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back to article MPs: This plan for proper navy carriers and jets is crazy!

Today sees the release of two new reports into the UK's plans for its future aircraft carriers and their aircraft. As is common practice, a National Audit Office document is accompanied by one from the MPs of the Commons Public Accounts Committee. Builders' concept art of the CATOBAR variant carrier for the UK. Credit: Aircraft …

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Black Helicopters

to be fair, BAE also built the Harrier as well, although I guess they can't make much money from it any more.

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Ref. radar...

What about unmanned aerial vehicles?

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FAIL

would need to be large enough to supply the necessary power for long range radar systems, so being unmanned doesn't help that much

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Terminator

Not much help.

UAVs are, as a rule, not much smaller and lighter than an equivalent manned aircraft, and thus are just as difficult to lob off carriers. Yes, you can ditch the seat, instrument panel and so on, but the vast majority of the stuff - engines, flight controls, sensors (especially on a radar bird!) - you need to keep a manned aircraft in the sky is also required to keep an unmanned aircraft in the sky.

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Happy

maybe not much but still lighter and smaller

Seat, Instrument panel, voice communication, oxygen, and ejection seat + parachute must weigh several hundred pounds all together. And don't forget you are removing 200lbs or so of meat from the craft as well. Surely a craft that shaves a quarter ton of its weight can be smaller and easier to store and launch.

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Meh

Still not much lighter or smaller

Pilot + associated sundries is a drop in the ocean* compared to the things that unmanned aircraft still do need - engines, control surfaces, weapons, sensors, fuel (especially fuel: 200lbs of meat in an F/A-18; 14,000lbs of fuel - without drop tanks) not to mention a structure strong enough to carry all of that.

*perhaps this isn't the best metaphor to use when discussing carrier aircraft...

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Balloons! Balloons to you all!

Your all talking balloons! Thats the way to do a carrier based UAV radar platform.

http://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/usa-spotlights-uav-and-radar-as-it-aims-to-strengthen-air-defences-160857/

"cheaper alternatives to manned airborne early warning aircraft include unmanned tethered balloons, as used by the US Customs Service (USCS) on the Mexican border to detect drug smugglers. "

(don't tell me a pilot can't navigate around the balloon)

And then we also have what looks to be the "relativley" cheap space radar:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-15899186

Bung a few of those in space and you have 24/7 planet wide radar!

So, why bother with an E2C Hawkeye?

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Pointless comparison.

Comparing a F/A-18 to a Radar UAV is pointless.

The UAV is not a fighter, so it does not need massive engines to fly, it does not need or want high speed.

It will not be making 9G turns so will not need those extreamly strong wings and heavy engines and everything else needed for a heavy plane.

It will not be carrying the meat and its life support equipment.

All those thing do not exist in the massively successful UAV's in service today.

The weight savings are huge, that is why a the Predator only weighs in at just over 1 metric ton fully laden. Also the Predator has a range of over 600 nmi, and can stay aloft for 24 hours.

Something like that with a catapult system for takeoff would be ideal.

The F/A-18 on th other hand weighs in at around 10 metric tons (empty) and 16-23 loaded.

The Super Hornet takes that up to 14.5 tons empty and 21-30 tones loaded.

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Stop

Re: Pointless comparison

yes it is a pointless comparison.

Survielance radar system weighing 998kg (e.g. AN/APY-9) fits where on an aircraft with an MTO of 1043kg?

That is before you have to factor in the antenna size, the structural weight to carry that, and the aerodynamics needed to keep aircraft flyable (i.e. big radar, small airframe = no control in real world weather)

yes you could have a UAV radar drone, but it would be roughly the same size as a human operated one, and would therefore have the same take off and landing limits.

the only advantage a UAV radar plane has for naval ops over a human one, is you can let the missile magnet get shot down, and not have to write any letters afterwards.

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Stop

You know, I was with you, Lewis...

...right up until the point where you launched into your standard Jeremiad against keeping the most capable strike aircraft we have as opposed to binning them for some asthmatic puffer-jets. Once again, it bears repeating (as I've said elsewhere) that "we have kept Tornado, since it is the only truly globally deployable and fully capable strike aircraft that we have, and that we have crews for. We are scrapping Harrier, because Tornado can carry anything Harrier can further, faster and a lot more of it, as well as carrying a lot of stuff that Harrier can't. That will leave us with a globally deployable air superiority fighter (Typhoon) that has a useful strike capability as well, and a globally deployable strike aircraft (Tornado) that can (with refuelling) carry anything we want to drop to anywhere we want to drop it.".

