back to article Possible cut to British F-35 order considered before Parliament

Rising costs might force the UK to reduce its order of F-35 fighter jets, the House of Commons has been told. Lieutenant General Mark Poffley, chief of British military capability, told the Commons Defence Committee that he was "sympathetic" to the idea of reducing Britain's planned order of 138 F-35B jets. The short takeoff …

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  1. ArrZarr Silver badge
    Joke

    Well, it's a good job that our new aircraft carriers weren't locked into using F-35Bs then, wasn't it?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Perhaps we could buy some Harriers...

      1. Aqua Marina Silver badge

        Or even better pull the English Electric Lightning out of mothballs. These things didn't need a runway, they could be launched vertically like a rocket. You could literally push it off the edge of the carrier, throttle up and it would be flying of into the distance before it would have a chance to splash into the ocean below.

        I remember reading that when it went ballistic, it was the only plane that caught up with the US's SR71 blackbird and got a missile lock.

        They don't make em like this anymore!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @Aqua Marina: Although the Lightning had, even by today's standards, very good altitude and speed performance it could not match an SR-71 in either altitude or speed. Wikipedia reckons that the max Alt was 88,000 ft but only on a ballistic trajectory i.e. that alt wasn't sustained.

          However, in one of the accounts in 'The Lightning Boys' (ISBN 978-1-908117-15-1) the pilot appears to have achieved level flight at 87,800 ft at which point "I took stock of my situation. The stick was now firmly on the backstops, I had no further elevator control other than to lower the nose. The Ailerons, interestingly, were still very responsive. Both reheats had remained alight until I touched the throttles. When I rolled the aircraft and looked down vertically..."

          Heh :)

        2. kmac499

          Sort of right, I think you'll find it was a U2 that the Lightning caught up with not the Blackbird.

          One version of this story involves the Lightning accelerating below the U2, pulling up into a ballistic climb and vertically passing the U2, whose pilot was shall we say a little surprised.

  2. imanidiot Silver badge

    Still not too late

    The ships aren't in full service yet. It's still possible to eat a giant loss and put cats and traps on them. It won't be pretty, but it's going to have to be done anyway if they are to be of any service in the future. The F-35 program is facing more and more opposition in the US as well and it's not at all impossible the yanks will pull the plug on the program. If that happens, the price for any remaining customers will probably double or triple.

    1. Salestard

      Re: Still not too late

      I thought it was a structural issue for the cats? The amount of bulkhead strengthening, miles of pipework for the steam, and additional control systems were so expensive to retrofit that it'd be cheaper to just build a new boat from the keel up?

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Still not too late

        Building a new ship would mean more work for the shipyards, and therefore (the politicians hope) continued votes, so it's not completely out of the range of possibility.

        Maybe we should sell these carriers to someone that's committed to the F-35B (the US Marines?) and build some proper ones with catapults on. Sure, it's a ridiculously massive waste of money, but we've known that right from the start.

      2. rh587

        Re: Still not too late

        I thought it was a structural issue for the cats? The amount of bulkhead strengthening, miles of pipework for the steam...

        No steam - it was proposed to use the American's new EMALS cats, but they were considered a bit prototypical when the carriers were being specced, despite that fact that (according to Lewis Page IIRC), the Yanks even offered to underwrite any development issues with it (they were pretty committed to making it work since their next-gen carriers are designed around it).

        But we didn't. And then it would have been expensive to retrofit the electrics needed (and possibly bulkheads, I don't know), but certainly not as bad as having to plumb in a large steam system.

        As it turns out, it wasn't too tricky to implement and the Gerald R. Ford is now in service as the first EMALS vessel.

        1. kmac499

          Re: Still not too late

          As well as Bulkheads they would need a few thousand kettles to raise the steam. BIg Lizzie is Diesel electric.

          Which is also why the electric catapult launch was tricky, The new US super carriers have massive amounts of nuclear electric generation on board, They were designed from day one to be fighting power stations that could have upgrades loaded onto the hulls over the years.

          Lizzie would need a bigger battery or a very long extension lead back to blighty. Maybe in the Men in Sheds brigade could come up with a supecapacitor system it might work.

          1. Deckard_C

            Re: Still not too late

            The new US carriers actually use large flywheels connected to motor/generators to store the energy for launching the aircraft with EMALS anyway, so would use the same system. It's just how long it takes to spinup the flywheels for the next launch. The US carriers have four catapults and they wanted a high launch rate. Lizzie would just of had two and have less aircraft to get in the air.

