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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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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).

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