The US Navy says it has successfully launched a jet fighter into flight using a radical new electromagnetically powered catapult. The feat is important for the Americans, whose next supercarrier will be a disastrous botch without the new tech: it is even more critical for the future of the Royal Navy. Lieutenant Daniel Radocaj …
Black Buck achieved plenty
Lewis, I like you, and you often speak sense but you keep coming up with these huge clangers. Black Buck had one mission: denying the argies use of the Falkland Islands' airfields. It did that with great effect, preventing their effective use by the Argentinian Air Force and forcing them to fly from Argentina instead. Of course there was also a huge propaganda benefit from being able to claim the ability to project a bombing capability all the way down to the south atlantic but that's a side-effect.
In an ideal world our forces wouldn't have been stripped down until we only had the Harrier and strategic bombers flying from the UK, but the thing about war is that you use whatever resources are at your disposal in order to win. We did that. We won. Claiming after the fact that it was a waste of time and money, when it showed performed its objectives *and* demonstrated that there was a need for a much better equipped navy and airforce, is not a good argument if you want to re-align defence spending in a way that produces a better outcome.
Speaking of Clangers
"Black Buck ... did that with great effect, preventing their effective use by the Argentinian Air Force and forcing them to fly from Argentina instead."
The actual effectiveness of these resource-intensive missions was rather modest. The Port Stanley airfield landing strip was regarded as too short for fast jets and was only lightly damaged.
Yet a huge amount of resources were consumed pre/during Black Buck by the Vulcans, resources that likely would have yielded higher dividends if invested elsewhere. Like better naval air cover.
Because the Argentines certainly flew generals in and out of Port Stanley I am inclined to believe their story - that the airstrip was not put out of action but they built a wall of mud to photograph as a crater each end of night, and swept it away each evening.
Certainly the Brit photos would have seen this from their stereo pairs, but the MOD would not claim a world record for long distance bombing failure.
Time for a change?
The Navy could actually use this carrier nonsense to get a step ahead of the game for once..
The new carriers might not have steam catapults and the electromagnetic versions may be a while off - so why not plan *now* for a fully unmanned carrier air force? It's not like Naval carrier pilots are going to be very busy for the next decade, after all.
UAVs would be smaller than manned aircraft, hence easier to launch, recover and store on board the UKs smaller carrier(s), and would only require smaller electromagnetic catapults.
Spend the 'reinventing the magpult' money on 'building naval UAVs' instead and we could be on a winner.
Re: Time for a change
The UCAV are fine, all the time the other side doesn't do ECM, just like GPS guided muntions, it requires the other side to be stupid/incapable to work.
Frequency hopping radio's only get you so far in the face of heavy counter-measures, and the only way around that is to make the planes autonomous, this tradationally has been called a pilot. (and the thoughts of MS Win armed with missles is pretty damn scary, and invites a high mission failure rate)
Whilst UAVs are useful for recon (blow them out the sky, and not lose pilots), UCAVs will always have limited combat usefullness. I suspect that real life operating practice with UCAVs facing a competent capable OPFOR will be pretty similar to other novel air warfare innovations like the Boulton Paul Defiant, succesfull the 1st time the enemy meets them, and they'll be dead meat every time thereafter.
LOL at the Page
**The "Black Buck" long-range bombing missions mounted from Ascension Island with the support of almost all the RAF's air-to-air tankers were magnificent technical feats but achieved very little.
That's not what several rather more trustworthy sources say on the matter. Of course Black Buck was achieved without one jot of help from the rum 'n sodomy arm of Her Majesties forces but I'm sure ex RN Page doesn't let that bias his witterings.
Re: LOL at the Page
The Spin version put out by both the military and the then government was that these where huge operational successess. Like most big lies, this is based on small truths.
