Friday, July 27, 2012

F35B: 48 B for the carriers, then maybe some A...

The Telegraph and some other newspapers and internet sources reported about Philip Hammond having given indication during the July 19 handover of ZM135, also known as BK-1 at Forth Worth, that the UK would acquire 48 F35B.
At the start, i did not give this figure much importance: i was unable to find any hard evidence of the minister having actually said it, and the official position indeed remained the same: the number of F35s to be procured is for SDSR2015 to decide.
And, said or not, even the eventual 2015 decision won't be definitive: cuts, of course, could arrive at any moment, as we sadly well know...

Philip Hammond speaks at the official handover of ZM135, also known as BK-1, the first of 3 pre-production F35B ordered by the UK.

I was not ready to believe that Hammond would give away such an accurate figure to the press, especially when he and the other defence ministers regularly avoid giving any solid indication on quantities to Parliament despite being asked about it at least once a month.

But spreadsheet Philip is surprising me once again, since it seems that he did say that. And Jane's says that it received further confirmations from the MOD.

I'm sure that many in Parliament won't appreciate, but i fear that i now have to believe to the figure. The source, this time, is the respected Jane's, which reports:

In remarks on 19 July in the United States, Hammond said the UK would order 48 F-35Bs to equip the UK's future carrier strike force. He added that a follow-on F-35 buy would be set out in a future Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), with the aim of replacing the Eurofighter Typhoon in UK service.
The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has confirmed his comments, telling IHS Jane's : "The defence secretary said that initially the UK would buy 48 jets for the aircraft carriers and announce at a later date what the final numbers would be. We will not finalise our decisions on the F-35 programme until SDSR in 2015."

Jane's reports that the follow-on order might be made up by cheaper, longer-range, non carrier-capable F35A.
Nothing definitive, but the Split Buy rumor is back.

The first time, it was in 2005, when Future Offensive Air System (FOAS, the intended Tornado replacement programme) was killed. That's when rumors of a split buy of 80 F35B and up to 58 F35C started to circulate. The C would be the Tornado replacement, possibly under a formal programme split: the F35B would meet the original Joint Combat Aircraft requirement, with the F35C procured under Deep and Persistent Offensive Capability (DPOC, the programme the RAF conceived to replace FOAS in the Tornado-replacement role).
Back at this time, the F35C's range and full-size weapon bays were given as main reason for the choice. In pure British style, there were some "imaginative" proposals such as removing the naval features from the C (hook, folding wings etc), something that, no doubt, would have ended just like the plan for Typhoon fighters without guns: removing such weights and components would dramatically change aspects of the plane's centre of gravity, and require software modifications and other expensive adjustements that would have no doubt made the changes a source of additional expense and not of savings.  

In 2010, the SDSR killed DPOC (nominal but unallocated 1 billion budget) and assumed that the sole JCA would replace both Harrier and Tornado. The choice was the F35C, and this time there was an added reason: facts had changed.
In 2001, when the UK entered the F35 enterprise with the B as preferred solution (but never with a really definitive selection), it was expected that the F35C would be the most expensive of the 3 variants.

By 2010 it had become absolutely clear that it was actually the F35B that would cost the most to buy and then to run through life.

The 2010 decision was soon reversed, as we know, and now we are back in the B field fully, with the reason being a still rather unconvincing estimate putting the cost of fitting catapults and arrestor wires to CVF at 2 billion for Prince of Wales (converted at build) and 3 billion for Queen Elizabeth (converted at her first major refit, eventually).
I say rather unconvincing for a number of reasons. One of the funniest ones is that, in their latest explanation, MOD officers say that they found out they'd have to modify 280 compartments instead of an earlier planned figure of 80/90 in order to fit EMALS and wires into Prince of Wales, pushing costs up dramatically.
What does not really fit into the picture is that such compartments are not being built yet, so it's the paper design that needs changing, not a physical vessel (at least in Prince of Wales's case).
Again, even if 280 compartments need redesign, one cannot possibly understand how the financial impact can be so mostrous, considering that each CVF has over 2800 compartments, that the class was designed with a 111 million pounds Assessment and 175 million pounds Demonstration phases and that the virtual total unitary cost (inclusive of a 1.56 billion cost increase purely caused by a 2008 slow-down imposed to the works by Labour government) is 2.6 billion.
Rather spectacular modifications muse be necessary to double the cost of the vessel while modifying a tiny fraction of it...