I'm still absolutely with you on the correctness of adopting cat-and-wire carriers, though.

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As you allude to there the Typhoon could pretty much do what the Tornado can (or it will in the very near future - on completion of trache 2), but with better top cover ability.

So why in flubbery did we ditch all of CAS, Maritime and inherent flexibility of the Harrier, just so we can have two airframes that can do Strike for the next 10 years

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Pirate

"Globally deployable".......?

"Globally deployable"? Really? As long as no-one minds if we overfly their airspace.

The point that seems to be being missed by several country miles is that whilst the aircraft type is important, surely the effectiveness of the asset as a whole is more important.

A carrier, even our little ski-jump jobs, with a full air group embarked, is a far more effective and quickly deployable solution to a wider range of scenarios than trying arrange overflight or base facilities with the nearest friendly state.

Yes, Harrier is/was quite elderly and on the small side but more than made up for that in manoeuvrability and operational flexibility.

Tornado is past it, indeed was never really up to it from the start. Too low and too slow.

Typhoon is fast and pretty. See the shiny-shiny, don't look at the price tag.

Shall we discreetly ignore Tornado's unfortunate proclivity for burying itself in the scenery for no (publicly admitted) reason. Along with Typhoon's galactic costs, (built, re-designed, re-built, re-built again properly, still NFU)?

Probably for the best.

As for politicians ability to understand even the basics of effective defence requirement, forget it. It ain't happening any time soon. The present collection of drones, chair warmers and oxygen thieves occupying the Palace of Westminster seem to regard defence as an optional extra.

Excuse me now whilst I go and chew the carpet.

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Pirate

RE: smylar

".....So why in flubbery did we ditch all of CAS, Maritime and inherent flexibility of the Harrier, just so we can have two airframes that can do Strike for the next 10 years...." Beacuse we don't have Typhoons with Tornado-like strike capability just yet, and we won't have Tiffie pilots trained up for strike to the level currently available for several years too. I'm a big Harrier fan, but even I can see that it is more likely that we're going to need to do "surgical strikes" on terror targets around the World more than short-range ground support. Harrier is probably the best choice for the latter, but Tornado can do it and also do the global strike role the Harrier would struggle to do. We currently don't have a maritime threat where we the only solution would be a carrier (Falklands 2 is unlikely to happen with the Argies' navy in even worse state than ours!), outside of UN "peacekeeping" operations, and to be honest I'd prefer some of the other UN members to get off their arses and carry some of the load for a change. Besides, in most UN ops, we'll have lovely US nuke carriers to provide CAS and maritime duties.

Lewis is also banging on and on again about Tornado "barely being up to the job" in Afghanistan, without mentioning the Army seems quite happy with the support they are getting from the Tornies. But the Army have a strong preference for Apaches anyway, which often deliver far more precise attacks than even the Harriers, can loiter, and manouvere in the tight Afghan valleys better than any jet. Oh, and especially as those Apaches come under Army control.....

And F-18s are a non-starter for the simple reason that if we bought F-18s then it would be very unlikely that we'd buy any newer hooked jets. That would leave the RAF to fund the F-35 out of a much smaller pot.

/Yaaaaar, natch.

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I think it was down to figures. If we'd ditched the Tornado and kept the harrier would we have had enough aircraft available to meet current and future needs? Could we have kept up our commitments in Afganistan, Iraq, Falklands etc. and still launched bombing raids on Libya or would we have a lack of aircraft for the purpose?

Then we get into more specific details, the Tornado can travel at mach 2.2 the Harrier isn't supersonic (although there was a design for a supersonic harrier that got canned) so a Harrier requires longer to get from point A to point B and back again so Tornadoes can do more sorties, it could get from A to B and back to A before the Harrier is at point B so we can use LESS Tornadoes to obtain the same effect than we would with Harriers.

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Silver badge

aye

but teh FA18 can do both reasonable well AND have carrier capability (and thus seasoned pilots thus trained) before the carriers are deployed.

