Thursday, July 16, 2015

SDSR 2015: Air capabilities

SDSR 2015 – Issues, analysis and recommendations going towards the review



Royal Air Force 
Air Capabilities

Royal Navy 

Having already written something about the Budget and my vision for fixing Army 2020, I decided to continue with more posts summarizing the situation ahead of the SDSR 2015 and exposing my thinking about what the priorities are. In this post, I’m going to cover the main areas of Air capability.

Built around and in function of ISTAR

I will start this piece by quoting a key document, presented recently by Group Captain Paul Godfrey, RAF. The subject technically is the F-35 and how its “combat-ISTAR” capability can be best exploited to ensure that the new aircraft isn’t just considered “the new jet in the stable”, but is exploited more widely, as a catalyst for change within the force. The passages that most interest us at the moment, however, are those which describe the general structure of the RAF come 2020. One slide in particular, showing the transition from 2010 to 2020, catches the eye, as the 2020 RAF includes the photo of a P-8 Poseidon.
The notes accompanying the slide make no mention of it, noting instead “lose MPA capability”. Yet, it is there, clearly recognizable. Curious, and hopefully a good signal.

The notes also say the Ground Moving Target Indicator capability currently provided by Sentinel R1 will be provided by “SCAVENGER”, the future MALE solution which is supposed to replace Reaper.
Sentinel R1 and Shadow R1 remain assumed to bow out of service in 2018. Reaper itself is currently funded out to 2019 only, and the way ahead seems littered with question marks.

My list of priorities for the SDSR 2015 is very much tied to the sorting out of problems directly and indirectly connected to ISTAR provision.

The Unmanned Side

One big problem in the assumption that SCAVENGER will take over the role of Sentinel is the fact that SCAVENGER is a (semi-?) dead project. The hope had been to develop a new MALE in collaboration with France, but the resulting Project TELEMOS has never progressed. It broke down soon after it started, and France moved on instead to sign a MOU with Germany and Italy for the design of a trinational, European MALE for the 2020s. The UK’s plans post-TELEMOS are a mystery, and it looks pretty certain that with all the time lost, in no way can a new uas be ready for 2019. It looks pretty likely to me that SCAVENGER will be, for the foreseenable future at least, a mere running on of Reaper.
Moreover, the Fr-It-Ge MALE 2020 project already seem to be encountering its share of issues, with France’s defence minister saying that it won’t be armed, with negotiations dragging on without contracts actually being signed and with Airbus already frustrated and saying that it will pull out of the project if governments continue rising issues. 
The road to a new MALE seems to be effectively blocked.

Unfortunately, even modest efforts to add capability to Reaper and prepare it for longer-term RAF service seem to be bogged down, for lack of money and/or lack of decisiveness. A long-term training solution has not yet been fleshed out; clearance for flying in UK civilian air space is not on the way and even basing is an issue. Operation Shader against ISIS in Iraq is practically a blessing for the Reaper squadrons, which have jumped at the chance of basing and flying the Reaper from the Middle East . The post-Afghanistan future of the Reaper, otherwise, was planned to be storage into its shipping container. Waddington is the base that hosts the Ground Control Stations, but no Reaper is allowed to actually fly from the base.

This is part of why I find the recent Prime Minister’s call “for more drones” somewhat irritating. The long term UAS plan seem in very urgent need of decisions and action, with clarity needed on several things before more money is splashed out on simply buying more Reapers. The RAF is heavily using all 10 it has, it is true. A written answer yesterday detailed that Reapers have fired 155 Hellfire and dropped 4 GBU-12 against Daesh in Iraq up to 30 June 2015. But before ordering more of them, a plan for training, basing, sustaining and evolving the UAS capability is needed. Reported discussions with France on a collaborative approach to the Reaper crews training problem are to be welcomed, hoping that they bring to something.

If Reaper has to make up for the loss of Sentinel’s GMTI capability, it will be necessary to fit the UAS with a larger and more capable radar. A Reaper was demonstratively fitted with a SEASPRAY 7500E surveillance radar already back in 2012, but while other countries now plan to pick this path, the UK does not seem to have given it further attention.
Trials have also successfully been carried out with Brimstone fitted to a Reaper, and Paveway IV trials were considered. But despite successful Brimstone firings back in 2014, even this development has not seen any significant progress since. For years, the UK has purchased and employed Hellfire missiles and GBU-12 bombs specifically for the Reaper. It is not efficient to continue with double stocks. Besides, Paveway IV and Brimstone 2 offer more capability. It was acceptable to arm Reapers with the same weapons used by American ones as long as Reaper was a UOR, a time-critical project. But if Reaper becomes a long term component of the RAF due to the failure in securing development of a new MALE, it will be fundamental to put british weapons on it, as well as better sensors to make up for the loss of Sentinel R1 and Shadow R1. A realistic training, basing and support solution is also needed. It might also be desirable to buy into the off-the-shelf modifications developed in recent years to expand range and endurance of the Reaper.  

The Brimstone has been successfully fired from the Reaper in trials. One of the many advantages it brings is the triple rack, which gives 6 Brimstone against the current load of 4 Hellfire.

Reaper has been demonstrated with Seaspray 7500E radar fitted. This configuration now interests both Italy and Netherlands, while the UK, which was at the forefront in the original demonstration, seems indecisive.

As far back as 2005, the UK also proved in trials with the US that the RAPTOR DB110 reconnaissance camera can be fitted and operated on Predator/Reaper. Again, the trials seem to have ended up as successess without consequences, since no further steps have been moved since.

New landing gear, new, longer wings with greater tanks and external fuel tanks are all modifications available Off The Shelt and already purchased by the USAF. They result in a massive increase in mission endurance.

It is important that the RAF, the MOD and the government finally take decisions, instead of going on and on with half-hearted trials and experiments which seem to never deliver, in the end. Decide what you want; see what is realistic; and then act to get the best of the realistic solutions. If getting a new MALE is not realistic, stop being indecisive and focus on Reaper to bring it up to the long-term task. There are ample margins to improve it and get more out of it. General Atomics is already working on adding sense and avoid sensors and safety enhancements that will allow the certification of Reaper for flying in civilian air space. This should start becoming available from 2017. 

Perhaps stop snubbing Italy, which happens to be flying Predators and Reapers routinely in corridors in its air space, flying them off the Amendola air base and employing them over the Mediterranean to watch out for immigrants. The Italian air force is seeking additions and improvements to its Reapers, which include fitting the Seaspray radar and the Reccelite pod. Italy is also working to stand up the first “UAV academy” in Europe, having already ordered simulators thought to train Reaper operators. It might be very advantageous to exploit such academy for the training of UK and French crews. If not, think about setting up an alternative training centre. But formulate a long term plan, and then stick to it. You’d be amazed by what can be achieved when a long term plan is made, and then actually followed.


