back to article HMS Queen Elizabeth is delayed, Ministry of Defence confesses

Defence chiefs have confessed that the 70,000-ton aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth’s delivery date is getting later and later – with one Tory minister openly mocking an MP who asked a straight question. Minister for defence procurement Harriett Baldwin, appearing before Parliament’s Defence Select Committee yesterday and …

Anonymous Coward

Who cares

Not like it can carry any combat aircraft at this point.

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Re: Who cares

I care, it's cost BILLIONS on a vanity project for the MOD. We could and should have fought for a proper carrier equipped with British made aircraft or at least some that are actually bloody useful and work.

Bottom line is we have a Navy with a big shiny boat they can't get into sea trials and don't know when it'll happen - I'm shocked nobody has lost their job over this, well OK maybe I'm not as they never come in on time or budget.

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Headmaster

Re: Who cares

"Not like it can carry any combat aircraft at this point."

It could, IF we had any!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Who cares

I'm sure there are still a few Fairey Swordfish out there...

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Re: Who cares

When are people going to get past the bull about carriers with no aircraft

The ship has still to complete sea trials, followed by work up as a ship before it gets to starting to work up with aircraft.

The first aircraft it will start working with are the helicopters - lynx, merlin, apache and chinook, then it can move onto aircraft TRIALS with the F-35s available now (we own around 3 aircraft), finally moving onto workup with more aircraft (up to 25) - US Marine will do if enough UK aircraft are not available - that will take until beyond 2020 - by which time we'll have the aircraft - 12 + helicopters are considered a sufficient normal load - only moving beyond that in an emergency situation - thus saving our taxes by not having more aircraft/pilots than needed floating about in a carrier.

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Re: Who cares

"then it can move onto aircraft TRIALS with the F-35s available now (we own around 3 aircraft)"

I'm sure nothing can possibly go wrong with sourcing flawed aircraft from a mentally ill tangerine who wiped $1.5bn off the value of Lockheed Martin with one tweet.

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Re: Who cares

With all that string, wood and canvas they might well be the perfect low-cost stealthy aircraft.

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Re: Who cares

When are people going to get past the bull about carriers with no aircraft

The ship has still to complete sea trials, followed by work up as a ship before it gets to starting to work up with aircraft.

When you design something to carry aircraft, it's generally a good idea to know whether it's said aircraft are going to work on it, as well as actually have some. Otherwise surely you risk building a massive floating football field for all it's use.

Strikes me it's a bit like designing a plug socket, but not being told what the plug will look like.

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Re: Who cares

"With all that string, wood and canvas they might well be the perfect low-cost stealthy aircraft."

Quick, change "wood and canvas" to "radar-absorbing materials" in the brochure, and add 3 noughts to the price.

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Headmaster

Re: Who cares

We've already had this discussion and decided that a new build Sea Hornet offers the right balance between performance, price, appearance, and pilot satisfaction to make the perfect new carrier aircraft for the RN.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Who cares

When are people going to get past the bull about carriers with no aircraft

That is a ridiculous amount of money for a helicopter carrier. We could have bought the French ones from the failed delivery to Russia for around 10% of the price to carry THAT amount of helicopters.

They would have been at sea, with helicopters onboard and ready for use by now.

Yes, I know, UK is more likely to buy Russian kit than French.

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Re: Who cares

When you design something to carry aircraft, it's generally a good idea to know whether it's said aircraft are going to work on it, as well as actually have some. Otherwise surely you risk building a massive floating football field for all it's use.

Come off it! I know it's easy to bash the MOD and BAE. And they certainly deserve it a lot of the time. But this is just willful ignorance.

Firstly defence systems are notoriously a nightmare to procure. As you're often buying several bits of kit at once that don't currently exist, and yet will have to work together when they do. Assuming they meet spec.

You're then having to assume that spec hasn't changed, because of changing circumstances. And they do change, unpredictably. Particularly when procurement takes so long. And even if perfectly managed, you don't produce a new class of 70,000 tonne ships in less than a decade.