At the moment, the UK has taken ownership over ZM135, the first F35B. Its brother, BK-2, should be delivered to the UK next month.
BK-3, that at one point following the SDSR 2010 was destined to be given to the US Marines in exchange for an F35C (CK-1), will arrive next year, since it was ordered one year after the first 2.
These planes will stay in the US, as probably will the first 6 "production" F35Bs.
Calling them "production" airframes is not really correct, since they are still going to be part of Low Rate Initial Production blocks. Only from 2018 or 2019 there will be full production-standard F35s.
Anyway, the UK has placed long lead orders this year, that will be formalized in 2013 as the order for the first of the 48 (if reports are true) planes planned.

In any case, here are some observations of the two possible scenarios implied by the latest development:

Scenario 1:

Tornado and Typhoon Tranche 1 go in 2019 (leaving 5 Typhoon squadrons), 48 F35B by 2023, additional F35 A or B in the 2020s.

48 F35B for the carriers. Possibly to be ordered/received by 2023, this date being indicated in the MOD Business Plan 2012 as the "end date" for the JCA effort.
Not too bad a number, but a very tight one nonetheless.
6 of these airplanes would stay in the US, with the USMC Squadron 501 "Warlords" at the Eglin F35 Integrated Training Centre, and act as a OCU to prepare pilots.
There won't be any UK-based OCU at least until 2014, but after that part of the airplanes might need to be used for a training formation at home.

Even if they are not needed and training is met by the Eglin facilities and UK force in there, the very best number of frontline squadrons that could be formed would be 3. And that would leave just 6 airframes to rotate in the force to cover maintenance needs.
The original Italian Navy assumption (now the plan has changed) was for a force of 22 F35B: 3 based in the US for training, 5 expected to be in maintenance/not available at any one time, and 14 available for embarking on the Cavour aircraft carrier.

The UK order would be a bit more than double that size, so let's make an empiric assumption and say that 6 airframes in the US do it for training. More than a quarter of the fleet would be unavailable most of the time, so that would mean 10/11 airframes. And a 6 + 32 (3 Squadrons) + 6 (attrition) airframes would struggle to make ends meet.
48 airplanes would realistically support 2 frontline Squadrons, with the third being routinely understrength to some degree.
Not unacceptable, considering that squadrons would normally rotate at different readiness levels, but this is arguably the very, very barest minimum for having an aspirational capability of filling up a CVF with a Wing of 3 squadrons in case of need.

The lack of attritional airframes would in addition mean that airframes would age faster, as there wouldn't be enough spare aircrafts to enable a rotational use, spreading the flying hours on more aircrafts.
This is, to a degree, acceptable in my view because the F35 is going to be in production for many, many years into the future, and its future price will likely drop over time, depending on how much export success it effectively reaps around the world.
With this background, it does arguably make sense to buy less airframes at the start, cutting back on the Attrition pool, in favor of buying replacement airframes in later years as and if it proves necessary.

Even so, in my opinion the eventual follow-on order should really be for the same aircraft type, to increase the number of carrier-capable aircrafts and to avoid the duplication of costs and issues that would be unavoidable if a split buy was the chosen path. F35A and F35B might have a lot in common, but they are simply not the same thing. Training and logistics would be partially different, and while the A's support and training would be less expensive per airframe, i'm not convinced that it would be an advantageous approach when all things get considered together.

The follow-on order for F35A would be, really, the third attempt of the RAF to procure a dedicate Tornado replacement. While Hammord reportedly said "that a follow-on F-35 buy would be set out in a future Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), with the aim of replacing the Eurofighter Typhoon in UK service", i really do not think that a total replacement of Typhoon is on the cards.

