Saturday, March 24, 2012

The dodgy rethink - wait a second!

Another episode in the "F35: B or C" saga has just gone on show with an article on The Telegraph reporting that the Gulf Times article which was published a few days ago and that i quoted (without much confidence in it) in my previous article might well have been correct, at least in part.

The US Navy has apparently stepped in loudly in the carrier issue, showing that they care about UK's carrier strike capability much more than even i expected.  It seems that the assistant secretary of the US Navy, Sean J Stackley, has personally written a letter to Philip Hammond to make the case for CATOBAR conversion and for F35C order, ensuring that it will be responsibility of the US Navy to make the EMALS work, and, importantly, stay within a cost of 458 million pounds.
The cost of the work required to modify the ship to fit the EMALS kit is estimated at 400 million, giving a potential total cost for one vessel of 858 million pounds, near the lowest figure of the initial conversion cost estimate (which reported that cost would vary between 800 and 1200 millions).

This cost figure would fit the allocation of 950 million pounds that MOD officers said they could make in the coming planning rounds.
The problem of converting the second carrier, however, remains. And the uncertainty about the long-term cost implications of either airplane choice remain as well, with F35C training and ship costs being higher, while the F35B is burdened by the cost of its engine, by its higher initial acquisition cost and higher maintenance cost.
The question that remains unsolved is:

Is the cheaper and more effective F35C worth the high initial cost of converting the carrier(s)? Or the costs of CATOBAR and associated higher training penalty remove the advantage in the long term when compared to the more expensive B which does however not require catapults?   

As i tried to explain in a previous article, an answer to the above question is not easy to get.

There is also another question that comes to mind, and it regards the conversion cost itself. From where did the sudden "2 billions" figure come out?
There are many possibilities. For sure, there's still a party of MOD officers and civil servants that believe that F35B, while more expensive to acquire, will cost less to run through life, due mainly to the expected training penalty associated with CATOBAR ops and to the ship's own costs inclusive of catapults and arrestor wires if a CATOBAR solution is chosen. This has been the feeling that guided the F35B selection in the 2000s.
The feeling is that the "STOVL" party, fearing future financial difficulties, might be trying to find high-effect reasons to oppose to the F35C, perhaps inflating the conversion cost figure. It wouldn't be the first time that cost estimates are played with regarding an Aircraft Carrier program: the ill-fated CVA-01 Queen Elizabeth, which lost out to the TSR2 (what a sad story that was as a whole...) at one point was given a pricetag that, it was then evealed, included 4 Type 82 destroyers as "defensive systems".
Talk about CIWS...!
It is about as fair as taking Typhoon and adding to its cost the well over 1 billion expense for Meteor, and the nearly 13 billions of FSTA, and perhaps the cost of running the Sentry AWACS fleet as well. It is clear that this kind of creative accounting is highly unfair, and deliberately misguides politicians in their decisions. 

From the outside, it is hard to tell what exactly is going on inside the MOD, obviously. But the intervention of the US Navy might prove decisive. The Telegraph suggests that, after getting the US message, the prime minister has ordered the Treasury to direct an in-depth review of the costs forecast. They say that a report on the outcome of the study is due by April 16, for examination by the National Security Council on April 17.
It is clear that the CATOBAR solution brings the most political weight to the table, as british carriers with catapults would be welcomed by both the US and France. So CATOBAR is a political winner to start with. 

The Telegraph goes farther, by saying that the carrier cooperation agreement in place with the US would see Prince of Wales built with additional and separated accommodations and communications fits, in order to allow a US Navy squadron to work from the carrier. They go, i suspect, way overboard by suggesting that there might be a "US carrier into a british one", with "US eyes only" communications. I believe it will be nowhere near as invasive.
But it is very likely, i believe, that an US squadron or mini airwing could exploit the british deck quite frequently. This would suggest that the british carrier, and to a degree Charles de Gaulle, are seen by the US as stopgaps, as helping hands available to fill all the deployment slots on the map. While the US are committed to maintain 11 carriers and 10 airwings, they do not quite deem them to be enough, and they expect to have to focus their attention on the Pacific and on the Indian Ocean in the future, but they do not want to gap presence in other areas such as the Gulf and the Middle East area in general, or the Mediterranean.
And in these two areas, the UK and France carriers would fill the gaps.