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Tranche 2 Eurofighter deliveries are underway, Eurofigthers have dropped bombs, they may not be fully up to speed just yet, so we may have a capability gap of just one or 2 years, as opposed to the huge chasm of a capability gap we now have which will last for 10 years.

Unless we're going to launch deep penetration raids on Iran in the next couple of years (where a TLAM is probably going to do a better job, and overfly rights might not be a sure thing), there's just no need for it.

And you do realise that Terror targets are done either by a) Drone b) Special Forces raid, Tornado is useless for that too

(N.B. Tranche 2 should be as good or better bombers than Tornados, tranche 3 is not required for this)

And @David Webb

Tornados certainly don't travel everywhere at Mach 2, they can't do more if they are based 100s of miles further away, and in fact Harriers did have better availability rates. So the smaller Harrier fleet could easily do as much as the larger Tornado fleet

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Thumb Up

Sometimes we get exactly what ask for and not what we need.

Right about the cat and trap, shame that Lewis forgot that his Naval colleagues Harrier fetish is what let to it being deleted therefore stopping the use of better and cheaper conventional aircraft..

Went though this all in April:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/cost-of-royal-navy-carriers-may-rise-to-7bn-2275916.html#comment-193559389

The BBC is also giving a good report of the costs rising and the new dates expected for delivery

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-15928953

Thanks

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FAIL

Yes, well the Harrier would be going from point C, the carrier, to point B. And since point C would be much closer to point B than point A is...

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Anonymous Coward

Point C

harrier goes from point C, which has to be a patch of water within 250 miles of target at B.

point C is reached at around 25 to 30 miles per hour, not in a straight line either, due to stuff called land.

for a quick in and out (i.e. take out an SS20 IRBM that say the Irianian revolutionary guards might have), Tornado, same day op, carrier, if egypt not willing to let us use the canal, how many weeks?

harrier is needed for naval ops, deep strikes is not what was designed for, or can be bent into.

also over flight requirements are only if you do not want to piss off the locals a lot, respnse to not clearing in advance is either a stiffly worded memo through to trying to find and shoot down your planes. for details see how much clearance the US got before carrying out an air assult over a major pakistan garrison town when they went after bin laden..

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Childcatcher

Hurrah!

Who need enemies when you have Defence Chiefs?

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Facepalm

RE: smylar

".......And you do realise that Terror targets are done either by a) Drone....." Yes, please do explain how you are going to get very sub-sonic drones to hit the Iranian nuke facilities, which happen to be very far inland (too far for Harriers carrying a meaningful load, even if we were willing to risk carriers in the Persian Gulf)? Drones are great for attacking geurilla groups in mud huts with virtually zero air defences, but Iran is a bit more capable in that department, and the Iranian nuke facilities are bunkerised beyond the capability of any weapon a drone could carry.

".....b) Special Forces raid....." And do go ask the Yanks how their last major spec-ops jaunt in Iran went (Operation Eagle Claw). Iran is a very large country, so large that the force for Eagle Claw needed large transport aircraft and a desert refueling strip. A force large enough to attack and overcome the Iranian defences around their nuke facilities, plus carry the ordinance load to blow them up, would need a transport fleet! That transport fleet would require a pre-attack air-strike campaign to reduce the Iranian air defences and any ground forces in the area. So, your option involves a veritable WW3, or we could just use some Tornados flying out of Saudi or Italy and some ground-penetrator bombs.....

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FAIL

Good Luck getting a Tornado into Iran

If you're going to send something that fat, slow and low into Iran you're going to need a lot more than good luck to get it to the target. The amount of effort required to kill the Iranian nuclear program requires the USA, there's no way the UK could do it alone. If it ever does happen I suspect we'll be there flying more flags than sorties.

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WTF?

Supersonic sorties? Tornado? Please....

There's no way that a Tornado can carry enough fuel to use its top speed to reduce its overall sortie duration. On a bomb truck like the Tornado the amount of fuel available for full throttle can be measured in seconds, a few minutes at most - and that is used for running away in an emergency not getting home in time for another trip.

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Boffin

RE: Supersonic sorties? Tornado? Please....

