Failure of political strategy, lack of vision and poor planning leaves the aircraft carrier project facing more problems

Mar 13, 2012   //   by NavyLookout   //   Articles, blog  //  34 Comments

RA US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet prepares to launch during a test of the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS)

A US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet prepares to launch during a test of the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) that under current plans will supposedly be fitted to the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers Image: US Navy

It has just been revealed that fitting catapults to the new aircraft carriers has been costed at around 1.8 £Billion and the Minister of Defence considers this ‘unaffordable’. Reverting to the F-35B vertical take-off aircraft is being considered. This would conveniently avoid the upfront cost of the modifying the ships (to this government) but ultimately cost the nation more in the long-run because the F-35B will cost more to maintain and is a less capable aircraft. Phillip Hammond is seen as a ‘great accountant’ who has rightly attempted to balance the books at the MoD after the shocking financial mess left by the Brown government. However the ‘short cut’ of lurching back to F-35B would be very unwise and this post attempts to explain why in simple terms.

The Royal Navy’s 2 new aircraft carriers are currently under construction and were originally designed to carry the F-35B  Lightning STVOL (Short Take Off, Vertical Landing) aircraft, that would operate much like the now defunct Harrier. They do not require assistance to take off from the ship other than a simple ski-ramp. However among the many foolish decisions taken by the current government in the October 2010 defence review, one good decision was made. It was decided to order the conventional take off F-35C instead, this offers many advantages (discussed below) but would require the ship to be significantly modified with catapults to assist take off and arrestor wires for landing. As we have mentioned before, it is something of a miracle that the carrier programme, cornerstone of the Royal Navy’s future, survives at all. There is little understanding amongst politicians, public or media about the major advantages offered by carriers and the project continues, albeit never far from crisis, mainly for its employment benefits and because BAe Systems were wise enough to lock the government into a bullet-proof contract.

Why we should stick to ‘cats and traps’

  • Because the F-35B is required to take off vertically it is an inherently more complex and expensive aircraft than the conventional F-35C. This makes it heavier, able to carry less fuel and weapons over less distance and will require more time and money expended to maintain it. In addition to the extra upfront cost, over the lifetime of the aircraft this additional maintenance cost may exceed the cost of modifying the ships.
  • The concept of STOVL was brilliantly pioneered by Britain and the Royal Navy worked miracles with its relatively small force of Harriers, punching above its weight, maritime airpower on a shoestring budget. However the need for STOVL was dictated by the small size of the Invincible class carriers. Recognition that the Invincibles were small and restrictive led to the order for the new ‘full size’ carriers and this makes STOVL unnecessary.  There are some operational benefits to STOVL – less weather dependent and able to land on other platforms but given the choice, conventional aircraft offer far more power.
  • Catapults and arrestor gear would allow the RN to acquire a fully balanced airgroup including E2D Hawkeye-type AEW Aircraft. These are much more capable than the basic helicopter AEW aircraft currently operated by the RN. There is also a need for an EA-18G ‘Growler’-type Electronic warfare aircraft as well as the possibility of air-air refuelling aircraft that could operate from a conventional carrier.
  • In future, major operations will almost certainly be with our allies; the US and French navies. With conventional carriers the RN would be far better equipped to work with them, aircraft sharing decks and standard operating procedures.
  • In the event the US government loses patience and axes the F-35 completely (or the programme delivers a sub-standard aircraft) then a conventional carrier would allow the RN a wide choice of alternative aircraft . There is no VSTOL alternative.

F-35: expensive, delayed and unproven or F-18 Super Hornet: affordable, reliable and available?

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II, bu...