In terms of what was done, it was a magnificient testament to RAF's training, skills and ingenuity, but operationally it was a nuisance and sand in the gears to the Argentine operations, not the knockout blow it is usually sold as. (look at who is usually selling this message, and why)
This however this is not new, most school boys still think the RAF achieved a resounding victory in the Battle of Britian (largely not covered by the official secrets act now, unlike the Falklands), and lots of spin then put out by the wartime government (for very good reasons), is now taken as fact by many. Research on declassified material shows a different picture.
Battle of Britain not a resounding victory?
If that was true then my title would have been more like:
"Der Britische Battle war eine grosses victory fur der Glorious Vaterland"
...So I tell the cabinet, that you're trusting in radar and praying to God, is that right?...
It wasnt a resounding victory in any sense of the word ... both of our front line fighters were outclassed on introduction and that doesnt include the Fw 190 being introduced soon after... Machine guns vs Cannon - vacuum carburettors vs mechanical metered fuel injection - we even lost out as regards radar fitted aircraft - even radar equipped bf110's were being phased in on the heels of the BoB...
Our sole advantage was Chain Home and the associated Chain Home Low - and even with these we only won because of bad tactics by the enemy - most notably the locking of the Bf 109E/F/G fighters to close formation on the bombers... which negated almost all of their advantages over the Spitfire/Hurricane (the less said about the Defiant the better).
It was dumb luck that won us the Battle of Britain - dumb luck and a fat morphine addled polymath whose sole qualification for being a fighter general was the fact he used to fly stringbags (and his understanding of tactics reinforce this).
If the BEF lost us the Battle of France using pitiful WWI tactics - Goering lost the BoB for the very same reason.. and personally I'm grateful to him, because all things being equal - he is the one we have to thank...
Look I'll make this quick - all battles are won or lost by bad tactics. Your tools are only as good as you are.
No, Radar was a cover
The real key to UK surviving the Battle was that the defence were reading all the attackers battle plans.
Read the 2nd edition of Bodyguard of Lies by Cave Brown. He stresses that every secret had to be covered by many layers of deception. The top layer was intended to be discarded, like carrots. But underneath is a story that is to be assembled that convinces and is wrong. Spitfires and radar were covers. The real advantage was that we knew exactly what was coming.
Cave Brown wrote that all Air Forces are careless with their cryptography. He did not elaborate. It has been admitted that the, later, attack on Coventry was known in advance from BP.
A mysterious detail concerns the attack on the radar station. The station reported bombers coming in, then bombers attacking us and the control room refused to believe them. Why ?
The victor writes the history books ...
... hence, having grown up on the other side as a German, I can only say I'm more than happy that British incompetence during the Battle of Britain didn't trump German incompetence !
See, there's a winner everywhere. And whether you believe it or not, Germans do find Fawlty Towers is funny.
RE: Battle of Britain not a resounding victory
When you review the casualty and availability figures for 11 group in 1940, you will realise that the Germans had effectively destroyed most squadrons.
For example on the START of what is called the last day of the Battle of Britian, 11 group was fielding squadrons with 3 servicable aircraft to 2 functional pilots. (Squadron should have had 18 Planes and 24 Pilots)
The Battle counts as a strategic victory, as we managed to con the germans into thinking we where still fully operational, a feat achieved by Department 20, Radar (the germans thought we where using patrols rather than directed intercepts, which would have meant we would have had at least 3 or 4 times as many aircraft as they where regularly meeting)
Suggest watching less war films, and looking at more raw data. It also proves the point if a lie (much needed as described above) is repeated often enough, people start to believe it.
RE: ...So I tell the cabinet, that you're trusting in radar and praying to God, is that right?..
The Spitfires had certain advantages versus 109's, in a matched situtaion
Huricanes where suppose to stay away from 109's and go after bombers, great theory, but.....
The key advantages we had;
our sector control system, combined with chain home
109 fuel reserve when over brittian
The inclusion of Polish and Czech pilots into the battle (even if they did take too long doing it)
Counter Intel and Double Agents feeding misinformation to the germans
The fact we could get our pilots back, the germans never could
In addition to poor use of enigma by the germans, meaning that on occasion Ultra cleared RAF commanders had the german orders before the german pilots
But if personally I had to pick one tipping point, I would point to pilot recovery, it was never about airframes (the UK was actually building more planes than the germans could at the time), but you need trained experienced pilots to operate them.
