Monday, February 11, 2013

Combat Air situation: the F35

What is the current status of the F35 program, and what the timeline for production and release to service of this or that capability? It is not easy to answer, among the chaos created by press articles which are normally either full or hype or full of gloom.
This adds confusion to a program which is already very complex in itself: it’s very easy to get lost among LRIPs, Blocks and test points.
In this article I’ve tried to put together an overview as clear as possible, also creating a graph which should help making things much easier to understand.

During the year 2012, the F35 fleet exceeded the year targets in terms of flights and test points cleared: the plan called for 988 flights and 8458 Test Points, but by December 2012 the fleet had achieved 1156 Flights and 9282 Test Points. All three variants (A, B, C) exceeded their in-year targets, according to Lochkeed Martin.

The Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) report for 2012, which was mentioned in countless press reports, says differently because it is valid only out to November 2012. By then, F35B and C had already exceeded their test flight targets, while the F35A had flown 263 times against a plan for 279.
The Test Flights are a much more complex subject. The DOT&E, again, valid and up-to-date up to November 2012, says that 8750 test points were achieved, against a planned 6497 TPs. However, the 8750 points have been obtained by anticipating 2319 points that had been planned for future years, in exchange for 1786 points which, planned for 2012, had to be postponed as issues were discovered on the airplanes, that prevented relevant testing from happening. The discovery of these issues has also caused the emergence of 1720 further Test Points that had to be achieved. 

The F35 (all variants), achieved 4711 of the 6497 TPs planned for 2012, but also cleared 1720 additional test points that emerged due to corrections to the aircrafts and 2319 test points originally planned for the next years.
In terms of software, validation of the Block 1 package exceeded its targets by 35%, but Block 2 lagged by 6% and Block 3 is also lagging and “made virtually no progress” according to the DOT&E. This could prove a big issue, since Block 3I is planned to begin flight testing later this year.
The DOE&T provides a clear explanation of the nature of the 3 Blocks of software (which actually break down into several sub-blocks): 

Block 1. The program designated Block 1 for initial training capability and allocated two increments:
Block 1A for Lot 2 (12 aircraft) and Block 1B for Lot 3 aircraft (17 aircraft). No combat capability is available in either Block 1 increment. (Note: Remaining development and testing of Block 0.5 initial infrastructure was absorbed into Block 1 during the program restructuring in 2011.)

Block 2. The Block 2 software was broken down in two releases:

Block 2A. The program designated Block 2A for advanced training capability and associated this block with Lots 4 and 5. No combat capability is available in Block 2A.
Block 2B. The program designated Block 2B for initial, limited combat capability for selected internal weapons (AIM-120C, GBU-32/31, and GBU-12). This block is not associated with the delivery of any production aircraft. Block 2B software will be used to retrofit earlier production aircraft.

The Pentagon has already started the process for the upgrade that would retrofit the early deliver airplanes.

Block 3.  The Block 3 is fundamental as it represents the first “mature” standard for the F35. For the UK it is even more important, because british weapons will only be integrated as part of the Block 3.

Block 3i. Block 3i is Block 2A capability re-hosted on an improved integrated core processor for Lots 6 through 8.
Block 3F. The program designated Block 3F as the full SDD capability for production Lot 9 and later.

The release to service of the software blocks remain one of the most challenging aspects of the F35 program, and delays have so far been a constant. The first two british F35B (BK-1 and BK-2), part of the LRIP lot 3, were planned to have Block 1B capability, but were delivered, along with other US F35s, with only partial 1B software.
The third F35B for the UK should be delivered later this year and being part of the LRIP 4 it should come with Block 2A software, but will almost certainly have only partial capability, as LRIP 4 deliveries started in November 2012 but the software still was incomplete.
In time, this software issue will be corrected, but of course it represents an issue, because the final development of the 2A software will have to happen concurrently with the testing and development of the 2B software.
It is not yet clear when the 2B software will appear onto the airplanes, as it is not associated to a specific production lot, but will be uploaded into the airplanes when available. The plan is to achieve full 2B capability release to service by early 2015, however. 

Inserting Block 3 software onto the early production airframes will be more challenging, as it will also require an hardware upgrade, with new processors replacing the current ones. Software Block 3I is planned to begin flight around the middle of 2013, while 3F will begin its own 33-months testing and development phase in early 2015, with the aim of release to service in 2017.

The software delays and challenging, concurrent development and testing comes in addition to a series of other problems that have to be solved, including the helmet mounted display, particularly in its night-vision function, the F35B propulsion system and, perhaps the most worrisome, the cracking of airframe bulkheads and elements well before the 8000 flying hours value the F35 is supposed to reach.
While the helmet fixes, the software, the processors and other issues are (relatively) easy to retrofit and correct, getting the airframe right as soon as possible is key to avoid procuring expensive aircrafts that end up having limited use and short life.
Going back to factory to implement changes and fixes has a cost: the 3 F35s ordered so far have already incurred a cost growth of 26 million pounds due to corrections and design changes, the NAO 2012 report warns.

I will not write about the issues remaining to be solved in this article: reading the DOE&T report gives a clear picture of the state of things. I want to focus instead on the british F35 force, and see what challenges and milestones lay ahead on the path for its generation. 

In this graph, i've tried to explain in the easiest possible way the succession of LRIPs, Blocks and milestones. Evidenced in yellow are the deliveries of the british F35B, including the fourth, which has been announced.

Two of the next big events in the british F35 saga are the delivery of the third F35B, BK-3 (ZM138) and the confirmation of the order for a fourth aircraft, which will be part of the LRIP 7. Both milestones should be hit in the next months.
BK-3 is a jet of the Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) 4, so it is more advanced and mature than the previous two, but as we already said it will have no combat capability and incomplete 2A software. After delivery, it will move to Edwards Air Force Base, home of the F35 Integrated Test Force, composed by 461 Test and Evaluation Squadron, 412 Test Wing.
The 461 Sqn flies the test sorties to validate the Test Points of the F35 program, but in 2012 it has also delivered training to the personnel from 31 TES squadron (USAF) and VMX-22 (USMC), which are among the squadrons which will Operationally Evaluate the F35 system.

The System Development and Demonstration (SDD) fleet is split between Edwards AFB and NAS Patuxent River: according to Lochkeed, as of January 2013, Edwards AFB has 6 F35A of the SDD production lot and “2 LRIP jets devoted to SDD” which I think are the british BK-1 and BK-2.
It was BK-1 which aborted a take off at Edwards on January 16, 2013, because of a fueldraulic failure, which caused the precautionary grouding of all F35Bs to be ordered on January 18.
The NAS Patuxent River instead has 7 F35B and 4 F35C of the SDD production lot and 2 LRIP jets devoted to SDD.
The first two british F35Bs will be jointed at Edwards by BK-3 later this year. They have been used in support of testing and training, but in good time all three will join the Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E) fleet.
In an official document dating back to 2009, the Edwards-based OT&E force at full capacity was expected to contain 6 F35A of the USAF, 6 F35B of the US Marines, 6 F35C of the US Navy and 2 british F35B. Since then, some things have changed, along with the relevant dates, that have slipped further to the right: a third british F35 was added, being ordered in 2010.

Just today, Flightglobal reports that the USAF F35A OT&E force is about to get its first aircrafts: the OT&E force is the 53rd Test and Evaluation Group, Nellis AFB. It controls two squadrons: 31 Test and Evaluation Squadron at Edwards AFB and the 422 TES at Nellis. Over the last week of the month, the 31 squadron will receive four F35A Block 1B, while the 422 will get an equal number of Block 2A.