The situation is actually not totally new.
As it is, the US Navy is being required to have 2 carrier strike groups operative at all times in the Indian Ocean to support operations in land-locked Afghanistan, but sustaining a two-carriers enduring commitment while sending flat tops to all the other areas as well is proving immensely challenging, leaving the fleet and its men no time to pull their breath.
France has been helping in the Indian Ocean with Charles de Gaulle replacing a US carrier for some periods of time. When CdG joined the air operations over Libya last year, she was back from the Indian Ocean by less than one month, in fact, factor that had a big relevance in limiting to 132 days the time that the carrier spent on station for Unified Protector: after months and months at sea, for the carrier the maintenance time was by now approaching.

Going further back in time, the US had already experienced the carrier shortage issue at the time of the Vietnam war. Back then, the requirement was not for 2, but for 3 aircraft carrier groups in the area for 365 days a year, year after year, with no pauses.
And back then it was the british fleet that provided an helping hand: throughout the sixties, the big british flat tops Eagle, Ark Royal, Victorious, Centaur and Hermes deployed again and again as far as south west asia to plug the holes left open by the USN's huge commitment to Vietnam. They helped all the way until they were abruptly retired from service with the disgraceful "East of Suez" defence review.
Ark Royal, the last survivor, continued to help the US Navy by taking up the role of strike carrier as part of the NATO Atlantic Strike Fleet, which was intended to always field two flat tops. Ark Royal's presence left one US carrier free to head to the Gulf of Tonkin as part of the rotation of vessels to the Vietnam theatre.

Back then, the british carriers all had their own wholly british airwing, tomorrow they might carry a mixed airwing and sail in the Gulf of Aden, to allow one more US aircraft carrier to take position in the Pacific.

Will US pressure and assistance win the Royal Navy's case for converting Queen Elizabeth as well in the 2020s, during her first major refit? I certainly hope so, if the EMALS and F35C plan is confirmed, as i continue to envisage a two-carriers capability as vital.

Regarding the F35B, the Telegraph joins Gulf Times in shoving the B variant under a wrap of darkness, reporting that the americans might be really considering a massive downsizing of the USMC order for the STOVL plane.
I continue to doubt of this, also because the US Marines have massive political weight to help them make their case heard, but we will have to see.   

Another thing that is not clear is wheter the Planning Round 2012 announcement, so far planned for Monday 26 March, will go ahead without the Carrier Strike bit to be added later, or if it all will be postponed further, past April 17. 

Meanwhile, the European Union has extended the Atalanta Operation mandate, and now the ships involved in anti-piracy operations in the Somali area will be authorized to pursue pirates on land with air attacks or gunfire.
Due to the opposition of Germany and Spain, though, missile attack and insertion of ground troops are still no-no.

Will we see HMS Illustrious or HMS Ocean loaded with Apache sent to Somalia to strike at pirate havens...? Dave apparently was calling for it even before the Atalanta decision, after all.


  1. Seems like a real faf this, everyday a new twist.

    One thing I have to say though; I see in all this, is the leaks and counterbriefs etc are doing this thing no good. Although it gives those online something to chat about (and I'm not knocking you for publishing this or anyone else) there's just something a bit sad about the whole thing. Whoever is doing it, it does no-one any good. I think it looks badly on the military particularly those at the top and the games they play.

  2. The nasty part of it is the indecision. A commitment that is not a real commitment because money always shapes what is acquired, not need and strategy.

    This is what annoys me the most.

  3. Hi Leiger

    I thought thet DT article would inspire another excellent blog. The uSN aspect adds a whole new level to the issue and no wonder DC has ordereed the MoD to go back and do it again.

    The snippets about direct support for USN facilities on board PoW does strike some interesting questions regarding the a Carrier Cooperation agreement and what it entails or is envisgaed. I get the feeling its looking to closer embedding of US/UK forces in a similar manner to how the Airseeker program is being run. It may well make it easier to cover the Carrier Strike shortfalls if USN support the AEW & Tanler duties either directly or we buy a token number and use as embedded units utilising the US support network the possibilities are there.
    For that matter if were supporting the USN airgroup at sea would that be replicated on the ground with the USN utilising either a USAF base in the UK or maybe sharing a RN/RAF base rather than operate from Spain or Italy ?

    Regarding the F-35B its quite possible the USN may well have managed to push through a different ratio of B to C or maybe getting the USMC to replace F-18 C/D with F-18 E/F. Leaving the B as a straight Harrier replacement for the USMC LHD use.

    Anyway we will have to see what news Monday brings with PR12 and then have to wait through Easter to see of the governemnt will do the U-turn or not; if not they may well have some answers to the issue of QE status, the USN agreement and what will cover the F-35C IOC gap.



