Making the Most of The F35 B


One of the fundamental changes in SDSR 2010 was to select the F35C over the F35B. The rational for this was that the F35C could also replace the Tornado and cover the RAF’s Future Offensive Air System requirement as well as the Joint Combat Aircraft requirement designed to replace the Harrier. However once it became clear that the cost of converting the aircraft carriers would be in the £ 5 billion pound range the decision was taken to revert back to the B model. However despite the decision to revert back to the B model no decision was taken to replace the Tornado with something else. The F35B will now have to serve as both a Harrier replacement and a Tornado replacement.

On June 14, 2012, F-35B Joint Strike Fighter test aircraft BF-2 completed the first test flight for the short takeoff and vertical landing variant with an asymmetric weapons load. BF-2 flew with an AIM-9X Sidewinder inert missile on the starboard pylon, a centerline 25 mm gun pod, and a GBU-32 and AIM-120 in the starboard internal weapon bay.
On June 14, 2012, F-35B Joint Strike Fighter test aircraft BF-2 completed the first test flight for the short takeoff and vertical landing variant with an asymmetric weapons load. BF-2 flew with an AIM-9X Sidewinder inert missile on the starboard pylon, a centerline 25 mm gun pod, and a GBU-32 and AIM-120 in the starboard internal weapon bay.

Having F35B as a replacement for the Harrier will give us capabilities light years ahead of what we had. Despite the criticisms of the B model in comparison to the Harrier it is a major capability improvement. However as a replacement for the Tornado the F35B does have limitations. I believe there are some relatively simple fixes that the UK can use to overcome the limitations of the B model so that it can serve as an effective replacement for the Tornado.


The main criticism levelled against the F35B is its limited range on internal fuel. Most publicly available sources put the F35B’s range on internal fuel at around 900 nautical miles while the F35A has a range of some 1200 nmi and the F35C has a range of 1400 nmi. These range figures compare quite favourably with aircraft like the Tornado simply on internal fuel. However a Tornado would rarely fly a mission on internal fuel alone. Generally it would also use external drop tanks.

The issue for a stealth aircraft is that if it uses drop tanks it will compromise is stealth capability meaning there was little point in investing billions of pounds in an aircraft that can offer little improvement on the previous generation.

However there is a relatively simple get around for this problem. The F22 uses a drop tank system that actually detaches not just the drop tank itself but the wing pylon it is mounted on. This means that once the tank is dropped the aircraft regains its clean stealthy form. It can then conduct the rest of it mission on its internal fuel.  According to Lockheed Martin the F35B’s internal fuel capacity is 13,100 lb. The inclusion of two under wing fuel tanks would increase this by an additional 8,000 lb, around a 60% increase.

Obviously the extra weight and drag from the tanks would mean that a 60% increase in fuel would not translate into a 60% increase in range but it should give a very substantial boost none the less.

Obviously dropping expensive stealthy fuel tanks would not be ideal but we should ask the question, on how many occasions will the F35 need to be in a stealthy configuration? probably only for the first few days of an air campaign while the enemies air defences are destroyed.

The Israeli’s are already reported to be working on such a design so there may well be an off the shelf solution soon. If not then it is probably not beyond the ability of the United Kingdom to develop such a solution on its own.

Bomb Bays

The other major criticism levelled against the F35B is that it has smaller internal bomb bays than the other two models. It will be unable to carry internally a 2000lb bomb such as the Paveway III.

However it’s worth noting that due to the size of the Paveway III kit that no version of the F35 can carry a Paveway III internally. Nor for that fact can the F22.

The other question to ask is how useful is the Paveway III in modern combat. As far as I can see in operations over Libya we did not drop a single Paveway III bomb. Paveway III’s main use would be for attacking bunkers and other hard and buried targets. With the development of weapons such as Storm Shadow the need for such a weapon seems to have been reduced substantially. All bombs dropped by the RAF over Libya were either Paveway II or Paveway IV in the 500lb range. With greater accuracy of modern munitions and less tolerance for collateral damage the smaller bombs seem to have become much more useful.

The F35B will be limited to only the Paveway II or IV for internal carriage. However it can carry the 1000lb JDAM internally. If there is a need for a bigger bomb then we could go to the extraordinary length of buying 1000 lb JDAM’s. This bomb will already be integrated on the base line F35B so the cost of procuring it will be very small.

This might seem a bit puny to some but it’s worth noting that the F22 can only carry the 1000lb JDAM internally and it has to sacrifice its AMRAAM missiles in its large bomb bay to do so. Our F35B’s could carry two JDAMS as well as 2 Meteors internally and 2 ASRAAM’s on the stealthy wing pylons. Not a bad load in my estimation. So the question over the B model vs. the C model in UK service comes down to, what can you do with a 2000lb JDAM that you can’t do with a 1000lb JDAM?

In addition with modern air defences I see little if any chance that any air force will be flying deep penetration missions like the F117 did over Baghdad in 1991 no matter how stealthy their aircraft are. Stand-off weapons will be used for such missions while the enemy’s air defence capability is picked apart.

Suppression of Enemy Air Defence

In my mind the major use for low observable aircraft will be clearing out an enemy’s air defence in the opening days of any campaign. The RAF has withdrawn the ALARM missile from the Tornado and has no plans to integrate it on the Typhoon or F35. Many critics see this as the RAF getting out of the Suppression of Enemy Air Defence business altogether. The F35B could certainly not carry the ALARM missile internally but given its size I don’t think any version could.

Spear Missile from F-35

However the RAF has commissioned the SPEAR 3 missile from MBDA specifically for the F35B. It will be able to carry eight of these missiles internally as well as two meteor missiles and two external ASRAAM’s.

Beam riding missiles like HARM and ALARM are an out-dated concept. What is far more useful are weapons able to recognise targets that can be targeted by the aircraft’s Synthetic Aperture Radar from long range.

Also weapons that can be re-programmed in flight to deal with evolving threats. Indeed the MBDA video for the SPEAR missile shows exactly how the RAF will use the F35B to attack an air defence system. So in comparison to the Tornado in the SEAD role we have a stealthy F35B equipped with up to 8 internally carried SPEAR missiles and a radar capable of not only imaging and targeting threats but also of conducting electronic attack vs. a Tornado with two Alarm missiles and a Sky Shadow ECM pod trying to find a missile battery by waiting until it has locked its radar on to the Tornado.

