It’s no secret that the F-35 has had severe cost and schedule issues.

The F-35 programme has gone through serious teething problems, problems also experienced by the majority of complex aircraft flying today such as the F-15, Typhoon or any other modern combat jet.

The biggest issue for the project continues to be the fact it is the most expensive military weapons system in history owing to the sheer scope of the programme but that being said, aircraft costs are now coming down and will soon be similar to the cost of many aircraft it’s replacing.

Today the programme is maturing rapidly, right now much of the activity around the jet is dealing with software bugs and testing to validate the software, with most of the physical testing being to do with weapons integration and the gradual scaling up of capabilities that comes with each new software block.

The jet is a quantum leap in capability, able to give the pilot as much information as only theatre commanders have previously had. While the primary value of the jet is in its sensor and networking capabilities, it is also valuable in that it’s able to perform many tasks designed to increase the lethality of not only itself but other assets, such tasks include the ability to co-ordinate small fleets of unmanned combat aircraft, guide weapons launched from other platforms (even warships), launch a wide-range of its own weapons and use it’s own radar to conduct electronic attacks.

A key element of 21st century air power is clearly working and smoothly implemented coalition operations, the F-35 provides a unique integrated air combat capability whereby coalitions of joint or allied F-35s can be supported in common. The F-35 was designed from the outset to bring these capabilities while also being interoperable across a coalition of air power.

Two networks are core to this operability: the Link-16 and the new Multi-Function Advanced Datalink (MADL). These systems allow the F-35 to communicate with nearly all current and future NATO assets.

Link-16 is currently utilised by most existing platforms fielded by NATO members and will allow F-35 to integrate seamlessly into a coalition force structure.

MADL will complement the current networks as NATO’s first high bandwidth, low probability of detect and intercept connection. The fundamental design features of MADL enable all NATO F-35s in a deployed coalition to communicate within an Anti-Access/Area Denial environment.

The potential for cooperation between the United Kingdom and coalition forces all using the F-35 variants is significant, in terms of coalition warfare the F-35 further increases the situational awareness of all parties to a greater extent than anything flying today, resulting in a quantum leap in capability for coalition forces.

Such is the aircrafts sensor and data fusion capabilities, a small number of F-35s could provide the UK and her coalition allies with situational awareness within defended airspace where platforms such as E-3 AWACS and E-8 JSTARS would be unable to operate.

F-35s could find and designate priority targets within defended airspace for a less stealthy fleet to attack from a relatively safe distance, further enhancing coalition capability.

The F-35s value is not only in its stealth or combat capability, it’s also in the flying sensor network it creates in the battle space.

The ability of the F-35 to drastically improve the combat capability of other assets was demonstrated recently when an F-35 and Aegis Weapon System worked together during a live fire exercise, with the F-35 passing sensor data to another platform which then engaged the target.

The exercise was the first live fire missile event that successfully demonstrated the integration of the F-35 to support Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air and represent a very promising exploration into the interoperability of the F-35 with other naval assets.

It is my opinion that the F-35 will drastically increase the situational awareness and combat capabilities of the forces with which it will deploy and for the UK, where numbers may be a concern, it represents a fantastic way to enhance combat capability in any coalition or national effort.

There is no denying that jet is overbudget and behind schedule compared to original estimates but an incredibly capable platform is emerging and one that I believe will shape the future of air combat.

65 COMMENTS

  1. Once the carrier consignment, training, plus reserve is established, it’s anyone’s guess how many will be eventually ordered?

  2. There are rumblings the Treasury are only commited to buy 48 F35B and then want to switch to the F35A.
    Remember the Treasury has form with doing this with defence programs in promising X and only paying for Y and changing to Z for short term savings .
    Look at the type 45 programme, order 12 then 10 then 8 and finally 6 to save money but still ended up spending £6 billion on 6 ships because they lengthen the build times .
    But if they have kept the original order plan the cost was £6 billion but over shorter build time.

  3. I think we should have:
    1x training squadron of 12 – land based
    3x squadrons of 12 for QE – 24 of which are permanently stationed on it.
    1x squadron of 12 for PoW – permanently stationed
    This equals 60 F35b which should all belong to RN. The training squadron can then be used to surge PoW if both carriers are needed, but not likely.
    The RAF should then get 3-4 Squadrons of F35a after, or wait out for Tempest with a few extra typhoons while they wait. That way, we could invest the money saved on strengthening our helicopter fleets, and maybe some tilt rotors if suitable.

  4. I do not believe 138 will be ordered. The number is meaningless like the original Typhoon requirement for 250.

    F35A is fine by me AS LONG as sufficient B have been procured otherwise we are not maximising our investment in the QEC.

    As long as we have sufficient to surge 1 Carrier and have some on the other if needed in war.
    80 – 90 odd of the B.

    I agree they should belong to the Royal Navy.

    I would rather we save some of that money and use it to prevent other parts of the armed forces being further salami sliced in endless cuts.

    I predict more cuts in the upcoming MDP which will be offset by numerous Carrots of headline grabbing equipment – Boxer – F35 – Wedgetail, as possible examples, and things like Protector which already ordered could be re announced, they like doing that.

    Previous SDSR did similar by announcing “Strike Brigades” as the diversion for what was actually happening to the British Army in creating them – cuts.

  5. (Chris H) I never understand why people proffer the F-35A version as having any value for the UK. It has no more sensor / suppression capabilities than a B, marginally more loiter time, no more weapon capabilities and for this we give up STOVL for the RAF and buy aircraft far less capable as bomb trucks than a Typhoon? And I set aside whatever Tempest may or may not offer.

    From the way some comments have been phrased it seems more like “We can’t have RAF on carriers so give them something they don’t need”. Which then means of course FAA crews and aircraft will have to be attached to RAF squadrons to carry out CAS, ground attack and landings on unprepared sites close to the Front Line. Operations for which the Harrier was initially designed (before being adopted by the FAA). Thus reducing the capabilities on board their carriers?