The F-35 Lightning - 'eye wateringly' expensive. Image via Wikipedia

The F-35 has a long way to go to overcome design issues including problems with its stealth features, a tail-hook that won’t catch the arrestor wire and electrical and structural problems. It remains to be seen how long they will take to fix. Most worryingly, no one can give a final unit cost for the F-35 at present but it will be upwards of £85 million each. This staggering cost raises questions about whether the RN will ever be able to afford to buy enough aircraft to field a credible air group while having reserves, training and testing aircraft. It is also likely that HMS Queen Elizabeth maybe completed before the F-35 is in production and we could have the embarrassment of owning the world’s largest helicopter carrier. A controversial but practical solution would be to delay the purchase of the F-35 and buy, lease or borrow F-18 Super Hornets, which are far cheaper, available and proven. Although they don’t match the promised capabilities of the F-35, will remain effective against most adversaries for the next 20 years. The US Navy obviously thinks so and plans to keep operating them until 2035 while Australia has already made the sensible decision to buy Super Hornets now instead of waiting indefinitely for F-35. It is even possible the Super Hornet could take off from the carriers without catapaults, should the long-term plan be to revert to VSTOL F35-Bs!

Funding problem solved: dispense with some RAF Tornados?

The case for carrier-based aircraft over land-based aircraft is overwhelming on both cost and flexibility ground as this was clearly demonstrated by operation off Libya. Before the 2010 defence review. it was widely expected the government would axe the 135 GR4 Tornados (saving £8.9bn over 5 years including upgrading engines). Instead at the last-minute, the Harrier fleet and HMS Ark Royal were axed for reasons that have never been properly explained. This crazy decision only ‘saved’ around £1.5 Billion and the folly was immediately exposed by the expensive Tornado circus flying UK epic round-trips to Libya when Ark Royal’s Harriers would have done the job at a fraction of the cost and effort. These Tornados “boring holes in the sky” over eastern England become more irrelevant to UK defence with every passing day. Reliant on epic air-air refuelling flights and the co-operation of foreign governments for over-flight and basing rights before thay can be on the scene of any likely action. Disposing of the some of the Tornados, cold war relics designed for low-level bombing (it was never even very effective in its intended role) and cancelling the engine upgrades would save more than enough to cover the cost of modifying the carriers. The government must see past RAF mis-information and put the carrier project front and centre of defence policy. Fund the RN properly to build and operate both carriers, fit EMALS catapults & arrestor gear and purchase an effective air group fully under RN control. Then the nation will have 2 flexible & powerful assets that offer real value for money over what could be a 50-year lifetime.

34 Comments

  • About the only possible constructive solution to this disaster is the US DoD/govt stepping in and ‘making the UK govt an offer it can’t refuse’:

    ->>> the US paying for- or providing loans for- the expedited installation of cats and traps to BOTH of the UK’s undergoing construction ‘big deck’ aircraft carriers…

    AND

    ->>> the US lend-leasing to the UK sufficient numbers of new-build F-18 E/F naval fighter/bombers (with AESA radars) to FULLY equip BOTH of the UK’s planned carriers… with additional F-18s provided to the UK for training, redundancies, etc…

    • I could not agree more…….

      Propulsion, armour, automation, configuration for aircraft, choice of aircraft, escorts – how much more could the MoD have got wrong?

  • Regarding the BAE/RAF propagander. I’ve been told that with BAE saying the catapult arrestor fit will cost more than what is quoted, is to make sure the RN has less capability with the B spec and no room for acommadating other types of aircraft. This gives BAE what they with a more expensive and less capable aircraft, and the RAF get a potential replacement for the Typhoon and maintain themselves as the primary form of air defence. This has been said already, but is not seen as bad value for taxpayers money, unlike the MARs ships if they were built here. So what we are potentially getting is this, a less capable aircraft and bad value for money but the Government could be suckered into this (unless the are vested business interests here that want this to happen) and the MARs ships that could be a great spur for UK shipbuilding longer term, but because there is less profit for BAE, but can be built competitively in the UK, is to be built abroad under the main excuse of value for money and savings. It’s just crazy. BAE like the big numbers.

  • One should ask if we need the carriers? To me i would rather have had 12 Type 45′s and the 8th Astute class sub. 2 replacements for HMS Ocean eg the BAe Concept LHD. A lot less cheaper than the carriers and a lot more firepower. And the Type 45′s could be fully kitted out, rather than fitted for.
    Lets face it the QE class carriers were only ordered to keep one Mr G Brown in Westminster? His constituency is right next to Rosyth?

    • Ships die without air cover, a carrier takes the umbrella with the fleet.