The F35B OT&E should stand up at Edwards in mid-2014, US Marines said in March 2012. The detachment will have the colors of VMX-22, the same squadron that evaluated the MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor. The three British F35Bs will work in close partnership with them, I understand, but for now they remain formally part of the training squadron VMFAT-501 “Warlords”, serving to augment the number of airplanes available for the training of pilots. BK-2 briefly visited Eglin air force base before moving to Edwards. 

The US Marines base Yuma is the first base to have an operational squadron of F35. When force build-up is complete, the base will have 6 Full Mission Simulators, one OT&E squadron with 8 F35s and 5 frontline squadrons. The US Marines also plan to deploy a squadron of F35B at Iwakuni, in Japan, from 2017.
The F35 "system" comes complete with a series of sophisticate training aids. One most interesting item is the deployable Mission Rehearsal Trainer, which is installed into a TEU container. It is expected that the aircarft carrier, when deploying out at sea, will also carry one of these.
Eglin is the location of the F35 Integrated Training Center, a tri-service and international school for pilots and ground crew which will offer ten Full Mission Simulators, 1 Ejection Seat Trainer, 5 Weapons Load Trainers, classrooms and other supports.
The ITC is of course completed by flying training squadrons: for the US Marines, this is the already mentioned VMFAT-501 “Warlords” squadron, which is planned to eventually line 20 F35B. To these, the United Kingdom will add 6 F35Bs of its own.
The US Navy will have the VFA-101 “Grim Reapers” squadron with 15 F35C, and the USAF will have the 58th Squadron “Gorillas”. I had already written a good overview of the Eglin ITC and its components, here, which I recommend reading.

The fourth F35B to be ordered by the UK, part as we said of the LRIP 7, should be delivered sometime in 2015, and it is the first aircraft for the training fleet, so, if the plans do not change, it will be based at Eglin with the Warlords, while BK-1, BK-2 and BK-3 could very well stay in Edwards in the Operational Evaluation role out to 2017/18.
Five more aircrafts will have to be ordered soon to complete the envisaged six-strong british OCU at Eglin. It appears to me necessary, to meet the officially announced targets in the dates indicated, to order several F35 next year, that would thus be part of LRIP 8 and due for delivery in 2016. The order should include enough airframes to at least complete the training fleet at Eglin, I suggest. Without it, it’s hard to imagine how the UK could be ready for the beginning of land trials in the UK in 2017 and for the first trials on HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2018.
In addition, Minister Philip Dunne, speaking about the switch back to the F35B, declared that the first F35 would arrive (in the UK, I’m guessing) in 2016, so an order for at least six aircrafts would be needed, assuming that priority is given to putting together the training fleet before flying the first jets to the UK.   

It will also be necessary to finally, officially select the Main Operating Base for the F35 in the UK, with Marham having the status of favorite. The official announcement might be part of the basing review to be announced sometime this year.

A total of 48 F35Bs has been funded and planned as part of the 10-year budget, out to 2022/23. Of these, if the plans do not change, 3 are OT&E airframes and 6 will form the training fleet at Eglin. This leaves a maximum of 39 airframes to use to form frontline squadrons. With a strength of 12 airframes each, the squadrons that can be formed with 39 aircrafts are, most likely, only two, unless the MOD shows more “audacity” that it is usual and forms 3 squadrons, accepting the risk of having a tiny Sustainment Fleet thanks to the assumption that more aircrafts will be ordered later, and thanks to the awareness that the production line for the F35 is due to stay open and hot for many, many years.  
The Permanent Under Secretary for the MOD, Jon Thompson, said to the Defence Committee:

The Joint Strike Fighter has a very long tail. It is more than 10 years. Our commitment over the first 10 years is for 48, which was part of the announcements on 10 May in relation to the reversion to STOVL. Over time, we would expect the number to rise to beyond three figures, but that would be in the second decade.

With additional orders to follow, giving priority to achieving a 3 squadron frontline force wouldn’t be absurd. It would also allow government to make it more credible their claim that, when needed, it is still possible to deploy an aircraft carrier filled with a full 3-squadron, 36 jets air wing.
The manning of the Joint F35 force is officially going to be a 60:40 affair in favor of the RAF, and it isn’t clear how this will affect squadron colors. I hope and expect that one of the squadrons will bear Naval Air Service colors.

The stated targets for the F35 build-up are:

Land-based IOC to be achieved in March 2019
Carrier-based IOC to be achieved in March 2021

The business plan 2011, while speaking of the F35C and not of the B, is interesting as it provides an indication of the date of “end-activity” for the first phase of procurement and build-up of the F35 force as April 2023.
The business plan 2012, accounting for the return to F35B, maintained the April 2023 end-of-activity date, and detailed the IOC dates. It has also been publicly announced again and again that trials aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth will begin in 2018.

By April 2023, in other words, the full force of 48 F35B aircrafts announced as funded within the 10-year budget will have to be operational. And to achieve the IOC dates as currently announced, sizeable orders of F35 jets are to be expected in the next few years. The problem is, of course, the maturity of the airplane and, crucially, of its software.

While the US Marines plan to hit initial operating capability around 2015/16, with the software 2B, the UK will have to wait until Block 3 to have its own weaponry integrated. The latest publicly available official document treating this subject dates back to March 2012: it shows that the sole F35B, to enable the US Marines to hit IOC, will be cleared in Block 2 to carry and employ weaponry, although consideration is being given to integrating weapons early on all variants to reduce risks.
Block 2 F35B is contracted to be able to employ the following arsenal:  

Internal carriage on F35B Block 2
2x 1000 lbs JDAM GBU-32

2x GBU-12 Paveway II



External carriage on F35B Block 2


With the software Block 3, the F35B would see its arsenal expanded to include:

Carriage of 4 internal AMRAAM missiles (2 additional missiles in place of air-to-ground weapons)
External carriage of GBU-12 Paveway II
External carriage of 2 AIM-9X Sidewinder
Gun pod

Consideration was at the time being given to the possibility of integrating within Block 3 the capability to employ PGU-32 SAPHEI-T (Semi-Armor Piercing High Explosive Incendiary-Trace) rounds for the 25mm gun. The US are also thinking about adopting the Frangible Armor Piercing (FAP) round made by Rheinmetall Waffe Munitions Schweiz.

Block 3 would then add the possibility to carry 4 internal AMRAAMs (two on the internal Air-Ground stations), in addition to the integration of further US weaponry.

The March 2012 report still assumed the UK would buy F35C, so it is on the C Block 3 page that ASRAAM and Paveway IV appear: Paveway IV is only cleared for internal carriage (this seems to have always been the plan, even if I cannot possibly agree with it and would really, really encourage external integration too) while ASRAAM is cleared only for external carriage.
This second element was a surprise.

Originally, the UK had asked to integrate, in Block 3, the ASRAAM for quadruple internal carriage. Weird choice if there ever was one, as I can’t understand what was the intended role of a modern day Sea Harrier FRS1 armed with sole short-range, infrared guided missiles.
Perhaps common sense won the day at some point, or maybe it was just budget cuts biting, or the difficulties in adapting a rail-launched weapon to pylons meant to drop air-ground ordnance, but with Planning Round 2006, the MOD dropped the requirement for the 2 internal ASRAAM missiles to be carried on air-ground stations, replacing it with a much more realistic requirement for carriage on the wingtip rails.
This change of plan was reported by Jane’s in 2008, but the NAO Major Project report shows it as a Planning Round 2006 decision. In the same period, the MOD decided to drop the requirement for external integration of Paveway II and III bombs and dropped the plan for integration of Brimstone for internal carriage. External carriage was planned, along with Storm Shadow integration, obviously external, for the Block IV software release, but even this plan was cancelled, leaving only ASRAAM and Paveway IV currently contracted for integration.   

