UK reverts to F-35B
u-turn over the decision to switch to the F-35C carrier variant
Jamie Hunter - 10-May-2012
Lockheed Martin image
As had been widely rumoured for several months, the UK MoD has reversed the decision to switch from the STOVL F-35B to the F-35C carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter. The official announcement on 10 May came following the decision by the Prime Minister David Cameron to endorse the change.
The move comes as a huge embarrassment for Mr Cameron, with the move to the F-35C included as a key element of October 2010’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). At the time Mr Cameron said that the F-35B STOVL variant was considered to be ‘more expensive and less capable’. He said a move to ‘cat and trap’ operations with the F-35C would increase interoperability with the US and France.
However, 18 months on and a Defence spokesman said that the government now has a clear picture of the cost implication of converting one of the UK’s Queen Elizabeth-class future aircraft carriers to accommodate ‘cat and trap’ operations.
He said that adapting HMS Prince of Wales (the second UK carrier) so that it can be used by the F-35C had risen £1 billion since the SDSR estimates were calculated. This is largely driven by the cost of incorporating the new Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS).
By reverting to the F-35B, the spokesman said that the UK could accelerate its carrier strike capability, and potentially utilise both of the carriers. The UK expects IOC for the F-35B in a land based role from 2017, with sea trials from 2018 aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth.
PMM said on the 13-May-2012 at 01:36
In the Carrier Alliance simulation, of shows the B variant taking off conventionally using the ski jump. Why could this not be the C variant? Am I missing something here? This must be the most logical choice to avoid Cat investment costs, minimise plane costs and maximise capability. The traps can't require extensive mods surely.
My gripe with the B variant is its fragility. If any one of those doors is damaged in combat, then the pilot is going to get wet and we'll have one less plane.
mike yates said on the 15-May-2012 at 23:16
The rolling take off from the carrier relies on the downward thrust of the F35B rotational engine nozzle, something the F35C does not have. Also the undercarriage would have to be strengthened, another extra expense. Sticking with F35B is the way to go for the FAA. The RAF on the other hand should either go with F35C if we have to buy F35 at all, but I would say the Typhoon should be top of the list for the next fifteen years.
PMM said on the 16-May-2012 at 23:38
Long time since we 'spoke'
The videos i've seen of a real F35B taking off from USS Wasp shows exactly as you describe, but the Carrier Alliance computer simulation shows the F35B taking off with no vectored thrust, it just fires out from the back and kicks off the ramp. This could be artistic license.. I don't know. The forces on landing for the undercarriage would probably exceed that needed for a high speed ramp launch.
Going back to the C variant - a billion quid to fit 3 steam cats, sounds a bit steep, even with all of the steam gen and control equip. Speaking as an engineer, i would expect to get the kit for about 5mil per cat and then installation mods would be on top ot that, but 10 million per cat soumds more than enough. Remember the steam generation is basically 19th century stuff, not high tech. The high cost of these carriers is mainly due to the inefficient way they are being built, to prevserve ship building know how around the country (which is OK; I suppose). This is explaned away in official text as a result of no one yard being able to build a ship this size. That is demonstrable rubbish as most of the industrial yards have produced bigger ships in the past. Swan hunter(RIP) was one of the smaller yards and it was knocking out oil tankers mush larger than the QE. One of the Glasgow yards would eat a ship of 65KT.
PMM said on the 16-May-2012 at 23:43
One more thing, If we are going to use the B variant, we may as well get some early and fly them off Illustrious. that way we prep up for the QE and hit the ground running when it is launcged. Should have just lept the Harrier really.
mike said on the 17-May-2012 at 08:06
I do think its pretty much artist license on the animation, look at the numbers of aircraft but also the size/shape of the ramp, also the Rolling landing is questionable - this has been debated on TD (ThinkDefence) forum.
Seems that the B can only achieve full weapons bring back if it has a short rolling landing, which is rather new and needs to be looked at.
I would also prefer the QE class to have a small VLS silo as well...such a large target with only CIWS to keep her safe after T45.
Seems steam cats were never thought of in the original decsision, why wasn't this more openly and clearly debated back when the F35 program began? Before billions had been spent, time and also steel cut - also better economic times, the CATOBAR argument would have been much more stronger, but even then, we chose the B/through deck style. A lot of time, thought and planning went into the original plans, not as 'off the cuff' as the 2010 decision.