      As an expeditionary airbase for the tasks we carry out in the post-Imperial world, carriers are the logical choice. The example is the US for whom the essence of their power overseas is expressed most clearly by the catapult carrier force.

      • If that is the case why have we not ordered an interceptor/air superiority fighter? TheF-35 is really designed because of its stealth capabilities for air defense penetration and for delivering precision guided munitions.

    • Of course you need carriers Dave, preferably with 12 Type 45s, 8 Astutes and 2 Ocean replacements. The carriers requirement go back to 1998 and various sites around the Country were mooted for final assembly and integration, Cammell Laird, Swan Hunter, Nigg, Belfast, Inchgreen etc. I don’t think a decision was made back then as to how and create jobs next to Brown’s constituency. It was not a defence review titled ‘The Strategic, How to keep Brown’s Seat Safe, Review’. Much of the building is being carried out around the Country from Appledore (Babcock), Portsmouth to Cammell Laird, A & P Tyne, Govan, and Rosyth (Babcock).

      Although I would question the effeciency of building large pieces of ship hundreds of miles away from each other instead of a close cluster, say North East England and Rosyth, or North West with Cammell’s, Barrow, Belfast and Govan, many yards have had some work out of this.

      I feel these ships could of been a great opportunity to show case UK industry. The carrier size, cost v capability look to compare well to other carriers, even after official meddling which has increased the costs.

      • “I don’t think a decision was made back then as to how and create jobs next to Brown’s constituency.”
        A lot of people do.
        Also now we are with out the 12 type 45′s the question rises will will be able to send the carriers out to see? As you go on a third out at sea, thrid in tranning and a thrid in refit, at any one time. This will mean more cuts elsewhere.

        • In all fairness, a lot of people are wrong. I don’t think Brown was even a friend of the military until recently. The same as just getting it, about real industry, when for along time it was just the banks and supermarkets. The fact remains, defence is woefully under financed. Black hole came about because of much under funding. I’m sure other department s with their own waste would of been found out if they had not had so much money thrown at them.

          I do fear we may go through this ignorance again with the present lot, then when they get it, it’s all too late.

    • Mr G Brown ensured we had the supercarriers, given the cancellation provisions, even as he reduced the defence expenditure!

      The reversion to CATOBAR was the only sensible provision in the entire 2010 SDSR shambles…..

      If we spent a sensible proportion of the Govt budget and/or GDP (and sorted out the shambles of MoD procurement, particularly BAe running rings around the MoD) on national defence, particularly if the banks had been properly regulated, we could easily have 2 x nuclear CATOBAR supercarriers + 12 Type 45s and an 8th Astute hunter killer.

      But a society gets the politicians it deserves.

  • really it all boils down to priorities,
    we have a goverment [labour][concervative][lib dem]
    that gives more attention to outsiders , than to their own country,
    my opinion is, that our goverments have either been bought or gives loyalty to a higher authority.you guys may dismis this as rubbish, but what kind of goverment is it, that tells us we are broke, but gives more money to europe, agoverment that cuts services to the public and cuts our military, but then gives 12 billion to overseas aid, that same goverment cannot give us up to 2 billion for cats and traps for the carriers, because we have no money, yet again gives 10 billion to the IMF,
    please gentlemen, dont piss down my back, and tell me it raining,
    its a bloody disgrace, our military is falling apart, because we simply have no money,
    yet we constently give billions to europe or the IMF.
    i say, at the next election,take your votes away from these corupt incompetent fools and give UKIP a chance, unlike our goverment,, they have promised 3 carriers and over 70 more ships, more planes and more troops, or look at it this way, they cant do any worse, but may, just may do a lot better, and give us back a military to be proud of,
    just a simple thought .

    • You also have to challenge the whole way in which all governments try to run a simultaneous jobs and defence policy – but you can’t serve two masters.

      So then you need to ask who wins that battle for priorities almost every time? – the MoD, or BAE?

      BAE is predominantly an aerospace company – given the choice they in turn will back the airforce over the Navy – see the linked article for a fuller explanation:
      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/04/17/f35_carriers_plot_by_bae_and_raf/

      But fundamentally, if we had the willpower to sustain a credible military force, we would make smart, consistent, commercial choices on what to buy and what to support the building of in the UK. Arguably the forces themselves would make the best commercial/strategic choices, rather than the MoD. If UKIP want to really get the forces vote they should re-establish the Army and Navy as independent budget holders, who would then fund the RAF and other support organisations.