    As I said the logic totally defeats me

    • Hi,

      Yes you are quite correct we do not need F35A. It has more fuel, an internal gun anf a 9G limit. However these do not make up for missing out on VSTOL and having type uniformity and the ability to put any of our F35s on a carrier. Let the F35s spot for Typhoons and let a propper air defence fighter do its job.

      Rob

    • Yep the true Marvel of the Elisabeth’s paired with the 35b is that in theory every RAF f35 pilot can be quickly qualified and deployed from a carrier. This allows us have an option to put more carrier deployed aircraft into a theatre than any other nation on earth baring the US.

      Even ignoring the potential of generating the second biggest carrier airwing in the world on short notice, the ability of the F35b to deploy on short civilian airfields or even from some temporary position is strategically huge.

      It’s bizarre to me that people see a very marginal tactical advantage in range outweighing what could be a war winning strategic advantage in deployment options.

      • This very strategy – the deployment of RAF pilots and aircraft to the carriers – was absolutely key to UK success in the Falklands, against an Argentine air force with a greater number of theoretically superior aircraft.
        Another lesson from the Falklands- VSTOL aircraft are superb in a dogfight, due to the ability to ‘slam on the brakes’ forcing a faster persuer to overtake whence they can be shot down from behind.
        Headline performance figures are just that and have little to do with real world combat performance

    • Hi Chris.

      Your points raise lots if questions for me.

      I think for me it’s about costs and maximising numbers for those costs. A bit like the ongoing debate on the worth of the T31. I’m in the let’s expand numbers camp by using cheaper assets alongside the high end.

      The quantity vs quality gremlins keeps coming back, we have too few assets.

      I could expand with some questions.

      I believe the A is cheaper and longer ranged?

      Would we be using our F35 in a CAS role at all? Would they not be busy protecting the fleet in conjunction with Crowsnest or carrying out Strikes to be used loitering over eastern Europe in a new cold war turned hot with Russia scenario?

      Would there be extra costs incurred with logistics? Do the B and A differ enough to create extra costs in operating two types negating any saving?

      Would say a 80 90 B and 30 A buy, enable the saving to be made. To be used elsewhere? To mitigate other cuts?

      Would the A not be used in a SEAD role with it’s Stealth leaving Typhoon for follow up? As you say Typhoon is capable in that regard.

      Which leads me to ask. Is the low level role of the Tornado still relevant today? Even with Stealth? Our pilots still practise it. If so, how do the F35 and the Typhoon compare at low level? Tornado was designed for it.

      Would we need something other than Typhoon for this?
      Rumour is the RAF are interested. Is their interest real or as some would claim purely inter service rivalries?

      As for CAS and use from prepared sites I think you mean GR3 ops from Gutersloh and german forests in the Cold War. Would that be necessary now with Apache? Will we ever be using our limited number of F35B in roles from austere bases like that?

      Could the loitering munitions the Royal Artillery keep trying, and failing, to aquire be used for even less cost?

      In fact, would it not be cheaper and more cost effective to place a renewed emphasis on artillery to provide the fire support than expensive aircraft?

      And what flies off the carriers in the meantime? I don’t follow your point that the need to use FAA aircraft and crews means we reduce the capability of the carriers by assisting the RAF in support of the army. I think we would have too few assets to send in any case and the 35B we do buy will be wedded to the carriers.

      I guess my multitude of questions boil down to, what exactly do we plan to be the 35s primary role? It was meant to replace the capability provided by Harrier and is in effect replacing Tornado too, which was not the original plan as the Air Staff had the FOAS requirement.

      • Hi Daniele, my suspicion with a small buy of F35As would be that any capital saving from slightly cheaper unit cost would be quickly eaten by all the costs associated with having another platform (parts and training pipelines), unfortunately it’s my understanding that the A and B just don’t have the commonality that would eliminate the on costs associated with two platforms.

        So economically it’s one or other and as we have the Carriers we should focus on the Bs.

        In regards to the comment from Chris on FAA pilots and planes being stripped to do CAS, I would suggest he was Thinking that if we only have F35Bs in the FAA and the RAF does not get VTOL and ends up chained to runways, you could see the FAA covering all the deployments without 10k feet of handy runway avaliable in the region (which would probably end up being the case).

        • Thank you Jonathan.

          Interesting re costs A and B. If that is true it the case then I’m in agreement maximising the B.

          As for your explanation of Chris point I would say as long as someone covers it I don’t see the problem and it’s service rivalries again. That is one of the many flexibilities of a carrier.

          I’d also ask how on many deployments have we not had an available runway in the modern era? Given we have Mount Pleasant, Wide awake, Gibraltar, Akrotiri, Deigo Garcia as PJOB and a host of other Middle Eastern runways at our disposal. And in a NATO scenario countless more. Plenty for the RAF to be involved.

          That remark of mine in turn often opens the can if worms as to why the carriers are needed for some, but I’m not going down that road as having the flexibility of a carrier and it’s obvious sea denial ASW role, and “big stick” clout are reason enough for me.

          • (Chris h) Daniele – Can I respond answering your very fair questions with questions (bear with me)?
            Can the A do more than a B once airborne? I suspect not other than marginally more loiter time (assuming the same ferry arrangements for both would be the same).

            Can the B do more than an A in total? As Jonathan points out so well simply because of the B we have been able to build two very capable carriers at some 60% the cost of one US carrier which combined will deliver more aircraft at faster sortie rates over a wider area.

            Does the RAF need another but better Harrier? Most assuredly yes simply because of the range of operations and sorties it can deliver. An A simply cannot deliver that flexibility

            Would the extra logistics, training and restrictions of operating an A be worth it for so few aircraft? I remain unconvinced.

