many bleeding heart folk don’t). And the ordnance we’re dropping from the air is getting smaller and smaller due to collateral damage concerns.

February 11, 2013 8:13 pm

@ X,

“I never ever read anything you post to me. What you say on the whole isn’t worth reading especially on this topic. Save yourself some time and don’t bother.”
— And yet you clearly do.

Jeremy M H
February 11, 2013 8:15 pm

The Marines do need to be able to conduct deep strikes if operating an ESG by itself. Dropping a key bridge. Hitting an armored column. Taking out IADS components to support a V-22 insertion. All are valid and important missions the F-35’s on amphibs. It gives the ESG the ability to conduct operations across a good distance and to look after itself within reason.

I think you are way overboard on the half empty carrier stuff. They are not half empty. What you have is a situation where the carriers are basically 70-75% filled typically. But to attribute that to the USMC is silly. The reduced numbers come from two areas.

First the USN got rid of and did not replace the S-3’s. That is around 8 to 12 slots on each aircraft depending on if you could the ELINT birds or not. This decision has nothing to do with the Marines and everything to do with a declining submarine threat and a decision to make due without the capability. If the threat returns to the level it was during the Cold War I would imagine you would see a new S-3 type aircraft get built.

As far as the strike teeth of the carrier go what left and did not get replaced were the A-6 squadrons. One could argue there should be a 5th fighter squadron on most carriers to replace this. It may come back someday in the form of UAV’s (X-47). But again I don’t see how one can blame this on the Marines specifically.

I don’t worry nearly as much about the empty deck spots on CVN’s as you do. It is just not that big of a deal right now. You won’t get more than 6 or 7 carriers surged so if having that density of aircraft aboard became a huge deal you could simply split up one of the idle carrier air wings and send them out to the ones on the pointy end. That is certainly no more of a reach than the entire UK operational theory for putting aircraft on CVF as the squadrons already exist and are fully carrier trained.

I would imagine that the penny packets of Marine aircraft exist for the exact reason that the USN built jeep carriers in WWII. It frees the carriers to go do something else that is more important and gives them freedom of movement. There are costs and benefits to everything. I am sure the USN would like another squadron of fighters on board their CVN’s but they would also hate having to tie one down to every little podunk operation that the ESG’s take care of as well.

February 11, 2013 8:29 pm

@ JMH,

I think the point Phil is trying to make is that why is your USMC battlegroup going into action, blowing up bridges and doing deep strike etc without a carrier in support? What scenario would require you to start penetrating deep into defended enemy air space but not be serious enough to require a large amount of support from other assets? Especially considering a lot of the USMC strike assets are F-18’s on the main carriers.

February 11, 2013 8:31 pm

B – Sorry, only just seen your reply. Easy for a nation to say “Our ports are open to anyone, we’re strictly neutral” and allowing planes carrying bombs to take off from your airfields, bomb a neighbour, then come back for more bombs and repeat the process.

If you’re a jihadist fresh out of Libya, where are you going to blow yourself to bits – Malta or Italy? Am I crediting them with too much sense :-)

The best teams? That’ll be the teams with the best season record, won’t it? Post season is a knock out round with both Conferences kept apart. So Denver and Atlanta!


John Hartley
John Hartley
February 11, 2013 8:49 pm

As a raving civillian, I carry no torch for one or other service. I just go on my version of logic.
As an outsider, I can see no case for the RAF getting F-35B. 50 or so for the RN fair enough.
This is not anti RAF, as I can see a case for the RAF having a minimum 100 Typhoon for QRA/COIN/local strike missions + 50 or so GR4 replacement medium/long range strike aircraft.
Why long range?
Think 1982. The New shiny Tornados did nothing as they could not reach the enemy. Yet the ignored geriatric Vulcans could. Even in Afghanistan where range is not an issue, the ability to loiter is. Taliban sometimes hide their weapons til the fast air is off to refuel, then attack our troops. Having something persistant enough to hang back, wait for the enemy to break cover then come roaring back is good in my books.
Just to prove my neutrality, I do worry about the fall in AAC helicopter numbers from 2005 to 2020.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
February 11, 2013 8:51 pm

ChrisB. You don’t really understand what goes on in Whitehall or DE&S do you? Or the ISTAR, comms & EW bits.

Or you wouldn’t have posted your diatribe.

I could have added that a sub-30000 organisation also supports 50 major ships and submarines, deploys them and their complex weapons worldwide and 100+ aircraft etc. But I didn’t, cos I thought it was obvious.

February 11, 2013 8:59 pm

@ John Hartley

I lean towards to your point of view, I have to agree. If we are only getting 48 F35Bs, then at least in the short term, make them all FAA (or at least Naval-centric and expeditionary) and make the RAF an all Typhoon fleet, retain T1s and using T3a/bs with conformals as the effective GR4 replacement. Perhaps later, look at F35 As or Ds or whatever to start replacing the Typhoon in the late 2020s.

Also – B1Bs have been used Afghanistan for CAS, another example of an old, ignored, long range bomber being useful!

February 11, 2013 9:01 pm

“I think the point Phil is trying to make is that why is your USMC battlegroup going into action, blowing up bridges and doing deep strike etc without a carrier in support?”

Precisely. The scenario’s you talk about have simply never happened to my knowledge. You’re inventing mission profiles that the Marines haven’t done. Now I don’t particularly deny that a few AV8s on an LHD or some such is not a ridiculous capability for the most powerful military on Earth to have, but I don’t think the Marines need to own those planes anymore than they need to own the Phibs.

I think the rest of the USMC FJ fleet is ridiculous. And yes I am using some hyperbole regarding CVN air wing size, but it does not detract from the fact that the USMC has land based F18 squadrons whilst the Navy has room for more F18 squadrons on its decks – it could probably comfortable absorb them. And the USMC never has (well once, and boy they don’t like anyone to forget it) conducted large or even small scale combat operations without a carrier. Even in landlocked Afghan they had carrier support in the first few weeks.

February 11, 2013 9:02 pm

@x, @NaB: .B thinks he’s a jotnar, but he’s just a tusser :-)

February 11, 2013 9:05 pm

“As an outsider, I can see no case for the RAF getting F-35B”

Why not? It already operates a relatively large fleet of fast jets, it owns the entire fast jet training stream, it has decades of institutional knowledge and experience operating fast jets and it has in place the infrastructure and logistical and technical support lines to support fast jets. The FAA has none of these things at all.

Why does it make sense to give them to an organisation that is going to have to be completely reliant on the RAF anyway to fly and maintain them? They’re going to go to sea so the RAF is going to need sea experience and so will need FAA input – but the FAA has to realise it will be the junior partner in the programme as a whole but equally important as the RAF when the planes deploy on CVF. That’s life. The FAA would have to rebuild at great expense (impossible expense) what the RAF is sat on right now and uses on a daily basis.

To pretend that any organisation other than a Purple one will operate the first tranche of 48 F35Bs is simply engaging in fantasy and looking at the world as they want it to be, not how it is.

Jeremy M H