The F-35B is worth it, but

In the 7 years I have been dribbling my thoughts into Think Defence there are a few things on which I have been consistent; the ISO container is the greatest invention since the Bailey Bridge, commonality is not a dirty word, logistics are critically important, and, the F-35B is worth it.

Yet to be discovered tribes in the middle of the Amazonian rain forest could not have failed to notice the untrammelled hype that surrounds the F-35 in general, and the STOVL F-35B in particular. The amount of coverage is staggering, some of it informed, some of it not. Being developed under the un-staring eye of social media and a long line of people who seem to live for being critical has exposed every developmental misstep to ruthless criticism. Reports are often selectively quoted, conclusions drawn without context, over-simplification of complex subjects is rife and correlation confused with causation.

It is also an extremely polarising aircraft, read anything on-line and it seems you are either a Lockheed Martin shill or thick as mince critic who knows nothing.

I suspect, the reality is somewhere between, whilst the F-35 is not the cure for cancer, it is not cancer either.

F35B Power and Propulsion

Although I have written about the F-35B many times, including this 5 part series, this is the first for a while

Into this toxic environment I go, a look at the F-35B.

Concept v Execution

PowerPoint concepts are easy to create, but the hard yards are done by those bringing the concept to fruition. What is absolutely a truism is that the conceptual vision rarely matches the hard world of reality at the first pass, there are always problems, they are always delays and there are always, without fail, let downs.

No longer are we developing wooden wonders; modern combat aircraft are complex, they require primary research, cutting edge materials, software engineering at an unprecedented scale and fabrication that is mind boggling in its accuracy and precision.

We need all things because that is what delivers combat success in a modern environment, it really is that simple.

Winners don’t have great moustaches and dashing trousers, they have information and technological dominance allied with well-developed tactics, training and a huge amount of backup.

Doing hard things is therefore, hard.

So we must look upon the difficulties with cutting edge developments like the F-35 with some degree of sang-froid.

Let’s not dismiss the missteps though, let’s not forgive the blatant over promising and under delivering that seems stock in trade for the defence industry, but please, let’s put things in perspective.

What of the concept?

The concept of the F-35 is very well thought through; a family of combat aircraft with a high degree of commonality to drive down operating costs, low purchase costs through automated fabrication, large quantities and concurrency, reduced observability against modern defence systems, data from its (and others) many sensors tied into an information processing architecture gives the pilot an advantage not available to others and finally, an ability to share with others.

All good, except realising the vision has been beset with problems.

It is probably fair to say the marketing hype has oversold the initially realisable attributes of the aircraft.

That the F-35 is six years late and much more expensive than planned is a matter of record.

One of the very first posts on Think Defence asked if anyone knew how much an F-35 would cost, there was no answer.

One can read about flyaway non recurring costs in inflation adjusted dollars set against a set of future financial and economic conditions that may or may not actually be relevant, they may include development costs amortised over a number of final production aircraft that might be fewer or less and then just when you think you have it, someone pops up and tells you the engines aren’t included.

The reality for the UK is this, we, as in the public, won’t know the Joint Combat Aircraft programme costs of until the National Audit Office update their major projects reporting to Parliament.

US costs are not the same as UK costs, this is important to understand, but there is a wealth of information on US costs to form an estimate, but that is the problem, the wealth of information.

Estimating F-35 costs is the full time work of several hundred people, most of them disagreeing with each other! Lockheed Martin, the Joint programme Office and the Government Accountability Office all disagree but no one is saying they will be cheap, on that there is broad agreement. Anywhere between $100m and $140m seems to be reported range. I am not going to try and sift through the multiple methods of calculating costs but will simply say, it won’t be cheap and it will be much more than originally claimed.

The original predicted cost of 40-50 million in 2014 dollars each has proven to be somewhat wide of the mark.

We have all read the ‘can’t dogfight’ claims and the counter-claims, we have observed the controversy on the USMC declaration of IOC but whilst all this was happening an interview with the Secretary of the US Air Force slipped into the open with barely a ripple of interest.

On concurrency, she said;

The biggest lesson I have learned from the F-35 is never again should we be flying an aircraft while we’re building it. People believed we could go faster, cheaper, better by designing and building the F-35 concurrently, and that the degree of concurrency would work. Indeed it has not worked as well as we had hoped and that’s probably the understatement of the day. It has taken us too long, it has cost us way more money than we ever imagined possible. We’re very focused from now on to driving the cost down per unit and they are coming down.


Whilst concurrency is a perfectly normal and acceptable means of controlling cost and development timescales in complex projects one does have to wonder if the boundary has been pushed a bit too far on the F-35 programme?

She went on to say about the current problems;

I would sum it up in one word – software

IOC is merely a point on a line to the all-important Full Operating Capability (FOC) but the software issues are significant, they are not insurmountable of course, but with much of the aircraft’s utility reliant on software the seriousness of software issues is the main concern.

Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, the USMC Deputy Commandant for Aviation said of the recent testing;

Right now, inside the 2B software, we have some latency issues with trying to tie all four airplanes together. There’s no latency at all with the first two airplanes; there’s no latency problems with ships three and four, It’s when I try and tie all four together that sometimes a target is kind of slightly misplaced on the ground, or it’s not but I’m not confident in 100 percent of the cases exactly where it’s supposed to be.

I love the language, “kind of slightly misplaced on the ground”


Availability rates were also much lower than expected, most weapons are not integrated, the helmet and streaming video not ready either.

Depending on where you sit on the spectrum of F-35 love/hate these can either be described as development issues to resolve whilst the aircraft is in, you know, development, or, a disaster that means the whole programme should be cancelled.

A well designed and executed operational test and evaluation programme should find all sorts of issues, that is what it is there for, but the scale of these problems surely goes beyond what would normally be found in operational testing so the reality is again, somewhere between the ‘nothing to see here’ and ‘the world is about to stop turning’

The next few years will need Lockheed Martin to resolve the current software issues, integrate national and international complex weapons, deliver enhanced capabilities with new software releases, ramp up production to drive down costs and resolve the problems with the maintenance and logistics system.

A great deal is riding on the next few years and it would be foolish to say there is no risk to delivery or cost.

And yet for all this, recent testing has confirmed the potential of the aircraft, there is momentum in the programme and some measure of confidence that a corner has been turned.

What about the UK?

Many of the criticisms of the F-35 fail to recognise that it operates in a team, as in fact, do other aircraft.

At the tip of the iceberg is the aircraft and pilot, but the rest of the iceberg is what allows it advantages to be exploited. Weapons development, training, tactics development, expeditionary logistics support, intelligence analysis, airspace battle management and the ability to move data from numerous sources, analysis it, transform it into useful information on which decisions can be made.

F35 Iceberg

When discussing the F-35 therefore, the aircraft has to be placed in a much wider context.

Operating concepts are developing all the time, teaming the F-35B with Typhoon and other systems has not yet begun but there are opportunities we probably haven’t even thought of yet that will eventually be exploited.

For the UK, all these supporting strands need to be developed or modified to allow us to make the most of our existing and future planned investments in the F-35.

The Challenge Ahead…

The USN, USMC and USAF have their own problems and issues to deal with regarding the F-35 but for the UK at least, the path forward is clear.

The next five years are going to be challenging for the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, there are many moving chess pieces on the table, but current plan is achievable and manages risk well.

After the rancour of SDSR 2010, the RAF and RN have played a smart game, ultimately realising that they need to work together for the benefit of each other. There is much to observe that is positive in the current RAF/RN relationship and long may it continue.

One of the biggest challenges we will face is making sure the manning pipeline for air and ground crew can be aligned with the aircraft as it comes into service. This is an often underestimated challenge in online discussions but one that is vital for success.

With our partners in the USMC the next five years will see the F-35B gradually come into service with the RAF and RN. Let’s hope the obvious synergies between the UK and US (and Italy) can be exploited to improve outcomes for all and we can learn to ignore the shrieking when a USMC or Italian F-35B squadron sails aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth.

Spain and Italy operate the Harrier. Italy is on board with the F-35B and if Spain wishes to replace their Harriers there really isn’t any other option for them other than the F-35B.

It would seem to make obvious sense in these difficult budgetary conditions to increase pooling and sharing, there is no reason why UK F-35B’s could not operate from an Italian navy vessel, or a possible future Spanish F-35B squadron work from a Royal Navy carrier.

Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands are also F-35 partner nations who will be purchasing the aircraft. In addition to the already announced and developing European maintenance arrangements there is significant potential for sharing resources under a NATO umbrella for operational development and training.

The F-35B for the UK is a JOINT aircraft, it is not for the RAF and not for the RN, it is for both. Introduction timelines will change over the next few years as other programmes change and manning falls into place but it is probably fair to say the ‘land’ role will take priority in the near team with carrier strike following soon after.

This isn’t a bad thing.

It is also easy to forget that by 2018, the planned production rate will be peaking at 160 aircraft per year, by the end of August this year, BAE will have delivered 200 rear fuselage assemblies. The UK is a Tier 1 Partner and has invested a couple of billion of the Queen’s Pounds in the development of the aircraft, much British know-how, experience and technical expertise is being used.

What the UK’s final numbers and purchase profile remains to be seen

There is a huge amount of speculation about how many F35B’s the UK will purchase with some expectation of clarity in SDSR 2015. I am not sure the purchase profile is all that important but the final numbers are of course very important.

Final numbers will be dictated by final price; that much is certain. The current duty rumour is an initial purchase of around 50-60 with additional purchases later. It is this split purchase rumour that has prompted speculation about a split buy of B and A models, or even B and C (for the refuelling probe and other factors) but this would be a mistake.

Fleets within fleets don’t seem to be a great idea.

Block 4 software, in its various forms, will include additional UK weapons but much of this is subject to confirmation and some way off, 2019 to the mid 2020’s in a number of incremental releases.

In this period, there are also big things happening with the other RAF fixed wing combat aircraft.

A Brother from Another Mother

With the focus on the F-35 it is easy to almost forget we have the Typhoon in service.

Typhoon is our strategic risk hedge, it allows us to have two types of fast jet in service that complement each other perfectly.

But we need to keep our foot on the Typhoon pedal in the next few years.

Tornado is without a doubt still the ground attack king of the hill, it can fire Brimstone and Storm Shadow, carry the RAPTOR pod, drop Paveway IV and deliver superb close air support. They are big boots to fill, in fact, I think Tornado could be argued as one of the finest aircraft the RAF has ever had.

But Typhoon will fill them, contracts are in place or delivered for Brimstone, Storm Shadow and Paveway IV integration, Meteor and CAPTOR E-Scan are on the way and a few additional developments like the conformal tanks and aerodynamic enhancement package are ready to go should we need them.

In the next few years, pending any additional extensions, Tornado will be phased out of service as Typhoon completes it enhancement programme. The main outstanding issue is what to do with the extremely valuable RAPTOR pod but there are many potential options here.

This then provides the UK with swing role aircraft that can just as easily duke it out with Russian (or Indian) Flankers as it can stomp on ISIS pickups!

The 2030 OSD for Typhoon may well be extended, I hope it is. If anything, I would like to see us picking up an extra couple of dozen Tranche 3b Typhoon and push the Tranche 1’s out of service as soon as possible if they are costing us a disproportionate amount of money to maintain.

Perhaps they could be gifted to the Baltic states?

What about the but?

There are two words we should be thinking about when discussing the F-35B, risk and balance.

Although the risks around the F-35B are diminishing as the aircraft progresses but there is a risk that unit prices may not fall as predicted and development milestones missed.

The US is reportedly reconsidering their purchase volume and many of the partner nations have yet to commit to quantities, including the UK of course. Costs are predicated upon production volume so there is a risk the F-35 can only be afforded in smaller quantities.

Joining the commercial risk is technical risk, again, although relatively small as the aircraft programme pushes through it development milestones there is uncertainty simply because we cannot predict the future, uncertainty gives rise to risk.

This brings us to balance.

I have some sympathy with the viewpoint of US critics of the F-35B that it is consuming a disproportionate amount of the USMC’s finite budget. This has resulted in many other essential capabilities being cut, curtailed or delayed. From this side of the pond it looks like the USMC has their funding equation skewed far too far to the F-35B and not enough on their other programmes, armoured vehicles for example.

The UK must not repeat their folly.

To restate from above, the aircraft is the tip of the iceberg and so in a world of finite budgets we should ensure that the pursuit of aircraft numbers does not rob these vital enablers of funding. Much better to have a smaller number of F-35’s supported by a functional training pipeline, sufficient logistics to keep them flying and a range of complementary systems and capabilities to extract maximum value than a higher number of aircraft without any of these things.

The F-35B must also compete with other capabilities across all three services that need introducing, maintaining or modernising.

Risk and balance means the UK should not bet the farm on the F-35 and maintain investments in the Typhoon, E3, complex weapons integration, realistic collective training, ISR collectors and the means to analyse and disseminate and distribute intelligence information.

I would also like to see greater investment in offensive electronic warfare, standoff decoy and jamming systems and even roll on roll off systems for transport aircraft. Developing Reaper and a modest increase in fleet size would seem sensible, all whilst continuing our investments in the joint UK/French FCAS programme.

Spreading investment across multiple areas increases resilience and flexibility.

What might this look like in practice for the F-35?

An initial purchase of enough F-35B’s for a couple of squadrons to be sustained, maybe around 60 or so.

This gives us enough for continuous at sea training on the carriers with USMC and European partners, flexibility to mix and match with Merlin, Apache, Wildcat and Chinook in whatever form Carrier Enabled Power Projection (CEPP) takes, a simultaneous land-based capability to complement Typhoon and the ability to surge onto the carrier(s) to create a larger strike package if needs dictate.

This is achievable within a balanced budget, a budget that has to cover many other requirements.

It might not be enough, it might not be the final number purchased, but it does mean we are not distorting the rest of the equipment plan.

Finally, although it may be unfashionable, I would also like to see the austere location operating concept developed further with increased investment in expeditionary airfield combat engineering and logsitics.


The F-35B is not a lemon, it will eventually provide the UK and our allies with an expensive, although extremely capable aircraft that meets the UK’s requirements to a tee.

