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STOVL F-35 in testing  (Source: Lockheed Martin)
Changes in new British carriers may mean no need for STOVL F-35

The Lockheed Martin F-35 program is a vast undertaking and will eventually see the fighter jets sold to countries all around the world. The question at this time is how many of the aircraft that were originally ordered by the various partner countries will actually be purchased and shipped once the aircraft are operational.

The F-35B STOVL version of the fighter has had some serious issues of late that have prevented testing flights and STOVL operations entirely. The latest snag in the program comes as word that partner country Britain is changing its mind on the purchase of F-35B aircraft and going with the conventional F-35C carrier version of the fighter.

The reason for the U.K.'s move to the F-35C version of the aircraft rather than the STOVL version is that plans for building two new carriers are in flux. As it stands, Britain's carriers are not capable of working with allied French and U.S. naval fighters because the British warships lack the catapult and arresting gear for carrier take off and landings required by allied aircraft.

Not surprisingly, this is unwelcome news to Lockheed Martin. "We will work closely with the U.K.'s Ministry of Defence to assess the impact of any reductions to the program and to support their decision,” said the company in a statement to Defense News.

The first hint that Britain might be having second thoughts on the F-35B came this week when the foreword to a new national security strategy written by Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was published. The foreword complained that the two carriers the Royal Navy were set to construct "… [are] unable to operate with the aircraft of our closest allies."

Britain is looking to make defense spending cutbacks and fitting its new carriers with the catapult and arrestor gear that would allow the ship to work with U.S. and French planes would be cheaper and offer more capability. A Ministry of Defense spokesman said that the change to a conventional carrier would make the new carrier, "cheaper, deliver more capability and go further."

Britain is also considering changing the second of the 65,000-ton carriers to an amphibious helicopter role rather than a standard carrier. The second carrier could also be eliminated altogether. The carrier currently under construction was originally designed for catapult and arrestor gear to be added later if needed. The F-35C has already been purchased by Britain in small numbers for test and evaluation. The U.S. Navy is currently the only confirmed buyer of the F-35C.

Britain was set to make a final decision on buying more of the STOVL fighters next year and had originally planned to buy 150 F-35B fighters – the number was later reduced to 138 and could go even lower. Construction of the first of the new British carriers is underway with the ship set to enter service in 2016.

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Not that surprising
By DanNeely on 10/19/2010 7:23:50 PM , Rating: 3
STVOL fighters are inherently less capable than conventional models because they have to devote weight to the STVOL hardware that conventional models can put to fuel and munitions. Lower maximum takeoff weight (5 tons) also reduce capability (less range, less munitions capacity).

The F35B is unlikely to go away though. The USMC is still committed to buying 340 of them; and the amphibs they intend to fly them off of are similar to the current UK/etc mini carriers in that they're too small to support catapult/arrestor gear aircraft.

RE: Not that surprising
By ViroMan on 10/19/10, Rating: -1
RE: Not that surprising
By Justin Time on 10/19/2010 8:12:25 PM , Rating: 2
Steam is simple, reliable and already on the ship.

RE: Not that surprising
By Samus on 10/19/10, Rating: 0
RE: Not that surprising
By MGSsancho on 10/20/2010 4:53:47 AM , Rating: 1
steam less simple than motors and electrical distribution? the steam system has been running for 60 years now. If it had been a problem they would have not been using it this long. carriers also need desalination for its 5000 airmen on-board the craft. really inst an issue since this has all been worked out. temporary storing electrical power to be used in burst for electrical motors in a ultra capacitor system is more dangerous than the steam method. Yes there are all electric ships that are coming online and they are rigged for future laser and rail-gun systems but their still working on them. steam has been around and its already stable.

RE: Not that surprising
By BZDTemp on 10/20/2010 7:02:12 AM , Rating: 2
But the real point to EM launch is how harsh the steam powered catapults are on the aircraft structure.

Are you saying it's not possible to regulate steam pressure or where is that harshness coming from?

I know for a fact they regulate the catapults according to air craft weight and the whole process of putting steam into a piston ensures a gradual delivery of force.