  • I have been following the progress of the new aircraft carrier project for a long while now, and the more i see of a succession of governments meddling in the design of and cutting costs, instead of allowing the RN to get on with the job of settling upon a design which best suits their needs the more I am reminded of the disaster which befell HMS Captain. I hope that they are destined for a better fate.

  • First F-35B then F-35C. And now it would appear the english government are now lurching back to the B variant as cats and traps are too costly. No wonder Mays Airforces Monthly magazine are calling it ‘Carry On Carrier’!

    This brings me neatly to another article in the magazine regarding defense of the Falklands. When I read it I did a double take thinking I was reading the Sun or the Daily Mail as it was full of chest thumping .The mag thinks four Typhoons will be enough ‘and it wouldn’t take long’ for further RAF jets to arrive from england together with ‘Royal Navy….reinforcements’.

    OK the Typhoon is a relativley potent machine and would give the Argentina AF some trouble. But there is more than one way to skin a gringo. As is known argentina is trying to get hold of some new gen subs. These could be used to get past the Frigate or two on patrol,offload special forces with anti-material rifles for a Typhoon avionics bay smashing party. With the Typhoons reduced to 2 or worse the A4′s ,Mirages ,Daggers and the rest can then attack. The jet with most chance of getting a shiny Typhoon kill mark just below the the cockpit would be I think the A4 ‘Scooter’. With upgraded chaff,flares and electronic jamming they could perhaps spoof most of the surviving Typhoons AA missiles away to allow a close in dogfight where the aircrafts small size and agility would give it a chance. At this point the Frigates would be unable to do much to assist as their radars will be telling them they have lots of sea-skimming, supersonic in-comings.

    With the ‘Argys’ making ground the late night pasty eating sessions in No.10 will be getting fraught. So the go ahead to send reinforcements will be given.

    And this is where britain shall come unstuck. Flying a Typhoon from UK to the south atlantic will a long tiring job. Unless Ascension is still ok for a quick stop Vimto ,kit kat, refuel and go. How much
    weapon pylon space will be given over to external tankage? Will the VC-10,Tristars and leaky A330 be able to provide a good inflight refuelling service with out getting too close to the action?Will typhoon pilots be like the Luftwaffe of 70 years ago? One eye on the enemy ,one eye on the fuel gauge? As the old adage goes military power decreases with distance and without carriers to carry all that is required the UKs power will decrease and then some. And as for RN boats comeing to the rescue well ,what boats it has are over stretched all over the world. Only a token force could be assembled and that would need typhoon escort which would stretch the RAF to breaking point.Defeat would soon follow.

    Sorry to paint such a picture but britain has cut what it needs to survive. It needs carriers/frigates ASAP. And if F-35 won’t cut it then F-18E/F will or maybe a Sea Gripen? Give me access to Linkoping, 3-4 years and 3 old model gripens(2 for mods into naval demo varinat and the 3rd into ground test rig to hammer airframe,U/C and arrestor hook mods)

    and I could do it. Sometimes I wonder what britain could do for the all money wasted on so-called ‘art’ ,over payed footballers,MPs and that over-hyped sports day due to take place later this year. The irony is with out a navy that sports day could be disrupted by a terrorist attack that could have been stopped by hulls in water and jets flying cover from carriers.

    When will britain wake up? If you look at the papers they are more concerned with Simon Cowells love life, any naval news aka F-35 fiasco is on the inside pages.

    • Hi Edward

      I suspect that given the willpower Argentina could invade the Falklands, the state of their equipment is secondary. But for Britain to exercise its territorial rights from 8000 miles away and take them back without a carrier seems fantastical as you say.

      If I was a smart Argentinian I’d know that it will be 2020+ at the earliest before Britain has the possibility of getting a carrier in service (I’d also wait and let the gringos find any oil before I moved in …)

      The reason that this website has appeared is that at least some people in this country think the same as you and believe that Britain needs to re-awaken to the necessity of global air-reach in a globalised world.