            Can an A make up for less flexibility with higher payload? Well no because it can never compete with a Typhoon in its bomb truck role.

            Can the A + Typhoon do more than a B + Typhoon? No. And to me this is the killer argument.

            Do not think of how the RAF could use the B by looking back to Guttersloh and forest clearings of Harrier days. It is a far more adaptable aircraft and has a bigger multi-role capability. But can you say for sure that we will never ever need to support land troops in Eastern Europe? I wouldn’t want to make that assumption or assume we will only need very locally based Apaches. And if we have so many prepared landing strips as you say then the B can land just the same as an A.

          • Thanks Chris. No doubt the B has the flexibility that’s without question.

            As for costs I really wouldn’t have a clue will be interesting to see developments!

            For me the killer question is if indeed the A, for sake if the debate, is markedly cheaper to procure AND operate ( which remains to be seen) is that worth it in a wider context in saving other assets from the chop? Not simply how good A is compared to B, but wider defence and money matters.

            For me yes. IF indeed there are savings to be made. If not then my point is mute anyway!

          • The F35b maintenance costs are significantly higher that F35s due to maintenance requirements on the lift fan and the damage inflicted on the tyres when it lands. So even if there is less commonality we would still save using a less complex platform. The plan is also for a global maintenance hubs so the f35a will have more commonality with European partners.
            F35a is 30% cheaper out the door and has 30% more internal fuel. Once in the air it can manouver at 9g compared to 5.5g of the F35b the F35b is currently limited to Mach 1.2. The smaller internal bomb bay means F35a can carry Jassam with F35b is limited to lighter shorter range missiles.
            The bomb truck argument for the typhoon is valid in uncontested airspace on day 1 of the conflict it will need to use long range stand off weapons which in the case of Russia may not be long range enough.
            I agree we need to order more F35b to get the full value out of the carriers but if we are going to order 138 there is a strong argument for a split of 72 F35b and 66 f35a

          • (Chris H) BB85 – You make your argument well but I am not convinced.

            You come from a standpoint that seems to say we don’t need as many F-35B versions. That may well be true but if so then we don’t need as many F-35s of any type surely? if we need the 5th Gen capabilities in the numbers suggested then it makes sense to have the version with the most flexible and adaptable capabilities -= The B. And if as you say we do not need the 5th Gen in numbers suggested then we have Typhoon which is and will be the foremost multi-role aircraft for the next 20 years. And when that needs replacing it won’t be with (by then) a 30 / 40 year old F-35 design and why we have started the Tempest concept which will be more a ‘Typhoon II’ than anything else

            The fact an A can turn @ 9G is irrelevant because in an A2A or QRA sortie it would be Typhoons up there which can do that task as well as an A.

            If we need 5th Gen sensors and suppression to allow a Typhoon bomb truck to get closer to contested air space then we have the B. An aircraft that can do many other roles – Carrier strike, CAS, etc which an A cannot do.

            If the other argument is cost then we order fewer B versions and order more Typhoons because an A will never match a Typhoon in any way other than sensor capability. And we can have that with the B when needed

            I come back to my position that if the RAF / FAA need 5th gen capability there is only one type required by the UK – The F-35B.

          • I think we definitely need the numbers I just don’t think the government is willing to spend the money.
            From the sounds of things only one carrier will ever be deployed at a time with 2 two squadrons in peace time which gives us 48, we would then have 1 squadron in reserve or training, and the remaining 12 air frames in maintenance (although that figure is probably far too low so 72 will be cutting it very tight.
            In war time which ever ship is deployed will then carry 3 squadrons.
            In terms of should the RAF consider f35a or f35b if we go beyond 72 and target 138 I really don’t know, I see the advantages and disadvantages of both. By the time they get around to ordering them this next gen Franco/UK cruise missile should be ready in which case would it be better to order several hundred of them at the expense of additional f35 for that much needed day 1 strike capability. Then use the typhoon once the SAM threat has been neutralised.

          • I just don’t think the government will order the full 138. By the sounds of things they only plan to deploy one carrier at a time with 2 squadrons each in peace time which gives us 48.
            That leaves 1 squadron for training with the rest in maintenance. I think the absolute minimum the government will order would be 72 which would be cutting it too fine and put additional wear on the air frames shortening their lifespan. I think the max they will order will be 96 in which case I agree they should all be f35b as 24 f35a does not make up for the loss in flexibility for the RN.
            Only if they ordered 138 would it be worth considering the f35a by which time the franco/british next gen cruise missile should be ready and then there will be a debate about purchasing it in significant numbers at the expense of 3 squadrons of f35. In which case I think I would rather have the cruise missiles for that day 1 strike capability the UK needs.

  6. Invest in Tempest and Taranis, upgrade our entire Typhoon fleet and forget the F35A.

    By the time we have sufficient numbers of them it will be mid to late 20’s at best and past their sell by date well before then.

    America has invested so much money in its development that they cannot allow this project to fail.
    15 December first flight and has only now successfully fired its gun.

    48 is the required number for the RN B variant as I understand it, some of which would be far better spent on installing cats and traps. The F-35C – US Navy variant – is cheaper, has a longer range and greater “throw weight.

    Comments most welcome!

    • I see the 48 as the initial number. Too few to surge a carrier when the OCU maintenance and reserve fleets are included in the number. Jonathan makes the point above in having ready pilots able to expand a carrier wing at short notice. Very useful.

      I think we need more B than that.

      I do not see the QEC having cats and traps any time soon. Not after investing in the B. We could go round in circles for ever over carrier configuration. We went with B for carriers so let’s go all out with B for them.

      • At what point in time can we expect to see 48 F35B on board Daniele in your opinion? and how long would it take and at what cost to install cats and traps?
        Thank you in advance

        • No time soon with only 48 Nigel!

          I believe the Carriers were optimised for 36 B? That’s 3 squadrons of 12. We would need more on top to generate even that. And that in a war scenario so highly unlikely. But possible. But not with 48.

