Buy American

This perfectly illustrates a dilemma that is both fiendishly complex and intractable at the same time; support your own defence industry and inevitably it means paying a premium because of smaller production volume, but buy everything from Uncle Sam and you end up being unable to reap the wider industrial and societal benefits of a broad-based sovereign defence industry.

There is research that says the economy benefits by buying from UK defence organisations to the tune of 20% to 40% but the problem is, the MoD only benefits indirectly. From a very narrow perspective, the MoD supporting the UK defence industry means it gets less capability for a given amount of money. Down that road, buying off the US defence industry shelf, although it may have short-term attractions and benefits, does no favours for the wider UK economy. The devil is usually in support contract details, and once you lose industrial independence you become the subject of a monopoly.

And so a balance has to be struck, a defence industrial/scientific strategy developed, and then that strategy supported and followed through.

And that is where it has all gone a bit tits up, the previous well intentioned and well thought through Defence Industrial Strategy (DIS) was great as a strategy, but as Winston Churchill said;

However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results

What are the results;

  • Apache E
  • P-8A Poseidon

Multi-billion Pound contracts with no formal competition and very little UK defence industrial involvement, the latter even being exempted from the MoD’s own Single Source regulatory framework as defined by the Defence Reform Act. Perhaps both are unique situations not related to a defence industrial and scientific strategy, we know the background, but someone has linked them.

The Unite have weighed in today with;

Defence secretary Michael Fallon has serious questions to answer about the UK’s secretive procurement policy – the latest controversy being the decision to buy nine maritime patrol aircraft from America.

The deal to purchase the nine Boeing Poseidon P-8A  patrol aircraft, estimated to be worth $3.2bn, without competitive tendering, is expected to be signed at next month’s Farnborough air show (11-17 July).

Unite, the country’s largest union with about 70,000 members across the aerospace, defence, and shipbuilding industries, is raising serious concerns about the lack of ‘offset agreements’ in the proposed Boeing deal, work that could be earmarked for British defence firms to safeguard skilled jobs.

This flies in the face of chancellor George Osborne’s commitment to “unashamedly back … a British success story … like aerospace”.

The current imbroglio comes as a result of the coalition government’s ‘rash and short-sighted’ decision to scrap the Nimrod Maritime Patrol Aircraft, as part of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) at a cost of £4bn to the taxpayer and the loss of 1,400 skilled jobs.

This left the UK as the only major maritime nation without the capability to patrol its own waters with modern reconnaissance aircraft.

The threat to the UK defence industry is further compounded by media reports that Boeing is in line to receive the order for 50 much-needed Apache helicopters, rather than Yeovil-based Agusta Westland, with the potential loss of 600 West Country jobs.

Unite said that Michael Fallon has major questions to answer about the massive tilt in procurement policy, which analysts say, could amount to £2.5bn of the annual Ministry of Defence equipment budget of £8bn being spent with US companies, with minimal UK content, by 2020.

Unite assistant general secretary for manufacturing, Tony Burke said: “At a time of increased international tension and security concerns, defence secretary Michael Fallon needs to come clean with the British public on the secretive nature of the UK’s arms procurement policy.

“As a first step, the government needs to ensure that a substantial amount of P-8A production work is undertaken in the UK, with all the support work to maintain these aircraft in the years ahead. Apparently, the P-8A will not be using UK weapons, which is a disgrace.

“The UK defence and aerospace sector is critical to maintaining thousands of skilled jobs in the UK and the economic prosperity of the communities where the factories are based.

“This proud tradition of manufacturing is critical in any renaissance of overall UK manufacturing in the decade ahead. It can’t just be squandered by the easy option of buying ‘off the shelf’ from America.

“The decision to scrap the new generation Nimrod aircraft as part of the SDSR has been shown to be rash and short-sighted.

“Michael Fallon needs to make a statement to MPs before any contracts are signed and before Parliament rises for the summer recess on 21 July on what is happening specifically with the replacement for Nimrod and also regarding the Apache helicopters’ order

“More generally, the defence secretary has to outline a strategy that will maintain defence manufacturing in the UK, safeguarding British expertise and jobs, as well as the maintenance contracts that go hand-in-hand with such complex pieces of technology.

“Chancellor George Osborne’s ‘march of the makers’ should not begin at Boeing’s headquarters in Seattle, but with well-respected British defence firms with deep roots across the UK.”

There is quite a lot to disagree with in that statement but it raises a broader point, an important point.

Whatever the background issues on Apache and P-8A, it is about time the MoD published a sustainable and unambiguous defence industrial strategy, rather than saying one thing and doing another.

Fallon p-8

Am not making a claim that any one approach is better than the other, and please, let’s not rehash the MRA4 issues because it was never going to come into service, but merely an appeal for clarity so industry and the public know where it is.

Let’s say one thing and actually do it?

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Senior Moment
Senior Moment
June 8, 2016 9:21 pm

To be even more complicated when Cameron gets a job on the Boeing board directly after screwing up the UK’s membership

Peter Elliott
June 8, 2016 9:21 pm

It will be interesting to get hard news on the Apache-E. At the moment its all just rumours.

Ultimately any DIS will only work of the Treasury buy into it. The reason why we are buying P8A and (probably) Apache-E straight off the American lines is becuase it is massively cheaper and the only way to maintain some level of credible force on the budgets available.

I would love it if we still had an Armoured Vehicle Industry in the UK. It would be great if we manage to maintain a share of a Rotary and Fast Jet aerospace industry. But at the moment we are making a total pigs ear of our surface ships industry. Which leaves only the submarine enterprise as a tangible and reasonably secure national defence industrial asset. And as we have heard there are significant concerns in that supply chain around Rolls Royce (nuclear) and Sheffield Forgemasters.

I’m not sure we actually can maintain a domestice Defence Industrial Capacity on the “smoke and mirrors” 2% of GDP that we are currently spending. As JMH is fond of telling us you can either spend the money or not. No amount of strategic waffle will cover that up.

Chris Werb
Chris Werb
June 8, 2016 9:22 pm

The decision to try to save money by building a new MPA on old airframes of varying dimensions was the rash and short-sighted one. What was criminal was keeping the whole phenomenally expensive and doomed MRA4 charade going for as long as they did.

June 8, 2016 9:23 pm

What defence industry? BAE are basically an American company, now, which is a goal they have been fervently working towards for many years. The only British ship yard I can think of which occasionally does grey painted stuff is Appledore, and even Alvis have forgotten how to make tanks. So, I ask again, what defence industry? Horse has bolted, barn door has been PFI’d to a private contractor and the farmer applied for a foreign visa a long time ago.

June 8, 2016 9:23 pm

It’s the support costs and integration of non US systems that should also be considered. Boeing say up front purchase accounts for only 30% of a aircrafts total ownership costs over its lifetime.

American aircraft are notable for having much larger support budget requirements and a need to keep pace with US upgrades. There is a big double edge sword with buy American that is usually buried in the detail.

Chris Werb
Chris Werb
June 8, 2016 9:34 pm

Unite have an unambiguously self-serving approach to defence. They were the ones who argued for keeping a strategic nuclear deterrent purely to retain skilled jobs in Barrow (I couldn’t make **** like this up if I tried!). As for the Westlands/West Country economy argument, we have time and time again poured money down the drain buying Westland products simply to keep their factory open (see Lynx Wildcat fiasco). After the WAH-64D contract award someone pointed out that we could easily have bought Boeing examples, given every Augusta Westland employee a million pounds to take early retirement and still have been massively in the black. The more powerful engines and DAS came in handy, but essentially left us with a unique and barely supportable fleet of helicopters that we subsequently decided to replace outright when we could have bought Boeing in the first place.

June 8, 2016 9:48 pm

Given how old the RAF Pumas are, why are the young by comparison AAC Apache being replaced first?

Chris Werb
Chris Werb
June 8, 2016 9:56 pm

I would guess it’s because.

1. The Puma is essentially a truck. It doesn’t have the complexity of Apache. It’s now gotten a glass cockpit and some additional electronics, but that’s about it.
2. Pumas haven’t seen a lot of use on recent ops and we have even inducted a few secondhand (ex SAAF IIRC ones).
3. The Apache fleet has been worked hard.
4. The drive train of the current fleet and its rotor system are becoming obsolete.
5. The new E Model Apache’s higher power to weight ratio makes the WAH-64D’s higher power to weight ratio than the AH-64D irrelevant.
6. Our operational Apache fleet recently shrank to 40 thanks to cuts, making an even smaller proprietary fleet even harder to maintain.
7. The E has gizmos (ballistic threat localisation system, intelligent decision making drone connectivity etc.) that it would make no sense putting on tired old airframes.

June 8, 2016 9:56 pm

MSR, how right you are. BAE owns huge parts of the US defence industry, shipyards in Norfolk, Virginia where it supports the USN and in addition owns SAAB which builds the capable Viggen and even Bofors. Westland is a UK/Italian outfit and that’s before we look at Thales and all the other companies. The retention of research,development, design and production in the UK is now about partnership and cooperation which in the end is about how many jobs each country can keep. What would make so much more sense would be to have a coherent defence strategy outside of political expediency and niggardly cost cutting by the Treasury where a need is decided and put out to tender with the companies seeking the contract coming in with a Dragons Den presentation fully costed and prepared and development work undertaken at their cost, not the taxpayers, ready for building. During the Second World War this was the norm and in five years jet aircraft were operational and hundreds of ships built. We won’t have that “luxury” next time. What we have on Day One will be it and once its gone, it’ll be gone. There won’t be decades to develop and build more. I sound like a Politburo Chief presenting a case to the Kremlin don’t I?

June 8, 2016 9:59 pm

Well its multi role. During WW2, Singer sewing machine factory switched to making .38 revolvers. A modern state of the art shipyard should be flexible enough to switch from warships to merchant ships & back again. An aeroplane factory should be able to switch from warplanes to airliners. New production techniques, 3D printing, etc. If we had a big enough, flexible enough, agile enough industrial base, we should be able to be more self sufficient, while not having factories stand idle while swallowing vast subsidies. Looking to China, the one child policy has come home to roost, so a looming shortage of cheap labour in electronics factories means the owners are looking to automation. Well if electronics factories become near fully automated, why not build some in Britain, so we do not have to import TVs, smart phones, lap tops, etc?

Peter Elliott
June 8, 2016 10:01 pm

Mark that’s kind of what I mean about Treasury buy – in. Because we’re always chasing the next 1,2 or 3 years of spend the up front capital cost becomes the determining factor, rather than the through life cost. The 10 year equipment plan was supposed to help fix that with contingency buffers and unallocated headroom. But from the mood music we are hearing it doesn’t sound like it’s totally working.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
June 8, 2016 10:44 pm


Sums it up nicely. There are pros and cons to buying US. The biggest cons happen when we half buy in. We want the platform but then we want to use our weapons or systems either because we believe they are superior or because we envisage a different role for the platform.
The classic example is the F35B we want to use it in a different role than the USMC. So we will have to pay to integrate strike weapons and Meteor. The USMC do not foresee a strike role or a primary air defence role so are happy with the less capable AIM 120 D and no long range strike weapons.
However once we went VSTOL there were no other options.
Likewise with P8 unless we gambled on the Japanese P1 there was no other choice but we are then tied to mk 54 and US sonobuoys which may not be a bad thing.
The entire uk industry benefit vs bang for buck is a fine line that we walk on tip toe. Some we will get right some we will get wrong.
I for one thought that T45 should have maximised the amazing radar and combat system by fitting mk41 and SM missiles which would have minimised the limitations of only 48 cells by quadpacking ESSM in some of them.

