Is it time to change our Air to Air refuelling system?

Traditionally the Royal Air Force has used the probe and drogue in-flight refuelling system, contrasting with the US Air Force which uses a flying boom system.

For smaller fast jet aircraft the choice of system makes little difference as under wing pods are easily fitted to most tanker aircraft.

However for larger aircraft that require higher rates of fuel transfer the choice of system can be a major operational issue. In the past when the United Kingdom has procured large aircraft from the USA such as the E3 Sentry it has converted its aircraft to use the probe and drogue system.

Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA)
Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA)

 

Fitting new fuel systems to aircraft that were not designed to take them can be expensive and time consuming. With ever decreasing budgets and numbers of aircraft the RAF is increasingly opting to have no in-flight refuelling capability for its large aircraft.

Currently the RAF operates C17 and RC135 Rivet Joint and Voyager Tankers of which have an in-flight refuelling receiver using only the flying boom system.

In-flight refuelling for large RAF aircraft such as the C130, A400M and E3 Sentry is provided by a high capacity centre line hose fitted to 7 of the RAF’s Voyager Tankers. Two other Voyagers are fitted for but not with the centre line refuelling point.

The RAF’s Voyager Tanker aircraft is capable of operating with its own flying boom system known as the (ARBS).

ARBS
ARBS

 

Currently the RAF relies on USAF tankers to re-fuel the RC 135 Rivet Joint and has an MOU with the Air Tanker consortium allowing this. However if we are ever required to conduct a sovereign operation without American support we may find it difficult to conduct operations.

If, as looks increasingly likely the UK decides to purchase the P8 Poseidon for maritime patrol operations the situation is likely to get even worse. The P8 is relatively short legged compared to the Nimrod and it is highly likely to require in-flight refuelling to be operationally effective, especially in the South Atlantic.

We could take the step to fit the ARBS system to two Voyager aircraft currently fitted for but not with the centre line refuelling system. As far as I can tell it should not be too difficult to do this even on a finished aircraft. Two tankers would be far from ideal but should allow enough sovereign capability to support our P8’s and Rivet Joints if we are ever required to conduct a sovereign operation.

It would also allow us to better provide support to the USAF.

Given that the A400M can actually carry a high capacity centre line refuelling system with almost no modifications to the aircraft it may make even more sense to convert all 9 Voyagers to use the ARBS system.

In the longer term it is probably far cheaper and easier to convert our tankers over to the ARBS system rather than trying to fit hose and drogue refuelling systems to small fleets of specialist aircraft.

 

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Kent
Kent
August 25, 2014 12:41 pm

You realize, of course, that if you convert to the ARBS, all your aerial refueling specialists will gain the nickname “Clancy?”

The Other Chris
August 25, 2014 12:51 pm

I’m presuming that maintaining 805E’s on the centreline for some aircraft is desirable for the larger probe refuelling aircraft?

Cobham MRTT Refuelling systems

Observer
Observer
August 25, 2014 1:11 pm

[You realize, of course, that if you convert to the ARBS, all your aerial refueling specialists will gain the nickname “Clancy?”]

This one went over my head, sorry.

As for the refueling systems, they are not mutually exclusive, so it is possible to actually have a flying boom in the fuselage and 2 drogue systems on the wings. This would allow all aircraft to use the tanker. The A330 that we are getting from you guys are dual system aircraft made that way by Airbus so it doesn’t seem to be that difficult. The Australians use a dual system too I think. That would give the most flexibility in Coalition tasking as well as future proofing any new aircraft buy since there is no longer a need to convert foreign bought aircraft to a specific system they may not have been designed for.

Jeremy M H
August 25, 2014 1:41 pm

I have always found it amusing that this debate is often presented as if the USAF is the only major user of boom refueling.

Just of the model that the UK uses for air refueling 3 of the 4 users use a boom. Among NATO nations I think you see booms on almost as many nations as you don’t at this point given the proliferation of the F-16 and likely proliferation of the F-35A. In the Pacific most major western aligned nations use boom refueling. A lot of nations won’t bother having refueling capability at all I suppose but I never saw the benefit of not having the booms put on considering the UK had aircraft in inventory that could make use of them and it would add flexibility going forward.

But that is a ship that has sailed. You aren’t putting booms on civilian owned aircraft.

Mark
Mark
August 25, 2014 2:10 pm

Were quite happy with drogue fueling so is the us navy and all our major European allies. US navy uses our tankers a lot.

No uk requirement for booms therefore no booms on the tankers.

Peter Elliott
August 25, 2014 2:46 pm

Mark

Do you envisage ‘No UK Requirement’ for booms continuing indefinitely?

In the event that we did procure P8 as an MPA would you prefer us to:

(a) pay to put probes on them
(b) pay to put booms on our tankers
(c) rely on Third Party tanking / do without

Just interested to know your preference.

Peter

Observer
Observer
August 25, 2014 3:05 pm

Mark, that is probably true in the past, but the current trend is sort of leaning towards multi-national cooperative ventures, so interoperatability took a huge jump in importance. Not to say drogues are wrong, they work well, just that situations change and plans change too. With everyone cutting their military, anything of importance that needs to be done now looks to a need for cooperative effort by different countries, which means interoperatability becomes more important.

http://www.japcc.org/aboutjapcc/cis/aarmatrix/Workspacelibrary/AAR_MATRIX/National_SRDs/National_SRD-Singapore.pdf

If you looked at the end, there is a list of aircraft types that are sorted between boom and drogue refueling. (Part 4-1 and 4-2). There are some fairly significant ones that are only boom dependent, like the F-15/16/22/(35?), C-130 etc.

Mark
Mark
August 25, 2014 3:56 pm

Peter first off I would ask how many maritime mission extend beyond 10hrs in duration. Then if the p3 has avoided using aar for its entire life so how much is that really a negative. Perhaps best left to allied boom tankers would be my view.

Aircraft with probs include gripen typhoon f35b,c rafale, super hornet, c130, a400m, our awac cn295 not to mention significant mirage varients. Not saying booms are bad we and significant portions of our allies don’t use them. The US has lots of boom refuellers so perhaps we add a niche. Not using a boom does mean no single point of failure on the tanker aircraft for tactical jets.