The Yanks practice interdiction from medium altitudes, so for them a kinetic penetrator like the MOP makes sense. But to do that mid-level attack you need a massive fleet of support aircraft to run interference, ECM, close- and exit-escort, etc. For the Yanks, a supersonic dash into the target area is preferred, using "stealth" jets to hopefully reduce the chances of being detected and targeted.

The Tornado doesn't run in at supersonic speed, it just flies in very low (terrain following is still better at nullifying radar signature than stealth) and still fast. The supersonic dash bit is, as you say, more to do with running away from enemy fighters after having dropped the bombs. However, when it does do that running away bit, it is much faster than a clean Harrier (or even an F/A-18). Mixed with the ability to stand off and launch Storm Shadow cruise missiles from range, the Tornado would have good survivability chances against the Iranian airdef.

Interestingly, whilst the Israelis were happy to use the mid-level tactics when provoking Syrian jets over the Beqaa Valley, for precision strikes (like the hit on the Syrian reactor at al-Kibar) they prefer the British tactic of sneaking in at low level.

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FAIL

RE: Good Luck getting a Tornado into Iran

"If you're going to send something that fat, slow and low....." The Tornado, loaded even with Storm Shadow, still cruises faster low down (and is capable of a faster sprint) than the F-16s the IAF used to hit al-Kibar, or the F-15s they used to hit the PLO in Tunis.

".....there's no way the UK could do it alone...." Of all the possible Iranian nuke targets so far identified (sixteen mentioned in IAEA reports, including actual civillian plants like Bushehr that would probably not be targeted), only the under-a-mountain bunker at Fordow would be a problem for Storm Shadow. But, seeing as Fordow doesn't currently have any centrifuges (it is still being built), collapsing the entrance tunnels would probably be enough to delay matters there. Sites like Natanz are easy meat for Storm Shadows, and I seem to recall the RAF got 142 Tornies upgraded to the GR4 spec required to carry and launch Storm Shadow. Of the current RAF squadrons, IIRC, No.s 2, 9, 12, 31and 617 are operational with twelve GR4s each, so a mass attack would be possible even if half ran as ECM and airdef-suppression bombers. Thirty Storm Shadows would make a quite thorough mess of the Iranian nuke sites without the need for a return visit or US involvement.

And the Tornie GR4s have experience of firing Storm Shadows in Iraq in 2003 and more recently in Libya, when they faced similar air-def as they are likely to face over Iran. Sure you don't want to think a tad longer before you claim it is impossible?

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r76

Not nuclear?

How far will we be able to afford to send such a vehicle using fossil fuels in 2030?

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Holmes

Come on, isn't it obvious?

what do you think its for in the first place?

Said aircraft carrier will be used to attack places that have oil and appropriate those resources to run the Aircraft carrier, kind of like a self fulfilling Catch-22.

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not nuclear?

it isnt?? ( i got bored of the article part way through)

thats complete madness , given the inexorable, exponential and completely unstoppable rise of oil prices.

phrases like "chocolate fireguard" are springing to mind.

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Holmes

Since when does common sense (or even the greater good) ever come into the heads of politicians? 'specially when vested interests, pubilicity or tabloid opinion are so much sexier

remember, it can't be cynicism if its true :-)

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Big Brother

Political chess moves

This all reeks of political two faced back room dealing. The thing about politicians is, even in these austere times, as their attitude towards the banks shows all to well, its amazing how fast politicians can find money when they want to find money to pay for something and usually they pay top money for defense. So you have to ask why do they hold back and in fight about small parts of the carriers and add completely ridiculous FUD as the article said about their comments for 2020 and 2031 etc..

The reason is our politicians have a different agenda to the one they want us to believe (and the clues are there to see). But the reason they try to hide it is because they know a lot of people would oppose them if they openly said what they really want to do.

My attention was first drawn to the game the politicians are really playing, when they made the shocking and frankly incredulous suggestion we share carriers with France. Also in the past few years we have been able to watch one dubious move after another in how far our politicians are prepared to go and spend almost anything to prop up the European Union.

The answer is they are treating it as if they are building a united states of Europe and that now includes their attitudes towards defense where all the states of Europe are supposed to provide collective (and increasingly shared) defense, which is what they think they are moving towards ... at least in theory. Of course in practice, we all know countries like France will argue with us every step of the way, like they always have done on defense matters, but on paper and in the minds of the political European empire builders, they behave as if it'll all work out.