RE: Not that surprising
By EJ257 on 10/20/2010 9:39:22 AM , Rating: 2
Are you saying it's not possible to regulate steam pressure or where is that harshness coming from? I know for a fact they regulate the catapults according to air craft weight and the whole process of putting steam into a piston ensures a gradual delivery of force.

They do regulate the amount of steam they use based on aircraft weight. But...and here is where the harshness comes in...when they push the button to release that steam, all of it gets dumped into the piston in a very short time. With the EM catapult system they are saying it will be a gradual ramp up of force so it pretty much eliminates the initial shock like with a steam catapult.

RE: Not that surprising
By 91TTZ on 10/20/2010 10:26:01 AM , Rating: 2
Steam catapults are cheaper than to a rail gun system. In fact, they're so simple that they've been in reliable use for the last 60 years.

You have people who make aircraft carriers for a living using steam catapults because they're tried and true, and then you have some random poster on a website saying that they're doing it all wrong. Who are we to believe?

Steam is far less simple than an electric motor.

Wrong, the steam is already on the ship regardless of whether they use a steam catapult or not.

Steam is far less reliable than an electric motor.

Really? It's simple, low-tech and is effective. What's bad about that?

The fresh water needed for the steam piston to work must be desalanized, requiring time, energy, and additional maintenance.

Any seagoing vessel is going to have a desalination plant onboard whether they use steam catapults or not.

RE: Not that surprising
By Samus on 10/20/10, Rating: 0
RE: Not that surprising
By 91TTZ on 10/20/2010 12:05:15 PM , Rating: 2
They're looking into it for the upcoming Gerald Ford class carriers, but so far they haven't committed to it. It was on a list of "nice-to-have's" for a new carrier but that idea hasn't come to fruition yet.

It's not that it's a far-fetched idea, it's perfectly doable. But it's probably going to be more expensive than the setup they currently use, and the benefits might not outweigh the costs.

RE: Not that surprising
By SPOOFE on 10/20/10, Rating: -1
RE: Not that surprising
By cannonac on 10/20/2010 6:16:12 AM , Rating: 2
Erm, last time I looked, the RR MT30 was a gas turbine power plant.

They should have selected a nuclear powered carrier. Less costly in the long run and very reliable. Plus, it can provide the steam for the cats if you want to use steam cats instead of EM.

RE: Not that surprising
By xthetenth on 10/20/2010 10:48:31 AM , Rating: 2
Missed a big advantage of nuke plants. They can cruise at top speed to get on station, which is huge when you only have one or two of the things. It's a very large increase in the time it can spend on station, and therefore value. Plus, you can spool up a nuke plant to max power much faster, allowing flight ops to be launched faster, which when combined with a nuke ship's bigger avgas bunkerage makes the air wing much more effective. I'm guessing they were trying to avoid the epic Charles de Gaulle deck stress screwup (why the island is front on those like no decent carrier).

RE: Not that surprising
By Nightraptor on 10/19/2010 8:25:44 PM , Rating: 4
You mean like they are already planning to install in the Gerald Ford class of carriers??

(5th bullet point under "features")

RE: Not that surprising
By marvdmartian on 10/20/2010 9:03:52 AM , Rating: 1
From what I've heard, though, they're having problems with the design of the electro-mechanical catapults on the Ford. It's entirely possible, that it could cause the ship to take longer to build, or that they could even go so far as to switch it back to a steam catapult design, if necessary.
EM catapults are definitely the wave of the future, but not until the navy has a proven design that they are sure will last 50+ years, without fail. Steam catapults have been around for as long as they have, because they're KISS engineering.

RE: Not that surprising
By xthetenth on 10/20/2010 10:52:02 AM , Rating: 2
Plus, the usn has money for r&d. The British are desperately trying to just get two decks so one can be on station, they don't have spare cash.

RE: Not that surprising
By Iaiken on 10/20/2010 9:43:19 AM , Rating: 2
Using such a system is quicker to charge and can be used on a smaller carriers.

The reactors on most nuclear carriers are tailor made to provide 120% of the carriers energy needs as is. Adding in the extra load of electromagnetic catapults to existing carriers is simply not feasible.