            When you look into what is involved with EMALS you start thinking steam isn't all that bad after all, more so if just launching one type of aircraft. Not that I can really comment.

            1. GrumpyOldBloke

              Re: Still not too late

              Large flywheels - that has got to be tough on the bearings in high seas.

            2. rh587

              Re: Still not too late

              When you look into what is involved with EMALS you start thinking steam isn't all that bad after all, more so if just launching one type of aircraft. Not that I can really comment.

              Well, that's the problem for the Yanks - they're running a variety of fixed wing, from heavy bombed up strike aircraft through to small C2/E2 support aircraft and the steam system reputedly isn't very adaptable. There's "Go" and "Go" with a small amount of throttling. EMALS allows tailored launch profiles for each airframe, so lighter aircraft don't need to be stressed by high-energy launches designed to support heavier aircraft.

        2. Deckard_C

          Re: Still not too late

          "In service" seems to be of of those strange terms, more it's been handed over to the Navy. As IOC isn't until 2020 and first deployment is to be 2022. Last I heard they was still having issues with the Cats and fully loaded F/A-18 but that might be fixed now, also the traps alone are now costing $1.3 billion. Bargin at a construction cost of $12.9B and $3.7B in R&D. Good to know the UK isn't along in messing things up.

      3. joeldillon

        Re: Still not too late

        The plan was to fit this -

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electromagnetic_Aircraft_Launch_System

        So no steam, at least. On the other hand I gather the yanks are having a bit of trouble getting it to work on their new carrier at the moment.

        1. x 7 Silver badge

          Re: Still not too late

          Actually....the initial plan was to use the Anglo-French (mainly Anglo in design) Converteam EMCAT system, but the Yanks didn't like us using something that wasn't American so tried undercutting on price with EMALS despite EMCAT looking the better product. Once the UK had opted for EMALS, Converteam got sold to GE of the USA, who - at the behest of the US Government, spiked the project. That gave the US a monopoly on catapault launch systems, and also military ship electric propulsion systems.

          And then they revealed that EMALS had severe issues and would be delayed........

      4. Scroticus Canis Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: Still not too late - yes it is.

        Unfortunately there is nowhere to install the massive boilers and fuel bunkers to generate steam for the catapults or generators and batteries for electromagnetic catapults (if they could make one work).

        For what this debacle has cost a new factory to make revamped versions of the Harrier would have been cheaper.

      5. bpfh Bronze badge

        Re: Still not too late

        Hum. The legend was that the ships were designed by BaE to be cat & trap compatible IIRC... it was part of the spec (that by the pricing , they may have ignored)...

    2. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: Still not too late

      put cats and traps on them

      I suspect the rats have already left...

    3. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: Still not too late

      I thought the Yanks had been having problems with the STOL F35B's melting the decks? Are the new UK carriers fitted with extra heat resistant decks?

      1. x 7 Silver badge

        Re: Still not too late

        " Are the new UK carriers fitted with extra heat resistant decks?"

        As I understand it - yes

      2. SkippyBing Silver badge

        Re: Still not too late

        'I thought the Yanks had been having problems with the STOL F35B's melting the decks? '

        Not as such, the exhaust is warmer than a Harrier's but it was predicted and alterations to the deck covering made to combat it before the first embarkation. Of course the F-35 doesn't have its exhaust impinging on the deck for a particularly long period probably less than 30 seconds during the landing. The V-22 on the other hand has to have its exhaust pointing at the decks the whole time which I believe may be more of a problem.

        'Are the new UK carriers fitted with extra heat resistant decks?'

        Yes, well as I understand it there's a special coating on the landing areas.

        1. Bluto Nash
          Coat

          Re: Still not too late

          Couple of layers of heavy duty mil-spec aluminium foil ought to suffice? Works in my oven.

          Mine's the one with the Jiffy Pop in the pocket.

    4. ZanzibarRastapopulous

      Re: Still not too late

      RATO Typhoon, come on, we all want to see it happen...