Hopefully economic times will improve, and over time we can indeed return to CATBAR, but after 30 odd years of STOVL ops and success, the B seems the right succession to what we want and can do (the RN is not the USN redux...).
Check out these blogs when you have the time;
As ith the carriers themselves, the latteer author is well placed to comment;
Both welcome thoughts and input :)
lol enough of this spamming, but for our economic and military position at the moment, it seems the best decision for now.
PMM said on the 19-May-2012 at 01:27
Thanks, I've just read through the links provided. Some interesting points are made. The author seemed to gloss over a lot of pro C points. For example
1. C variant is mechanically simpler and therefore more robust than the B. Less parts - less breakdowns and simpler maintenance.
2. Ability to sustain combat damage. B variant is more fragile
3. In flight failure. The C won't fall out of the air due to fan, gear box, door or vector thrust failure. The B will.
4. Recovery refueling can be done with buddy packs. What did we use when we operated Phantoms off the 50KT Ark Royal?
5. Catobar carrier is compatible with C and B variants and can land Harrier, F18, Rafale etc.
All of this not standing; the overiding point not addressed is; what is the logic of building a 65Kt aircraft carrier if the intention is to operate VSTOL? All of the supposed advantages of the B can be gained by life extension of Invincible carriers or new build of more smaller hulls. eg 3 x 40KT instead of 2 x 65KT. this gives a much more practical refit and availability model. It also gives a better surge capability. It is also harder for an enemy to sink 3 targets rather than 2. The build cost and construction speed of smaller hulls would make more economic sense.
All in all, I think Invincible carriers with B variant makes sense. C variant with 65KT carrier makes sense. Vstol on a super carrier does not maximise the potential military capability for the pounds being spent.
Still QE carriers with the B variant will still be formidable and do whatever job we need them to.
Rob Marsden said on the 19-May-2012 at 06:44
Mike PMM all in all the simple problem with this and the carrier programme is that the decision wasn't made effectively. Labour ordered the Carrier which started out design size as a 45kt replacement and when finally agreed had been increased to 65kt with no real explanation. Hense Mr Cams and his group looked at this logically and though this is inefficient let's stick the more capable C over B model and upgrade to cats and traps. This has proven costly so we have to settle with the decision that has been made. However I will say on thing and that is refits and over halls. It is going to be a necessity that this will happen and maybe down the line when money is no longer and issue the carriers could be re-fitted to accomidate the cats and traps and the B would be sold to off the USMC at a 200th of the price :p and we'd buy a better aircraft.
One point that has been raised is the Russian/Indian carriers all use ski ramps and operate MIG 29k and other aircraft even the Frogfoot etc these aircraft aren't thrust vectored as far as i'm aware so surely something can be done regarding a more capable aircraft and just a cable arrestor system? Discuss....
Lionel M said on the 19-May-2012 at 14:28
Pundits claim decreased interoperability with US and French carriers with the F-35B. They fail to note the increased interoperability with amphibious assault ships, which can be considered the new jeep carriers. These include the ~10 US LHA/LHD ships. Of these, the first units (Flight 0) of the new America class are not equipped with well decks - making them air wing only! As such, they can carry 20 F-35B and 2 MH-60S. They can then serve as carriers as demonstrated by LHD operations in OIF. Similarly, they will be interoperable with the Italian and Spanish carriers, as well as the French Mistral and Australian Canberra ships. In fact, they could potentially even be used on the Russian Mistrals.
PMM said on the 20-May-2012 at 23:29
I made the ski jump C variant suggestion earlier in this post - I agree, this must be worth a look. Mike Yates suggested a possible problem with undercarriage strength, but if the C can crash down onto the deck of a carrier during landing and survive, i think a skijump alunch might be OK.