The F35B certainly seems like a major capability improvement over Tornado in this respect.


While the F35B does have its limitations there are some relatively simple fixes which can allow it to be every bit as capable as the Tornado.

The inability to carry the Paveway III bomb is a limitation but then this is a limitation shared by all present Fifth Generation aircraft. If such weapons are needed then it’s a job for the B2 and looking at recent operations it’s a niche capability that will be used rarely at best.

It’s also important to note that the F35B does come with some major advantages. Savings in commonality between the FAA and RAF are substantial and the aircraft’s ability to take off from ships at sea as well as short air strips gives it a level of operational flexibility un-matched by any other aircraft in the world today.

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Or rather than buying a plane with the added complexities and cost of the lift fan and moving nozzle to replace a plane that is not VTOL, just buy the A model and save your money.


Be fair DN, they’re sort of committed to their carriers. And without the B, I can’t see too many other aircraft that can use an STO carrier.


Excellent piece.

What is the current position on acquiring an Anti-Ship missile for the UK’s fleet of F35’s? After spending Billions on acquiring CVF and the JSF. It does seem odd that we still have no FJ Anti-Ship Capability!

I’m still not sure if the B, in the long term is the right aircraft for the RAF. Have the RAF said that they are planning to operate the B from Austere strips and hides, like the Harrier Gr3’s were during the Cold War:

If they are not, then in the long term. Maybe we should look at either the A or the C for the RAF and leave the B solely to the FAA.


I can’t see any single seated Kevin doing SAR target recognition from 100km+ (as the MBDA video suggests), gaining that much target quality resolution as the video showed. SAR imagery analysis is chuffing hard: it’s why the IMINT analyst’s course for Sentinel is 9 months long.

Purely on physics, the resolution at that range is simply not there to classify target types.

Fly round in tight circles close to the SA-11 maybe, but that sort of defeats the stealthiness.


I understand the need for the B model for the carriers. I don’t however see the need in replacing the Tornado with the B model when the A model will fit the bill and for a less purchasing price.

I just don’t get the argument that it will be handy to have a STVOL ability for the Tornado replacement when the Tornado is not used that way.


Observer DavidNiven

Hi there. I rather suspect that this type of software fix will be available for the B model, perhaps even before the Carrier(s) gets into service and rolling and vertical landings will be the norm for the F35-B.



Hi Nick,

The rolling and vertical landings will be good to have for the B model and if we are required to use austere strips we can use the B models from them, but I still see no requirement for the B model ( with all its extra costs ) to replace the Tornado when the A model will fit the bill.


“The inclusion of two under wing fuel tanks would increase this by an additional 8,000 lb, around a 60% increase.”

There is a snowballs chance in you know where of 2000ltr drop tanks on f35. There is like anything positive and negative sides to anything you use somewhere like 30-40% of the fuel in external drop tanks to overcome the drag associated with carrying them dependant on various flight regimes why conformals are increasing in popularity but you can’t clean them off in flight if you need to. F35b range is fine as it is.

Tornado is being replaced as much by typhoon and other things as it is with f35. Tornado and indeed harrier got some nice new pods from terma which proved popular in the EW/defence stuff but like anything f35 will introduce new sensors in that whole sphere were it is hoped software will play more of a roll in target ident with uploaded threat libraries, it remains to be seen how well that all works.

F35 was design to do the f117 mission but with a better defensive capability it will I suspect spend most of its time clean wing as air defence networks can be difficult to take dwn as Bosnia showed. The ability for f35 to integrate fully with all other assets with be the greatest challenge we have.


Yes I agree. The RAF would be better equipped with the A or C variant as Tornado replacement in the long run. Presumably by then (2030/2040) the RAF will be using an evolved Tarantis as primary strike vehicle (surely in a self flying mode) ?
From what I’ve read (and its very hard to tell how much is truth or exaggeration) it does seem hard to see F35s acting as air defence vehicle against other LO/VLO designed opponents, such as the PAK-50, may be something of an ask. That all rather suggests that something else needs to be designed to complement the F35 (for those of us that don’t have the F22) ?

Joe B

simple eurofighter is the replacement to tornado

Sir Humphrey

There is no requirement for fj anti-shop and hasn’t been since the end of the Cold War. It’s great when the only vessel out there is a target, less useful when it’s a busy cluttered space where positive I’d is needed.

The most likely contender would be brimstone marinised, but I wouldn’t hold your breath. This sort of issue is so far down the funding priority pile it’s untrue.


Is it? Typhoon was designed as a high speed interceptor, Tornado was designed as a strike fighter. Asking a fighter whose forte is high speed, high maneuverability dogfighting into a ground attack role where you have to go slow and maneuverability constrained is like asking a sprinter to do a marathon. Possible, but don’t expect good results.

The Tornado managed it with variable geometry wings to change its flight characteristics. The Typhoon does not have that option.


The f15 not a pound for air to ground, yet arguably the premier tactical strike aircraft of our time.

Variable geometry wings were necessary to achieve desired speed and field conditions for aircraft of there time, technology advancements in aerodynamic, engine capability, materials and fbw software mean they are no longer required.

Well we can by B models for now and buy some C’s later on and at the same time re-fit the carriers for them too in about twenty five years time!
That way we will have had B’s and C’s, STOVL and CTOL Carriers so everyone will be happy?

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The Kevin does not do it, the onboard “super computer” does. SAR target classification will be automatic, the actual resolution is extremely classified but apparently incredible.
MBDA do CGI that does cut out some stuff but in this instance he has ESM and an auto SAR classification in a non populated area so yes he may well engage.

Ian Williams

There’s no requirement outside of a hot war against another naval power. It would be foolish to suggest that is unlikely. A naval power doesn’t have to be a major one for its ships to be a threat to ours.

Ian Williams

The other advantage of the B model is its potential for use in small numbers off suitably equipped LHDs and maybe even Heath-Robinson Class LHD substitutes. In an ever-shrinking navy with no head-room for attrition, that’s an attractive option when we begin to think about replacing the Navy’s heavy lift capacity.


Oh? I was unaware that stall speeds for aircraft have shifted due to technology. Oh wait, it didn’t.

And I do need some evidence on the claim that the F-15 is the premier strike aircraft of our time. It seems to have made its name mainly as an air superiority fighter.


