Thursday, May 10, 2012

Pray that it works, and wait for 2015

So, with a statement that openly contradicts the official declarations of the US Navy and of the UK government itself, which barely days ago said in Parliament that there was no reported problem with the conversion of the Queen Elizabeth class carriers for the use of EMALS, now we are told that:

Because Britain’s carriers will have all electric propulsion, and therefore do not generate steam like nuclear powered vessels, the catapult system would need to be the innovative Electromagnetic version (EMALS), being developed for the US Navy. Fitting this new system to a UK carrier has presented greater design challenges than were anticipated.

Either you were lying a week ago, or you are lying now. Somehow i think it's the second. 

Anyway, the statement also says that:

Secondly, and partly as a result of the delayed timetable, the estimated cost of fitting this equipment to the Prince of Wales has more than doubled in the last 17 months, rising from an estimated £950M to around £2Bn, with no guarantee that it will not rise further.

Again, i just cannot believe it. But i suspect that, just like a promised but never published NAO report into the economic factors of keeping Harrier over Tornado, we will never be told the truth nor we will ever hear them justify this absurd figure.
There won't be a NAO investigation on this particular claim, want to bet with me?

Another lie is a few lines down the statement:

Thirdly, at the time of the SDSR, there was judged to be a very significant technical risk around the STOVL version of JSF and some commentators were speculating that it could even be cancelled. Indeed, the STOVL programme was subsequently placed on probation by the Pentagon However, over the last year, the STOVL programme has made excellent progress and in the last few months has been removed from probation. The aircraft has completed over 900 hours of flying, including flights from the USS Wasp and the US Marine Corp has a high degree of confidence in the in-service date for the aircraft.

While the USMC aims for a 2015 IOC, the reality is that production F35B are restricted from doing what they are meant to, going STOVL, as a clutch overheating problem preventing the engagement of STOVL mode in hot weather is still without a solution. 
Additionally, the USMC will declare IOC with the software Block 2 and Block 3I, which are to include basic weapon release capability [it is very likely that none of the british weapons will be cleared in Block 2 and 3I], but be otherwise largely incomplete and in need for upgrade ASAP.
The USAF and US Navy are willing to wait until 2018, in order to declare IOC with the Block 3F software.
The UK can aim for IOC whenever it wants, provided that it pays for it: early IOC means placing orders early, getting early production planes, paying more for them, and then paying more money to retrofit them with the missing pieces.
And oh, we should anticipate integration of ASRAAM and Paveway IV, too, which is planned for Block 3F, otherwise the F35B entering service "early" with the RAF will only be able to use AMRAAM, since the other weapons which will be cleared (JDAM and GBU-12) are not in UK use.

But we are used to this practice, aren't we? The last Typhoon Tranche 1 of the RAF went to Warton this month to begin its R2 retrofit which will bring it to Block 5 standard.
Years after the plane entered service and dragged on with mutilated capabilities that have arguably badly affected the Typhoon's export potential as well.

The early in service date is a lie. It entirely depends on force buildup, and it is not at all as dependent on the US's own IOC as they want to have us believe.
At most, it is in theory possible to achieve earlier at-sea IOC since Queen Elizabeth is (expected to be) compatible with STOVL ops, so that air operations at sea could begin in 2018 instead of 2020. There's no certainty that this will be possible, however, especially since the airplanes and crews available in 2018 are likely to be very few unless orders are speeded up, and it is, to say the least, unlikely.
It will also depend on decisions yet to be taken. So far, Queen Elizabeth was planned to go in mothball in 2018/19 as Prince of Wales comes online. This is likely to change in SDSR 2015, or indeed much earlier than that.
Prince of Wales might enter service, or go from shipyard to mothball immediately, without making a day of service.
It's all to be seen still.

If Hammond is not lying and the UK gets its first production F35B in 2016, the order will be placed no later than 2014, with long-lead contracts signed next year. That would mean LRIP 8 and, barring further delays, Block 3F software. In the case, it would work well. All would depend, at that point, on the number of airplanes ordered.

This simplified graphic is the result of my research into the often confusing blurry of documents available on the F35. It should be up to date, but changes are always possible. Block 3F software should start being available with LRIP 8, and will be used for the first full-rate production orders, before Block IV is developed and rolled out. It was originally planned that Block IV would include Storm Shadow and Brimstone for the UK, but the requirement was cancelled as saving measure, and at the moment there's not a plan anymore. The general rule is that the airplanes are delivered two years after the firm order is placed, with Long Lead orders placed at least a further year earlier.