Dumb luck and Der Dicke?
Dumb luck?? The RAF's fighter control system was the best in the world at the time, and this was no coincidence! OK, Goering's ego did the UK at least a couple of favours in 1940, and RAF fighter squadron tactics were generally lacking to start with. Resounding victory: definitely not. Incidentally, 11 Group's OC Keith Park flew biplanes during WWI...
AI (radar) equipped Bf 110s were useful against night bombers over Germany, as indeed were similarly-equipped Blenheims and Beaufighters during The Blitz. Unlikely a factor in daylight fighting up to the end of October 1940.
Buying F35s later.
"...by the time Blighty actually gets round to that the USN may have moved on to unmanned ones."
That could be no bad thing for the British defence budget. After all, they'd be flogging off a load of secondhand F35s on the cheap then.
Britain already has unmanned aircraft carriers... the Ark Royal won't have any sailors on it by now.
Mines is the one with the defence cuts in the pocket.
Amen to PC Paul
What's the benefit of having manned aircraft in the naval battlespace (or, indeed, any other)? Answer: jobs for the fly-boys.
Now, this doesn't come from prejudice: I'm a fly-boy myself, having driven a range of birds from Sea Kings to gliders. However, it's becoming very, very clear that there is little cost-benefit in flying manned aircraft. UAVs are far cheaper, more adaptable, lighter in weight and easier to launch and retrieve. They can have the same or better deep-strike capability than conventional aircraft, there's no security risk from captured pilots (and no retrieval costs), and it's a lot easier to destruct a UAV if it's in danger of falling into enemy hands, because you don't need the full set of failsafes that protect pilots. And, if all else fails, you can use the plane itself as a sacrificial weapon when it's out of ordnance.
With UAVs, we can have carrier capability in much smaller, cheaper and faster ships.
What's stopping it? The wounded egos of the pilot officers and their seniors. Sorry, but I'm not prepared to pay tens or hundreds of billions of pounds for that limited benefit.
UAVs, and other magic wand/silver bullet "Solutions"
UAVs have their uses, but until we get a true AI computer, the smartest weapon that we can deploy is the mark one human.
I would also unmanned ships, subs, and vehicles also have their uses, but again, not a true replacement for human operated weapon platforms.
Most of the info put out about UAVs and UCAV tends to come from "interested" sources, and we have politicians both uniformed and otherwise, who have seriously lost the plot when it comes to a well rounded defence policy and capability.
If you look at where we are and where we are going, you can easily see we are repeating the asymeteric warfare policy of the victorian army, for dealing with fuzzy wuzzy's armed with spears, which is fine until 10 years later you run into a 1st world army with modern weaponry and tactics.
Yes, we need to review and expand our capabilities, but we need to stop believing in one size fits all silver bullet solutions.
The most flexible air-delivered smart weapon is a paratrooper.
How little we forget.....
It sounds just like the 50's/60's when the west was saying fighters would go missile-only and eventually not need pilots at all.
Vietnam showed the folly of that - remember the early Phantoms that had to be fitted with gun pods so that a) they could strafe targets and b) weren't a sitting duck at knife-fighting range? Eventually internal guns were added, as they have been on nearly every combat aircraft since.
There is an assumption that UAVs have advanced enough to fight any opponent. Once again, we are designing our forces to fight the last war (Afghanistan/Iraq). UAVs may be great against 3rd world forces with little technology, little AAA or air force of there own. Would a current technology UAV last long in an engagement with, for sake of argument China, Iran or even North Korea?
Maybe one day, with developments in more independent smart systems, they may be up to the task. But when they are at that level, I for one will welcome our robotic overlords....