Since 2008, the plan has been for integration of 2 internal and 2 external ASRAAMs: two on the weapon bays’ doors, and two under the wings.
So, the March 2012 graph showing integration only on the external pylons was a nasty surprise.
At the time of the switch back from C to B there were confused reports, on the Telegraph and elsewhere, about the reported impossibility to have ASRAAM integrated in Block 3 on the F35C. They didn’t sound right at the time, but some journalist might have heard something about difficulties in integrating ASRAAM on the two bay door stations. 

An early mock-up showing ASRAAM installed at the weapon bay's door station, showing a notional swing-out rail. It is currently not clear if the effort to make this happen for real is going ahead.  
At the moment, I have no idea if the switch back to F35B can solve this issue and give the UK the intended 2+2 integration model. As I had already reported in an older article, integration of the ASRAAM for internal carriage, even on the bay door stations, is far from straightforward:

The ASRAAM is a rail-launched missile, which fires its engine and shots forwards off the rail, like Sidewinder. Meteor and AMRAAM can be rail launched, but can also be dropped like bombs, with the engine igniting after launch. This feature is indispensable for launch of AMRAAM and Meteor from the 4 underfuselage weapon stations of the Typhoon, and from those of the earlier Tornado F3. It is a feature essential to use of the AMRAAM from the F22's weapon bays. And it is essential for the use of the missile on the F35. Integrating AMRAAM and Meteor on the Air to Ground hardpoint is easy because the missile can be dropped out of the bay. ASRAAM cannot be dropped, so it needs the trapeze swinging out.
Problem is that the Air to Air station inside the weapon bay's door is also an ejector, not a rail. No problem for dropping a Meteor or AMRAAM, but no rail-launched weapon: the very reason why the US are not bothering trying to integrate Sidewinder for internal carriage.

The RAF instead is. While they are not funding Meteor integration, which would be more straightforward and far more useful, they are wasting money in finding a way to fire an ASRAAM from a non adequate hardpoint. I've no details on the solution chosen, but we can exclude that the missile is being modified to be droppable, otherwise the requirement for 4 internal missiles would still be standing. Besides, the NAO report specifically says that existing ASRAAM missiles are to be used for integration work and trials, so the modification is airplane-based, not missile-based.
So, while this is speculation, i believe it is 99% safe to assume that, thanks to the small diameter and tiny fins of the ASRAAM making it possible, some kind of swing-down rail is being designed, specifically for use with ASRAAM on the bay door hardpoint.

As a standard, the F35 internal hardpoints come with pneumatic ejectors that literally "push" down the ordnance: dropping it and letting gravity do the job won't work as it would never give the bomb or missile the velocity required to pierce the boundary layer and get out of the bay without hitting anything.We are talking about a 40G accelleration, so it is not at all a mean feat as it would at first seem.
Most ejectors in service today are pyrotechnic, but the F35 uses safer pneumatic systems. The company building the F35 pneumatic ejectors, EDO, already produces the LAU-142 AVEL vertical ejector for the F22 Raptor's weapon bays. For the F35, they are developing the nuLAU-120 (Internal) and nuBRU-30 (external) systems. An old, but interesting overview of EDO's works and components for the F35 is available here

Having ASRAAM integrated for internal carriage is also challenging due to the environment of the weapons bay, which is quite a hostile one, it has emerged. Temperatures within the bays get quite high, and this is unlikely to be good for an imaging infrared guided missile.
I wouldn’t be excessively surprised to hear that integration of ASRAAM for internal carriage has turned out to be too complex and expensive to be attractive. It would be a shame, but in itself it wouldn’t be too big of a problem. The issue is that the UK still hasn’t given the go ahead for Meteor integration on F35, and it plans to retire AMRAAM sometime in 2017. Actually, the plan was to retire it in 2015, but the delays incurred by Meteor integration on Typhoon and release to service will force the MOD to keep the AMRAAM stocks “alive” for at least a couple years more. And this implies costs and, more worrisome still, technical risks, as the missiles have a finite shelf life that is approaching its end.
If a couple of internal ASRAAM in place of AMRAAMS was admittedly bad, no internal air to air missile is obviously even worse. 

2011 payload info 
One measure of the maturing design of the F35 is possibly given by the Weapon Stations ratings: at one point, Stations 10, 8, 4, 2 on the F35B were rated for just 1000 lbs, which by 2011 had become 1500 lbs. As of 2012, Stations 8 and 4 have been rated at 2500 lbs. Of course, the size of the weapon bays on the F35B remain a limitation, but at least there is the capability to carry significant weight without issues. It is promising. Regarding AIM-132 ASRAAM, it had originally to be integrated on Stations 8, 7, 5, 4. Then the plan became for stations 11, 7, 5, 1. Now has it gone down to just 11 and 1?  

There might still be hopes to have Meteor relatively soon on the F35, however. During the course of 2012, several reports came out about early work ongoing to prepare Meteor for use on the JSF.  In particular, in July 2012, AIN online reported:

MBDA has just finished work on a preliminary contract with Lockheed Martin to study how Meteor will fit into the F-35’s internal weapons bay. Wind tunnel tests to study the airflow around the bay doors as the missile is ejected will be next. The UK’s first operational F-35s will carry AMRAAMs, but the Meteor is scheduled for the stealth fighter’s Block 4 software release.

The already quoted March 2012 document provided a list of weapons candidate for integration as part of the Block IV software work, but Meteor wasn’t present. It could have been added between March and July. In Italy, roughly in the same period, there were a few quiet rumors of possible collaboration between UK and Italy for putting out, finally, the requirement for Meteor integration.
In early 2012, finally, a US officer involved in the F35 program had said that a final decision on what will be part of the Block IV software release will only be made by March 2013. 
There is still hope: we might soon enough hear the announcement that Meteor integration has been added to the Block IV software development program. I really hope we do, because Block IV won’t enter service with full capability before 2020, so that there is already going to be a gap of several years, unless the RAF’s AMRAAM stocks get life-extended. Trials of Block IV are expected to begin at some point in 2017, but delays with software are common, as we already saw.

Block IV weapons so far include the Small Diameter Bomb II, with IOC planned in 2020, JSOW C-1
and the Norwegian Joint Strike Missile. The Turkish stand-off missile is a candidate, as are the AIM9X Block II and the laser-JDAM.
A variety of rounds for the 25mm gun and other guided bombs, including Paveway III, could also made it into the list. And a little publicized candidate, for the American F35A only, is the B-61 nuclear bomb, which was a design-driver for the size of the weapon bays.   

Block IV should also include integration of the specially designed 426 gallon transonic external fuel tanks. If this goes ahead, it will be interesting to see if the UK orders them.  

The above images, from, show the particular shape of the F35-optimised external fuel tanks. 

The UK plans to integrate SPEAR Capability 3 on the F35 for internal (and external?) carriage, and Storm Shadow is also planned. Brimstone 2 or a further evolution of it (under SPEAR Capability 2) is in my opinion also likely to re-emerge as a requirement as well, but perhaps for sole external carriage, as a close air support weapon, since SPEAR 3 is a much more “strategic” stand-off  weapon which would be overkill for most battlefield engagements. SPEAR 3 is expected to be perfectly capable to destroy a moving tank, for example, but most of the time this task does not require an advanced, expensive stand-off (more than 100 Km range) missile, after all. 