      1. x 7 Silver badge

        Re: Still not too late

        RATO Typhoon

        the technology exists from Buccaneer days, though it wasn't used for ship launches

        http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/eb034068?journalCode=aeat

        1. SkippyBing Silver badge

          Re: Still not too late

          'RATO Typhoon

          the technology exists from Buccaneer days, though it wasn't used for ship launches'

          AIUI the problem with a marinised Typhoon is less the launching and more the landing back on again. Essentially the landing attitude is such that on finals you wouldn't be able to see the aircraft carrier, added to that the landing gear (and airframe) isn't designed to take the impact of a no-flare landing*. Strengthening the aircraft to take a no-flare landing gets you half way to a new aircraft, so you're probably looking at a decade long development programme with no guarantee of success.

          *Land based aircraft flare just above the runway to cushion the impact, carrier aircraft don't because they're aiming for a small area of the deck to ensure the hook catches on a cable. The flare introduces sufficient ambiguity into the landing area that the rate of go-rounds would be unacceptable.

          1. ZanzibarRastapopulous

            Re: Still not too late

            > "Essentially the landing attitude is such that on finals you wouldn't be able to see the aircraft carrier.."

            Augmented reality system with a camera on the nose...

            Ok perhaps not, but should be poss to knock up an automatic landing system now anyway.

            1. SkippyBing Silver badge

              Re: Still not too late

              'Ok perhaps not, but should be poss to knock up an automatic landing system now anyway.'

              BAe did propose something along those lines, along with an automated flare to make the landing point predictable without having to strengthen the gear. The question is, do you actually trust BAe to produce something like that on time and cost?

              Not to mention a Typhoon wouldn't be able to get off the deck with as big a war-load as an F-35B, so you need more aircraft for the same effect.

              Personally I think we should have gone with catapults and arrestor gear, but that argument wasn't made sufficiently well in about 1998. Talking about it now doesn't get us anywhere.

              1. hoola

                Re: Still not too late

                I don't know all the costs, but some of the missiles are awfully expensive. Couldn't they just put a web cam, a few servos and an action man in the cockpit and go for a one-way trip. These is so much electronics anyway you probably don't even need the remote control. You need less fuel, don't care if it buggers up the airframe too much on take off as long as it flies and have no landing issues. At the moment the best use appears to be to put a trebuchet on the deck and lob the aircraft and or missiles at your opponent. No pilot training and minimal fuel required, just enough to make a nice bang!

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Still not too late

      Yep, building two fucking great big boats at massive cost, built specifically to fly one type of unproven jet, is a bit of an odd choice really. Still, who cares about efficacy : as long as the correct palms get greased.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Still not too late

        I believe the original idea was that the carriers would fly the Sea Harrier until whatever replaced them became available. That was why there was much talk early on of them being designed so they could be easily converted to use cats and traps, allowing the RN to opt for the F35C or any other carrier-capable fighter if they so wished.

        Whether the government at the time simply painted a misleading picture isn't clear, but it turned out not to be true and BAE had designed the carriers from the outset to fly only STOVL aircraft. Then the Cameron government came along in 2010 and scrapped the Harriers to save money, apparently only discovering at that point that it would cost too much (according to BAE) to adapt the carriers to fly anything else.

    6. Tubz

      Re: Still not too late

      Agree, scrap the F35 order, take the hit on retro fitting and purchase some F18 Super Hornets.

      1. Daniel von Asmuth Bronze badge
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Still not too late

        Does the price of a F-35 equal that of two F18s? If Britain buys half the number of intended aircraft, does that mean the price per unit doubles?

      2. rh587

        Re: Still not too late

        Agree, scrap the F35 order, take the hit on retro fitting and purchase some F18 Super Hornets.

        Broadly speaking, that is precisely the reason BAE neglected to do any actual work on the "for but not with" Cats requirement, so that when the incoming Government decided they wanted to do it, there was no chance of BAE losing F35B orders in favour of a Boeing Super Hornets (which our Navy Pilots have been keeping their skillset alive on in the US, and which they apparently like very much!).

    7. This post has been deleted by its author

    8. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Still not too late

      David Cameron announced he was going to have the things converted to cats and traps when he was PM because of the problems with the F-35B programme and its escalating costs; apparently, being able to modify the boats like that relatively easily was in the contract. He back-tracked when he was told the cost was prohibitive.

      I still don't understand why Blair's lot thought it was a good idea to order two huge expensive carriers flying aeroplanes that hadn't yet been developed, using a V/STOL system which had at the time not shown to be practical in service.

      Call me Mr Silly if you like, but at the time I couldn't help thinking "Erm, why not much smaller carriers, kit 'em out with modern Sea Harriers derived from the Harrier II - with some helicopters, and lots of drones, for the anti-sub and general purpose lookout role."