S O
S O
August 25, 2014 7:20 pm

Remember, the probe and drogue system is the only one which works with helicopters.

Most of the time.

Opinion3
Opinion3
August 25, 2014 10:16 pm

Martin,

I believe our A330 Voyagers currently do not have UARRSI. This is despite this being a standard feature on the Airbus MRTT. We had ours removed.
Essentially our Voyagers lack two fundamental capabilities

1. Being able to be refuelled in flight
2. Being able to refuel our large aircraft such as the C17, Airseeker and potentially the P8. I might add that the E3 replacement can easily be envisaged being the next plane added to the list.

I’d love to know how long it would take to rectify the above issues in a hurry.

Johnno
Johnno
August 26, 2014 6:59 am

The standard A330 MRTT as supplied to Australia and Saudi Arabia has a centre line boom and a drogue pod mounted on each wing. The A330 wing is common with the A340 so the pods pick up on the wing structure the would support engines 1 an 4 on an A340.

It should be no particular problem retrofitting RAF aircraft with a boom, unless the centre line hose reel has required major structural rework. Just pay the contractor more.

In any likely conflict tankers tend to become a multi customer asset so the RAF may have put a boulder in its own pack by requiring a RAF specific version of the A330.

Mark
Mark
August 26, 2014 8:19 am

Martin

The p3 didn’t do aar so does it matter if p8 doesn’t? We seem to be saying change our awac, Astor capability and change or increase our aar training and equipment to get a p8 in the inventory.

Airtanker have stated it would take 6 months to convert one of there aircraft to have a boom at an additional cost.

TAS
TAS
August 26, 2014 8:24 am

All of you have missed the recent news that would, to my mind, provide the only justification in terms of cost/benefit analysis for fitting a boom refuelling system:

http://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/airtanker-pitches-voyager-for-nato-refuelling-shortfall-402487/

Greater overall contribution to NATO is a valid consideration; but it’s not as if we get a financial reward, just another incremental increase in our overall standing. Which, after all, is what military effect is all about these days – actual fighting power is a second order consideration.

Refuelling helicopters is a non point as I don’t believe the maximum speed for a helo and the minimum stall speed for the Voyager overlap at all. You’d need a C130 or A400 as well as a reason to do it. Besides, long range helo ops are of questionable value given vulnerability and the punishment on the airframe – unless you look at the US Joint Personnel Recovery (CSAR) and deep-strike special ops capability for which you then have a valid model. Since we a) don’t have a CSAR/JPR capability anyway and b) would use CH47 with extended range tanks for that anyway, it remains a moot point.

The Other Chris
August 26, 2014 8:43 am

It wasn’t missed, discussed in the Open Thread at the beginning of the month ;)

General feeling was it was a good opportunity, may also see the introduction of booms, uncertainty whether we’d be clogging up airspace where there are boom equipped tankers already flying a pattern.

Observer
Observer
August 26, 2014 8:44 am

Mark, you are looking at it too narrowly. Boom AAR is not only for MPA, it is for other aircraft as well. You use C-130s and C-5s do you not?

Apparently the link I supplied above isn’t working, but it showed a list of fairly significant aircraft that can only boom refuel, like the F-15 and F-16, which some of your NATO allies use in fairly significant numbers. Not to mention C-5 and C-130.

A-330 MRTTs can come from the factory with the boom built in, like they did for Australia. Airtanker chose not to install that particular feature to cut costs, which is a case of the priorities of a for profit company contrasting with the priorities of the military. The RAF might want to operate in cooperation with the air force of other countries, but Airtanker only wants to play with the RAF, though I suspect there may be some clauses in their contract for refueling allies in times of need. I do know the reverse is true, if the RAF does not use up a set amount of fuel yet pumps from allied tankers, they are liable for penalties. Which is pretty sad because they got you over a barrel like that.

TAS
TAS
August 26, 2014 8:51 am

TOC, I know but still missed in the original blog post and a fairly fundamental bit of info for this particular suggestion. Winking smiley right back atcha.

The Other Chris
August 26, 2014 8:56 am

It wasn’t (purely) to cut costs.

The Centreline 805E unit on the KC3’s has a higher throughput (additional 50%) than the wing mounted 905E pods. Used for refuelling larger aircraft.

You can argue for savings with regards to the KC2, though I think if the wing pods are being used, the centreline fuselage unit doesn’t have the space to refuel a third aircraft.

Peter Elliott
August 26, 2014 9:00 am

Mark

Whether we need AAR for P8 does not depend on whether P3 ever needed AAR. It depends on the UK Concept of Ops. Last time is was written this resulted in a requirement for the humungous range of MRA4. But that may have simply been a historical carry over from the range of MR1/2. If we are still working on the same basis then then AAR may indeed turn out to be a requirment to help P8 meet that Concept of Ops.

Alternatively the UK Concept may have been changed to focus more narrowly on the EEZ and the approaches to the Clyde, rather than the wider North and South Atlantic, in which case AAR may not be required.

In either case the past history of the P3 is not really relevant in determing the future UK Requirement.

Mark
Mark
August 26, 2014 9:15 am

No observer I’m not. Our c130 are prob refueling as is our a400m and our e3d

Air tanker deliver the requirement defended by the mod. No NATO allies use f15 other than Americans and f16 is used in handfuls out side of Turkey. There’s more prob equipped allies in NATO by a significant margin than boom in Europe.

LochNess
LochNess
August 26, 2014 9:28 am

“Airtanker chose not to install that particular feature to cut costs, which is a case of the priorities of a for profit company contrasting with the priorities of the military.”

The MoD define the requirement, which is then provided by AirTanker? MoD didn’t ask for a boom.

The Other Chris
August 26, 2014 9:46 am

(Half need the ability to merge comments for two or more related articles!)

Range of the P-8A isn’t abysmal. Listed publicly as 1,200nmi but can remain on station for fours at this distance. Total 10.5 hours endurance.