          I have no knowledge on cats and traps other than my readings here from people with infinately more knowledge than me on that subject, so others should comment. HMG government got cold feet at the costs and U turned on the 2010 decision.

          Whatever the cost with the money problems we have I would not want to see that spent on conversions. We cannot deploy conversions! We need assets. And more of them.

    • Nigel, biggest flaw is that keeping a conventional carrier qualified airwing with 48 f35Cs would be difficult and a never ending money pit. We would only ever be able to deploy the crews we have qualified at that time so if we had 24 crews that’s it.

      The F35B has a couple of truly game changing magic abilities:

      It’s quick and easy to carrier qualify a pilot on an F35B and an Elizabeth class. With a fully buy of F35Bs we can simply wave a wand (well put in a few weeks intensive qualifying training programme) and go from 12 deployed F35Bs to having two carrier packed with fifth generation fighters. What’s better the potential of 12-24 f35C’s ( if we are lucky in the qualification training schedule as it takes an effort and age to qualify for cats and traps) or every single F35b we can scrape up within a few weeks (and remember from what it’s captain said Elizabeth could sqeaze in a hell of a lot more that the published 40 cabs).

      The RAF also lose a massive level of strategic mobility if you take way the F35b. The magic ability of the F35B above every other front line fighter in existence (barring a few legacy harriers) is that it’s not chained to 10k feet of concrete. This is huge not just in Strategic mobility/deployability but in how hard a nut the UK would be to crack if we ever faced an existential threat to our existence(we are a small island and it’s easy to target every military runway we have, it’s a major weakness)

      • Installation of Dragonfire, land ceptor, Phalanx, or a combination of these at RAF basis should have been installed to protect our more valuable assets.

        The point i’m trying to make here is, do we invest heavily in an aircraft that will be outdated by 2030 or invest in a solution mid term until Tempest and Taranis arrives?

        It’s a mess I know, but a smarter solution to the problem needs to be found. We will install cats and traps at some point onboard the carriers so why not look at doing this sooner rather than later?

        This opens up the potential for more UK-US and French aircraft to use them in furture joint operations.

        • (Chris H) Nigel – the issue with CATOBAR is not the physical building of the launch tracks or even the wire systems as that is just manufacturing engineering. Indeed they are already passively engineered for this if needed at mid life refit. The issue was (in 2010) and remains the EMALS catapults. They are vastly expensive, unproven and are still in early development. And this is 8 years later. Just look at where the USS Gerald R Ford is now and at what cost ($16 Bn). It was right to look at the option of fewer ‘C’ aircraft to reduce numbers (and cost) but they made the right decision as Jonathan above says so clearly.

          We have made a step change in carrier operations by using the technology in the aircraft to avoid the costs of CATOBAR. This is why the US Navy senior officers have been regular visitors to Rosyth and to QE since she left. I am not worried that the few French Rafale Ms left cannot land on. We can however land on USMC Harriers, F-35Bs and V-22 Ospreys, Spanish and Italian Harriers and F-35bs. Even Indian Harriers. The only allied aircraft of importance we can’t would be F-18s and they are now rather long in the tooth.

          I also believe it is more than a step change its more we have leapfrogged into the future of carrier ops. I believe the ‘B’ is the only F-35 we need which will provide the flexibility and cost savings in ships we need. I really cannot see the ‘A’ or ‘C’ offering us anything we don’t have already and in weapon delivery a better aircraft in Typhoon.

          • The A platform is a total waste of money agreed and yes Typhoon is a very potent weapons delivery system as I’ve said many times before.

            My money is on Tempest and CATOBAR given the fact that the F35C is not due to deliver it’s full operational performance until 2025 as I recall from a US defence report I read some months back.

            But as my post at the bottom suggests, we will never know the full facts in relation to its reliability hence my reason for suggesting possible alternatives (eggs in one basket).
            Let’s wait and see!

          • (Chris H) Nigel – we are singing off the same hymn sheet my friend. Since the Franco / German pipe dream was announced I have suggested that we should plough ahead with a ‘Typhoon II’ given we own or have access to most of the systems on board Typhoon. I even suggested in one post (given BAE and Leonardo are the majority shareholders in Eurofighter and have both been shafted) they would make ideal partners and have full authority to use anything they chose. I should have done the Lottery that week because this is the base partnership for Tempest.

            I also suggested that given the timeframe for Typhoon withdrawal (2040), the timing of the QE’s first major refit (2043) and the need for a new airframe a naval version of Typhoon II could be designed in at little extra cost. Thus allowing conversion of QE to CATOBAR. Of course what I called ‘Typhoon II’ is now ‘Tempest’.

            On further reflection to avoid losing QE’s ability to launch F-35Bs the ramp could be maintained as is and CATs placed in the angled deck and even midships to use the additional lift of the ramp.

          • Very well put Chris.

            I hope we see both CATOBR and Tempest available well before then along with Magma/Taranis. There is already talk at the admarility of CATOBR being installed for future UAV’s.

            Fingers crossed eh!

  7. Good point regarding the raf’s need to support the army in the CAS role when runways may not be available.
    Question is, how many squadrons of F35b would the RAF need purely for this function without stripping the carriers. I hate the idea of not having enough for both. But at the same time I do wonder if we should reduce the numbers a bit to allow spend on other equally important stuff. Think, 15 F35b’s would equate to another Astute or two T26 or the Poseidon’s etc we need.
    I would have thought 96 would be a reasonable total, 60 RN, 36 RAF?

  8. I don’t want anybody to publish the exact figure, but does anybody know roughly the actual effective combat radius of the thing, and do peeps think that the combat radius is adequate for the job? I’ve got a nasty feeling it is something very low.

    P.S. I’m not a nay-sayer… I like the idea of the carriers, 5th gen aircraft and all that (wish it had been British), but is this the right tool for the much -needed job? Just asking that’s all.