It is a difficult conundrum and one we are probably just about getting right.

June 8, 2016 10:51 pm

@TD: both P8 and AH64E actually make sense: we don’t need that many and the capabilities concerned are available elsewhere if necessary. Given the MOD’s inability to maintain even a submarine line warm, you have to wonder whether we will ever manage to maintain any sort of policy. And please don’t mention a Euro policy: every major Euro program has objectively failed at huge cost. Typhoon has delivered decades late at extortionate cost and the A400 is such a disaster both ourselves and the French are retaining or buying C130J: that’s nearly two decades of gapping and several billion waste.

June 8, 2016 10:55 pm

@APATS: why not just replace all the Sylver cells with 48 Mk41 and the planned 16 slots? I’m quite sure Aster can be ported, and 64 cells is probably a fair quantity given some can quad pack CAMM

Jeremy M H
June 8, 2016 10:57 pm

I see offsets as massively different than insisting some of the work be done in the UK. An offset could be as simple as saying we want Boeing to execute X amount of new contracts in the UK over Y timeframe. In that case have at and get the best deal you can swing.

But if it goes to a work share agreement I don’t see much case really. The percentages of total production aren’t high enough to merit that sort of consideration (less than 10% of each buy by my rough poolside math) and if the UK gets it then should Saudi Arabia or India or Korea get the same? No thanks.

The Westland deal with Apache was kind of your deal to shoot yourself in the nuts with. Didn’t make much sense to me but didn’t really impact anyone else.

Seems to me for years you have needed to decide what was most important in the buy local paradigm. Is it most jobs? Best paying jobs? Most critical equipment? Consumables? I don’t pretend to have that answer. But as someone already pointed out, at the current budget it can’t be everything. The procurement budget simply doesn’t support major development programs across the spectrum on an ongoing basis.

To a degree the French seem to have a better handle on doing this. They seem to have some core areas they protect and are willing to be less capable or massively out of date in some other areas. When something isn’t a core focus they seem to have little drama about just buying overseas and being done with it as well.

June 9, 2016 6:21 am

Talking about Puma, we (Singapore) are supposed to be looking for new Utility Helicopters to replace them, they’re getting old. Rumors are Airbus and Finmeccanica are in the running. The Ministry is being incredibly tight lipped about it and only an estimated budget (1.1 billion) was published. Wonder what they’ll get, the heavy lift is taken by the Chinooks, so it’s purely medium lift.

Brian Black
Brian Black
June 9, 2016 7:09 am

If only buying relative handfuls of cut-price aircraft from the total number built, what leverage do we have to demand industrial offsets?

The new Boeing-built Apache E will reportedly be at least half the price of an equivalent Westland-built model, and Westland are prime candidates for the British Apache support contracts. We might also speculate that while we keep the engines this time, the UK will still tinker and incorporate a few airframe mods to enhance maritime operations, so it’s very unlikely that Westland will be left out of the game altogether.

There is a duty to consider the taxpayers as well as the industry. Can’t just throw money at one while completely ignoring the other. The other party to consider is the military, and the option that best served both the taxpayer and Westlands would probably have been a Wildcat attack helicopter rather than either Apache option – but would that deliver what the Army wanted?

stephen duckworth
June 9, 2016 8:08 am

Do we have the time to run these specific competition’s at the moment? Revamped P3 Orions , the hardly in service P1 , the paper only Sea Hercules or the in service P8 which will be the worlds largest fleet developed from the worlds most prolific airliner, the 737? As Kevin Bacon puts it “come on Britain , its a no brainer”. Plus Boeing spent £1.4bn in 2014 in the UK supporting 250 UK companies , many components in the P8A will inevitable have been sourced here.
Stuff should be getting into supplying for are like the 15% of the F35 programme made here in the UK possibly for the restarted F22 line.
The replacing of the knackered Apache fleet is a whole other argument. The Army wants dedicated attack helicopters and the AH-64E is leading the field at present but would a Wildcat ‘do the job’ and keep jobs in Ciderland going whilst reducing the types supported.
On future proposals though the new EU VAT exemption negotiated by the EDA (European Defence Agency ) for projects which they have even a small say in could be the way forward for future programmes – 20% off ,”I’ll take that”?
In other news the RAF Voyager has finished its refuelling trials with the F35B early. 20 flights were scheduled but all testing was completed in 18.

Rocket Banana
June 9, 2016 8:26 am

It’s about time we elected people that can decide how to make Britain Great again!

Oh, we did. Cameron’s engineering and technical education focus… shame he doesn’t realise that losing all these indistries will utterly skupper the ability to extract value from the newly educated kids when they all emmigrate to America for their high-tech jobs.

Apache E build contract is sensible.
The lack of ability to produce our own MPA is criminal… such is the BAE monopoly!

June 9, 2016 9:35 am

When it comes to our rotary fleet, our attempt to “Euro-ise” our procurement has been a gross failure. Michael Heseltine may have lost the battle in 86, but he won the war. Instead of doing what Westlands was had been doing for most of the previous two decades (eg license producing Sikorsky), we embarked on producing an over complex and expensive Sea Kong replacement (Merlin) and a light helicopter (Wildcat) most nations don’t see a role for. Neither of them sold much outside home markets. In practice, the H60 could have covered both roles, as well as replacing Puma, and the volumes were such we could have justified license production and some UK mods. Instead we have a witches brew of old and new.

Lets face it, we should be buying H64 and H47 off the shelf. But license producing H60 would have kept Westlands in business.

Brian Black
Brian Black
June 9, 2016 9:55 am

I don’t think the UK lacks the ability to produce a Maritime Patrol Aircraft, Simon. Not having an MPA in service raises the risk associated with a fresh development; but otherwise, there’s no technological reason why we couldn’t be working on an Airbus MPA rather than buying off the Boeing shelf.

I think some of the British visitors to this site think it would be overly difficult for the UK to develop a MPA simply because “Nimrod” and “MRA” have become synonymous with “fiasco” and “fuck-up”.

Back in the Cold War days, only a handful of major military powers pursued these kind of ISTAR assets. Shrinking budgets of the major militaries, plus an expanding number of international customers seeking these kind of capabilities, plus technology maturation, has led to defence firms coming up with various modular systems for MPA and other roles.

It would be less difficult to produce a new MPA now than at any time during the entire Nimrod era. The UK could have got in first for Europe, but after the P8 decision, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the French and Germans eventually coming up with a Euro solution.

June 9, 2016 10:29 am


Noting your comments, I think you are confusing unique capability with being rubbish. With Merlin we have ended up with is an ASW helicopter that is absolutely suited to our needs, and is easily the most advanced, most capable ASW helicopter in the world. If we had gone ‘off the shelf’ you would have ended up with a Seahawk variant which, by comparison, is substantially less effective – range, payload, target processing capacity. The USN is utterly dependent upon cover provided by land-based MPAs to be an effective sub-hunting fleet; we, on the other hand, condensed our requirements around ultra-quiet frigates and effective rotary ASW assets. Different, not better or worse, though I would say what we have is more flexible and better suited to our much smaller fleet.

Lynx is a relatively unique concept, but it is a product of evolution from a very relevant capability – the counter-missile boat requirement. Again the US has nothing like it, but then again when have US helicopters ever been as effective as the Lynx/Skua combination proved to be against that threat? Again, the US is reliant on carrier aviation and ship-launched missiles to neutralise such threats. Lynx also has huge value as a weapon carrier in ASW – the Merlin extends it’s endurance considerably by not carrying weapons, instead calling in the Lynx to shoot without having to compromise it’s ASW tactics.

I’ll accept that the Seahawk is a more effective general-purpose cab that can carry more, but what use is a generalist when we clearly have more specialised requirements?

Brian Black
Brian Black
June 9, 2016 11:08 am

Merlin is absolutely right for us; Wildcat is the oddball though.

We need the Puma medium helicopter to get where the larger Chinook and Merlin can’t fit. Having Wildcat instead of more medium helicopters maintains all the considerable costs associated with an additional aircraft type, but isn’t substantially cheaper to operate than a medium helicopter – you still have two pilots, two turbine engines, similar transmission and avionics arrays, etc.

Once you have a medium helicopter in place, and an attack helicopter, and platforms like Watchkeeper and Predator, the Wildcat becomes an ever smaller niche filler, who’s remaining roles could be performed by more of the other more necessary platforms.

A medium helicopter like the NH90 could have taken on the lighter naval requirement, and replaced Puma too.

After the limited work provided to AW, the only remaining benefit to having Wildcat around might be if the Type 31 turns out not big enough to accommodate a medium naval helicopter.

Peter Elliott
June 9, 2016 11:59 am

TAS – I hear what you say about the value of Wildcat as a naval weapons carrier. But could not more Merlins actually have done the same job?

Did we miss an opportunity when we opted to refurb the Pumas and procured Wildcat where we could instead have ordered more Merlins to a standard design capable of operating in swing role as Medium Utility, ISTAR or Weapon Carrier depending on the mission requirement?

Deja Vu
Deja Vu
June 9, 2016 12:05 pm

Industrial strategy!

We don’t even have a mass production small arms factory left in the UK. Nor do we mass producee sewing machines, the Singer factory closing in 1980.

In 1939 EV Francis, a Financial Times journalist and an economist, wrote a book “Britain’s Economic Strategy” still quoted in economic histories, he published an updated popular digest version in 1942 “The Battle for Supplies”.

The following is from a comment on TD’s post on the 70th anniversary of the Dambuster Raids

“TD given your interest in logistics, Barnes Wallis was quoted as saying that he was inspired to attack Germany’s industrial capacity when he read E.V .Francis’s “Battle For Supplies” …. whilst an invalid early in the war.

Francis argued that the war would be won on the basis of industrial capacity, and mastery of the trade routes. The US publication Foreign Affairs reviewed the latter book as follows.

This book, though it contributes little that is new, at least summarizes the economic policies pursued by the British Government over the last two decades. The author unintentionally proves that it was precisely “strategy” and a planned organization which Britain lacked when she entered the war.

Sounds familiar.”

Barborossa Dave
Barborossa Dave
June 9, 2016 12:38 pm

I wouldn’t be so worried about the UK aerospace sector- depending on which group of measures you use, It’s either the fourth or third biggest in the world. We have multiple companies building wing structures, multiple ones building fuselage structures and Rolls-Royce, who incidently power 40% of the world AT fleet, and build engines for other engine makers too. We have companies making undercarriage structures, avionics, etc…Boeing, EADS, Honda, Hitachi all have research and development facilities in the UK too.

In fact we can build complete aircraft… We also build satellites, guidance systems, etc

All of these companies build for the civvie market, but it wouldn’t take too much effort to transfer to military production.

As for the P8, couldn’t see it any other way really- although rumour has it that Kawasaki offered a production line for the UK, which would have been nice. Same for the Apache- with only 44 airframes, ciderpache was never going to be a goer, anyway. Especially as Westland have been busily selling all those VH Merlins (and more) the US didn’t want, anyway.

Moving away from aerospace, we are making more cars yearly than we ever did at the height of BLMC, including one company that can make entire chassis from a single piece of aluminium…*

Incidently, we still make big trucks in the UK- Leyland Trucks (part of the US PACCAR group) make the ‘New DAF’ range.