Visually, you can expect to be able to remain on station anywhere in this radius for 4 or more hours:

http://www.freemaptools.com/radius-around-point.htm?clat=57.72157899999999&clng=-3.280324999999948&r=2222.50406484889&lc=FFFFFF&lw=1&fc=00FF00&fs=true

monkey
monkey
August 26, 2014 9:47 am

@Observer
“Which is pretty sad because they got you over a barrel like that.”
Is that a barrel of JP-8 ?
Yes it is sad what we signed upto , heho its only till 2035 so plenty of time to think of other options like owning our own f***ing aircraft and using them for our own purposes not flying tourists to Mexico or wherever , like PFI who thought private enterprise would somehow provide a ‘cheap’ alternative to direct funding ? Just an accountants fudge to get round budgetry constraints without having to declare it on this years books but putting a millstone around the taxpayers necks for the next 25 to 50 years .Oh yes the ever so wise Gordon Brown , we have sooo much to thank him for.

Dangerous Dave
Dangerous Dave
August 26, 2014 10:31 am

@Monkey.

If only TD had a like button for comments! :-D

John Hartley
John Hartley
August 26, 2014 11:23 am

The Voyager PFI has been an expensive disaster, but Airbus, in the latter part of this decade, will start producing a neo enhanced version. Gives us a chance to junk Voyager early (& hang everyone connected with it), then buy a shiny new fleet of A330 neo MRTT, with next generation eco RR engines (14% less fuel?), a combi cabin, freight door, a next generation boom & wing pods.

Observer
Observer
August 26, 2014 11:45 am

Mark, think the US counts as a rather big ally to you? And the US may have their own, or maybe not, but without commonality, they’ll simply ask you to go fly a kite as you can’t do a thing for their aircraft. Using a flexible system at least lets them go “Oh, the Brits have a tanker there already, let’s just use that instead of going through the hassle of moving one of our own there.” And there are also the Australians, think you guys are still on good terms with them? Turkey? The Netherlands? Norway? Denmark? Those are all F-16 users in Europe.

Loch, that is true, the MoD writes the requirements. And Airtanker met the minimum required and not a cent more.

If you want to operate with other countries, can’t just look at what you have. You look at what the others have.

Peter E is right, you have to look at what is your ConOps. Most of it unfortunately stems from the simple “go in as a multi-nation coalition”, which means that you must be able to service that “multi-nation coalition” in all its’ variety.

Mark
Mark
August 26, 2014 11:48 am

Peter

So an mpa (p3) which has been the mainstay of conducting asw operations in the North Atlantic for the past 50 years is irrelevant to the primary UK requirement to purchase a fixed wing mpa for operations in the North Atlantic?

Peter Elliott
August 26, 2014 11:55 am

No Mark – that’s not what I said.

The North Atlantic is a big place and NATO naturally shares out the AO based on geography.

The UK requirement will be defined by the geographic relationship between the UK’s bases and the UK Area of Operations.

The US requirement is defined by a different geographical realtionship becuase their bases and AO are different from ours.

Mark
Mark
August 26, 2014 12:05 pm

they regularly stick p3 up to Lossiemouth/kinloss that mustn’t count then. Nor that in the day every NATO nation under the sun stuck mpas in Iceland or the Azores. If p8 can’t do the task without the need for aar then we shouldn’t be buying it.

Observer
Observer
August 26, 2014 12:15 pm

Mark, that is a strawman argument. If the MPA have been doing their job fine all these years without AAR, then obviously AAR isn’t relevant to them doing their job. You argue that without AAR, MPA can’t do their job, but what has changed? Nothing. Your initial premise *MPAs need AAR to do their job* is itself already wrong.

monkey
monkey
August 26, 2014 12:15 pm

@Mark
To have the option to refuel is always use full , that’s why P3 can , P8 can even Nimrod could.
http://www.avrovulcan.org.uk/tankers/571_nimrod.jpg

Mark
Mark
August 26, 2014 12:18 pm

Observer

You tell me, about 300 US boom equipped tankers. Yet the Uk is regularly tasked to support US navy and marine corp aircraft because they are all prob refuelled. Holland, Denmark, Norway Belgium about 150 f16s between them and prob no more than 40 deplorable between them. France, Germany, Italy, spain North of 500 aircraft prob equipped and less than 50 tanker aircraft were would you suppose the need might be in a coalition?

Thomson
Thomson
August 26, 2014 12:20 pm

Good proposals

Also I really think the RAF should NOT be operating from the Queen Elizabeth-class, leaving it to the Fleet Air Arm to fly their F-35Bs replacing the Harriers whilst the RAF fly F-35As replacing the Tornados (the least compromised variant) and refuel using the BOOM.

But what I’d really love would be if instead of replacing the Tornados with F-35 but with a further developed Typhoon, not how it is now with a secondary strike role but like how the F-15 Eagle became the F-15 Strike Eagle whilst still retaining its air-to-air capability. So it doesn’t lose out in the stealth, avionics, radar and electronic warfare area that all should be further updated like how the F-15 Silent Eagle and EA-18G Growler has been (remember that research the Swiss found about the Typhoon’s EW etc?). The next upgrade is a little bit too far fetched but possible, you tell me, THRUST VECTORING. Eurojet wants to do it and have made a prototype, just needs the funding. The EJ200 is now out of this world as the EJ2x0 Stage 2 with 30% more power than the EJ200 in our RAF’s Typhoons. This further developed Typhoon would be joining the club that can run circles around the F-35 yet strike like the F-35 with the Rafale and Su-35.

monkey
monkey
August 26, 2014 12:23 pm

Yes I know is an AEW not the MPA but the photo has Vulcan in it ☺
But the MPA MR2 could AAR

Mark
Mark
August 26, 2014 12:27 pm

Monkey

Could be wrong but I’ve never heard of aar being operational on p3. Not saying it’s not useful just we prob don’t need it.

The Other Chris
August 26, 2014 12:29 pm

Baby got back.

Observer
Observer
August 26, 2014 12:37 pm

Mark, their boom equipped tankers usually also come with drogues on the MPRS system.

If you want to limit yourself, go ahead. Frankly, my opinion on that is that it ruins your flexibility. A boom can be converted to a drogue and hose. A drogue and hose can’t be converted to a boom. Though the adaptor is rumoured to be very nasty and unforgiving.

