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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 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.

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