The Typhoon Out of Service date is 2030, notionally, but it is unthinkable that the main industrial product of Europe, the most numerous (it'll be from around 2015, since at the moment there is technically more Tornado GR4s still) aircraft in service with the RAF, the main export offer of the UK in the defence aerospace sector, the horribly-expensive superfighter does not get a Mid-Life Upgrade like all other major defence platforms.
The idea of retiring Typhoon just 12 years after it hits Full Operating Capability (planned for 2018 at the moment) is frankly impossible to accept or conceive.
Typhoon will no doubt live much longer than 2030.

A possibility is the loss of the 52 Typhoon Tranche 1, which have for some time now been assumed to go out of service by 2019, same OSD now planned for Tornado GR4.
The Tranche 1, relatively new but hard-worked already, would cost a fortune to upgrade, and they have some structural differences compared to Tranche 2 and 3 aircrafts that would prevent them from expanding their capabilities sufficiently (or making it financially unfeasible, anyway).
The idea is to remove them early from service, and keep a 5 squadrons fleet flying with a force of 107 Tranche 2 and Tranche 3. [Note, again, that 5 frontline squadrons supported by a fleet of 107 means 21.4 airframes per each 12-aircraft frontline squadron. Applied to F35B, the same ratio supports only 2.28 frontline squadrons, as mentioned earlier. What Typhoon is not likely to have is a production line open for as long as the F35's one. In addition, there is no US centre that trains pilots for the Typhoon!]

The Tornado GR4 and Typhoon (Tranche 1) are the two machines that will need replacing in the 2020s, and a second order of F35s, plus, in good time, the hoped-for UCAV, will be the only real option available for keeping up the fast jet numbers in the UK. The hope of the RAF is probably to get around 50 more airframes: post SDSR, a long-term target figure of "around 100 F35s" continued to circulate, in fact.

For maximum efficiency, though, i'd very much prefer if the UK sticked to the sole B variant, for maximum flexibility.
The F35A, of course, costs less, has a greater range and full size weapon bays.
The B's bays are 14 inches shorter, so there is less space for fitting current and future large weapons and/or payloads. The internal hardpoint for air-ground weaponry is rated for 1500 pounds, against 2500 for A and C variants.
In addition, the second of 3 pylons under each wing of an F35B is rated for 1500 pounds payload, against 2500 for the A and C variants. The innermost underwing pylons are rated for 5000 pounds on all variants (on these pylons the UK F35 will eventually carry Storm Shadows) while the third point on each wing is for AA missiles only, and the UK F35s will carry ASRAAMs on them.

It is not just about the Weapons Bays 14 inches shorter: payload limitations extend to the pylons carrying physically less weight, and there are of course Vertical Bring Back margins which can be a problem when the aircraft is returning to the carrier or short runway with unexpended weaponry aboard.

The F35A as a standard comes fitted with USAF-style receptacle, for Boom-type air to air refuelling. The RAF uses the USN method of Probe and Drogue.
Fortunately, the F35A is "ready to take" the same kind of probe and drogue kit used by the B and C, but nonetheless, there will be additional cost to fit it.

The Boom style air refuelling is the USAF favorite method. The USN method, adopted by NATO, has the well known probes and drogues. The Voyager tankers could be fitted with a Boom, but of course, this would cost serious money. And as it stands, none of the 14 air tankers on order has the Boom. Which creates already enough problems considering that the RAF can't refuel its C17s in flight, and in future won't be able to refuel the Rivet Joint either.

The main problem is that a Split Buy without the money for making it a big split buy is only going to buy two small aircraft fleet instead of a single, decent sized one.
Instead of 100 between F35B and F35A, i'd take 80 F35B any day, if the problem is money.
If the problem is about range and payload, then stepping away from the C was not right.