      It is in the interests of the US for friendly “neighbours” to have carrier power and to be able to work in tandem with the USN. The prospects of the UK Navy getting useful aircraft to do this though are severely challenged though by the desire of our air force to control naval aviation (and kill it if they could).

      In the US the air arm of each service has a defined role and knows how it should work with the others – we need air-minded people State-side to speak on behalf of British naval aviation

      For another view check out: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/04/17/f35_carriers_plot_by_bae_and_raf/

  • The PM will announce the decision tomorrow I believe and I doubt it will be good news

  • The main falling block in all this is the cost of the f35 (whatever variant).
    The us under sectary for the us navy has publically stated that the mod estimates are wrong for emals.

    I would maintain the cat and trap and go for F18E/F at least for the first few years of commission. they would be approximately one half the price of a F35 and would allow several things to happen:

    1:it would allow a conventional AEW platform, E-2D,giving greater time on station and better detection ranges over rotary types.

    2:give the us armed forces time to iron out the numerous problems with the F35 design.

    3: Australia and possibly Italy are likely to pull out of the f35 therefore pushing the unit price even higher and making it entirely possible that the f35b version might be canceled. (Gates gave Lockheed 2 years to put it right and that time is almost up).

    • You put your finger on the nub of the problem – bravo!

      What’s important is the ability to deliver bombs and missiles to target – the choice of aircraft is secondary ….

      There is obviously only one culprit here – because we started with a vertical take off concept, aircraft selection was a joint decision with the Royal Aircraft Force (controlled by their puppet-masters BAE Systems).

      The Royal Aircraft Force exists to provide the shiniest and newest fast jets to the clan which run it (fast jet pilots). Important to fly troops over minefields and save lives …? WRONG – I need a 5th generation super-fighter because they’ve just been delivered to my local aircraft dealership and I want one now! Oh, and my American cousin has one so I need to have one too.

      The task is to protect the fleet and attack land targets – this underlines why the Royal Aircraft Force needs to be disbanded – it’s existence distorts all rational decision making.

    • F18 is not really an answer. It is a US aircraft which will come with all sorts of intellectual property rights issues. It will not support our industrial base. (Note for a 5% investment we get approx 20% workshare in F35. I have no doubt that this is an imbalance the US are desperately seeking to address and probably will achieve this if we change our minds again). In regarding its vintage, it will not last out to 2040/50 so we will have to buy a replacement (F35!) anyway whilst giving up our current strong partnership position. Lastly the cost of integrating a new aircraft with all its encumbent training and payloads for a short term fix is hardly a sensible idea. Granted the US would probably backflip as it will effectivly remove UK aerospace as a threat and destroy Typhoons position in the marketplace in one fell swoop.
      If you want to make the case, it has to be more holistic in its approach and not simply RN vs the RAF. It is maintenance of our industrial base to deliver a war winning cost effective global platform. Only the carrier delivers a system of air defence, air indiction and air delivery of men and material anywhere. Without it we lose our expeditionary capability and the the justifcation for the size of all 3 services.

      As sailors I still belive the F35C is a better option, as it will tie the Sqns to a maritime platforms. The training burden alone will mean you will need a permanently embarked airwing. A STOVL platforms means they can be shore based and operate on ships only for discrete tasks. ie a Joint asset deployed when MODs sees fit. whilst this will be seen as more flexible, it is not beneficail if we are to establish effective carrier strike and will reduce the carrier as a mobile runway rather than as a integrated fighting platform.

      • @IOW

        I’m not suggesting outright that we should ditch the F-35 Carrier Variant … merely that I in no way trust the motivation of the RAF when it comes to equipment selection and prioritisation.

        Apart from carpet-bombing German civilians the RAF has never had any truly independent tasks (in WW1 the Army ran a unified air defence system using aircraft and AA guns).

        Sadly I fear that all you predict as regards the employment of the carrier(s) as “Joint Air Base Queen Elizabeth” will come true.

        The RAF do not hesitate to put themselves above the other services & the national task – maybe the F-18 is a price worth paying if that is what is required to put the Royal Aircraft Force out of business – for that is the only way we will achieve the balanced long-distance power projection capability you describe.