  4. My dreamy side likes to believe that the US might have an handful of Hawkeye and Greyhounds to lease to the UK and jointly maintain (France could well join, they have wanted a fourth Hawkeye for years and they had to lease Greyhounds for Libya ops, too), but it really is way too early to make hypothesis.
    I also think the Telegraph goes a bit too far in the bit in which he suggests "US eyes only" being aboard a british carrier. I don't think this would ever happen, as it would be an evident attack to sovereignty of the UK over its own ship.

    The presence, frequent if not constant, of an embarked US air squadron, instead, might well be possible, and i have no difficulties believing to it.
    France might as well base some Rafales on PoW when CdG is unavailable, as well.

    I just hope the cost of this is not made up by not converting the second CVF and/or dumping altogether embarked AEW and tanker, hoping to always have one of the allies available to provide them.

  5. Hi Gabriele,
    I was reading this article with interest until I also came to the part about a 'US Eyes only' comms dept on a UK warship. That is when I began to have my doubts about the authenticity of the entire piece.

    If this were to come about it would essentialy make a 'No Go Zone' for UK personel on a UK warship. This is not going to happen,ever.

    I also have doubts about the basing of a permanent US squadron on CVF,this would complicate matters enormously especialy whilst the UK is only starting once again to regain fixed wing carrier skills.

    As far as Rafale is concerned,perhaps interoperability but no permanent presence,a completely different aircraft and all that entails,operating procedures,logistics etc.

    Perhaps some time in the future,but it will be a while.

  6. Have I got the wrong end of the stick here or is the U.S telling us what to buy, what to put on it, and saying they'll need to use it?
    I thought my tax money was going towards the UK forces, not the American forces, wow, talk about being the American lap dog.

  7. You know, it might sound offensive to you, but it is kind of only fair, because the US taxpayers shoulder, effectively, 75% of the defence expenditure of NATO, and support just as high a share of the military capabilities of the alliance.
    They also maintain and upgrade the Trident missiles for the british forces, they are helping to regenerate carrier strike skills, they have helped develop the Astute, they provide satellite imagery and Tomahawk targeting data, they have provided 30 out of 40 air tankers used in Libya, they give the UK forces satellite bandwidth and share intelligence data, and provided Maritime Patrol Aircraft support in the UK and for Libya ops, and many other things.

    How many times british defence cuts have been justified by "coalition" (read: US) providing capabilities?

    It is only fair that the coalition partners get their say in what you are supposed to do and bring to the table as part of the alliance, don't you think?

    And anyway, the Telegraph, i suspect, does exaggerate more than a fair bit on the "US eyes only" stuff. It will no doubt be a lot less invasive than that.

    They are certainly keen on the UK getting a bit flat top, and hopefully two, operational, and they are stepping in to stop what seems like an old-school trickery: as some others have noticed in these days, the sudden 2 billions cost figure for conversion is more than a tad suspicious.
    There's who has suggested that it might be a CVA-01 trick all over again: back at the time, the Queen Elizabeth carrier project was sunk with the help of several little tricks, which included presenting the cost of the carrier as inclusive of 4 Type 82 destroyers as defensive system...!
    That's not fair accounting.

  8. No but you can see why it is a view point with supporters. Following the americans about isn't a popular move at home, this won't help. Offering an opinion is one thing assisting another but that letter seems to overstep the mark to me.

  9. Taken from the telegraph:
    Two British carriers are being built, but one will be mothballed following the SDSR. Reverting to jump jets for both of them would not help American military planners, who want to be able to base a squadron of their own jets on a British carrier.
    Separate accommodation is being built on board HMS Prince of Wales with communications facilities that would be for “US Eyes Only”.

    I find the 'US Eyes only' very interesting. Spin this around and have a British eyes only on a US carrier (Fat Chance)
    Britain spends the 3rd most on its military, if it can't get something half decent without having to be the American whipping boy then there's something wrong. We spend more than Russia for gods sake

  10. "I find the 'US Eyes only' very interesting."

    I think, frankly, that this bit is bullshit, so i would not worry about this particular point.

    "Britain spends the 3rd most on its military, if it can't get something half decent without having to be the American whipping boy then there's something wrong. We spend more than Russia for gods sake"

    Quoting the billions of budget is a measure of military power good just for the politicians games, though.
    The UK Mod has several burdens on its budget, from an incredibly expensive estate to the golden treatment of personnel.
    Want to compare the state of accommodations, in the bases and on ships alike, and pay in the UK to those of Russia, or even Italy, or the US?
    Take the Astute submarines as a first example, with a berth for each crew member and 11 spares. Awesome, but expensive. On a US Virginia SSN, it is simply unthinkable.
    Or take the Wasp LHD of the US Navy, smaller than a CVF and yet packing over 3000 men, or the 21-bed rooms for Marines on Italy's Cavour.