I refuse to enoble a simple forum post....
you know Lewis, I normally read and enjoy your generally informative, if somewhat biased, articles but the fact of the matter is Black Buck did what it was supposed to do... it stuffed Stanley Airport. In what way can that be classed as "achieving very little"? I'd say that it went a long way to enabling you and you web feeted bretheren to deliver my colleagues with their red berets ( and a few welshies) in a much more succesful way than you might otherwise have mananged.
Seriously. all branches of the armed forces are important, they all have their part to play. We can't actually take/reclaim anything without a squaddie of some sort to stand on it; Even the navy needs soldiers ( you may call them marines but they're soldiers) to actually put FEET on the ground.
Does this now mean we will be able to detect aircraft launches using a magnetic compass?
Whilst the test proves you can get an aircraft off the deck, what are the other implications that come with the system?
Exactly what I was thinking
That's got to be a tidy "disturbance of the force" to sling an F35 off the deck - and as such ought to be easily detected unless the main thrust elements are shielded - I'd assume that they must be otherwise there's quite a bit of gear on the ship that's going to go tits up every time a plane launches.
But shielding a device one-time is very different from shielding a working piece of kit like that in a military environment - this will be interesting.
It works fine.
Odd thing though. Our pilots all seem to prefer facing north now.
Black Buck & the Second VC
From what I can tell from my reading and knowledge of the matter no-one really knows what effect these missions had. All that can be agreed upon was that they were a great technical feat - but like the Doolittle Raid - it depends if you think that the psychological effects were worth the matériel risk.
It also assumes that the Argentinians had planned to use those airfields - and given the relative positions and their effective strength I wouldn't be surprised if they hadn't even considered it. Remember, we aren't talking about a air force that has 2000+ front line fighters and 1000+ bombers in its arsenal (aka Luftwaffe) for which it would make sense to put a percentage right on the front line. The Argentinian AF was small although its aircraft for the time were effective and up to date. In that situation it makes no sense to put a small number of planes on the islands, for a tiny strategic/tactical gain, balanced against the risk of loss of a high percentage of your available airframes and more importantly trained experten.
If we are honest, and I know I going to get flak for this, the British plan for the recovery of the islands could have been put together by the management of British Leyland. It had no backup plan - and this cost lives when the Argentinians were lucky or clever enough to wipe out the helicopters that were crucial to the plan... gained two poor sods posthumous VC's (yes, thats TWO, not just 'H' Jones - wonder if you can tell why the other one didnt get in the news...). If our army was as good as people claimed and still claim there wouldn't be VC's and MC's walking about - because they wouldn't have had to take stupid risks - above and beyond that they take on a regular basis - to get the job done.
We could have had three carriers - the recently decommissioned one could easily have been re-engined and re-equipped at probably less than half the price of one of the new ones. If the Italians can do it for heavens sake (see the conte di cavour class - which were so comprehensively rebuilt they were effectively completely new ships), then I am sure we can do it. Even the guy who was in command of Ark Royal III (Illustrious) seemed bewildered as to why it was being dropped on the interview...
And there is another point about this orgasmic idea for electric plane throwers - we are probably going to buy them off the shelf from the US (and we'll get the crappy *export* version into the bargain)... which means if the 'special relationship' turns Hollyoaks on us - we are going to have two useless hunks of floating metal, because without spares the systems are useless.
You know it would probably be more economical all round to put some old American carriers back into action and pay the US for them on a lease basis - with a maintenance clause in the contract on the states side... after all, all we are doing is spending money to build something to carry American planes carrying American weapons and avionics - launched by American equipment... I'm sure someone can see the common thread here...
Its wonderful that this new tech works, it has all sorts of different applications (maglev train systems, spaceplane groundboost launcher, and some other more outlandish ideas) - don't get me wrong - but its just not the bargain we are being told it is - even with the *special relationship*.
There's not just the jobs of the fly boys - there's also their future political careers.