-          Join Italy’s UAV training academy, or set up an alternative one
-          Move to integrate of Brimstone 2 and Paveway IV
-          Focus SCAVENGER efforts on developing podded, portable sensors which can first be added to Reaper and then, eventually, migrated onto a new MALE when this will be available

Buy MPA, think ISTAR

Overall, the climate seems to be favorable to the purchase of a number of MPAs, and despite the talk of competition and competitors, it is widely accepted that the race is almost certainly restricted to two options: P-8 Poseidon, or nothing at all.

The need for a proper, ASW capable MPA is clear and I don’t think it needs to be detailed yet once more. One aspect that deserves to be covered in greater detail, however, is how I see a P-8 purchase fitting the wider ISTAR picture.
An MPA purchase is very, very likely to put the final nail in the coffin for Sentinel R1 and Shadow R1, as manpower for the new MPA will have to come from somewhere, and that somewhere won’t be a net manpower uplift for the RAF. To a degree, it’ll be a matter of robbing Peter to pay Paul. However, the capability brought to the table by Sentinel R1 is a real force multiplier, and one that sets the RAF apart from other medium power air forces. Even assuming Reaper gets equipped with a more capable GMTI radar, it will still not replace Sentinel in its entirety.

The P-8 Poseidon, however, has great potential to serve not just as MPA, but in wider sense as an ISTAR (and possibly Combat ISTAR) platform. The Poseidon comes with ample growth margins and multi-mission capability, as well as with 11 hardpoints for weaponry, 5 of which in the weapon bay, 4 under the wings and 2 fuselage stations.
India’s version, the P-8I Neptune, makes use of some of the growth potential: differently from US Navy Poseidons, the P-8I is fitted with a second radar, covering the aft sector, and the main radar has seen the addition of an air-to-air mode. The Indian P-8 is thus not just an MPA, but also, to a degree, an AWACS platform.
The US Navy itself is working on adding to the P-8’s arsenal a new, large, capable sensor, the APS-154 Advanced Airborne Sensor (AAS). This radar is the result of a highly classified development programme. It is thought to be particularly powerful in achieving mapping of surface targets in the littoral, and it has a formidable GMTI capability over land. The APS-154 might be the base of the radar the USAF wants on its JSTARS replacement aircraft, to be purchased in the next few years, but this is just a guess since the USAF hasn’t provided details yet.
The AAS is fitted in a canoe fairing which can be fitted under the front fuselage of the P-8 Poseidon, and the flight trials began last year, with the aim of putting AAS in service with the P-8 Capability Increment 3.
As of now, the AAS seems to have one major defect: looking at photos, it would appear that its carriage makes it impossible to lower and employ the MX-20HD EO/IR turret. Assuming that I’m correct in this observation, perhaps the problem will be fixed on the production line going into Increment 3. Currently, the P-8 is seeing the introduction of Increment 2 capabilities, while the Increment 3 roll-out is a 2021 affair.

This image shows the weapon bay open and the MX-20HD turret deployed.

The MX-20 turret out of its bay

The AAS radar "canoe" seem in conflict with the current positioning of the MX-20

From a UK perspective, purchase of the AAS would enable the Poseidon fleet to fully replace Sentinel R1, and indeed provide increased capability in all areas, over sea and land. There is a risk that being a classified, highly advanced development, the AAS might not be cleared for export so soon, but I’d recommend engaging with the US Navy from the very start to try and secure the inclusion of such capability in a british purchase.
If export clearance for the AAS cannot be obtained, it would be important to still exploit this P-8 possibility, by seeking to integrate another radar in a suitable pod. Even re-use of the Sentinel’s own radar, if at all possible, could be a good start.

Sentinel R1 proposed upgrades include tweaks to the radar to enable it to track surface targets at sea, and possibly the addition of the DB110 (better known as RAPTOR in RAF service) reconnaissance camera to add a long range optical capability as well. Weight and space growth margins in the Sentinel R1, however, are limited, and it will be financially challenging to both purchase a MPA and run on Sentinel. Although Sentinel is almost certainly considerably cheaper to run per hour, two fleets means two training and logistic lines to sustain, and more manpower needed. Moreover, it means there are two aircraft which will compete for investment going ahead in time, when both will need upgrades but the money won’t be there for both. I think that, although Sentinel is a good performing system and indeed better in some ways in its role, a single, larger fleet is a more realistic proposition for the MOD’s finances. Having a MPA fleet of Poseidons and keeping the Sentinel at the same time would be better from a capability point of view, but would quickly become a problem from the financial and manpower angles.

The P-8 has a lower service ceiling than Sentinel (41.000 feet versus 49.000), which is unfortunate as height allows radar sensors to look further away; but it comes with some SIGINT / ELINT capability, an MX-20HD EO/IR sensor, a powerful multi-mode radar (AN/APY-10) and a powerful communications suite, plus air to air refueling capability (although via receptacle only). Its unrefueled endurance all in all might not be quite as good as that of Sentinel, however.

Over time, the P-8 could become a Combat ISTAR platform thanks to its significant payload. The integration of weapons such as SPEAR 3, for example, would enable a P-8 AAS to survey a massive area, track moving and fixed targets from a great distance and even engage them directly as necessary. France, in recent times, has been using its Atlantic 2 MPAs in a Combat ISTAR role, integrating GBUs on them for use in operations in Africa and over Iraq. Something similar was envisaged as a Nimrod MRA4 capability, as well. The MRA4 was also seen as a potential Storm Shadow carrier, and the P-8 could one day carry cruise missiles as well.

Under a purely MPA point of view, the P-8 Poseidon purchase is desirable due to it including the very latest Multi-static Active Coherent sonobuoys, which are to massively increase wide-area ASW capability. Moreover, the P-8 means close partnership with the US Navy on development and integration of future updates. A support and upgrade arrangement similar to that adopted with Rivet Joint, which sees british aircraft integrated in the USAF rolling programme of bi-annual maintenance and upgrade, is highly desirable. This is a crucial factor: it is no use to purchase a cheaper MPA, if there is no clear path and reliable partner for future upgrades and support. The MOD no longer has the financial power to keep bespoke systems up to date without partners to share the cost with: we do not want, in a few years time, to see the new MPA start declining in capability because it is a unique, bespoke solution which no one else is interested in investing in. For that, there’s already the Challenger 2’s rifled gun.
In my opinion this is one major point in favor of the Poseidon: none of the other competitors can promise the same assured future as the main MPA platform of the US Navy. The USN is the partner you want, if you seek economies of scale and a plan that ensures the system stays up to date.

Notorious “issues” with the Poseidon include the fact that, to depart as little as possible from the USN’s own variant, the UK will have to adopt the High Altitude ASW approach. This means having to not only integrate Stingray Mod 1 torpedoes, but having to fit these with the same wing kit that will be added to the USN’s MK54 torpedo for launch from high altitude. This will add some to the cost.
High Altitude ASW also means no use for MAD: the MAD is not a silver bullet and its usefulness is kind of limited, but nonetheless its complete absence is not entirely desirable. The US Navy is considering adopting MAD sensors built into expendable drones which can be dropped at altitude from Poseidon. If purchased, these will add some to cost, as well. The promise is that such drones will be very cheap, of course, but the reality more often than not is not quite as rosy as the original targets.
It is true, however, that the MAD drone’s cost would be compensated, at least in part, by not having to fit a MAD to the aircraft itself. Moreover, High Altitude ASW is less stressing on the airframe, and this should give a longer operational life, and reduce maintenance needs. 