And, finally, there is another fear connected to a split buy: that of the two fleets entering a competition for access to the little budget available. The kind of internal, fratricide competition that gave Harried a death from a thousand cuts (the reduction enacted in 2009 was the death blow that was used as justification for the final retirement in 2010, as the many cuts had made the fleet "too small"), that forced the First Sea Lord to announce he would resign if the RAF went ahead and sacrificed the Harrier (2008).

I really do not want to hear, in a few years time, the same old shit.

"F35A costs less..."
"We've got more range and payload than them..."
"We can't put that weapon on the B..."
"We should just cut the B..."

No. It's happened once. Strategic Thinking has been sacrified once already, and it must not happen again. 

The Jane's article, reportedly, talks of yet another scenario. Please be aware that i cannot check it myself, i'm reporting from other sources:

Typhoon Tranche 1 retained, giving a 7 squadrons force. 48 F35B procured by 2023, a second order of F35 in the very long term (2030) as manned part of a Typhoon replacement, probably completed by drones. 

This would see the MOD abandoning the plan of retiring Tranche 1 Typhoons by 2019.
The Typhoon force would instead grow to 7 squadrons plus OCU and OEU, probably with the Tranche 1 used for the 2 "Air Defence" Squadrons (3rd and 6th RAF) and the Tranche 2 and 3 used in 5 "Swing-Role" deployable squadrons, due to their more complete capabilities.

The F35B force would be made up by 48 airplanes, procured probably by 2023, as said in Scenario 1.

The second buy of F35 airplanes in this case is, effectively, a non-binding promise. The government might well say they will order more F35s in 2030, but effectively they don't know, they can't and won't promise.
It is a nice way to say that, really, the F35 order has been slashed from 150, then 138 all the way down to 48. Quite dramatic a cut, more than two thirds of the original planning figure.
Not even worth bothering thinking about what will happen in 2030: way too far away in time to say. Not to mention that, as i said earlier, i really do not expect the Typhoon to bow out of service that soon.

This second scenario is admittedly attractive financially speaking because retaining already available, already paid-for Typhoon Tranche 1s is undoubtedly going to be less expensive than a second F35 order in the early 2020s.

A force of 48 F35Bs, however, calls into question the sense of adopting a "60:40" split between RAF and Fleet Air Arm.
With 48 being the bare minimum number for a single carrier wing, the focus on naval operations for the force must be absolute, or it won't make much sense. 


  1. The split buy is nonsense added in by some idiot pre-pubescent Jane's "journalist", almost certainly without basis in either fact or rumour. We will not see a special force for the carriers, those days are gone, the 48 F-35B will replace the GR.4's and the 107 Typhoons will go to 2035, in my opinion this may be the first indication that reality is hitting with regards to the limitations of UCAV's and an acceptance that a new tactical fighter will be needed to replace Typhoon, even if that does not happen until 2030 the F-35 will still be the only "5th gen" tactical fighter in production in either Europe or North America making a late buy far from impossible. What the 48 number may mean is that the RAF may be about to fall from 8 to 7 squadrons with just two (possibly large, as happened to the Harrier squadrons when 4 became 3 in the 70s) squadrons of F-35, this may have been our first indication of a further cut.

    1. I've updated the article with additional information that has emerged.
      The RAF might get 7 Typhoon squadrons plus F35 squadrons.

    2. Thank you for the update, I would suggest that the new scenario will work out as follows. Tornado retired and replaced in the short term by Tranche 3 Typhoons whilst F-35B deliveries replace the Tranche 2 Typhoons still resulting in a total force of 7 squadrons with F-35 also being considered as a replacement for the Tranche 3 Typhoons from 2030 onwards. I simply dont see the UK ending up with anymore than 8 fast jet squadrons (as it has now) and financial pressures are more likely to reduce this with 7 being one outcome, the idea that the UK will add fast jet squadrons in order to support a carrier wing just seem far-fetched to me.

      For me, the most interesting question is what will happen to the RAPTOR pod, it has been remarkably successful so surely the RAF will want it integrated, somehow, into Typhoon?