You can't really show a picture of you sitting in front of a mil-spec Xbox driving a UAV in Gulf War 4 on your election poster when you run for president/PM
Black Buck sucks
The RAF was instrumental in forcing the Navy to give up it's carriers, saying they wouldn't be needed and that the RAF could do the job of protecting Atlantic convoys, etc, in the case of a war with the USSR. Then the Falklands occurred and the RAF were desperate to get involved so they sent some Harrier GR3's on the RN carriers and concocted the Black Buck raids. It has been estimated that the fuel consumed by the Vulcan bomber and its tankers would have powered all of the Sea Harriers for the duration of the conflict. The Vulcan which bombed the runway dropped a stick of 21 bombs and managed to hit the runway with one bomb using World Two era bombing technology. If the Vulcan fleet had been scrapped earlier then the money saved could have bought the RN a few laser guided Paveway 1 bombs and the Pave Tack targeting pod, which could have been used to close the runway as fast as it could have been repaired. It was fortunate that the Argentians lacked the means to repair the runway because if they had, they would have fixed it faster than the Black Buck raids could have damaged it.
The Brits INVENTED the carrier catapult...
As well as the "meatball" landing aid. So this is pretty sad they can't field true carriers with catapults.
Gerald R. Ford?
That's what they're naming the ship? Does no one remember that President Ford was famous for his bumbling, stumbling owies? I think naming the ship Gerald R. Ford is tempting fate.
@ Johnny Canuck
"The U.S. Navy announced today that it launched the new fleet carrier Gerald R. Ford. The celebration was muted when upon launching the carrier from Gerald R. Ford's home state of Michigan into Lake Superior, it was realized that the carrier cannot fit through the locks leading down the St. Lawrence River to the sea. "
"In other news, the United States Navy assures Americans that our maritime border with Canada is now secure for the next 40 years and annouces that in a training mishap, a member of the Gerald R. Ford's air wing mistakenly sank the famous Niagara Falls tour boat "The Maiden of the Mist".
Remember that if UCAV's are cheaper and simpler than manned CAV's
More countries will have a go at developing them.
More countries will will consider acquiring them.
Trickle down in the arms trade suggests well bankrolled terrorist will acquire them.
Then we will see how effective the western approach is .
Thumbs up because this *is* a major milestone for the catapult tech but yes, depending on how well the EM pulse is contained people will be able to spot a) A carrier with EM launch capability is in the vicinity b) It has launched something (possibly even how big a something).
So basically what you are saying is...
"They are powering up their weapons, Captain"
"EMALS met all of the expectations I had.”
Just how long a list would that be once it had got as far as getting him into the air and not smearing him over the countryside? Did he want a cuddle afterwards?
hey, maybe this is what Lewis meant in his previous railgun article by "Blitzer's projectiles are already finned - it would be comparatively easy to make them smart, though the railgun would need to be aimed reasonably accurately to begin with"
Change the finned darts into an F35C fighter with pilot.. well they don't come much smarter than that! and its ship mounted too! :-)
I don't mind carriers without a/c
We survive with interceptors without radar.
"don't use steam in their propulsion, so they can't be fitted with steam cats"
Why not? Shurely a steam generator isn't beyond the wit of man - or use H2O2, like the V1 launching catapults did.
Blighty realy is becomming a third workd country...
A steam generator? A honking great big assembly of high-maintenance boilers, condensers, exhaust stacks, blowers and whatnot? Yeah, sure, why not - maybe you could put it all in the space marked 'hangar' on the blueprints.
H202 - pure genius, let's add huge tanks full of extremely volatile make-things-burn-faster liquid to a warship already stuffed full of fuel and munitions, and make use of it integral to everyday operations.
Clearly you are a future Secretary of Defense
Like a roller coaster?
Electromagnetic - isn't this just a really big linear induction motor? Like what roller coasters such as Disney's "Rock n' Roller Coaster" - use to give riders that zero-to-60-in-3-seconds thrill? If so, maybe there is some other amusement park tech we can repurpose for military use . . . how about using "It's a Small World" for psy-ops interrogations?
