F-111K What if......

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Here I was, flicking through the 1968 Observers Aircraft and got to thinking about how things would have panned out if the RAF had taken delivery of the F-111K. This led to the following questions:

How long would they have remained in service?
Would the AFVG project and it's offspring the Tornado have reached fruition?
Could the F-111K have been used instead of the Vulcan for the "Black Buck" missions over the Falklands?

I thought this might prompt some discussion.

Original post

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Of the top of my head, and without reaching for any reference sources...

1) Until quite recently. Think Australian F-111Cs

2) Probably not, or not with the UK input at that stage. On the other hand, the F-111K replacement spec would have been drawn up in the late 1980s for service 2000-ish (but see No 1 above) and who knows what the European input would have been

3) Yes

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If we had taken the F-111, then definitely no Tornado.
So I am glad we did not take them as I would guess, today the RAF & most of Europe would be relying more on the USA.
Which would have had a huge impact on our engineering & Hi-tech companies.
My 2 cents.

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I'm sure a few of the National Archives' files also refer to the Spey-engined F-105K (also being touted to Iran, among others): another option to consider.

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Which would have had a huge impact on our engineering & Hi-tech companies.

Not necessarily.
The UK industries you mention seem to be doing quite well despite not being in the "entire" (Prime contractor) aeroplane business.
Instead of making parts for European aircraft, the worse that could have happened is they'd be making sub assemblies for American aircraft...which they already do quite well at (later Harriers, T-45, etc.).

It wouldn't have changed the broad outcome of the UK government pretty much giving up on developing wholly-UK aircraft.

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Australia kept on with the "Pig" well into the G series until parts and fatigue took its toll..

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All the what-if/tragedy stories of TSR.2 overlook actual RAF Plans by late-1964's General Election. It was to replace 24xValiant in Saceur's Tactical Bomber Force, and Canberra in NEAF (32) and FEAF (8). Canberra in RAFG was to be replaced by P.1154. Maybe 100 might be procured. CAS despaired of it ever being operable and affordable, and urged his Minister to buy F-111A and to proceed with its replacement under AST.355.

New Ministers inherited near-bankruptcy; by 2/65 they determined that RAFG would take F-4M; TBF lost its Valiants 7/12/64 and would take Vulcan 2 released as Polaris/SSBNs deployed; so would NEAF. So, that left only East of Suez, which was close to PM Wilson's heart so he agreed to fund 10 trainer+ 40 strike aircraft for Indian O./FEAF. When BAC declined his offer of £500Mn. for 50 TSR.2, he Optioned 50 F-111K 6/4/65, confirming orders 22/2/66 for 10/TF30 trainers and 40/Spey strike models, 1/2/67. But also during Spring,1965 he ordered new Buccaneer/RAF and initiated Jaguar/RAF and AFVG/RAF. Cascade.

On 29/6/67 France caused cancellation of AFVG. UK moved to a parlous economic state, such that F-111K was cancelled, 16/1/68 and UK announced 6/2/68 that rich folk such as Malaysia/Singapore must defend themselves from 1971. No FEAF, no Indian O. bases. So:
Point 1: if TSR.2 had not been cancelled 6/4/65, it would have been abandoned on/by 16/1/68, despite the embarrassment of such public junk (see later: Nimrods of various Marks - better to avoid future spend, than compound new money into unaffordable, unTasked unAssets). Now...
Point 2: Q: how come then that RAF would eventually receive cascades of GR Jaguars and Tornados.
A: because they provided an unintended, unspecified political asset - firstly as Second Centre of Decision-making at NATO tactical nuclear level (the nukes intended for TSR.2 and retained by Wilson were not subject to US custodials); and secondly, evidence of UK's European commitment as we again sought entry to EEC (secured 1/1/73). That's why we rejected lures, 1970-80, to accept various iterations of F-XX(K).

So: to respond to the Qs: F-111K OOS date: if taken, not for FEAF but NEAF, they would have endured, expensively until UK-based Tornados had been worked up to Full Operational Capability, to be detached to Akrotiri...say, 1986-ish;
AFVG was funded in parallel with F-111K, so MRCA would have been so, too, for roles not duplicating F-111K;
Black Buck relied on ancient nav/weapon-aiming kit, so many iron rounds were to be delivered to hope for effect; F-111K was to have kit designed 1965-ish, but could cart fewer rounds: as specified in 1965 it did not have AAR-capability. So those MRR Vulcans would have been the only game in town.

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If we had taken the F-111, then definitely no Tornado.
.

What would have been procured for air defence ?

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What would have been procured for air defence ?

F4 could have continued for longer with upgrades, certainly plenty of airframes around. Failing that F15, F16, Mirage etc.

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Yes but I thought we only got the F4s after the cancellation of the F-IIIs ?

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What would have been procured for air defence ?