[*The same company that won’t bid for MOD contracts anymore because the specification and contract changes make them impossible to budget successfully (i.e. Profitably). In a private conversation at a car show, while I was drooling over one of their new vehicles, the marketing director claimed that they could never get the MOD to say how many vehicles they wanted- even when the contract was signed. How can industry work with that?]

So while it isn’t so bad as everyone seems to fear- It certainly wouldn’t hurt for there to be a presumption in favour of UK manufacture, where possible. After all people with good jobs pay taxes and spend lots, which keeps the economy nice and buoyant.

Incidently, to accuse Unite of being self-serving, is a little like having a go at the police for arresting criminals…

They’re a union, they’re there to represent their members, it’s their job….

June 9, 2016 12:59 pm

PE, perhaps, but Merlin is substantially larger, more complex and more challenging to operate from a small deck than a Lynx. Also the naval requirement was not synchronised time-wise, with Merlin being introduced long before the need to upgrade Lynx. Lynx is far more suitable in the close tactical fight; a Merlin whizzing around trying to prosecute small boats is probably more vulnerable than the more agile Lynx. All in all Lynx is properly a maritime attack helicopter whereas Merlin is a dedicated ASW asset. Merging those two requirements is possible, but you will compromise somewhere – and for what real benefit? We operate so few aircraft these days that cost efficiencies from common fleets are likely to be tiny. Commonality is great where it is worthwhile.

Peter Elliott
June 9, 2016 1:26 pm

TAS – yes I understand. I was thinking of a follow on order rather than a synchronised requirement.

If the trend towards bigger combat ships continues (despite the current ambition for a light GPFF) then standardising on one manned medium rotorcraft fitted out for role could be the way to go next time. Maybe supported by unmanned light weapons carriers to combat the go-fast threat or sustain an attack…?

June 9, 2016 1:32 pm


“…standardising on one manned medium rotorcraft fitted out for role could be the way to go next time. Maybe supported by unmanned light weapons carriers to combat the go-fast threat or sustain an attack…?”

So the you propose replacing Lynx with something unmanned, and standardising on a smaller helicopter that may still be more vulnerable than a dedicated, agile maritime attack helicopter but has less endurance than a Merlin? I’m not following your point. Unmanned is not a solution – torpedoes are big, missiles smaller but still hefty, the only realistic way to replace Lynx would be either an unmanned Lynx (which brings no significant advantage) or go American and rely on ASROC and other missiles to deliver effect from the ship? In other words, you want to switch the the US model? Why?

Peter Elliott
June 9, 2016 1:56 pm

TAS – I guess it depends on the threat analysis at the time the next procurement gets made – not before 2030 and maybe quite a bit later so we’re all guessing to some extent.

But no I wasn’t suggesting the American model. If anything I’d say standardise on a “large medium” helo like Merlin or a future tiltrotor with performance characteristics not too dissimilar of Osprey. Such a bird could do the ASW, AEWC, CHF and Utility roles. Fleet of say 60 operate from the big decks of T45, T26, QEC and a future LHD. Whatever happens with GPFF we look like having a mostly big ship navy in future.

Whether something smaller is also needed for combatting specific threats would need to be analysed and established at the time. Presumably all scenarios would get gamed out, including ship launched weapons, UAS and a like for like wildcat repalcement.

What I just don’t really see is the Land Forces playing along next time with the need for a light Helo. Given the increasing significance of UAS, Airbourne and Satallite recon it seems likely to me that the Land Forces will continue to prioritise their Rotary budget on Heavy Lift, Medium Lift and Attack. In that scenario the Light Naval helo begins to look like quite a niche role. Maybe still a necessary one – we’ll have to wait and see!

Jeremy M H
June 9, 2016 2:12 pm

All the specifics kind of miss the important point. It is not about which way of doing things is better but what unique things the UK is willing to pay for on its own dime.

The more relevant discussion would be how you approach the issue when it comes time to replace both capabilities. Is this the area to deploy limited R&D funds to develop a solution you may prefer or not? If not what are the options out there now and what are they likely to be then?

There is always a slightly better way to do thing that suits ones particular inclinations and situations. But you can’t have custom solutions for everything without paying lots of money. If people want to take a crack at a coherent defense industrial policy you need to set aside the minor issues and first decide what core areas of competence are going to be maintained and protected.

Also the idea that a BAE monopoly is preventing the UK from building an MPA is laughable honestly. BAE isn’t great but no contractor is. What stops that process is a lack of money. An aerospace program will cost you a billion or more a year in development before you build a thing. There are year by year RD expenses published for the P8. Cost to the UK would be similar presuming equal capability is sought. Find that flex in the budget to go it alone. It isn’t there.

Again, set aside the specific instances. Sure you could buy something else off the shelf, some roll on kit for something like Portugal. But think about the larger question. It applies to fighters, helicopters, ships, subs, jet engines and on and on. To develop new you need at minimum a few hundred million a year per project and to go from theory to reality that figure rises into the billions on most programs.

Then take a look at the budget for new equipment and start trying to fit it in there. Unless there is more money any extra expense on development means you buy less actual stuff right now. It’s a zero sum game to an extent.

For almost every single foreign sourced item purchased I have seen different people on this site saying why can’t we do that here? Someone take the numbers and try to align international ambition with a coherent industrial policy. Even if you just estimate. You will quickly see what the problem is.

Peter Elliott
June 9, 2016 2:50 pm

Said it at the top. Can’t disagree with you Jeremy.

“I’m not sure we actually can maintain a domestice Defence Industrial Capacity on the “smoke and mirrors” 2% of GDP that we are currently spending. As JMH is fond of telling us you can either spend the money or not. No amount of strategic waffle will cover that up.”

stuck record
stuck record
June 9, 2016 7:13 pm

If we had bought F15 / F-16 ways back when and got in with development surely we could have used our ‘Special’ relationship to build under license which would have saved on dev costs and maintained a large skilled workforce as well as providing mutual support cost savings on global ops

The Other Chris
June 9, 2016 7:29 pm

If we’re playing what-if, would much rather have seen UK support for Advanced Tomcat as a foreign buy and progressed with construction of P.1216 to support domestic industry.

What a completely different aerial capability both the UK and the USN/MC would have had now.

June 9, 2016 8:51 pm

The tomcat is a proper aircraft Northrop Grumman rarely disappoint.

People should perhaps remember just what a true workhorse tornado has been for us though. Been worth every penny.

June 9, 2016 9:20 pm

Mark, the Northtrop Grumman then isn’t the Northtrop Grumman now. For better or worse.

If you’re not doing carrier air, you’re better off with the F-15 instead, both the F-14 and -15 are rather specific designs for specific usages.

Just fishing for information, if you were to replace the Puma, which AugustaWestlands helicopter would be the most suitable? Maritime usage and land usage requirements, taking into account the weight and space constraints? Pure transport role only.

June 9, 2016 9:20 pm

@TAS: I agree Merlin has unique systems. But there’s nothing that says they can’t be put in place on an H60, since it has much the same lifting capacity as Merlin, even though the latter has a bigger cabin. Merlin is just too big for the RN jobs it needs to do, and for the Army/RM jobs it’s too big to do assault lift and other light tasks, while being too small and unable to lift the loads that make Chinook so useful.

If we had bought a license for H60 (see ws-70 for what might have been), we could have innovated around the airframe the way we did with Sea King HAS1-6, and sold them on the way we did them too. Instead we built something no-one else wants

June 9, 2016 9:23 pm

wf, “nobody wants” is yet to be seen. The ministry of defence here is already sniffing around the edges for a UH replacement, and the main contenders are rumored to be European.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
June 9, 2016 9:32 pm

Merlin can lift over 1000kg more than an SH60 and having flown in both you are not putting the HM2 mission suite in an SH60.

Have to agree with TAS we have by fair means or foul got the world’s premier ASW helicopter and with Martlet and Sea Venom will with Wildcat have the world’s premier ASuW frigate deployabele helo.

The Other Chris
June 9, 2016 9:41 pm

Merlin shouldn’t be rated in terms of Top Trumps lifting or .

It’s designed to provide a significant amount of hotel load for an extensive suite of systems, while maintaining a swiftly ramped up power margin combined with a long-duration bring-back rated gearbox that can support a One or Two Engine Out (OEO/TEO) scenario with no oil in the box.

MH-60R doesn’t come close.

Merlin’s also designed from the ground up to be corrosion resistant, a design choice that has saved the UK millions and prevented the loss of a significant part of the fleet following service in Afghanistan (high salinity deserts). Similar story with our Chinooks and, to a lesser extent, Puma’s.

What Merlin’s lacking to alter that capability into raw “hot and high” power that many critics seem to be craving for a utility helicopter role is investment in an uprated gearbox as well as the associated certification.

Given the continued Super Puma incidents over the last few years, I’m sure you’d agree that’s not an area to skimp on.

The Other Chris
June 9, 2016 9:43 pm

*Top Trumps lifting or Altitude, etc.

June 10, 2016 2:47 am

Wasn’t this the case when L Coffey was Special Adviser in the MOD?

June 10, 2016 6:42 am

As others have argued, the wildcat / merlin combo is right for the RN. We probably have just enough Merlins for RM assault but are a little light on numbers for ASW and Wildcat in my view. The latter will have an increasing demand for ‘shotgun’ cover on deployed RFAs and will probably be the helo of choice for the super OPV / type 31 or whatever that ends up being. ASW merlin resources will be stretched covering CVF / AEW. All we need is a proper new ASW frigate to base the Merlins on!

stephen duckworth
June 10, 2016 7:41 am

A nice story about a Merlin from the Portuguese Esquadra 751 SAR/CSAR squadron.
They flew a 380nm out and 380nm back again mid Atlantic SAR mission carrying 5 tonnes of fuel (an extra bladder tank in the cabin ) . The mission was a success .
At the bottom of the page are some nice links to other AW stories.

Back on TD’s original point about giving industry a firm and fixed set of guidelines over military purchases , yes they should and stick to it (except in Urgent Operational Requirement situations) .
Who would want to spend a lot of time , money and effort preparing a sales pitch to a client who you know is just going to select a preferred competitor anyway. Spend that time ,money and effort on customers who will treat your bid fairly and openly and win business and hopefully profit , keeping your and your employees kids fed and mortgages paid.

June 10, 2016 12:26 pm

Surely defence industrial strategy is a subset of overall “grand strategy” ? Grand strategy implies thinking ahead, medium to long term. Our politicians, probably since Thatcher are completely incapable of “political vision” and long term strategy. It’s about personal political and monetary gain, and sending monetary gain in the direction of your old boys network and cronies, sound bite politics, and the next election.

It is because of this the our strategies are always such muddles. Keep and army of over 100,000 with a certain sized fleet of armoured vehicles, keep x amount of RAF squadrons, keep x numbers of surface fleet vessels and subs and a “defence industrial strategy” that is based around jobs, manufacturing and high tech industries is feasible, potentially good for the economy and wider society., despite some views about “military industrial complex” and whether it would make us more open to “wars of choice” and other valid socio-political and moral concerns with basing a large chunk of your economy on “death dealing”.