    3. RAPTOR on Typhoon is a possibility. RAPTOR was also succesfully installed on a Reaper drone already in 2005.
      But with the advent of F35, RAPTOR might go altogether, replaced by the F35 sensors themselves.

      Besides, RAPTOR is incapable to transfer imagery and data in real time: the Tornado has to return, land, data storage units have to be picked out of the pod and analyzed and readied for use.
      Something with less dead-times will work even better.

    4. Except the F-35 lacks the optical sensors to do what the RAPTOR does....

    5. To a degree, possibly. Depends on how awesome the EODAS system actually is when it enters service.
      Listening to the PR, it is very awesome, but you never know...

    6. PR is PR, EODAS can not defy the laws of physcis though. Its optical arrays are simply not as big as what RAPTOR carries

  2. Hi Gabriele,
    It seems to me that we are hearing some inter service rubbish yet again.
    Now the RAF have found out that we are only going to get 48 F35Bs, and they are going to end up on the carriers, they want they slice of the pie, some F35As.
    As i ve said before, keep the tranche 1 Typhoons in service in the air defence role. Those Typhoons have cost an arm and a leg, keep them in service for as long as we can!

  3. Naturally, the RAF cannot function with a STOVL model.

    1. The RAF never wanted Harrier, after they replaced the P.1154 with the F-4M they were happy to let STOVL die; they only took a small number of Harrier (never more than 4 squadrons later compressed to 3) because the minister for aviation managed to agree a cabinet deal to fund their acquisition outside the usual defence budget.

  4. At last some sense.......

    Gabriele you would have noticed comments on the aircraft carrier news and discusion forum of 18-22 type 26

    Howard conferms 13 for the RN but is pleased with "discusions" with other countrys. 5-9 ships to Brazil?


    1. Brazil is a possibility, yes. Perhaps the best chance for success, at the moment at least, is in Brazil.

  5. The two scenarios just seem quite small varations on each other to me.

    While the article talks about replacing all the Typhoons sometime around 2030-2040, I think it more likely is that they are thinking that Tranche 1 would need replacing sometime in the 2030s and then later (2040s?) the rest of the Typhoons would be replaced as well.

    I think most people think its unlikely that the Typhoons will be retired in 2030 or near to then, but the Tranche 1s most likely wouldn't have much life left in them beyond then. One of the reasons for looking to retire them in 2019 was the hours expected to be left on them.

    So if they are kept beyond 2019 then I would think that they would for sure need replacing in the 2030s.

    So to me, the two scenarios are really just a matter of when the F-35A are bought to replace the tornadoes.

    As for the idea of going to buy some F-35A in the 2030s being just a non-binding promise then so is the aim to buy some in the 2020s. Although "non-binding promise" seems a bit too strong for either of them. Any future Military purchase are more of a "non-binding ambition". Before any F-35A might be bought in the 2020s, we are going to see at least too more strategic reviews and most likely at least one change of government.

    So I don't think it can really be looked at as a cut in the F-35 order from 150/138 down to 48. Even if the plan stayed at ordering 138 of them. Then no matter what the time frame settled on, a large number of those, would be ordered after 2020. I would be suprised if the government signed another contract where it promised to buy X number in future orders/Tranches; after what it has gone through trying to get out of the commitments in the Typhoon orders.

    So the way it reads to me is that really the only difference is are the Tornadoes replaced as quickly as possible with F35As or do we keep the current Tranche 1 and Tranche 2 Typhoons doing they current roles (Air superiority and swing role fighters) while using Tranche 3 to replace the Tornadoes.

    The idea of if the F35s are bought in the 2020s or the 2030s doesn't seem a major thing (compared to some of the other issues in the future plans).

    More important issues are that the Typhoon Air to ground programme is completed and also whould you really want the rest of the Typhoons replaced with F35s in the 2040s? By then the early F35s are going to be around 30 years old. By then we most likely would be looking to sometime soon, to replace the F35Bs even if with new builds.