We also do not yet have a clear idea of what the UK will do about the gun system. I personally expect that at least a number of gunpods will be purchased, but the MOD can come up with the weirdest ideas, as we know well. 

Chief of Defence Materiel Bernard Gray recently told the defence Committee that “our ability to fit UK requirements into the Block 5 upgrades has been maintained, so our position in the [F35] programme is unaffected.” This suggests that, with (hopefully) the exception of the Meteor, SPEAR 3, Storm Shadow and other UK eventual requirements will have to wait for the Block V software and hardware upgrade, which most likely means pushing back their entry into service to well into the 2020s. 

The LRIP 6 is expected to contain 31 US and 5 International F35 aircrafts: 

18 F35A for the USAF
6 F35B for the USMC
7 F35C for the US Navy 

3 F35A for Italy
2 F35A for Australia 

Australia will take the first two F35A to base them in the US for training purposes, but it announced a delay of two years to the order for its first 12 production aircrafts.  

The LRIP 7, as of January 2013, is expected to include: 

19 F35A for the USAF
6 F35B for the USMC
4 F35C for the US Navy 

3 F35A for Italy
1 F35B for the UK
2 F35A for Norway 
2 F35A for Turkey 

The turkish order is however now on hold, and risks to be postponed. Japan instead should receive the first four F35A in LRIP 8.

The F35 is progressing, things are moving, but much remains to be done. The building up of F35 combat capability, for a number of reasons, seems destined to be quite slow. As a consequence, considering that the Tornado GR4 out of service date has now been set for March 2019, the build-up of the Typhoon force and of the Typhoon’s capability is particularly important. In a future article I will provide an overview of the Typhoon situation.  


  1. So a 60,000 ton U.K built aircraft carrier cannot launch and recover 'proper' carrier aircraft that a 40,000 ton French one, can...

    Thats pretty amazing going!

    As for the F35B, surely its designed for small carriers, rather than larger ones?

    Which begs the question of, why have a 60,000 tons of aircraft carrier, to launch a plane thats fits the requirements of a small carrier like the Invincible class?

    With regards the F35 itself... Will it actually be capable of fleet air defence against a proper air-superiority fighter? (Surely the latest gen Sukhoi's will make mincemeat out of it in a dog-fight?)

    Thats of course if it is actually in a air-worthy state, at the time of needing...

    Still 250 million dollars per unit well spent, eh?

    And how exactly is it going to replace the Tornado, as any external tanks are gonna make the plane a unstealthy, stealth aircraft!

    1. If the F35B was the aircraft of choice, the UK should have gone for 3 x 30,000 ton carriers. Operate one as a fixed wing carrier, one as an LPH as a direct replacement for the ever-useful HMS Ocean (could carry a detachment of F35Bs if required) with the third in refit/reserve.

      This would allow a lot more operational flexibility as there is absolutely zero chance that the RN will be able to operate both QEs simultaneously. They will struggle to maintain one in service with an air group consisting of a handful of F35Bs and helicopters. A procurement disaster if ever there was one.

    2. No. It would have costed more in terms of manpower and support costs for the ships, and one carrier and one LPH means having, more often than not, only 1 carrier OR 1 LPH.
      Not to mention the limitations of a small carrier, which can carry little fuel, little stocks of ordnance, few airplanes, and offer insufficient space to sustain intense air operations.

      Makes far more sense to keep both CVF and use each like the LHA ships of the US Marines, carrying a mix of fast jets and helicopters/Marines.
      With both ships, one CVF/LHA is always available to be part of the response task group.

    3. In an emergency situation there is still a good chance that, with three smaller hulls, two could have been made available. With two large carriers, on the other hand, there will only ever be one available which means all our eggs are in one basket. This makes it easier for an opponent in that should the CVF be damaged, suffer major mechanical failure etc. the RN is effectively both down and out.

      Also, I would suggest that the CVF would be far too valuable to risk employing as an LPH in a high-threat environment. Unlike the USN we have no other means of providing fixed wing air cover to the task group, so it will be a priority to keep the single operational CVF out of harm's way as much as possible. The CVF/LHA idea is fine in a relatively benign environment but would not work against a capable opponent.

    4. "This makes it easier for an opponent in that should the CVF be damaged, suffer major mechanical failure etc. the RN is effectively both down and out."

      It is a risk, but the Royal Navy is very well aware of it. They have had smaller hulls for many years, and it has always been evident that the limitations were greater than the benefits. Admiral Woodward never made a mistery of the fact that HMS Invincible was way too small for intense ops as the Falklands' ones, and it has been explained at lenght that the key was the larger HMS Hermes.
      "Lose HMS Invincible and the operation is seriously damaged, but lose HMS Hermes, and it is over."

      The royal navy invented the small STOVL carrier. They know the pros and cons, and they have a very good idea of why CVF is the right solution.

      As for CVF/LHA, it will work as it has worked in the Falklands when it was HMS Hermes which had to close in to the coast at night to launch helicopters loaded with troops.

      There is also the option of launching the helicopters from CVF and have them refueling mid-way on board the LPD and LSDs, which will be further forwards.
      Lastly, depending on what you mean with "capable opponent", we have to assume the UK would not be alone in such a major war.

    5. Let see, at best scenario,

      2x CVF
      1x LPH
      2x LPD
      3x LSD (RFA Bay Class)

      Can the F-35 B operate from as small as a Bay Class ship

    6. No, it could never take off nor land with a meaningful load of fuel and weapons from such small decks.
      It could vertically take off/land on them in emergency, but without weapons on board.

      Operating from LPDs and LSDs, no. It is simply impossible.

  2. I think Britain chose the F-35B mainly due to proposed higher sortie rate, greater industrial participation (rolls royce) and that there has been more experience with STOVL aircraft. Also the CATOBAR configuration had a larger short-term cost (but of course a less long-term cost!) but the STOVL configuration had a lower short-term cost and with current defence matters of cuts there was a decision not to cut further into capabilities as the defence budget is not going to rise anytime soon!

    1. Oh please, F-35B for the UK is an accident of history; by the time they finally realised that the F-35C as a combined Tornado and Harrier replacement was more viable and more logical instead of separate Harrier and Tornado replacements it was too late to modify the carrier programme without incurring massive costs so now they are stuck with the F-35B which comes with a shorter range and less internal weapons carriage.


    "I think Britain chose the F-35B mainly due to proposed higher sortie rate".

    A higher sortie rate, when the aircraft ('B' variant) requires a greater level of maintenance than the 'carrier' version 'C', to keep it serviced for doing sorties?

    One cannot help thinking that not only has the UK got a highly compromised variant, its got a highly wrong airplane.

  4. Nice article.

    Can I just say - the plural of 'Aircraft' is 'Aircraft', not 'Aircrafts'!

  5. Well done liger another imformed artical,do you know when the italian navy receieve their F35B? also will they have meteor BVR missile like the british ones? serge 750

    1. The Italian Navy's operational squadron should receive 12 F35B from or by 2018. Not yet entirely clear.
      3 F35B of the Italian Navy will stay at Eglin as training fleet.

      As for the Meteor, as i say in the article, for now there is not a contract. Italy hopes to go ahead with Meteor alongside the UK, not alone.

  6. Thankyou for your reply.serge750

  7. You can't polish a TURD! I think its time to cut our losses and cancel the F35b! I think we should spend the money and develope the Typhoon to its full potential! And build a Stobar variant for navy!