Drop below a certain size of armed forces and the defence industrial strategy based on these same ideas / ideals makes no sense at all. Suddenly it cannot be about jobs, it has to be about “bang per buck” getting the most value for the tax payer while retaining a certain amount of military power. The Return On Investment (ROI) equation is now changed and all about military capability and no longer about jobs, the broader tax base etc. In terms of a common meme we had running on here once, do you think Belgium wastes effort on a defence industrial strategy ?

We are of course not alone, criminal levels of waste, graft and out right corruption are evident in the U.S. Political system and their “defence industrial complex” too, they could have colonized Mars by now just with the money wasted on programs never taken to fruition after billions in R&D. The big corporations are largely at fault here, take Lockheed Martin. Really, your going to sue Canada for not having a competition for a fighter jet ? But you were ok with the previous parties government not having a competition because you had conned them into buying yours ??? Sovereign power of government to spend tax payers dollars / pounds / euros as it sees fit is eroded by a legal system “owned” by the money of the mega Corp. Sigh….. Rant over.

Decide among yourselves if we are now too small and stingy as a nation to worry about this! Just go with planes from the US, ships from Korean yards and tanks from Germany, because society as a whole thinks gender change paid for on the NHS is more important than defence, and the jobs / benefits it can find.

June 10, 2016 3:31 pm


The f14 was designed for much the same task as the tornado f3 take a big radar up and couple it with long range missiles to shoot dwn bombers and there missiles at range. Introduction of very long range manoeuvrable escorts of the su-27 variants changed the calculation.

If your limiting yourself to the aw product line only one variant fits the bill the aw149.

June 10, 2016 4:17 pm

It is funny how people get all misty eyed about the F-14 Tomcat, that wasn’t the case in its early life. There were many who regarded it a bit of a lemon and a compromise solution forced by the failure of the TFX program and the F-111B.

Whilst the largest and heaviest fighter to fly operationally off a US carrier it was actually the smallest airframe that they could pack in the AWG-9 radar, associated avionics and AIM-54 Phoenix missiles developed for the F-111B. The TF-30 designed for the F-111 was also adopted as an imperfect interim solution until a derivative of the PW F100 could be provided.

It was a compromise solution with some dangerous flight characteristics under a single engine flame out situation that was not remedied until the GE F110 was installed in the B & D variants after the PW F100 derived F400-401 failed to arrive.

Whilst the AWG-9 was impressive the AIM-54 failed to live up to expectations and the aircraft as a whole was maintenance intensive.

Arguably only the huge success of Top Gun rehabilitated it in the public eye.

Now once it was matured into the D variant with its better engine, improved avionics and expanded role it was useful but arguably the USN were pretty happy to see it gone beyond the pilots who grew to love it. Just look at the comparative maintenance between it and the Super Hornet. And before anybody goes on about how terrible the Super Hornet is in comparison when you draw a line down general operating costs and built in capabilities the Super Hornet wins hands down!

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
June 10, 2016 5:04 pm

I see the Danish Parliament has ratified the decision to buy F35A to replace their F16s.

June 10, 2016 7:58 pm


I find it interesting that much like the Dutch there buying a stealth first day strike aircraft in so small a number (27 for Denmark) that given national/nato qra tasking and training that there force is effectively undeployable.

Jeremy M H
June 10, 2016 8:42 pm

It isn’t that baffling. They released their study and they believe it to be a better and more surviveable asset in defensive counter air and air intridcition than the alternative platforms evaluated. They rate it as more surviveable (it’s a separate rating which I don’t get but whatever) in all scenarios as well.

There is an English language summary somewhere but this one breaks down the details of the military comparison in nice charts.

I don’t really see the mystery here. One can dispute their logic but they lay it out more clearly than just about any other competition I have seen.

June 11, 2016 2:19 am

Top Gun was Shit. JAG made the F-14 shine.

I take an opposite view to your love for the Super Hornet, but I’ll won’t argue to death here.

June 11, 2016 4:29 am

HMA, the F-14 was supposed to come as a set with the old Missiler program, that was why the Phoenix was called the Phoenix, it “rose from the ashes” of the old program. The F-14As had a very dangerous weakness, it’s engines. They were underpowered for the job due to the fact that there was a commonality drive going on and they were supposed to share the same engine as the F-111 and IIRC was directly responsible for at least 4 crashes. They were also oversensitive and slamming them from low power to high caused flameouts. This was only corrected in the F-14Bs.

Operationally, what really killed the concept was ROE. While the F-14 may be good at hauling missiles up and launching them long distances, it was later found that BVR was a bit oversold and most of the time, aircraft still needed to get within visual range just to make sure that they shot the right thing. IIRC there was an organizational survey to see what missiles were the most used and it wasn’t the AIM-54, it was the AIM-7 and AIM-9 hence there was a change in the ammo storage mix of USN carriers. This was also why the increased focus on medium range (AIM-120) and the upgrade of the AIM-9 to -9X (since the ASRAAM cooperation didn’t pan out) while the AIM-54 sort of died out.

June 11, 2016 7:00 am

Regarding Lynx, Merlin and UAVs discussed below.

Merlin is big…Really big for operating on a FF/DD. It scared the crap out of me when I stood on deck waving my arms at one as Flight Deck Officer. The down draft is huge. If it goes U/S on deck its a big weight to carry around and a big , big loss of Operational capability.

Lynx/Wildcat is considerably smaller and lighter. You can sqeeze two into the hanger space occupied by a Merlin (just) which gives more redundancy in way of defects on the cab.For years the T22 sailed around on deployments with 2 cabs, one a standard (ish ) model, the other with all the optional extras and there are a lot of optional extras on a Gulf Mod Lynx. Although the T22 is long gone, today on T23 you can have Lynx/Merlin and a UAV Scan Eagle for added flexability.

So your left with a Lynx that can carry Skua , Merlin cannot. This may change with the demise of Skua and the introduction of its replacement which will be a big plus for Merlin if it happens.
A Lynx can cary Sting Ray but not prosecute an ASW target. (Unless its a non-RN model equiped to dip) Merlin can. Not a lot that can be done about that.

June 11, 2016 9:21 am


I took a look at the AW149. You sure it can replace the Puma? The Puma is only about 5 tons, the AW149 is 8-9 tons, might be a bit too much for our decks.

June 11, 2016 10:09 am


Not sure what weights your comparing there both a/c have similar gross weights and size wise are almost identical. It’s also been designed for operation hot and high.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
June 11, 2016 10:38 am


If you are flying S70 from your Formidables then AW149 will not be an issue. The Fearless class are rated for CH47 so definitely no issues there.

The S70 is very similar in size and weight to AW149 with a greater max take off weight.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
June 11, 2016 10:41 am


No issues with AW149 it is not quite as heavy as the S70 you operate from your Formidables and the Fearless class are CH47 rated.

June 11, 2016 11:04 am

Thanks APATS. The Pumas are getting hard to maintain, had a heli-insert delayed once when the Puma’s engine overheated, so we had to wait for 2 hours+ for a replacement, sitting in the middle of a damp field in the dark feeding mosquitoes. Nothing worse than the feeling of sitting on cold, soggy pants.

We’ll see what the Ministry gets. Should be interesting, and good for Europe since the final contenders are all European companies and not US (though with all the mergers and branch offices, not sure if region means anything anymore.)

June 11, 2016 1:09 pm


I don’t love the Super Hornet, I respect what it brings to the table capability wise. Whilst we are comparing generationally different aircraft here in the end when you look at what a Super Hornet can do in comparison to a late F-14D the former wins hands down.

The F-14 was faster and had a greater on station time, that greater speed was to allow the aircraft to perform intercepts of Russian Backfire bombers using the AIM-54. The greater on station time is a result of the fuel needed to perform its original primary mission.

When you look at Super Hornet it has more modern avionics, sensors, data-fusion and array of weapons to carry. It is cheaper to maintain and burns less fuel which are both critical issues these days considering defence budgets. With the huge amount of tanker availability the on station time is taken care of anyway. In respect of Fleet Defence things have moved on, improved sensors for a CBG, AEGIS destroyers and CEC gives a far greater fleet defence capability and the Super Hornet with its AMRAAM are integrated into that greater sensor picture.

Once the F-14 lost the under performing AIM-54 it was left with AIM-9L/M and AIM-7 Sparrow leaving it rather behind the curve. They could of further updated it, integrated AMRAAM and new avionics but what was the point when they could have a Super Hornet new off the line that could do more and was cheaper overall to run.

The Tomcat was a fun aircraft that matured into something useful but there is no point being sentimental.

The Other Nick
The Other Nick
June 11, 2016 3:19 pm

Re. the Super Hornet, have seen it reported it is normal practise for the USN to use a second as a tanker to refuel the first due to limited F-18 fuel capacity, one reason they are wearing out so fast. Following the KA-6D they had used the S-3B Viking as a tankers but withdrew them in 2009 and now stored in the desert, now spending big money for the V-22 with aerial refueling system.
The EMALS catapult for the Ford was unable to launch the F18 with its two 480 gallon underwing fuel tanks under testing last year.

June 13, 2016 11:06 am

Well us Dutchies bought American..again only this time we had a long wait for the F-35.
This Friday it was on display,no not the wooden one but the real one;

hope the thing lives up to the the vapor @2.47 and the Spitfire later on.


June 13, 2016 11:35 am

Can anyone put together the maths for the UK F-35B.

I’m reading that there will be 4 Frontline Sqns (617 Sqn, 809 NAS, and 2 unnamed sqns) and 1 OCU each comprising of 12 aircraft.

That adds up to 60 jets…….if we’re getting 138 then where are the other 78 jets going?

Peter Elliott
June 13, 2016 1:56 pm

There will presumably still be a few UK jets in the multi-national OEU.

There will also need to be some depth for upgrades: especially the first few dozen purchased will need a lot of upgrading as various releases and modifications happen to complete developement.

There will need to be an element of war reserve to enable 4 squadrons to be maintained in the event that we lose significant numbers for any reason: not just shot down but sabotage, extreme weather, first strikes, accidents or whatever.

The final question is how much long term future do the tranche 2/3 Typhoons have. I can’t see us doing without manned QRA. Maybe the last few dozen of the 138 end up replacing Typhoons in that role. That’s decades away and we just don’t know yet what the balance of manned/unmanned will be and what other models will be around by then. At the end of the day 138 is an industrial number and they might not all have an assigned military role at this moment.

June 13, 2016 2:06 pm

David. Yep, even if you fill up QE/PoW with the max no of F-35B, which we would probably never do, that is still only 72 F-35B. Prototypes may take it up to around 80.
I still say it is mad for the RAF to get any F-35B. QRA is best done by Typhoon or F-35A. Long range strike is better done by Typhoon with conformal tanks, or F-35A, or F35E (if it ever gets built) or B-21.

The Other Chris
June 13, 2016 2:39 pm

“…I still say it is mad for the RAF to get any F-35B…”

Quite right. The FAA should receive all 138 F-35B’s and the RAF should focus on developing replacement for Typhoon as well as a new long-range, large bomber.

Job done. Decision made.

What’s the next order of business gentlemen?

June 13, 2016 5:10 pm

The #1 use of F-18 tankers is to provide top up for bolters. Nothing to do with the F-18’s fuel capacity. The F-18 tankers will be used in the same capacity for the F-35C’s.

June 13, 2016 5:13 pm


Next order of business? Another FAA F-35B squadron. Four is not enough for two carriers.