Dangerous Dave
Dangerous Dave
August 26, 2014 1:45 pm

So, just to turn the discussion around, which allies would we potentially be cutting off by not going with boom and socket?

France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Norway all operate probe and drogue aircraft.

The European boom and socket operators (Belgium, Netherlands, Poland (did they buy ant F-16?), Greece (F-16) and Turkey (F-16) don’t usually conduct out of area ops.

And then there’s the USAF, who are unlikely to deploy *anywhere* without KC-135’s as part of their ORBAT. For a start, they wouldn’t want their major attack elements (B-52, B-1, B-2, F-117(?)) to be “location compromised” by having a foreign AAR requirement somewhere in the chain (even a foreign power with a “special” relationship).

So, in reality we’ll be supporting European / NATO allies that operate the same AAR type as we currently do – and changing to boom and socket would actually be *more* limiting IMHO.

And then there’s the fact that European heavy aircraft manufacturers install probe and drogue AAR by default (Airbus Military, BAE), so moving to boom and socket would effectively tie us into a U.S. procurement choice in the future?

Jeremy M H
August 26, 2014 1:57 pm

@Mark

There is hardly a shortage of drogue equipped tankers in NATO.

The US alone has the following.

59 KC-10’s, all with at least one drogue, 20 with 3.
Around 20 KC-135’s with 2 drogues.
All KC-46’s (170ish) will have one drogue and I think around 40 sets of wing kits are being bought.
Something like 80 KC-130’s.
50 or so MC-130’s (most of these handle air refueling of helicopters but a probe is a probe in the end)

I do agree with you that making the case for a boom based on allied use is kind of silly. The fact is the UK should want the boom for its C-17’s and other such large units it might purchase in the future as well as having the flexibility to purchase things like the P-8 or F-35A without having to make modifications if the government decides it would like to do so. I don’t think its a critical thing for the UK to have but acting as if it wouldn’t be useful is kind of silly. Having a boom in no way precludes you from having 3 drogue refueling points on large tankers. Acting as if a boom in any way limits flexibility is just silly at this point.

It just seems like reasonable flexibility to have given some of the purchases the UK has made and might elect to make in the future. And it really doesn’t cost all that much.

Hannay
Hannay
August 26, 2014 3:59 pm

@JeremyMH

KC-10 is out of service in next few years, but these additional drogues will be replaced by KC-46 when they come into service.

@All

Fitting booms to some or all of the Voyager fleet would be good but this doesn’t come without cost. Its not just the cost of fitting the booms, but also a significant cost for training boom operators which will add quite a lot to in-service support costs.

Airtanker would love to fit booms, but where is the commercial attraction to do this? They already have massive excess capacity from the Voyager fleet as it is given the large reduction in RAF platforms. They’re trying to get in with the EDA which has a chronic need for more tanker-transports, but this has yet to come off.

Opinion3
Opinion3
August 26, 2014 5:46 pm

There is surely a better market for probe tanker usage than Thomson’s holidays.

The PFI contract is inordinately expensive. I know it is a service but the very notion that the service needs of the Armed Forces can be predicted is ridiculous. Personally I believe we should have a Sovereign capability to deploy all of our armed forces without relying on the goodwill of others. The C17, Airseeker and Voyager fleets all cannot be refueled by our current assets. The P8 is likely to be added to that list.

I’m not saying a probe is a must buy, but I do believe the P8’s need to be able to fly for longer periods than five hours on station. What do we expect our AWACS to do?

Observer
Observer
August 26, 2014 6:18 pm

Op3, the time limit isn’t only set by the equipment but by the people doing the work as well. Going to the location, staying on station and coming back would be about 8 hours +/-, basically one work shift. You can do more, but efficiency declines the longer you stay out and it affects people badly over the long term if you do it too often. People who get overworked tend to have shorter attention spans, miss things more often and suffer from personality changes, usually for the worse.

Sure, it is useful if you can refuel in mid air for those rare occasions where you’re forced to keep going as there is no one else around and something critically bad may happen, but as a day to day thing, it is best not to overdo it.

Jeremy M H
August 26, 2014 7:00 pm

@Observer

The best use of tanking an MPA would really be to allow a more aggressive flight profile if needed. You would do something like tank it 2 hours out on its way to station while not expecting it to do much additional time. That would allow for either additional time or if you were doing tricky work you to operate the thing down lower (to stay below radar horizons for example).

Its useful but likely not critical.

Opinion3
Opinion3
August 26, 2014 10:35 pm

@Observer

I have heard this case about efficiency before.

I understand what you say but in crude terms this is not an exercise I’m proposing spending the money on. In times of need all of the armed forces are prepared to do whatever it takes to be operationally successful; to win.

Not having the right capabilities can often be corrected quickly. Black Buck raid refueling being an example, but we can’t generate all capabilities from thin air. Russia is clearly a menace, it is largely down to Putin, but the State controls the press and the way he manipulates opinion is not healthy.

Protecting our waters, and having the flexibility to deploy and utilise all of our assets effectively is important. For this reason working-time-directive style efficiency speak doesn’t enter my calculations. If I was MoS for defence, I’d need to know my policies cover the eventualities ‘outside natural disaster’. The ‘insurance policy’ needs to avoid Saga by name Saga by nature. Having a sensible requirements specification for our tanker fleet is a good place to start!

Mercator
Mercator
August 27, 2014 6:38 am

Martin, as a local ex-MPA guy I read every AMSA press release daily, studied the maps and consumed a lot of related news. I saw the P3 and P8 both operating at extreme range (scary extreme) and functionally identical with tasking. That is, when the P3 went and did only 1 hr on task, so did the P8. I wouldn’t have called it for either, but if anything, the P8 will improve at range due to higher transit speeds (/Nav hat off). Don’t be so sure of your opinion.

Peter Elliott
August 27, 2014 7:09 am

Upgrade path is perhaps somthing to consider. Its likely over its life there will be the option of improved engines for P8 at some point giving better fuel eficiency and therefore range.

I can’t imagine the likes of RR and P&W are not constantly working commercially on engine upgrades for the 737 family.