Martin, it’s not that the Typhoon is not maneuverable at low levels, though the air density may affect it. What is the main mobility killer is the fact that you can’t maneuver too drastically or you’ll lose your bearing to the target. You’re basically forced to go almost head first at the target before weapons release. Bombs can only get lofted into a narrow cone or do a straight ahead dive bombing weapons release. No propulsion system.

I believe the Typhoon CAN move well at low levels. The problem is that to hit the target, it isn’t allowed to. It has the maneuverability. It may not be able to use it.


APATS, such touching faith.

As background, I ran the Training Line of Development for bringing ASTOR into service, and the most challenging aspect for training was SAR interpretation. I also know rather more than nothing of the capabilities of the Sentinel dual mode radar, with a 4.2 metre baseline. And physics.

The F35 nosecone restricts any fitted AESA to about half a metre baseplane. It does not matter how much processing power you throw at it, the fundamental restriction is numbers of discrete T/R modules. The resolution at 100km is not adequate for targeting quality info. It is blobology after much less distance than that. To gain greater resolution, you need to fly longer baselines: the clue is in the phrase “synthetic aperture”: aperture length sharpens focus, the longer the sharper. Do you want to tell an f35 Kevin to fly straight and level for 15 minutes in order to increase resolution?

Then there is the training. Understanding SAR is non trivial. For pilots, it’s completely alien, a whole new skill.

The display matters. IMINT analysts have large high pixel count displays with typically 2-4 GPUs. Does the average 8 inch MFD in a jet have that? They have software tools to reduce noise, crop, zoom, invert contrast. Try doing that in a modern cockpit.

Oddly, I am still involved in the world of radar, but on the commercial side of the fence. So I know the state of the current.

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Ok :) You know more than LM and MBDA, when were you running this programme and with what level of tech?
Flying straight nad level is actually useful for a stealth jet as you make minimal adjustments to your course in order to avoid presenting a “flash” to a threat radar but as I said the computer does the classification not your beloved Kevins.


Answer the physics.

I think you’ve bought the brochure, and forgotten to be sceptical, nor thought about how complex the Kevin tasks are while simultaneously trying to fly and survive in a high threat environment.

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I am not a physicist and frankly have very little interest in maths but are you telling me that both LM and MBDA (who both employ people who are physicists and have more degrees than us added together) are telling lies that can so easily be disproven by physics or perhaps they have actually made some system advances that you are not privy to?


Frankly, I think it is insane to give the RAF any F-35B. That version should be RN only. RAF strike would be better served in the short term by tranche 3 Typhoon with conformal tanks. Later on, F-35A, C, or the mooted E would be more suited to RAF needs. Perhaps even a handful of LRS-B.


APATs, one thing I have noticed is that marketing and the physics departments are often not next door to each other. :)

RT relax, if someone oversells their product and there is no other information source that negates it out there, the people on the outside have no choice but to treat the infosource as reliable unless proven otherwise, if it is LM’s marketing department’s fault, you can’t blame APATS for that. Only information source and all.


Maybe I missed something over the last couple of hundred years but the main hurdle is penetration of enemy defences. To do this you need whatever technology advancement happens to be around at the time. It was high-speed / low-level. Now it’s stealth. Tomorrow it might be fighter escorted bombers with particle CIWS.

However, you simply cannot penetrate deep into enemy territory with only 450nm of radius, whatever weapon current technology deems sufficient. Furthermore there is only one way to take out hardened targets and that is ma-hoo-sive bombs.

I change my tune just about every day but I think F35B will be sufficient for fleet air defence, surveillance, interdiction and anti-armour. Back on terra firma I’m happy with Typhoon providing the same. What we then need is a strike aircraft that can take large payloads a long, long way. If you believe the “stealth” hype then F35A is currently the most cost effective way of doing this and getting away with it… I’m not sold on Storm Shadow (or son of TLAM) being our only SEAD capability.

Why spend more on F35B to have less payload and less range than F35A?

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Nope but things like CGI videos demonstrating capabilities are normally ran past quite a few departments.


You think? I’ve seen marketing twist reality into a pretzel before, up to and including a lawsuit by one of my university professors for misrepresenting her. On tupperware. And another lawsuit, this time family related for using a distant grandmother’s name on my father’s side, misuse of family name misrepresentation etc.

Marketing can be real bastards when it comes to selling.


Well, yes, I think I am.

Oddly, it was the Andrew who sparked my love of both maths and physics. I was a rather typical Arts A level no degree cavalryman until I found in a tri-Service courses brochure the fact that the Lt’s navigation course at HMS Dryad was technically open to all services, which was handy as I had a girlfriend in Winchester at the time and being posted to Germany was reducing the shagging opportunities. The course was a pre-cursor to the main Andrew Navigator course, which I am sure you have done. Anyway, it was hoots of fun, running up and down the south coast in small patrol craft, taking bearings, working out currents and course made good sort of stuff. I passed. I was a bit challenged when the Colonel told me to navigate the entire Regiment across the desert and between the Iraqi minefields overnight through a sandstorm 18 months later, 44 turns and a dozen minefields over 80 kilometres, but it all worked out well enough and we got to where he wanted to be. So good for the Andrew on navigation, I think, and for teaching it well enough that it inspired in me a love of maths.

Since then, I have got maths and physics A levels in my own time, and am about half way through an OU Maths degree (6 years).

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Outside of actual reaction to combat or landing on a Carrier Kevin in an F35 is pretty much a computer minder. It fuses the data takes the inputs from sensors in up to 3 environments, calculates the best flight profiles and does SAR classification.
Remember that the radar on an F35 is an AESA radar so we can steer the beams to minimise course alterations.
Now I hate wiki but even they say ” Careful design and operation can accomplish resolution of items smaller than a millionth of the range, for example, 30 cm at 300 km, or about one foot at nearly 200 miles (320 km).”
Now you may be a disbeliever but LM are making these claims quite publicly and even Dr Kopp has not published a rebuttal so maybe just maybe they have not wasted Billions developing the most advanced sensor system and powerful computing system ever to fly in a strike aircraft?
Still wish it went faster :(

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Perhaps but at this sort of level and involving 2 of the worlds largest DC? Nobody else looked at and said that cannot be true apart from RT? Really?