A now outdated but always interesting production plan for the F35. We can guess a revised schedule with the UK ordering 0 airplanes in 2013 (but placing long lead orders for them), with firm order for 7(?) F35B in 2014, plus others in the following years. The airplanes available in 2018 for obtaining the mythical early IOC will have to be ordered between 2014 and 2016. It'll likely be 2019 at the earlier before a squadron of F35 gains full strenght in the UK.

Next in line, ladies and gentlemen:

The balance of risk has changed and there is now judged to be no greater risk in STOVL than in other variants of JSF.

The highlighted affirmation are patently, utterly untrue. It clashes with reality and with any and every document and statement you'll ever get from the US DoD.
As always, the US DoD real words are: 

[...] significant work and flight tests remain to verify and incorporate modifications to STOVL aircraft required to correct known STOVL deficiencies and prepare the system for operational use.

By the end of November 2011, overall test point progress against planned
baseline productivity was slightly behind (9 percent).    [F35A 11% behind schedule, F35C is 32% ahead of schedule]

The endless list of unresolved issues and risks tied to the F35B completes the picture. 

Then, the next pill of awesome:

So, I can announce today that the National Security Council has agreed not to proceed with the “cats and traps” conversion, but to complete both carriers in STOVL configuration. This will give us the ability to use both carriers to provide continuous carrier availability - at a net additional operating cost averaging about £60M per year. As we set out in the SDSR, a final decision on the use of the second carrier will be taken as part of SDSR 2015.

So, hold on tight: both carriers will be capable to work with the fixed wing jets to be bought, but we could still only get one.
The only interesting / reassuring bit of info is the 60 million average annual cost for running a carrier. Adjusted for inflation, i think it matches the 2003 value of 44 millions per year, so the ship's running cost is stable and - relatively - low. An Albion class LPD costs between 20 and 30 millions a year, a Bay costs 12 million a year.
A CVF at 60 millions is more than fair.

Lies aside, the lesson of the day is: pray that the F35B works. And wait for 2015. 


  1. To 'B' or not to 'B'

    Well......that's it, the decision has been made and at least the whole saga can move forwards

    If the various technical issues (overheating clutch, loose lift doors, weak bulkheads) surrounding the B variant are sorted in a reasonable timescale and the MOD puts a bit of effort into weapons integration (Meteor squeezed into the internal bays somehow??) the situation may not be as bad as it first seems

    Ok, the B won't be able to land back while carrying Storm Shadow and may initially be a maintenance hog but on the plus side it virtually negates the need for recovery tankers and deals very nicely with ship-roll constraints (I'm ever the optimist)

    I would have preferred the 'C' variant for numerous reasons but not at the expense of any other programs slashed and cut to provide funding

    That's it, choice made, move on and make the most of what we have. (we've always been good at that)

    P.S.....V-22 based AEW platform anyone??? Even just 3 or 4 using some sort of upgraded searchwater?? Pipe dreams right now but could be pretty capable

  2. The Meteor is already being re-sized for the B by MBDA, so that is the only thing that does not worry me.
    At most, i fear that the RAF won't want to give the F35 the BVR radar missile not to undermine Typhoon... but hopefully i'll be proven wrong.

    For the rest, i'm the first who hopes that the problems can be solved.
    The negation of need for buddy-buddy tankers is however highly questionable at best, and i actually hope that SRVL or whatever make it possible to use Storm Shadow from the ships.
    It would be a big, bad blow if it was not possible.

    For AEW, no chances. Merlin HM2 is gonna be the platform.
    And indeed, we better hope that Crowsnest progresses, because it is one of those programs that can easily fall prey to dumb short-termism in budget sessions.

    1. I don't know if the comment has made it into the various releases yet but during the question session after his speech Mr Hammond mentioned that F-35B will be carrying everything that the UK planned to use on the F-35C.

    2. He actually said that it will entry in service with a "Uk weapons package".
      That is, if the software Block 3 isn't delayed further.
      The package is made up by ASRAAM and Paveway IV only.

      The rest will (hopefully) be added in time.

    3. Do you anticipate CAMM in the future?

    4. CAMM where? On CVF as SAM, or on F35 as ASRAAM upgrade?

      The first is going to happen possibly only during the preparations for a major operation (like Falklands 2). We won't see money in peacetime expended for that.

      The second, well. Hard to say. Long term, perhaps: CAMM is notionally expected to inform an as yet unspecified, non detailed future ASRAAM evolution.
      So it is possible, but it won't be on the cards anytime soon.