RE: Not that surprising
By marvdmartian on 10/20/2010 2:48:57 PM , Rating: 1
Actually, that may not entirely be true....

Currently, with steam catapult systems, the steam is provided by the engineering plants, through a steam riser pipeline, to the catapult receiver (steam tank, in other words). When the catapult is shot off, that steam pressure in the receiver is quickly released, it powers the catapult by shooting the piston down to the other end of it's travel (where it's stopped by a water break), and the steam is lost to atmosphere (which, in turn, means that the fresh water that was created to make that steam is lost).

With an electro-magnetic system, you're substituting for the steam with the "rail gun" piston system, which requires no steam at the catapult, but a large expenditure of electrical power. However, since you're now not wasting that steam (and fresh water), you can now use it to power more or larger steam turbine powered electrical generators, which will then give you the greater electrical power to supply to your catapults.

An added bonus is that you're now not expending more energy to create fresh water (via flash distillation, which requires energy in the form of steam for heat, and electricity to run various pumps), so you have more of that energy at hand to run the steam turbine generators.

Gee....I guess I did learn something, back when I was operating those nuclear reactor plants in my navy days! ;)

RE: Not that surprising
By FITCamaro on 10/19/2010 8:33:44 PM , Rating: 1
The capability they lose with less range and weapons is made up by the fact that it can land where the other two variants cannot.

There are situations where the ability to have the weapons of a jet fighter and the takeoff and landing abilities of a helicopter are needed.

RE: Not that surprising
By Amiga500 on 10/20/2010 2:19:15 AM , Rating: 1
I wouldn't say it is completely compensated for by VTOL.

Landing where you want is useful, but the extra weight making the difference between surviving and being shot down is also not useful.

Does the F-35 have a rough field capability? (Prob not)

I am also interested in FOD sucked into the engine on VTOL...

I would like to think Lockheed Martin would have considered it in design, but knowing Lockheed Martin, they are almost certainly saving that little issue for a follow on work package (worth big $$$$) from your DoD.

RE: Not that surprising
By roadhog1974 on 10/20/2010 5:35:31 AM , Rating: 2
The harriers did not have many problems in the falklands.

The typical problem with vtol is the weight limit on
landing, if you expect to shoot most of your ordinance
anyway this problem goes away.

RE: Not that surprising
By xthetenth on 10/20/2010 11:02:57 AM , Rating: 2
The harriers might not have, but the Argentines weren't really the gold standard of Air Force performance, and the other ships that could've had a better chance if their air cover was faster did have problems, usually bombs, and usually enough to sink them. A faster plane with more fuel (and the two are in many ways tied, since a plane with more fuel can spend more time at higher speed) means the air wing can cover a bigger area and guard its escorts better. This is less of a concern with modern anti-air systems, but still worth considering along with the greater number of targets that can be hit by strike missions. Fuel is a major problem as well as landing weight.

RE: Not that surprising
By TheCommish on 10/19/2010 10:41:08 PM , Rating: 2
kind of ironic though, considering it's Rolls Royce who makes the STOVL lift fan for that variant. The Brits are kind of dissing their own contractor.

RE: Not that surprising
By roadhog1974 on 10/20/2010 5:38:18 AM , Rating: 1
they should just get the rafele.

RE: Not that surprising
By 91TTZ on 10/20/2010 10:33:11 AM , Rating: 2
Why would they do that? It competes with a fighter that they already make, the Eurofighter Typhoon.

RE: Not that surprising
By Nfarce on 10/20/2010 1:13:15 PM , Rating: 3
they should just get the rafele

I assume you mean the Dassault Rafale. Why would the UK want to buy an aircraft that's nearly 25 years old? Yeah it was an impressive aircraft (for French standards anyway) in the 1990s.

But the UK - like the US - has to look forward. We both cannot continue to depend on 25+ year old technologies for air superiority and air to ground capabilities.

RE: Not that surprising
By kattanna on 10/20/2010 11:39:53 AM , Rating: 2
since britian is already planning to scrap their new carriers and be left with 1, does it really matter?

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