In order to reduce risk and maximise our investment in it, we should plot a prudent course and balance the desire for aircraft numbers with investment across multiple complementary capability areas and sustainability i.e. the underwater part of the iceberg.

Typhoon will remain for some time an extremely potent aircraft and developments in the pipeline will allow it to fill Tornado’s big boots.

Complex weapon development and integration is planned, unmanned systems in development and whilst stand-off capabilities remain an area for additional investment, the picture looks good.

This is what the UK is doing.

After the 2010 B to C to B again wobble, the MoD and RAF/RN have plotted a clear and sensible way forward that is prudent and recognises there is much more to capability than an aircraft, however good it is.

For that, they need to be congratulated.

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August 11, 2015 10:45 pm

Nice missive TD but I think you may be “cruisin for a bruisin”!
I feel you are right all versions of the F35 will reach maturity (Eventually and not inexpensively), None the less as a platform it will be excellent but as an aircraft it just leaves me cold, I like you hope they keep the pedal to the metal as far as the Typhoon goes, there is a lot more mileage in it yet. Unfortunately I can’t see anyone taking us up on any tranche 1’s but I do hope they decide to trickle out another couple of Squadrons of Tranche 3’s, have all the three’s as F/B and the 2’s for QRA, what have we got about, 42 or so tranche 2’s? Would that be enough? I’ve no idea to be honest…

August 11, 2015 11:26 pm

some very well made points TD,

I would also like to see is continue to develop typhoon and replace tranche 1 with tranche 3 aircraft and develop an offensive electronic attack capability beyond CAPTOR E and the DASS.

I would be pretty happy with an F35 B purchase of around 60 as well.

August 11, 2015 11:38 pm

I am probably well out of the box – as I frequently am! I have no dispute about the potential value of the F-35. Where I start to get uppity is firstly cost assessment – someone please show me any military project, although there are quite a few civvie one’s that didn’t over run by a factor of at least 2X. Next is the equipment requirement vision. We sometimes get it right, but more often fail to challenge our thought process, resulting in expensive UOR – have we ever reviewed how we got our decisions so badly wrong? If so please point me in that direction. Thirdly it is in the scope of our equipment – this is broad brush but we seem hell bent on grabbing the latest Gucci toy, rather than looking at a simple robust platform, I’ll use Lightning 2 as an example. It is also supposed to be a ground attack aircraft. Does it make sense to have a multi billion aircraft on a strafing run? Should we use drones? Possibly, but they have their own limitations. What about a stealthy aircraft that is cheap? Not saying it has all the bells and whistles, but perhaps has a better coating, is able to fly very low and can have a very stealthy over watch? Just throwing stuff at the wall to see what could stick.

August 12, 2015 12:01 am

“The biggest lesson I have learned from the F-35 is never again should we be flying an aircraft while we’re building it.'”

hello!. That lesson was supposed to be learned by the experience with the Supermarine Swift back in the early 50s.
The experience of Lockheed with the F22, where the software program was very poorly managed and executed should have been a further ‘lesson’

Jeremy M H
August 12, 2015 12:50 am

A few things…

1. I am sick of hearing about concurrency. Frankly I would fire anyone who whines about it anymore. Almost all fighter programs are concurrent in many respects. The love child of the cheap and affordable crowd was the F-16 which went through what I would call massive concurrent development (all new engine, new avionics, new aero-shapes) as it moved from the A to C models. Was it concurrent? I guess not in some respects. They built a fighter that could initially basically drop bombs and shoot sidewinders which is what they set out to do. But then they spent not an inconsiderable amount of time and money adding capabilities to the thing for years. The F-15 was much the same story. As is the Eurofighter. I don’t have the time or accounting background to do it but if you were to drag all the development that was basically ongoing from day 1 for the F-16 through when the USAF said that is what we really want I am curious what it would be. It seems like you either decide to build explicitly limited A (or Tranche 1 models) while you sort all of it out or you try to make it so you can upgrade everything as you go along. Someone is going to have to show me a development and production model where you don’t either have concurrency risk or build significantly sub-optimal products that people then want to toss away (see Tranche 1 Typhoon, F-16A’s). Both ways are expensive and take a long time. I am not convinced that it makes much difference in the end.

2. The acquisition and bidding process are screwed up and the more reporting there is the more confusing it seems to get. You can read very detailed select acquisition reports on the F-35 and there simply is comparable information on other platforms out there that is produced on an annual basis. There is a special report here and there on some of them. But a lot of stuff seems to get covered as commercially sensitive information so we are left to do some guessing. What we do know is that it sure seems like most fight programs are pretty much equal amounts of cluster-screw and they all seem to end up massively over budget. Eurofighter, Rafale, F-22, F-35 all went well over budget. I would guarantee T-50 goes well over budget (or gets delivered as basically a showpiece in very small numbers with pretty limited capability).

The problem to me seems to be the buyers want it both ways. No one wants to get caught buying something that will be viewed as obsolete by the time it gets built. That means any new project is going to be full of new technologies. That makes them almost impossible to bid with any accuracy. If you went to Lockheed, Northrop, BAE ect today and said build me something with two F-135 engines, the exact sensors from the F-35, a weapons capacity of X and a fuel capacity of Y I would guess they could probably quote you something reasonably accurate. The problem (and its not really a problem, just reality) is we ask them to bid an aircraft that is integrating all sorts of other new pieces of equipment. It isn’t basic engineering like building a bridge or a highway. It would be very hard to bid with any assurance and the bidders have every incentive to bid low.

You can try to mitigate these things, which you should, but to some degree the auditors and accountants need to just chill out a bit. Imagine applying the standards one sees for accounting for government risk to some of the highly successful tech start ups we have seen in the last 20-30 years. Like many government things it seems like these auditing processes were started for good reasons but they seem in many defense organizations worldwide to have decided they are really the ones in charge. In all honesty every GAO or DOTE report on a weapons system early in its development process reads like the thing will never work and will cost 2 trillion a copy. Everything they don’t know right this second is seen as a terrible risk. It strikes me as more than a bit over the top. I find UK’s NAO reports to be more artfully written but often of the same basic tone.

August 12, 2015 1:51 am
Reply to  Jeremy M H

What exactly new pieces of equipment are you referring too? H
helmet mounted sight? Infra Red search and track ?
Assorted screen tracking and bombing systems have been around since the early days of the jaguar.
The other fighters you mention were up flying and into service and THEN they added new engines, capabilities etc.
Eurofighter was affected by the end of the Cold War and spats with co production and workshare.
The worst way of seeing the difficulties is draw the wrong conclusions from the wrong lessons.The US had a system of testing and low production exactly to fix these sort of problems, but they ignored most of it. The belief seemed to be this time its different

Jeremy M H
August 12, 2015 2:26 am

The F-35 has the most powerful jet engine in operation. It is the first operational fighter with a lift fan. It is the first fighter with a 360 IR imaging. The stealth coatings are new. The data links are of a new design. The helmet is new. Most of the project is new.

And the fact that those planes were flying in limited conditions is exactly my point. I don’t really see the difference in the end. either way you are building planes that aren’t 100% where you want to be while you work on an updated model. In some cases you can retrofit the upgraded. In others you can’t do it. It has the same perils as concurrency in my mind. If the F-16 stopped with the A model it would have been a useless dog.

August 12, 2015 3:20 am

correct me if I am wrong but the project itself seems to have morphed a lot from the early days of the program. I don’t remember seeing a lot about sensors fusion etc when they were pitching it at the $50 million mark. However after the US canceled F22 production (as it was the wrong aircraft, too expensive etc etc) (now its out of productions its the best thing since toasted crumpets and jam) the put a lot more onto the F35 plate than it was originally suppose to cover like a2a etc.

August 12, 2015 3:32 am

its kind of another argument in favor of further developing the Typhoon. Not even the US is going to be flying large numbers of 5th generation aircraft until close to 2030. The Russians 5th generation fighter (if you can call something with a 0.5m2 RCS 5th Gen) is rapidly coming off the rails and they may just get 12 by 2020 with no doubt nothing more than a show piece capability. Given the Chinese inability to build even a simple jet engine I can’t see the J20 or J31 showing up in large capable numbers anytime soon either. Suddenly a Mach 2+ capable Typhoon, armed with Meteor and a massive mechanically scanned AESA radar and a stand off cruise missile with a 300 mile + stand off range (SPEAR IV) does not look so bad in the world of 2040.

Its also safe to assume that the world of 2040 will probably be even more peaceful in this one and governments from Europe to China and North America will be even more bankrupt than they are today paying for the elderly. All of which means 6th generation fighter programs may never happen.

Its also worth remembering that the early Tornado was a bit of a lame duck in the early days. Showing up for Gulf War 1 without a laser guided bomb option and having to rely on 30 year old Buccaneers to designate targets. Much the same as Typhoon in Libya.

August 12, 2015 3:36 am

Just a thought on the air-air combat agility. Almost all the top 100+ fighter aces of all time got their kills in the BF-109, an aircraft that could not match it with the Spitfire in air-air agility. As Eric Hartman demonstrated in just 3 years of combat (and 352 kills against both Soviet aircraft and USAF Mustangs): pick your target, dive in to fire at close range and zoom out without manouvering. I understand that Euro fighter is designed to do the same at supersonic speeds albeit with BVM or WVR missiles.

August 12, 2015 6:06 am

Every buyer of the F-35 (A, B and C) will have its doubts of the actual capabilities and role that the aircraft will play. The UK made it simple with the faster (or fastest) version that has IOC. That version is find and yes it is joint but it has to be fully joint and pick up all roles of joint–maritime based strike, ISTAR over land and sea, mini AWACS, and fleet air defence.

August 12, 2015 6:07 am

I wonder what is being sacrificed to keep the Tornado in service for a couple more years.

August 12, 2015 8:33 am

JMH – ref “the acquisition and bidding process are screwed up and the more reporting there is the more confusing it seems to get” – seems much the same both sides of the pond, but then we did decide to import and employ the US procurement model… You are quite right, of course. As is often the case with ‘big process’, the demands of every possible interest group to have a say in management of the project cause hugely distended decision loops with layers of vetoes and overrules, the accumulation of vast amounts of data from which decision justification can be drawn, and a total aversion to decision-making unless a large committee is involved such that all committee members can disown bad decisions and claim credit for the good ones. None of this vast and very (self-)important management body is likely to be focused on efficient value-for-money progress, for that requires pragmatism and pragmatism requires experts to accept less than perfection in their particular area of expertise. That would be like admitting their speciality is less than the most important aspect of the whole programme – tantamount to career harakiri.

Engineers know there is no such thing as a perfect design. What there is though is the best compromise to suit the task at hand. All design is a compromise; anyone believing otherwise is misguided, living in a world of fiction, or a major project committee member.

So you can’t have the fastest most stealthy agile fuel efficient largest internal stores bay best multi-band sensor fit lighter-than-air lowest price artificially intelligent high altitude ground attack STOVL long-loiter carrier-based interceptor. There are too many contradictory requirements; they cannot all be met in one piece of equipment.

Multi-role, often seen as a real advantage, is all too often the worst of all worlds as the compromises to get acceptable performance for each role mean that none are much better than adequate. Would you design your MBT with room for a section of dismounts and a cargo area for replen and a full set of recovery gear and excavator arm and for good measure a folding bridge on top? Truly multi-role, truly useless at all of them.

August 12, 2015 9:02 am

Does anyone else worry that the much touted networking seems to be a US-only satellite system that needs a special gateway to communicate with anything that’s not an F-35 and might not work at high latitudes because it’s a geosync satellite? if data link between aircraft has to go up to a sat and back, every time, no wonder they have trouble with latency. I worry that as a result it’s inherently a capability that plugs into the USAF, like, say, Denmark’s F-16 force, not one that adds rare high-end value to a coalition, like, say, the carrier or the Aussies’ buy of EA-18s.

Steve Coltman
Steve Coltman
August 12, 2015 9:11 am

Will the F-35 be good enough to take on the PAK-T50? Japan does not think so. It’s already not fast enough to catch a fully-laden Su-34. Is it worth sacrificing our military aerospace industry for?

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
August 12, 2015 9:28 am


The F35 and especially the B variant we are buying is not an interceptor. Let us wait and see what comes out of PAK FA T50. Given the countries involved habe no 6th gen experience and make poor engines.
As for SU34 machine 1.8 at high altitude not with full load. F35 machine 1.6 plus with a couple of 100 mileage 4 meteors, you do the math

August 12, 2015 10:38 am

F-35 is not an air-superiority fighter, its a light bomber with reasonable A2A functionality. However, it’s BVR capability (and low frontal RCS, networking and sensors) will make a potent A2A platform when required.

August 12, 2015 10:43 am

To say I was a fan of the F35 may be overstating it as I’d rather see it in service before I finalise my views. I do however remain very optimistic that it will offer us a substantial capability enhancement, particularly for the RN. The programme has been subjected to an unprecedented level of public scrutiny and I suspect 90% of comments about issues / capabilities are either exaggerated or misinformed. By 2020 (say) we will be operating 5th gen fighters off our carriers and will still have a world class AtoA swing role fighter in Typhoon. I’m not sure the Russians or the Chinese will have any serious number of better aircraft by then. What we need is a roadmap for post IOC enhancements to capitalise on its abilities. I remain open to operating two types of F35 if there are significant capability advantage that outweigh any lack of commonality. I also feel sure that there will be further variants down the line. The key long term issue will be what comes after Typhoon and whether a more AtoA capable fighter is needed and if so who builds it. As to numbers, of the B I hope we get at least 75-80, or enough for 4 12 plane squadrons, 2 in FAA 2 in RAF so sake of argument. In SDSR 15 I’m hoping we see an initial commitments to around 50. In terms of RAF FJ in SDSR 15, and as part of a rebalancing or our expeditionary capability to air and sea, I would like a commitment on Tornado retention to cover ongoing ops and until F35 is never IOC and a longer term commitment to keep Typhoon numbers at around 150 (i.e. 2 extra squadrons) by retaining T1s in QRA and / or a trickle buy of further new aircraft, whichever is the most cost effective longer term option.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
August 12, 2015 11:10 am
Reply to  Hohum

You have highlighted one of the issues. It was not originally marketed as a light bomber with decent a2a. Whilst I have no issues with the UK purchase of the B variant as an expeditionary carrier and land based aircraft I would be less happy if I was one of the countries that may be buying the A variant as it’s only Fj.