    To me, to think about replacing all Typhoons with F35s sometime in the 2030/2040s would be like that instead of starting to introduce the Typhoons around 10 years ago we had gone with the F16 at that time and saw that as our Air superiority and swing role fighter for the next 30ish years.

    But for the Tornado replacement while ideally it might be better to replace it with F35s (whatever version) as soon as possible (so sometime in the 2020s), I don't think it would be the end of the world to instead keep the Tranche 1 Typhoons on in the Air superiority role to allow the Tranche 3s to focus more on ground attack. So maybe Tranche 1 = Air superiority, Tranche 2 = swing roles with maybe more limited Air to ground than Tranche 3, but with the pilot training split around 50-50 between the two roles. While Tranche 3 focus more on ground attack. Then in the 2030s withdraw Tranche 1 and buy some F35s that would take over the Air to ground focus role. And Tranche 2 and Tranche 3 Typhoons would re-adjust to be more evenly swing roled.

    I would then hope in the 2040s that Tranche 2 and 3 Typhoons would be replaced with something newer and more capable in all roles than the F35.

    Whatever is decided on it will all be a non-binding ambition, until the orders are actually placed. And even then the Mod are most likely to more careful about placing non breakable longish term contracts after recent attempts to get out of such contracts (like the Carriers and Typhoon Tranches).

  6. I think that you must start to factor in the increasingly separate budgets for the RAF and Royal Navy under the new MOD structures the B may initially have some form of joint ownership but I expect it will pass to the FAA - Navy in time.

    The remainder of the buy of F35 will be pure RAF and they will be happy with the commonality with the USAF and with the Italian Air Force that comes from the A and will be desperate to get as many as possible from their budget.. both for purchase and sustainable ownership.

    The idea that the costs of these F35 aircraft derive from local factors is I think incorrect. there will be many partnering relationships such as for training and Lockheed Martin will I expect look to follow the lead of Boeing (with the C17) by providing a world wide network of maintenance.

    Not I grant you that this will cover all elements of engineering when in combat but it will mean that the base costs of the A (as you have stated) will be the lowest. And the cost penalties of the basic complexity of the B will ensure that they will be limited to the lowest number that sustains desired capabilities.

    The B funding will be coming out of a budget that needs to provide the option of two carriers at sea in exceptional circumstances (both with a creditable force) and one carrier always at sea with a peace time F35B force as an enduring commitment.

    So just as you have described the force will just about cope but that's where the B funding will finish their numbers will be kept at a minimum to allow a possible F35A fleet to develop if funding and technology make this a viable idea

    This is the same cost situation that applies with the MV22/CV22 tilt-rotor, it will always be a more costly option so that there is not sense in replacing it for helicopters just to provide a single fleet. the extra costs would massively outweigh the possible benefits.

    1. I would be very happy to see the B given wholly to the Navy and assigned by definition to the naval aviation role, but differently from you and others, i find it real, real hard to believe.

      As for the global maintenance aspect, yes, that is definitely the plan. It is going to help keeping spares available, ideally cutting the time aircrafts will be unavailable.
      But even so, there's no changing the fact that F35 remains an expensive item, and the F35B is the most expensive of the 3.

      As for the requirement of two carriers at sea with decent wings aboard, i think it is actually questionable.
      On two carriers or on one, the target (if we are lucky) will be the capability to deploy 36 aircrafts at once.
      And from a fleet of 48, this will already be quite a challenge.
      So if the two carriers sailed together, they would just share halves of that 36 number.

      The second carrier is mainly really for ensuring that the ship can be rotated into deployment and be always available.

    2. I'd be surprised if a carrier deployed to a operation with more than 18 F35Bs. Even if we had 60-70 instead of 48. For the main reason that I think the average maximum commitment that the UK would make in fast jets to a operation is around 36.

      Unless it is somewhere that there are no friendly airbases around at all, then at least some of those 36 will be Typhoons. So more likely than 36 F35 would be 18 F35 and 18 Typhoons (Tranche 2 and 3).

