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

I genuinely think the F-35B has the potential to provide a truly complementary capability to the Typhoon and in many respects much of this potential has yet to be even thought about. With all the trials and tribulations of the aircraft development programme the simple fact that we are in this for a several decades long journey tends to be lost. During this journey there is also the matter of potential future unmanned systems to consider, the future really is unclear.

That the programme is troublesome is not in doubt, that it will be expensive equally is not in doubt but looking beyond these issues and considering the industrial benefits to the UK and the qualitative advantage it will allow us to maintain over potential adversaries and on balance, it is worth the short term pain.

Two words characterise the F-35 Lightning II, at least for me, potential and flexibility

The flexibility of the STOVL F-35B will allow the UK to derive maximum benefit from its purchase which is why, in another opinion, I think the B variant was, and still is, the optimal version for the UK.

This is the last part in a multi part series that has taken some writing, some of the debate has been lively 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)

Hope you enjoyed it, a few final words…

In a world of unlimited funds, other options might have been better but the simple fact is the UK’s defence budget is not to be found at the end of a rainbow.

The F-35 is the right aircraft and the F-35B the right variant.








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Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
February 12, 2013 3:29 pm

“I genuinely think the F-35B has the potential to provide a truly complimentary capability to the Typhoon”

I’m pretty sure it ain’t going to be free, TD!

February 12, 2013 6:00 pm

You wait ages for an F35 post, then 6 turn up all at once!

“I think the B variant was, and still is, the optimal version for the UK.” – Perhaps, but is it the optimal version for the RAF? It’s the only game in town for the navy. Now.

John Hartley
John Hartley
February 12, 2013 6:50 pm

Throw me off the site if you will, but the RAF would regret getting the F-35B. Just as the RN has had to give up lots to get QE/PoW, I fear the RAF will lose a lot to get F-35B. No GR4 replacement, batch 1 Typhoons gone, etc.
What will the RN do with 2 65,000 ton carriers with no jets? Chances are they will get sold off/scrapped quick in return for more Astute/T26.
Yet more taxpayer billions down the drain.
Good luck with explaining this to the tabloids.

February 13, 2013 2:21 am


‘I fear the RAF will lose a lot to get F-35B. No GR4 replacement, batch 1 Typhoons gone, etc’

They will both be leaving service sooner rather than later with or without F35B on the way. The RAF knows F35B is the only game in town, it may not be their first choice but it’s the only one on the table.

February 13, 2013 2:38 am

Great series – shit aircraft !

Oh ok, hold yer frikkin nickers on – potentially a great aircraft, but at what cost ?

So I will rephrase that – shit aircraft for RAF / RN (UK Military).

It fails the Cost Benefit Analysis for me, “first day of the war, frontal aspect stealth” with great avionics. Well we could get, cutting edge avionics on an airframe un-compromised by both “LO” and “STOVL” requirements all munged together…. the cost, what about the cost I cry…

“In a world of unlimited funds, other options might have been better but the simple fact is the UK’s defence budget is not to be found at the end of a rainbow. The F-35 is the right aircraft and the F-35B the right variant”

Thats exactly the problem, but the wrong way round – in a world of unlimited funds the F35 of some variant, might make sound sense from a purely requirements based perspective.

In a world of highly limited funds THEN other options might NOT be better from a mission requirements perspective, but might be a hell of a lot better from a “value for money” perspective :-(

Aussie Johnno
Aussie Johnno
February 13, 2013 3:00 am

The future of the RAF/FAA has been pretty clear since SDSR. Around 160 fast jets. An all Typhoon fleet for the RAF by later this decade with 1 FAA unit building up numbers.

It has been stated that you are not ordering anymore F-35’s this side of 2015 so anymore deliveries are going to be post 2018.

Sometime early in the 2020’s you start drawing down the Tranche 1 Typhoons and you end up with the speculated 48 F-35’s and 110 odd later Typhoons by mid decade.

More than likely the the F-35’s would be deployed to a joint wing of 1 FAA Sqn, 1 RAF Sqn and a test/training unit which could carry either sides plate. Both operational units would be carrier allocated and used interchangeably.

Towards the end of the 2020 you decide on what happens to Tranche 2 Typhoons but Tranche 3 Typhoons are in use until the 2040’s. There are no more Typhoon Tranches, but existing aircraft are regularly updated.

Oh, the F-35 isn’t doing any better out here, RAAF has been authorised to get price and availability on a second batch (another 24) of F-18F’s simply because the RAAF’s older F-18A/B’s will be bust by the time production F-35’s are available.

February 13, 2013 5:26 am

Is the RAF getting B instead of A? FAA getting B is a foregone conclusion, but why B for the RAF?

