back to article Once again, UK doesn't rule out buying F-35A fighter jets

The United Kingdom is edging ever closer to buying F-35As, instead of the B model needed to fly from the Navy’s new aircraft carriers, as a senior officer once again refused to rule out a future F-35A purchase. Lieutenant General Mark Poffley, deputy chief of the defence staff for military capability, told MPs “I don’t think …

  1. izntmac

    Why go totally F-35?

    Maybe the UK should just buy the F-35 Carrier variant for the carriers, some regular F-35s for NATO and regular land use and also some cheaper jets for land based use for UK air sovereignty. The F-35 is a complicated machine and to be totally relying on it is not smart. Better with a mixed fleet and one that can be serviced in the UK.

  2. SkippyBing Silver badge

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    There is a mixed fleet, the other aircraft is called Typhoon. They're keeping the early non-upgradeable ones for the UK Air Defence thing.

  3. Semtex451 Silver badge

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    True but Super Hornets would have been a lot cheaper shurley?

  4. Peter2 Silver badge

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    Sea Hornets would have been a lot cheaper. However, they also wouldn't be able to leave the decks as the aircraft were built without catapults and the cost of adding them is greater than building a new carrier.

  5. SkippyBing Silver badge

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    'True but Super Hornets would have been a lot cheaper shurley?'

    Than what? We already had the Typhoons.

    They would have been cheaper than F-35, if we'd brought the more expensive carrier but as we didn't that's a moot point. Of course if we wait until later in the production run the unit cost of the F-35 may well have dropped to around SH levels anyway.

  6. MyffyW Silver badge

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    I used to think F/A-18 Hornet's were the answer (until fitting a catapult turned out to be more difficult than balancing several tonnes of aircraft on a jet exhaust).

    Then I thought drones seemed like a good idea.

    And then finally I thought sod it and decided it would be easier to learn French / German / Russian / Mandarin / Sanskrit [delete as foreign adversary changes] and really hit the military-industrial-complex where it hurts. Take your cancellation clauses and shove them up your venturi pipe, BAe.

  7. SkippyBing Silver badge

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    If a Sea Hornet couldn't do an unassisted take-off from a deck the length of the QE Class I'd be stunned.

  8. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  9. Faszination

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    "True but Super Hornets would have been a lot cheaper shurley?"

    They would have been and DON'T call me Shurley.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    "So you think the UK's defence ministry is so moronic, they didn't go through the obvious first?"

    Yes.

    Pork, Barrels and all that.

  11. Lotaresco Silver badge
    Coat

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    "And then finally I thought sod it and decided it would be easier to learn French / German / Russian / Mandarin / Sanskrit [delete as foreign adversary changes] and really hit the military-industrial-complex where it hurts."

    We should go for the Danish defence solution as proposed by Sandi Toxvig. Spend a relatively small amount of money installing telephones every 500 metres around the coast. When someone picks up the handset a recorded message repeats "We Surrender" in all known languages.

  12. TerryG

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    The minimum take-off distance of an F-18 is around 1600m and the QE flight deck is 284m long. It's why we invented catapults and arrestor wires.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    F-18 takeoff distance is 1600 feet, closer to 488 m. Still too long, but it certainly doesn't need a mile to get airborne.

  14. SkippyBing Silver badge

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    'The minimum take-off distance of an F-18 is around 1600m'

    That's great but we were talking about the SEA Hornet.

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

  15. Rich 11 Silver badge

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    When someone picks up the handset a recorded message repeats "We Surrender" in all known languages.

    ...including Welsh.

  16. /dev/null
    Joke

    Re: Sea Hornets

    Sea Hornets would, I'm sure, be much cheaper, but who builds aircraft out of balsa and plywood these days...?

  17. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    "So you think the UK's defence ministry is so moronic, they didn't go through the obvious first?"

    Revisit the Typhoon procurement, where some mid level policy wonk wanted to save money, and decided the gun was old hat, so let's do away with the gun. Except the aircraft avionics would require complete recalibration if the weight of the gun wasn't there. So what was there available with the same weight distribution as the gun? The answer? The gun. Great, so we'll keep the gun, but save money by not buying any ammunition for the gun. Hence the first Typhoons were deployed dry. Only a mid-level policy wonk could thin they achieved something there.