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Now that is arithmetic, I could tell you exactly how long it takes to do x distance at Y, how far away something will pass based on angle of separation etc. I spent some time assessing the graduates of the modern equivalent of the course you did :)



You would of course be aware that delta configurations offer considerably high aoa stall angles than conventional configuration aircraft due to a really flat lift curve curve slope. That was one of the many reasons why in the late 50s and 60s so much interest was in that configuration unfortunately a deltas produces certain helpful stability issues that either restricted the envelope of meant other parameters where effected to fix hence at that time the solution for best of both worlds was seen a variable geometry wings a la f14, tornado and f111. What has changed since to remove those issues has been a better understanding of flow physics and the grow of fly by wire computer technology to allow the use of unstable designs.

As for f15 being the premier western tactical strike aircraft that is the general agreed principle due to is size which allow for large sensor carriage, carrying capacity


SAR resolution takes time. Sustained trajectory without deviation. And once resolved, additional time for human interpretation. The F35 starts this at a disadvantage as the nosecone is so constrained in size.

You won’t convince me with LM marketing blurb, as there are so many variables they do not acknowledge, and that you appear to not know of.

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Fair enough but as I have pointed out, never before have we had such an advanced AESA radar doing this combined with so much processing power. There is no human interpretation (I assume if he really disagrees he may override) but the classification is automatic.
The F35 is probably the most criticised and scrutinised aircraft program in history yet quite public SAR performance claims have not been challenged.


Produces certain unhelpful stability issues. TD has the edit system stopped working ?



I’m unhappy with the “careful design and operation” statement you picked out. It’s the “…and operation” bit, which probably means…

“If you keep perfectly still and are working at 20C with excellent visibility and 0% humidity…”


From arithmetic comes more complex maths… No one should ever stop learning.

I recall being fined a case of champagne on a tri service course at Shrivenham, when an exasperated Cranfield professor was trying to teach about 100 JSCSC students about binary, probably on a Friday after noon. He put up 111111110 and asked us what it was. No one said anything, so I stuck my hand up and said 255. Was right, he rather stupidly thought I had computed it, I said no I didn’t, it was 256-1, and even a cavalryman was not challenged by that. He was disappointed that I had not a approached it from first principles, the rest if the course horrified that such an obvious answer had not been seen by anyone else.

Cost me rather more than £256, but worth it as I got a straight A pass on that element of the course.


@disqus_JRbK1yGHJ2:disqus Excellent post, I could not agree with you more. I think some people here are guilty of reading the tabloid heading and not considering how the journalist arrived at this incredible conclusion.

You however have looked at the sensational claims and put in the facts which is highly commendable.

Now let the old debate of which is better continue… Wheres @M&S?


@disqus_G1bK69kVPn:disqus Why do you say radius 450nm? Who said they were coming back?

More seriously as @disqus_JRbK1yGHJ2:disqus points out you have drop tanks and you can also use A/A refuel.


Shhh!! Let sleeping trolls lie. If he comes on, I blame you. :)


AOA stall is different from airspeed stall. Related though

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All Politicians are the Same



2000km – sorry, that was stupidly glib.

I think 2000km is about the maximum penetration needed.

You can’t use drop tanks and still remain stealthy and A/A refuel is not stealthy unless you’ve got a new stealth tanker.

PS: 2000km can just about be provided by buddy (stealthy) tanking on a pair of F35A/C.


Possibly stupid question:
Is the 900 nm range it’s total, or can it fly 900 nm away from CV and then fly 900 nm miles back (ergo, total range 1800 nm)?


‘The extra cost of the B model over the A pales in comparison with the
extra operating expenses.’

You’ll have to explain that to me, they both use the same engine and systems but the B model has the added complexity and cost of the servicing to the lift fan and all the moving doors etc and the moving engine nozzle.



I’ve given up with the nested comments. Yes, 2000km in, 2000km out, all fully “stealth-ed up”. It’s a bit plucked from the air but represents the distance to the interior of China or Russia (around the Mongolia area). The kind of area that might require bombing in WW3 from the perimeter of India or South Korea.

Perhaps Teranis would be enough?


Martin, the point I was trying to make for agility is that in a bombing run, it does not matter. From the Initial Point to the Release Point to the Target, it’s mostly a straight line, you can’t dance around too much.


900nm range total. 450nm radius of operation (there and back).


I don’t think canards reduce stall speed much. They just allow control at high angles of attack. I suppose being able to do that means we can sqeeeze extra AoA of the delta wing which delays the onset of stall by producing more lift.

Semantics ;-)

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So you are looking at a combat radius comparable to an F1-111 or F15E neither of which is stealthy but far greater than an F22 or any F35 variant.
You need a bomber as the technology does not exist to design a multi role stealth aircraft with that sort of combat radius. It may come.


“I don’t see the physics involved”.

That is precisely your problem. Just because you have not got a big brain does not mean the problem becomes all fluffy and solvy at the level of brain that you publish.

“I’m guessing”. Yes, you are.

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All Politicians are the Same

I have seen some stuff from “repositioned” satellites in near real time in the last few years that would blow your mind.
The advances in even the last decade are quite scary.


APATS, all of your and Martin’s examples are commercial satellites. You don’t reposition them at less than several million dollars. Actually, more like hundreds of millions of dollars, given that they are launched into optimal orbits, and repositioning them causes their new orbit to become sub-optimal, so shorter, and that costs buckets of dollars. Buckets and buckets of dollars.

Military satellites are different, in that you forget the cost, but then they are tied to strategic priorities. A Kevin flying by is both unimportant, and also too late to affect strategic priorities.


Ok guys, no point in any of us crying or not crying over this topic, best thing to do is just wait and see at how well it turns out. If it’s good, APATS gets bragging rights, if it’s not RT can tell us “I told you so!” :)

We just have to wait a bit to see it in action anyway, so why not just see how it performs in real life before passing judgement?

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You think I am talking about commercial satellites? We are talking about range and resolution, I am illustrating what I have seen of current military capabilities.
You really fail to understand the sort of data transfer, sensor fusion and information sharing capabilities we currently have, never mind what something like F35 will bring
Compare you 100M away from your recce wagon, seeing a field maybe and reporting what you see. Something like F35 can fuse your report, all your oppos reports, the AWACS info, ASTOR info, sat info, maritime data info, then the computer can collate it contribute to it via its own organic passive and active sensors before distributing it at the same time as adjusting advised flight plans based upon it. Then attack plans can be adjusted.