    • For the carriers it is the ONLY tool regards current fast jets given their configuration.

      In a wider context that is being debated with many pros and cons already offered. Will be interesting to see of the A ever materialises and what the reasons given will be.

      I’m none the wiser any more other than where’s the carriers are concerned the B is the ONLY game in town and the RN and RAF will make it work in their usual professional manner.

    • Hi Albert,
      I found this which may be of help!

      “Range
      The main criticism levelled against the F35B is its limited range on internal fuel. Most publicly available sources put the F35B’s range on internal fuel at around 900 nautical miles while the F35A has a range of some 1200 nmi and the F35C has a range of 1400 nmi”.

      Converting both carriers for Cat & traps would cost around £5 billion, £2.5 Billion per carrier.

      • I do agree with the consensus that it would be too expensive to convert QE class carrier to cats & traps at this point in time. Also taking into account the issue of launching and landing aircraft on CTOL carrier types in rough seas increases risks and sortie rates.
        As a STOVL carrier, QE class would have a potential to be a multi-role carrier, examples are: ASW platform, assault carrier, ‘blue water’ patrol carrier, war zone air dominance platform, disaster relief(LPH) platform.
        But the QE class will not be able to fulfil some of the potential roles above, due to the limited types of aircraft procured. The MoD has taken a big risk by procuring only one type of STOVL fixed wing aircraft, the F-35b, optimize for strike and ground attack roles.
        Why did not the MoD have the foresight to procure a specific STOVL ‘air defence/interceptor aircraft. This type of interceptor might be an advanced Sea Harrier, or a P1154 type of Harrier refined and modernized.
        I find it difficult to believe the F-35b can fulfil the air defence role of a fleet. Could it beat back waves of 4 gen fighters(like the Falklands war)? Is it the reason why the US Marines procured the F-35 for it’s deep strike and ECW role? US Marines have already got F18’s for the air defence role.
        Also the QE class need to be equipped with the V-22, with having Crows-nest fitted to give greater AEW coverage.
        Also potentially the V-22 could be used as a tanker to refuel other aircraft.

        A lot of the technology to equipped a new type of Sea Harrier has already been developed for the Typhoon aircraft.

        I look forward also to other common sense approaches to the QE class carrier debate.

      • …thanks Daniele and Nigel for the replies.

        Yep it’s the only game in town for now. I just worry about long-range anti-ship missiles and if our carriers can stand-off far enough if needed.

        Given the Tempest development, I just wish the UK could have come up with say a “super-Harrier” (twin-with re-heat and bigger range), or a “Super-Buccaneer” -type something to do the low-level attack thing.

        I too though am very proud though of all our armed forces and those of our allies, and that the UK has finally got some proper carriers again.

        • …sorry no disrespect meant to our previous small carriers and crews. I meant to say “proper BIG carriers again.”

        • (Chris H) Albert – Hawker Siddely did come up with a Mach 2 STOVL aircraft thanks to a brilliant turbofan engine called BS100 (an unfortunate first two letters) – It was called the P1154 in internal numbering while the Kestrel and later Harrier was numbered P1127. In fact the ‘Harrier’ name had been reserved for the P1154. All this a full 30+ years before the F-35B which manages Mach 1.6. It was designed to meet full NATO specifications and did so in all aspects but political stupidity cancelled it in 1965. Along with TSR-2, the CVA-01 65,000 ton carriers and a STOVL transport aircraft.

          Just think where British aviation and even shipbuilding would be now had British industry been allowed to deliver just two of these instead of being castrated by politicians.

  9. The thing I’m really interested in is what comes after typhoon and sit side by side with the F35s going into the second half of the century. I had sort of assumed the F35 was going to be the last manned fighter we purchased being as it has 50 years in it, but evidently that is not the case.

    • Tempest. From the pictures it appears that a navalised version might just be a possibility.
      A navalised version of Typhoon was developed but that faded away sadly in my opinion so who knows!

      A replacement for the B1B lancer will be on the cards at some point and I wondered given the US interest in the Tempest programme weather a four engined version of Tempest could do the job, manned or unmanned? Interesting thought!

      With things hotting up in the south China sea it could be a very wise move to have a longer range strike capability. I’m sure the Australians would have a vested interest as well!

      • It’s going to be interesting to see what 5+ generation aircraft the west do end up with following the F35, it seems to be a shrinking pool so I suspect we will be down to only 1-2 players, three at most . Maybe a UK/Swedish/Turkish offering which I would imagine will cover the lighter end of the market in whatever comes from tempest, something from France and Germany ( who knows what that will be or if it comes to anything) and a US/Japanese offering that will probably hit the heavy (f15) replacement end of the market.

        Not sure if any of these will be navalised, although I suppose both the US and French will need something……but I suspect we are going to be looking at a far more limited field that we had in 4 generation jets.

        I suspect the variety will be in drones. It would also not surprise me if we started seeing some new concepts we have not even considered yet ( probably from Russia) .

  10. (Chris H) on a purely personal note can I thank everyone for a really informed and interesting Thread which has been fun to join …

  11. I do agree with the consensus that it would be too expensive to convert QE class carrier to cats & traps at this point in time. Also taking into account the issue of launching and landing aircraft on CTOL carrier types in rough seas increases risks and lower sortie rates.
    As a STOVL carrier, QE class would have a potential to be a multi-role carrier, examples are: ASW platform, assault carrier, ‘Freedom of the Sea’ patrol carrier, war zone air dominance platform, disaster relief(LPH) platform.
    But the QE class will not be able to fulfil some of the potential roles above, due to the limited types of aircraft procured. The MoD has taken a big risk by procuring only one type of STOVL fixed wing aircraft, the F-35b, optimize for strike and ground attack roles.
    Why did not the MoD have the foresight to procure a specific STOVL ‘air defence/interceptor aircraft. This type of interceptor might be an advanced Sea Harrier, or a P1154 type of Harrier refined and modernized.
    I find it difficult to believe the F-35b can fulfil the air defence role of a fleet. Could it beat back waves of 4 gen fighters(like the Falklands war)? Is it the reason why the US Marines procured the F-35 for it’s deep strike and ECW role? US Marines have already got F18’s for the air defence role.
    Also the QE class need to be equipped with the V-22, with having Crows-nest fitted to give greater AEW coverage.
    Also potentially the V-22 could be used as a tanker to refuel other aircraft.