Stingray Mod 1 will need a wing kit, to work as a part of the High Altitude ASW construct

High Altitude ASW also improves survivability of the MPA and its efficiency in the hunt: it is much harder, if not impossible, for the submarine to hear the incoming aircraft (turboprop, low-altitude MPAs are tipically picked up easy on passive sonar) and the high altitude puts the aircraft out of the range of the submarine-launch SAMs which are beginning to appear and that might become a factor to consider, in the future.


-          Purchase P-8 Poseidon, with the mindset of it being an ISTAR / Combat ISTAR platform, not just a MPA
-          Secure the addition of a side-scan, surface search, GMTI-capable radar, ideally the same AAS being integrated by the US Navy. AN/APY-10 offers good capability as it is, but the addition of a dedicate radar would make the withdrawal of Sentinel pretty much painless in capability terms.
-          Phase out of service Shadow and Sentinel progressively as P-8 enters service.
-          Adopt the High Altitude ASW method, and in general stick as much as possible to the USN’s own configuration, to ensure efficiencies in long-term maintenance and upgrades
-          Look at integrating weaponry beyond Stingray: anti-ship capability and ground attack.
-          Secure the higher possible number of aircraft. Rumors talk of an initial purchase of 6, with 6 options. At least 8 / 9 would be needed, especially considering the wider ISTAR role.

A Tactical Reconnaissance Wing

In early 2002, the RAF ended the practice of having dedicate reconnaissance squadrons of fast jets, each with its own Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre (RIC), to merge these together into the Tactical Imagery Wing, which today provides deployable teams specialized in exploitation of Full Motion Video (Crossbow Flight, Tactical Imagery Wing) and others specializing in evaluation of imagery collected by RAPTOR and Litening III pods flown on Tornado and Typhoon (Orion Flight).

With the plan for the future being the dissolution of the Sentinel R1 fleet and the spreading of wide-area GMTI across multiple platforms (SCAVENGER, P-8 [?] and the AESA radars of F-35s and Typhoons], it is probably wise to expect the formation of a third flight within the Tactical Imagery Wing, this specializing in exploitation of GMTI information. The concentration of GMTI specialists in the same unit should help preserve the maximum level of experience and efficiency, while building on the successful methods of the TIW. With the focus expanding beyond “imagery”, the Wing should be known for Reconnaissance, or for Tactical ISTAR. As the Sentinel goes out of service, its bespoke Ground Station should be replaced by a “General Purpose” ground station to allow real-time exploitation of GMTI coming from whatever platform is available, be it Reaper or F-35.

-          Preserve GMTI exploitation experience by forming a dedicate Flight within the current Tactical Imagery Wing. Specialist teams from the new Flight will deploy in support of the various platforms over which GMTI capability will be spread, including F-35 and, in the future, Typhoon Tranche 3A with AESA radar. The new Flight should operate in close liaison with the Royal Artillery, since Watchkeeper also introduces its own GMTI capability, although of course on a smaller search area.    

Restoring strategic air refueling sense

In a plan that puts such importance on P-8, the continued lack of boom air refueling capability is unacceptable. The lack of boom is one of the most disappointing facts about Voyager (aka: take the best tanker in the world and dumb it down to a civilian passenger aircraft with drogues). Airbus can fix booms to Voyager within six months, and the cost, while significant, is unlikely to be prohibitive. Any spare money the RAF might have, in my opinion, should go towards this particular requirement.
Fitting the boom is more desirable than trying to fit a probe to P-8: the boom already exists, while a probe for P-8 doesn’t; moreover, the boom makes Voyager capable to also refuel C-17, Rivet Joint and allied aircraft.
It would solve the ridiculous, absurd situation of being unable to refuel some of the most precious, strategic platforms in the whole air force.
A good start would be to fit the two “fitted for but not with” centrepoint tankers in the fleet. The RAF’s core fleet of 9 Voyagers includes a civilian registered transport-only aircraft and 8 tankers, 7 of which are KC3 with centerline station as well as the underwing ones. However, only 5 of the 7 are actually fitted with the centerline drogue. These two should be the easier to fit with boom.

It is unfortunate, and a failure of the wider policy of engagement with allies, that despite a recognized shortage of tanker capability in Europe, up to 5 Voyagers are going to be stripped of tanking equipment and chartered out to serve as civilian passenger aircraft. Currently, only one of the 5 “surge” aircraft is already contracted by a civilian air line, but four more are seeking a similar arrangement.
Meanwhile, Poland is leading a multinational effort to purchase a common fleet of new A-330 MRTT tankers. It is quite amazing that an arrangement hasn’t been fleshed out to cooperatively run the Voyager surge fleet in its intended tanker role, to help counter the shortage. The UK should engage with its NATO partners to seek an agreement in this sense, adding the boom to as many aircraft as possible.


-          Fit boom to Voyager, beginning with the 2 “fitted for but not with” KC3s in the Core Fleet. Unfortunately, Sentry can be refueled both by drogue and by boom, but A400M only by centerline drogue. So, part of the fleet will have to retain the centerline drogue instead of moving over to a boom, to avoid moving from one problem to another. A400M can in theory be fitted with the receptacle for boom refueling, but this would add yet more cost.

Common Weapon Launcher and reduced number of weapon types

The announcement of a contract for the development of a Common Weapon Launcher for Typhoon is to be welcome. However, the news releases suggest that this is an early demonstration contract, and the plan seems, as way too often happens, somewhat vague and indecisive. The aim of the Common Weapon Launcher is to introduce a rack which, while preserving the same aerodynamic shape and weight, so to ease integration on fast jets, can carry different loads, including 2 Paveway IV bombs, or 3 Brimstone 2, or (possibly) 3 SPEAR 3. The Common Weapon Launcher concept, shown in computer graphics and in mock-up form at some recent air shows, is clearly a derivative of the Brimstone triple rack. Since integration of Brimstone 2 on Typhoon has been funded (finally!), the choice is particularly wise, as the launcher will be aerodynamically cleared for carriage as part of this activity, allowing for considerable savings.

The Common Weapon Launcher should definitely be developed for carrying all three the main weapon systems: PW IV, Brimstone 2 and Spear 3. It should not be a Typhoon-only affair, either, but be exploited on the F-35 external hardpoints, as well.  