The Other Chris
August 12, 2015 11:45 am

First Gen 3 HMDS delivered for LRIP7 aircraft arriving in 2016.

Visual problems resolved in a lighter, less cumbersome dome apparently.

(Obligatory carbon fibre shot worthy of Top Gear)

August 12, 2015 11:49 am

While I have no inside knowledge on the matter, it seems awkward to me that this aircraft was to be primarily a bomber? Reasons being: as I understood it the programme was started because filling USAF with F-22 was prohibitively expensive; cheaper aircraft were to be bought instead (then USMC raised the need to replace AV8B)? And the programme name was Joint Strike Fighter – sort of pushes the Fighter label to the fore? And the aircraft designation is F-35, not A-35 or even F/A-35? All ways round it seems the programme was to deliver fighters, albeit with ground strike capability. Now the combined wisdom of TDers has it that it was really a ground strike aircraft all along but can carry air to air weapons too? Simple question then – was it always going to be that way? Or has programme history and justification been rewritten because the aircraft capability has turned out that way?

August 12, 2015 12:22 pm

Chris: “as I understood it the programme was started because filling USAF with F-22 was prohibitively expensive; cheaper aircraft were to be bought instead”

Sorry but that’s just wrong. The original program was called the Joint Affordable Strike Fighter (rapidly dropping the “Affordable” tag) after the merger of the Common Affordable Lightweight Fighter and Joint Advanced Strike Technology programs. It was always seen as an air to ground partner to the F-22, right from the beginning.

August 12, 2015 12:28 pm

F-35 was always intended to be the US replacement for the output of the 1970s LWF programme (F-16 and F/A-18) with the Harrier bundled in later.

August 12, 2015 12:31 pm

AKM – I didn’t know that – now I do. But I still struggle with the above definitions pushing the ‘strike’ part of its capability towards ‘bomber’ (old Sea Harrier as FRS1 only carried missiles for the ‘strike’ bit, didn’t it?) and sliding the ‘fighter’ capability towards an additional or secondary role. Like I noted above it seems like there’s a tad of ‘situating the appreciation’ going on.

August 12, 2015 12:39 pm
Reply to  Chris

Whatever the programme appellation, it was always intended primarily to replace the F-16 and F/A-18 for US and allied use; as far as job demarcation goes, that mean not really air superiority or long-range strike but more everything in between.

However, if you are running a single-platform fleet then it does mean just about everything.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
August 12, 2015 12:58 pm

The JSF fell out of several programmes
aston (supersonic replacement for AV8b) calf which followed on from this. MRF designed to replace F16s. ATA designed to replace A6. Also the advanced attack, advanced fighter attack programme.
The main thrust was a replacement for F16/F18, it unfortunately does not do this in certain areas
Those countries that previously flew F16s as air defence assets are suddenly faced with an A variant without the kinetic performance to be a QRA asset.
As I said very happy with UK B variants as we have Typhoon for QRA and also happy with B for Fleet Defence (defending a far smaller area),
If I was Norway or the Netherlands I would be less content.

August 12, 2015 1:12 pm

JSF had little to with ATA; that requirement basically just went away after the death of the A/F-X programme. Much to the chagrin of the USN.

Other than that, yup, JSF was a bundling up of programmes for an F-16, F/A-18 and Harrier replacement. The attack mission became predominant due to the lack of enemies with a credible air force in the 90s so the JSF ended up being specced to take 2,000lb bombs internally (helping to make it look fat) and being fitted (again internally) with all the stuff we used to buy separately and hang off pylons (EW suite, targeting pod, etc) thus helping make it expensive.

The Other Chris
August 12, 2015 1:14 pm

Don’t ever remember JAST having an Affordable component, certainly CALF did. An F-16 replacement needed it given the numbers!

The inception programs leading to F-35 were primarily three channels:

1) UK/USMC: Stems from AV-8A/C and GR.1/3 replacement needs. Most history here can be found under ASTOVL though Typhoon technology directly linked with JSF.

2) USN: Combat fleet replacement with ATA, later the NATF and A-X / AF-X programs.

3) USAF: Main driver that continued into JAST was MRF if memory serves, which is where the F-16 KPP’s originate

Other than F-16 performance, a lot of requirements weighted towards Strike there, along with all that entails.

On the way to JAST, ASTOVL and related developments managed to spawn SHAR FA2, AV-8B and GR.5 (plus the further derivatives of the last two) through spin-offs of the higher technology developments.

ATA, NATF and A-X were disastrous for the USN, credibility was ruined to the point that even the F-14 Quickstrike couldn’t be sold to Congress at any key decision point, even as a project de-risking bridge, leaving them with only the Super Hornet. The Rhino has done OK, but it has underperformed compared to the alternatives at the time.

My knowledge of MRF is incomplete. There’s historically not been as much UK engineering in the USAF compared to USMC and USN. I do know that it was the scale of F-16 (and mooted F-15) replacement that sparked Congress to combine the development threads. Looking back, the F-35 total cost will be argued against 3-4 individual programs.

Aforementioned USN programs had little credibility any more and needed a program owner with a track record, USMC had a significant but niche requirement but came with a solid partnership with the UK, meanwhile the USAF had the bigger order book to fill and more flexibility in delivery time.

Can’t help wondering with my Alternative History hat on what the FAA/RAF would have looked like today had we backed P.1216 instead of Typhoon and accepted the offer to join the Advanced F-14 Family development program. Have a feeling that would have carried the pro-F-14 argument going on in the USN to the detriment of Super Hornet.

Imagine the size of the CAPTOR-E array and the volume of Brimstone/SPEAR/Meteor and other pods that you could carry!–HhxOjZMH–/c_fit,fl_progressive,q_80,w_636/qaj8w0anhpyapbxchgvr.jpg

August 12, 2015 1:24 pm

ATA, then A/F-X were intended A6 replacements; they had little if anything to do with JSF.

NATF was an F-14 replacement and equally had little to do with JSF. That requirement was “kind of” fulfilled by F/A-18E/F.

JSF was and is an F-16, F/A-18 ABCD and Harrier replacement. It is not intended as a replacement for the dedicated deep strike or air superiority platforms.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
August 12, 2015 1:29 pm


Unfortunately it does not seem to be able to replace the F16/F18 a2a capability that many countries rely on F16/18 for.

August 12, 2015 1:34 pm


I am not sold on that yet. Assuming the radar performs as planned (no reason it shouldn’t) and helmet mounted sight (seems to be coming together) as well as the EW system it should offer far more than most customers have currently. It will fight differently (at range) but not necessarily worse.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
August 12, 2015 1:57 pm


No real fears once it is airborne and in the area in a real fight but as a QRA platform it has to scramble and get there. Often conducting a visual interception and escort.
If I was SAAB I would be pushing Gripen NG hard as a relatively low cost higher performance QRA asset.

August 12, 2015 2:23 pm

@APATs – interesting thought. For QRA, where would you put one of those v a Typhoon on broad % capability – 75%?

I wonder, slightly tongue in cheek, how a comparison of the whole life cost of 40 new Gripen NGs, v 40 new tranche 3 Typhoons v maintaining the tranche 1 Typhoons through to 2030 would look like. Thinking purely UK / FI QRA

August 12, 2015 2:29 pm

I suspect an F-35 carrying just 4 internal AMRAAM’s and perhaps a pair of AIM-9 on the wings will climb sufficiently, against an F-16 with external AMRAAMs and a tank or two, that there isn’t really anything to worry about. Unless you happen to live near the runway and have sensitive hearing.

stephen duckworth
August 12, 2015 2:50 pm

Sorry if this is a repost but Lewis Page (ex-RN Officer for 11 years it seems ) has an article printed in the Torygraphy (slagging off the Torys) about the state of the UK armed forces .
He passes comment on the F35 and how its a stitch up we don’t have CATOBAR carriers so we couldn’t buy the F/A-18 series which would of supplanted the Typhoon in the RAF also so BAE bloated the quote on fitting cats and traps. APATS did you ever meet? I suspect not as he was not ‘lost at sea’ ;-)

August 12, 2015 4:08 pm

F35 accelerates quite nicely up to around the transonic region becomes sluggish above that speed which is fine for strike. Acceptable for point defence task and good self escort ability but more limited in the air defence arena. It will do fine for what we need it to do but we’ll need another decade to get it full up and running.

Anyway nice video of a f35 pilot talking thru his experiences

August 12, 2015 4:10 pm
Reply to  Steve

Fighter vs. fighter combat in WW2 and later was about 80-90% surprise kills, and turns were usually limited to 90° turns. A Bf 109E was able to outturn a Spitfire if a German Spain veteran was up against a RAF rookie. The sustained turn rates of WW2 fighters were not so terribly different as most interested people think today.

Today’s primary option for A2A surprise attacks would be a medium range low signature propelland missile with combined passive radar homing + imaging infrared + imaging UV sensor. That’s what Russians (R-27) and French (MICA) are trying (primarily with IIR sensor, though), and ASRAAM and IRIS-T are capable of to a more limited degree.

The F-35 design team on the other hand attempts to prevent surprise with DAS, though minimized signature missiles (possibly with re-startable solid fuel rocket!) could counter this.

August 12, 2015 4:36 pm

As an outsider looking in, I note this comment from the author of the article,

“This then provides the UK with swing role aircraft that can just as easily duke it out with Russian (or Indian) Flankers as it can stomp on ISIS pickups!”

Why are we even using such expensive pieces of kit to “stomp on ISIS pickups!” when drones could – and by all accounts are doing – hit the target in question.

The USAF are, I’m given to believe training up officers who are non-pilots to fly drones and also there are articles in the press stating the USAF is even considering letting non-officers fly drone missions.

Does the RAF, in this ear of tight budgets, really, really need to be spending huge amounts of cash on training pilots to sit in jets to fly missions more suited to drones that could be controlled by a non-pilot?

Or is it political, in that the RAF are determined to maintain their ‘Top Gun’ image?

August 12, 2015 5:04 pm
Reply to  mickp

It would stack up well on a cost basis in comparison to new Typhoons and I suspect not too badly against refurbing the T1’s as that’ll come to a pretty penny no doubt but how would it stack against the Typhoon as an Aircraft?

August 12, 2015 5:27 pm

‘Although it may be unfashionable, I would also like to see the austere location operating concept developed further with increased investment in expeditionary airfield combat engineering and logsitics’

What do you envisage the rough investment required? The way the F35 has the engine nozzle angled down at an for short take off operation would I presume start to damage the trackway we used for Harrier and AM2 matting is a logistical heavy weight (would this be prone to damage too?) Does any one know what the USMC are considering as I think their expeditionary runway ops tend to be AM2 affairs.

John Hartley
John Hartley
August 12, 2015 5:54 pm

I would not have built a 65000 ton STOVL only carrier & prefer the more Harrier type solution of the Boeing X-32, but we are where we are, so have to make the best of it. says the RAF are training with the USMC at Beaufort in the States & will bring RAF F-35B back to the UK in 2017. Doubtless there will be much propaganda about the UK having a “Superfighter” but frankly I have doubts about early F-35. I think it only makes sense to buy them in numbers when they have the block 1 engine upgrade from 2018 & block 4 software from 2019. It will take several years to get them in any significant numbers, so we are looking at a UK 30 aircraft fighter shortfall from 2019 until 2022-23, unless Tornado is extended or more Typhoon 3b are bought.
F-35B may come right for the QE/PoW, but the limited range & payload, makes them unsuitable for other roles.
F-35A has the higher G airframe & internal gun giving it limited dogfighting capability. F-35B & C are just stealthy bomb trucks.
If the F-35E is ever launched, that would have the range needed to replace GR4 properly.
A few RN V-22 with the roll off tanker kit, might improve F-35B combat radius.
What will the French do after Rafale? Or the Germans do after Typhoon? Do Western oriented nations only want a single fighter choice? (F-35).

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
August 12, 2015 6:08 pm
Reply to  John Hartley

What exactly about the X32 made it more Harrier likens given the size of the aircraft and the role it is required to fulfill what exactly does STOVL have to With QEC size. This was driven by aircraft numbers, munitions and fuel/stores.
What other roles The variant unsuitable for and why?
So B And cannot take advantage of stealth, sensor fusion and missiles, even for A A dogfight is a last resort. We need to get our heads round this.
Why would F35E have the range? It does not exist.

Lots of statements not much analysis in support which is what @TDs post highlighted.

August 12, 2015 6:18 pm

In the singular case of the UK there is absolutely an inherent contradiction in the selection of the B. The B was always intended as a Harrier replacement, as such it takes a range and internal payload hit compared to other variants (especially the C) but that was fine because it was a Harrier replacement; however, it then had to become the Tornado GR.4/DPOC replacement, to which it is less suited and the C would be more suited.

Is this the end of the world? No. Is it less than optimal, yes. More crucially is the UK getting a significant power-projection capability (which is what it wants), yes. Thus we can all stop worrying.

August 12, 2015 6:55 pm

In reference to the Netherlands QRA requirements, the recent Benelux agreement the total joint F35 order could be around 90-100 a/c, about 4-5 squadrons worth. Given the geographical location and size of airspace I’d doubt that the F35 will have any material limitations. Given however the Netherlands close link to the RMs, whether they should consider a two variant order and swap out some for a squadron of F35bs.

August 12, 2015 7:16 pm

‘The USAF are, I’m given to believe training up officers who are non-pilots to fly drones and also there are articles in the press stating the USAF is even considering letting non-officers fly drone missions.

Does the RAF, in this ear of tight budgets, really, really need to be spending huge amounts of cash on training pilots to sit in jets to fly missions more suited to drones that could be controlled by a non-pilot?

Or is it political, in that the RAF are determined to maintain their ‘Top Gun’ image?’