    A lot of the technology to equipped a new type of Sea Harrier has already been developed for the Typhoon aircraft.

    I look forward also to other common sense approaches to the QE class carrier debate.

  12. F35C has a 33% larger combat radius, 20% larger payload and is $1.2m cheaper per unit @ LRIP 10 than F35B.

    CATOBAR allows tankers, makes it easier to integrate carrier capability into tempest, future taranis, the increase in versatility and flexibility is paramount, CATOBAR has serious external economies of scale for the RN. It drastically increases the Sea Control ability of the QE. The opportunity cost of STOVL is huge.

    We should:
    – give the 48 F35b’s to FAA, 90 F35C’s to RAF ‘til replacements for Albion / Bulwark are built and a similarly timed deep refit of QE.
    – replace Albion and Bulwark with cheap, large, modernised Ocean’s.
    – refit QE’s with EMALS and a few more engines at refit.
    – use the Amphibs like the alligator navy, remnants of the 48 B’s as amphibious fast air cover, up to two squadrons each.
    – fly the C’s off QE’s, 120 fast jet strong FAA, w/ tankers, strategic strike and sea control. 4 squadron’s each.
    – tell the chancellor we’ve made 110m in efficiency savings.
    – ensure final tempest design is FFBNW CATOBAR capability, allows domestic manufacture of next generation of carrier strike jets.

  13. What every article I have found is short on is what we are going to arm these with. It seems US ASRAAM will come as standard, but no sign of any UK land attack options, effectively making them pretty pointless I’m anything other than situations where a typhoon is also available.

    Hopefully I am missing the schedule for integration with pathway/brimstone.

  14. This very strategy – the deployment of RAF pilots and aircraft to the carriers – was absolutely key to UK success in the Falklands, against an Argentine air force with a greater number of theoretically superior aircraft.
    Another lesson from the Falklands- VSTOL aircraft are superb in a dogfight, due to the ability to ‘slam on the brakes’ forcing a faster persuer to overtake whence they can be shot down from behind.
    Headline performance figures are just that and have little to do with real world combat performance

  15. I have a few issues with the F-35B and the QE-class carriers.

    – With cats & traps we could have the F-35C, Rafale M, Sea Gripen or Super Hornet. Or a mix of any of these aircraft. We could also have Growlers for EW and Hawkeyes for AEW, which would have greater range and altitude than Merlin Crowsnest. (In future we could even develop our own carrier jet (e.g. a navalised Tempest or other plane) and other carrier aircraft like refuelling aircraft, AEW aircraft and EW aircraft). Whether cats & traps ever get fitted I don’t know, although I wish that would happen even if it means BAE Systems screwing us over charging silly money for the upgrades. We made a huge mistake not fitting cats & traps in the first place imo. Nuclear carriers and steam cats would have been my choice since EMALS isn’t tried and tested like steam cats are. But we are where we are and have to make the best of (what I consider to be) a bad job.

    – What are the F-35Bs going to be used for? Where are they going to be used? They’re too expensive to risk losing in missions where a cheaper plane could do the same job (plus they’re expensive to operate and maintain compared to other planes), but since the carriers don’t have cats and traps we don’t have another jet that we could use instead. Apaches might be able to carry out certain missions, but not every mission. And against a nation like Russia or China I can’t see the F-35 surviving in their airspace with multiple networked radars operating at multiple frequencies connected to SAM sites, which in turn are protected by short-range missiles to take out anti-radiation missiles. Plus the F-35 carries so little ordnance that even if it manages to take out an enemy plane or two or a SAM site or two, I can’t see it coming home once it shows its hot exhaust to the enemy. So what exactly is the point of the F-35? Yeah, I know I know, sensor fusion, battlefield manager, taking control of missiles fired from other aircraft or ships, etc, etc. But they’re having serious problems getting all this stuff working because the software is so complex. The DOT&E reports show the F-35 is riddled with problems, both mechanical and software problems. And meanwhile the F-35 is a poor dogfighter, a poor bomber, a poor low-level CAS plane. Plus it’s slow, it’s not as manoeuverable as it should be and it carries a pitiful internal weapons load. Software can’t fix any of these issues. Carry any ordnance externally and it’s no longer a stealth plane (plus it’s not as stealthy as an F-22 in the first place even if it carries ordnance internally).

    – I think we need to buy Ospreys (a) to refuel the F-35s and (b) to provide a better AEW alternative to Crowsnest (or maybe to complement it even).

    – These carriers are so damn expensive and one relatively cheap missile or torpedo could destroy them or mission-kill them. Especially if we’re talking about the fastest supersonic missiles or hypersonic missiles. *Manoeuvering* high-speed missiles are another problem, as are supercavitating torpedoes and saturation missile attacks. Drone/boat swarms present yet another problem. At present we don’t have a way to take out very fast missiles (unless decoys or ECM would work, I don’t know) and our ability to detect very quiet subs is lacking. Rail guns, coil guns and directed energy weapons might end up being good enough to take out very fast missiles, but currently they’re only in the testing/prototype stages and aren’t mature. Depending on the number of drones & boats in a swarm, it would be expected that Phalanx, 30mm cannons and machine guns could deal with one swarm, but in the event of multiple swarms then these defences will run out of ammo and either can’t be reloaded fast enough to prevent damage to a ship (or worse it being sunk), or worse the ammo to reload them won’t be available. After enough swarms, the ammo WILL run out. Laser weapons won’t suffer from this problem and may be able to deal with multiple swarms, but it all depends on how many drones/boats are in each swarm, how fast they’re travelling and how many seconds it takes a laser to take out each target. Multiple laser weapon systems on each carrier and on each escort ship may be required to deal with future potential threats. But as things stand our carrier groups are vulnerable and can’t properly defend themselves. High-speed missiles and quiet subs are currently the biggest threat imo.