Then we move on to the aircraft trials you mock. The Royal Navy have never run a carrier this size. They've not run a full fleet carrier since the 70s. Nor an air wing of potentially 48 planes, plus 10-20 helicopters. This will take practise. Lots of it!

They'll have to run trials with small numbers, then analyse what worked and what didn't, then increase the size of the air groups, then the complextiy and speed of the sorties. Then analyse mistakes. Then write some policies and doctrines. Then train the crews to follow them. Then test again. Fuck this up and you'll have crashes, or planes falling out of the sky for lack of fuel on ops, or fuck-ups with live ammunition. The flight deck of a carrier is an incredibly dangerous place - even when you know what you are doing. This will take years to get right.

Had we designed for catapults in the first place, we'd have the teething problems from the use of nuclear reactors delaying us now. So the aircraft work would be easier, but the engineering harder. Instead we've gone for gas turbines, so we could have tried the electromagnetic catapult, but that's not proven and the Americans are having problems with it on their new carrier.

So yes, criticism is fair. The procurement of this project has been a problem. But your point is just silly.

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Re: Who cares...

I care, and am more than a little concerned, that the Minister for defence procurement seems to think that summer starts on June 21st.

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Re: Who cares

When you design something to carry aircraft, it's generally a good idea to know whether it's said aircraft are going to work on it, as well as actually have some. Otherwise surely you risk building a massive floating football field for all it's use.

Strikes me it's a bit like designing a plug socket, but not being told what the plug will look like.

Err no, that's what requirement's specifications are all about.

Given how much is known about military aircraft take-off and landing, it is possible to define an 'interface' specification and give this to both the carrier designers and the aircraft designers. Hence why the catapult/no catapult decision was so critical as not only did it impact the carriers power system but also the aircraft.

Thus I don't need to actually see a plug to know what it might look like. Although having an actual plug can help with unforeseen test cases such as inserting a UK plug the wrong way up (a problem or 'feature' of very narrow extension sockets) so that the earth pin inserts leaving the live sockets exposed thereby defeating the socket's built-in safety features...

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Re: Who cares...

"I care, and am more than a little concerned, that the Minister for defence procurement seems to think that summer starts on June 21st."

Close enough. In the UK, 20th June 2016 was the start of summer astronomically speaking. It started on the 1st of June in terms of meteorology. Just saying "summer" without a specific definition of what you mean by "summer" allows for plenty of wiggle room.

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Re: Who cares...

Fair point - by that time we've generally had our summer. Both days of it.

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Re: Who cares

It was only ever meant to gather votes for Gordon Broon. Let's face it, the UK needs an aircraft carrier like a hedgehog needs gills. Just ask yourself, what useful function could a carrier serve? They were very good things to have between, let's say, 1935 and 1970 (stretching it a bit). Since 1970 they have been very much like battleships - huge lumbering targets with very little effective power in any *real* war.

That being so, they are only useful for bashing weak nations that have no effective air, missile and submarine defences. Just imagine how the Falklands war would have gone if Argentina had had a few Sunburn ship-killers, or for that matter a handful of modern hunter-killer subs.

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Re: Who cares

And, as Italian and German anti-aircraft gunners found to their cost, they flew too slowly for the modern fire control computers to track.

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Re: Who cares

Glorious! Thanks for making my day!

It does strike me that it's a good sign that today, in contrast to 100 or 80 years ago, we can afford to laugh about these matters. And we do so because we all know perfectly well that there is no *conventional military or naval* threat to the UK.

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Re: Who cares

"You're then having to assume that spec hasn't changed, because of changing circumstances. And they do change, unpredictably".

Recursive: see recursive. [Dudley Moore giggle].

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Re: Who cares...

What's so odd about that? I suppose that's the day she goes on holiday.

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Re: Who cares

As I have pointed out before, "Queen Elizabeth" has already fulfilled her purpose - which was to collect a few extra votes for Gordon Broon. The only reason they are continuing with the project is to save face - which, if you think about it, is the consideration that explains 85% of everything governments do.