  18. TerryG

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    Take-off distance is 450-500m at minimum weight but it'll take around 1600m if you want to strap on a few missiles and carry enough fuel to do more than one circuit of the ship.

  19. RPF

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    No way its take-off run would triple.

    Plus you're thinking still-wind distances. A 30-knot carrier steaming into a 20-knot wind would massively reduce the distance.

    Then you just bolt on a ski-jump.

    It would work.

  20. x 7 Silver badge

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    A Sea Hornet was an uprated Mosquito...........not quite the same as the F/A-18 Hornet / Super Hornet you lot keep wittering about

  21. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    @oodhhan

    How about this... silence your mouth and listen for a change.

    Wow quite a rant. You forgot to indicate to whom you were speaking. I'm sure one of the lucky commenters will be thrilled to find out they are the object of your diatribe.

  22. collinsl

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    Doesn't work like that - the back bit is for landing at the same time as the front bit is for taking off, at least on conventional carriers.

    On the old Invincible class the harriers needed a decent run up for VSTOL

  23. SkippyBing Silver badge

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    'Doesn't work like that - the back bit is for landing at the same time as the front bit is for taking off, at least on conventional carriers.'

    It really isn't, the angled deck allows you to land aircraft without them hitting parked ones if it has to go around. However it's generally impossible to operate the catapults and have the landing area clear at the same time as they overlap, I think the latest US carrier might be the first to allow that by some careful re-positioning of parts.

  24. Dinsdale247

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    I'd perhaps agree with you except every retired pilot or industry expert in every pro-military blog I have read (and there is lots) have said the same things about the stupidity of military purchasing and the complete loss that the F-35 program has become.

    All the west is doing is pricing itself out of the ability to fight. The loss of life is too politically expensive and this perturbs ever military decision made. The F-35 was an attempt at a NATO wide upgrade scheme for an American company. It's a failure of complexity and distributed manufacturing. The rest of us should all opt out and look at more conventional/cheaper solutions and accept a couple of deaths (or stay the hell out of it).

  25. Richard Plinston Silver badge

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    > If a Sea Hornet couldn't do an unassisted take-off from a deck the length of the QE Class I'd be stunned.

    It may be able to do that when it has no stores, but put a few bombs on it and its range beyond the bow will be measured in metres.

  26. YARR

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    It may be able to do that when it has no stores, but put a few bombs on it and its range beyond the bow will be measured in metres

    The Ruskies solved this by air-to-air refuelling. They have expensive "buddy" fighters converted to this role, which also have to be carrier launched and have limited range. Besides this is a moot point, since the QE class has a straight flight deck with a ski-jump, so it can only operate V/STOL aircraft at present.

    However it's generally impossible to operate the catapults and have the landing area clear at the same time as they overlap, I think the latest US carrier might be the first to allow that by some careful re-positioning of parts.

    Nimitz carriers have catapults on both the foredeck and the landing deck. See http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/x/556638285

  27. Bob Dole (tm)

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    Great, so we'll keep the gun, but save money by not buying any ammunition for the gun.

    You don't need ammo if all you are doing is flying in an air show.

  28. SkippyBing Silver badge

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    'Nimitz carriers have catapults on both the foredeck and the landing deck. '

    I know, however for the ones on the foredeck the jet blast deflectors of the port one impinge on the wing tip safety line for the landing area. Nothing should be inside that area for landing operations for fairly obvious reasons.

    You also have to park the aircraft that have landed somewhere, typically this is on the foredeck area as it takes the minimum time to manoeuvre an aircraft there, minimising the interval between landings*. Essentially even with a Nimitz class, unless you've only got a small fraction of the potential air group embarked it's not practical to do simultaneous launch and recovery operations.

    *Carriers like to minimise the time spent on the flying course as generally it's not in the direction you want to go, and makes you rather predictable for any submarines watching.

  29. IglooDude

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    US carriers lately (since the 1960s) have four cats, two on the bow and two on the angled deck portside. The bow ones are usable more or less simultaneously (with a bit of careful timing) with landings, but the side ones are definitely not.

  30. Richard Plinston Silver badge

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    > The Ruskies solved this by air-to-air refuelling. They have expensive "buddy" fighters converted to this role, which also have to be carrier launched and have limited range.

    The Royal Navy had been doing that with Scimitars and Buccaneers before the Russians even had a carrier.