On the weapons front, considerable uncertainty, unfortunately, persists regarding SPEAR 3: the considerable expense needed to develop the wholly new MBDA weapon has lead to the “US Option” of going Small Diameter Bomb II growing in strength.
A final decision is now not expected until 2018. SPEAR 3 and SDB 2 are externally and conceptually very similar, but SPEAR 3 has a key difference: it embodies a small turbojet engine which gives it a greater range and the ability to be launched in a far greater acceptable zone, irrespective of altitude, wind conditions etcetera. SDB 2 is currently an unpowered, gliding weapon.
The greater range and launch flexibility of SPEAR 3 would make it far more capable against highly defended targets, and indeed make it into a DEAD (Destruction of Enemy Air Defence) asset, much needed since the RAF has given up its main SEAD (Suppression) weapon, the ALARM anti-radar missile, to budget cuts.
Raytheon, aware of this key factor, has started promising the development of a powered Small Diameter Bomb 2: if this was to materialize, the MBDA SPEAR would lose its key advantage, and it might become just too financially attractive to go with the US weapon, which in its base form can count on tens of thousands of planned American purchases. SDB 2 is also already planned for F-35 integration, which would also save money.
The MBDA SPEAR, on the other hand, is meant to keep the national weapon industrial capability alive and in good health.
As long as the MBDA SPEAR is the only one powered, long-range choice, I think the RAF should stick with it, even if it costs more. But if a powered SBD 2 becomes reality, the MOD will be faced with a much more difficult choice.

Common Weapon Launcher mock-up, seen carrying two Paveway IV bombs

Another key programme is SPEAR Capability 1, which is actually the spiral development of Paveway IV capability. Apart from better, more jamming-resistant GPS module, the Paveway IV should soon gain a new warhead option, with bunker-busting capability. The smart aspect of Paveway IV developments is that the external shape and the general mass remain the same, so that there is no need to repeat the aerodynamics part of the integration process over and over again.
The Paveway IV anti-bunker seem destined to replace the older, 2000 lbs Paveway III, which will go out of service alongside Tornado GR4.
Other Paveway IV developments include a low collateral damage warhead option; the addition of a seeker (IR Imaging, it is thought) for greater capability against moving targets; and eventually the addition of a wing-kit for much improved stand-off range.
A recent briefing given by US officers about the F-35 Block 4 software seem to suggest that the RAF has decided that the first two Paveway IV developments entering service will be the anti-bunker and the seeker.

MBDA's SPEAR 3, without its quadruple rack, seen on a Typhoon ahead of the flying testing campaign

The same briefing also suggests that the RAF wants to soon get moving about a “new build” ASRAAM. We might be close to the launch of a Capability Sustainment Programme for the short range missile, which should build on what has been done with the CAMM / Sea Ceptor. The integration of a two-way datalink is highly likely, if the programme actually secures funding. The data-link would massively enhance the capabilities of ASRAAM to acquire its target after launch and achieve high off-boresight kills.


-          Proceed with Paveway IV developments, in particular with the anti-bunker variant to avoid a gap in capability when the combination Tornado/Paveway III bows out.
-          Whatever weapon is selected for SPEAR  3 should be powered, long-range, and have a wide acceptable launch region, to make it a viable DEAD solution
-          The Common Weapon Launcher should be developed fully, and used to full effect with both Typhoon and F-35
-          The ASRAAM CSP is not as high a priority, but adding a two-way datalink is important to give it true High Off-Boresight capability, which is needed to make best use of the F-35’s DAS “bubble” and HMD.

F-35 plans and babbling

Much noise has followed the blog post of David Axe of War is Boring about the leaked test report about the basic combat maneuvering trials begun last January between an F-35A and an F-16. The usual crowd has started self-quoting itself and shouting from the rooftops about how the F-35 had lost the dogfight and, indeed, how it could never win one. The answer provided by the JPO was to eager to dismiss the issue altogether, and actually ended up being a own-goal, adding to the noise (you need better media relationship experts, JPO: that answer really does suck).
Much of what has been said since is garbage. My general sentiments about the whole thing are very similar to the thoughts expressed here, so I recommend following the link and reading what the experienced C.W. Lemoine, an F-16 and F-18 pilot, has to say about it. 

In more detail, although I do not want to spend too much time on this, also because my own understanding of the highly complex art of air combat is limited and I don’t want to pontificate past my pay grade, the dogfight wasn’t even a dogfight.
Axe has since graced us all with the report itself. And reading it, as was to be expected, has allowed thinking heads to arrive to different conclusions to those that Axe, a notorious F-35 hater, drew. The first thing to notice in the report is the title itself: it was a test to experiment F-35 combat manoeuvres at high angles of attack.
The F-35 has excellent controllability at very high angle of attack. At entry in service it is expected to be certified for + 50° and – 10°, values much higher than most other fighter. F-16 does + 25°, Typhoon a little bit less, Rafale +29°.
What the test tried to determine was whether this capability has a value in dogfighting. The F-35 deliberately tried to manoeuvre at high angle of attack to see if it can “nose-point” like a Super Hornet. The result of the test, reading the report, say that in most situations, no, staying controllable won’t bring advantages. High Angle of Attack means losing energy very, very quickly, and the F-35 has a too high drag factor to keep its energy high enough to nose-point in a meaningful way without losing all its energy.
The test pilot said he found only one kind of manoeuvre which offers a repeatable firing chance: this one can be expected to end up in the tactics manual of the F-35, while the rest will be in the “don’t do this” list.
Outside of a test event, you are not forced  to seek high AoA in combat: if it is not advantageous, simply, you do not do it. And the air combat manual for the F-35, once written, will say this (obviously, in a much better and more detailed way).

For the rest, the report notes that the F-35 fights best around the 26° AoA angle, which is not surprising as it is a common value and particularly is the F-16’s area. The F-35 has been developed trying to obtain F-16 comparable maneuverability, after all.
In this area of flight, the test pilot expresses his frustration at the Flight Control Laws interfering with his commands: basically, the computer has limited the F-35’s agility to prevent a loss of control which was actually very far away. The test pilot at one point specifically mentions “fantastic yaw rate”, truncated by the unnecessary, unwanted, early intrusion of the computer.
The pilot’s recommendations, in the end, are to relax the control laws in the software, to let the aircraft pitch, yaw and roll faster.

There is a reason why the F-35 hasn’t had its full flying envelope opened up yet: the software control laws are still being tweaked and developed. The full flying envelope (Mach 1.6, 50.000 feet altitude, 50° AoA, max G) will only become available with Block 3F.
Block 2B, with which the USMC is about to hit IOC, is limited at Mach 1.2, 40.000 feet and 5.5 G, for example.
While the F-35 will never be a fighter defined by super-maneuverability, it will not be as limited as AF-2 was in the test. And it will not fight in the same way either, once the tactics will have been written down.
Read the report: the dogfight was a control laws test, at high AoA, with none of the aircraft involved being armed; none carrying a weapon simulation pod (needed for an actual dogfight) and with the F-35’s HMD having only a fixed reticle, absolutely not representative of the operational HMD.
There has been some rather wild jumping to conclusions going on.

I will close the “babbling” part with one question only: even assuming energy management in a dogfight is not on the F-35’s side, if you were a pilot given a choice, would you want to be on the jet which has to rush through the F-35’s BVR area to force a dogfight, or would you rather be in the F-35?
I will be in the F-35, thank you very much.