June 13, 2016 8:30 pm

For a 12 operational aircraft squadron isn’t the broad stand to have 50% more airframes in sustainment – so each squadron essentially requires 18 aircraft. 4 squadrons plus OCU that’s 90 airframes. Let’s say 36 more to cover 2 futures squadrons to replace the T1 Typhoons and 12 over and above to cover attrition / Op Dev etc? Are we heading for: 3 FAA squadrons, 3 RAF squadrons, 1 OCU plus 5 Typhoon squadrons in the longer term?

June 13, 2016 8:45 pm

The coment was the uk plans to acquire 138 f35 aircraft over the life of the program between now and 2060 eg never never land stuff!. When the usaf finally fesses up that it’s buying no where near the 1700 f35s we will readjust that number dwn

June 13, 2016 9:58 pm

Thanks all for the replies. Makes sense.

I’m personally quite optimist about the aircraft in the longer term, I just hope we invest in the correct weapons to make the absolute most of it and make sure it’s a system that anyone would think twice before taking on.

The Other Chris
June 14, 2016 9:03 am

The USN now has six P-8A squadrons trained at Jacksonville in Florida. Training is moving to focus on the squadrons based at Whidbey Island in Washington State.

Training takes up to 18 months. Experienced P-3 crews are transitioning in 7-8 months.

UK personnel have passed through the training course completing last April.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
June 14, 2016 9:05 am

The number of aircraft bought is ultimately far less important than the force structure that the defence budget will support. That means number of squadrons, associated aircrew and support/engineering staff, plus the headroom to ensure that there are enough non-sqn roles for career development paths.

The force structure is the big-ticket cost item and over the long-term as well.

Peter Elliott
June 14, 2016 9:20 am

Combat Air force structure currently looks like it might reach 9 squadrons manned (7 Typhoon + 2 F35B) transitioning to (5+4) and 2 squadrons unmanned (Reaper > Protector >? ‘Taranis’). Better than we have at the moment but all the usual cautions about “Jam tomorrow” budget projections still apply.

We never did get to the bottom of where in the budget the people are coming from for the forces added or projected or implied by SDSR15:

2 additional combat air squadrons
2 MPA / ASW / MMA squadrons
Retention of the Hercules alongside Atlas and C17.

Seems like quite a lot of airmen and maintainers to me. I know quite a lot of joint capabilities got shuffled towards the army which must have freed up some blue shirts. But even so it seems like a lot of skilled people to find, train and pay for over the next 10 years.

June 14, 2016 10:24 am

The P-8 will almost certainly be purchased through the US FMS system. That makes cost estimates almost useless, FMS does not give you a fixed price and the Pentagon will simply charge the UK what it costs them plus a mark up which may or may not include R&D recovery. The other problem with US off the shelf purchases is that you rarely get access to the software so it is uneconomic to use other than US weapons. In terms of the P-8 that would mean that the RAF would almost certainly use the Mk 54 ASW torpedo other than Stingray. The effect will be 2 ASW Torpedo’s in inventory. The ADF in in that situation now with the Mk 54 and the MU-90.

June 14, 2016 4:42 pm


This recent bit of news goes some way to explaining how the RAF will get P8 into service…..

The 5 Sentinel crews cut, combined with seedcorn personnel will presumably form the core of the new MPA force.

A total of 9 Tornado and Typhoon squadrons were operating up until early 2014. Couple whoever the RAF currently has available with the few hundred extra bodies promised in the SDSR and the handful of pilots the FAA will surely provide for Joint Force Lightning and i guess that’s how they plan to scrape by.

Despite all this i agree the margins will be extremely tight and there are still a lot of unanswered questions, number 1 being where the crews will come from for the 14 Hercules previously destined for scrap.

Peter Elliott
June 14, 2016 4:57 pm

There’s an unspoken assumption, isn’t there, that by 2021 P8A will be mature enough in its sensors to take on Sentinel’s over land work load. And I guess if we decide we need to top up the number of P8A at that point the option will exist.

The uplift in E3 Sentry crews speaks of unease at the resurgent Russian air threat across multiple theatres. Although pushing the equipment upgrade back then looks like a risk. Maybe a calculated one, they’ve presumably done some quite detailed work on how exactly where the obsolescence threshold lies.

June 14, 2016 6:02 pm


The uplift in E3 crews does certainly show the requirement for heightened availability in response to Russian activity over the North Sea and around the Baltic states.

I am willing to bet that unless we see some dramatic shift in priorities in response to the global situation Sentinel won’t be directly replaced in the early 2020’s and instead we’ll see the second batch of 4-5 P8’s delivered with an over land spec, leaving MPA with the measly ‘baseline’ fleet of 5 aircraft often rumoured up until the SDSR.

It’ll be the old story of telling them to do more with less privately, whilst publically lording the amount of investment, high-end capability and commonality, as if numbers never come into it.

Might see if William Hill or Ladbrokes will give me decent odds!

Peter Elliott
June 14, 2016 7:40 pm

I seem to recall we have an E3 deployed forward in Cyprus at the moment too. You can easily see how the existing crews must be stretched.

The Other Chris
June 15, 2016 10:13 am

You’ve all probably seen the surprise news today that the USAF has contracted MBDA to study integration of Brimstone DM on the F-15E.

Thought I’d drop the comment here to spark some debate.

Other than Reaper Big Safari trials, the last time we saw Brimstone on a US plane was the USN looking at F-18 carriage. The nail in the coffin for US sales appeared to be JAGM starting successful trials on the same aircraft (second photo below).

Although the number of aircraft we’ve sent and our contribution to SHADER has been questioned at times, apart from ISTAR, we have been reported to be hitting Fallujah very hard with Brimstone DM and Paveway IV armed Tornado’s. This is in full view of US brass.

Has this swayed the USAF? Have they been thinking of Brimstone for a while? Is it a U-Turn?

Either way it’s a superior capability, even compared to JAGM, and US manufacture of the everything aft of the seeker is still an option for them. maybe even desirable.

comment image

comment image

The Other Chris
June 15, 2016 10:20 am

Should also mention TD’s updating his Brimstone article as part of his Complex Weapons series so you’ll also be to comment there.

Link for convenience:

Stu W
June 16, 2016 1:36 pm

With India, Brazil etc requiring tech transfer and industrial offsets and the UK policy of US of the shelf with zero offset or UK content surely spells the end of the UK Defence Manufacturing. I simply can’t understand why were not in a position when spending billions to demand these offets when other countries appear to be able to.

Jeremy M H
June 16, 2016 2:13 pm


Brazil operates a couple squadrons of F-5’s. They have a deal for Gripen but I might suggest watching how that actually plays out over time. They are getting offsets sure but we might wait to see what capability they actually get in the end and for what cost. That whole arrangement is pretty speculative at this stage of development.

India doesn’t always get offsets. In fact it seems like in the programs where they try to get all this stuff they end up accomplishing little. They still haven’t actually bought a fighter after 5 plus years of nonsense with France and the Eurofighter group. The PAK-FA seems to be pretty out of favor with them as well as they didn’t really get what they wanted either.

The UK is free to insist on whatever it wants. But there isn’t a free lunch. Offsets or tech transfer mean higher cost or less capability in many cases. Plus the uk defense industry is smart enough to win subcontracts on its own much of the time anyway.

June 17, 2016 8:26 am

The UK defence industry is a stinking mess, on account of politics and ‘industrial bias’ being key drivers in procurement process. The equipment made in this country, aside of course from being over budget (that goes without saying, no UK project over comes in on target) very often you find it doesn’t work.

So let them be a part of the great global game of ripoff thy customer and lets be smarter about what we buy and who we buy it from. And let’s be honest, as much as Unite might complain, in a straight and fair competitive tender the UK firms would fair very badly indeed.

If US companies, or Korean, or Dutch, or German, or Australian are offering the right balance of price and capability we should go with that. I don’t care about a defence industrial base, let those chaps make bed springs or matchbox cars or I don’t really care, we need an armed forces that actually works.

But then the Moebius Strip that is the UK executive and defence industry is far too concerned with stuffing each other up their own backsides to worry about something as trivial as a good deal.

June 17, 2016 9:15 am

While I am minded to agree that the UK defence industry has its failings, I don’t think it goes anywhere near your views.
I’m sure that you have examples of things not working in mind, perhaps you could share what you think those are?

The question of tax always springs into my mind. How much money comes back to the treasury for a given amount paid locally vs that same amount in import goods.

June 17, 2016 11:51 am

Mr Fred,

I’d have thought a list of programmes that have worked would be an easier one to write than those that haven’t lived up to expectation/requirement.

The Other Nick
The Other Nick
June 17, 2016 1:12 pm

“I’d have thought a list of programmes that have worked would be an easier one to write than those that haven’t lived up to expectation/requirement.”

Would you include the WR-21 ICR GTA installation for Type 45 as American.
Northrop Grumman Marine Services was the prime contractor contractor & system integrator of the WR21 commissioned by the USN & Honeywell (AlliedSignal Aerospace Company) which developed the intercooler & Rand Ingersoll built the recuperator. The GT itself was designed primarily by RR with marine engineering and test facility input from DCN.
Understand RR are under contract to to replace the Rand Ingersoll built the recuperator.

The Other Nick
The Other Nick
June 17, 2016 1:22 pm

Defense News reported yesterday from the Paris Eurosatory show more possible UK “Buy American”, the JLTV (Joint Light Tactical Vehicle).
“The UK’s Ministry of Defence has revealed it is in talks with the Pentagon, which might lead to a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) deal. The British Army is interested in acquiring the Oshkosh Defense vehicle, set to replace the Army and Marine Corps Humvees, to meet part of a requirement known as the Multi-Role Vehicle-Protected (MRV-P).”

Peter Elliott
June 17, 2016 1:52 pm

Interesting to see MRV(P) apparently moving forward but no word of MIV.

Looking at the equipement for the two “strike brigades” and consdiering what we took into core after Op Herrick I would have thought MIV was the more urgent need.

Peter Elliott
June 17, 2016 2:05 pm

As for why we swould be choosing the American Oshkosh over Foxhound for the MRV(P) Light requirment it must be cost.

If the Americans are going to be churning out thousands of the things then the unit cost is going to look very attractive compared to a boutique order of 300 odd for the British Army only.

Hard choices etc. When it does come we may possibly get some assembly work on the MIV 8*8 in the new plant in South Wales…?

Jeremy M H
June 17, 2016 3:00 pm


Apologies if this is harsh but who gives a flying bunch of horse crap who commissioned the development of the power plant or who built parts of it? Only one service made what turned out to be a massively expensive cock up of putting he thing to sea. Everyone else who looked at it walked away from it. The USN and French both looked at it and moved into different arrangements.

Clearly that is not what most people mean when they discuss the alternative of off the shelf systems vs developing on your own. Buying something no one else is using is basically the exact problem people advocating off the shelf buys are seeking to avoid.

Moreover the fact that the MOD seems to have basically no recourse would seem to tell you it was they who dropped the ball.

There is a huge difference in buying American or French or Norwegian vs buying something in America, France or Norway.

The Other Chris
June 17, 2016 3:03 pm

It’s not 300. It’s over 2,000 for all protected vehicles across all phases for the next 15 years if you select the right common base vehicle.

That’s enough of an order over enough time to hire permanent production line and supply chain employees instead of the specialist contractors currently employed for bespoke manufacture for the UK vehicles (Supacat, Ocelot S) being compared.

Get that in place and you have a protected vehicle industry capable of development and production rate expansion.