      Of course there might be times when 36 F35s are deployed to a carrier in a operation. Either if there isn't time to arrange friendly airbases in time; so deploy 36 to the carrier instead of launching long range storm shadow raids from the uk, like libya. Or on a few occasions when more than 36 fast jets are commited, which I can't see ever, outside a full scale war or a nation emergency (like the falklands), being more than 48.

      This is why I don't think it would be a complete disaster if the next batch of F35s (whatever model) was delayed until around 2030. Because for the average operational deployment the biggest change I could see them making is that we deployed 24 F35 and 12 Typhoons instead of 18 of each.

      So a average deployment with just 48 F35 might be 18 F35B, 6 Typhoon tranche 2 and 12 Tyhoon Tranche 3. But if we bought a batch of F35A in the 2020s then a deployment might be 12 F35B, 12 F35A and 12 Typhoon tranche 3.

    3. The math is pretty easy to do. Even in the 80s when the there were 3 Invincibles the FAA only ever had two frontline Sea Harrier squadrons. There are currently only 8 UK Fast Jet squadrons and no resources to expand this so the Carrier air-wing will have to com out of this. I suspect we are being prepared for a mid-late 2020s scenario of 5 Typhoon Tranche 3 squadrons and 2 F-35B squadrons with F-35X being pursued as a Typhoon Tranche 3 replacement.

    4. I'm not so sure that the number of squadrons won't increase slighty with at least a new Navy one (and if we were really lucky a mixed Raf and Navy one). The navy basically have the pilots for a extra squadron now, who are currently training with the French and US Navies. So at least a good part of the costs of that extra squadron are being paid for now.

      So I think its a similar situation as with the maritime patrol aircraft, currently there isn't any squadron for that, but most of the personnel for it are being paid for. They are just currently deployed/training with other air forces. But at somepoint is seems very likely that we will purchase new MPA and form a new squadron, and I wouldn't expect one of the existing squadrons would be retired to make way for it (unless the sentinel really is retired) .

    5. There won't be enough Tranche 3 Typhoons to fill 5 squadrons as the Raf are only meant to be buying 40 of them. So those 5 squadrons would have to be Tranche 2 and 3.

  7. I just can't see any model of F35 being bought to replace the tranche 2 and 3 Typhoons.

    As Gabriele said, they aren't likely to be replaced anytime soon. So the very late 2030s seems the very earliest that they would be replaced. Even if by then a UCAV wasn't able to fill all the roles required, I just don't think a F35 would be able to either.

    I'm still very cautious of the capability of the F35 in the air superiority role. The main feature really it has to relay on in that role is its stealth. Now in the future its quite possible that stealth is mostly defeacted by various advances (or at least the level of stealth the F35 has).

    The USN at least are already thinking about the limits of Stealth and how it might be circumvented:

    Or if it isn't circumvented then its likely that by 2040 the newest aircraft of potential enemies are going to be more stealthy than the F35. Is it really likely that around 40 years after it was introduced into service that no one else could produce a aircraft as stealthy as the F22? Which is from public data quite a lot more stealthy than a F35.

    Thats without taking into account things like manoeuvrability which is even now far from the best on the F35.

  8. On carrier deployment, I suggest this. QE deploys with one, and slowly 2 squadrons of Bs. When PoW is completed, it takes only one or some Bs, and becomes the principle amphibious ship, QE becomes the carrier strike force. If rotation is needed, simply shift the squadrons around. 2 Squadrons for strike carrier, 1 for amphibious assault ship. Both carriers in RN hands. Remaining 12 (or less) aircraft as a training squadron. So maximum 38 Bs at sea and 2 carriers saved.

  9. 48 F35B doesn't sound too bad, but id rather see 60 to expand the safety margins, taking in-to account service hours and possible attrition. Id also happily see them in sole FAA possession, a ballpark figure of 48 isn't enough to effectively do both carrier and land based strike. I doubt though that they ever will as the RAF won't be able to resist grabbing a piece of the action.