  3. Defence Management has a few details on the high cost of carrier conversion nearly all of the upper compartments would have needed major modifications.
    Still the F35B if it works on paper has a much higher capability than the Harrier it replaces, if it does not work then I suspect we will have a lot of red faces in the MOD, and Government.

  4. I believe the signs for the 2nd carrier are promising since it was announced it would cost £60m per year to get the 2nd carrier to a 'high state of readiness' to come into service whenever QE is in refit etc.
    In reality that's peanuts, but the MoD don't need another £180mn on the books before 2015 so can't announce it yet.

    Hammond also said in parliament he spoke with Panetta yesterday, so you would hope he gave a good indication as to the state of play regarding F35. 'same amount of risk' is blatently nonsense though since going CATOBAR means other alternatives to JSF.

    1. The rhetoric certainly supports it: 100% capacity with F-35B capability is preferable to 60% capacity with F-35C capability.

    2. Rhetoric does not ensure at all that both carriers will enter service.

      Here in Italy we say that who lives always on hopes, ends up dying taking a crap.
      Inelegant saying, and a little brutal, but tends to be proven true.

      The actual hope is the Defence Reform giving more control of the budget to the service chiefs. Should help the RN to ensure that both vessels are properly used.

      Of course, there will be just one airwing, and small, moving from one to the other, but that's how it was always supposed to be. At least it ensures roud-the-clock virtual availability.

  5. Regarding AEW options, transferring the Searchwater’s over to the Merlin platform is almost a given.

    IIRC plans call for the equipment to be palletised. This implies little alterations to the aircraft itself under the MASC (now Crows Nest?) project.

    Interestingly if the equipment is indeed palletised, then carriage in the rear of a V-22 (unfortunately named TOSS proposal) might be a relatively rapid transition, with the Merlin as an interim step:

    1) Remove Serachwater equipment from the retired Sea Kings;
    2) Convert Searchwater kit to self contained pallets;
    3) Slide them into the back of an appropriate Merlin;
    4) Wait for the inevitable V-22 purchases (Rolls Royce Allison engines as political sweetener);
    5) Slide some pallets into the back of a few appropriate tiltrotors.

    1. The pallet option is apparently gone: it takes a Merlin HC3 for that, and the Marines need them.

      The HM2 is being considered for the role. Either it gets a radar pod to hang at the torpedo pylons (Lochkeed Martin proposal) or a rail-mount for Searchwater on the side.

      As to the UK buying the V-22... i won't hold my breath. It would be my death, 100% certain.

    2. Not palletising sounds like the more expensive option...

    3. Not if they go for the pod, as it seems increasingly likely. That can be moved on and off much faster and easier than any pallet.

      The Searchwater option seems a bit more... definitive. Not as much plug and play as the pod, even if the radar bag will probably be removed when not needed, and given to another helo. The rails for the bag will stay, though.

      I suggest you look into the tags for Crow's Nest and Crowsnest for finding my earlier articles on the subject and better see what i'm talking about.

    4. Looking into them now, thank you :)

  6. Don't know if it is true, but I heard that the Rafale M can take off a ski jump without catapults. Why not just put the angled deck and arrestor wires on and change to the Rafale M, obviously it would need to be modified to have CFTs and EJ200 engines. The Typhoon could also work like that but at potentially £80 million each, it could be too expensive.

    1. I don't think there even was any trial. Potentially not even a study, in using Rafale in such a STOBAR fashion.

      Typhoon was studied: there were two options, a CATOBAR Typhoon and a STOBAR one.
      None went ahead, and it is actually pointless to speculate what the cost could be: the chances of making a wrong estimate are far higher than those of making the right guess.

  7. The Americans are going to struggle to get the F35b program as a long-term viable project and if it wasn't for the investment by its allies in the project it would already have been scraped.

    In the end we will be left with a very expensive air plane with limited capabilities. As we are building 60,000 + ton carriers it makes sense to have CATOBAR otherwise we could have settled with 4 carriers at 20,000 + tons rather than 1 or maybe 2 at 60,000+ tons.

  8. "As we are building 60,000 + ton carriers it makes sense to have CATOBAR otherwise we could have settled with 4 carriers at 20,000 + tons rather than 1 or maybe 2 at 60,000+ tons."

    That's a commonly made error, my friend. 3 small carriers take about the same crew, about the same money, and do not deliver the same performances because they have no space, little ordnance, little fuel.
    Size is tied tightly to the number of sorties that can be generated by the airgroup. Buying 3 Cavours in place of 2 CVFs makes no real sense.

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