Lionel, I heard that the Marines don't like the USS America configuration, so the well deck might be making a come back on the next Marine Carrier (WASP/AMERICA)
Lionel M said on the 20-May-2012 at 23:59
I'm sure you're right on both counts. However, I suspect the Marines do not like the America configuration becuase they are most interested in landing infantry and close air support. The concept of an amphib as a strategic asset is not in their planning. The majority of Chinese imported oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca. The Taiwan Strait is also politically important to China. To have another asset that can contribute to blocking these important chokepoints must be a boon to US/US Navy strategic planners. The third America class ship is supposed to have a well deck as you mention, but this should no affect their aviation capability if called upon. I've always thought of the possibility of using these ships as small carriers as a mostly dismissed trump card. As I see it, the biggest drawback is lack of organic AEW coverage. Maybe the US should consider some AEW Merlins...
Capricorn said on the 5-Oct-2012 at 16:10
kennymac said on the 5-Oct-2012 at 16:20
What a shambles!The true effectivness of the carriers will now never be realised.Neither will cross deck ops with the USN or French Navy.Lets hope the B model goes into service or we will have no fixed wing capability.I wonder if we will try and get some Harriers back from USMC!
Angelovito, Rome, IT said on the 5-Oct-2012 at 16:56
It seems to be a rational choice given the plans to build the two carriers Queen Elizabeth class. A real interoperability is mainly between the two components of british air power: RAF and FAA. Only B version can allow Joint Force F-35B to go on to exist, even if RN should demand a review of this JF de facto only in the hands of the RAF. Cooperation with France will be in other ways; with USMC will be total if necessary because of the chosen model B by both services of USA and UK. If ever RAF should keep C variant.
Mick said on the 5-Oct-2012 at 18:39
So much for the "module " construction of the aircraft carries with flexibility for upgrades / mods .
Who on earth designs a carrier with out a cat !
Ok the Emals is new technology but the steam cat has been about from the 50's??? Why can't we just do something simple ???
I wonder if there will be penaltys for changing our minds AGAIN ? And will Bae charge us for not now going ahead with the cats n traps etc ?
chris mastin said on the 5-Oct-2012 at 18:54
of course there will be penalties, 40,million,
for the planes, and 250, million for work on the
carriers, we should have kept ark royal,and the
PMM said on the 5-Dec-2012 at 00:17
This demonstrates the gross incompetence of this government. Getting rid of the Harriers and Ark was idiotic, given that they then started a war with Libya and paid through the nose to operate Tornados and Eurofighter from land bases. It was only political pride that stopped them quickly recommissioning Ark with Harriers. Then they sell 60 Harriers to USMC for less than the price of a single Typhoon!
The only sanity from all of this was that the QE was going to operate F35C. Now they've reverted to the less capable more expensive and much more fragile F35B. I completely agree with Mick, if emals is too expensive then use steam cats and if we need to offset costs, buy F18s. Lets face it, the F18 will tick nearly all the boxes for a fraction of the cost. the carriers will be properly equiped and can handle future plane changes.
The less well recognised change here is that instead of operating a very good E2 AEW, the carrier will only be able to deploy the less capable helo or vertol inflatable bag. No lessons from the Falklands on that one then.
PMM said on the 5-Dec-2012 at 00:23
Here's a thought, just fit traps and launch the F35C Kuznetzov style using the ski ramp. the carriers are almost the same size. Even BAe would struggle to overcharge for half a dozen catch wires.
Rob Marsden said on the 5-Dec-2012 at 11:26
Well the choice has been made and personally I'd rather have two carriers with a some aircraft on it prior to the 2020's. The reason that we won't use steam cats is because there more complicated than EMLAS and i'm sure the modifications would have been even more expensive. I agree with PMM though the Russian Carriers are 58000 tones and use a ski jump system and they launch some heavyweight aircraft off them. In addition to this point I raise naval Typhoon which is an achievable idea. I've seen the proposals online for the Indian naval Typhoon and it is more than achievable with some minor modifications. Plus if the RAF is planning on selling its tranche 1 Typhoons then we should use those airframes instead of buying new aircraft. Plus the aim of the JSF programme for the RAF/Navy was to replace the Harrier and the F35B still achieves that plan as it still out specs the Harrier by a long way.
mike said on the 5-Dec-2012 at 21:48
Do remember that the 'set in stone' date is 2015... we still have PR12 to look over as well.
Nothing is set in stone yet.
But a great deal of planning and thought went into the original decision, years, to go with the B, where-as the C was more a quick change that had/has huge consequences.
Also...who says we'd had got or been able to afford E2?