    Keeping all 160 Typhoon's sounds more plausible then I previously believed. Tranche 1 for air defence and 2 + 3 for swing role/ground support sounds like a good idea. The programme has cost billions upon billions, at the very least every drop of operational use needs to be squeezed.

    So yeah have the initial buy of F35B for carrier ops, have the RAF focus on Typhoon with tranche 1 staying until the late 2020's and the tranche 2 and 3 ones upgraded to stay until the 2040's,

    Gives them plenty of time to consider what the long-term Typhoon replacement will be. By the point of decision everyone will have a far clearer idea on how the F35B in service will have aged, how cheap/effective the F35A has become and what the general size/shape of the future requirement will be.

    1. Again, depends how many carriers the RN wants to have. 1 operational 1 reserve, or both operational while one in reserve occasionally.

  10. I like you're idea of utilising both carriers, 1 for strike and 1 for amphibious assault, with roles being easily changeable and only the occasional drop when 1 is in refit.

    Utilising 38 F35B for you're plan is realistically the most the Royal Navy would ever contemplate operating at sea, in reality it will probably and sadly be far less.

    So I think for all feasible scenario's 48 aircraft is adequate, with 60 being ideal!

    1. Either that or the UK's carrier plan will be a joke. Will the RN have the stomach to think of how to create the best dish with the ingredients available?

  11. I find it amusing how many people think there is two carriers, there is not, two hulls provides one carrier which only needs one air wing: 48 x F-35B is sufficient to provide that especially as the ship will usually only embark 12 aircraft; one squadron.

    And that fits perfectly with this 2010 story about the RAF falling to six squadrons:

    5 Typhoon squadrons and an F-35B squadron making 6 deployed on land in the RAF and a second F-35B squadron deployed on the one available carrier.

  12. So you are assuming the RAF will usurp the FAA? Why not let that be publicly stated?

    Last I check, it was FAA aircraft which launched from carriers post WWII. In the Falklands, the majority of kills came from FAA Sea Harriers.

    If 12 aircraft is all they want, might as well beg the Americans to borrow one America-class ship once they are ready. That is far more powerful that the QEs.

    1. The RAF has already usurped the FAA, in 2000, when Joint Force Harrier was born, the Sea Harrier was brought under RAF Group 1 command and then killed off, and in 2001 when JCA became a RAF programme.

      Now we know that the plan is for a 60/40 manpower split in the JCA force, with 60% being RAF.
      The aircrafts are RAF owned, the base will be a RAF one, and we aren't even sure there will be a FAA badged squadron at this point.
      And it'll be under RAF command anyway.

      That's the very core of the problem indeed, but the Navy has no real chance at the moment to change the situation.

  13. Gabrielle beat me to it, he is spot on, the FAA has been dead as a fast jet force since 2000. The standard 12 aircraft force for one carrier was stated in the SDSR.

  14. There is a possibility that Spreadsheet Phil has challenged the RAF's assertions that they need more Typhoons. If I was Phil I'd ask why!

    Having got the answer that they wish to scrap lots and buy some new ones, and that their in service Typhoons aren't really in service I'd tell them to sort it out. Focus their minds by saying NO new toys until you get this sorted.

    48 F35Bs works nicely into two squadrons of 18 with 12 for conversion/training etc. That these squadrons maybe 12 plus a few for working on still works out.

    The idea that the Typhoon is taken out of service so quickly is just frankly bonkers. The industrial impact, the security impact (US export restrictions on F35), the age, dependency on one single platform all make this idea so ludricous I am not taking it remotely seriously.

    Spreadsheet Phil will use a logical commonsense approach to making decisions and it may be that the RAF is not given these toys at all unless they get their house in order. I think that would be a good thing and unlike Gabrielle rather think that F35Cs would be the way to go as the MRTT choice has too many mistakes to try and renegotiate.

  15. 24 F-35Bs for the Navy 24 for the RAF

  16. why cant the RAF use the fgr4 eurofighter (fully updated with all available weapons) for both ground attack, reconnance and air superiority and leave the F35B's for the fleet air arm. Would solve soooo many problems


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