Back to the plans. The SDSR 2015 is, I fear, unlikely to provide the information we’d all like to have about how many aircraft the UK will ultimately buy. Main Gate 5, the decision point for the bulk order, has been set for 2017, and I think the government will be too tempted to leave the final decision for then. The SDSR will most likely carry on just with the plan for 48 aircraft for OEU, OCU and for the first two squadrons.

The plan is as follows:

17 Sqn (Operational Evaluation Unit) – Edwards AFB, USA

BK-4 (not yet delivered)

BK-1, 2 and 4 are instrumented aircraft, which will be used for development and trials and evaluation. BK-1 and 2 were among the first to undergo a retrofit, which might have brought them all the way up to Block 2B standard. 1 and 2 came in the LRIP 3, so were very early jets indeed, with quite a few limitations to overcome.

Training Unit – Embedded in the USMC 501 Sqn, Beaufort, USA, until July 2019.

BK-5 (ordered)
BK-6 (ordered)
BK-7 (ordered)
BK-8 (ordered)

Currently, only BK-3 is available, but the training fleet will grow to 5 over the coming months and years. BK-3 was produced in LRIP 4, and will receive a retrofit later on.
The next aircraft assigned to training will be BK-5, 6, 7, 8, all coming out of LRIP 8. The LRIP 8 is much closer to the final, block 3F standard. It will be delivered with the TR2 computer processors and Block 3I software. The TR2 processor, introduced from LRIP6 onwards, means that passage to 3F will be a software change only.
The third generation HMD, which solves the well known issues of the Gen II helmet, should also come along.

Come July 2019, training of british crews in the US is expected to end, with the OCU moving into RAF Marham, where an Integrated Training Centre will have been built. It seems likely that the UK will seek to attract other European users of the F-35, beginning with Norway, hoping to get them to train their personnel in Marham.

617 Squadron – Stand up in Beaufort next year, transfers to the UK in April 2018, Deployable Land IOC by 31 December 2018


BK-9 to BK-14 will come from LRIP 9. A production contract will come soon, with Long Lead contracts having been already signed. LRIP 9 is expected to introduce the redesigned bulkhead 496 on the assembly line, which is the one which cracked during durability tests. The jets from the earlier lots will be retrofitted at the first Major Maintenance occasion.
If the current schedule is respected, the first frontline F-35s should thus be delivered already in their final shape, more or less, reducing to the minimum the number of retrofits which will be needed later. 

The following 4 aircraft:


are included in LRIP 10, for which the first Long Lead contracts have been signed. All should be in british hands by the end of 2018. Further aircraft will be needed to bring 617 up to strength and to stand up 809.
The following batches however haven’t been detailed yet, and the stand-up date for 809 is also not yet known. Both squadrons should be fully operational by the end of 2023, however. The OCU will probably initially be a Flight within 617 Squadron, but might be given its own identity later on. 

Expected F-35 global fleet in 2018
Trials at sea on HMS Queen Elizabeth are expected to begin around the end of 2018 and last to May 2019. They will take place in US waters, and will see the involvement of 17 Sqn and, most likely, USMC units. The trials should allow for Carrier IOC in 2020.

The UK is engaged in talks promoted by the US to place a “Block Buy” big order covering the years 2018 to 2020 (Lot 11, 12 and 13, with the first being the last of the "Low Rate" LRIP blocks, and the first two being the start of the full rate production). Placing a bulk order is expected to result in significant savings. Without even considering the partners and foreign customers, the US orders alone in these lots are expected to go from 126 (in Lot 11) to 176 (Lot 13). The quantities will be truly significant, in other words.
Regarding final number of F-35s to be procured by the UK, it is a shot in the dark still. It has been reported that, back in 2010, the RAF fought a bitter campaign to ensure recognition that the needed force level is some 9 squadrons, which could mean 4 F-35 units. However, 9 would mean one more squadron than the RAF has now, and 3 more than it will have in 2020 if the Tornado GR4 OSD isn’t pushed to the right again. Extending the service life of Tornado might become desirable not just because of its combat capability, but because keeping up the number of squadrons would help a lot in securing greater purchases of F-35S. If the number of squadrons is allowed to fall all the way down to 6, rebuild it up to 9 becomes a rather unlikely proposition.
A four squadron force with 70 to 90 F-35B is a good target to pursue, but in no way a given. 

In terms of evolution and capability growth, the F-35B will enter service capable to employ up to 4 internal AMRAAM, 2 external ASRAAM and up to 6 Paveway IV (2+4). It will also have the gunpod (operational as part of Block 3F).
The next big thing in the history of the F-35 is Block 4. This new software load will be delivered in four increments between 2019 and 2025. The list of things to add is being formalized, and should become definitive by the end of the year.
Improvements to the EOTS, video downlink and a new "big SAR" radar mode are pretty much certain additions. In terms of weapons, the UK is looking at integrating, in the order, Paveway IV bunker-buster, Paveway IV with seeker, ASRAAM CSP, Meteor and SPEAR 3. However, only by year end we will know (hopefully) what will be actually funded and included. 

The non-definitive list of weapons to be integrated in Block IV, as shown earlier this year by US officials

Pratt & Whitney is considering a plan of upgrades and improvements to the engine, with Block 1 in 2018 and a Block 2 with advanced adaptive technology “in the early 2020s”. Targets include substantial reduction of fuel burn rate, improved cooling (with benefits extending to engine service life), possibly thrust increase by up to 10%, and range improvements between 20 and 35%.
The engine is obviously a key part of any aircraft, so the evolution of the F-135 is something to watch very closely indeed. The P&W Block update plan is currently not part of the F-35 plan proper, but it would be important for the UK to join the initiative if it progresses. General Electric is also shaping its own plan for improvements, with both companies building on the work done as part of the US Adaptive Engine Technology Development (AETD) research and development programme.


Apart from the AESA radar, which hopefully will start serving on Tranche 3A aircraft in the early 2020s, the RAF might want to consider the integration of a reconnaissance pod, especially if Tornado GR4 OSD is confirmed for 2019, and RAPTOR is left without a platform. 

Much lower priority goes to the Conformal Fuel Tanks, which however remain interesting, since the carriage of Storm Shadow means no underwing tanks, and the targeting pod is only integrated for carriage on the central, wet pylon under the fuselage. 
Conformal fuel tanks would keep the available fuel up, while leaving the pylons available for weapons and pods. 
The Conformal Fuel Tanks however require also an aerodynamic modification kit, it seems, which makes their addition more challenging in terms of expense and downtime. The aerodynamic modification kit has just completed flying trials on IPA7 in Germany, and brings significant agility improvements as well, including bringing Angle of Attack value up to 36°.  

Conformal Fuel Tanks wind gallery tests

It would be nice to put Conformals on Tranche 3A at some point, but it definitely is the last voice on the list of priorities. Money is still tight, and it must be used on the urgent things first. 