      Yes, such drones had at that time not been deployed in service as far as I know, but developing a new Sea Harrier and suitable drones would have been an awful lot cheaper than the F-35B programme was predicted to cost even without the inevitable cost over-runs

    9. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      "and it's not at all impossible the yanks will pull the plug on the program. "

      Bu***hit.

      Far too many members of the Con-gress jave beem "persuaded" of the programmes vital importance to national pork defense.

      That programme will run for decades.

      LM has guaranteed orders, upgrade programmes, spares, etc.

      Who cares if it doesn't work?

      1. skeptical i
        Meh

        Re: "and it's not at all impossible the yanks will pull the plug on the program. "

        re: "Far too many members of the Con-gress have been 'persuaded' of the programme's vital importance to national pork defense."

        I don't know if the congresscritters have swallowed the nashnull deefence kool-aid, but the creators of the F-35 boondoggle were very careful to ensure that some factory in each state made some of the bits of the F-35, and with the economy still swirling the bowl it is unlikely any politician would spike a program that creates/ maintains jobs back home (and most manufacturing jobs pay more than the cash- register- punching service sector jobs, to twist the knife a little harder). Mind, these are also the same congresscritters who see food stamps and other social benefit programs as the work of the Devil his own self (welfare for corporations good, welfare for individuals bad).

    10. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Still not too late

      " It's still possible to eat a giant loss and put cats and traps on them."

      BAE quoted doing the job: It's cheaper to build new ships

      1. rh587

        Re: Still not too late

        BAE quoted doing the job: It's cheaper to build new ships

        Or, to flesh it out.

        BAE told them it would be cheaper to build new ships because they were afraid of losing F35B orders in favour of Super Hornets if they did the conversion. And they can pull that shit because what are we going to do - pick up those lumps of hull and take them to some other defence contractor to finish the job?

        BAE have a monopoly, which means they can basically tell lies if it suits them and we've nowhere to go.

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Unhappy

          "BAE have a monopoly,..they can basically tell lies if it suits them and we've nowhere to go."

          Don't call it a monopoly.

          Call it a "National Champion."

          That's what the civil servants in the MoD called it when they were encouraging/cajoling/strong arming the various mergers that made it up.

          Which is why thethe CEO is as far as I know the only head of a major war corp that's got on demand access to a head of state, in the form of the Prime Minister.

  3. James 51 Silver badge
    Terminator

    No chance of using them a drone carriers with a small fleet of preadators and reapers? The movie Toys was worryingly far sighted.

    1. HereIAmJH

      Time to kill the whole F-35 program

      We should all be dropping the F-35. By the time they are ready for combat everyone will be using drones exclusively. Let's just save a trillion $$$ and go there now.

    2. HKmk23

      First sensible comment I have seen.

      No one seems to think of the future.....all thoughts are based on past wars and actions. The tank is obsolete due to the attack helicopter and they are all obsolete due to the drone. So if drones cannot be launched from the soon to be obsolete fleets of oil tankers (think electric cars) then these easily destroyed aircraft carriers could serve perhaps as mobile launch pads. The drones of course are controlled from thousands of miles away so no pilots necessary!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: First sensible comment I have seen.

        The" tank obsolete due to the attack helicopter" statement is an interesting point as it also has the counterpoint that "you cannot hold land with attack helicopter". Also they can be taken out with shoulder mounted munitions and don't fare well when there are fighter jets around. In warfare you can normal find an argument for most X being redundant because of Y.

        1. MJI Silver badge

          Re: First sensible comment I have seen.

          Do attack helicopters have loitering ability? Do they have kettles and toilets?

      2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: First sensible comment I have seen.

        The drones of course are controlled from thousands of miles away so no pilots necessary

        So - how would they cope with jamming and/or EMP effects? Pretty hard to remote-control something if you have no connectivity to it..

  4. Spanners Silver badge
    Pirate

    Why cats?

    Do they need catapults? I am sure I heard someone say that the Saab Sea Grippen doesn't need them. Getting a non-US aircraft would not only save money but it would reassert our sovereignty.

    This would keep our xenophobes happy too. Sweden are reputed to be open to reconsidering their EU membership too.

    1. MJI Silver badge

      Re: Why cats?

      Mind you an older war proven British designed aircraft does not need them either

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: Why cats?

        Is that the Fairey Swordfish?

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