P3 not likely to get that sort of perfromance uplift ever again.

Mark
Mark
August 27, 2014 8:03 am

“So there is little reason that our A400M and E3′s could not use the wing mounted pod.”

Well actually there is you get problem from wake shed from the tail of the tanker assysemetrically effecting the receiving aircraft. Not to mention the wing of the larger aircraft getting close to the tail.

Observer
Observer
August 27, 2014 9:14 am

Mark, how is it… what was that you typed? “Assysemetically?” If the unit was installed in the centerline, and a single one at that, how is it asymmetrical? Not to mention if Martin is right, that has been going on for decades, which means that you are bringing up an argument that has been solved for years.

Mark
Mark
August 27, 2014 10:35 am

Observer

I’m travelling so intermittent internet so spellings cant be fixed sorry. I may have picked Martin up wrong but if you think they’ve been refueling e3d or the like from wing pod stations on tanker aircraft your very mistaken. From the fuse Hdu yes not from the wings for large aircraft.

monkey
monkey
August 27, 2014 11:38 am

Elliot
On the engine front you are correct in a new engine has been built but by CFM called the LEAP-1B (catchy isn’t it ) combined with a new split wing tip the 737MAX (due for production in 2017) family will give about 10 to 14% improved fuel efficiency depending on flight cycle. On the long term I would have thought the USN would ask for it to be crossed over into the P8 family and its derivatives. The existing P8 assuming it flies up to cruise altitude the performs its normal patrol for 4 hours and the back covers about 7700km at best (2220km there and back and 4 hours at 800km/h) this could increase to 2220km there and back and over 5 hours at 800km/h) However if it does find something and needs to perform a lot of fuel guzzling manoeuvres this would be reduced in both cases)
CFM produce the existing P8 engines.

a
a
August 27, 2014 1:20 pm

Lunatic idea: the RAF’s E-3 fleet have refuelling probes, right? Then you don’t need a carrier borne airborne radar. Just fly an E-3 to the carrier and keep it orbiting overhead for days, refuelling it via a constant relay of F-35s with buddy pods.

Once the E-3 crew run out of clean socks, they can fly home and be replaced by another. But I reckon you could live in an E-3 for a good five or six days before it all got too much for you. RAF’s got seven E-3s which is easily enough to cover a carrier group – one on station, one on the way, one on the way home, one on the ground recovering and three spares.

Hmm, would it work? F-35 in full tanker config can lift 14,000lb of fuel. That’s 2300 gallons. Which is enough for about an hour’s flying… maybe not. Tanking once an hour would be a taxing process and wouldn’t leave you much time to do AEW.

Oh well, nice concept.

Peter Elliott
August 27, 2014 1:30 pm

Yeah kind of difficult sell that one. Don’t think integration of fuel pods is currently on the list for F35.

Also remember the RAF need to keep some of their E3 in the UK to support QRA, in the event that multiple threat aircraft appear at once.

More likely is to say that when deployed in the litterol we will support the Task Group with an E3 / Voyager combination from the nearest airfield.

(Which could still be outside operational radius of Fast Air and might be denied basing for Combat missions)

In the deep ocean it would however be Crowsnest only.

Jeremy M H
August 27, 2014 1:39 pm

@Monkey

I would actually be fairly sure that such an upgrade never will happen. Military history with aircraft like this shows that it generally doesn’t because the math just does not work out due to the vastly lower number of hours flown each year compared to civilian planes. It might get you a bit more range but in reality you could just tank the things 1 or 2 hours out and solve the problem that way without having to buy new engines (which btw involves a re-working of the wing and the front landing gear). The reality is there is just not that much benefit to be had on the vast majority of missions for the large amount of expense you would incur. Remember there is no upgrade program for 737’s or A320’s to the new engines as both companies are building new models of the old plane for the new engines so you would be basically breaking new ground in trying to do the upgrade on an existing aircraft. Some of that new engine tech will likely bleed down the the current CFM engines in the form of Performance Improvement Packages and get you some of those gains anyway. But all new engines are not likely to happen.

Regarding F-35A; a probe this has actually not been confirmed for the model. The space is reserved for it and one would think the development cost associated with it would likely be minimal but so far as I know no one has stepped up to pay that. In fact it has been an issue frequently cited by Canadian media when discussing the airplane.

WiseApe
August 27, 2014 5:30 pm

I’ve just swanned in from work and haven’t had time to catch up on all the comments, so apologies if I’m repeating earlier comments.

This seems a no-brainer to me (which always leads me to believe I’m missing something!). A boom system is a single point of failure while a probe and drogue system gives you two – or even three – bites of the cherry, as it were. I’ve always been of the opinion that we adopted the better system, so wouldn’t vote for changing it.

Also, on the cost of fitting a probe to this or that aircraft – again I take a rather simplistic view. If I want to buy a Ford or BMW or whatever car, I don’t expect to have to pay extra for a fuel pipe to be fitted so that it can be refuelled. Why don’t Boeing/Lockheed bear the cost of it. It hardly seems to fall under the category of “optional luxury extra.” It would seem to me that, as far as MPA is concerned – and in view of the shrinking defence budgets in most of what we like to call the western world – that it is a buyers’ market. Fit the probe yourself or no sale.

What am I missing?

Observer
Observer
August 27, 2014 5:54 pm

Wise, the key question is inter-operatability. How willing are you to fit a system you don’t use, but your allies do? No worries if you don’t, “not willing” is also an acceptable answer. I personally feel that it constrains your operational flexibility, but that is a personal opinion.

Peter Elliott
August 27, 2014 6:03 pm

Its not just the design and fitting. Its the certification and acceptance: the MAA take no prisoners these days. And that delays the programme, and delays drive cost.

We’re quick to bemoan bespoke UK requirments pushing up the cost of OTS prducts. This would be an example of that. Might still be the right thing to do. Just saying.

Mark
Mark
August 27, 2014 6:32 pm

Well other ots aircraft have refuelling probes so if Boeing can’t provide one we don’t buy so spot on wiseape.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
August 27, 2014 8:07 pm

It’s not that the MAA take no prisoners. It’s just that the regs insist the job is done properly which modern day sys-eng process monkeys seem to find difficult and if truth be told MAA are short of people who actually know what they’re doing, as opposed to reading the process manual. There’s a great deal of fear out there, when a properly conducted FMECA with supporting calcs would sort most of it fairly quickly.