You really have bought the brochure.

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All Politicians are the Same

You really should get with the times :( We could do most of it 8 or 9 years ago on a ship running some systems that were tape based.
It is a brave new world out there and things have moved and are moving on.


Can I just say I think these nested replies are rubbish so I’ll follow Simon and just post here.

Simon I’d have to agree with apas building a low observable platform of f15 esq range performance with that degree of fighter manoeuvrability would make the price of f22 look cheap. I think in general people way overestimate how far way from either a base or a tanker these aircraft operate. We’ve been over the range thing many times though and as I’ve said a few time f35b will be fine in that regard.

Martin typhoon fore planes are for pitch rate control.

Observer I’m really lost what you think variable geometry wings brings to the party now a days. Be it high speed straight line speed at any altitude or high or low level manoeuvrability typhoon will outperform a gr4 in them all. Tornado due to its high wing loading was considered better for low level ride in its day, but modern stability augmentation systems and correct positioning of the cockpit on the freq response curve can and do compensate. However while still an option terrain masking low level runs sort of went out of fashion with introduction of LGBs. Tornado due to the experience of its crews and the weapons options available to it an extremely capable aircraft.


Of course the real question is….will it be a replacement for Buccaneer?

Things rarely work as advertised. Remember Microsoft. I’m also still sceptical about stealth; a jet remains a big chunk of noisy hot metal in the sky. Wouldn’t we be better off decoying/jamming rather than trying to render ourselves invisible?


Enigma, you don’t want high speed for the final phase of a bombing run, you want slow to extend your engagement time and to prevent overshoots, and the main reason low level runs ran out of fashion is that the enemies that the Coalition engaged in the recent years have never managed air superiority or managed to maintain a medium to high level altitude defence network, which as I pointed out in the tank posts, made it very very simple to drop LGBs (or even just a concrete bomb) from high/medium altitude and much much safer as nothing could touch you up there.

Against someone who has an intact defence network for high altitude work, you’ll be forced to go low again.

As for variable geometry wings, the high speed/low speed changes to the flight characteristics allows for a “dash” phase through obscured areas in the enemy air defences followed by a “slow” phase for the final run in past the Initial Point to the Release point, then an easier “air grab” phase past the Target to a safer energy level before switching to another “dash” phase for egress. After the Release Point, the plane’s energy level is extremely low (slow speed, low altitude), maybe even dangerously so.


I agree. We need a bomber… or something like Taranis.


Go on then, name one modern system in a fast jet that can do all of you say. Not a floaty little boat, a fast jet crewed by a single Kevin who not only has enough time on MW4 and opposable thumbs, but has enough training to make sensible OF5 level decisions about targeting.
Can’t be done at a level that I would find acceptable. You might have lower standards. Being in the Andrew, you probably do. :(



I wouldn’t design a penetration/strike aircraft to be super-agile. I’d give it small wings to reduce drag and increase range.

I might opt for variable geometry so that I can slow down to land though ;-)


Ahhh, the Buccaneer. Lift augmentation without variable geometry. Wonderful.


Just did some simple calcs and a Nikon D3X with a 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR lens can resolve 6000 pixels over 35mm at a focal length of 800mm.

Which is about 7:1000000

And that’s only £20K.

Maybe these mm wave radars really can so amazing things?

Martin, super article. Thanks.

You’ve done a great job of convincing us that the B version versus the A and C is the right choice for CVF. And the responses to your article seem to suggest that, if and when we decide to replace the Tornado, the A or C might be preferable for the long range strike role.

All this assumes that the F35 programme will deliver everything expected of it. I hardly need to mention how delayed and over budget all versions are, but my real worry is whether what we finally get will ‘do what it says on the tin’? Will the F35 be truly capable of fulfilling the original mission criteria set for the JSF. This is the elephant in the room.

My question is threefold: 1. Do you think there a significant risk of the F35 being mediocre and ultimately not the step forward in capability we need and expect it to be? 2. Will there ever be a point when we should cut and run? 3. Would the UK ever bale on it?


Don’t be ridiculous. What on earth does 6000 pixels over 35mm at a focal length of 800mm mean? Nothing at all. And when you sort of try to transfer equivalence between optical and radar bands, well anyone with appreciation for hard reality in the radar bands knows that you are howling at the moon.

This single post by you confirms something I have suspected in every post you make: you haven’t got a fucking Scooby about anything you write about.


Guys? In service date soon? :)

Joe B

Since when do strike aircraft do low level low speed bombing runs these days. All missiles and bombs are now long range stand off weapons, storm shadow, paveway, brimstone etc


Since 2 years back and long long before that. The 2 years back was when I called in a practice airstrike from a pair of F-16s. Can’t remember if it was 250 or 500-pounders.


I agree with you, but… Why do I always get the impression (both from here and other sites) that the RAF will replace Typhoon with an F35 sometime after 2030 ?

I think it’s more complex than that.
1. The F-35 will probably end up being very good at what it does best such as SEAD while being mediocre at BVR air superiority, very poor at dog fighting and (unfortunately for us) lacking in range for long-range strike. In other words those nations that buy only the F-35 will have a very limited air force. What you need is a dog fighter with longer range and stealthy cruise missiles to complement it. Oh wait that’s the Typhoon! So really the F-35B should largely be a Harrier replacement and SEAD Tornado replacement with Typhoon replacing Tornado in air superiority, strike and CAS. Funnily enough this isn’t too far away from what we’re going to end up with.
2. Only if we sell both aircraft carriers at the same time and get out of providing any meaningful defence of the UK.
3. No, because we make 15% of every F-35 and even if they only end up building 2,000 that’s still better than nothing!


I would add a sub-question to your 1. If we were to face technically savvy opponents today (eg China, Russia etc) are we sure that the F35 would be able to cope with their counter-stealth counter measures as well as whatever technical developments on this front they come up with over the 2020 to 2050+ period ?
Presumably when designing your Stealth airplane you also end up having a good idea what the counter-stealth technology might look like ?


‘They are both different aircraft requiring different weapons
integration, different training for maintenance crew, different training
for pilots etc.’

In the A model that would mean less training for pilots and maintainers, weapons integration would not be that big of a problem with hopefully other European buyers integrating Meteor etc as well.