  8. 260 million dollars, (cost of one F35B) buys 2 Gripens E/F (NG) and a Sea Gripen... (BAE has had participation in the JAS-39 and a BAE/SAAB partnership makes sense at a political level)

    You could quite easily have Typhoon/ Gripen mix that then covers all the bases for both the Airforce and the Navy!

    A Gripen/Typhoon force down in the Falklands would be a optimum aerial deterrent.

    N.B: Am not convinced the UK will be operating 2 carriers, or even needs to do so...

    1. Sea Gripen does not really exist, just like Sea Typhoon.
      As for the carriers, operating two is fundamental. But i suspect you read "operating two carriers" as having the ambition of putting both to sea regularly, at the same time, with airwing on both.

      That is most evidently not what is going to happen.

  9. @Gabriele

    There is no saying that the F35B exists if the U.S cans the program...(which in the current climate is on the cards!)

    With regards the carriers, I believe the sensible option is keeping one, and leasing one off to a U.K allied/friendly Pacific based nation.

    In wartime carriers can be turned around quickly enough when needed. (1942, Midway and USS Yorktown springs to mind!)

  10. @Gabriele

    Whats the better option?

    Operating two sub optimally configured 60,000 ton warships that have not got the full suite of 'carrier' assets aboard them; or operating one properly complimented vessel, with the correct aircraft/weapons configurations?

    Operating two platforms without a proper EW warfare aircrafts available to it, AEW aircrafts and the ability to refuel your main jet force in operations, is making your 60,000 ton carrier into the dunce of the Oceans!

    The French make do with one carrier, and I fail to see why the British cannot do so too?

    The U.K should let the U.S pivot to the Pacific, and take up the slack (as much that it can) within the Atlantic.

    1. I'll go for the two CVF every day of the year, even when it has 366 days, thank you.
      As for not having carrier assets, that is far from demonstrated. An AEW solution is planned, and buddy-buddy refueling is not at all impossible to introduce into service later on, with Chobam already proposing a F35-compatible kit.

      The french "make do" badly, remaining without a carrier capability at all for months and even years at a time when CdG is undergoing refit (like right now, and again in 2015). It is no mystery that they are desperate for getting a second carrier, but haven't the budget to build it.

    2. The UK lacks the number of escort ships for 2 to sail at one time. That said, it should NOT let the US dominate the pacific. The UK should return to the pacific soon.

      19 surface ships plus 7 SSNs cannot form two operational CVF groups.

  11. @Gabriele

    Many thanks for the response.

    Sadly just like the French the UK has severe budget issues too, and I think one has to be realistic, in what can be done with a over stretched and tight budget.

    Better to have something that is right from the start, than two half-rights that will never be fully righted, and I fear that we are going to end up with two 'half-rights' the way the CVF program is going.

    N.B I'd like to know how capable the F35B is in Arctic seas conditions, and how it copes in such extremes of weather.

    1. Or what would actually have happened is one 3 billion pound aircraft carrier written off as a loss, not enough trained pilots to make a meaning strike wing, a half a year capability with no cover during refits (Ocean's refit is what two years isn't it?). We can't afford buying Hawkeye AEW in the tiny buy we would have for a single aircraft carrier anyway, so it's actually a specious argument in the context of the UK.

      Leading to well whats the point in this suboptimal capability lets get rid of this CVF too. The catobar solution was always going to half assed as we don't have the money, man power and sheer weight of size to do it right.

      If you don't think it happens where have the Nimrods gone? Sentinel R1 is off in 2015 too.

    2. Hope Sentinel stays in 2015. Proved its worth in Libya and Mali

  12. The C has a greater training burden as more deck personnel are required to operate it off the deck. Thus the operating costs in terms of people is far higher as you have to remember, food, health, duty of care, wages, pensions etc etc (all when the RN manpower is going down). We were only going to have/afford 1 cat and trap carrier thus spending a lot of money for a 200 dayish a year capability (what happens when the bad people decide to kick off in the non carrier 165 days of the year?)

    The RN only has 30ish fixed wing pilots so you are reliant on the RAF sending it's people to sea regulary to keep up their concurrency on taking off and landing on a Cat and Trap carrier which is harder and more training intensive than a VSTOL landing, which the F35B pretty much does everything for the pilot and is vastly simpler than the very tricky VSTOL landings in the Harrier which were much more manual.

    The B is the best compromise that gets us two sovereign aircraft carriers and enough trained pilots to let us get 30ish airplanes on a carrier deck if needs be, or even two carriers loaded for bear if the proposed 100+ aircraft buy transpires.

    It can carry I think 15,000 pounds of ordinace, it has a 450nm combat range (so simplistically further than an F18E/F) with a 1000ish mile ferry range, it's a true swing role (dynamically) strike aircraft.

    So basically it can't carry 2,000lb weapons internally (which don't have in the inventory anyway as I recall) and it's combat radius is less than the carrier version but still quite a bit more than what we had before and vastly more capable to boot.

    I really don't get the constant comparisons to the Harrier which was Mr compromised and a bit pants compared to it's other fixed wing brethern.

    1. Not really certain two may be operated at once. Again, there are only 19 escort ships available. Factoring in Falklands patrol, ME patrol and maintainece, there are not enough to form two CVF groups at once.

  13. @eaglemmoomin

    The RN couldn't really operate the 20,000 ton carriers it had with the 'Invincible' Class, so how it is going to manage to budget for two 60,000 ton carriers, is a complete mystery?

    Somethings got to give... (probably the carriers themselves!)

    Then you have the problem plagued STVOL F35B, to go aboard a 900 foot aircraft carrier with a 'ramp' attached to it,(something thats going to have Murmansk in fits of hysterics!) a plane that is stressed to a maximum of 7G, limited range and carrying capacity, and doesnt have the requisite flight performance to deal with a 5th Gen Sukhoi, in a one-on-one confrontation.

    Also how exactly a carrier (which is at a immediate disadvantage in gaining airsuperiority to operate in hot areas, with proper opposition) is of any use in waters that have the lurking dangers of modern day naval mines, drone-subs, SSN's and air launched anti-shipping cruise missiles, is also questionable?

    Personally I'd make the carrier (selling off the PoW) into the new Royal Yacht, that serves as a London first respondents heliport, when not on ceremonial duty!

    1. How will a 280 metre carrier with a ramp on the front, have Murmansk in fits of hysterics? When Russia's single Carrier is ~304 metres long and also has a ramp on the front? As is China's.

  14. "Class, so how it is going to manage to budget for two 60,000 ton carriers, is a complete mystery?"

    CVF is remarkably cheap to run, and despite being much bigger it has roughly the same crew as an Invincible, to start with.

    "Also how exactly a carrier (which is at a immediate disadvantage in gaining airsuperiority to operate in hot areas, with proper opposition) is of any use in waters that have the lurking dangers of modern day naval mines, drone-subs, SSN's and air launched anti-shipping cruise missiles, is also questionable?"

    This is bullshit, and i don't even want to reply to this absurdity.

  15. @eaglemmoomin

    Novel idea, stop fantasising about aircraft carriers, dont buy any carrier air-wing, and just make the carrier into a large logistical support vessel and buy more STOL aircraft to operate from UK spheres of influences conventional runways and makeshift airstrips...

    1. Are you trolling, or you just have no idea of how things actually work?

    2. I guess you can make the argument but personally I think it's the wrong one.

      The same argument that was used in the 70's when we binned the original CVA-1. I think it was a similar argument used just before the Falklands war blew up. From memory I think it's actually a fact that up until we got rid of them the UK only had one year since the 50s where it didn't use it's carrier capability for some sort of military incident/intervention/NATO tasking.