1. Notice a problem while reading The Telegraph or The Guardian.

2. Decide to DO SOMETHING IMMEDIATELY.

3. Gather information from selected retired experts, old school chums, and the great and the good.

4. Publish your GRAND PLAN.

5. About two weeks later, find that your GRAND PLAN cannot possibly work because the information you gathered is mostly wrong and all out of date.

6. Carry through with the GRAND PLAN so that nobody realises you made a huge boo-boo, thus SAVING FACE (you think).

It's all explained in somewhat more detail in Thomas Sowell's book, "The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy".

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Re: Who cares

Archtech,

Since 1970 they have been very much like battleships - huge lumbering targets with very little effective power in any *real* war.

Bollocks!

It is entirely possible that you are right, but impossible to know, as such a scenario has not occurred, and so never been tested.

Who's to say that saturation missile attacks work? There's as much reason to imagine the missiles might screw up, and mess with each others flight/targetting) as there is that the defences will.

After all, modern anti-aircraft destroyers are theoretically capable of shooting down 2 or 3 missiles a second, out to long distances, until they run out of ammo. In the case of the AEGIS system in the US, the different ships can even pool their missiles, so as not to all engage the same targets. So a carrier battle group with a couple of anti-air cruisers and some Arleigh Burke destroyers has well over 500 missiles to use - plus the short range SAMs on the frigates and everyone's gattling guns.

Now admittedly if a carrier gets into fighter range of any major power, you'd expect its air group to be overwhelmed by sheer numbers. But far out to sea, where only long range bombers can reach (un-escorted) a carrier is a much more formidable target. The further away you launch your missles from, the less targetting information they'll have, and the easier they'll be to avoid/jam/spoof. The closwer you launch, the more likely you won't get to. If you launch from far out, the air group may also get to shoot some missiles down, before they get into range of the SAMs.

Also, the Russians don't have the vast regiments of naval aviation they used to have. I very much doubt they can field 150 long range naval bombers anymore - so the attacks would be less saturating. Obvously China still does have the numbers. Taking carriers into the Taiwanese straits would almost certainly be suicide. But carrying out a distant naval blockade of China and attempting to escort resupply to Taiwan might be possible. Assuming there are any plans to defend Taiwan, but it's the most likely large scale conflict that comes to mind.

Also, you don't just have to deploy one carrier at a time. A fleet containing say 4 Nimitz class ships has an airgroup larger than the airforces of all but the top 10 global military powers. They could field 5 or 6 squadrons of F18s each, plus tanker, ASW and AWACS support.

Obviously the RN are much smaller - ours would only be a component of a larger allied force if fighting a first rate power.

Carriers were never really designed for fighting land-based air power. And mostly avoided it even in their heyday in WWII. Purely because of the numbers issue, although of course they got into fights against isolated island-based airgroups. Now that global air forces are much smaller, that's probably less of an issue now than it was back then.

Finally carriers also have many uses. Getting air power to places where it's needed. Quickly. You don't have to waste time negotiating for air basing rights, when you can just float into position. You can also use them for disaster recovery, the US Navy did an awful lot of work after the Boxing Day tsunami for example. And also protecting your sea lanes. From both air and submarine threats. If you're a country with a large trading economy that's rather vital. Plus supporting troop deployments in places from the Falklands to Afghanistan, via Sierre Leone.

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Re: Who cares

So a carrier battle group with a couple of anti-air cruisers and some Arleigh Burke destroyers has well over 500 missiles to use - plus the short range SAMs on the frigates and everyone's gattling guns.

That is half the missile complement of the china missile boat fleet, less than 10% of the Chinese fleet overall attack missile capability (without taking into account their fleet aviation). Each of their ships with the excemption of the corvettes carries 8+ anti-ship cruise missiles and on last count, they had 130+ missile boats (8 each), 50 destroyers (8-16 missiles each) and ~ 100 other ships with 2-4 missiles each.