All ‘drones’ are controlled by pilots (whether they are called that or not). I’m going to guess what you mean is that the pilots background is that of flying manned a/c? As far as I know the USAF are creating a stream of pilots that are trained on nothing else but UCAVs and there will be no cross over to that of manned a/c. In effect they are pigeon holed. I would find it very remote that the USAF will ever have ORs piloting UCAVs, it’s not in their make up. All of their aircrew are officers and I’m pretty sure historically they have always been.

I’m not sure what you mean by your other paragraphs, do you mean why do use aircrew from manned aircraft background? Or do you mean we should have fewer manned a/c and more Reaper etc?

August 12, 2015 7:34 pm

In reference to the CVF and F35B debate I am sold on the argument that by going with this approach the number of a/c (and qualified pilots) available for a surge is probably 3-4 times more than if the RN had magically gone for a CTOL a/c.

I’d like to see a permanent CAP sqd of 16 F35Bs plus 4 AEW Merlins permanently assigned to each CVF plus a tailored air group of upto another 20 a/c. This could range anywhere from 2 x 9 a/c F35B RAF sqds for a strike role, to a mixture of Chinooks / Merlins / Apaches / Wildcats when operating in an amphibious assault / SF Base role. What’s not to like :)

John Hartley
John Hartley
August 12, 2015 7:50 pm

APATS. I suspect you know full well, that the X-32 had a Pegasus style rotating nozzle , whereas the F-35 has the Soviet style lift fan. The X-32 had a quoted combat radius a little larger than the F-35 (approx 60 miles).
Sure the RAF could use the F-35B for QRA over the North Sea, but there is no need for STOVL on that mission, so why not use a longer range, higher G aircraft for that task? F-35A or Typhoon t3b for example.
Perhaps the RAF could launch F-35B from Cyprus to bomb IS/Daesh, but again that does not need STOVL & a longer range/heavier payload aircraft would be better.
The USAF will need to replace F-15E eventually. If LRS-B is as cheap as claimed, perhaps they will just buy more. However, if LRS-B is expensive, then an Advent/AETD engine, big wing, F-35E could be the answer. Not expecting a decision before 2018-20.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
August 12, 2015 7:58 pm


Having a similar lift system to Harrier is academic when talking about size, space and as for range. Look how that has changed for F35 in real life test conditions.
If you read my other posts you see that I see no F35 variant as suitable for QRA.
A longer range heavier payload is always better given everything else being equal. However better is miles away from unsuitable as you said.
So we will have some form of F15E replacement that may be based on F35.

August 12, 2015 8:03 pm

Nice post!

It all sounds rather sensible to me.

48 always sounded a bit lean, however an initial order of 60 F35B would enable a comfortable 2 squadron structure with plenty of spares if a ‘surge’ was needed, or the option of standing up a 3rd unit if eating into air-frame hours and having a smaller sustainment force were considered acceptable….and if the money was available of course!

As for the wider RAF fleet, keeping a small amount of Tornado’s around to bridge the looming gap in numbers (if not Brimstone, Storm-Shadow and Raptor capable aircraft) for at least a couple more years is looking more likelier by the day in my view.

Keeping some T1 Typhoon’s is an argument that’s been done to death so i won’t rehash it, and whilst it’s a lovely idea on paper i have been saying the same thing as TD has for ages…purchase a couple dozen more new build Typhoon’s to take the pressure off of the wider fast-jet fleet. With a 20% cost reduction, a maturing platform and a production line good to go i’d say it’s an idea that has a lot going for it.

Beyond serving the needs of the UK through the RAF a top-up order would sustain the line post 2018 and could only help the possibility of more foreign sales by demonstrating a level of commitment and confidence in Typhoon which has been seriously lacking from the primary Euro-fighter partners for a number of years.

Something in the region of 140 T2/T3 Typhoon’s and 60 F35B out to the 2030’s and beyond would be what i’d aim for, with Tornado remaining in play only until more of the former and significant numbers of the latter arrive to take it’s place, by 2021 if i have my optimistic hat on, but certainly no later than 2023-2025.

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
August 12, 2015 8:10 pm

I have huge issues with concurrency. Having worked on the Jaguar we had massive issues with the Jaguar GR3/Adour 106 programme. The engine especially never reach FOC, with allsorts of quick fixes and lash ups tried to gat clearance for overseas deployment. never happened. The F16 was not a good study for concurrency. The F16A achieved FOC with the USAF and many other forces and has been continuously developed throughout its service life. The F-35 seems to have been given IOC as a political move to try to keep the wolves at bay. Once very limited numbers are delivered at IOC standard, deliveries should be curtailed until the contractor can deliver the agreed FOC standard airframes. There will be further developments in the pipeline but a firm set of capabilities that must be available should be set in stone before major production begins. This may mean certain ordinance is not initially available so the UK may only be able to drop Paveway IV and have to wait for Brimstone and Storm Shadow and limited to ASRAAM and AMRAAM instead of Meteor.

We should not expect the F35 to d be able to do everything we want from the day it enters squadron service. Rather like the initial Tornado GR4 programme, where we tried to cram in too much at the same time. Rather we should look, ironically at how the Jaguar was developed to incorporate the lessons of GW1, adding GPS, TIALD, IDM and so on over time. So get the F35 into service with a good glitch free level of capability agreed as the FOC and then develop the platform over time.

The Other Chris
August 12, 2015 8:25 pm

Some clarifications for correctness:

F-35D/E are fictional. They do not exist. They were created as independent concept art by a graphic designer, I believe related to whatif modelers, and subsequently picked up by game modders.

F-35 LiftSystem is not Soviet in origin. Yak-41/141 uses a Lift and Cruise Jet approach and is a good example of the Multiple Discovery theory. The Soviets had clever people working on the same problems as us. LM got involved after Yakovlev had already performed a lot ofthe design process. It was a good opportunity to see where they had got to.

This Lift and Cruise model, along with many other potential STOVL solutions have been tested by RR, HS and successors since the 50’s. I’ve attached a clipping of a Flight Magazine article from 1986 which is a good “of its time” overview covering some of the options. All tested extensively in ground rigs or jet models over the decades.

Please have a read of the whole linked article [1] from Flight Global’s archives and keep in mind the date, the era (Cold War background) and that this is not the Top Secret work that was under way at the time.

LiftSystem is a derivative of the Tandem Fan solution pictured. However this form required Adaptive technology to function in order to control the different bypasses in different engine modes. It may form the next generation of STOVL aircraft (AETD/hybrid/whatever), and if so will likely be the point at which “STOVL” matches “conventional” aircraft performance rather than lagging slightly behind.

Three Bearing Swivel Nozzle was another ASTOVL development by RR, superior to the Two Bearing demonstrated on the Yaks and enabled by more advanced material science/manufacture.

A STOVL carrier, mentioned before, is a far simpler organism than a carrier equipped with catapults and arresting gear. The Air Department on a US Carrier is one of the largest in terms of complement with the V-2 Division (catapults, gear, VLA) on a Nimitz/Ford running around the 150-200 souls mark alone (seems to vary ship to ship according to the USN Registers).

That’s almost 1/3 of a CVF’s entire non air wing complement before you even need to look at the cost of equipment, births and (to steal NaB’s terms, hope you don’t mind) vittles/ice-cream.

STOVL CVF really are “Pocket Supercarriers”. All you need to do is design your aircraft to land and take off from them in order to leverage the advantage. Occam’s Razer.


Lord Jim
Lord Jim
August 12, 2015 9:00 pm

Quick clarification form me, My problem with concurrency is during development. I agree it may have a limited role, but I would rather have a working “Vanilla”, platform that enters service and then is developed in an planned and organised way through its service life, than have never ending delays and lash ups as a platform in service is unable to get the job done.

Engineer Tom
August 12, 2015 9:02 pm

I believe the reason the RAF and to some extent the USAF use qualified pilots is PR they can say these are the same personnel who would be dropping bombs from a manned aircraft, it is to try and get away from the image of teenagers playing video games. The more automated the aircraft become the more this seems a bit over the top. I would like to see a fairly long training course for UAV pilots that focuses more on the weapon and sensor side of things with a big emphasis on ROE and ethics. It is also a role that could relax the fitness requirements and be open to injured personnel who don’t want to leave the military, but are desk or wheel chair bound.

John Hartley
John Hartley
August 12, 2015 9:07 pm

Well the Russians seem wedded to STOBAR, if is right. Project 23000E “Storm” an 80-85000 ton, nuclear powered carrier. Not in the 2015-17 programme, but could be after that, if Russian finances & priorities allow it.
I first saw mention of a potential F-35E version in FlightGlobal several years ago, in relation to the USAF pondering how to replace F-15E. Usually mentioned with advanced engine research (adaptive fan). It may or may not happen. LRS-B affordability will determine whether a cheaper alternative is developed. The decision is at least several years away, so I would not want to judge the outcome now.

The Other Chris
August 12, 2015 9:11 pm

A qualified pilot is required at key stages for Watchkeeper operation in non-segregated airspace as a condition of certification. Public MAA documents have it specified if you’re minded to do some digging!

The Other Chris
August 12, 2015 9:14 pm

Shows you how much research Jane’s/Flight staff do before a concept piece these days! Contrast to the accuracy of the 1986 piece.

Engineer Tom
August 12, 2015 9:36 pm


I would have thought a different skill set is required to take off and land the UAV than for the rest of the mission, I also believe for Reaper this is already handled by a different crew based at the airbase they are being operated from.

Non-segregated airspace is another matter but at the moment I don’t think it is an issue as we don’t operate UAV’s in non-segregated airspace, and in the future automated collision avoidance will be fair more important, and safer, than a human in the loop.

August 12, 2015 9:53 pm

Those who think the challenges of concurrency represented money totally wasted down the plug hole are wrong.

When most people think of designing anything they tend to think only of the design of the finished product. I hope that the F35 project becomes the basis for many a student in future. I am not pessimistic I believe there will be numerous valuable project management skills, computer modeled tests and manufacturing skills learnt from the JSF project.

Thanks to the development of vast databases, and clever algorithms we have computer models for thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, stress analysis this list just goes on. This has had to be developed, and theories quantified. The JSF project didn’t invent computer modeling or programming but it has certainly advanced it. We can all save man hours and money in the future from this new technology, research and experience. Trying design concurrency on such a big complicated project, indeed the design commonality of the F35 is a serious and worthwhile attempt to build on this.

Should there have been so much design commonality? Would it have been cheaper to develop a plane that replaced the almost endless list of planes the F35 is meant to replace (from A10 to F18) on a role by role basis? Has this search for commonality (something the TDers often trumpet) created an expensive compromise that is either over-specified for the task or limited to the lowest common denominator? I can imagine the Harvard Library dedicating some significant shelf space for these topics.

I suggested that most people think of design as the design of the finished product. Although many articles and commentators suggest that the concurrency is that of the design process, and it is, but it is also of the MANUFACTURING design process. This is where real money is saved or spent.

Flightglobal reports on some of savings.

If there is no concurrency of the design that means you cannot tweak your product, part, or device to suit a new manufacturing process, material etc which may have very different properties. That would be utter madness. It happens, parts change, materials change.

The sheer scale of the project is what makes the F35 so challenging. Has the UK ever had such a mouth watering proposal that contains so much FITTED FOR AND WITH?

August 12, 2015 9:54 pm

Eng Tom

That’s due to lag issues qualified pilots are always in constant control. Army tried the non pilot route with watchkeeper didn’t go well.

By that logic TCAS has made commercial pilots redundant but it hasn’t. UAVs are not small certainly reaper and above size have similar wingspans to 737s. Then first time one of these collides with a chinook/Hercules/insert manned aircraft type or simply crashes on a house there would blood letting in high office if a qualified pilot was not at the controls.

August 12, 2015 10:40 pm

If you need a qualified pilot why not a UAV qualified pilot, with the appropriate flying course. If it is really necessary that they can fly a manned aircraft why not a light aircraft. I cant see the need for them to be a fast jet or even a multi engine aircraft pilot.

August 12, 2015 10:50 pm
Reply to  mickp

Unfortunately, the software path upgrade which is both essential and still continually delayed wont be able to do that until much further into the 2020s. The models coming off the production line this week have a new processor, they cant even be powered up let alone fly, as the software has to be almost totally tested again, and they cant do that till the testing is complete for the current version.
The F22 by comparison, in spite of being out of production for some years now, cost $5 bill for the fleet to have the same processor/software combination that the very last planes had to use the latest missiles. Thats only 3 years for 180 odd planes. Now think of 3 versions and maybe 400-500 planes by 2022. A hell of a lot of early models are going to end up sitting by the gate.

August 12, 2015 10:55 pm
Reply to  Opinion3

You keep looking at the sales brochure Opinion3. The reality is that software governs what is usable and they are a long way- mid 2020s- before being ‘fitted for and with’.

Chris B
Chris B
August 13, 2015 12:07 am

@ Jeremy M H,
re: concurrency. As I understand it the F-16 was not built concurrently. They design and fully tested the first model before putting it into production. No block of the F-16 was put into production until it had been proven to work first, at least as I say that’s my understanding. The issue with the F-35 is that an aircraft is being produced (albeit it at a low rate) that is still undergoing testing and validation, so any hitch discovered is a hitch shared by all the previously constructed aircraft.

@ Steve,
re: German air century+ aces in WW2. Notice that they racked up most of their kills against the Russians. When German pilots and aircraft came up against British/Commonwealth/American pilots in comparable aircraft the kill/loss ratios were much more even. There’s little point arguing the BF109 was slower in the turn than a Spitfire but still chalked up large kill/loss ratios unless you’re actually looking at the performance vs the Spitfire.

@ Allan,
re: RAF stomping ISIS and wanting to recreate “Top Gun”. A Tornado can be (and has been) used to penetrate quite heavily defended airspace to carry out attacks on a variety of targets. It can also blow up pickup trucks. Reaper can only do the second one. I sense a distinct hint with all this UAV business of the US experience in Vietnam with missiles vs dogfighting skills. I can see a situation where someone converts their airforce heavily over to UAVs (man in the loop and autonomus) only to find in the real world that GPS and other signal jamming causes real problems that will make them wish they’d adopted a dual track approach.