  • How long does it take this Government to apply plain common sense
    and agree on a cat.catch system once and for all

  • The issue of F35C vs F35B isn’t that the former is better. Certainly the F35C carries a larger payload and has greater range, but firstly we don’t have the munitions in our current or future inventory for that extended payload. Secondly isn’t that range curtailed by the fact that the aircraft will have to have a larger reserve before landing as they need the full clearance of the deck to land ( ie awaiting space for an arrestor wire or in dealing with a deck obstruction). In the past this was covered by a Buccaneer with a refuel pod……. another expense.

    Whilst I feel that if you are going to build a large ship you should build and pay for the most effective aerial systems ie AEW, UAVs rotor craft and Fast Air otherwise you just end up with a racehorse and no saddle, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the C variant is the best balance of investment.

    • The debate on carrier- versus vertical-landing variant is crucial on two counts.

      Firstly, as you rightly point out, its not just the jets themselves which are based from the carriers, but above all the Air Defence Radar (AEW) aircraft too (think about this when the 30th anniversaries of the sinkings of the Falklands ships come around in the next days) .

      Go for catapults and you have the possibility of long endurance fixed wing aircraft (plus anti-submarine, plus cargo). Go with vertical take-off, and you’re looking at helicopters (short endurance for every mission).

      If the investment is made in a whole supporting suite of vertical landers don’t imagine that the Treasury will allow a switch to catapults later.

      Secondly, we all need to start thinking like the RAF. They don’t care whether an aircraft is good, bad or indifferent, only if it has “Royal Air Force” painted on the side.

      They desperately want the vertical landing variant – because then they can hog all the airframes to themselves as dual-use land/sea aircraft (like they did with the Harrier). If the aircraft doesn’t work, then even better, because that will be a ticking time bomb, undermining the long-term survival of the carriers.

      The Navy have to realise they are in a fight to the death with the RAF – they will lose more ships to RAF shenanigans than to any external foe. The fight will only end when the Navy realise they have to clutch the RAF in a death-embrace, reform the Royal Naval Air Service and re-absorb the RAF, and the homeland defence task, back to where it belongs.

      So we have to agitate for the carrier-variant. The RAF sunk the first Queen Elizabeth carrier in the 1960s, in what alternative universe could they not want to do the same again?

      “Fool me once, shame on you … fool me twice, shame on ….”

  • This manufactured crisis has the thumb-prints of the RAF Propaganda Department all over it.

    A few months before RN personnel are about to start training on catapults the penny has dropped that unless they play too and invest time in learning the new skills now they won’t get to play later, and the status of having the most advanced jet aircraft will pass to the Navy.

    The carrier variant requires constant training to maintain those skills (hence the need to start building up a body of expertise in those skills now). The vertical/short take-off variant allows the RAF to carry on controlling the use of the jets, and to claim they are dual-use land/sea.

    So the RAF plant stories about how the Carrier Variant doesn’t work, and try to use the inevitable cost escalation to steer the debate back to their terms.

    As Woodward recently wrote, the Navy didn’t make enough of the Falklands, and assumed the public would understand the role the Navy played and support it going forward. He and those who followed him were guilty of gross naivety – they did not realise they were facing the fiercest enemy of rational and effective British military power of the past 80 years – the RAF.

    Imagine in the 1400′s the geeks of the nascent artillery manage to argue that they are guardians of a special technology which is not understood by the naval or military forces and that a third, independent force needs to be protected to guard this technology and ensure that England is a leader.

    Reasonable so far … but then imagine that their empire building once started knows no bounds and they end up demanding control of cannon installed on ships and used on land. Imagine that they end up in a position where they say the answer to warfare is a bigger and bigger gun, and that if we can only build one which can shell Paris from London we can dispense with the other two forces.
    Thinks this is dumb? – then so was the rationale behind Bomber Command, and its current descendants keep the flame.

    People have to understand, it’s not the Royal AIR Force – its the Royal AIRCRAFT Force.

    There are two environments (land, sea) where nations can take and hold territory – technology is the servant of that military need, not the master.