Is it only because there is no A variant yet and all the “test planes” and LRIPs are Bs? Which really means that there isn’t a decision yet for the future RAF FJ, just that they are training with what they have for now.

February 13, 2013 8:33 am

We are bound to see other nations drop out of the F35 programme and move to the F18 or others.

The Typhoon looks on paper to be slightly cheaper than the F35B, have longer legs and can carry more. So why not just have a Tranche 4 Typhoon instead for the RAF and capitalise on the investment that is going in over the next few years. Would also help with the export drive.

So rather than jumping to a 5th gen a/c in 10-20 years, the RAF can focus on 6th gen UAVs…

I can see the logic for the UK to have the F35B (based on where we are) for the RN, bur not the RAF. In the late 90’s the FAA had around 44 Sea Harriers, so it would be back to pre Afghanistan business.

Assuming that the USMC, RN, Italy, Spain and possibly (eventually) the RAN get the F35B surely that is the best group to share training and services?

February 13, 2013 11:37 am

I think the 48 initial order will need to be dedicated to CVF to support at least 12 permanently embarked. In an operational environment I can’t see a situation where we would have say X on CVF and Y at a land base – we’d just need 24+ on the CVF. It just makes sense to me (with no cap badge rivalry axe to grind) to just allocate the 48 to FAA (whether that’s a stand alone entity or a subset of RAF, I’m not sure – the key is ring fencing the 48 B’s for CVF). That number should be enough for supporting CVF, possibly another 12 to properly ensure that the full 36 can be embarked) Equally if the RAF needs more fast jets to supplant / partially replace Typhoon and to operate from airbases, I would have thought the options are more Typhoons (tranche 4) or F35A. Either way we are still running just 2 FJ types, albeit different variants

February 13, 2013 12:44 pm

“I can’t see a situation where we would have say X on CVF”


February 13, 2013 12:59 pm

Repulse, unfortunately, we’re actually hitting the outer edge of UAV efficiency for the forseeable future, and at the risk of sounding like a certain French general who called planes “flying toys”, I really cannot see UAVs replacing FJs in a big way. Even a single old B-1B Lancer has a higher performance profile than an XB-47. The ONLY advantage to a UAV is that with no pilot, it’s more “expandable” in suicide runs, but seriously, do you think any 75 million pound plane is considered “expandable”? (75 million pound is a generous estimate considering for 2 prototypes and research cost, the figure was an estimated 800 million USD).

Part of this was due to mission creep and an increased sensitivity to “unnecessary” losses in COIN and elsewhere, however, my opinion is that too much is now being expected of UAVs. Unless there is a simultanous breakthrough in bandwidth management, UAV performance AND UAV situational awareness, I don’t see the UAV development path as a viable option for the near future. Maybe in 50 years time, not 10-20. :(

mick, that sounds like a sensible plan and is probably what is going to happen.

February 13, 2013 1:01 pm

“I can’t see a situation where we would have say X on CVF”

I can. It involves a barrel and a shipping manifest that says “Beef”.

Dress warm. Meat goes directly into the deep freezer. :P

February 13, 2013 5:07 pm


Overall, you are to be congratulated for providing a comprehensive description of the F-35 programme. Very informative and very balanced, i tend to agree that the F-35B is definitely the right version for the FAA although probably less ideal for the RAF.

I see two things happening between now and 2016. One is that the Flight Test Program will pick up momentum increasing user confidence in the aircraft, providing greater predictability on total costs, and a more certain timeline to operational readiness. This will mean that people will stop saying that it will never work and generally adopt a more positive attitude towards it. Once we see it outperform the F-16 and F-18, many of the fence sitters may start to order examples and we could even see the unit cost come down.

Second, I believe that as the F-35 matures, the Government could well order 50 or so F-35As to replace the Tornado GR4. In which case the F-35B becomes a credible replacement for the Harrier and the F-35A the same for Tornado. The RAF will have nothing to complain about.

Anyway, I am optimistic about it and can’t wait to see the first one fly over UK soil.

Aussie Johnno
Aussie Johnno
February 14, 2013 3:00 am

The biggest threat to the F-35 is not technical problems which will be dealt with in the usual manner either by fixing them or changing the specification.
The major threat to the F-35 program is that the whole concept is based on a hugely optimistic production rate. The original plan was for Lockheed to operate a single highly automated production line punching out 200 aircraft a year. Like any production line if it cannot operate at the planned rate it cannot produce at the planned cost.
That 200 a year assumed a US buy of better than 120 a year and the rest exports, the trouble is that none of it is happening. The US hasn’t ordered more than 70 fast jets a year for a decade and is facing cutbacks, sequestion or not. The exports are rapidly disapearing into the future. The risk is that the F-35 will enter the same numbers spiral as the F-22. great aircraft but….