At the very, very least there needs to be an open competition. Including blowing the damn production versions up.

June 17, 2016 9:35 pm

If there not buying foxhound it will be one of the most ludicrous decisions ever taken.

Peter Elliott
June 17, 2016 9:53 pm

Even if the American wagon is cheaper and they spend the saving from MRV(P) on more/fightier/quicker procurement of MIV…?

June 17, 2016 10:09 pm

Type 45
Yes there has been problems,
But look at the positives, the next generation version from RR is pretty good and would not have been developed if WR-21 wasn’t ordered ,
The latest type 45 deployment had no issues as work arounds and operating knowledge had improved with experience .

Still , long term hulls will have to be cut and additional gen sets installed .

The Other Nick
The Other Nick
June 18, 2016 6:55 am

@Jeremy M H
My previous comment was in response to the observation that all overseas kit including American was great and the “UK defence industry is a stinking mess” and so is their kit. Apologies that I did not myself clearer.
Agree in relation to the WR-21 the MOD and RN were as usual culpable for another procurement disaster, still no worry the Defence Committee MP’s are on the case.

June 18, 2016 8:04 am

Let’s have some specific examples then. I suspect that the problem isn’t where you think it is.

Peter Elliott
June 18, 2016 8:28 am

Norwegian Defence White Paper proposes renewal of their MPA fleet:

It will be interesting to see what they buy…

June 18, 2016 11:52 am

Returning back to the original theme-

The big problem is: If we don’t make stuff in this country, then there are no good jobs- minimum wage and zero hours are not ‘good’ jobs (despite what your local tory grandee will tell you) both of those require the government to give those people a top-up in order to feed their families.

Why do you think GO-GO george has been so insistant on the living wage? He knows that a greater proportion of our welfare bill (pensions aside) is set aside for supporting people already in work, rather than supporting government-sponsored sherry-tasters and condom-failure results.

The amount of foreign-owned manufacturing in this country tells me that there isn’t much wrong with the available work-force (I’ve never heard Honda, or indeed JCB, bleat about poor worker skills- that is just an excuse for a crap employer, who wants to save money by cutting training, and importing cheap labour IMO)

To sum up:
1.Whether you like it or not, manufacture has to be part of a strategic defence policy.
2. Somewhere along the line, we have to encourage manufacture in this country, because jobs depend on it.
3. No jobs mean no taxes; no taxes mean no government spending.

What will our armed forces look like then?

June 18, 2016 1:08 pm

138 F-35B’s is overkill for 4 frontline Squadrons and associated ancillaries, however, various people in AFHQ have mused about acquiring 1 more squadron of something. The current 4 squadron planning suggests the end of the 2 T1 Typhoon squadrons sometime in the 2020s in addition to the first 2 F-35B squadrons replacing last two Tornado units (in practical terms). It seems to me that there will be enough F-35B airframes delivered that if funding allows an uplift to 5 squadrons will be entirely plausible.

Brian Black
Brian Black
June 19, 2016 8:08 am

Mark, June 17, it’s not ludicrous to buy a new vehicle if Foxhound doesn’t meet the requirements for MRVP.

Foxhound is a small patrol vehicle. MRVP is to include a TCV, carrying 2+6 blokes, and a battlefield ambulance. How will they fit into a Foxhound?

To put the difference in perspective, if the UK bought the JLTV, the Combat Support Vehicle variant -on which the British TCV and ambulance would be based- has a payload of about 250% of the Foxhound’s capacity.

Foxhound was very specifically targeted to replace the Snatch Landrover; you shouldn’t be surprised that it’s not suitable for a bunch of different roles beyond that.

Some of the slots in the army’s final vehicle schedule may be quite fluid at the moment, and some slots with MRVP currently pencilled in may eventually end up with Foxhound or MIV, but some number of MRVP will be required.

June 19, 2016 8:28 am

Not sure that is the case Brian

From the article

“Jltv is being eyed by the British to provide what is known as package 1, the smallest vehicles for troop carrying and other light duties.”

Not the larger patrol vehicle which is package 2. And for that we should be investigating how scaleable the foxhound concept is.

The Other Chris
June 19, 2016 10:37 am

Highly. They already have a longer skateboard version for 2+6, an ambulance version, a flatbed version with or without crane and a command version. All in composite or steel options for significant cost reduction with weight trade off.

Every variant can share drive, engine, wheels and electronics. Every variant on the same length skateboard can share citadel modules.

Foxhound base vehicle (Ocelot) has not been productionised like the JLTV base vehicle has to date. We only have a boutique gold-plated bespoke price to compare to a Henry T Ford line brochure.

June 19, 2016 1:28 pm

From what I understood the MRV-P includes three different vehicles.

Package 1, the smallest vehicles for troop carrying.
Package 2 involves larger troop carrying and battlefield ambulance vehicles.
Package 3 involving light protected recovery vehicles.

The choice of JLTV is absurd, it enters into the same category as the Foxhound which is manufactured in the United Kingdom,

For the second vehicle, it would be advisable to ask to Thales to relocate part of the production of the Bushmaster toward the United Kingdom for gradually recreate an industry of wheeled military vehicles in the United Kingdom in addition of General Dynamics for the MIV.
You have already 24 Bushmaster.

I have nothing to sell, it’s just a suggestion.

Brian Black
Brian Black
June 20, 2016 10:31 am

Folks should feel free to paste the actual criteria for MRVP package 1 if they can declare which vehicles fit the bill.

One of the few things that is clear at the moment is that the final scope of MRVP is still undecided, so Foxhound may well still be the chosen vehicle for some jobs; but the fact that JLTV is being eyed-up does suggest it can’t do everything that is required.

I don’t think that people should overplay this package 1 as being the ‘smallest’ element of MRVP. While it might not include the maximum passenger capacity, it could still be 2+2+role equipment. Also, one of the drivers of vehicle growth (eg, CVRT to SV, or WMIK LR to Jackal) has been an increase in the requirement for unsupported operation, ie range and how many sandwiches and how much pop can be carried to sustain the crew – a little patrol vehicle won’t necessarily fit the scenarios drawn up by the Ministry.

You could also consider that JLTV or other options being looked at might cause some displacement, and some number of existing vehicles, like the Foxhound PPV or Panther CLV, could be bumped sideways into new roles that only require a smaller / lighter vehicle.

The Other Nick
The Other Nick
June 20, 2016 12:07 pm

Buy American, off piste Buy French. “Argentina Negotiates with France to Buy 12 Combat Aircraft; Defense Minister Julio Martinez Met with his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian.
PARIS — Argentina is negotiating with France to purchase 12 Mirage F-1 combat aircraft, and possibly Mirage 2000s, as well as engines to equip the twenty Pucarás that are currently grounded, Argentine Defense Minister Julio Martinez told La Nacion. June 14th.”

June 20, 2016 1:01 pm

Mirage F1 aircraft are aged of 43 years, I am against this sale of course, but nothing is done, all depends on the statements of the Argentine Ministry of Defence. This man also said that the United States proposed F-16 but too expensive for the Argentine budget. It would be necessary that the British Government exert pressure against the French government to stop the sale. But anyway this purchase concerns only twelve old aircraft.

The Other Chris
June 20, 2016 2:07 pm

Argentina have the right to police their *own* skies and AOI.

If relationships were better they would probably be surprised to find the UK quite amenable to assisting with with performing a Baltic Air Patrol style role on Argentina’s behalf while they recover their Air Force, or even with releasing technology such as Gripen. The UK has even underwritten purchases for friendly nations on several recent occasions to help them procure equipment.

What I would like to see avoided are Russian/Chinese strike aircraft and bombers supplied to them, as has been suggested over the last couple of years in the press. I’d much rather they enter a FMS deal with a UK ally such as France, Israel or the US.

June 20, 2016 3:04 pm

“Argentina Negotiates with France to Buy 12 Combat Aircraft”

What, again?

June 20, 2016 4:56 pm

No, no, no TAS, that one was the Israelis. Or did you mean the one before that, which was Chinese, or the one before-before that which was the Swedish, or the one before-before-before that which was Chinese again. Or the one before-before-before-before that which finally was French?


You get the general idea.
Economy first. Equipment later. No budget, don’t even begin to bother looking. Window shopping maybe but no money, no talk. Which shows the terrible state of the Argentinian economy (or at least government funding), when even the most basic of self defence tasks are pushed down the road until the breaking point of equipment.

The only thing really saving Argentina from an invasion is the modern political climate is extremely against border change. If this was the 1800s-1950s, they would have had chunks bitten off them already. Which is also why they can make provocative statements and not expect the UK to sock them in the nose for it. Worldwide PR is against it.

stephen duckworth
June 20, 2016 11:15 pm

The Argentinans need to sort their economy out first and foremost no doubt. The country is absolutely vast (over 10 times larger than the UK) with tremendous natural resources and agricultural potential. For instance they have World’s third largest deposits of shale oil and gas but have so messed about the oil companies there is little interest in developing the billion barrel field (especially with prices so depressed) . Fix the economy by letting businesses have freedom and give cast iron guarantees from being randomly nationalized as has effected so business confidence.
For a Nation that independantly developed its own nuclear power stations (they are still developing the reactor plant for Brazils indegeous built SSN’s with funding from Brazil) and had a progressive aircraft industry its in a sorry state.
In terms of border incursions they just have to cry ‘foul’ to the UN and a multinational force will turn up , probably with UK forces being the first to arrive courtesy of a Voyager and C-17 lift from Mount Pleasent Airbase ;-)

Peter Elliott
June 23, 2016 11:26 am

Interesting link that suggests the AH64E remanufacture will be carried out by Boeing but in Yeovil.

Sounds like a messy and expensive political fudge to me!

Brian Black
Brian Black
June 23, 2016 7:56 pm

Peter, the Apache article does not live up to the misleading header. Earlier articles from which content has been taken also do not support that header.

The story is that Boeing will take over UK Apache production from Yeovil-based Leonardo. The article header arbitrarily adds an entirely unsupported “…in the UK” claim to what is otherwise not new news.

The Boeing spokesman is quoted as saying that future contracts will be supported in the UK – not that production will take place in the UK. This is also not new news; support contracts have already been offered up as a sop to the UK and workers against the loss of UK Apache production.

Elsewhere in the article, it mentions the old news that the UK had previously explored the option of overhauling its choppers, and that the current choice is for new aircraft tacked onto a US Army order.

What might turn out to be good news for the folks in Yeovil (and this is just uninformed pondering) is if Boeing setting up Apache support facilities in England then leads to other European Apache operators using those facilities. That could be why the UK is getting such an apparently good deal on the new helicopters – that Boeing want to create a European support hub in a country that is one of the main Apache operators, and kicking the Italians out of Yeovil is the first step.

Peter Elliott
June 23, 2016 8:39 pm

Thanks BB that makes a whole lot more sense. Guess we have to wait for the announcement for definitive proof.

Peter Elliott
June 23, 2016 9:24 pm

Just a thought but who now owns the IP to the AW609..? If we are getting into bed with Boeing is there any chance of getting AW609 developed for military applications? Or will they still insist it stays in the long grass to protect the market for their FVL offerings …?

June 23, 2016 9:45 pm

flightglobal has an item “Airbus studying manned successor for German Tornados”. The illustration looks a bit like a scaled down, 2 seat F-22 alike. For the post 2030 period. Using bits from the Eurofighter Typhoon, to reduce costs & speed development. If it turns into a real project, should the UK join in?