‘Our budget will only stretch to two squadrons so we would end up with
one F35a and one F35b and the ability to have 6 F35 B on the carrier’

My understanding was that the B model was to replace the Harriers only, and that the Tornadoes were being retired early as a cost saving measure with a replacement in the future, is it the case that two B sqn’s you mentioned are now the default permanent replacement for Tornado as well? If so then the carriers are not worth the price of gutting the FJ fleet in the RAF.

‘The F35 will be very good at what it does best… but those nations that only buy the F-35 will have a very limited air force.’

Very good summary. Luckily, the UK has Typhoon. When it comes to replacing Tornado, if the A or C versions aren’t good enough, then I’d like to see us adopt / develop a TSR2 Mk2. What it could do seems to be just the capability we’re looking for.


Martin thank you. Presumably you invest in CIWS to protect the Radar/launcher sites as well as multiple mobile systems (using various frequencies) combined with data links and random emission timing (from individual sites) to make it as difficult to attack.



It means that passive EMR sensors can get a 7:1000000 resolution and since any radar is simply a passive EMR sensor (oh and a mighty big torch) I’m starting to wonder if 1:1000000 is not too unreasonable an ask with some clever FFT/DCT data processing on the sensor array.

Am I digging a deep enough hole yet ;-)


You mean C-RAM. CIWS is for people who sail to work.



not sure why you feel modern aircraft voluntarily bomb
at slow speed – I have not seen any indication of this and it does not
make much sense. For survivability and energy impartment to the weapon,
one would want to be moving at whatever was both fast and economic,
relying on the weapon guidance to ensure a good hit. While there are
undoubtedly release limitations for any given piece of ordinance, you
would always want to be at the upper end of these.

As others have
pointed out, apart from a better ride at low level owing to the lower
wing-loading, there is nothing kinetically that a Typhoon cannot do but a
Tornado could. Indeed, given far better thrust-to-weight ratio, the
Tiffie is arguably better-suited to decelerating if needed (not
convinced it is, mind), manoeuvring round awkward missiles and then
getting out of Dodge tout suite


I love learning new acronyms. Counter Rocket Artillery Mortar Protection System ?

As others have said I think the answer to long range strike after 2030 will be something based on the unmanned Taranis rather than any manned vehicle.


Which is basically CIWS on a trailer. :)


You don’t “maneuver” around “awkward missiles”, that is Hollywood. SOP is a pass over the target, drop your payload, hit the flares/chaff and get out or at least that’s the situation from what I’ve seen. Not sure if the chaff/flare dump is automatic or a response to a simulated launch, never got to asking the flyboys about it, but the view from ground level is you see the guys go in, dump their load, climb out while releasing a stream of countermeasures.

The speed thing is a targeting problem, you go in too fast and your window to shoot becomes very, very narrow. Of course you are right in saying that you want to get in and get out fast, but it’s meaningless if you go in so fast that you miss your shot.

And if you do get a chance to call in the fast jets, remember, ear plugs. Once was enough of a painful lesson. It actually hurts when they pass by overhead.

The Other Chris

@Simon You’re getting there far faster than @redtrousers:disqus.

There’s a lot of “old” physics being applied by commenters without understanding the “new” physics involved. This isn’t a criticism, just an observation. If you can grok “old” you can grok “new” as they’re at the same level of complexity, just requiring a different model. I think a lot of the issue is due to hardware such as AESA being seen as an evolution of Phased Array when it’s more revolutionary than that.

T/R’s can and do detect waves directly, however that’s not the limit of their detection capacity.

CAVEAT: T/R Arrays have their own problems. Thermal efficiency is one, diffracting lobes at the edges of the transmissions another. PhoDir sourced phased arrays (opposed to the single sources currently being tested) are going to be things of beauty… but I digress…

Mentioned previously, however the biggest shift of thinking when talking about an AESA is moving away from single waveform reflection mechanics. The ability to shift frequencies and pulse arrays with sub-nanoscale timing precision (this is important as it allows you to begin to operate within wavelength timings) means that a field of waveforms can be established. You can then apply techniques ranging from interferometry to bleeding edge photonics (remember the particle “half” of wave-particle duality).

You can establish a background “spiders web” of a constructive frequency of waveforms to what you’re trying to detect, whether it be your own waveform or a passively received one, as just one example of the techniques being applied.

Waves cross this background field and interfere, creating secondary effects that your T/R’s may receive when they otherwise wouldn’t receive the primary waveform. The hardware allows software to tune the field accordingly at blistering speed (speed of light + calculation time + hardware implementation) allowing fluctuations in what is being detected from the background field to be combined with what is being received directly.

The F-35 carries dedicated Field Programmable Gate Arrays (Xilinx Vertex 7 for the current LRIP) to handle image processing from all of it’s sensors before passing results to the Integrated Processor (Motorola’s) which determines what it’s seeing and presents this information to the pilot for a decision.

Linking these together, the F-35 MADL system allows for very high bandwidth communication between airframes. The system is able to share the raw data being received with another aircraft.

This allows you to add techniques such as those used in very long base interferometry. Two AESA’s separated by a known baseline that can coordinate their fields and waveforms. How about a synthetic aperture radar effect with a baseline of 200m? What could that detect?

All of a sudden techniques that work beyond perceived brick walls such as inverse square and angular resolution mathematics become available. VLBL Telescopes have resolutions far beyond their receiver sizes. Auditoriums allow the audience to hear a performer with a signal to noise ratio beyond the power of the performers voice with no third party power amplification.

Bottom line, I’m with @allpoliticiansarethesame:disqus in that the physics, mathematics and hardware are at the point where this on-board processing will present the pilot with the necessary information in his field of vision to make a decision immediately rather than the pilot requiring an operator to interpret what the set(s) are providing.


AESA and SAR just seem to be a load of simultanuous cosine equations to solve to me.

I can completely understand why it is only possible nowadays with modern cpus (it took holographics yesteryear).

Still, they don’t overcome the unfortunate reality of weather, difraction, refraction and bloom – unless the “weather” is always considered to be a uniform vector field.

Quick question but assuming we’re talking about SAR how many samples in the direction of travel would usually be buffered before an (evolving) “image” were generated?