      Ultimately the UK is a permanment member of the UN security Council and key Nato member which means the country has certain obligations it has to meet.

      There's also the industrial complex element too effectively the government is cycling cash through a hi tec industry and receiving a portion back as tax from individuals and corporation tax.

      Personally I think you have both capabilities. Carrier strike to do the expeditionary part and protect the fleet, then land based stuff once the foot is in the door.

      I don't think our capability should be and ever will be like the americans. EG vast Carrier Strike Groups with 60+ aircraft etc etc etc

      I really think the expeditionary amphibious concept++ as it were is where the UK should be aiming.

  16. My predictions for the forthcoming aircraft composition look of HMS Queen Elizabeth (LPH) flight deck.

    x6 V22 Osprey

    x4 Chinook

    x8 Merlin

    x8 Wildcat

    x6 Viper/ Apache

    1. UK has not bought any V-22 unfortunately. There are also less and less ASW and ASuW helo squadrons

    2. If the UK put a halt on its ambitions of F35B, (minimum 250 million dollar a pop!)got a dose of rationality to what it should be doing with the QE platform, (i.e redesignate it as a LPH to replace Illustrious and Ocean)then the UK could have V-22's, Merlins, Wildcats (and even Vipers for close-in naval air support) galore!

      Maybe (even!) the UK could even run PoW in tandem, without the F35B program that is likely to cost two-three times as much as the flipping ships themselves!

    3. The UK already has Apache and does not need Vipers. There is no realistic need for V-22s either.
      Merlin and Wildcat are there anyway.

      And having no fixed wing capability deployable from the sea very much kills the logic of all the rest. You are not going to use your V-22s to insert Marines anywhere, if you haven't fighter jets giving you cover and support.

      Stop suggesting idiocies.

    4. @Gabriele

      You have to have a plan 'B'.

      Plan B is LPH specialisation and saving 25 billion pounds in total defence expenditure.

      You have the QE and PoW replacing Illustrious and Ocean in their present day roles.

  17. "The United States does not consider the ‘B’ to be a strike capable aircraft. Instead it is looked upon logically and narrowly as a Close Air Support platform for specific use by the US Marine Corps in Amphibious Operations. One of the important reasons that the F-35C was the preferred choice in SDSR 2010 was because it enjoyed the deep strike capability that the ‘B’ does not."

    "Deck operations – Launch. DSTL analysis has shown that for the F-35B the deck run required for a flat deck launch increases significantly in high sea states, high temperatures and with low wind over the deck – to an extent that often the aircraft will not be able to launch in the conditions to be expected East of Suez. The ‘C’ is not affected by this. Therefore, in switching to the ‘B’ the UK is considering reverting to an aircraft which does not deliver carrier strike, has less endurance, carries less payload and which cannot launch from a flat deck under the very climatic conditions expected to be experienced during power projection carrier strike operations."

    A 'Close Air Support' platform is not a Tornado replacement.

    1. That's a US consideration, and i actually doubt it is an official consideration. I disagree with that extremism.

      I also do not recognize the second claim, which i don't think is valid for the US LHAs, and is even less valid for CVF since it has the Ski Jump helping the take off.

      As for a Tornado replacement, a strictly land-based strike aircraft is, in my opinion, hardly justifiable when there's already Typhoon. What the UK lacks, and therefore needs, is something that can operate at and from the sea and which is also capable to provide air defence, not just strike.

    2. Ah the Phoenix think tank. That would be the fella's that ignore the design KPP that the F35B has to be able to take off with a full load of fuel and internal load in over 50 degrees heat. In fact the UK I believe pushed for extra margin on that as it was an East of Suez concern and apparently the RN got a bit concerned.

      It's like the phoenix think tank make some valid points then don't bother to fact check anything as to whether the design has already included those points. A lot of the B requirements are shaped the way they are because we the UK ie the only Tier 1 partner have had an input into the requirements.

      If anything yes it is way over capable for what the USMC want and will use it for but it's within the UK requirements.

      Personally I think the B will be used by the US to bulk out USAF, USN operations as it's completely interoperable in a way that the Harrier is not quite, so they'll end up being a third US strike asset, which is probably not what the USMC had in mind.

      I'd also like to point out that it appears that the F18E/F has a combat radius of apparently 390nm........

    3. As Gabriele said, the USN might not (at the moment) consider the F35B as a strike platform, but that would be because the US Marine's aircraft are normally used for Close air support, that is their normal mission. However if you try to claim that means that the F35B can't be used as a strike platform, then you have to say that the USN navy currently doesn't have any strike platforms on it's carriers. As the F35B will still have a longer range than the F18E and be able to carry as much payload. So are we to believe that the USN navy can't carry out any strike missions from it's carriers until it gets the F35C?

  18. @Gabriele

    I believe the think-tank provides a truthful assessment.

    How can a Close Air Support, (stressed to 7G) provide a viable air defence, in the numbers likely to be procured?

    You may as well stop the charade, call the CVF a LPH (what its likely to be!) and have it replacing Illustrious and Ocean in one shot.

    That way you are not blowing 35bn on 'iffy' aircraft (Canada having already blocked its purchase post audit) and have cash available for STOL jets for the RAF, Ospreys for the Marines and Vipers for the Royal Navy Air Force.(that do close air support at a fraction of the cost of a F35B!)

    1. "Royal Navy Air Force" sums up what you actually know about these issues: next to nothing.

      Sorry. I don't like to be rude, but you make points which simply do not stand.

  19. Follow you on twitter. Highly informative. Uncannily accurate. Huge fan of all your analysis. Don't let the trolls get you down!

    1. Thank you, i do my best to provide up to date information, as accurate and detailed as possible.

  20. @Gabriele

    "Royal Navy Air Force" sums up what you actually know about these issues: next to nothing.

    You mean to say I am wrong???

  21. @Gabriele

    So these 'Fleet Air Arm' F35B's will need some form of air-cover (maybe RAF Typhoons) to operate inside of conflict areas that have opposing fighter jets... Right?

    1. Not at all, when Meteor finally gets the go ahead for integration on the F35.
      Low observability, good radar, powerful EO/IR sensors and Meteor missiles will make it very deadly. And it will also have ASRAAM for self-defence and close combat.

    2. The Typhoons are designed for air superiority (which they excell at at) while F35s are principally strike aircraft. That doesn't mean of course that there is no overlap. A universal do everything aeroplane does not exist, but the f35 was designed from the outset as a flexible platform for future development. In a perfect world f35s and Typhoons would be working together.

    3. No they are not, Typhoon was designed as a multi-role tactical fighter. The "designed for air superiority" nonsense is a myth constructed by defence budget hating socialists.

  22. @Gabriele and @(other)Anonymous

    Some (recent) reports have stated that the F35 having a maximum sustained turn performance of less than 5g, which is the equivalent of an [McDonnell Douglas] F-4 or an [Northrop] F-5.

    Those two planes are quite old ones, aren't they?

    Surely in a perfect world you would have a carrier that is defended by a proper carrier based fighter plane? (does that mean now, we shall need the carrier to operate within range of ground/shore based fighter aircraft's)

    1. @ anon
      A carrier's principal defense is provided via escort destroyers/frigates (think t45) and stand off early warning systems. Common sense really.

    2. @ anon too
      The new CVFs have been designed as strike carriers supporting land ops more than fleet carriers and have much in common with the simalar sized USN Marine amphibious assault ships which will also carry f35bs.

      As for for the f35s operating in an air sup defensive posture, they are capable.(Not many real world engagements require air show like dogfighting these days)

      I think if you carefully reread Gabriels article you will find the answers to most if not all of your questions.