Paris Mk 2
After the tremendous success of PARIS, I suggest The Register aim for something more ambitious this time, and construct the UKs first privately built Aircraft Carrier.
With the expert knowledge of Lewis Page, and the thousands, nay millions of technical suggestions from El Reg readers, I venture to suggest that we're unlikely to do any worse than the British Government is doing now.
You report "GA is now the only company in the world which knows how to make electromagnetic catapults". That is not true, we all know how the catapult works, but to actually make it work is another question.
I guess if EMALs works and could be bought lock stock from the Yanks we might as well invest in some F-18's and have a proper carrier and wait for the cost of the F-35 to come down to our budget level. It seem's pointless to bui.d these ships only to retire 1 before it's seen more than a shakedown cruise. Rather than waste money developing a domestic electro-catapult we should invest in our UAV program and accelerate to post pilot stage of naval aviation.
Live Steam is a fundamental aspect of all ships
All ships have what are known as Live Steam systems. heating, cooking, and with aircraft carriers, catapults. It is easily provisioned and is very reliable, having been in use since WW2. So now we know the reason why the ships were not provided with steam catapults, the contractors knew there was a new electromagnetic catapult in the pipeline.
This just another example of the poor quality of the MoD Civil Servants. They have been hoodwinked into a strategy that tries to force us to buy the new technology.
Just to remind everyone of the old technology, it is a simple tube with a split along its length with an internal flap, originally made of leather. Inside the tube is a piston with a flange on its side to fit within the slit in such a manner that, as the piston is forced by live steam down the tube, the flap slides around the flange and maintains a seal. So the old technology is THAT simple and works VERY reliably. VERY Cheap, reliable, simple, well understood.
There is not one single reason for abandoning the steam catapult.
This is outrageous.
The Mod should immediately institute a design change to the carrier specification to include steam catapults and fire the civil servants that were implicit in the failure to include them in the first place.
Welcome to the 21st Century
The Royal Navy's last steam powered surface ships were HMY Britannia and HMS Fearless. Everything is now powered by internal combustion, either diesel/electric, gas turbine/electric, gas turbine or a combination of those systems. There are no steam plants, hotel services being provided by electricity.
The move was made as it reduces the amount of room taken up by the prime mover giving more for fuel/weapons/accommodation etc.
If you want to institute a design change to the carriers to get steam catapults, apart from doubling the cost due to changing something that's in build, you'll also need to include a steam generating plant capable of generating the pressures needed and add enough fresh water generating capacity to produce 300 gallons per launch.
I suggest you get yourself a copy of Janes' Fighting Ships for Christmas as yours appears to be out of date.
People all over the world, waiting to be bombed from those lovely F-18s in the interval before drones (so-called UAVs) take over the task, are applauding this development. How wonderful of the Reg to celebrate it - a Christmas present to us all !...
Did you say that we needed a faster harrier version. What did you think that the cancelled P1154 was? You remember surely, the aircraft was actually a Mach 2 version of the Harrier. Flash Harry Wilson cancelled it along with the TSR2 on orders of his Moscow masters owing to the fact that his masters could produce nothing like them and we must not have superiority over the Russkies at any price. Just a small example of the lengths to which Labour politicians will go in order to sabotage Great Britain. More recently we had the example of Gawdhelpus Brown flogging our birthright, in the form of Gold, which was sold at below bargain basement prices and never accounted for by parliamentary permission. If our country of Great Britain,and under the current regime I question the description of "GB", can be certain of one thing it is that anything which we invent will have to be developed overseas. We witnessed thias wiuth the Hovercraft and when it was utilised by America it was defined as NIH (not invenrted here and so unacceptable). If we are to escape union involvement and sabotage of production under the guise of industrial relations we must throw off the yoke which has bound us for the past 100 years and more. Make unions, parliamentarians and their hangers on accountable in law. When politicians make an observation, ensure that they live up to their promises AND we must have the methods by which we, the general public, are able to remove them from power legally and rapidly. Make them accountable for obeying the laws which they pass so that a lie is a lie and not "A termininalogical inexactitude". Make them as subject to the law as they seek to make the rest of us and put them into gaol where necessary, purely to encourage them to equity of course.