August 13, 2015 1:07 am
Reply to  Opinion3

Not really. The ‘concurrency problem’ is about parts that have to be replaced in previously built planes as they dont meet spec or not have the proper strength. With computer hardware its even worse as it may require a lot of wiring to be removed and compartment rebuild. Its logistically impossible to have software dead ends scattered among your active fleet.
You are talking about saving money on structural parts, that meet requirements, for future builds. They are not the same thing.

August 13, 2015 6:49 am

i think it’s fair to say that UAV pilots must be trained pilots however there is a big difference between a pilot trained to fly a light aircraft and one trained to fly fast jets. Pilot training costs so much now a days that we must use them very sparingly.

On the further purchase of tranche 3b aircraft does anyone want to hazard a guess about how much this would cost. BAE have already mentioned 20% reductions and if we use the same model as the Apache rebuild I.e transfer across engines, weapons and avionics we might get them significantly cheaper. The midlife upgrade for tranche 1 was put at £24 million per aircraft so if we could get new build airframes for the £30-£40 million mark it would defiantly be worth it. If the MOD can get all its fast jet programs moped up by the early 2020’s then it should leave a fair bit of room in the defence budget for the successor program and FRES UV program before looking at a Typhoon replacement purchase in the mid to late 2030’s.

August 13, 2015 9:13 am

Duker – ref software & hardware currency – I know I’m in a minority these days, but I see the compulsion to integrate the latest version of commercial hardware, OS, app(lication)s and interface standards into military equipment as an encumbrance in both availability and cost terms.

The companies issuing new generations of platforms and software not only flood the non-military world with latest gizmos but artificially kill off old versions to ensure their market remains active, which in turn makes otherwise rational humans believe they are entirely dependent on the latest IT for everything except the most basic animal functions. If you haven’t got the latest i-phone with the latest must-have apps then you must be mentally deficient. Really?

Just because money-grabbing corporations have invented a demand for (very lucrative) personal pocket data terminals which are invaluable tools for logging personal activity (in the belief 10,000 friends the person has never met will be impressed), being told about irrelevant personal happenings of strangers, calling taxis, selecting restaurants, sending pornographic selfies over insecure social media, networking for terrorist purposes, and a hundred other pointless non-urgent communications that barge into the radio spectrum, there is no driving need to tear military platforms apart to fit the same sort of IT.

Moore’s Law says at the moment something like every 30 months processing capacity doubles. What it didn’t extrapolate is that on roughly the same time intervals IT would step on a generation, rendering older IT both obsolete and, shortly after that, unsupported. By ramming latest hardware, software and data comms standards into military platforms we do not risk obsolescence problems, we guarantee them.

I have used this example before but it remains illustrative – Witham recently had an FV432 APC for sale, ISD would have been mid 60s, its total mileage at point of sale was 39. 39 miles in 50 years. Slightly embarrassing that an expensive bit of armourware was bought and not used, but in terms of the cost of its upkeep it was all but free. But consider what would have happened to the dormant vehicle had the decision been made to keep it to the latest standards:

1960s – petrol engine, carburettor, 24V electrics, Clansman radio and harness.
1970s – no change
1980s – emissions control added, data terminal and modem added to Clansman.
1990s – diesel engine, multiple fully rugged 80186 PCs installed with stand-alone functions. 1553 network added, replaced by Ethernet in 5 years. Upgraded modem.
2000s – replace diesel engine every 3 years to comply with EU emissions regs. Clansman replaced by Bowman. Ethernet upgrade. Rugged SCSI hard drives to hold programs and data. Early PCs upgraded to 186 processor units then replaced again with 286 processors (each military spec) then 386 and 486 vaguely ruggedised COTS. Peripherals changed from parallel bus to serial bus to USB. Ethernet connected SCSI data storage replaced with SATA-2 devices over USB.
2010s – diesel engine now needs Adblue additive to meet emissions regs. USB2 replaces USB. Firewire comes & goes. Bluetooth arrives. Processors pentium, dual core, centrino arrive as part of DII and displace 486s. Disc drives replaced with Flash. Keyboards deleted with arrival of touch screen terminals.

At the end of all that upgrade activity you would have a fully current platform to which new devices could be added almost seamlessly, as decreed by Generic Vehicle Architecture standard. But it would still be an APC with 39 miles on the clock, waiting to be sold at Witham’s auction. How much would all that upgrade activity have cost for no actual increase in military capability? How many months of workshop time would have been involved? What would have been the point?

Obviously this one vehicle was (you would hope) unusual in its lack of operational use, and where platforms are in use and must network to some degree to function as part of a distributed military force, some degree of currency is needed. But why forever chase commercial fads? If the military have no need of Twitter on every vehicle, nor of taxi-calling apps, nor restaurant reviews, then what is the imperative for upgrading to the very latest commercial standards? Could, for example, the military have nailed NT4 or XP Pro as their Windows standards and stopped chasing Microsoft? The real level of compatibility, I suggest, could be as effectively handled by platform (meaning vehicle, aircraft or ship) interface standards. Providing the right data is exchanged in the right format and at the right rate, what does it matter what happens inside the platform?

August 13, 2015 10:26 am
Reply to  Chris B

Look up Bär, Priller, Marseille, Galland … 100+ confirmed kills against Western powers only.
Particularly over France 1941-Normandy invasion a “confirmed kill” was confirmed by wreckage. Meanwhile “confirmed kills” over active land campaigns such as in Russia may have been exaggerated by factor 2.

The reason why German experts killed mroe than Western Allies fighter aces was mostly more contact with enemies due to hundreds of sorties.

Engineer Tom
August 13, 2015 10:53 am

The RN still use windows 2000 on a lot of kit or at least they did a couple of years back. PC’s for running control systems will always be out of date, the computers on the T45 were out of date well before the first ship came into service. The reason to keep upgrading them is that if they get faster the ship will become more efficient, and also the software will evolve when a weapon system is updated and so it makes sense to also upgrade the hardware. The new system (can’t remember the name right now) by which the software will all run from common hardware, easily, means that in future the hardware updates will be easier and cheaper.
DII is different as it in reality is just a secure computer network and so upgrading it is fairly easy but I very much doubt they are anywhere near the latest kit or OS, probably XP possibly Win 7, if they are running windows even.
There are a lot of reasons to keep upgrading including that it makes spares cheaper if you are using fairly recent hardware. But the RN where I have some knowledge as to what systems they use they are no where near the cutting edge, probably 5 to 10 years behind a top end PC.

The Other Chris
August 13, 2015 11:07 am

The Shared Infrastructure system with CMS-1 combat system.

(EDIT: Still largely Windows/C#/Java and legacy VB in their real-time OS forms under the hood)

August 13, 2015 11:20 am

ET, TOC – I get the point of maintaining interface compatibility. That bit makes sense. I don’t really understand the need to change the guts of platform based IT if its working adequately and has the necessary interface adaptors. I am quite content for T-45 to run on last decade’s OS if it all works well enough – no doubt an IT refresh would be part of ship’s refit these days.

The point about interfaces is not a pipe-dream; it all happens already within the IT we use – I doubt a Samsung smartphone has the same system design, component types or microcode as Apple’s i-phone, but they communicate and behave in much the same way. They can operate apps in much the same way. From the outside they look pretty similar and work in much the same manner. We don’t care what’s going on inside, as long as they work as a whole. I’m suggesting, as a way to save a bit of MOD’s budget, that military platforms are treated as externally defined network members, defined only by the way they behave as seen from other platforms. Upgrade the guts when it becomes necessary, but not just to keep everything to the latest spec.

August 13, 2015 11:29 am

The Germans were rather obsessed with aces. Not just fighter aces either, they had ground attack aces, submarine aces even tank aces. While I am very sceptical of the total scores, it was certainly true that their were aces with very high totals. What was important though was collective totals. The Germanys were rather over reliant on their aces.

The Other Chris
August 13, 2015 11:45 am

Almost certainly there’s a large number of contributory factors as to why, but there was a German tendency to keep more of their experienced personnel of all types in the field, compared to the Allied approach which appears to have rotated experienced veterans into training / strategic / development roles more often.

Jeremy M H
August 13, 2015 12:06 pm
Reply to  Chris B


That is the point about the F-16 though. It went into service with one short range AAM and dumb bombs. The F-35 is entering service with one medium to long range AAM and smart bombs.

There are just a lot more built ins anymore to a modern aircraft. You have to do most all the work of an old programs life of improvements but do it up front. Otherwise you end up with things like Tranche 1 Typhoon that can’t be economically upgraded and either are limited for their lifetime or scrapped early.


By all reports the concurrency cost actually incurred on F-35 have been much much lower than the GAO projections because even. With improved processors they haven’t had to re do major portions of the plane. They designed to have these things inserted over time. If they did it right it shouldn’t be a game breaker.

August 13, 2015 12:35 pm

TD nice article, pretty much bang on I think.

Everyone else. Thanks. Its the first time I’ve been able to read the text and comments on an F35 article without getting really mad and feeling the need to post !!!!!

So I posted THIS useless cr4p instead :P

August 13, 2015 2:17 pm

@ S O
Galland did exceptionally well, but even his figures are known to be wildly inflated vs actual loss records. One day during the BoB he claimed three kills but only one British fighter from the fight was recorded as being moderately damaged. The unit he flew with in the BoB is known to have overclaimed vs actual losses by a typical ratio of at least 3:1, and in some cases rising to about 6:1. Still did well for himself throughout the war though, certainly more than worthy of the “Ace” moniker, and undoubtedly a talented and tenacious fighter pilot.

@ Jeremy M H,
The F-16 was designed as a pure dogfighter. It was originally designed for one purpose and one purpose alone and came into service fully capable of performing that role. Everything after that was a bonus. Critically the aircraft went into production having been properly tested and without major defects. The problem with concurrency, as duker pointed out, is that if you suddenly find during testing that a piece of the airframe is not living up to anywhere near the standard required then you have a major problem because all the aircraft produced to that point share this same defect. As WW2 has come up, this was actually a common problem at the time, with aircraft rushed into service before they had been fully tested because needs must. Not sure it’s such a clever plan for peacetime.

Brian Black
Brian Black
August 13, 2015 2:45 pm

With regard to UAV pilots, I believe that all RAF Reaper pilots are qualified pilots, but not necessarily fast jet or fixed-wing pilots. So some may have their background with Puma or Hercules, etc.

They are still flying an aircraft on combat sorties, so I doubt that truck drivers will be in the seat any time soon. It does seem however that the extremely expensive fast jet or rotary-wing training isn’t particularly relevant to the current generation of UAV. I assume the RAF would only need to do the flying training up to a single engined prop aircraft to have someone they could then train for Reaper.

I would imagine though that a new RAF pilot’s ambitions would stretch further than that. And so you might not see many dedicated Reaper pilots who join the service and then just stop at that level.

Having said that, many AAC pilots have come from other regiments -armoured and artillery quite often- and many over the years have flown helicopters while wearing their original cap badge, and then returned to their original non-flying roles.

So I imagine that a Reaper pilot could reasonably come from any service, learn rather basic fixed-wing flying, and then learn to fly the UAV, and perhaps returning to their units and original jobs at some future point.

Jeremy M H
August 13, 2015 2:47 pm

Look at the number of F-16 losses for engine or aerodynamic issues in its early years. It numbers in the dozens. For something designed to be simple it sure seemed to struggle to stay in the air…

This is not to knock the F-16. It was a different time when you could specify a simple aircraft and improve it. Plus the public wouldn’t lynch you for losing airframes.

That isn’t an option now. No one wants something that is a limited role aircraft. Except people on the internet that is. So you build in multi-role out of the box. No one is going to allow the spate of crashes in the first 5 years the F-16 had. It simply wouldn’t be allowed. You can say it was fully tested. But the bar was drastically lower then than now. It could fly, and shoot IR missiles and drop dumb bombs. And it crashed a lot. Was it fully tested out? By the definition of those times sure. Would it have gotten anywhere today with those loss rates? No.

August 13, 2015 5:16 pm


An interesting piece indeed. Had to read it three times, you do not come across as a shill, but your way more “ok with this” than I expected – realpolitik ?

There is indeed no point harping on about the history, we can let other disassemble the program history, again, and again……. We are where we are, and now we have to deal with it, which is where I am going to disagree with you:

“The F35B is worth it, but…” Oh hell no, it’s not “worth it” ! This to me is the biggest problem, the cost / benefit analysis just does not play out. It absolutely does not seem worth it for the capability it brings. However therein lies the problem, as ddescribed in another comment, our jointness and potential use cases.
For the RN carrier requirement (no arguing about what could have been with cats and traps) does it provide greater capability than Sea Harrier FA2 and / or Harrier II Gr8/9 – yep probably.
For the RAF is it really a good “Follow-on Offensive Aircraft” replacement for the Tornado, no, probably not.
Personally I would ditch in a second, but lets face we really need something sharp and pointy to fly of those QE class “really, really big through deck cruisers” – so realistically we have no way to drop the hot budgetary potatoe and do a runner. So what is the absolute minimum ?
48 – two operational squadrons of 12, one 12 a/c OCU and 12 spares. Make the F35B all about the QE (and for the sake of this, I dont care if the RN or the RAF fly them) but do not waste a single penny on the land based Tornado replacement role.

Where I do agree with you is maximizing investment in the Typhoon. I am not sure if that is retiring Tranch 1 aircraft to replace them with new Tranche 3B, stringing out the Tranche 1 as long as possible as QRA / AD of UK only, or even doing a full SLEP / rebuild to Tranche 3 standard. However a tricked out Tranche 3B with all planned and already tested (?) enhancements seems a good idea, and if we want “first day of the war stealthy DEAD” then develop the bloody Taranis and put a back seater in the Typhoon who can control 4 to 6 of them over Line Of Sight datalinks ! (Actually, but 12 Predator C / Avenger now, and start developing the CONOPS).
So to sum up, IMHO F35B is NOT “worth it” but we need it for the carriers, so lets invest the absolute minimum in the program, sort out the NEFMA and concentrate on a “single type” strategy for the RAF, with tricked out, drone controlling, Storm Shadow hefting, Meteor slinging Typhoons……..