February 14, 2013 4:53 am

Do agree the production rate looks very rosy, but that seems to be a self correcting problem. Cost goes up, numbers drop, production meets demand. We’re probably going to get much less planes for the same value, but we’ll get them eventually, and I do suspect we can treat them as F-16s with LO features performance wise.

On the other hand, doubt anyone is going to trust LM with another “research project” for a long while. People have a long memory for “screwups” and this will impact future business.

Peter Elliott
February 14, 2013 8:25 am

Upthread* someone talked about the future upgrade path for F35B involving a new more powerful engine (presumably for the same or lower weight).

How realistic do people think this prospect is over the life of the aircraft?

*Edit: this comment was actually on another forum – but the question remains valid.

Aussie Johnno
Aussie Johnno
February 14, 2013 8:52 am

Observer, I am not sure self correcting is the right phrase, the more the numbers drop the more the cost of both acquisition and support rise.
There is also the way Lockeed has maintenance tied up. National support is basically limited to swapping out repairable items (RI’s in Aussie terms) from then on you are dependant on the system Lockheed is setting up which will track individual aircraft performance and needs in real time.
Apart from the potential for cost increase if the system through put drops, I note that an F-35 operating base will require serious IT capability and security to even have access to the logistics system. The first US Marine Sqn which recently stood up at Yuma required completely new hangars to achieve IT security and performance. Just how the system will operate away from fixed bases hasn’t been announced but how it might effect the deployability of a system like the F-35B is an interesting topic. But the worst case is some clever hacker getting inside the logistics system.

Peter Elliott
February 14, 2013 8:57 am


This implies that somewhere along the line the USAF will require a separate project to replace F15 (and if successful maybe also F22).

But they have their next generation bomber to fund as well so this could take a while.

The other wrinkle is whether the USN would join with USAF in developing a new stealthy twin engine fighter/bomber or whether they would go their separate ways again.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
February 14, 2013 9:27 am

Look up F/A XX.

February 14, 2013 10:34 am

I imagine that F35 will still be in production in 40 years time with variants and customers not yet foreseen. There’s no other fast jet on the horizon. There’s nothing to augment F35 for at least 20 years if they started development tomorrow. Doesn’t such a hugely long production run kinda make the arguments on cost moot? The price is going to change dramatically. Especially since I see the production drip feeding for decades once the initial orders are out.

Peter Elliott
February 14, 2013 11:14 am

I was following up supposition that F35A may prove to be more of an F16 replacement than the true multi role aircraft that was intended.

Once F15 goes out of service would Uncle Sam be happy relying on just 180 F22 to ensure air superiority against the red hoards?

Maybe under that scenario its more likely an F35A with a different, more powerful, engine would be enough. But the fact that the F22 line has been kept in mothballs indicates that they are not quite sold on that yet…

February 14, 2013 11:44 am

RE: New engines, I’d say not likely. If you checked the output of the current F-35 engines vs F-16 and F-18 ones, you can see that there is already a massive jump in thrust output. Improvements like that are once in a blue moon events, to get a similar jump will take a while.

Think Phil’s right, all the F-15/F-16/F-18s will probably be folded into the F-35 because there really isn’t anything else on the horizon and it’s the path of least resistance R&D and production wise, though the idea of enriching LM after all the crap really turns my stomach.

Don’t see the F-22 coming back anytime soon. There was an aircraft assembly worker on another forum that I skimmed past, and he mentioned that it takes about 3 years from start of production to complete a FJ, with follow on units on a monthly basis. 3 years is a long time to wait for the first plane off the line, it’s more convenient to just keep producing F-35s.

AJ, worst case is a hacker in the system. Funniest case would be “Unable to find startup.exe. Insert boot disk” :P

Peter Elliott
February 14, 2013 12:34 pm


I follow your logic. I wasn’t really thinkning about ‘soon’. As discussed it takes 20 years to develop a FJ anyway.

I was just trying to look in the crytsal ball and to the USAF may have an ‘Air Superiority’ shaped hole coming up in 15-20 years time once all F15 have gone…

February 14, 2013 12:45 pm
February 14, 2013 12:49 pm

Observer, they are already looking at efficiency improvements on the F135 (I rememeber seeing they were planning on doing some tests in 2015). So not so much about extra power but extra efficiency if it results in greater loiter time and range then there’s no need for a brand new engine.

Also the advent engine program study and it’s follow on are happening

February 14, 2013 6:52 pm

I think, all things being equal we’ll see a lot of variants of the F35.

Once the design has settled and matured it will be very natural for it to start filling in more and more for older F15s and F16s and the older F18s.