Thats the problem, not the actual mechanics of designing and fitting a probe. Ironically, FBW may also be part of the problem, although I must confess that’s primarily speculation on my part.

Peter Elliott
August 27, 2014 8:18 pm

What’s FBW?

WiseApe
August 27, 2014 8:28 pm

Fly By Wire?

Mark
Mark
August 27, 2014 9:18 pm

The FAA would advise you run some processes on top of FMECA such as a hazard analysis to take account of some of the weaknesses in the FMECA process. If you don’t cut corners you’ve nothing to worry about.

Mark
Mark
August 27, 2014 9:28 pm

As were talking about tankers

http://aviationweek.com/blog/sometimes-its-obvious

Israel Aerospace Industries unveiled a new tanker modification this week: a boom-equipped tanker based on the Boeing 767-300ER, with a new fly-by-wire boom.

What’s interesting is that Boeing, back in 2005, firmly announced that it couldn’t be done.

Observer
Observer
August 27, 2014 10:29 pm

Sweetman sounds familiar. Isn’t he one of the guys who is seriously anti-F-35?

Ant
Ant
August 27, 2014 11:48 pm

Sweetman? Not really Obs, more a decent analytical journalist who is just anti-bullshit, but gets painted that way when it suits True Believers.

The Other Chris
August 28, 2014 7:39 am

Hmm.

Steve
Steve
August 28, 2014 7:41 am

– Bill Sweetman is a hypocrite because he never criticized the Typhoon or Rafael programs which took even longer to develop to the multirole capabilities that will be available to F-35As in 2018, and have a unit and development cost/unit greater than that of the F-35.

wf
wf
August 28, 2014 8:21 am

@Steve: well, Sweetman is an American, so I daresay he’s more interested in US programs. I still think this analysis of the F35’s warped requirement and it’s consequences to be very persuasive, where he pointed out most of the issues tended to result from there being a single engine, which was something that STOVL aircraft have to have but others do not. (link now offline, sadly).

I daresay the F35 will end up being an OK aircraft: it’s sensors and EW capabilities are very good. But it could have been a lot better and cost a lot less.

The Other Chris
August 28, 2014 9:23 am

Bulk of costs on the F-35 are computer architecture, software programming and testing. Essentially the F-35 program is the cost of implementing the entirety of PAVE PACE wrapped in a hybrid airframe.

The USA wants (needs?) the EW, SA and Distributed Fusion aspects of PAVE PACE. It’s the only way to maintain advantage against Peer/Near-Peer fleets who can put more aircraft in the air.

What is radically new about the hardware on the F-35? The DAS? AESA? MADL? Glass cockpit? HMDS? F135? LiftFan? These are evolutionary developments of PIRATE, AN/AGP-77, IFDL, SmartDeck, Raptor I/II, F119 and any ducted fan system developed and tested since 1958.

Carbon Nanotube wing tips are just about the only previously untested technology that I can think of off the cuff that isn’t related to the ICP “data centre”.

That’s where the money is really going in the F-35 and you can’t stick ICP or PAVE PACE into any other new airframe (an F-18 can’t support the required infrastructure…) without paying what the F-35 Program is paying for it.

Observer
Observer
August 28, 2014 11:38 am

What Martin said. You can go to twin engines with vectored thrust for V/STOL, nothing to say it can’t be done, but the price is going to go up.

I remember when the JSF concept was first bandied about, the talk was all about it being a cheaper export version of the F-22 and part of the US’s Hi-Lo mix. Then the financial crisis hit and the F-22 lines were discontinued and all of a sudden, the F-35 had to take on more responsibility than was originally planned for, which meant that all the “export level” design of the plane came back to bite them in the arse. And not to mention the amount of computer coding to write. I had an ex who did programming. Miss out on a single letter or digit and spend hours backtracking. Not fun.

wf
wf
August 28, 2014 12:14 pm

: the reason for single engines for STOVL was because of the a) obvious impossibility of VL in case of engine failure making the redundancy argument a bit moot and b) complexity of roll control in the hover since differential throttling would likely be required. No sign of actual twin engined STOVL aircraft either, although we’ve obviously had lift fans, ejectors and lift jets. Moreover, the single F135 is actually rather more expensive than two F414’s, although I daresay the maintenance costs are lower.

TAS
TAS
August 28, 2014 12:27 pm

Twijn engined V/STOL designs are inherently difficult because you have to achieve perfect thrust balancing in the hover/STOL phase. Not impossible but an extra level of complexity. Plus, if a twin-engined F35B recovering to a carrier loses an engine, it can’t execute the STOVL/RVL approach and would still have to ditch, so the redundancy means little.

Cost – benefit analysis = single engined is better.

Oscar Zulu
Oscar Zulu
August 28, 2014 1:08 pm

Australia needs probe (boom) refueling for our 72 F35A’s on order (potentially up to 100 of the type) along with Wedgetail AWACS, C17s and on order P8s, while the MRTTs themselves can be probe refueled to extend their range. Plus the drogues are needed for the in service FA18 Hornets and Super Hornets and on order Growlers.

So RAAF MRTT’s are fitted both with probe and drogue although the latter fly by wire boom is still not FOC.

Nonetheless the RAAF is finding them a very handy piece of kit, which along with the C17s, are operating all over the world (Japan, Spain and the Netherlands just in the last month or so) and giving the RAAF a global reach it has not been able to exercise before.

An MRTT based out of Eindhoven in the Netherlands supported 3 RAAF C17s ferrying Australian Federal Police and forensic experts along with their Malaysian and Dutch counterparts in and out of Kiev in the Ukraine and repatriated the bodies of victims of flight MH17 back to the Netherlands.

Interesting 8 page feature article in the latest RAAF Airforce News on the operation of the MRTT including a single 11 hour 14,500 kilometer sortie refueling 16 Hornets along the way. Just the first leg from Darwin to an exercise area south of Brisbane was a distance of around 2,700 kilometers or a little more than the distance from London to Moscow.