Engineer Tom
August 13, 2015 5:22 pm

I would expect a hardware refresh every 5 years, at least, with it being more often for crucial systems. A big reason is reliability after 5 years the failure rate will be getting pretty high, another is that hardware gets worn out and slows down and replacement parts will be becoming expensive. For cutting edge systems like radars I would expect it to be more frequent as they would benefit from increased computing power to work faster and more efficiently. For control systems such as PMS it may not be as important as the software will be fairly static. DII would fall in the middle, the demands on it will be increasing as the software slowly gets upgraded, but there isn’t the incentive as there is with a cutting edge radar system for newer hardware. Most major company’s operate on a two year refresh cycle whilst utilising older OS’s and software, Win 7 is only just starting to really replace XP in the business world.

August 13, 2015 5:23 pm

@JMH I broadly agree with your assessment. The F35 is required to replace so many more tasks that actually the capabilities at IOC are way ahead of most, if not all, recent fighter introductions.

I would be surprised if the concurrency does not result in substantial savings down the line. We will call this the marginal cost on an extra unit. I expect that marginal cost to be far lower due to the way this project has been run. However the naysayers will use this as a reason that concurrency was a failure…… just imagine if all the units had been delayed the unit cost could have be …….. (I can see it now)

August 13, 2015 5:53 pm

ET – I read somewhere that semiconductor devices should be credited with an active life of 7 years. I have no idea who came up with that life span. What I can say is that the hi-fi I built in 1977 is going still; its rarely turned off (only long absences from home or power cuts) and in the 38 years of service two chunky electrolytics gave up, and the volume control needs regular exercise to wipe away build up of oxidation. Just for good measure, it was struck by lightning in 1980 which took out one PSU regulator transistor and blew holes through cable insulation. The transistor was replaced and it all worked again – and is working still; the cables are still holey in place. Similarly the electronic ignition I made in 1977 is still on the current car, apparently working fine. I do have, I will admit, a couple of spare high voltage transistors in case the repeated inductive switching eventually does for the main power device. Perhaps modern electronics isn’t as well made as home-built stuff of the 70s? Maybe the high density chips do in fact have a down-side. Certainly I don’t believe modern board design cares as much about self heating as once we did – many PC cards run at temperatures high enough for silicon devices to be at the edge of their temperature envelope.

In my screed of 9:13 this morning I mentioned full mil spec ruggedised processor cards, those made with integral conduction heatsink woven through the board components, designed to pass unwanted heat to the enclosure’s cold-wall (big external heatsink of forced air cooled). Those cards were presumably quite long lived. Nowdays? I imagine COTS cards are used and the failure rate much higher; the only good point being replacements would be cheap for as long as they remain available.

The point is then that reliable electronics can be made and trusted. It costs more and the performance will be stable over time. It may prove cheaper in the long term over the constant redesign/replacement of hardware. Whether it is a better solution in the long term than the more fragile stuff that needs regular replacement, that would be for those paid big bucks to decide.

Engineer Tom
August 13, 2015 6:36 pm

@ Chris

Modern COTS hardware defiantly fails a lot more frequently, but the problem with custom hardware is the costs are huge and they will never be as good as the COTS stuff as the military just can’t invest the money that Intel can. I dare say that a military custom designed PC would cost 10 times more than the COTS version to achieve the same performance.

For the RN ruggedised kit really isn’t such a big issue as it is for say the Army, and so if you have a system where you can refresh one PC out of 200 on board, and you know the new PC will still run all the software even though it is a different spec, there is no real reason not to use COTS kit. Why worry about R&D when you know the kit is going to work.

But going back to the earlier point there is no reason to require the last spec and upgrade every year too the new CPU, but equally there is no reason to say the hardware will sit still for 5 years then we will upgrade them all at once. A rolling refresh program and replacing failed kit with a newer model will both spread out the workload into smaller maintenance windows, whilst also keeping pace with new developments. The big project should be the software and this should be uniform across the various hardware set-ups, with updates and new software coming after they have been approved. A good analogy is the Iphone, Apple releases a new model every year but not everyone upgrades every year and so apps are usually designed to work on a number of models. Say Apple decide to support 4 years worth of phones the apps should work on the oldest model, but provide far better performance on the newest model.

A Caribbean Perspective
A Caribbean Perspective
August 13, 2015 7:04 pm
Reply to  Chris

Chris, ET – assuming comparable standards of manufacture, older electronics may well be more reliable, simply because you aren’t/ weren’t trying to squeeze every last clock-cycle out of it or stuff it into ever-smaller packaging. The Russians stayed with micro-valves in their space program, long after the advent of transistors, because they felt that they were far more robust (stray cosmic radiation couldn’t flip bits or do any significant damage and they were fast enough to do what they wanted). The old “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” approach. Most modern COTS circuitry is designed very well to do it’s job, it’s just that part of that job is planned obsolescence – why build to a 50-year life expectancy, when the system is unlikely to be in use 3-years from now? I see no problem with using older technology for defence related systems, as long as it can do the job required and it’s been suitably packaged for the task. Being on the bleeding edge may be essential in weapons or airframe design (or online gaming), but it’s often an uncomfortable place to be in IT (hardware and software) terms, particularly with safety-critical systems.

August 13, 2015 9:47 pm

ACP – agreed. My pet hate is modern software with self-scheduled fragmented running of modules (Objects?) – if modules can pick up data and modify values in unpredictable order, there is no way to guarantee repeatability. Also relying on some deeply buried table of free memory locations in which interrupted modules can dump interim working values in random order is a slow car crash waiting to happen. I have watched the PC here suffer such a data seizure, starting with dramatic speed reduction, then error messages in various application windows, then applications hanging one by one until the entire machine is paralysed. Sometimes it just sat there until switched off, sometimes in reaction to keyboard inputs the Big Blue Screen of Death would be triggered. Either way round, the answer, in common with many software faults, is to switch off and switch on again in the hope that the data seizure doesn’t happen the next time round. Somehow it just doesn’t seem reasonable to expect aircraft on final approach to just wait while Air Traffic Control reset their system, or to expect an enemy to hold off attacking the Naval Task Force while the Ops Room computers are switched off and on again.

As I understood it at the time, ADA was supposed to be entirely repeatable wasn’t it? I’m sure I saw somewhere that the programming resembled hardware logic elements that were connected to form functions, such that the transfer function of the finished software could be matched by a card full of logic gates. Maybe that was just wishful thinking on my part. But I am pretty sure the point about ADA was that it was reliable and entirely predictable – just what safety critical functions need.

August 13, 2015 11:26 pm
Reply to  Jeremy M H

To be fair, the F16 was a sensation at the time with its ‘fighter’ performance and good A2G capability. And it did break ground with a simple fly by wire which improved combat performance as well. The UK comparison was the jaguar which did it all the traditional way, except as a project with the French- which hasnt been tried since for some reason ??
A lot of the early F16 users were happy to stick with what they bought and waited till mid life for an update. The US fairly quickly moved on to updated models and passed the ‘old’ F16A onto their national Guard, an option most other countries dont have.

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
August 14, 2015 12:39 am

Turning to the title of the post in my opinion the F-35 is Not worth it, but at least for our new Naval Aviation Flexible Facilitator vessels or NAFF for short, they are the only game in town. Where the RAF should be seriously investing is in developing the Typhoon fleet which I have advocated many times. Both the Typhoon and the French Rafale still have the opportunity to be the F-16/18 for the 21st century with the Grippen fulfilling the role of the F-5. Many nation cannot afford the latest US platforms and those form Russia are still having the availability and support problems they have always have. The F-16 has almost reached as far as it can go and the F-18E/F and F-15E/S are reaching the end of their production runs.

A fully developed Typhoon, which is getting further behind the Rafale in its development curve, would be an outstanding, flexible platform. If the Typhoon consortium and European Governments could pull their heads out of their a—- they would have an order book they would be struggling to meet deliveries on. In my opinion a fully developed Typhoon would beat or at least match the F-35 in all areas except lo vis. Many nation, and especially us have been dazzled by “Stealth”, ever since GW1 and have wanted to be on the band waggon. Stealth has warped and inflated the cost of every programme it is included in. Only the F117 can be considered a success. The B2 though effective was too expensive to purchase in the number needed. The F-22 has not and will not reach its full potential by a wide margin, again due to cost overruns and a perceived lack of flexibility. I strongly feel the F-35 programme is going to go down in history as a “Capability too far”!

A Caribbean Perspective
A Caribbean Perspective
August 14, 2015 1:01 am

Chris – ah – good old Windoze and the BSOD. The most common reason for that is poor memory management by one of the applications, which gradually consumes all available physical memory.

ADA is an interesting language. It’s big strengths when it first came out, IIRC, were good concurrent process handling (pretty new at the time) and a compiler that was designed to flag up potential run-time problems as well as the more normal compile-time ones. It also had a formal interface definition between modules that allowed the compiler to check interfacing issues. I don’t personally remember the bit about hardware logic units (probably just the passage of time), but I think you are right, because I know that the designers of VHDL (a hardware description language that is arguably the de-facto standard for FPGA and ASIC designers) borrowed heavily from ADA syntax and concepts.

Jeremy M H
August 14, 2015 3:35 am
Reply to  Lord Jim

@Lord Jim

If stealth is what warps the cost of programs why is the Typhoon so GD expensive exactly?

The idea that the Eurofighter is the solution for the future doesn’t appear to have taken hold with the rest of the world either. They are either buying F-35s or have national programs to build a low observable aircraft of their own. All the UCAV programs even in Europe are low observable.

It certainly seems like those actually responsible for buying things know where they want to go. If I were to magically gift Europe back all the money and time from Rafale and Eurofighter and let them use it to build whatever they wanted with everything they now know do you think it would look more like a Eurofighter or an F-22 if you were being honest?

August 14, 2015 3:39 am
Reply to  whitelancer

“The Germanys were rather over reliant on their aces.”

They were called “Experten” (= “experts”), which hints at thier crucial role as competence centres and trainers.
Great many of the fighter Experten also became leaders of Gruppen or Geschwader – 30+ to ~100 crews. The initial move to replace the peacetime leaders with young successful pilots (Experten) greatly improved the fighter force in 1940, similar to how in WWI v.Richthofen turned an ineffective squadron around into the epicentre of Entente plane destruction.

Air combat, submarine combat, sniping and even tank combat are activities in which the basic idea of the Pareto principle is in force, albeit with different percentages. A few per cent of the people did half of the total killing. Rookies lasted only a handful sorties on average.
IIRC 5% killed 50% in the air, and Rookies lost their plane (~50% resulting in KIA, disability or POW) on average within the first four sorties.

August 14, 2015 6:37 am
Reply to  jedpc

I agree with your tirade. the F-35B isnt a carrier air defence fighter for sure.

The Other Chris
August 14, 2015 7:00 am

Was Sea Harrier?

August 14, 2015 7:13 am

I think the common theme is:
– We can all debate the merits of the STOVL CVFs, but it is what we have (and I’m actually ok with them assuming we get both). This does mean however that we the F35B – not point debating anything else.
– The original plan to put all the UK eggs in the F35B basket for future manned a/c is no longer the right route.
– The F35B is far superior to the Harrier (and Sea Harrier) in terms of capability, but is more complex to maintain (though probably no more complex that the Typhoon).
– The future is a mix of manned a/c and UCAVs.

I say, buy enough to be able to operate both CVFs each a “large” CAP (and secondary strike) squadron (say 16 F35Bs each) plus another 16 F35Bs that can be surged or deployed in individual flights as part of a TAG to be operated from a FOB or the CVF. Say 72 in total.

Alongside this we should buy more another 40 T3 Typhoons to keep skills, invest more in it’s capabilities and look to start planning for a future manned / UCAV hybrid that can be carrier based.

August 14, 2015 7:56 am

TOC – I recall FAA officers pointing out that Sea Harrier, although not supersonic, was a better interceptor than Tornado F3 because of its rate of climb and ceiling advantages. The web states Shar had a 50,000ft/min max rate of climb where F3 had 15,000ft/min. The Shar ceiling was only something like 1000ft better than F3’s 50,000ft. All the same, starting at sea level, the ability of getting to the same level as an incoming threat as fast as possible would seem to be a Good Thing? F-35 has a similar rate of climb to Harrier.

August 14, 2015 8:28 am

‘ The web states Shar had a 50,000ft/min max rate ‘

I think the web is a little out there. IIRC an EE Lightning was about half that.

August 14, 2015 9:05 am

Topman – if the number is wrong, its repeated in most sources. RAF Yearbook 1977 states Lightning Rate of Climb was 50,000ft/min. No RAF numbers for Harrier RoC but then it was only a ground attack aircraft in their use.

Some numbers though, this time Jane’s:
Sea Harrier – max T/O wt 26,200lb, max thrust 21,500lb. or 82% of max all-up mass.
Tornado ADV – max T/O wt 31,970lb, max thrust 18,200lb. or 56% of max all-up mass.

The Other Chris
August 14, 2015 9:30 am


Are you thinking of the circa 30,000fpm rate beyond 50,000′ altitude up to the actual operational and experimental ceilings? EDIT: For the Lightning.

Those were maximum rates mind you, so please forgive lack of knowledge of rates in operation which I appreciate takes into account other desired outcomes (positioning, energy, payload, fuel reserve, etc). Information is from my grandfather who was frequently called upon for Avon combustion modifications for the various willy-waving record setting attempts (and related activities…), as well as the more serious F-15 development comparison trials requested by the USAF.

, HMArmedForcesReview

Indeed, point being that even now F-35 matches and exceeds SHAR performance.

Come IOC for the UK it will exceed SHAR payload capability and then match Typhoon payload capability (exceeding Tornado) by the time Block 4 point releases complete [1].

Please continue to encourage commenter’s to put down the USA lenses when viewing F-35 in a UK context.

We can’t have Harrier sentimentality both ways. Either the family was good at the job or it wasn’t. In either case the F-35 is a strong improvement.

, Chris

Maintenance is likely to be easier that Harrier/Typhoon once the supply chain is in place. Most equipment is field replaceable modules with access hatches throughout. Patuxent have been responsible for improving maintenance in both a process form and in terms of feeding back design change requirements. Recent interesting account from a young maintainer [2].

A faulty or damaged module is disconnected and replaced with one from stores.