If they really do a saturation attack the battle group will expend all of its missiles in the first 5 minutes without being able to take even 10% of what the Chinese or Russian fleet can throw at it AT SEA - this is without taking into account fleet aviation, coastal batteries and rumor mill weapons like the chinese ASBMs.

So even if 50% of their missiles fail, there are still way too many (and USA and NATO navy planners know this by the way).

I agree with the rest of your statement by the way. Aircraft carriers make wonderful platforms to perform cheap beating of "savages" into the stone age. They can float offshore and continuously and cheaply launch missions against a vastly inferior opponent with no AA. That is their only function in modern warfare. They have no other. Against a major power they are dead.

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Re: Who cares...

" In the UK, 20th June 2016 was the start of summer astronomically speaking."

Could you explain what you mean by that?

Fwiw, British Summer Time (BST) starts on the last Sunday of March and ends on the last Sunday of October.

June 20th, aka the summer solstice, is generally regarded as mid-summer and, by no coincidence, falls roughly mid-way between those two dates.

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Re: Who cares

Voland's right hand,

I'm sure China has lots of ships with missiles on. Some of them aren't very good though. And they've got to survive to get into missile range. Against a carrier battle group with lots of naval aircraft. And also a picket line of submarines, remember the US have lots over very good attack subs - which are great at sinking ships.

I don't know if saturation attacks can be defeated. Though lots of money has been poured into trying. What I do know is that lots of people talk about them working, pointing out all the downsides of the defence option, and none of the downsides of the attack option. Which are considerable.

Carrier warfare is combined arms with defence in depth. Park your carrier battle group off Shanghai and it's dead. Move it around the (very large) Pacific and it's much harder to concentrate forces. Remember that the US also has nearby airbases, and a very large and capable airforce for support.

The Russian surface fleet is probably no threat whatsoever, I get the impression most of Russia's money has gone on the army, special forces and airforce. They've got good submarines. But they haven't even got the cash to operate the carrier they just sent to Syria for more than 6 months a year. Which is why their pilots aren't so well trained and they lost 10% of their air group in a couple of weeks.

One unanswerable counter to a carrier group is nukes. They make excellent targets.

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Re: Who cares @ Roland6

Would normally agree with you totally, but for designing for the F35 it seems like we are designing for something that doesn't have a decent spec we can work from. If it was a known and tested platform, you could design for it and it's requirements, (we may know some things like the need for arrestor gear, or catapults asstandard kit as such), in this case we see to be doing all this stuff arse backwards.

For example do we add catapults, or do we rely on the fact we have been totally assured that the F35B is fully VTOL with a weapons load? Oh we are fitting the F35C now? the B variant was pants after all... This to me is not properly specced requirements it's guesses, and the assurances of a sales team.

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Re: Who cares...

LeeE

There's a decent explanation here

Note that neither definition puts the June 21st solstice at mid-summer and when you stop to think about it, if 21st June was mid-summers day, summer would start in mid May and end about the first week of August.

Similarly, Dec 21st is not mid-winter although, as you say with regard to June 21st, the solstices are often "commonly" understood to mean mid Summer or Winter even though clearly they are not. Mainly it's due to the lag in the warming/cooling of the seasons in relation to shortest/longest days.

Apologies to those who don't have seasons and for the "Northernist" definitions :-)

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Re: Who cares

"I get the impression most of Russia's money has gone on..."

...Facebook.

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Re: Who cares

They're going to re-classify it as a NotAnAircraft Carrier,

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Whilst MPs bluster and the MOD drags it's heels

It's billions of pounds of taxpayer money that's sitting unused because the MOD can't project manage anything.

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Re: Whilst MPs bluster and the MOD drags it's heels

I would like to point out, the MOD aren't project managing this. They will have reps on the project board of the Aircraft Carrier Alliance (comprised of BAE, Thales, Babcock, DE&S), so you can't just assume that delays are because it's a public sector job!