    You have to look at how money is expended, and what are the relative priorities of each country. In the UK, despite the cries of the press, support for serving personnel and standard of accommodations beat that of many countries. Money well spent, but money spent.

  11. Nato is a waste of time and needs to be scapped, the Soviet Union is no more and with the EU going the way it is, no doubt we'll be fighting as one with them and wouldn't need the US.
    Either way, there is no way the UK should be acting as slave to the US with the amount they spend on their Military


  12. Not to be rude... but do you read the Guardian a lot...?

  13. 'golden treatment of personnel. '

    Really? One swallow doesn't make a summer.

  14. I can't comment on the comfort of other forces ships or the money our government chooses to spend on it. All I know is we spend a shed load considering our size of country and population and If we can't get a decent capability for that money then there's something wrong.
    MOD and Government no doubt P*ssing the tax payers money up the wall and having to follow the U.S around like a lap dog as a result.

    Tell me where you get your info on the Astute from because my understanding although limited is that this kind of tech is not shared with anyone including the U.S

  15. Topman, with all due respect, even with the problems that still exist, british military personnel gets treated VERY well compared to what happens in most countries, and also as a consequence of this, british personnel tend to be quite expensive compared to that of other countries.

  16. @Pete

    A lot of info is classified, a lot more is as advertised as the Champions League final match.

    Of the Astute we know the sonar fit (but not the performances of it, of course), the periscopes, good part of the comms, that it can take a Dry Deck shelter for a Swimmers Delivery System, that it carries 38 torpedoes and Tomahawks and that it has 6 533 mm torpedo tubes to launch them.
    And yes, we also know there are 11 spare bunks and beds for everyone.
    All info very much available on the internet and widely advertised.

    Look at this to get an idea of what is classified and what is actually proudly said out loud:

  17. Well I'd like to think I've been around a bit and worked with some other nation's military. Overall it's not bad, compare us to say Russia then yes clearly so, but other similar countries are we treated to meet your statement? 'golden treatment of personnel' no would be my answer. Have a look around and compare to other similar countries across the entire spectrum. Treated like dirt no, treated better than russia etc, yes. Treated VERY well/golden treatment in comparison to similar countries, I have to disagree.

  18. @ Gabrielle

    I wasn't talking about the info you can get from a wiki site, I was talking about your reference to the Yanks helping develop the astute. This would surely be developed, designed and built by the UK in order to keep capability unknown, even to our so called special friends


    1. Sorry, no.
      Too much time was allowed to pass between Vanguard SSBNs and Astute design, and some of the skills needed for such a complex project had been lost in the years.
      American help was sought to complete the submarine design. Again, it was widely reported even by generalist press.

      This being the reason why the successor SSBN is to be developed in the coming years, while Astute production is ongoing.

      And even that will have american content in it as the UK and the US are jointly developing the Common Missile Compartment.

  19. 'This would surely be developed...special friends'

    Why would you think that?

  20. @ Top man

    I thought it would be common sense, surely you can't go telling every little detail to other countries as you can't count on the fact that they will always be allies.
    The U.S's interests are first and foremost their interests, that would be seen very quickly if the Falklands kicked off because no doubt we would find ourselves alone just like last time


    1. "Alone" is a bit of a big word.

      America in 1982 provided the UK with the latest variant AIM9L Sidewinder with an urgency procedure, and that helped the Sea Harrier scoring so well down south.
      They also provided intelligence.
      And crucially, they made available the runway that THEY have built and run on Ascension.

      They might have been publicly not so firm in supporting the UK verbally, but they did provide decisive material help.

  21. Topman, offer an italian serving man/woman to trade places and he/she will accept in an heartbeat.
    As of 2010 there are just 18.447 accommodations for service personnel in an army of 130.000 volunteers and family accommodations are pretty much unheard of, just for a start. There's mothers serving in Bologna and their families are still at home in Bari, even with children as young as 3. Open a map and see where Bologna is compared to Bari, and you will get a fair idea.

    And i'm willing to bet that an in depth research over the likes of France and Germany would be still bring to a rather favorable comparison.
    And even the US personnel might have something to envy their british colleagues, other than six months tours of duty every 24 months against 12 to 15 months every 19 to 24.
    I'm not saying all is well and perfect, but there's plenty of people that would be better entitled to complain, i find.