  31. paulc

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    "If a Sea Hornet couldn't do an unassisted take-off from a deck the length of the QE Class I'd be stunned."

    fully armed and fuelled?

  32. mwnci

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    "Ni ildio"

  33. bexley

    Re: Why go totally F-35?

    Because for every aircraft type you need a whole roster of engineering and technical staff, with one of two types you obviously need far fewer staff, fewer spare parts, fewer support contracts, fewer test and development projects, few weapons integration programs.

    The F35 is something of the holy grail for the cash strapped air forces of the world, yes it is a very expensive capital expenditure but the operation expenditure is relatively low compared with operating a mixed fleet.

    Anyway, mixed fleet of what? In almost every conflict of the past 30 years, the air space has been contested with Russian Surface to Air gear. That has necessitated a stealth capability that the Super hornet does not have. Russian and Chinese air defences are getting better and are available for purchase by our usual adversaries so Super Hornet is not actually a logical choice as it cannot operate over heavily contested airspace, is old and is a generally worn out design which is why everybody is buying the f35.

    Our carriers can only operate f35 anyway, nothing else will fly from them unless we buy some mv22 osprey which highly unlikely.

    It would be lovely to enjoy access to a vast range

  34. SkippyBing Silver badge

    I would note that generally a squadron will embark with the carrier as it deploys and stay with it until it gets back to UK waters. On the grounds the people running the carrier need about as much time in the UK* as the people running the aircraft it tends to work out okay. So you should be able to cope with 1 F-35B squadron per carrier, which is more or less what the Sea Harrier force did as the 3 Invincible class ships were generally run as 2 in service and one in extended readiness.

    But yeah, mixed fleets generally more expensive.

    *This is known as harmony time, individuals should have a set number of days not deployed in a rolling time period, e.g. 180 days in 2 years. Obviously this is different for the different services so I'm not totally sure how it works out if it's an RAF squadron on the carrier rather than a Navy one**.

    **If you're on exchange with another service I believe you follow their harmony guidelines so RAF pilots in an RN squadron would just have to live with it.

  35. LeeE Silver badge

    Wars tend to be 24 hours/day affairs, so with just one F-35B squadron of twelve aircraft per carrier then with 4 reserved for CAP1 to protect the carrier and 1-2 unserviceable/being serviced you're going to be left with just 7-8 aircraft for missions.

    But with no screening force of 8-10 anti-aircraft vessels to protect it, the carrier isn't going to be afloat for very long.

    The only way I can see these carriers and their F-35Bs operating is as part of a U.S. task force and so I have to conclude that these carriers and their F-35Bs are the price that the U.K. has had to pay to the U.S. for its protection; they don't really belong to us - we're just looking after them for the U.S.

    1 two in the air plus two being turned around to relieve them.

  36. SkippyBing Silver badge

    The ships are designed to generate a sortie rate that I think needs ~36 aircraft to achieve. The question ultimately is do you want to regularly deploy with that many aircraft or save that until an actual war? I believe the current plan is to work towards regular deployments with 24 aircraft initially, so probably two squadrons. For which you need 2 front-line squadrons and a training squadron as a minimum.

    My badly made original point was that you don't need four squadrons to generate one on the carrier, you basically need one and sync its generation and deployment cycle with the carrier.

  37. Bob Dole (tm)
    Pint

    The only way I can see these carriers and their F-35Bs operating is as part of a U.S. task force and so I have to conclude that these carriers and their F-35Bs are the price that the U.K. has had to pay to the U.S. for its protection; they don't really belong to us - we're just looking after them for the U.S.

    Someone gets it. Have a beer.

    Now, don't rock the boat and please accept these papers granting the UK status as an Unincorporated Territory of the United States.

  38. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    "Now, don't rock the boat and please accept these papers granting the UK status as an Unincorporated Territory of the United States."

    New Puerto Rico? But without the climate.

  39. Augie
    FAIL

    We're basically committed into buying this giant whale..simple.

    They wont rule anything out for now as that could either have repercussions on further deferments or worse, questions as to the newest gin palaces are fit for purpose and bought around a single airframe design.

  40. Frank Gerlach #2

    Lewis Page

    ...will explain to you how this is a much better idea than giving the job to your own engineers, technicians and workers. You know, the Jäger 90/Typhoon is tainted with the "euro" letters !!!