    • Of course the logical thing to do is to disband the RAF and gain from the efficiencies of splitting the RAF’s role between the
      RN and the Army Air Corps. We would save on the hundreds of senior
      RAF officers as well!

      The Libya campaign demonstrated just how expensive and impractical the RAF is in terms of projecting military force anywhere aborad.

      This is the type of innovative thinking we need to get the best out of the defence budget.

  • Surely thou the F35B will be better in air to air combat as like the Harrier it will very agile due to the fact it can hover, this will also make it better for air to ground as it will be able to hover over its target. The F35B will also be more flexible as it will be able to take off from any where and it will be able to be used by the RAF better. However most importantly if we get the F35B the RN will be able to use both carriers as aircraft carriers not one as a commando carrier as only one is going to be converted to cats and traps. While yes there are disadvantages I think the advantages out way them.

  • God. This is turning into a bloody farce (it has for years anyway). What should of been a great advert for Britain, the Royal Navy, and in particular, British Shipbuilders, has turned into this mess. Who’s fault is it. Not the builders, but they will be blamed. It was all too easy for this to be succesful, but we don’t want that, do we. Jesus. Funny, even around 1999-2001 people were saying this will turn out to be a complete cock up. I said, as long as there are no delays and we just do it, it will be a great triumph for British industry, especially after the QM2 betrayal.

  • Steam Catapults are out of the question as has already been stated. But also,going back to the late 90s, future RN carrier were envisaged to carry electromagnetic systems, and their (CVF) design reflect that with it’s systems and adaptability. This system was already under development and shared with the US back then and with ConverteamUK proving the technology too. You just would not entertain anything else other than this system.

    Just get on with the job and build the ships. They are designed to last a long time and this money when looking back will be insignificant.

  • Wondering why the discussion here is only about the F-18. I believe we also have pilots placed within the French Navy testing the Rafale for possible lease at the moment?

  • I totally agree with keeping the F-35C but in reality at least actually having aircraft on the cards is a good thing.

    I don’t think using the F 18 would solve any problems this is because if hostilities ever arose with China or Russia the Chengdu J-20 or Sukhoi T-50 stealth fighters would shoot the F-18 out the sky, you have to think the lifespan of these aircraft are 20 -30 years the F-18 could well be obsolete by then.This ignores the fact if Boeing will continue to provide maintenance services for just two nations who are buying relatavley small amounts of airframes.

    The problem with scrapping the Tornado is it stretches the RAF even further limiting RAF operations for example without the Tornado we would have a limited air to ground capability, as the alternative the Eurofighter (Which was not designed for air to ground warfare) carries a lighter load .

    Ultimately I am glad we scraped the harriers as an RAF force NOT the fleet air arm over the Tornadoes.This is because the Tornadoes have a longer range heavier load and generally can defend themselves in Air to Air combat than the GR9 Harriers could.

    • Did you realise that the Harriers were meant to be JOINT Force Harrier ? … No? …. that’s because “JFH” was another RAF masterstroke, a stealthy takeover of the Navy’s fixed wing assets from 1998 onwards.

      First the new force is located on an RAF station
      Then they conveniently decide not to upgrade the engines of the Sea Harrier, pushing it to early retirement, and stripping the Navy of organic fighter cover.
      Then they hog the remaining ground attack Harriers, such that they end up away from ships for years on end.

      The day they scrapped the Sea Harrier was when the battle was lost. Did you think the RAF had more than crocodile tears last year when the last planes went?

      The RAF can only be trusted to act for it’s own narrow interests – their careers and continued survival in a world of democratised airpower (drones) are more important than lives of sailors at sea.

  • Why do we not just use the old steam powered cats?

    They worked fine in the past and are (by comparison with the new technology) cheap as chips.

    • Steam catapaults are out of the question because the UK carriers do not have steam boilers. The EMALS system developed in the US is now ready to go to sea and offers great advantages – more controllable, less stress on aircraft and it take up much less space than steam catapaults. In fact EMALS is probably cheaper than the complex pipework and valves required for steam cats which require a lot of maintenance and are certainly not ‘cheap as chips’. The US has chosen EMALS for its new carriers even though they have a nuclear steam plant.

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