Re: "Remember Truth..."?
It was the Royal Navy that effectively cancelled P.1154, in the 1960's, as the version the Royal Navy stated they wanted, was a completely different aircraft physically to the RAF strike version...
For example, the radar that the Royal Navy wanted for Naval P.1154, was more complex than the TSR2's, and the prototype for such might have been ready for testing by late 1975...
The reason such projects were cancelled was the Royal Navy wanted their Queen Elisabeth a/k/a CVA-01 series of "supercarriers" complete at any cost , & squashed any threats especially from "The Junior Service", to the funding & completion of said project...
Ironically, CVA-01 had to be cancelled, by the Wilson administration, as a result of the failure to react by the previous MacMillian government, to the U.S decoupling the dollar from the gold standard in 1963, & the resulting devaluation of the dollar in 1967...
As for the 1970's AV-16X proposal, which was a supersonic Harrier capable of Mach 1.5, using existing Harrier airframes, but a upgraded Pegasus, with Plenium Chamber Burning, effectively a Afterburner for such...
McDonnell Douglas & British Aircraft Corporation proposed the upgraded AV-16 in 1973, as a second generation Harrier to the U.S Marine Corps & the RAF, but said proposal was scuttled by the U.S Marine Corps...
Anything to be said for buying a Saab?
As whizz-bang great and shiny that the F-35s are, is there anything to be said for pulling out of the project and buying the Saab Gripen NG instead? After all, there is a cash flow problem at the moment, and in such circumstances, it's sometimes necessary to go for what's on special and forgo life's little luxuries. And, let's face it, buying off the shelf is very appealing given the MoD squad's history of cocking up procurement contracts for expensive, complicated projects.
it would cost at least a third of the price of the JSF and it would work off STOBAR configured carriers, too. We wouldn't then need to adjust HMS QEII or PoW, and according to Saab, the Gripen should be ready by 2015/6, in time for QEII's completion. This way we could operate both carriers, and not worry about asking the French to help us retake the Falklands when Charles de Gaulle is needed to suppress some irritable francophone dictator who's recalcitrance in stepping aside is threatening Total/Carrefour/Dassault's profit margins...
okay, so it's not stealth, but it's tried and tested equipment and it costs significantly less to maintain in the field. The NG would have this season's key fashion accessory, the AESA radar, as standard, and it was designed, unlike the Eurofighter, to be a true multirole aircraft. In that sense, it's arguably a better dogfighter than the F-35, as well.
And, for the foreseeable future, the only countries who have air defence systems sophisticated enough to arguably require a stealth bomber to infiltrate them (and who aren't part of NATO) are Russia and China. The risk of nuclear war should we wish to bomb these countries notwithstanding, we wouldn't be crazy enough to hit them without the Americans anyway.
Are you sure
That Gripen NG will work off a carrier, I mean really sure not SAAB say they can do it and it'll cost peanuts? The Gripen wasn't designed from the ground up as being carrier compatible and it can add a lot of weight beefing up the undercarriage and fuselage to take the pounding of landing on a deck, plus hardening the electronics so they don't mind being parked next to a radar for hours on end. Never mind altering the construction methods so the whole thing doesn't suffer from terminal galvanic corrosion as soon as you put it in the middle of the ocean.
I'm not saying it can't be done, and the Gripen would probably be your best bet if you were going to try, but as fallback options go there are proven aircraft available that wouldn't involve throwing money at Saab/BAe (they already make the wings) to develop a sub-variant that may or may not be a success. Think Rafale M or Super Hornet, or indeed plain Hornet but I'm not sure you can buy new build any more and I wouldn't recommend buying second hand as the main supplier has thrashed theirs to death.
I'm actually hard put to come up with more than a handful of land planes that successfully became naval ones, the other way round tends to work better for some reason.