Article also includes an update on the progress on bringing the booms into service. http://airforcenews.realviewdigital.com/#folio=32

Short video of recent deployment of an MRTT to Japan. http://video.defence.gov.au?mediaId=ea0a5cfe-e793-48f1-9827-cfb9849d33c7

Currently RAAF operates 5 MRTTs although in recent weeks the Defence Minister has speculated publicly about acquiring 2 more given their proven all round utility.

Observer
Observer
August 28, 2014 1:11 pm

Didn’t one of the French VTOL competitors have 6 independent lift engines with a main one?

Jeremy M H
August 28, 2014 1:56 pm

Not that it matters much but Sweetman is not American. He is British.

Some of his F-35 criticisms have been valid, program management in the early years could have been better, but I have always thought the single engine complaints are a bit silly. People can believe it or not (and there is no point arguing it any further as minds are made up mostly) but the F-35 is basically a bet that what was one of the most important things in previous generations of jet fighters is less important now. The thing was never going to be two engined and as the program evolved it the buyers and builders had to decide on what was more critical, fitting all the electronic systems they wanted or going a bit faster and turning a bit tighter. I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt seeing as they had plenty of F-22 data to work with at this point and knew which capabilities it had were most important but people can choose to believe what they will.

As for the tanker issue I would say Australia seems to get it and did it right. One can certainly take the stance that if you want ot sell it to me it will come so equipped and you will pay for it. It would be interesting to see how that works out because I don’t think the buyer has quite the leverage some seem to think they do.

Kent
Kent
August 28, 2014 3:13 pm

@Observer – Separate lift engines are a “No-Go” for a useful STOVL aircraft. Once you transition to conventional flight, you’re hauling around engines that don’t make you go faster and take up space and weight that could be used for fuel/ordnance. Case in point is the Yak-38/-38M which was abysmal.

Fedaykin
August 28, 2014 3:21 pm

Yep Bill Sweetman is British and has a serious chip on his shoulder in respect of the F35. Those of us who have had the misfortune of conversing with him in various forums (myself included) on the subject of F35 have witnessed sense of humour failures that make mine or RT’s look positively cordial in comparison.

He pretty much staked his reputation on the F35 being cancelled and he now takes it’s continuing entry into service as a mortal slight. Any attempt to reason or at least offer an olive branch of “lets agree to disagree” will be met with a level of passive aggressive venom that is rather surprising for such a prestigious journalist. In the end you have to give and let him declare some sort of childish victory then move on.

One way to send him into spasms of rage is to mention “runways being destroyed by the F35B – or decks being melted”. Two myths that were attributed to him (incorrectly I should say) but guaranteed to send him into a spectacular melt down.

It is a shame really.

Observer
Observer
August 28, 2014 3:56 pm

Kent, I didn’t say it was efficient, just that it could be done. :) Not that the Harrier is the pinnacle of efficiency either.

The “twin engine” thing is something I think is blown rather out of proportion. For one, how often does an engine simply die out like that? For another, even for twin engines losing an engine is fairly serious. Ironically, one of the most memorable news reports that I remember of an engine failure air crash is an F/A-18, a twin engine, but probably because it went down in a populated area. Losing one engine caused it to lose control IIRC. From a casual checking of incidents, there doesn’t seem to be much difference in loss rates between single and twin engines. Probably because most accidents involve the pilot making an oopsie like flying into someone else, which does not involve the number of engines at all.

Fedaykin, his analysis of the cancellation would make sense if only the technical aspects were considered. Unfortunately there are more to these projects than performance and cost benefits, like the fact that the US has staked a huge amount of prestige on the project, that the US FJ industry needs a bit of a handout to keep it afloat and that they really don’t have a replacement for aging fighters in the teens series. It might not be that they don’t want to fold it, but that they simply can’t. Of course, a technical analyst that only focus on performance might miss that.

Jeremy M H
August 28, 2014 4:32 pm

I see the F-35/F-22 dynamic a bit differently. I think they built the all talented, singing and dancing F-22 to do basically everything because no one had really worked out what air combat would be with low observability, networked computing and sensors and other such developments. With things like the F-15 they had learned what in the mix mattered as far as speed, sensors, weapons, range ect. With the F-22 they basically assumed that everything that mattered in the 60 years prior would still be very important and that is should be stealthy and have a stealthy radar too.

They rolled the F-22 out and it was a dominant platform. Then I think they got to looking for why it was dominant and it really wasn’t the speed, though you need to be fast enough, or the agility, though again you need to be agile enough. It was the low observability, the electronics and the radar. Those other things still mattered but were not as important as they were before. Combine that with a few things happening outside of the F-22 program (Helmet mounted sights, high off-boresight missiles) and one can start reaching different conclusions about what will matter in an airborne combat platform fairly easily.

It is my opinion that they looked at the F-35 and F-22 and decided that we can get 90% of the things we get out of the F-22 out of the F-35 and it is going to be cheaper to buy, operate and upgrade. The F-22 spent a lot of money on areas that once it was operational were, in my opinion, found to be less important than people thought they were going to be. Having read just about everything I could find about both programs it is my opinion that the F-35 is a much more solid basis on which to move forward. If anything the USAF/USN should look to replace the F-22/F-18E with a fighter very similar from an electronic and kinematic standpoint to the F-35 but with longer range and higher payload. If you can get more speed out of it and more agility out of it great, but I don’t think that is the place to spend big money anymore.

If one acknowledges that the F-35 might have gotten that mix drastically wrong, which I will say is quite possible, then one must acknowledge the other side. That the F-35 has actually spent its money and R&D in the right places. History will let us know what the verdict on that is I suppose.

Mark
Mark
August 28, 2014 4:35 pm

The one v two engine debate is always interesting and is more subtle than the simple its fact that this is better than that. All aircraft be they single twin quad ect have “coffin corners” were losing power will be unrecoverable. There certainly is incidents were two engines are preferable to one. Power and hydraulic requirements can significantly stress single engine designs in certain flight regimes. And at the end of the day how many of yous would climb on a single engined passenger plane bound for America?