Sorry Martin, I missed this one. The point I am making is not that SAR CANNOT resolve to that level of resolution, but that I am deeply sceptical that a small AESA in SAR mode in the nose of a fast jet can resolve something like an SA-11 at over 100 Kms, and even it it could, the resulting image would not IMO be targeting quality, would still require interpretation by a specialist, and that I do not believe that there is either time or training for fast jet pilots to do all of that while engaged in a combat mission.

Re software automated classification: there are all sorts or practical constraints such as ROE that would tend to collectively rule out automated engagement in all but WW3 scenarios. What’s the difference at over 100 Kms between a SCUD or SA* TEL and a bus full of nuns and orphans? Visually very little. If the TEL is emitting some form of military RF then you have some corroboration, but if it is in silent mode…..?

Anyway, LM are in trouble for the ropiness of their software, so I wouldn’t hold my breath.


Simon, I know the generic data for Sentinel, but it really is classified, and would now I expect be superseded by modern processors anyway.

SAR resolution is about baseline length, anyway. Satellites can achieve tremendous resolution quickly because they travel at about 16,000 mph, so getting lots of data from a great variety of angles is easy. The wide bodies or U2s fly sideways to the target, so generating a differential set of angles. Unless you constrain a FJ to the same profile, it has only a narrow set of angles to play with.

@ all, there’s also Johnson criteria and target attitude relative to the SAR to consider


TOC, interesting on the co-production, but I wonder how sensitive that is to even tiny differences in relative separation? You would require absolute precision flying to maintain a gap of 200 metes: any variability of even centimetres will introduce fuzziness and distortion.

The Other Chris

If you can apply a technique akin to First-Photon Imaging (Kirmani, A. 2013) then it will just be the one! :)

White Paper:

BBC Summary:

In all seriousness, completely agree with regards the changing medium (weather). As far as I’m aware the AN/AGP-81 is billed as a X Band where the wavelengths tend not to penetrate thick weather very well. Doesn’t preclude constructive intereference to generate a different wavelength mind, and there’s always the chance of something more “secret squirrel” in there…

Holographics have been used for a while now. S Band PSR and SSR’s in Air Traffic Control use some of the techniques to cancel clutter from the returns without requiring the receiver to alter rotation.

The Other Chris

You’re not wrong. The method that has been discussed publicly for the “sensor fusion” process, but between platforms, is the shipping of the stamped raw data from the appropriate sensor to each other rather than trying to coordinate “live”.

The two platforms log their own data as they go along and then perform the same calculations on what happened a few fractions of a second ago i.e. once the figures from the other aircraft are in, rather than trying to account for drift on what’s currently happening right now.

The FPGA’s and the Real-Time OS (Green Hills) being used is deterministic, so the two aircraft can compare notes with certainty. Note I say aircraft and not pilot. The aircraft present their pilots with the details they’ve calculated together via the head mounted displays worn and the two multifunction displays heads-down.


In which case, both platforms will require synchronisation before flight, to allow for individual T/R modules variances in output and sensitivity to be cross-mapped. I think that would be non-trivial engineering. Both platforms would also need to be at the same software version: less of an issue, but still needs to be addressed. And there would have to be some common assumptions about baseline length, which might by themselves become constraining.

The Other Chris

Explains the cost overruns and lines of code! :)

I suppose the question is would it be worth it? I don’t know.

*If* they can produce an airmobile precision synthetic 200m baseline array that works, then probably yes. It’d be an astounding application if they can achieve it really.

The software blocks suggest they’re cracking these problems, even if it’s not all fully IOC yet. It’s in this realm that the importance of the aircraft sits in my opinion i.e. “sensor fusion” and “decision making”.

Whether it can sustain a 7G turn, land vertically or misses with its tailhook on landing are “straight forward” engineering problems by comparison, but nothing that hasn’t been engineered before.

What’s the loss of ALARM in the SEAD debate if the aircraft can pick out all three launcher sites fed by two radar sets (currently “off”) for precision targeting with SDB? Do you need a 2000lb JDAM carried internally when the system can pick out a multitude of infrastructure targets for hitting with precision weaponry?

EDIT: With live damage assessment.

I simply love the Hawley Brief [1] where 80 independently targetable 500lb JDAM’s are illustrated for B-2 carriage. The rates move from “Runway Takedown’s per Sortie” to “Airbase Takedown’s per Sortie”.

Images and words and all that:



I still think the sort of SAR capability in the MBDA video is decades away from being in a British fast jet cockpit in a usable fashion.

Which returns us to Martin’s main question. How useful is F35B? To my mind, not very apart from in a narrow set of circumstances of carrier borne defensive counter air. Certainly, for the money it costs, you could have better capability however you define that with other platforms that are not compromised by needing to park themselves on a boat.


Well I would give a strike aircraft as big a wing aspect ratio as possible to increase range and reduce drag and funny enough it may indeed turn into a bat wing. However if I give it a short wing the life induce drag would go up and turn rate would go dwn but I bet it would be fast if I stuck a great big donk in it and the roll rate would be pretty sporty too.

As tried to point out to observer there’s a reason we stopped designing variable geometry wings in the 60s to much weight and complexity for no benefit thanks to modern techniques.


Among my junk was a Paris 05 issue of Flight International with an article on how Harrier GR9 could stay in UK service til 2020. Made me want to cry, though it could be the Saharan dust.
Re. F-35B. It really only makes sense for the FAA & the elephants. The RAF would be better off with the A or C. If the long range E with the Advent engine is ever built, then playing fantasy aircraft, I would also add the cranked arrow wing of the F-16XL prototype. Now that would be a good Tornado GR4 replacement ( i.e. an F-35A with Advent engine & cranked arrow wing).



I suppose those “modern techniques” are the fact that modern military thinking seems to be happy to yield top-end speed for low-speed handling.

Re “…as big a wing aspect ratio as possible…” – does that mean I can sign you up to the Buccaneer fan club ;-)


Happy to yield top end speed for engine efficiency ,inlet design plus a few other things.

I did like the banana jet, pretty bad fatigue cracking near the end joys of never getting above 50 ft! You tried to get me into that club before Simon why I changed my name when we signed up to this comment system of which I am not a fan

Think Defence

B always made the most sense for the UK, most sense in a financially challenged world with lots of other draws on a finite defence budget. I don’t understand why people have a hard time recognising this.