Spey Phantom was a McAir concept - there were several studies for a lightweight, low-level version, mostly bristling with guns for close support. UK liked that engine in that airframe (F-4J) combination and ordered it for the Royal Navy. F-111K cancellation advanced an RAF order, but with little else in immediate prospect from UK industry it was probably coming anyway. When it was ordered, Tornado ADV was designed as a long-range interceptor, not for point-defence or dogfighting. I suspect the real answer would be that there are just too many imponderables. E.G. F-111K with F-4M perhaps leaves Lightnings as front-line fighters for longer, and maybe means some of the Lightning developments with better range and weaponry may have come to pass. This might well mean no Tornado ADV. Add Jaguar into the mix - but with a heavyweight FBSA and F-111 force already in place, the dynamic for what needs replacing with what, and when, would have been different. With different shuffling of types between roles (or perhaps no shuffling at all) perhaps Jags would just have been the advanced trainers they were originally conceived as. A front-line force of only 40-50 F-111K would start looking thin due to attrition earlier than 150+ Phantoms, so the point at which a decision on whether to buy more or retire them would be earlier. If Tornado was already in service for other roles, that might have resulted in a follow-on order (assuming with F-111K in place the original UK Tornado order would have been smaller). Depending on the timing of that, development of a dedicated UK SEAD platform (based on the ADV, which BAe may have been touting round other potential customers regardless of a UK order) might have been forthcoming. That changes the makeup of any multinational / NATO deployed force and puts different pressures on air forces and governments to retain this capability at the expense of that. I'm sure there are plenty of other ways of filling in the details, and many other scenarios, perhaps more likely than that one I've just made up on the spot. But I didn't have to resort to thumbing through 'Project Cancelled' to do it - if you go off into those exotic pastures (and conveniently forget about budgetary constraints) there will be plenty of other ways to imagine this story.

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It's a subject that has varying outcomes depending on different circumstances that you put into the question. Certainly it would have precluded development of Tornado, as that was only created because everything that preceded it had been cancelled. Phantom probably wouldn't have happened either, as it would have been a pretty expensive programme for just the Navy - one has to bear in mind that the RAF's Phantoms were procured for strike/attack on the basis that they would be reconfigured for air defence. I suppose the most likely outcome would have been that Healey would have proposed a naval derivative of the Harrier for the Navy, thereby creating the Sea Harrier far sooner. Then of course, one could conclude that without Tornado there would have been no possibility of ADV, so we might have been obliged to buy F-14 or F-15 (F-16 was judged to be unsuitable). It's true that the TSR2's and F-111's primary role was taken away, but it's worth remembering that there were plans to use TSR2 as a pseudo-strategic bomber, so TSR2 (or F-111) wouldn't have been abandoned on the grounds operational suitability - and of course by 1968 it would be almost entering service. In short, it's impossible to say what would have happened as one decision affected another. As for the Falklands, F-111 would undoubtedly have been given AAR capability so it could have been used if necessary. Whether it (or TSR2) would have been any more effective than Vulcan is open to question, bearing in mind the heroically exciting systems that were planned for TSR2 - but had never been proved to work :)

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Here I was, flicking through the 1968 Observers Aircraft and got to thinking about how things would have panned out if the RAF had taken delivery of the F-111K.

Does it mention the Chinook that was also ordered/cancelled at the time?

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I believe a USAF order for (then) Handley Page Jetstreams (as the C-10...later re-issued to the DC-10 variant) was also part of the F-111 deal. Probably helped sink HP...or at least it didn't to them any good.

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What would have been procured for air defence ?

There is always this - suitably Spey'ed, of course.

McDonnell F-4(FV)S Phantom II
The F-4(FV)S was a 1966 McDonnell proposal for a variable-geometry version of the Phantom. It was viewed as possible replacement for the failed General Dynamics/Grumman F-111B fleet defense fighter, and as a less expensive alternative to the Grumman F-14 Tomcat.

There were two versions envisaged--the F-4J(FV)S based on the F-4J and intended for the US Navy, and the F-4M(FV)S based on the F-4M and intended for the Royal Air Force.

The F-4J(FV)S offered a 57 percent parts commonality with the stock F-4J. Since the existing inner wing of the F-4J was too thin to accept pivots, an entirely new high-mounted wing was adopted. The inner wing glove contained the pivots and was fixed. The outer wing panels could be varied in sweep between 19 degrees and 70 degrees. The trailing edges of the variable outer wing panel contained full-span spoilers and flaps. The horizontal stabilizer was redesigned and replaced with one that had no anhedral. The new high-mounted wing required that the undercarriage be redesigned and located in the lower fuselage. Internal fuel capacity was increased from the F-4Js 2000 US gallons to 2601 US gallons. The F-4J(FV)S was to have been fitted with an AN/AWG-10 system modified to provide multi-shot capability. The primary armament was to have been four AIM-7F Sparrow air-to-air missiles.

It was anticipated that the F-4J(FV)S would have a 11 knots slower approach speed than that of the standard F-4J, and that it would have a significantly improved performance, with a higher ceiling, better acceleration times, and a shorter turning radius.

At the same time, the McDonnell company offered the F-4M(FV)S to the Royal Air Force. It bore much the same relationship to the RAF's F-4M as did the F-4J(FV)S to the US Navy's F-4J. It was to be powered by a pair of 20,154 lb.s.t. Rolls-Royce RB-168-27R turbofans. It was anticipated that production aircraft would be available by the end of 1971.

A further improved version, the F-4(FV)S was also proposed to both the US Navy and the RAF. It was to be powered by the General Electric G31/10S092B, with a first flight envisaged in March of 1971. McDonnell proposed 200 F-4M(FV)S aircraft, followed by 400 F-4(FV)S aircraft.

Neither the US Navy nor the Royal Air Force showed sufficient interest in the variable-geometry Phantom to order a prototype. In particular, the US Navy found that the capabilities of the variable-geometry Phantom were no match for those of the Grumman G-303 fighter, which was to eventually emerge as the F-14 Tomcat.

approach speed:
F-4B - 157 knots;
F-4J – 144 knots;
F-4J(FV)S – 133 knots
FG.mk 1 - 138 knots;

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L8: F-4K was ordered 27/2/64, F-4M 9/2/65, F-111K 6/4/65.

JB: massive offset for 1965 US package included the Saudi Air Defence System (where US agreed to confine its involvement to F-5), Spey and Elliott HUD for A-7D, and planned 300 HP C-10A Jetstream, which, alone of this list, was instantly deleted on F-111K chop, thus in turn chopping HP.