Also, have you built a ship before? Quite complicated I gather. A fair few moving parts, a fair few suppliers to rely on delivering their tiny part of it on time, a fair bit of it done outside (weather dependant) etc.

Crack on though, show them the way.

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Stop

Re: Whilst MPs bluster and the MOD drags it's heels

Also, have you built a ship before? Quite complicated I gather.

Tens of thousands of big, complex ships have been constructed over past the century or more, so you might expect professional shipbuilders to have gotten the hang of it by now. The Americans managed to build 160 aircraft carriers just during the Second World War, and that was over 70 years ago.

This lot can't even manage just two, and whilst they complain how difficult and complicated it all is, unlike their forebears, they have all the benefits of modern technology and are being paid truly colossal sums of money.

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Re: Whilst MPs bluster and the MOD drags it's heels

WW2 aircraft carriers didn't run Windows for Warships. Probably a lot of the schedule overrun is just waiting for the Windows updates to install.

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Re: Whilst MPs bluster and the MOD drags it's heels

Also, have you built a ship before?

Yes. Part of the fitting-out team of some ships that were rather bigger than this one, and of similar complexity. Cruise liners are huge and most new ships have a few unique features.

On time - to the day for sea trials - and near budget. One of them did go a little over for the first in class.

Civilian shipyards generally manage this, because they have these things called "penalty clauses" if they are notably late.

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Re: Whilst MPs bluster and the MOD drags it's heels

There is absolutely nothing new about this kind of farce, and it is peculiarly British. Especially considering how superb Britain has traditionally been at inventing things and doing things, it is a strange anomaly that we seem to be so hopeless at organizing and planning.

In WW2, to take just one example, British tank design and manufacture was an appalling mess. In 1941, during the Battle of France, the Matilda II was - in its own small way - the queen of the battlefield. It dominated German tanks much as the German Tiger later came to dominate all Allied tanks. At Arras, a handful of Matildas came within an ace of routing Rommel and stopping the German advance cold. Their guns destroyed Panzer II, III and IV tanks easily, while the German shot simply bounced off. Rommel was saved only by commandeering a bunch of 88 mm anti-aircraft guns and repurposing them on the spot.

Throughout the rest of WW2 Britain produced a bewildering profusion of new tanks, none of which was satisfactory. They had underpowered guns, armour that was too thin, and besides they were mechanically very unreliable. Then, just in time for the victory parade through Berlin, there appeared the Comet - a very good tank more or less equivalent to the German Panther and the Soviet T-34/85. Meanwhile, the Americans and Soviets had produced tens of thousands of Shermans and T-34s, which were far superior to any British model.

The technical ability is definitely there; but somehow our managers contrive to screw everything up.

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Rather than penalty clause

it may be that they do not promise or propose to do things that are not yet well worked-out.

However in (deterrence of and actions a bit short of) war, building ships for the last war may not work well.

Huge doesn't seem to be the problem - "steel is cheap, and air is free" - but for warships, even rather large ones, making them smaller targets than they might be is probably beneficial.

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Do they even have any aircraft available for the bloody thing?

Not going to be much use in active service without those.

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Merlin, Chinook, Apache, Wildcat, Sea Kings. All of which will have to do deck trials to establish the operating limits before they get pushed off to let the F-35 do the same.

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"Do they even have any aircraft available for the bloody thing?"

Absolutely!

http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/our-organisation/the-fighting-arms/fleet-air-arm/historic-flight/historic-flight

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Anonymous Coward

Except it's not a Helicopter Carrier - we could have built one of those at a fraction of the cost and had it in service by now.

There is extensive experience in operating rotary wing aircraft from a variety of ships, so there will be no need to conduct such extensive trials. More likely, it's just an excuse to fill the time gap with some meaningless activity to hide the fact we haven't the planes that it's meant to operate with.

Still, if we hadn't scrapped the Sea-Harriers, we could be conducting meaningful trails until the F35s are available.