June 27, 2016 4:00 pm

The RAF needs ANOTHER Tornado replacement? Got two already.

The Other Chris
June 27, 2016 4:30 pm

As long as the new Tornado Replacement is Victor or Vulcan sized with twice their range, we’ll be golden.

June 27, 2016 4:44 pm

If the Americans end up, post 2025, with only the F-35 in production ( single seat, single engine), then for Europe to build a twin seat, twin engine, more aimed at longer range strike, makes sense for the Western alliance as a whole.

stephen duckworth
June 27, 2016 9:35 pm

A European long range , high payload ,twin seat, twin engined semi-lo observable bomber/tanker ( for true lo-observable ala B2/21 your costs are crazy ) is needed long term . At least a joint feasibility study with the usual suspects to sooth some bruised feelings might go a long way.
The US gov has ordered an investigation in to restarting F-22 production so a twin engined stealth fighter bomber in manufacturing is a ,all be it slim possibility.

Jeremy M H
June 27, 2016 11:49 pm

Regarding future twin engine developments…

The F-22 thing is a non-starter and everyone in the industrial base knows it for a variety of reasons. However I believe the line on when whatever follows the F-22 starts is now much more blurry and likely much sooner than it was 3-5 years ago. There seems to be a broad belief the engines necessary for a leap forward will be ready in a predictable timeline and that lets more detailed work begin.

What I expect is something substantially heavier than the F-22 carrying a fuel fraction much closer to that carried by the F-35 as well as being able to carry heavier strike weapons.

The key to doing this and still having pretty high end kinematics and range is going to be the next generation of engines. Where exactly does Europe stand on building such an engine?

That is really kind of the key to everything. Being stealthy enough for stealth to matter demands internal weapons and fuel carriage which drives the size of the
airframe. If you don’t do those things you honestly might as well not bother with low observable at all, which means you are building a standoff platform really.

Europe needs a 30/50,000 pound engine (base, reheat) for such a platform. Development of that takes a very long time. As far as I can tell it hasn’t started. Without such an engine your options seem to be airliner with standoff weapons or designing something ultra stealthy which will be just as expensive.

Peter Elliott
June 28, 2016 10:32 am

The “post F22” or F/A XX or whatever you choose to call it looks like a programme that has to happen eventually. Industrially and politically as well as militarily. Boeing will be lobbying pretty hard for it no doubt.

As such it also looks the default choice for the UK’s eventual Typhoon replacement. But only if Uncle Sam let’s anyone else buy in at all. Realistically what do we have to offer that would let us in? It’s not like the F35B programme where we actually brought valuable technical things to the table. So we may be a bit more stuffed this time :/

No reason in theory why UK, France, Sweden, Germany etc couldn’t run a similar programme of their own if they chose. But as JMH rightly points out ‘we’ need to get cracking and spend the cash if we want a operational capability even by 2040. And there’s a distinct lack of European Spirit around at the moment, hence the rather ambivalent ‘we’ ! Maybe if the Anglo-French Taranis/nEuron actually happens a manned fighter-bomber will come after. Or maybe not.

I’ve thought for a while that a cheap and cheerful airliner based standoff bomber would be a great way to leverage the West’s considerable investment in advanced missiles. It’s no B21 but then if you have decent Fighter-Bombers do you also really need penetrative Heavy Bombers? Since ditching the “V” Bombers the UK answer has been no. But the ability to go a few thousand miles through safe airspace and then fire off a big salvo of cruise missiles from beyond SAM range is attractive. And if you’ve got a big radar and a few Meteor on board you’ve at least a fair chance against any ‘leakers’ from the red A2A team.

The obvious candidate already exists in the form of P8A. And I guess you could upscale it by replacing the ISTAR consoles with some sort of carousel in the cabin to feed additional weapons into the release bay in the hold. Reload in flight if you like.

Airbus have shown no inclination to enter the weaponised airliner market. Badly bitten by the A400M farago I fear. It will be interesting if an A320 candidate gets offered for the forthcoming Norwegian ASW-MPA competition but somehow I doubt it. Shame because it’s an open goal with the increased Russian submarine activity and the proven warfare systems from C295.

June 28, 2016 7:53 pm

Well assuming we do a deal of some sort with Europe & the UK stays together, then UK combat jets, post 2030, could be RN FAA 70x F-35B for QE/PoW, RAF 70x F-35A QRA/CAS & then 70x Airbus Typhoon bits/F-22 alike, 2 seat, twin engine, strike stealth jet. As for engine, the EJ200 is just over 20000lb now, can be upgraded to 23000 or 27000lb. At the moment it has a bypass ratio of 0.4 to 1. Ages ago, I read you can still get a supersonic engine with a bypass of 0.7 to 1. As this Tornado replacement is more strike than interceptor, then a bypass ratio of 0.7 to 1 seems sensible. Better range, lower noise & heat emissions .
Or going without Germany, a full size version of the NASA/Cranfield X-48B blended wing body. Would make a great bomber/MPA/Intel aircraft.

The Other Nick
The Other Nick
June 29, 2016 11:05 am

Re new aircraft, an interesting article on AI (Artificial Intelligence) which is coming of age. Claiming it can out think any human combat pilot using a £30 Raspberry Pi.
“The key to the software is the use of a “Genetic Fuzzy Tree” algorithm, which breaks down complex decisions into simpler if/then scenarios and narrows down the possible choices very quickly. The code then works through its plans 250 times faster than a human can blink.
The US Air Force is very keen on developing computers that can take human pilots out of the loop. Not only are good pilots hard to find, but they take years to train properly and the life-support systems needed to keep a human alive in the air add significant weight to fighter aircraft.”

Do think a large pinch of salt required on the above paragraph but undoubtedly a sign of the times.

July 8, 2016 9:18 pm

Flighglobal is reporting that the RAF is looking at a mixed fleet of its 138 F-35, with some CTOL versions to go along with the VTOL.

The Other Chris
July 8, 2016 10:16 pm

Idiocy and silo-mentality rears its ugly head again.

The last time we let the RAF/RN buy two smaller, mixed variant, fleets that clearly went so well and we didn’t have to sell Harriers off for scrap before their end of life at all…

Why do we think 70 A’s is going to be long-lived and sustained combat fleet? Why do we think 70 B’s are going to be dominating carrier strike in 30 years?

Said it before, F-35A hamstrings the RN and hurts the UK and also risks losing both sub fleets F-35B does not hamstring the RAF and gains us a sizeable and sustainable fleet that will likely be around for decades.

The Other Chris
July 8, 2016 10:22 pm

What sounds scarier to an opposition planner?

A) Squadrons backed by 138 aircraft in sustainment that can show up anywhere in the world packing a full inventory

B) Squadrons backed by 70 aircraft aircraft in sustainment that didn’t receive investment because the other fleet got it this year while the other 70 are off doing their thing.

July 8, 2016 10:32 pm

@ Peter Elliott

Norway is not a big enough customer to make the investment worthwhile in developing an a320 MPA/ASW. Frankly Airbus are going to be hard pressed to find any customer wanting an ASW/MPA type in that class large enough to make the exercise worthwhile. If a few European nations like Germany, France and Italy combined their replacement programs correctly then it is possible but the P8A will be established in the market.

Operating off a conventional runway and using tanker support F35B can offer reasonable range and payload capability. More than enough to make buying the F35A not overly worth it when balanced against the problem of Fleets within fleets.

Also we must not get into this idea that it is x amount of F35B for the RAF and x Amount for the FAA. Some will be painted in RAF markings and some in FAA for history’s sake and to put bluntly photo opportunities but in reality they will operate from the same base in a common pool. Not unlike how the test and evaluation units currently operate in the US. The RAF and FAA pilots when flying will be allocated a serviceable airframe on the day, which branch of the UK armed forces the markings on that airframe will have will be academic and immaterial.

July 9, 2016 8:32 am

The RAF has no role for the F-35B. The F-35A can do higher G turns & has an internal gun + longer range, so is better than the B for QRA.
For strike missions, the A can carry bigger weapons internally, has a greater combat radius & costs less.
Lets not forget, more of our allies will be buying A rather than B. In coalition operations, it may be easier to support A.
F-35B only makes sense on QE/PoW in FAA colours.
A 50/50 split of F-35A/B for the UK, makes sense to me.

Peter Elliott
July 9, 2016 9:21 am

JH – it depends what role requirement you are buying against.

The UK QRA Fighter out to 2040 will be Typhoon so we are simply not shopping for QRA at the moment. QRA also crudely has two componants: visiual intercept of suspect civilian traffic, which could be perfromed by just about any supersonic military jet, and air superiority against attack by a determined enemy, for which no form of F35 will be suitable in comparison to Typhoon. The requirement for a replacement QRA fighter after 2040 will likely have a kinematic specification that can be met only by either a new Anglo-French design or by whatever the Americans build to supplement and ultimately replace F-22.

The F35B is being procured against a requirement for strike into defended territory, essentially a Tornado replacement. It is likely that future UK weapons procured through the SPEAR programme will be tailored to the F35B airframe. It is in any case UK practice to carry smaller bomb loads that the US on such missions. The manned strike of F35B will also be supplemented by the ‘Taranis/nEuron’ FCAS which will give additional capacity to “truck” heavy munitions into defended space.

So all in all I don’t see a realistic UK requirment for F35A. Which won’t stop some people calling for them of course!

July 9, 2016 11:03 am

On the Norwegian mpa Airbus has stated in the past that 25 a/c is their go point for an mpa variant of a320. However I suspect that the Saab sword mpa will be a high contender. The aircraft with exterior configuration is now flying and would be available in there time frame, you simply don’t need something as big as an a320 for mpa.

If your buying 138 f35 it will be this countries only manned jet as orders for the balance would likely be in the 2030-2040 time frame. The a version is better suited to qra it is cheaper but in the strike role (if your still using manned aircraft for that) can operate further from the tanker this is beneficial as it keeps your HVA (tanker) further from the enemy. Also we are never ever deploying more than 48 f35bs even in the most dire emergency that meant sending 2 carriers as there would be a need to carry lots of helicopters too.

July 9, 2016 11:16 am

As PE said Typhoon is our main QRA type and will be for decades, that saying our F-35B will be a more flexible type and will be used for carrier defence. It has a world beating sensor combination and will be getting modern Air to Air missiles. The main thing it will lack is an internal gun but that can be remedied with a gun pod. The F-35B will be used for carrier defence and with a decent missile fit won’t be anything to sniff at in that role.

I certainly think it would be worthwhile experimenting with QRA using the B just to see what is on the table. Using a standard runway and drop tanks plus tanker support the B is a supersonic type so could do it.

Only reason to get A is if we start drawing back the Typhoon fleet, the price will be commonality within the B fleet.

Also again the obsession with B only being in FAA colours is all very well but I would cast your mind back to what happened with the Sea Harrier. A unique type that didn’t get further upgrades making it vulnerable to the axe. A common pool of F-35B keeps the FAA in fast jets with a type that can’t have its funding cut because it is a unique sub fleet.

July 9, 2016 11:45 am

138 F-35B for UK plc at a time of austerity & great gaps elsewhere in defence. Really? Is this wise?
Worse case scenario, you need 70 F-35B for the carriers. Why buy more than that? Any role the RAF would undertake, is better done by F-35A/C/E or Typhoon, or B-21, or this Airbus, stealthy, son of Tornado proposal.
Our pressing need is for the carriers, so the 70 F-35B would be bought first. The F-35A would come later, when the Tranche 1 Typhoons go out of service.
You have to spread the cost, or UK total F-35 purchase, may never get above 48 F-35B.