    – Why build such large carriers in the first place? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have built a larger number of smaller carriers? Maybe Charles de Gaulle size (approx 40,000 tonnes)? Or smaller even, like the Invincible-class carriers (approx 20,000 tonnes)? Not only does that mean that more than one carrier can be operational at any one time, and so be in more than one place at a time, but it also provides redundancy in case one is damaged or sunk. Of course manning may be an issue with multiple carriers (and multiple escort ships)**, but on the other hand automation has greatly reduced the size of crews, so I’m not sure if manning would necessarily be an issue.

    **That said, I think it would make sense for all carriers and escort ships to be as self-defending as possible. In other words, I’d like carriers and their escort ships to be able to tackle a much wider variety of threats than they can at present. Maybe in future we could end up with carriers that are totally self-defending that combine all the capabilities of a carrier, destroyer and frigate?

    – The QE-class carriers only have 3 Phalanx each. That is a pitifully small amount for self-defence. Not only do I think that there should be twice as many Phalanx, but at the very least I think the carriers should be fitted with Sea Ceptor. Why spend over £6 bn on two carriers and then scrimp and save on self-defence? It makes absolutely no sense to me at all. (I also think we need to upgrade or replace Harpoon as a matter of extreme urgency, but that’s a separate issue relating to the carrier groups and not the carriers themselves).

    Finally, I have some ideas which may be complete nonsense, or may have some potential, but I’d be interested to know what people think:

    1) Sacrificial lambs
    When it comes to sea-skimming missiles, if ships are going to be sacrificed it would make sense for them not to be destroyers or frigates, especially considering how few of them we have and considering how dependent the carriers are on the escort ships for defence. Therefore, how about using cheap ships to surround the carrier fleet that are there purely to absorb missile damage? These ships could mainly be empty with just engines and a skeleton crew, or even remotely controlled. Hell, they could even be rafts made of ice (something similar has been proposed before: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Habakkuk). How about covering the outsides of such vessels with explosive reactive armour (ERA) like tanks use? Would that work against hypersonic missiles? I don’t know, but I’d like to know if it’s worth looking into. Or how about filling largely empty ships with something that would prevent the missiles from going in one side and coming out the other side? What would achieve that? Could anything achieve that, since it’s not just the blast but the kinetic energy that needs to be dealt with. I’m thinking layers of Dorchester armour, liquid gas, concrete, sand, water and anything else that might slow down/destroy the missile.

    2) Water cannons
    Since ships are at sea and water is a plentiful resource, would water cannons be an option against hypersonic missiles? I mean the things travel so fast that if they hit a very high-pressure water cannon (or multiple overlapping water cannons) wouldn’t they just disintegrate? Water cannons would also be good against boat swarms, wouldn’t they? Wouldn’t they capsize or sink any boats they’re directed at?

    3) Liquid gas weapons
    When I was in school I vividly remember a physics class where our teacher put a squash ball into a jar of some liquid gas (nitrogen I think). The ball came out brittle and our teacher hit it with a hammer and it shattered. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Couldn’t liquid gas weapons be developed? If they hit a hypersonic missile, wouldn’t it just become brittle? Even if the missile hit its target, wouldn’t it just harmlessly shatter?

    4) Buoy bombs
    I’m thinking of placing numerous buoys around a carrier group. If an incoming missile is detected then it (or multiple buoys) could explode at just the right time to produce a huge explosion that destroys the missile. Of course these buoys would need to be towed by the carrier group or be self-propelling so that they’re always near the group. These buoys could also act as decoys I would have thought.

  16. https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/the-f-35-a-guide-to-the-jet-that-will-soon-land-on-hms-queen-elizabeth/#comment-429312

    I have a few issues with the F-35B and the QE-class carriers.

    – With cats & traps we could have the F-35C, Rafale M, Sea Gripen or Super Hornet. Or a mix of any of these aircraft. (Why a navalised Typhoon was never developed I’ll never understand). We could also have Growlers for EW and Hawkeyes for AEW, which would have greater range and altitude than Merlin Crowsnest. (In future we could even develop our own carrier jet (e.g. a navalised Tempest or other plane) and other carrier aircraft like refuelling aircraft, AEW aircraft and EW aircraft). Whether cats & traps ever get fitted I don’t know, although I wish that would happen even if it means BAE Systems screwing us over charging silly money for the upgrades. We made a huge mistake not fitting cats & traps in the first place imo. Nuclear carriers and steam cats would have been my choice since EMALS isn’t tried and tested like steam cats are. But we are where we are and have to make the best of (what I consider to be) a bad job.

    – What are the F-35Bs going to be used for? Where are they going to be used? They’re too expensive to risk losing in missions where a cheaper plane could do the same job (plus they’re expensive to operate and maintain, and time-consuming to maintain, compared to other planes especially the Gripen), but since the carriers don’t have cats and traps we don’t have another jet that we could use instead. Apaches might be able to carry out certain missions, but not every mission. And against a nation like Russia or China I can’t see the F-35 surviving in their airspace with multiple networked radars operating at multiple frequencies connected to SAM sites (which in turn are protected by short-range missiles to take out anti-radiation missiles). Plus the F-35 carries so little ordnance that even if it manages to take out an enemy plane or two or a SAM site or two, I can’t see it coming home once it shows its hot exhaust to the enemy. So what exactly is the point of the F-35? Yeah, I know I know, sensor fusion, battlefield manager, taking control of missiles fired from other aircraft or ships, etc, etc. But they’re having serious problems getting all this stuff working because the software is so complex. The DOT&E reports show the F-35 is riddled with problems, both mechanical and software-related. And meanwhile the F-35 is a poor dogfighter, a poor bomber, a poor low-level CAS plane. Plus it’s slow, it’s not as manoeuverable as it should be and it carries a pitiful internal weapons load. Software can’t fix any of these issues. Carry any ordnance externally and it’s no longer a stealth plane (plus it’s not as stealthy as an F-22 in the first place even if it carries ordnance internally).