Don't believe me about a united states of Europe? ... Then also add in things like for example, the moves towards monetary union and moves towards union of no borders between European states. Also you can go back as far as the Maastricht Treaty to see how they wanted everyone to think of themselves as Citizens of the European Union. I'm not saying good or bad on these points, I'm simply saying they are happening.

So it doesn't matter if you think the increasing moves towards European Union are good or bad. The key point is its happened regardless of what we think about it and now defense is becoming their next unification moves target and so they want it to look like current methods are failing, then they will introduce us to their solution ... such as, oh why don't we share carriers.

Our political empire builders want to build up a united states of Europe, as its another bean feast for them. Its all part of their power games, year after year, decade after decade and its all heading in the same direction because control freaks always want more power and so year after year they try to unify more power into Europe.

Defense is next on their hit list and the excuse will be we have no money and it'll take too long other ways (which they have delayed for years to make it take too long!). (Oh and no we don't have money, because they gave all our bloody money to the banks!).

Its all two faced political chess moves. :(

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Anonymous Coward

@Asgard

Are you a half-assimilated American immigrant? Picked up the UKIP rant and kept the American spelling? Some patriot you are.

Perhaps, just possibly, the people paid and trained to do the analysis and the politicians who have listened to all the evidence and have got some practice in this area just may be better informed than you. Judging by your odd views of our neighbours and slavish adherence to the USA (arguably our true nemesis for many years, commercially and culturally) you are in the wrong country.

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WTF?

@Anonymous Coward

You dare to talk to me about patriotism when it is the European empire builders seeking to overthrow our country with their rule.

I'm not against being European, I against an increasing authoritarian undemocratic federal super state.

Here's some more damning proof of the European empire builders attitude in the news right now which helps prove what I was saying. This shows the European empire builders want their undemocratic federal super state with Germany central to the power and finally able to seek to achieve its long held ambitions for European domination. Something we fought two world wars to stop and millions died to hold them back. Yet now we are suppose to just accept these unelected EU leaders who are just puppets for Germany and France, whilst they seek to dominate us all with their increasingly dictatorial rhetoric forcing all other EU countries to fall in line with what they want!

i.e. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-15997784

... And yet you AC, dare to call my patriotism into question!!!

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Black Helicopters

Holy shit.

You _are_ that completely bonkers televangelist I used to get on Tv when I fell asleep over a star-trek rerun in my exchange-student year in the US back in '94 - the one who'd always wax on about how the EU was the biblical "beast". Or an AI channeling it's persona

Well. My being German-born and not quite right-wing (by a long shot) Probably won't help with your mental issues...

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TRT
Silver badge

Couldn't BAE build the F-18 under license?

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Yes, but...

...only if you want them to be as expensive as an F35B per unit.

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TRT
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Pint

I see...

So producing things under license makes them more expensive. Which would explain why beer is so expensive nowadays.

I saw the 1982 Only Fools Xmas edition the other night. A "Remay Martin" and a pint of lager cost 98p. I had to rewind the V+ box to double check.

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Under licence and then some

But equipment built under licence is never just a carbon copy. Usually we end up developing our own electronics at enormous expense, as either the US wont export the best stuff, or we make up some additional requirements to justify it. Then we normally swap out the engines to keep Rolls Royce workers in business. Off the shelf costs 2x the dollar price in sterling as a minimum.

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Facepalm

So 100% operational by 2030....

...and retired from service 2031 is that it?

Am I right or am I right?

I would like to go on record as stating I'd like to take over the running of this project. I feel that even knowing the basics of this kind of thing, I am light years ahead of everyone else running it currently.

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I'm also available

And I should be just about to retire by the time the aircraft carrier is due to enter service (but probably won't).

I have a suspicion that this will get a LONG way down the road before being canned - see TSR-2. One difference being that the TSR-2 was actually an impressive, ahead of the crowd project. This is a big boat with a flat top.

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Military spending is a horrendously massive pork barrel, whether you like it or not, Lewis.

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Mushroom

Effin' useless.