Budget shortages have left the RAF’s Sentry fleet lagging badly behind the rest of NATO. While the other AWACS across the alliance are getting significant upgrades based on the Block 40/45 (E-3G Sentry) entering service with the USAF, the RAF is literally out of the picture. This situation badly needs to be corrected as soon as possible, otherwise the interoperability will suffer, and the operational value of the british Sentry will continue to decline.


Several improvements are on the way, and others could be made. The C-17 is receiving satellite communications, for example. On the other hand, the RAF continues to make no use at all of the tactical capability of the C-17, which is only used as a strategic cargo flying from A to B. This is, in my opinion, an unjustifiable waste, and opening up some of the latent capability is something I will keep recommending.
A Boeing C-17 International Training Centre is standing up in Farnborough, with a full flight simulator and engine ground running courses. Parachuting and aidrop training could follow, if the capability is finally pursued.

The non-exploitation of the C-17’s airdrop capability is made worse by the fact that the C-130J itself is currently partially handicapped in this role: the withdrawal of the old C-130K has left the RAF with no capability to employ Medium Stressed Platforms for the airdropping of vehicles, L118 Light Guns and other key, large equipment for the air assault task force.
A replacement platform will be put in service for use on the A400M, but we are talking of a gap that will stay open for a few more years, as it’ll be 2017 or 2018 before the Atlas is ready for the task.
The RAF seem to have attempted to close the gap by putting out a request for a modified Medium Stressed Platform compatible with the C-130J’s cargo floor system. Delivery was planned for June 2015, but it is not clear what the status of the programme is.
The new airdrop platform should come with greater capability. The American Type V platform is one option. A clear requirement includes the ability to airdrop a Jackal, which is now part of the Air Assault Task Force’s equipment.

Investment in airdrop is to be supported. Modern precision airdrop equipment can ease immensely the resupply of troops from the air, and large kits allow the dropping of bulky, heavy loads, reducing the need for a small, tactical cargo capable of intra-theatre lift.
The RAF, for this role, is only going to have the 2 BAe 146 QC MK3 procured under UOR. So it’ll be Atlas, or 146 MK3. Expanding airdrop capability will compensate.

Another gap left by the withdrawal of C-130K is the Special Forces support. Unfortunately, the internationally developed software upgrades needed as base of Project HERMES, the fitting of SF equipment to the J, have suffered monstrous delays. Block 7.0 has run so late that it has been actually incorporated into Block 8.1, causing a much longer gap than once anticipated.
Block 7.0 is the biggest upgrade to the C-130J since entry in service, introducing tactical data capability, a new flight management system, new processors and 26 other changes, and it has proven challenging, to say the least. While not much has been said about it, Block 7 work has kept ZH866 in the US for over two years, returning only in December 2014 to then begin flight testing at Boscombe Down, ahead of further modification into Block 8.1.
It seems that Block 7.0 (and later) aircraft are to be known as C6, such is the extent of the changes.
In the meanwhile, at least, 9 of the C-130Js have been fitted with external fuel tanks giving a significant increase in range.

The now combined Block 7.0 / Block 8.1 modification deliver software upgrades; new Communications, Navigation, and Identification System Processor (CNI-SP); Link-16; new control wheel; new Civil Global Positioning System (GPS); new mission computer; upgraded Data Transfer and Diagnostic System (DTADS); new Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) Transponder Mode 5; Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B); enhanced internal-communication system (ICS); Communications, Navigation, and Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) Data Link; improved public address (PA) system; and covert light aft of the cargo ramp.
However, flight testing of Block 8.1 is expected to wrap up in 2019, quite a while away still, and the risk is that the Special Forces support gap will only be closed right before the C-130J leaves service, in 2022!

The welcome addition of external fuel tanks on a C-130J C4 (long fuselage)

The rumors suggest that there is a strong current within the Special Forces and the RAF calling for the running-on of 7 to 9 long-fuselage C-130Js beyond 2022 (the ones fitted with external tanks?), specifically for the Special Forces mission.
The official line for now remains that the A400M will absorb the special forces mission by 2022, but if there’s someone who might get what it wants, that is the Special Forces Director.
The A400M is expected to equip 70 Sqn and 30 Sqn (the first for sure, the second sqn has yet to stand up), while 47 Sqn, unless C-130Js are indeed kept for SF work, will be disbanded.

The A400M has had its IOC delayed from March to September this year. 7 aircraft are required for IOC, and so far the RAF has received 3 (ZM400, ZM402, ZM403). A fourth A400 has flown to Brize (the future ZM401) but is still marked with an Airbus code while it undergoes work for the integration of the DAS defensive system. At least 3 more A400M are approaching their delivery date, and will fly to Brize over the next weeks.


-          Procure modified airdrop platforms for the C-130J in order to close the gap. The lack of Medium Stressed Platform is a major problem for the air assault task force, and makes it a lot less credible.
-          Invest in platforms for heavy airdrops in the longer term, with payloads including Jackal in mind, and in precision airdrop kits. Some have been procured as UOR for Afghanistan, but they should become a more common capability.
-          Ideally, run on 47 squadron on C-130Js for the Special Forces operations beyond 2022
-          Gradually bring online tactical capabilities for the C-17


Contract signatures for the purchase of the new fleets of fixed wing training aircraft are expected soon. The Grob G115, the Tucano and the Beechcraft King Air 200, used respectively for Elementary, Basic and Multi-Engine training are due to be replaced by G120TP, T-6C and Phenom 100.

If the recent NAO report on the Military Flying Training System has the right figures, the renewal will be accompanied by rather dramatic reductions in the number of aircraft and instructors, and by a growth of synthetic training on simulators. The NAO expects that the Elementary Flying Training fleet will go down from 40 to 23 aircraft, with military instructors falling from 44 to 35, but with civilian instructors growing from 17 to 23.
Simulators will grow sharply in relevance, with synthetic training hours growing from 0 to 35% of the training programme.

The most evident reduction, however, is expected in Basic Training, where the NAO expects only 10 aircraft, down from 40, with military instructors going from 48 to 15 and civilians from 1 to 5. Simulation will grown from 33 to 46% of the training programme.
The Basic Flying Training will leave RAF Linton-on-Ouse (which I guess is then very likely to close down) and move into RAF Valley, probably at the same time as 208 Sqn, on Hawk T1, disbands. More on this later.

Multi-engine training will see the fleet reduced from 7 to 5 aircraft and from 25 to 16 military instructors, with civilians going from 0 to 6.

There will be little to no excess capacity to train foreign students. This dramatic reduction ties in with the planned sundown of the Hawk T1’s role in training: the plan is that flying training of british personnel on the T1 of 208 Sqn will end in early 2016. 208 Sqn will continue to train foreign students until December 2017.
208 Sqn was once planned to disband in 2012. It was saved by the signature of contracts to train crews coming from the Middle East. But it seems that its time in the sun is limited, and that by end 2017, early 2018, disbandment will again be on the cards.
The guess is that the “naval 8”, as 208 Sqn is known, might become the new Basic Flying Training squadron, taking up the role from 72 Sqn as the Tucano goes out of service and training moves to Valley.