    – I think we need to buy Ospreys (a) to refuel the F-35s and (b) to provide a better AEW alternative to Crowsnest (or to complement it even).

    – These carriers are so damn expensive and one relatively cheap missile or torpedo could destroy them or mission-kill them. Especially if we’re talking about hypersonic missiles or the fastest supersonic missiles. *Manoeuvering* high-speed missiles are another problem, as are supercavitating torpedoes and saturation missile attacks. Drone/boat swarms present yet another problem. At present we don’t have a way to take out very fast missiles (unless decoys or ECM would work, I don’t know) and our ability to detect very quiet subs is lacking. Rail guns, coil guns and directed energy weapons might end up being good enough to take out very fast missiles, but currently they’re only in the testing/prototype stages and aren’t mature. Depending on the number of drones & boats in a swarm, it would be expected that Phalanx, 30mm cannons and machine guns could deal with a swarm or two, but in the event of multiple swarms then these defences will run out of ammo and either can’t be reloaded fast enough to prevent damage to a ship (or worse it being sunk), or worse the ammo to reload them won’t even be available. After enough swarms, the ammo WILL run out. Laser weapons won’t suffer from this problem and may be able to deal with multiple swarms, but it all depends on how many drones/boats are in each swarm, how fast they’re travelling and how many seconds it takes a laser to take out each target. Multiple laser weapon systems on each carrier and on each escort ship may be required to deal with future potential threats. But as things stand our carrier groups are vulnerable and can’t properly defend themselves. High-speed missiles and quiet subs are currently the biggest threat imo, although close to land drone/boat swarms could cause serious problems.

    – Why build such large carriers in the first place? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have built a larger number of smaller carriers? Maybe Charles de Gaulle size (approx 40,000 tonnes)? Or smaller even, like the Invincible-class carriers (approx 20,000 tonnes)? Not only does that mean that more than one carrier can be operational at any one time, and so be in more than one place at a time, but it also provides redundancy in case one is damaged or sunk. Of course manning may be an issue with multiple carriers (and multiple escort ships)*, but on the other hand automation has greatly reduced the size of crews, so I’m not sure if manning would necessarily be an issue.

    *That said, I think it would make sense for all carriers and escort ships to be as self-defending as possible. In other words, I’d like carriers and their escort ships to be able to tackle a much wider variety of threats than they can at present. Maybe in future we could end up with carriers that are totally self-defending that combine all the capabilities of a carrier, destroyer and frigate?

    – The QE-class carriers only have 3 Phalanx each. That is a pitifully small amount for self-defence. Not only do I think that there should be twice as many Phalanx (or have a mix of Phalanx and other close-in weapons systems), but at the very least I think the carriers should be fitted with Sea Ceptor. Why spend over £6 bn on two carriers and then scrimp and save on self-defence? It makes absolutely no sense to me at all. (I also think we need to upgrade or replace Harpoon as a matter of extreme urgency, but that’s a separate issue relating to the carrier groups and not the carriers themselves).

    Finally, I have some ideas which may be complete nonsense, or may have some potential, but I’d be interested to know what people think:

    1) Sacrificial lambs
    When it comes to sea-skimming missiles, if ships are going to be sacrificed it would make sense for them not to be destroyers or frigates, especially considering how few of them we have and considering how dependent the carriers are on the escort ships for defence. Therefore, how about using cheap ships to surround the carrier fleet that are there purely to absorb missile damage? These ships could mainly be empty with just engines and a skeleton crew, or even remotely controlled. Hell, they could even be rafts made of ice (something similar has been proposed before: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Habakkuk). How about covering the outsides of such vessels with explosive reactive armour (ERA) like tanks use? Would that work against hypersonic missiles? I don’t know, but I’d like to know if it’s worth looking into. Or how about filling largely empty ships with something that would prevent the missiles from going in one side and coming out the other side? What would achieve that? Could anything achieve that, since it’s not just the blast but the kinetic energy that needs to be dealt with. I’m thinking layers of Dorchester armour, liquid gas, concrete, sand, water and anything else that might slow down/destroy the missile.

    2) Water cannons
    Since ships are at sea and water is a plentiful resource, would water cannons be an option against hypersonic missiles? I mean the things travel so fast that if they hit a very high-pressure water cannon (or multiple overlapping water cannons) wouldn’t they just disintegrate? Water cannons would also be good against boat swarms, wouldn’t they? Wouldn’t they capsize or sink any boats they’re directed at?

    3) Liquid gas weapons
    When I was in school I vividly remember a physics class where our teacher put a squash ball into a jar of some liquid gas (nitrogen I think). The ball came out brittle and our teacher hit it with a hammer and it shattered. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Couldn’t liquid gas weapons be developed? If they hit a hypersonic missile, wouldn’t it just become brittle? Even if the missile hit its target, wouldn’t it just harmlessly shatter?

    4) Buoy bombs/decoys
    I’m thinking of placing numerous buoys around a carrier group. If an incoming missile is detected then it (or multiple buoys) could explode at just the right time to produce a huge explosion that destroys the missile. Of course these buoys would need to be towed by the carrier group or be self-propelling so that they’re always near the group. These buoys could also act as decoys I would have thought.

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