This means we’re likely to see:

– Aircraft returned to availability faster;
– Modules typically returned to supplier for repair;
– Importance of stores and supply;
– Establishment of “module repair shops” where “returns policy” issues start to arise;
– Equipment swapped between aircraft, especially those in deep maintenance/repair.

…and all that entails, for better or worse. A different set of challenges.

But at the very least you no longer need to detach a whole wing to get to the engine!

[1] In practical terms. We maintain an inventory of certain integrated weapons that deliver an effect. F-35 is to match or exceed this effect with our inventory and integration.


August 14, 2015 9:31 am

I don’t know where the figures come from online, but I think it’s safe to say a Sea Harrier doesn’t have the climb performance of EE Lightning nor triple the performance of the F3. The janes figures are wrong anyway, the F3 figures aren’t even for max dry, looking at about 88KN before you pop it into reheat.

August 14, 2015 9:59 am

“I say, buy enough to be able to operate both CVFs each a “large” CAP (and secondary strike) squadron (say 16 F35Bs each) plus another 16 F35Bs that can be surged or deployed in individual flights as part of a TAG to be operated from a FOB or the CVF. Say 72 in total.

Alongside this we should buy more another 40 T3 Typhoons to keep skills, invest more in it’s capabilities and look to start planning for a future manned / UCAV hybrid that can be carrier based.”

That is where I would get to. At 107 airframes we are undercooking our investment in Typhoon – should have 7 squadrons, 4 QRA, 3 to provide a sustained deployment and then 3 F35 squadrons to cover routinely one active CVF and one surge squadron for land or sea.

August 14, 2015 10:25 am

TOC – ref LRU approach to maintenance – a bit of a parallel with armour and the decision to fit replaceable power-packs rather than separable engines/transmissions/ancillaries. What I believe was determined was that front-line fixing time (returning the vehicle to duty) was reduced, but at considerable expense in spares, a considerable increase in required spares holding at second/third line, and a lot of base repair LRUs sent back as ‘No Fault Found’. Power-packs would be changed for fairly minor issues that could have been fixed in situ, had the spare parts been in stores, but instead a complete engine/transmission unit would be returned for strip-down assessment and repair as necessary.

Someone once calculated that to maintain a fleet of N vehicles required 3N spare power-packs, some in transit back to base repair, some in the workshop, some in transit to second/third line stores and some on the shelves ready to fit. While no-one likes hanging upside down beside an oily engine struggling to reach the impossible bolt trying to repair a fault in the field, the power-pack idea is perhaps the other extreme.

To my eyes the right compromise is to be able to access stuff on the vehicle so repairs are as simple as possible; this doesn’t necessarily mean oversized compartments nor fold out armour, but sensible access hatches and, where sensible, subsystems that can be partially extracted without recourse to repair/recovery cranes. This for example is from a description of M18 Hellcat: “Ease of maintenance came from the engine being mounted on steel rollers, which permitted quick removal and replacement. The transmission was also easily accessed in this manner.”

Peter Elliott
August 14, 2015 10:58 am

Chris: would diesel electric transmission help or hinder this do you think?

The diesel engine would presumably be smaller and more accessible but the electric motors would be buried quite deep in the hull next to the wheels/sprockets….? The physical separation of the main components might even make it easier to avoid the ‘powerpack’ issue that you cite above.

stephen duckworth
August 14, 2015 11:19 am

I thought the T45’s were built to protect the fleet from airborne attack not the F35’s whose role is strike. I guess the pilots would all like to go all Tom Cruise ala TopGun but they should be off elsewhere sinking enemy ships or destroying their critical infrastructure. TLAM’s can do that but at a million a pop an F35B can hit 8 targets with SDB II’s etc for the same money.
If the T45 isn’t up to it why spend £1bn of her Majesty’s pounds on each of them? You would need a squadron of 12 F35’s to run a 24/7 CAP so what is destroying the enemies ability to fight, another dozen F35’s . The F35 is not meant to be fighter and will rely heavily on its LO and passive sensors to avoid a fight with any nearby Mig’s ,Sukhoi’s or PLAA J’s.

August 14, 2015 11:23 am

I like hybrid solutions; they offer several advantages. Although if a proper hybrid there would be batteries on board, nice high voltage ones that kill on first contact. Straight diesel-electric dispenses with the need to fit the high voltage high current batteries, but then the diesel engine and generator must be bigger. For the moment the defence domain seems content with tried and tested mechanical transmission though.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
August 14, 2015 11:35 am

Air defence works best in layers. A T45 can engage targets out to about 80 miles. This is of course reliant on them being high enough to see at that range. In some cases this will mean that it is engaging missiles and not he firing aircraft.
Crows Nest is going to pick up low flying targets at up to 200 miles. So on station CAP F35 can engage at much longer range than a T45. The beauty of f35 on station is that it can share and fuse data so one active aircraft vectored onto a target can provide the shooter with the info it requires to take a long range shot from a different angle. The way they fight will change.

In terms of layered air defence you will have AEW-CAP-alert AC-T45(aster)=T23/T26 (Sea Ceptor)-Individual CIWS. At different intervals within that you will also utilise soft kill. it is more complex than T45 protecting the fleet.

The Other Chris
August 14, 2015 11:38 am

@stephen duckworth

The approach is a Layered Air Defence system.

Each layer adds a capability that is also complementary to the others. It presents a large headache to an aggressor to have to tackle the whole system at once.

Peter Elliott
August 14, 2015 11:44 am

Depending on the ROE you may need a visual identification of a suspicious aircraft before opening fire. Manned CAP is indispensable for that. You don’t want to go popping off Asters at a 737 full of nuns.

The scenario occurred in 1982 on the way south when Deck Alert Harriers were sent up to identify what could have been a hostile MPA but actually turned out to be a neutral civil airliner.

Peter Elliott
August 14, 2015 11:48 am

Chris given the maturity of the hybrid technology today you would have to think it will be on the table for Challenger and Warrior replacement circa 2040.

The cost of in theatre fuel can be crippling high, both financially and in terms of forces securing supply convoys.

stephen duckworth
August 14, 2015 11:59 am

I understand how usefull an umbrella that having a pair of manned interceptors operating at 40,000′ bring to the party but having at least a pair on station and another pair on deck to replace them as they zoom off to inspect / destroy some nuns will absorb at least a squadron of 12 birds to maintain a 24/7 CAP . This will become all the more essential as you approach the combat area where you will be launching your strikes from so an additional squadron would be needed. A CVF task force off the coast of say Syria launching strikes against ISIS targets would still need to protect itself from some Syrian airforce pilot going all Jihadists for instance. So to have layered air defence and a strike ability,the point of the CVF task force being there, you need 2 squadrons embarked at a time to my thinking. I am more than willing to be corrected :-)

August 14, 2015 12:17 pm


I was thinking of any figures in particular, on purpose, just making a broad point that the two aren’t close in that terms of performance.

Re the LRU replacement idea, it’s been around for decades already in the RAF, as early as the late 70’s when the Tonka was just about to enter service. It’s not really fundimentally different from how the principles are now on Typhoon. There’s things to learn and get better but it’s tweaking the current system rather than rewriting it.

August 14, 2015 12:30 pm

“I say, buy enough to be able to operate both CVFs each a “large” CAP (and secondary strike) squadron (say 16 F35Bs each) plus another 16 F35Bs that can be surged or deployed in individual flights as part of a TAG to be operated from a FOB or the CVF. Say 72 in total.”


August 14, 2015 12:33 pm

You aren’t going to have 2 a/c airborne 24/7 for the whole time the carrier is sailing, it’ll be threat dependant or for training exercises.

Peter Elliott
August 14, 2015 12:38 pm

You’re right if the mission is fixed wing strike. That’s why the ships were built that size and that will drive how many planes we buy eventually buy and how many squadrons stand up.

But if the offensive mission is AH or Amphib landing then the one squadron for CAP will be enough.

Also don’t rule out operating in a multi ship task force. If our allies are bringing either the strike or the CAP component it leaves us free to bring more rotary. And we may also take allied squadrons on board our ships. So don’t run away with the view that just because the UK routinely embarks only 12 planes it makes the ships toothless, pointless or a wasted investment.

August 14, 2015 12:39 pm

On the subject of F-35 capability and the acquisition of an electronic attack capability, this extract from FlightGlobal today is very telling:

“The F-35’s electronic warfare suite will allow the marines to get by without the EA-6B, which entered service in the 1970s and is the service’s primary asset for jamming and attacking enemy air defence radar sites and communications hubs. The four remaining Prowler squadrons at Cherry Point in North Carolina will be retired at a rate of one per year beginning in 2016.”

Not a direct replacement for the Prowler then, but this capability exists in every single airframe.

F35 + Meteor + AN/APG-81 + CROWSNEST (plus the SAMPSON and S1850M radars on the carrier and escorts) = fleet air defense fighter. Otherwise you’re saying that an F/A-18 + AMRAAM (or, equally, Sea Harrier + Blue Vixen + AMRAAM) isn’t an air defence fighter either, unless it can dogfight. Both can (in different ways), therefore surely F-35 is a fleet air defence fighter?

The Other Chris
August 14, 2015 2:23 pm
Reply to  TAS


Equipment like this, even at an early IOC point before the full EW packages start arriving proper from Block 5 onwards, is easy to overlook.

Although the Prowler is being superseded by the Growler, being able to take a near-enough equivalent capability of an EA-6B for every F-35 in a mission from IOC has to be useful to a planner.

August 14, 2015 3:07 pm


Yep, especially as the main sensor is the radar itself, and considering that the NGJ is essentially an extension of the AESA array, the potential of an F-35 fully specced for EW is significant. Including cyber capabilities, which are certainly interesting.

August 14, 2015 5:20 pm

@PE: “You’re right if the mission is fixed wing strike. That’s why the ships were built that size and that will drive how many planes we buy eventually buy and how many squadrons stand up.

But if the offensive mission is AH or Amphib landing then the one squadron for CAP will be enough.

Also don’t rule out operating in a multi ship task force. If our allies are bringing either the strike or the CAP component it leaves us free to bring more rotary. And we may also take allied squadrons on board our ships. So don’t run away with the view that just because the UK routinely embarks only 12 planes it makes the ships toothless, pointless or a wasted investment.”

Agree – I see the CVF as a “Strike Carrier”, not necessarily a “(fixed wing) Strike Carrier”; it is different from the US carriers and French CdG carrier concept. It could operate in this role if needed, but as posted on the open thread, our “Stike Carrier” capability would be equally impressive with a combination of a F35B CAP Squadron + SFs/RMs + Helo/UAV based TAG. Combine this with broader SSN, T45 and T26 (TLAM armed) assets into a Carrier Battle Group and you have a world class capability.

August 14, 2015 8:35 pm
Reply to  TAS

Where does the article state what the F35’s EW system is or what its capabilities are ? Its a fluff piece, and as some commentators would not, USMC propaganda not a reflection of reality. However as noted above, same question – is F35 native offensive / defensive EW capability better than Shar / Harrier GR – almost certainly…..!

August 14, 2015 8:57 pm
Reply to  Repulse

A counter to that would be if you need to conduct a operation that requires a low observable strike aircraft and tlam 12 aircraft ain’t gonna cut it never mind consideration about a number of other specialist aircraft.

Chris did janes forget the tornado f3 had 2 engines?

August 14, 2015 9:37 pm

Jed, I have more faith. And in any case, is not the retirement of the Prowler and the non-procurement of the Growler not a combat indicator? The EW system is not a defensive bolt on but is in fact software-based employment of the AESA to achieve jamming and other electronic warfare effects, including radio broadcasting through the array. It’s phenomenally clever stuff.

Wonder if CAPTOR-E will have the same capability?

August 14, 2015 9:59 pm

Mark – just wrote what I read. But I’ve just looked on Wiki (source of all truth):

Which declares the Jane’s quoted all-up mass (31,970lb) as dry weight and the engine thrust (2 x 9,100lbf) as non-reheat. Using the maximum mass & thrust from Wiki, 61,700lb and 2 x 16,520lbf respectively, gives thrust to weight ratio of 53%.

The point I was making earlier was that Pegasus is hugely powerful for a compact non-reheat motor (about the same thrust as a 737’s CFM56), and Harrier is small and light. It seems reasonable to expect pretty good climb performance (although I imagine as the air thins the lack of reheat shows).

August 15, 2015 12:47 am
Reply to  TAS

TAS please don’t get me wrong – Shar did not have an AESA that could jam. However an X band AESA can only jam other X band radars, doesn’t matter how clever it is, it’s physics. All that cack about 10 times more radiated output of the EW system is obviously the AESA in jamming mode, so 120 degs forward only. What is it using against a missile coming from astern – off board hammers ? So an F35 cannot possibly be the be all and end all of electronic attack. Non-Procurement of Growler by USMC and AF is budgetary as much as anything, and the USN sees the need for up to 150 Growler because ALQ99 and NGJ are multi-band capabilities, able to take on a much broader threat / target set. So I don’t see it as “either / or” – but for UK of course it will actually be a new capability compared to self protection jammer on Harriers. Yes let’s hope the CAPTOR has the same capabilities, but at least we know it will be an offensive EW enhancement to the existing Typhoon DAS.

August 15, 2015 7:52 am


CAPTOR E is suppose to incorporate the capability developed for bright adder so it should have an offensive EW capability much the same as F35. There is also some hope of eventually getting NGJ added to F35 so we may be able to get quite an offensive EW capability at some point on the cheap. It’s been a long time since the RAF had anything that could be called an offensive EW capability and it should be yet another capability we gain by having an F35 fleet. That being said I still think we should look to create a stand off capability for the Typhoon in the EW role. If an aircraft is carrying out large scale jamming it’s always going to be detectable and having a fast highly manuverable aircraft in this role would seem to be better than a sluggish stealthy bomb truck.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
August 15, 2015 10:07 am
Reply to  Martin

“a sluggish stealthy bomb truck”.

As opposed to the ultra high performance EA6, whilst it has become fashionable to criticise F35 kinetic performance and U have in terms of fulfilling QRA. However in terms of an EW platform it is anything but too sluggish.