A major question mark remains on what will happen to the Hawk T1s used in “aggressor” role in support of training by 100 Sqn RAF and 736 NAS. A replacement for the Hawk T1 has not yet been identified.

Simulation will continue to grow in importance. Recently, the RAF has acquired simulators even of the gliders of the Air Experience Flights and University Air Squadrons. An Immersive Close Air Support Simulator has been purchased to contribute to the formation of JTACs.  

The renewal of the rotary wing training fleet is expected to follow in 2018.



  1. I personally think that the RAF will lease four to six P-8's (modified) and four Triton UAV's fitted with the latest GMTI and other complementary ISTAR kit. Hopefully Typhoon will get the now tested aerodynamic mods AMK as well. What do you think?
    Is it not also possible that Linton-on-Ouse might become an Army base for troops returning from Germany?

    1. I've added a bit about the Typhoon's AMK. It is pretty much certain to be the very last of priorities, but if the Tranche 3A aircraft ever get around to getting Conformal Fuel Tanks, then it'll be most likely part of the deal.

      As for Linton on Ouse, no i don't think it could become an army base. Returning Army units are all assigned to other areas already, and i don't think there is room / a good reason to change the plan and invest on Linton instead.

  2. I think that the RAF will not want or currently be able to operate two different systems. I would say they will go for an initial 6 P8's with an option on another six. Once these are up and running, then perhaps Triton may be looked at,but I doubt it.
    Lets get P8 into service first.

  3. My hopes re the RAF in SDSR.

    1/ Keep Sentinel. It can take of from the UK and fly to the area of operations, Reaper does not have the capability and against a half decent air defence could be blown out of the sky. The RAF need to be ready to fight a peer force, not bombing people who cannot fight back against the UAV.
    2 /Keep Shadow.
    3 /Keep Reaper.
    4 / Sort out airspace issues, training, by establishing a dedicated UAV centre at the old DERA Llanbedr, in co ordination with MoD Aberporth, and fly the Reapers over the vast Cardigan Bay T&E range already used for SAM, AAM and drone tests. It is restricted airspace so I see no issues putting Reapers into it.
    5/ Buy P.8 and use for MPA only as its numbers will be few and diverting it too overland ISTAR will be another use of a limited asset. Use Seedcorn crews and RAF share of extra money to pay for P8 while keeping other ISTAR assets, use Seadcorn crews and limited enhancement in personnel to crew them.
    6/ Keep updated C130 for UKSF. DSF has a lot of clout and I believe this will indeed happen, there are too few Atlas for all roles.
    7/ Keep 47 as dedicated UKSF support unit akin to No 7 in the JSFAW.
    8/ Stop the lunacy of leasing out the 5 remaining Voyagers and bring them up to full spec to join the other 9.
    9/ Form 4th Chinook Squadron.
    10/ Keep Tranche 1 Typhoon to form additional 2 Fast Jet Squadrons and use them for the QRA home defence role.
    11/ Upgrade and expand all facilities at Mount Pleasant. Wideawake, RAF Gibraltar and RAF Akrotiri as PJOB facilities.
    12/ Keep small no of SAR crews and establish dedicated CSAR Squadron, with the RAF Regiment in support.

    1. There is much i can agree with, but i don't think the money would ever be enough.

    2. I'd say some of Daniele's list is modest and achievable and some of it isn't,

      Keeping the T1 Typhoon's would be lovely but is sadly very unlikely and way too expensive in terms of manpower and running costs. If i remember correctly they are going to start to dispose of them soon.

      Similarly keeping a SAR capability and upgrading various RAF stations would be nice but are hardly priorities right now.

      A 4th Chinook squadron would be lovely but again not a massive priority. 3 full strength units, plus 28 Squadron operating as a Puma/Chinook OCU would/could utilize 40+ air-frames and rotating them with the 20ish others in storage sounds reasonable.

      I agree with you Gab that a phased introduction of 8-12 P8 that could gradually replace Sentinel and Shadow (probably up-to the early 2020's rather than 2018, which means the current ISTAR fleet will need more funding) makes a lot of sense and is a more realistic ambition than keeping 3 different fleets going. Seaspray on Reaper or a handful of Triton would provide a nice complimentary capability though.

      Out of the others i think keeping roughly 6 C130J in 47 Squadron for SF work would be a good idea and as stated could well be achievable, especially if the SF higher-up's have expressed a desire, and the issues with Voyager, as in the 9 active + 5 hired out situation and lack of a boom capability REALLY need to be addressed.

  4. UK MoD has shown interest in Japanese P-1, a four engine bird built specifically for maritime patrol/ISR mission.

    1. I don't believe it is anything more serious than cordiality in the new climate of improved relationship. The RAF is clearly focused on P-8, that's where the personnel has been sent.

  5. The ISTAR fleet is going to be where the action is at.

    If the UK really want's P-8 then something is going to have to give. Then there are the outstanding questions over the future of Sentinel, RAPTOR, Sentry and what has happened to Scavenger.

    I suspect Scavenger, at least as a new platform, is dead and I have heard comments that hint it may get nudged into FCAS. If I had to take a guess, 9 squadrons will be conjured by including the two Reaper units with five Typhoon and two F-35B.

    1. Stopping at just two F-35 squadrons would be a major defeat, though.

    2. A force structure of 9 fast-jet squadrons makes perfect sense. 7-8 is the bare minimum, with 9 (including 809 NAS) and roughly 180 air-frames the RAF could have a large enough forward fleet, sufficient depth for adequate levels of training, deep maintenance, rotation to stretch out air-frame hours etc as well as keeping something in the cupboard for a rainy day.

      Personally i'd temporarily stand-up a 6th Typhoon squadron and keep the 3 remaining Tornado units going for a while longer until they can be phased out as the F35 comes in. So 1 squadron going in 2018/2019 as 617 Squadron reaches full capability, and the other 2, plus that extra Typhoon unit, between the early or mid 2020's when (hopefully) a larger order of up-to 70-80 F35 starts to arrive.

      Sadly it seems the wider problem beyond procurement and running costs is the acute lack of manpower and with Tornado especially the fact that the navigator training system has been wound down.

      It would be a real shame to see Tornado bow out completely by 2019 though seen as the forward fleet is still being upgraded and there's a large sustainment fleet to draw on.

  6. As for F-35 internally carried airborne standoff weapon configuration, USN approach is high/low mix. At low end you have the SDBII glide bomb, a small cruise missile will take the role of high-end air to surface attack. The most likely candidate is JSM after JSOW-ER cancellation. Both weapons are network enabled featuring 2 ways data link for in flight re-targeting. Is this approach suitable for the RAF/RN? I just think that MBDA Spear 3 is a poor comprise, too expansive for shorter range engagement (where affordability is the key) but not good enough for long range standoff mission.

    1. It could be an alternative. But JSM does not fit in the bays of the F-35B, and it would mean adopting two different weapons. Cost less "per shot", maybe, but it is more challenging at budgetary level to fund two weapon systems instead of one.

  7. Very Nice piece thank Gab.

    You summed up loads there, and I think your proberbly pretty much on the money.