I think we’ll see it being a seed for various related designs, perhaps a bit like the Sukhoi planes. And my argument for this is simple, there is literally nothing else. I can’t see more money being invested in further F16 airframes when there is F35 and the F15s are getting older and more tired by the day.

And I don’t think F22 will be re-opened – to justify that I think you’d need to refresh the electronics which is probably after the engines the costliest part anyway.

I see us buying occasional blocks of them, 48 here, 24 there, 12 here over several decades hence. I don’t think we’ll just buy a bunch and call it quits.

February 14, 2013 9:30 pm

perhaps a bit like the Sukhoi planes

they only ever make six of any one model?

February 14, 2013 9:33 pm

No, I meant more they make lots of models from the same airframe root (I made that phrase up there as I know someone will jump on me to list the differences between the models but I know what I mean).

February 15, 2013 12:30 pm

Orders and work share the two are linked according to Lockheed


February 15, 2013 1:22 pm

Could be TD uk put about 2b dollars into a 50b dollar development program so while bigger than the rest still small scale over all . with US jobs at stake congressmen to pacify and one overriding dominate player they have all but killed off ever other fighter program going, they could have altered the rules.

February 18, 2013 11:02 am

TD, great series – have just blitzed through all 6 having been away a while. I share your optimism, I really do, and hope to God that this is a perspective the planner have had all along (the various media and speculators twisting every scrap of information notwithstanding). Strategic Raiding may not yet be palatable to all, but it’s a hell of a lot better than any other strategy yet brought up – and since we can’t afford any of the multiple mega-fantasy fleets we’re all getting bored with, I’ll take this thank you.

As for carrier availability, I was under the distinct impression that the second was going to be far more available than the reserve status you mentioned. The cycles between each carrier taking up the UKCSG mantle will be a lot shorter than that shared by, say OCEAN and LUSTY today, with the capability of surging the second at around 60 days notice if needed. That’s a notice period totally at odds with a ‘reserve’ status.

I’m also keen to see the operating model of the mixed air group with F35, Merlin, Chinook, CROWSNEST and whatever UAV we eventually end up with. The result is going to be very much USMC+, and for limited interventions surely has a lot to offer. CROWSNEST, as I understand it it has survived and is still down to be funded and brought into service despite some rumours of the chop. However, the carrier will still ship two advanced long ranged radars, 997 and 1046 (SMART-L) so is far from being blind even when CROWSNEST isn’t airborne. The height of those masts will give both radars a superb horizon distance, and since 997 is supposed in some ways to be better at searching than SAMPSON, especially in difficult environments, I’m happy we can do without CROWSNEST for a few years. OCEAN had a better range advantage than a Type 42 on one op we joined, purely due to mast height, so as long as Link works (!) there’s plenty of redundancy in the system.

And that’s a point – buying F35 is going to be utterly pointless if we can’t invest in the data links necessary to network the data it will suck in, so will we see a drive to introduce Link 22 sometime soon? I sincerely hope so!

February 19, 2013 6:45 pm

A recent interview with the head of the f35 program by Australian tv

February 19, 2013 7:31 pm

Thanks for the link Mark. I thought that was quite a candid interview, lots of little nuggets in there, especially about threatening LM and PW with competition for the support and maintenance of F35 and F135, something which they probably thought they had tied up.

One other interesting point, perhaps it was just a slip and not meant how it came out: he said the US had reduced its buy by 179 aircraft: I thought this just meant the purchase had been moved to the right, but he certainly seemed to be saying it was an actual cut. Any cuts by the major buyer – if true – is sure to cause jitters among the other buyers as this would affect costs for everyone.

Mike Edwards
March 7, 2013 11:06 am

Excellent Senior Officer Interview, very honest and candid, I for one trust him because he is clearly an honourable, straight up man. He is talking about Risk Management a subject that is close to my heart (and daily work).

F-35 on paper is amazing, but much of it is risk based, adding an Antifragile risk model the STVOL variant is the real risk here. The other two variants are very minimal risk, but the sheer audacity of STVOL program, the technological issues to be overcome and the risks and compromises to be made makes the F-35 STVOL a real risk. I would go as far as to say that the STVOL should never have been considered, the Conventional and Carrier Variants are developing a pace, but the STVOL is dragging the programme back I think that the F-35 would be rolling out now rather than sitting there doing nothing.

There are some very good mature aircraft out there that are proven, developed, matured, capable and above all ready to roll. The F-35 is going to take 2-3 years to develop Operationally from the moment we form Combat Units. The feedback from Crews, both Air and Ground will take further years to integrate refinements and mark redesigns.

I don’t expect this to be fully capable until 2030. I base this on the Eurofighter experience, V-22 Osprey, A400M etc etc.