The Other Nick
The Other Nick
August 15, 2015 11:01 am

The F-35 makes depressing reading

The NAO states that to achieve one squadron in service, no number quoted so likely to be twelve aircraft, with full operational capability in 2025 or 2027, forget which year, will cost £5 billion. £2 billion as a contribution to become a first tier partner which resulted in some contracts placed in UK, the main one being for BAE to manufacture the the aft fuselage, Israel, IAI, were awarded contract for 800 plus wing sets and Elbit 50% of the infamous head up display with as far as I know not a penny as a contribution to the program. I do wonder at the negotiating ability of MOD civil servants, Air Marshals and Admirals or do they just like the trips to the USA at the taxpayers expense.

Flight Global in June reported that even the most ardent supporter of the program the USAF are losing faith after $100 billion spend, “On 1 June, Gen Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, chief of the US Air Force’s Air Combat Command, sounded desperate”
The Big SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) necessary for ground tracking/attack and by association inverse SAR for targeting ships promised for Block 3F in 2013, then end of 2017 and now slipped to Block 4 with hint that might not be achieved.
The EOTS is in the same situation with the added complication that since the aircraft has been in development for nearly fourteen years the technology has become outdated and overtaken by the third generation of shortwave IR at 1.5 microns and HDTV enabling target detection up to 60 km as the new waveband is absorbed less by the atmosphere than the old waveband of .05-.07 microns. The new generation of EOTS from LM Sniper, Rafale Litening and Thales Talios pods will include the SWIR and fuse images from the different sensors.

I noticed that Northrop Grumman who supply DAS the 360 degree, spherical situational awareness system which uses infra red, for the F-35 have recently teamed up with Finmeccanica, through SELEX ES to bring new Infrared Tech to US, hinting at another system that is outdated before entry into service.

August 15, 2015 11:25 am
Reply to  Chris

Yeah Pegasus produces a lot of thrust because it’s a high bypass military engine. However a couple of things, the rate of climb is determined by specific excess power (Ps) which is simplistically the net thrust available less drag of the a/c at a given weight. As a result true airspeed greatly affects rate of climb as sep is directly dependant on it . Harrier is draggy with big intakes and when tornado swept its wing it was not. So while initially over the first part of the climb say the first 10k ft harrier may have been similar to tornado the supersonic aircraft overtakes by some distance the subsonic aircraft as speed drops with altitude and the tornados weight starts to reduce quickly but speed increases with the afterburners lit. It’s also interesting to note as supersonic aircraft reach the transonic region they tend to dive to minimise drag and maximise specific excess power thus spending minimum time in the transonic region.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
August 15, 2015 11:37 am

Unless the NAO know what is being decided in SDSR 2015 they are guessing about numbers in 2025/2027. Also how can you can only count the £2billion once, so they must get considerably cheaper then.
That £ 2 billion got us a 15% workspace. That is 15% of the total production run workshare. Given the production run that is the equivalent of 100% of a run of 330 aircraft.
Of course other international companies are going to compete in their areas of expertise.

August 15, 2015 11:53 am


Some fag-packet maths:
2,500 aircraft * $100m = $250b program cost
$250b * 0.15 workshare value = $37.5b to the UK economy
$37.5b * 0.15 estimate of tax returned = $5.6b to the Treasury
– minus –
$3b estimate of initial R&D investment
72 aircraft * $100m = $7.2b
$4.6 cost to the taxpayer
Doesn’t sound too bad…

The Other Nick
The Other Nick
August 15, 2015 2:05 pm

@ jedibeeftrix

Fag packet maths, whose to say how many aircraft will be sold, 500, 1000 or 3000, how long is a piece of string, pure speculation and if you read the tea leaves you could go either way.

‘The Senate Armed Services committee’s question starts. “Do you believe the nation can afford to procure these aircraft at a cost of $12B to $15B per year for nearly the next 20 years for an aircraft design that will be 30 years old at the completion of the program procurement phase?”

The presumptive Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford told the Committee said the F-35 is “vital component of our effort to ensure the Joint Force maintains dominance in the air.” But there is a big but. He discloses that the requirement for the size of the fleet is being reviewed: “Given the evolving defense strategy and the latest Defense Planning Guidance, we are presently taking the newest strategic foundation and analyzing whether 2,443 aircraft is the correct number. Until the analysis is complete, we need to pursue the current scheduled quantity buy to preclude creating an overall near-term tactical fighter shortfall.”

Priorities change and the US Navy the least enthusiastic member of the triumvirate is planning to reduce their buy to twelve per year.

The original UK nos talked of was 138, now 48 has been mentioned.

The Other Chris
August 15, 2015 3:51 pm

A lot of additional work in there not easily counted towards the figure as well.

VDAC and VAAC programs funded via Dstl and QinetiQ are obvious ones.

The IP remains useful to the UK as well before anyone thinks LM sucked up our ideas exclusively.

I mean, what else do we have in the pipeline that we could expand work on semi-autonomous/augmented landing and drogue refueling systems for use on?

Rocket Banana
August 15, 2015 3:54 pm

Late to the party…

If we had decided to replace Tornado with 120 or so F35A I would be all for it, but unfortunately the mix of B and C has created a project of unparallelled complexity and risk, such that we’ll likely afford only half the numbers and that, people, an air force, does not make.

However, we cannot change history so let’s just make the most of the F35 as there’s no other game in town. I agree with Chris though about the jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none, multi-role problem.

I also agree hugely with those that suggest that nations with F35-only fleets may be somewhat concerned. I was going to do an amusing anti-F35 piece but decided not to. However, I’d like to put forward a concept from it that might ruffle a few feathers.

Once you’ve stalemated your 5th gen BVR, and then your 4th gen BVR, you’re left with an aircraft that cannot engage WVR against almost every other aircraft it might meet in the sky. F35B for example doesn’t even have a gun! The point is that in a drawn-out engagement (read “war”) the F35 will probably fail to deliver any form of effective air defence.

Toys like focused EMP and particle CIWS could render smart missiles obsolete overnight. Yes, it’s a little “Star Wars” or “Tom Clancy” but eventually something’s going to have to get on a bandit’s six and shoot lumps of lead at it.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
August 15, 2015 4:31 pm


F35b has a gun pod. I think missiles would last longer than platforms for them to shoot down. I have posted my worries about using F35 as a land based QRA I have very few reservations about using it at sea and can think of several very effective tactics to utilise outstanding sensor fusion, data links RCS and top end BVR missiles.

August 15, 2015 5:42 pm

There should be no worries at all about the f35 of any variant as a strike aircraft it is very capable. The problem is 2 sqns are simply not enough for the UK.

August 15, 2015 6:26 pm


An initial order of 60-70 to equip 3 squadrons up-to the mid 2020’s would be far more sensible.

Coupled with 6-7 Typhoon squadrons sustained by a top-up order of 30ish T3’s that would produce an overall force of 9-10 which is the minimum the RAF fought for in the last SDSR and presumably what they still see as an acceptable level of capability.

Fantasy fleets? Maybe, but we’re only talking about 1-2 squadrons above what they are currently fielding.

What seems clear to everyone (except it seems the government) is that muddling along with a force of 7, or even just 6 squadrons won’t cut it if Britain wants it’s Air Force to do all that’s asked of it.

8 is the bare minimum, as currently seen with the RAF stretched thin between QRA in the UK and Falklands, Baltic air patrols, an enduring squadron level commitment in the Middle East, routine training, maintenance etc as well as extra little excursions like sending Tornado’s on recce missions to Nigeria.

9-10 would provide the flexibility needed to fully account for all that and keep something back for a rainy day instead of doing everything on a shoe-string that’s in perpetual danger of breaking.

Rocket Banana
August 15, 2015 7:07 pm


I was talking about using F35 for air defence in those nations that may end up with a single type in their fleet. Naval air defence should be okay because a) it is short lived, and b) you tend to have a nice cluster of Aster and CAMM to mix things up a bit.

You do however seem to have been sucked into the marketing hype with “outstanding sensor fusion”. What exactly is meant by that? Are we actually going to leverage any of this “fusion” with things like CEC? Will Crowsnest/Cerberus plug into it [really hope so]? Does E3 and Reaper link in? How many satellites are we putting up to support it?

I ask this because there doesn’t seem to be a cohesive strategy to actually use modern network technology… or maybe I just don’t listen to the right people ;)

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
August 15, 2015 7:16 pm


Marketing hype?

Funnily enough I prefer to look at its capabilities and then what I know we can do with them.

Rocket Banana
August 15, 2015 7:17 pm

Sorry, missed the point about the “gun pod”. Is that a standard load-out for an LO BVR intercept mission?

On a similar note does anyone know if the six internal AMRAAM option will be pursued and if the F35B bay can take them?

Rocket Banana
August 15, 2015 7:19 pm


Funnily enough I prefer to look at its capabilities and then what I know we can do with them.

So many questions. So few answers.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
August 15, 2015 7:31 pm


Nobody has written the standard loadout yet and that will vary dependent on threat and mission.
Yes questions that are never going to be answered on here. People value their various clearances.
I think to sum up where we disagrees you are obviouslyfrom a background of rigid procedures, spread sheets, and very standard practices.
Military Ops are not like that mate.

Rocket Banana
August 15, 2015 8:00 pm
…you are obviously from a background of rigid procedures, spread sheets, and very standard practices.

Touché :)

Someone once told me that prior planning prevents piss-poor performance. It’s just some plan somewhat further ahead than others, and others simply can’t say exactly how far ahead things are being planned :(

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
August 15, 2015 8:05 pm


Whilst he who plans early plans twice. In the military it is prior preparation prevents passport performance.
There is a crucial difference between prep and planning.

The Other Chris
August 15, 2015 8:50 pm


On AMRAAM carriage, this is the public document from the spring presentation by Rear Admiral Mahr on the proposed split of Block development to accelerate delivery:

Note 4 internal AMRAAM with Block 3F in 2018 (UK relevant), Meteor integration in Block 4.3 (2023) and expanded internal carriage (presumably the 6 from the old Block 4B) prior to Block 4.4 (2025).

Public details for gun pod are available and the presentation notes delivery. It’s a low observable equipment pod, low drag and area ruled that’s been a part of the design process for a while to which other systems can be added. The cannon is first out of the traps.

Knock yourselves out as to what a pod that can use the internal ICP as its back end processor can squeeze into that space.

I know it’s not air combat related, but in terms of gun our Harriers used far more CRV-7 rockets, with flechette warheads and single fire modes mentioned, in Afghanistan.

Have a read, very interesting:

The Other Chris
August 15, 2015 9:11 pm

A perfectly acceptable synonym!


Incidentally that last article linked mentions the advantage of recent short field ops with STOVL first hand.

August 16, 2015 6:51 am

Stephen, I dont doubt the Type 45s but history and technology has shown that fleet defence comes via both ships and aircraft. HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse were sunk due to lack of sufficient aerial cover. Japan struck the US Navy when the latter had weaker naval aviation aircraft until the mid 1940s. The Falklands showed tat even aircraft faced aircraft. So the F-35B, like it or not, has to be a fleet defence fighter.

Of course, safely away from thick battle zones is one way to prevent that. But exactly what is a safe zone nowadays?

August 16, 2015 6:52 am

Why then do the French place their best fighter on their carriers and the US not ditching the F/A-18E/Fs for more F-35s?

August 16, 2015 6:53 am

That’s a balanced answer. Of course, that’s the large limit the Royal Air Force and Navy can manage,

August 16, 2015 7:31 am

‘Incidentally that last article linked mentions the advantage of recent short field ops with STOVL first hand’

I have my reservations regarding the F35 and austere ops. Firstly setting up in Kandahar was not really austere in the sense of how we used the Harrier force and was a combination of expeditionary (as in moving to an existing facility) and ADR, which we are perfectly capable of doing with all our current fleet of aircraft and 39 Engr Regt. My concern is the legacy equipment we have (if we still have? did we sell it after ditching Harrier?) and the aircraft’s capability to operate from either the Aluminum trackway or AM2 matting.

From what I have read it seems that Thermion is required on the surfaces (including runways) for the F35 in STOVL operation. This shuold not be a problem for the purposes of scenarios like Kandahar but what about true austere ops?

1. Can we apply Thermion to our legacy trackway system? How thick is the layer required and will this impact on the slotting together of the individual parts?
2. If spraying onto the surface is required due to the limitations above, how mauch can it flex with the material it is bonded to? (There was a lot of tolerance in regards to operations with Harrier as the trackway had a fair degree of flex)
3. If it is applied after laying how does this affect the issue of repairing the trackway? (the system trackway as it stands could have individual planks replaced similar to the way you repair tiles on a roof, what happens when they are coated?)
4. How does this affect training? (I cannot see us throwing away a complete STOVL runway every year)

Or is none of the above an issue as we will be required to purchase new equipment anyway?
Does anyone have any info on the expeditionary concept of the F35B?

The Other Chris
August 16, 2015 8:05 am

It’s a short-field operation, not necessarily austere.

The important takeaway from the KAF experience is that while the runway was being extended initially and during later repairs, STOVL aircraft were the only fast jets that could operate from an airfield that was most certainly not austere, just shortened.

At a time when other airfields couldn’t operate and a carrier was in port. No Harriers, no operations!

The STO part of STOVL and a rolling/SRVL landing does not require significant thermal protection, only in the Vertical modes.

The single F135 does not generate more heat in the horizontal than a pair of F110’s or F119’s.

If you take a close look at the nozzle position during F-35B take off and rolling landings, the nozzle position only angles downwards for short periods and while on the move, modulating the effect.

Vertical operations are a different matter as you rightly point out.


Peter Elliott
August 16, 2015 8:09 am

In terms of F35B and Fleet Air Defence (a) It’s what we’re getting and something is better than nothing (b) It will be light years better than Harrier (c) We’re not fighting FA18 E/F. If it can handle a Mig 29 then it looks to me like it meets tasking (d) It will likely turn out to be more awesome than that because the US will throw resource into getting it right.

August 16, 2015 8:30 am
Reply to  Peter Elliott

In an environment where there will be integrated capabilities from multiple assets, especially in the layered air defence model with first class AMRAAMs then the difference in my view is not worth worrying about.