    Otherwise an excellent aircraft with a much better safety record than the F22 and on par with Russian aerodynamics, unlike the F18 and the F35.

    But I guess Lockheed has a much better sales department and patriotism is so 1960s.

  41. SkippyBing Silver badge

    Re: Lewis Page

    'Otherwise an excellent aircraft with a much better safety record than the F22'

    Really? I can find one fatal F-22 accident, there were thee Typhoon ones in one month.

    http://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/15088/three-eurofighters-involved-in-deadly-crashes-in-just-one-month

  42. phuzz Silver badge

    The problem

    Well, the nub of the problem is that the QE class doesn't have a catapult or arrestor system, and fitting one now would cost about as much as new carrier (we're told).

    This means the only fixed wing aircraft that can be used on them are V/STOL aircraft, and that limits the choice to:

    Yak-38 - Soviet design, out of production, Uncle Vlad probably won't sell us any.

    (Sea) Harrier - 1960's design, out of production.

    F-35B - Modern design, very pricey.

    So, given that there's only one aircraft that is currently being produced that can actually be used on the QE, that's the one we're going to have to get.

    (Whether or not this situation of being stuck with only one choice of plane could have been avoided is a separate rant for a different day)

  43. Frank Gerlach #2

    Typhoon vs F22 Safety

    For a long time, the Jäger 90/Typhoon had no fatal accidents whatsoever, while the F22 had very serious issues in its flight control software right from the start.

    Also, the F22 fleet is quite small as compared to the Jäger 90.

    F22: Five Full Losses: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_Martin_F-22#Zwischenf%C3%A4lle

    Jäger 90; Six Losses, one of it probably in combat in Yemen. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurofighter_Typhoon#Zwischenf%C3%A4lle

    F22 fleet: 180

    Jäger 90 fleet: 515

    That means the Jäger 90 has about twice better safety statistics, if you normalize by fleet numbers.

  44. SkippyBing Silver badge

    Re: Typhoon vs F22 Safety

    'That means the Jäger 90 has about twice better safety statistics, if you normalize by fleet numbers.'

    In terms of losses yes, in terms of fatalities though I think the F-22 is better placed with 1 fatal accident vs 4 (not including the one in Yemen). Also I can only find reference to 406 in service Typhoons (from Flight Global https://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/spanish-pilot-killed-in-eurofighter-crash-400225/) where are you getting 515 from?

    Having said that normally* I try and normalise accident rates by flying hours and I doubt we'd be able to get those figures easily!

    *I work in flight safety so I actually do do this quite a lot.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Britannia rues the waves

    Far better to have specialists at sea without the inter service rivalries.

  46. /dev/null

    Why? Because F-35As can fly further, carry more ordnance, and are about $28m cheaper than an F-35B, since they don't have a lift fan and associated impedimenta. Given that F-35s of some description will be the de facto replacement for the RAF's Tornado GR.4s, in addition to their original task of replacing Joint Force Harrier (now just a distant memory), the F-35A is probably the most appropriate variant to do that, since no Tornado squadron has ever been expected to fly off an aircraft carrier.

    Oh and in the good old days of the Sea Harrier, the RN only had three squadrons (and one of those was a land-based HQ/training squadron) for their fleet of three aircraft carriers...

  47. SkippyBing Silver badge

    'Oh and in the good old days of the Sea Harrier, the RN only had three squadrons (and one of those was a land-based HQ/training squadron) for their fleet of three aircraft carriers...'

    Of course in those days you could only fit two squadrons (~20 aircraft) of Harriers on a CVS at most. With QEC the upper limit is probably about 48, so it'd be nice to be able to do that when needed.

  48. RPF

    Correct.

    This is about the RAF getting F-35s for their tasks (e.g. long-range interdiction), not the RN's needs.

  49. Frank Gerlach #2

    "the F-35A is probably the most appropriate variant to do that, since no Tornado squadron has ever been expected to fly off an aircraft carrier."

    Hey Lockheed, get your folks a LOGIC class. The F35A will not fly off carriers either.

    For moderate development cost, the Typhoon can be used as a low level ground attack aircraft. Using British Storm Shadow ALCMs, for example.

  50. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Call Milo Minderbender

    I'm sure he'll have a solution such as paying the restless natives to bomb themselves…

    What's that you say? He's tied up Yemen at the moment?

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