Mr sweetman is always a decisive figure at times there is known concerns with f35 that he can at times add let’s say journalistic flair too, doesn’t mean those concerns are myths or that they don’t exist but that mitigation sometimes in the works. Vstol degradation of decks or runways is a concern lots of work done on it and why new treatments are being introduced on ships and special hover pads being installed at bases including marham. This isn’t necessarily new similar things happened with harrier. Mind you it’s always better to play the ball not the man unless the ball bounces awkwardly for some.

Why stovl capability was not the only reason why f35 is single engine it was a not insignificant reason for it to be so. High performance stovl aircraft are difficult enough without the gigantic issues of using a twin engined aircraft operationally in such configurations. Jeremy’s take on f35s performance is always on the glass overflowing side. The f35 missed its performance parameters by some margin in certain cases however it was decided that the significant cost to fix to the original spec could simple not be afforded in time or cost to a program that was well behind schedule and stretching wafer thin engineering resource well past breaking point so a gd enough compromise was reached we hope. While not much of an issue for us as we have typhoon it’s why airforces have stated that its not desirable for f35 to undertake high end air warfare taskings.

Australia’s intendeds to have about 2/3s of its tactical jets boom refuelled the uk has no tactical jets that require this capability why the Australians have both on there tanker.

Observer
Observer
August 28, 2014 4:56 pm

Jeremy, you are looking at it from a current day perspective, I was remembering the hype from a decade+ back, and it was all about “cheap, exportable to allies, *congressionally acceptable levels of stealth* (i.e degraded for export) while we hold on to the ace cards (F-22)”. If there was any talk about it being the teens series replacement, it was pretty muted as the situation then was that there was still a lot of life left in the planes.

Lots of talk about export. Not much about combat efficiency as the theory then was that you can’t fight what you can’t see. Of course, things change.

wf
wf
August 28, 2014 5:06 pm

I think a single engined F35 would work fine…provided it was more of a 20 tonne MTOW plane, rather than the current nearly 30 tonne. But that would have impacted quite heavily on range and sensors. The big problem is that getting a single engine to put out 15% more thrust than it’s original design is moving awfully close to the state of the art, as well as impacting all other aspects of the design where adding weight becomes more than usually fraught.

Jeremy M H
August 28, 2014 5:47 pm

@Mark

As always everyone is welcome to their opinion on the issue. Nations that are putting their money on the line clearly intend to use the F-35 in an air to air role. Japan is a particularly interesting case because they have elected to buy the F-35 specifically to counter the air threat from China and Russia that is sees emerging. They looked at their situation and decided the F-35 made more sense for them in a high threat environment than the Eurofighter did. In fact it looks like they made the same basic conclusion I did on what was most important. They would have loved to have the F-22 that has both the get up and go and the stealth characteristics. When that wasn’t there for them and they had to pick one or the other we know what they opted for.

Obviously all the details of such decisions will not be publicly known to people for a long time. But for the most part when measured against other fighters the F-35 has gotten the order from nations allowed to buy it, almost without exception. Every single one of these could be for reasons other than capability. But then again they might not.

I have always acknowledged that there is certainly a chance I am wrong on this and kinematics are still far more important than I believe and thus the F-35 may be the wrong bet for the future. Then again there is a chance that I am right and aircraft like the Eurofighter and Rafale, while representing very fine examples of what they were designed for, are not seen as having the right mix of capabilities going forward. There is information out there that could support both viewpoints.

A lot will be answered once the aircraft starts participating in international exercises. If people have the same general difficulties with it at long and medium ranges that they have with the F-22 then the choices made would be vindicated to a degree. If they don’t then a lot of tough questions will have to be asked.

Jeremy M H
August 28, 2014 5:53 pm

@Observer

Yes, I am looking as things are now. A lot has changed from the time when everything got started on these various programs. Mistakes were certainly made. But all one can base decisions on moving forward are where things stand at this point. I think the nature of the F-35 program changed a lot. In some ways for the better and in some ways not. But its very different than what they set out to compete and build back in the days of the X-35 and X-32.

Mark
Mark
August 28, 2014 6:44 pm

Jeremy

Yes who would have thought a country on the pacific ring with a rising china and a resurgent Russia on their door step would purchase from the wests only superpower there newest fighter aircraft in small numbers to replace there f4 phantoms whilst retaining there large number of f15 fighters.

Observer
Observer
August 28, 2014 8:33 pm

Mark, don’t confuse initial buy with final numbers. It makes sense to test the waters first with a small test batch of planes than to order 100+ right off the bat. If the F-35 meets the specifications, expect orders to climb. Not that production can keep up with something like “give me 100 by next year”, most air forces in the world are built up by small orders over decades.

Ant
Ant
August 28, 2014 10:43 pm

Well that provoked a response!
and Jeremy MH: thanks v.interesting comments about Bill Sweetman behind the scenes, and F35 paradigm in general.

Personally I am happy to hedge with keeping a classic “Hi” in the Hi-Lo mix, just in case the race of Missile vs Countermeasures should swing to the defence. As you say Japan is a very interesting case which may suggest a lot or a little. Whatever; they were mighty quick to come to a conclusion about it at the time.

emmld
emmld
August 30, 2014 3:53 am

A multi system tanker is the way to go. Its a petrol station in the sky. It should be able to refuel anything that comes by (excl helicopter, too fast). You shouldn’t exclude potential aircraft fleets by the refueling method.

remlr
remlr
August 30, 2014 5:37 am

A330 MRTT fuel off load rates:

Centre-line hose 4000lb/min (RAF Voyager)
Wing hose 2810lb/min (RAAF KC-30A)
Boom 8040lb/min (RAAF KC-30A)

Also, RAAF KC-30 boom self-refueling 8040lb/min: http://www.defence.gov.au/dgta/Documents/DAVCOMP/SMM%20Conference%20Documents/2011/2011%20SMM%20Conference%20Presentations/33%20SQN%20&%20KC-30A%20Brief.pdf

WiseApe
August 30, 2014 10:06 am
David Webster
David Webster
January 20, 2016 2:29 am

Perhaps the RAF could borrow two of the RAAF refuellers?