    3. One thing to note is that CVF unlike US carriers and the French does have SAM missiles but only CIWS

    4. I think the whole point as Gab touched on is that limitation in manoeuvrability will be made up for by having a good radar, low observability and long-range missiles such as Meteor, in essence trying to avoid classic 'dogfight's' all together and rely instead on the fifth gen technology.

      Plus as others have said a layered defence with AEW coverage, guided missile escorts and CIWS will hopefully make up for any deficiencies the F35B has as a fighter.

      If you want a truly multi-role aircraft then you must make compromises in the design, even something as expensive as F35B can't do everything perfectly, but it can at least do everything adequately enough to cover all the bases.

    5. @C

      Yep, the opposing enemy is just going to allow you to play to your Close-In Air support aircraft's best strengths isnt he?

      It sounds very much (to my ears) that the F35B is going to need fighter escorts, to allow it to survive and function in a hostile airspace with anything better than a early Mig 29 in the skies!

      Start hanging external ordinance on its wings, and bang goes stealth,(and its a flying pig) have just a couple of bombs inside it, and a sub launched cruise missile is the better option to use!

    6. This is, once more, nonsense.

  23. @other anon.

    OK, but from reading the range capability of a F35B, it puts the range at 469 nmi,(combat radius) so in order to operate a F35B, the carrier has to be within 150-200 nmi of the enemy coastline and therefore easily within it its anti-maritime denial assets, shore defences, and IADS...

    That kinda puts both carrier and its Close Air Support aircraft's (i.e F35B's) in big, big risk.

    Shore based air superiority fighters (say SU-30's/J-16) will be up and wide awake, (wouldn't they?) by the time the UK carrier comes anywhere near a 500km radius, to prepare for a strike on (say) some mythical Island archipelago or atoll.

    Perhaps the best option is not to bother, in such a scenario?

    1. The number of nations in the world with a realistic capability to locate and attack a british CVF carrier group with any hope of success is very, very short.

      As for combat radius, it actually means that the F35B is capable to take off with an internal load of 2x 1000 lbs bombs and 2x Meteor (or one day possibly 4x Meteor, or maybe 2x Meteor and 2x ASRAAM) and go as far as 450 naval miles, drop its bombs, spend N minutes on targets and return to the carrier.
      It is actually a very good value, higher than that of most aircrafts, possibly including Typhoon.

      Tactics, AEW and, with the F35, stealth and advanced sensors, will make it a very good fighter even if its kinematics aren't as extreme as those of Typhoon.
      I can easily point you to two fighters which had much worse kinetic performances but nonetheless did extremely well: the Sea Harrier, which wasn't even supersonic at all and only had Sidewinders at the time of the Falklands, but downed 23 airplanes including Mirage fighters, and the Tornado ADV F3, which never had great acceleration or turn rates, but in exercises (it never had a chance to down a real enemy in war) against the USAF proved it could very well hold its own exploiting AMRAAM and its powerful radar to fire from long range.

      F35B, supported by embarked AEW, will be able to provide the carrier battlegroup with a very good outer defence line. What eventually gets through has to deal with the missiles of the Type 45 and then with the shorter range missiles of Type 23 and 26 frigates.
      And then there are the CIWS guns, and the decoys, which are often overlooked, but are the most effective defence against anti-ship missiles.

      CVF itself is low observable and has a tiny radar cross section.
      A CVF battlegroup will not be an easy target at all.

      "One thing to note is that CVF unlike US carriers and the French does have SAM missiles but only CIWS"

      It could be fitted with CAMM missiles one day. The MOD has funded a study into integration of CAMM on CVF, which will finish this year. I do not expect the missiles to be integrated at build, but they are an option for the future.

      Anyway, it is not the missiles on the aircraft carrier that matter. The fighter jets and the escorts have the task of downing the enemies. The carrier only has to stay unseen and hidden behind the multiple layers of protection.

    2. Exactly! Chances are the enemy won't even see our F35's which will make short work of them with Meteor and a decent radar. Then even if their is a slim chance of a visual engagement it's not like the F35 is defenceless, it may not be quite as manoeuvrable as Typhoon but that doesn't mean it's totally incapable! Lastly if by some miracle an enemy aircraft does get past that first line of defence they will have another three or four layers of defence to get through.

      How do some people get it into their heads that all depends on our F35's 'dogfighting' abilities, it's utter nonsense!

    3. typos for my original post.

      Can you give the link for CAMM on CVF? All carriers have SAMs, and it is nor logical to have a carrier without.


      It's only a study for now, i wouldn't hold my breath for CAMM on the carriers.
      And admittedly, even though it would be a good addition and great capability, i'll say once more that the lack of missiles on the carrier isn't really a big issue, and i'd spend money on any one of the true urgencies, from replacing Sea King MK7 to securing both carriers enter service to putting back in service both LPDs in 2016 instead of alternating them in and out of mothball, and so along.

    5. I think SAMs on a carrier is a norm, not and unusal aspect. Russians, Americans, French even the Chinese have them.

    6. It's the very last thing i'd worry about anyway.

    7. With a 50 year lifespan CAMM or it's successor can easily be added to the carriers at some-point in the future when we actually have the money to spend on such luxuries.

  24. @Gabriele

    All fine and dandy, but lets just see what the price is,(of what is an already ridiculously over priced Close-In Air Support platform) once the "sequester" hits the order books.

    The F35B could be economically unviable to buy for the UK.

    Which means have a plan 'B' for both the carrier, its nature of use, and its airwing overall shape.

    1. Maybe people would take you more serious if you didn't keep on about it being a Close Air support platform. As has already been pointed out to you, it has a longer range than the F18E and can carry as much payload. It's sensors will be better than the F18E. I haven't heard of one area that as a strike platform, that the F35B will be worse than a F18E. So if the USN currently use F18E as their main strike platform, why will the F35B not be able to carry out that mission?

  25. Seriously plan B is no carrier air for the UK. We will have two fully completed aircraft carriers. They will not be pulled apart to fit catapults and arresting gear. If they were the in service date would be pushed back years.

    Lets not forget before our carriers hit service they will be in trials for three to four years while the RN work out how to actually use, maintain them then later actually use as a military asset.

    The unlikely plan B would entail generating a new set of requirements for which ever vapour ware 'STOBAR' plane some one has fixated on this month. Then all the avionics and sensor packages that the F35B would have to be jammed into the 'new' relatively tiny buy of STOBAR jets just for the UK. It might not take as long to develop as a brand new clean sheet airplane but it'll still be the wrong part of a decade.

    Add it all up and the treasury pull the plug and we end up looking even more tinpot. I mean the B buy is actually larger than the C buy so perhaps it's the C that is in more danger, it's also the last one 'out of the factory' of the three variants. You know the one the USN don't really seem to be so excited about (they still seem to be fixated on the Avenger or whatever the canned F14 replacement was called).

  26. Gabs. Ive llurked on your blog for ages. I must say your articles are amazing & this F35 discussion has been most infirmative.

    One can only hope for either a follow on order ogf more Bs or some A's purely for the raf. The FAA getting all the stovl.

    Li ving up bedside

    1. Personally, i think a first follow-on order must be for the B variant, to make the numbers more realistic and actually able to support larger deployments on the carriers/abroad.

      Only then, eventually, i'd give consideration to the A.

  27. Living up beside Lossiemouth I canr wait to see them flying along side the Typhoons (i assume the Tornado will be gone by then)

    Ps apologies for the typos. I hate this phone.