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'There is extensive experience in operating rotary wing aircraft from a variety of ships, so there will be no need to conduct such extensive trials.'

Wrong. Post the Haddon-Cave enquiry you can't just say 'oh we've done this before it'll be fine'. This nice document is a starting point for what you have to do https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/487185/RA1029_Initial_Issue.pdf

So yes, deck trials have to be done even if it's just to confirm simulations. Frustratingly half the time in these trials is spent chasing weather to give you the right data points. Then there's confirming the ship and the aircraft operate together correctly, what happens when you have multiple aircraft operating on the deck etc. etc. They have to be done prior to entering operational service for the Duty Holders, who're legally responsible for any loss of life or injury, to be assured that all risks to life are ALARP.

After all, trials with the F-35 are ongoing in the US off various USN LPD so by your logic we don't need to conduct trials for them either.

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Still, if we hadn't scrapped the Sea-Harriers, we could be conducting meaningful trails until the F35s are available.

Or just kept them, and possibly developed them further.

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Anonymous Coward

Not wrong, as I didn't say that as it's been done before no trials are needed - what I did say that there would be no need to conduct such extensive trials. Of course trials will be needed, but as there is prior experience, people will know what to do and what will be expected.

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'I did say that there would be no need to conduct such extensive trials'

First of class trials are always extensive, it's not just the ship-air interface they're trialling it's also the whole big grey floaty thing. Sorry if you thought it would just leave the builders yard and be operational the next day.

The aviation trials are a legal requirement and with the regulations having recently been rewritten there's not a lot of flex to use read across or grandfather rights.

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before they get pushed off to let the F-35 do the same.

Trump's moved ahead on many of his far more controversial promises. Why does anybody think that F35B is going to continue? USMC can be mollified by giving them some other toys, like more troops or ships, and then the only people who want the F35B are the sad-sacks of Whitehall who dreamt up the idea of building two enormous carriers without catapults.

BAES would of course love that outcome, because they then get to charge another $2bn for sticking on EMALS or retrofitting some botched boiler plus steam catapult arrangement. Plenty of opportunity for more procurement bungling by MoD both with the catapults, and with the revised contract to buy F35Cs (because there's no way they'd take the more sensible F18 option). Or worse still, they'll ask BAES to re-engineer the unwanted Tranche 1 Typhoons for carrier operations, which will give the RN an even less suitable aircraft, with an excess of interceptor performance, low suitability for low level and strike duties, and all the challenges of making the airframe capable of catapult launch.

So there's my bet: The worst and most expensive of all possible outcomes - retrofit steam boilers and catapults on the carriers, and mis-use of unsuitable aircraft designed for totally different purposes..

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Anonymous Coward

Please take the chinooks

especially the ones that fly over my house several times a day and have to fly low because of they are close to the flightpath in/out of Farnborough. The whole effing house shakes when those egg beaters come around.

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This is sufficiently advanced incompetence

Funny you should mention scrapping the Sea Harriers. That reminded me of reading "Empire of the Clouds", a devastating indictment of successive British governments starting in 1945. It's hard to get through that book without wondering whether such concentrated and prolonged incompetence is really believable. British politicians acted for all the world as if it was their top priority to destroy the British aircraft industry; and their efforts were quite successful.

When you think of the consequences, things begin to fall into place. Cui bono? Over and over, promising projects were scrapped, the manufacturers forbidden to try to piece together the remnants, and - this is the key part - all the information was handed over, free, gratis and for nothing, to the Americans.

Cui bono? Today, where are British military and naval aircraft purchased?

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Anonymous Coward

If they'd built late delivery penalties into the contract and set delivery milestones we'd know exactly when the ship would be delivered. But no, typical MOD incompetence when specifying a contract.

And typical lackadaisical attitude from ministers in charge who don't seem to care.

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Is it incompetence? I'm a civil servant looking for a nice well paid job in a military contractor. Do I make it hard for them in my current job, or easy so they look favourably at me in future? Need to stop the revolving door between public sector and the private companies to address this problem.

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