July 9, 2016 12:25 pm

The F-35 is not an air superiority aircraft, I don’t see the utility to buy 138 F-35, if it is for replace the Typhoons ultimately, this is a bad choice. It is my humble opinion.

July 9, 2016 12:36 pm

“Our pressing need is for the carriers”

Forgetting Tornado here so carriers are not the only pressing need.

138 is the through life procurement figure, it looks like we are taking a page out of the American book and staggering batch procurement. We will be buying smaller batches up to that eventual buy figure.

Is the F-35A cheaper than the F-35B but balanced over the entire program life and taken against the savings of fleet commonality it is not so clear. Again you are getting into the trap of seeing them as a finite RAF or FAA resource rather than a common pool of aircraft. Carrier operations will put more stress and general wear onto the airframes exacerbated by the salt exposure. By splitting the buy into 70 B for the FAA and 70 A for the RAF you end up with the former fleet eating through their life quicker. Having a common pool spreads the life around.

The UK is never getting the B-21 drop that idea form your mind and Airbus son of Tornado is a distant nebulous concept. Anyway we are planning on a UCAV supplementing F-35B and Typhoon for the penetration strike role. Germany is interested in son of Tornado because they are not signed up for F-35. Personally I don’t think it will go anywhere serious, their only potential partner is France. Italy and the UK are going for F-35 and Spain will go for the F-35 eventually if they want to stay in the carrier game. On a side note and before anybody jumps on me about it yes Italy is going for a mixed buy with A as a Tornado replacement and B for their navy so playing devils advocate there is a precedence for what you are suggesting. That is Italy’s decision and we see how it works out for them. My gut feeling that after a few years of studies and not particularly getting anywhere serious Germany will buy the F-35.

F-35B operating off a standard runway with internal fuel has a performance that is not that far away from Tornado (some areas superior) but it has stealth and vastly superior sensors and situational awareness. Throw in tanker support and the F-35B is a more than adequate Tornado replacement with the added advantage that we can put it on the carriers if so needed.

July 9, 2016 12:42 pm

But what makes an air superiority aircraft these days? It will get ASRAAM, AMRAAM and more than likely METEOR same as Typhoon. The B lacks an internal gun but it can carry a gun-pod. It is supersonic and can flight refuel off a tanker. Most importantly it has once of the most advanced radars and sensors fits in the world and a HMD giving high situational awareness.

An opponent not to be taken lightly.

July 9, 2016 1:37 pm

Fed. F-35B for replacing Tornado in the medium/long range strike role, is so bad, it is laughable. It has what, half the combat radius of a Tornado, at a time when we could do with something with more range, not less? Stealth is only if you use the tiny internal bays. Paying a lot for STOVL that the RAF will never use.
I agree that B-21 for the RAF is unlikely, but so was Britain voting to leave the EU. We live in interesting times (perhaps too interesting?).
The Airbus stealthy son of Tornado, is also unlikely, but could be jumped on by politicians trying to pull Europe together, post BREXIT. In other words, the situation is so fluid, I would not want to say for certain, what will & will not go forward.
The MoD has a long history of failing to update good aircraft & retiring them before their time. No reason to think F-35 will be any different.

July 9, 2016 2:07 pm

Put the wing tanks on and ditch them prior to penetrating enemy airspace and don’t forget those lovely long range Voyager tankers to support them. Yes they are smaller weapons bays but it does boil down to what you put in them. Lets also not forget the RAF is keen on a combat UCAV to do serious deep penetration strike. The F-35B will be more a Swiss Army Knife solution that can be pressed into multiple roles whilst the Stealthy UCAV will go deep into enemy territory and lets not forget that we have Cruise Missiles a capability I don’t see us dropping.

Multi role Typhoon and F-35B bring much more to the table when it comes to capabilities, the deep penetration strike role is better served by the UCAV and Cruise Missiles. So in many ways I don’t see a particular need for a direct manned replacement for Tornado, Typhoon and F-35B can perform the role amongst their other ones albeit with some limitations but UCAV and Cruise missiles might well be the best solution for going deep into enemy territory.

If the UK with France can develop a UCAV that can carry lots, a long way and is able to refuel off a tanker and talk to Typhoon and F-35B or any other platforms we have then I think we are on the money really.

El Sid
El Sid
July 9, 2016 2:34 pm

We’re not replacing Typhoon for a while – the RAF’s F-35’s are replacing Tornado. And even then it’s not a 1:1 role replacement. The Typhoons will get replaced without our equivalent of F/A-XX/NGAD – which may well be multiple systems, with unmanned wingmen or whatever. But F-35 is fightery enough for the purposes of a country whose recent fighters have included the Tornado F3 and the Phantom. Think of the F-35 as a modern-day Phantom and you won’t be too far off.

There’s been a lot of nonsense written about the F-35 in relation to unarmed F-16’s, when in many respects it’s more like a F/A-18 :

Before condemning the F-35 as a fighter, you might also want to read this series of articles :

and this account :

July 9, 2016 4:25 pm

If the RAF wants a short term solution to replacing the Tornado GR4, then giving its tranche 3 Typhoons conformal tanks + replacing the 1500 litre drop tanks with the 2000 litre versions, would give the range.
Beyond that, there are multiple options. However, I still think 138 F-35B is mad. I cannot see the Treasury funding it. They may fund enough for the carriers, but no more.
If the UK is to honour its 138 promise, then the balance needs to be made up with cheaper, conventional, more capable F-35A. (Or longer range F-35E in the strike role, if it ever gets built).

July 9, 2016 4:48 pm

There is an interesting article at defensenews about the RAF looking at a mixed F-35A/B fleet.
At defenseindustrydaily there is an article about how the Chilean ex RN T23 frigates are being retrofitted with Mk 41 VLS & evolved SeaSparrow.

July 9, 2016 5:19 pm

The UK is not buying 138 F-35B all at once this has been explained before and confirmed by the MOD.

The 138 figure will be spread out over many years and batches. So it is not madness, arguably it is a good idea as it avoids Block obsolescence.

Spread out the disadvantages of buying a mixed fleet start to present themselves.

July 9, 2016 5:30 pm

Thank you for these links El Sid, this gives me another image of the F-35 :)

Since the subject is to talk of US military equipment purchases, talk about the post-Rafale and post-Typhoon, this project is far but one thing is sure, develop a new aircraft will be expensive.

Also, for what concerns us a fighter aircraft of the years 2040/2050, which presumably will operate alongside stealth drones to form an air combat system, could be the result of a European collaboration.

The fighter aircraft of the future will be European if the Europeans agree on a common strategic need. Without common strategic need, there can be no definite program.

And indeed, the definition of these common strategic needs always turns out complicated to find because at the base, there are real differences in operational requirements. It was necessary to France to have an aircraft able to lead nuclear missions and to be implemented from an aircraft carrier. Also, it will be difficult to put all the European countries agreed on developing a new aircraft.

So it is not excluded that France alone develops its future combat aircraft, which would be a pity and would be very expensive. And many other European countries will buy American aircraft, it would be sad and we could lose a strategic know-how.

Peter Elliott
July 9, 2016 5:56 pm


Is it certain that the French will be operating a 40,000T Carrier in 2050? There is for sure the opportunity to specify a heavier plane and then design a suitable large ship to go with it.

July 9, 2016 7:14 pm

It is not excluded that a second aircraft carrier will be built in the near future. Indeed in the project of the Conservative Party I read that Nicolas Sarkozy is proposing to increase the defense budget to reach 35 billion euros in 2018 and 41 billion in 2022, and so ordered an aircraft carrier , frigates, and advancing the delivery of military equipment of three years. It’s election promises but it’s better than nothing.

July 10, 2016 6:49 am

How is this for timing!?

UK Air Force Mulls F-35A Benefits as US Jets Visit England

‘British F-35 officials at the show confirmed there is interest in the conventional takeoff version and that the issue could start to be addressed as soon as the next strategic defence and security review (SDSR), currently scheduled for 2020.

“What we will do as we go forward into the next SDSR is look at the force mix,” said Air Commodore Linc Taylor, the Royal Air Force officer responsible for delivery of the British F-35 program.’

Peter Elliott
July 10, 2016 7:25 am

DN – Its circular. This was the article and the quote that (re)started the discussion.

And to be honest its just warbling. He may only have said it becuase a journalist led him to the subject and put the question. In which case “leave it util the SDSR” is as good a way of batting it away as any. Of course they’ll look into it at the next SDSR, thats what SDSR are for, but it seems pretty unlikely.

July 10, 2016 8:39 am

@PE “In which case “leave it util the SDSR” is as good a way of batting it away as any.”

And kicking the can down the road one SDSR at a time also gives more time to watch how it works out for the Italians, and the USA for that matter. OK, all the US F-35A/B/C sub fleets will be big but as the program evolves there might be some pressure to incrementally improve commonality between the variants and pressure from the US is more likely to be listened to than pressure from the Italians simply due to buying power. Also, the US military aren’t stupid so I would expect that they will be doing everything they can to optimise (cost reduce) multi-fleet operations by developing and fine-tuning logistics and procedures.

Brian Black
Brian Black
July 10, 2016 9:12 am

While you would expect the MoD to look at the possible make up of the Lightning fleet at the 2020 review (that’s what defence reviews are for), the MoD will surely need real-life data from the 2020-25 period to inform any decision on the F35A. That’s when the carriers will be operational, and there’ll be a better idea of how they’ll be used and with what aircraft packages.

There are benefits to the A model. While PavewayIV and Brimstone might be bread & butter weapons for the RAF, heavier weapons are in service, and larger weapons bays could be useful.

F35B range issues shouldn’t be dismissed as adequate against Tornado. It is generally desirable to seek improvements over time. External tanks and Voyager only extend range outside of the threat zone. Also, jettison tanks are not routinely jettisoned; the ability to drop external tanks is a contingency, not standard operation – so folks are making incorrect assumptions if they pull out their pencil and start totting up notional ranges based on routinely throwing away a pair of fuel tanks during every sortie.

The need for an F35B-only fleet on grounds of commonality is being overstated. They are variants of the same aircraft. A lot of the training and support will be common to both A and B, avionics and mechanical parts will be shared or similar, with the exception of not having to support the lift fan and associated parts except on the number of aircraft essential for STOVL carrier operation. It could easily be cheaper over the lifetime to operate both types.

The 9G and 7G ratings of the A and B models is also relevant. Just because recent bombing operations haven’t faced a credible air threat, that shouldn’t be assumed to be the case in the future. Crews may face more complex threat scenarios than they have in recent wars.

July 10, 2016 9:40 pm

Flightglobal reporting from the Farnborough Airshow, says Pratt & Whitney is offering the block 1engine upgrade for F-35 from 2019 (though they won’t enter service until 2023). Should give 5 to 7% better fuel economy + 10% extra thrust. OK for F-35A, but the lift fan would also need upgrading, if block 1 is to be used on F-35B.
There is also mention of the extra airstream version for the future. 20% better fuel economy (if they can get it to fit).

July 10, 2016 10:02 pm

Defensenews says the UK Laser demonstrator has gone to the MBDA Dragonfire, although official confirmation will come “soon”.