  28. If the faa/raf get a 3 sqdn formation from the f35. What do you believe is the likey number of sqdns formed by the typhoon, 5 or 7. Surely, the raf/faa fighter numbers could support 10 frontline sqdns. Anymore news on whether the tranche 1 typhoons will be kept on?


    1. Unfortunately there have not been updates regarding the Tranche 1 plans after the initial reports that said 7 squadrons were becoming the preferred option.

      I hope they can fund such a plan, but i'm unable to say anything for sure until further news come out.

  29. I see, fingers crossed. Dont understand the pessimism regarding f35 from some people. As in a short amount of time britain will be able to put to see carrier strike capability as well as amphibs such as hms albion/bulwark plus daring class an type 23 frigates. Supported by the rfa. How many other countries can project that force!


  30. Gabriele, is there any proof that they may buy some F-35A variants instead?

    1. Only talk of it. It's all related to expected but unconfirmed future orders in the 2020s. We'll see how it actually goes.

    2. I can't imagine some RAF squadrons like 617 swtiching to a jump jet plane.

  31. Hi Gabriele

    Just spotted this on Aviation Week in relation to the recent LM tour of F-35 partners regarding BK-3 & BK-4.

    "The U.K. is set to receive its third aircraft, BK-3, this spring. It is set to be delivered to MCAS Beaufort, where training will begin alongside crews from the U.S. Marine Corps. The fourth U.K. F-35, BK-4, will be another instrumented aircraft, and will be operated alongside BK1 and 2 at Eglin."



    1. It sounds a bit weird to me. The fourth F35 for the UK, if something hasn't changed in this last while, is not meant to be an instrumented aircraft, and the first two have been flown out to Edwards to be part of the Operational Evaluation Fleet.

      I think they mixed up BK-3 and BK-4, since BK-3 is definitely an instrumented aircraft, while BK-4 should not be.
      As for the Eglin part, i don't know what to think, now. This report seems to be in conflict with others. Perhaps the first three F35 will become part of the training fleet at Eglin after completing the Inital campaign of Operational Evaluation.

  32. On a slightly different note, ive seen that 8 typhoons have flown to the us to take part in red flag 2013. Also seen an article mentioning tornados participating as well, do you know how many tornados are taking part anyone? And how true are the stories, which have mentioned typhoon out performing many us aircraft including the f22? And others from years gone by talking of the buccanneer taking the us completely by surprise regarding its capabilities?


    1. 10 Tornado GR4 from Lossiemouth should be part of the exercise.
      As for the truth of the news reports, it's hard to say, since i wasn't there to check in person. For sure, the Buccaneer was very much admired and appreciated. When Ark Royal was still around, it was a precious part of the NATO strike carrier group in the North Sea, tasked with daring low-level nuclear strikes on the naval bases of the russians.
      The US Navy was said to be very interested in buying Buccaneers, even if it didn't happen in the end for various reasons.

      The reports about Typhoon and F22s mock battles have to be read with some more prudence, generally, because fighter battles normally are loaded with limitations and rules that might or might not have forced the F22 pilots to do without some of the jet's capabilities.
      It does seem more or less official, though, that the Typhoon does do well in dogfights against the F22.

  33. Thanks for the info as usual. Much appreciated, like to see which british assets are overseas, to see the breadth of commitments we are undertaking. So it would seem 8 typhoon for uk air defence, 4 typoon for falklands air defence, 8 typhoon for red flag, 10 tornados cas in afghan and 10 tornado fr red flag again. 40 raf jets in use gloabally as of this moment. Its what i pay my taxes for.


  34. Is it off your opinion that the role of the F-35 is still to fill a niche capability?; the ability to strike covertly in enemy territory without being detected.
    and if you think that's so do you think it is necessary to equip our air force and air arm with the numbers we are currently looking at.

    1. I don't think it can be considered a niche capability. The F35 fits in with a projected need to be able to operate in a dangerous world in which the level of sophistication of the air defence systems available not just to major powers, but to middle-weight rogue countries such as Iran, is on the rise. The F35 is seen as a necessary step forwards to maintain a technological edge and freedom of manoeuvre in a contest which sees the military might of the western world decreasing constantly in terms of numbers and, in some cases, even in terms of capability.

      As for the numbers, we shouldn't forget that combat jets do require consistent fleets to deliver relatively low numbers of airframes and pilots and ground crew effectively ready for operations.

      The number of fast jets available to the UK in the near future is likely to be so small that little more than 40 fast jets would be deployable abroad for a major operation, and much less would be sustainable in the long term.
      40 is considered barely enough to give cover and support to a single brigade in a complex warfighting mission, so we are talking of bottom-line capabilities.

      It is very much necessary to go ahead with consistent purchases. In the short term, i hope the RAF keeps the Typhoon tranche 1 and forms 7 Typhoon squadrons. If you keep in mind that 2 are always busy with homeland air security, that would only leave 5 multi-role, deployable squadrons, barely enough to enable the enduring deployment of one to an area of operations abroad.
      As for the F35, it should add to that force, and a force-structure driver should be the achievement of a realistic capability of filling up one aircraft carrier (with 3 squadrons, 36 jets) in time of need.

    2. thank you.

      what do u think of the possibility of using the hawk to fill QRA role in the Uk.

      if i'am correct the hawk has 4 hard-points for weapon carriage such as sidewinder. (and Im sure QRA aircraft will have to visually identify their targets first, so there wouldn't be as much need for medium to long range radar guided missiles), although I believe its only subsonic (which could be a problem in terms of response time).

      that could potentially free up some extra typhoon squadrons. or at least keep a flight of typhoons on high readiness in the UK for more sophisticated threats.

      Although i'am not aware if there is any possibility of that being achieved.

    3. I think only the Hawk T1 had the weapon capability, and i don't know how many are left. Besides, Sidewinder has pretty much vanished from the RAF, replaced by ASRAAM.
      Even if there were suitable Hawks, even if there was the will/capability to integrate ASRAAM, it still wouldn't be much of a solution. And while it is true that normally quick reaction allert is all about going close to identify and escort the "target", i think a single AMRAAM is always carried, just in case. Comms, data link, speed, sensors, weapons, are all things that are needed for a good QRA airplane. And the Hawk doesn't really tick the boxes.

      The Typhoon TRanche 1 is perfectly adequate at least until AMRAAM isn't replaced by Meteor, so i'd keep the T1s for the QRA, and i'd have all the T2 and T3 in multi-role "expeditionary" squadrons.

  35. Gabs,

    Another excellent piece. Im interested in the slides you show ref external weapons carriage. I agree that the real strength of the F35 be it A, B or C lies in its stealth characteristics which should give it a real edge over most other aircraft at least when it comes to strike, however in many missions that the UK will want to fly other than 'day one' ops against an enemy with a sophisticated AD capability it will be the amount of ordinance carried that will be key? I refer here to most CAS type missions such as those flown over Libya - Mali again is a case in point. I have seen a single photograph of a USMC F35B on a test rig with 4 x Paveway 2 (500lb?) on external pylons, plus 2 x Sidewinder and a gun pod. We would assume at least 2 x Paveway 2 and 2 x AMRAAM carried internally as well. Quiet a capability - if not Typhoon. My question is this; one of your slides above shows a duel rail capability on two of the pylons which would offer a major increase in carriage to say the least, especially if fitted to all four major pylons ie 2,3,9 and 10. Is this going to happen, and if so would the UK go this road? We often see Rafael over Mali carrying three weapons (normaly ASSMP?) on a single pylon, but it is rare on UK aircraft, if at all?


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