    1. 'And i'm willing to bet that an in depth research over the likes '

      There was one done(but not with those countries) we came out about par. If you ever go to a UK base then you'll see plenty to envy, the US bases are on another planet compared to ours. I'm not trying to pretend we are treated badly or the papers are correct or that we are special and need to be lavished. Just that your point that our treatment was 'golden' was incorrect, comparable yes, golden no.

    2. Just to go back to the Ital mil accom, if there is a shortage of accom ie barrack blocks where do they all stay, ie single personnal?

    3. Many have to rent houses with their own money. I think there is a vague chance of getting a money contribution from the army in order to, and in theory you should be able to apply for serving in the base closest to your home, which for the youngest privates in particular might well mean their parent's house...

      And of couse, "closest" can still mean quite damn far away, as you can imagine.

    4. Interesting, what of the public's reaction or the Italian Gov/MoD ?

    5. The government promised improving things. Again and again, actually. In 2010 3000 more accommodations were promised.
      But progress has been minimal and cuts to the budget have almost certainly stopped it all again.
      I think it might be the year of our lord 3565 before we get the over 50.000 accommodations the army begs for.

      But here defence does not make the headlines. People know and care very little about defence...
      other than when they call for the cancellation of the F35 order, of course. That is the only thing that makes noise. There's a strong opposition to the JSF program, no matter the fact that Italy is getting a very good deal out of it, getting even the FACO for the assembly of the airplanes in Cameri.

  22. 'I thought it would be common sense, surely you can't go telling every little detail to other countries as you can't count on the fact that they will always be allies.'

    No offense but you might think that and it might make sense, but you'd be surprised how little the US don't know about our capability. From my experience, they ask we show.

    'alone just like last time'

    We weren't.

  23. Ascension like diego garcia is British land that we allow the U.S to use, so sod the runway, the land is ours, not the US's. I could ask why are we allowing them to use Ascension and I'm sure we could have put our own runway on it.

    Thanks U.S for supplying zero troops and allowing us to use runway on our land

    Are you taking the p*ss?


    1. The UK could have built the runway, sure, but did not do it. Widewake airfield is US, and they could have possibly kept the UK out, and legally so.

      Until the airport on St Helena is completed, there is no alternative at all, either.

      As to why the US are in Ascension, i think it dates back to the second world war. Ascension and Diego Garcia were leased to the US for 99 years in exchange for thousands of tons of war supplies, including 50, and i say 50, destroyers given to the Uk by the US Navy for escorting convoys in the Atlantic.

    2. Ah the lovely lend lease, the 50 junk destroyers that had been sitting in a shed for god knows how long. Described by top brass as 'the worst destroyers they had ever seen and not capable to be put in service before being fixed up'.
      Oh well it only cost us 99 year leases on god knows how much British land.

      You'll have to forgive me if I sound ungrateful to the yanks but we do seem to come off quite bad when dealing with our 'special friends' and if it has come to the point that we are no longer in control of our own ships then we might as well have just surrendered to the Germans


  24. No I'm not. We are allow them to use because we don't need it as much as them. They pay for the upkeep.
    Troops aren't the be all there's is plenty we got from other countries.
    Special access rights to Chile we ran all sorts of missions out of the country.
    Intellegence from the US access to their latest sidewinders.
    The Ozzies covered our WI patrol ship so we could send another ship down south.
    The french were very helpful despite the popular press nonsense. The performed dummy attacks on the TF as it sailed south, gave us access codes to pieces of equipment they basically give us every piece of information that we could require. Including how to disable Exocets on the open market.

    1. Indeed, an early runway was used by the Fleet Air Arm in the second world war, then it was abandoned. The US resurfaced it and reopened it in the 50s and also built a satellite tracking facility on the island.

      The RAF re-garrisoned Wideawake airfield only in 1982, for the war, and now the airfield reports to the commander South Atlantic, if i recall correctly.

  25. If I'm honest I can't recall the exact nature of the control of the airfield, but there were RAF personnal down there on a 3 year tour up until recently.

    1. There still should be personnel in there. I did not heard about Ascension being vacated.
      It would make a lot of noise on the press, now, wouldn't it!

  26. There weren't many anyway, some ground personnel to refuel the tankers, a PTI, some adminers a couple of drivers. But I think politics reared it's head and there was a move to increase the jobs on the island so a lot got civilanised out to locals. But it was a while back and might have changed again.


Everybody can comment on this blog without needing a Blogger account. It is meant to keep the discussion free and open to everyone. Unfortunately, anonymous accounts keep the door open for spammers and trolls, so i'm forced to moderate comments and approve them before they appear. Apologies for the inconvenience.