    You made the first reference to "air-ceptor" I've seen yet, and I do think this is critical for the F-35B. With restricted G loading being perhaps the 'B's weakest area. A missile that will exploit the 360*360 sensors to perhaps hit anything anywhere whilst (maybe) flying defencivly could be a real game changer.

    Something occurred to be last week, what are the chances of using "air-ceptor" to shoot down in incoming missile ?


    1. And I don't necessarily mean for self defence here ( tho that would be interesting )

      I mean fleet defence.


    2. I don't think it has ever been done for real, but it should be possible in theory to engage cruise missiles with the air to air missiles for a fleet defence role.

  8. Gaby

    Very detailed, informative piece.

    On the point about some keeping about half a dozen C130Js for use by special forces. It would be very desirable but I wonder what condition most of those aircraft are in post-Afghanistan. They underwent a bit of a pounding under those conditions, didn't they?

    Have any reports reached you of what condition they are in in? Could we save the 6 or so in the best condition? Daniele Mandelli and Challenger think it would be possible.

    Also, is there any chance of our joining the German scheme of re-working some Tornados to last for another five or seven years and to tide us over until the F35 comes fully on stream?

    1. Keeping C-130s in service might well require a stop at Marshal's to have the wing box replaced and perhaps some other life-extending fix. But if there was the will, it would be most certainly doable.

      I think Tornado can be run on as well, if there's the money and the will. There's quite a large sustainment fleet, for one thing, and some more life that can be squeezed out of the airframes, since they haven't spent their life skimming the ground like originally planned.

  9. hi! I read just
    F-35 plans and babbling
    part, got two questions:

    1. What's your take on the F-35 helmet issues (the "Rearward Visibility" part of the leaked report you quoted)

    2. When the UK would be expected to pay for
    "A four squadron force with 70 to 90 F-35B" you suggested, I mean the time-frame, as in 2020 - 2024, for example; is it going to be "at once", or is the UK "stashing money" for F-35s already now maybe? (this was the third question, sorry :-) and thanks!

    1. The first 48 F-35B are due to be ordered by 2023. Anything else would come later, and costs will be spread on whatever number of years is part of the plan. Italy is planning 90 between A and B, with orders (and costs) spread out all the way to 2027, for example. The UK has an F-35 budget of some 15 billions, but this includes some support expenditure and there's no detail available to determine how much of it is envisaged for procurement.

      As for the helmet, the issue will get less relevant when the pilot will be flying with the working HMD and will have images actually streamed to its helmet visor. However, expanding space in the cockpit, all the way to designing a thinner canopy, is an option which appears in the roadmap of potential upgrades for future blocks.

  10. thanks for responding (I peek at your blog quite often :-) but I've always thought the F-35 canopy can't be changed because of the B-variant turbofan taking the space (am referring to "a thinner canopy" idea you presented, I mean is this some official plan?)

    1. It is an official option. Don't think it is yet sanctioned, funded and planned. But it is a possible development.

    2. sounds more like a sales pitch :-) but thanks anyway, and what's your prediction about anti-shipping missile(s) to arm the UK F-35Bs (off the QE carrier(s)), and since when please? (can be the the SW Block info; sorry if I missed that)

    3. Anti-ship missiles seem to be so low on the UK's list, in any field, that i do not expect a specific anti-ship weapon for F-35 anytime soon.

    4. Royal Navy Carrier Battle Group of 2021: a giant carrier with a squadron of F-35Bs struggling to provide cover from 4Gen intruders and unable to strike at surface targets; Type 45 destroyer to provide cover from 4Gen intruders and able to strike at surface targets with the Harpoons from dismantled Type 23 frigates; two Type 23 frigates, if available; Astute class submarine; Tide class tanker ... more or less?

  11. Hi Gabriele,
    The Defence Minister Philip Dunne said that the Tranche 2/3 Typhoons would be out of service by 2030. He was responding to a question by MP Nicholas Soames.


    I seem to remember the previous def sec saying that a second tranche
    of JSF to replace the tranche 2/3 Typhoons would not be ordered until after 2030? Wound they even be able to bring enough F-35s into service
    to replace the 107 Typhoons by 2030?
    Also could the out of service date of the GR4 be pushed back?

    1. The out of service date for Typhoon is no news. It has been like that for years. However, the initial OSD is a planning thing on documents, with little actual value. It is extremely, extremely likely that Typhoon will serve on well past 2030, perhaps thanks to a consistent Mid Life Upgrade programme (think Tornado GR1 to GR4, for example).

      It is too far away in time to tell what it will be like. I'm more interested in the post 2023 phase of the F-35 programme, which will hopefully increase the pitifully small number of 2 squadrons currently on record.

      As for Tornado, yes, it looks pretty likely that, first of all, the third squadron will receive a further reprieve and will live on for longer (currently, it is funded only out to early 2016). The whole fleet could see its OSD pushed to the right some more, if it was so decided and the money was available.

    2. Thanks for info.


  12. Off topic question. Does British military has a nomenclature designation system for UAV? I never seen one for Watchkeeper or Reaper.

    1. I think the Reaper is the MQ-9, as per american designation. Watchkeeper probably still uses WK450.

    2. UK designation Reaper MQ-9A RPAS. Apparently all 10 of the RAF's Reapers are now deployed in support of Op Shader.


  13. RE: MFTS:

    No spare capacity. Where will all the instructors come from? Even Civilian world is short of instructors since advent of EASA/ICAO MPL (recruiting junior pilots with mostly simulator experience and around 70h of real flying into an automated airliner).

    How many want to move to Valley?


    Where is current line QFI input in these choices? Qinetic input / MoD test flying analysis of the chosen machines?


    Retractable gear an additional risk at this stage of training. See First flights of Argentinian G120TPs.

    If G120TP is so capable why order T6?

    Why no competition? All bidders had G120TP? What about SF260 piston and TP versions? Or RAAF CF4? or FFA AS-202 Bravo?

    Have the lessons from previous G115e been learned? 2009: 3 aircraft and 6 killed in collisions. G120TP still white against white/grey skies (conspicuity) yet most composite aerobatic aircraft can be painted any color. Why has Grob removed the bubble canopy of the demonstrator and returned to G120A canopy which has large blind spots with wider canopy arches?

    Operationally: What is the fuel flow at Low Level? Seems aerodynamically compromised with winglets, small elevator and spin strakes.

    How do you egress at 180 kts at low level? No MB ejector seats anymore?

    T6: Why so few of them? Civi world now realising 1G SIM environment dependency leads to aircraft upset accidents. "Why doesn't it fly like the simulator?" some training captains have heard cadets say!

    Phenom 100: much smaller payload range than King Air. Lots of runway over-run accidents around globe (100 and 300) due in part to electric brake problems and NO reverse thrust.

    It has no real asymmetric training ability. Even an Airbus requires rudder for and EF at V1.

    If Embraer Phenom then why not buy Super Tucano, If Textron T6, why not buy new King Airs? Economies of scale?


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