Our MOD procurement is the joke of the world. Even when we build the bleedin' things, we can't spec 'em up properly. Eurofighters with Guns that don't work cos we can't afford to maintain them, but they still need to be there because the plane won't fly properly without them. Ships built to immediately be mothballed, Chinooks purchased without the expensive avionics software just sat about making the hangar look all full and stuff. Landrovers being used as armour personal carriers/squaddie cookers.

I am aghast as to how our once mighty military nation has fallen by the wayside. We deserve to be invaded, but the lax border agencies are making sure that happens without a shot being fired!

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Dassault Rafale?

Why not consider the Rafale? Comparable in cost to the F-18A but more capable, stealthier, newer airframe and avionics, also available in a carrier version.

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For one it's probably politically unacceptable, and highly ironic, seeing as the French left the Eurofigther programme to build the Rafale because they wanted a Maritime version.

Us now buying the Rafale for Maritime operations would make the French unbearably smug.

Second we would/should probably lease/buy Super Hornets (major F-18 rebuild) which arguably makes it more modern than the Rafale. F-18s are built in much higher numbers with tonnes of spare parts so can't see the Rafale being cheaper.

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Aye, I realise it would be politically difficult and make the French impossibly smug...

Not newer than the Rafale, even in Super Hornet guise, but definitely a bit cheaper. Less capable in almost every way, though. Since we're talking about sharing carrier air groups with the French, the spares and training commonality would probably help with the overall price.

Plus, on top of that, the UK would have a fighter that looks as good as, and flies/dogfights as well as the Eurofighter, but can actually engage ground targets too! And land on carriers, of course.

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How on earth?

Can it take twenty years from now to get to a working aircraft carrier? Are we waiting for the necessary engineers to leave kindergarten?

I'm sure the Americans would sell us one of their nearly new aircraft carriers + air wing for a lot less than this mighty white elephant.

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Silver badge

It's a shame fighter planes need a big runway - if an emergency came up and we had to, we could probably buy a big civilian ship with a flat deck like a tanker and tart it up with some missiles and other military capability.

If only we had some form of military jet capable of short or even vertical takeoffs...

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Anonymous Coward

Nope, the US carriers cost twice as much and are twice the size.

The UK carriers seem basically the same, cost wise.

The F-18 is cheaper than the Typhoon, but probably by very little. The F-18 costs about $95million

http://comptroller.defense.gov/defbudget/fy2012/FY2012_Weapons.pdf

But of course thats not including the cost of weapons integration and all that. Lifetime costs are generally 3x purchase cost of theses aircraft.

Fly away cost of a typhoon is almost identical to the Rafale (according to India MRCA bids) but it much more aircraft.

F-18 cost $22k per hour to fly, typhoon is probably the same. F-35 is about 50% more to fly and at least 100% more expensive than the F-18/Typhoon to buy.

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Alert

American Carrier. You Cannot Be Serious

The bogs wont work.

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Silver badge

I was with his post until he started talking about abandoning the Eurofighter and blathering about making a smart choice like the Australians in buying the F/A-18.

1. It wasn't seen as a smart choice in Australia but was greatly questioned - "if an intermediary aircraft was always a requirement then why didn't we ditch the F-111 earlier" amongst other things. 2. Who knows what electronics they are ending up with as the yanks don't tend to give you their top of the line kit.

3. We already signed up to the Eurofighter, trained for it and have introduced it, ditching it makes no sense unless you can break-even in the used aircraft market - we'd take another loss. As for spares, we make the f*cking aircraft.

4. From what I've read, I'm led to believe the Typhoon shits on the F/A-18.

5. As stated above, the French option makes more sense if an alternative were needed. Smug they might be, but continual animosity towards your immediate neighbours, trading partners and carrier partners makes little sense save for generating a red-top headline. I'm sure they'd quite like the fact that someone was endorsing their decision to go their own way. Hell, you might even forge future joint development sans EF2000 bullshit down the line.

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Anonymous Coward

re: buy a big civilian ship

done that

it was called the Atlantic conveyor, and we lost all the helo's it was carrying, apart from the one chinook that was flying at the time.

a less improvised version is RFA Argus (still with next to nothing in missile defences, I can only assume that either RN or MoD(PE) think close defence systems are expensive by comparison to say a ship full of sailors and aircraft)

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