The replacement for Tornado is in the near term, Typhoon and Reaper, in the medium term Typhoon, Reaper and the F35B and in the longer term, Typhoon and some unmanned system in whatever guise Taranis eventually takes plus maybe, just perhaps, F35A

I don’t think we need a long range strike bomber because that role is now covered by Storm Shadow and Tomahawk.

What we actually need is some means of quickly and cheaply delivering missiles, because in the near future this will be the several Billion pound Typhoon programme, the several billion pound Astute programme and the several billion pound carrier strike programme.

None of which are cheap


Has it occurred to anyone that Stormshadow and Tomahawk can actually be countered?
– they are the Bleheim bomber…. Invincible because they fly “fast”
– and “perhaps” undetected?


TD. Well its your site, but I cannot see the point of spending taxpayers cash on shiny short range jets that cannot reach the enemy. For 4 F-35B, you could buy 1 LRS-B. What is a better use of cash, 40 F-35B that cannot reach the enemy, or 10 LRS-B that can? We never need long range strike until we do i.e 1982, opening shots of Afghanistan, endurance to loiter over battlefields, etc.


If the LRSB ever makes it to project completion. And avoids a 4x price inflation. You’re talking about Boeing (not so bad) and LM (very bad rep) here you know.


For pity’s sake! Where did I say to use an LRS-B for fleet air defence? My point is that UK F-35B should be for the FAA operating from the elephants , so 40 to 60. The RAF should not get near them. The RAF does need a Tornado GR4 replacement, so a longer ranged aircraft is needed. It could be a tr3 Typhoon with conformal tanks & the largest drop tanks, LRS-B, F-35A or C, or the mooted long range strike F-35E. Any of those will do.


It was your comparison with the -35Bs, if you want the LRS-Bs to replace the 35Bs, then they’ll have to take over all the jobs of the former. If you had compared it with the -35As, you would not have hit that question. :) Slight oops there.

The Other Chris

“The defence secretary said that initially the UK would buy 48 jets for the aircraft carriers and announce at a later date what the final numbers would be. We will not finalise our decisions on the F-35 programme until SDSR in 2015”

– MoD Spokesperson to IHS Jane’s 27/12/2012

Original source from IHS Jane’s, reproduced on Defence Talk:

Alexander Harrowell

quality post. interesting point about the analyst workstation. also, fly straight and level while staring heads down at a radar, in order to identify a SA-11 site of all things? An aircraft that is meant to be stealthy, trying to image enemy air defences with active radar? this seems utterly madheaded. like boiling hydrogen peroxide on a kitchen stove.

The Other Chris

Can discuss the AESA Low Probability of Intercept, passive EO, secondary designation, MADL cooperation, the DAS and the fusion presented via the Elbit/RC HMDS and L-3 MFD’s if you’d like, however I’m unsure how interested you would be?

Would you like to know more?


A cost/benefit analysis then. Just how many Mobile SAM/Radar/CRAM units can you buy for the ? $150million each F35 will cost allowing for loss rate and effectiveness in the air defence role. No doubt somebody has a complex mathematical model.

Alexander Harrowell

I’d always like to know more.


Britain got a 10% workshare on the F-35 on the basis that the UK bought 150. I cannot see how we will remain a credible industrial partner if we only buy 48. Granted US/European defence cuts take the pressure off the UK to buy 150 straight away, but we will still need to buy at least 100 over time. So 48 F-35B for the FAA/elephants pre 2020, then 50 F-35A, C or E as RAF Tornado replacements, post 2020. The GR4 could be kept going til then.


Whats the E?

The Other Chris



The F-35E is a potential replacement for USAF F-15E. New engine technology allows high bypass for economical cruising, with the ability to switch that bypass off for moments of high intensity combat. The engine demonstrator is called Advent (GE/RR). They claim it could be ready for production F-35 by 2016. I would add 4 years to that, realistically.


How the strewthy-flip-n-heck do we fire hundreds of Storm Shadow at once when we don’t have hundreds of jets to launch them from and could only probably “tanker” a dozen to theater?

Remember too what APATS said. We only have 2 or 3 TLAM to our name ;-)



The Other Chris

There won’t be a variant beyond the A/B/C designations. If there is to be a new engine it will be included in a Block designation.

ADVENT/AETD under the VAATE program is the most likely candidate for re-engining beyond more straight forward F135 increments.

PAVE PACE doesn’t yet include integration of FADEC operations into the ICP. I think you’ll see that before a new engine given the F135 would be a “known” to work against.

But how much commonality *is* there in operating a mixed fleet of F35-A and F35-B? We’re looking at the overall through life cost of a single-type fleet here, and then using the money saved to increase the size of the fleet initially, or after time. Also, didn’t the RAF operate Harriers, too? And they found them somewhat versatile in the CAS task?


Given the majority of the support spend is going to be software, which is identical across F35A/B/C, if we do a split buy of B and C, I doubt there will be much difference in support costs


TOC. The F-16 first flew in 1972. They are still making new ones now. If the F-35 lasts that long, how can you be sure there will be nothing beyond C?


Given that all 3 variants land and take off with different flight envilopes ( and differing wings in the C model ) there must be some differences in software?


Advent engine tech by 2016 not a chance in hell its in very early testing for availability on f35 your talking 2030 time frames if at all.

There’s that many issues to sort out with the current aircraft no one will rocking up with new bit for at least a decade. Even the uk went a bit wobbly on timescales after the recent lot.


This is an illustration of the commonality ( I don’t know how accurate it is)

The engines and systems are common as well, so I would have thought that this is the area where you would benefit the most from commonality. Plus the ownership of the B would be more expensive than the A model due to its VTOL components, such as the lift fan and doors and nozzle that would require inspection, servicing and parts.

The RAF did operate Harriers and they were almagated under a joint command with the FAA harriers and both the RAF and FAA were operating the same versions (with the same role) at the time of it’s withdrawel, but the Tornado replacement would not need to be VSTOL to fullfill it’s role and so would be an uneeded extra expense.


Yeah, but this is flight control software, which will both be a very small portion of the total (it’s real time control system) and will not change that much over the lifetime of the system since the physical shape of the aircraft will not change. The weapons, EW, sensors etc will change massively over that time, and that’s where the money will go


Was there ever confirmation from the MOD that they have ordered 14 more F35bs? Saw chat from Janes / BBC etc that an order was imminent in Jan but nothing more.