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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: Huh.
By Amiga500 on 10/20/2010 2:09:38 AM , Rating: 4
Sure the MoD are run by a pack of f**king amateurs.

A blind man could see that a CATOBAR carrier is much more flexible and capable than STOBAR or STOVL alternative.

More interestingly, back in the days of the FEFA, the French insisted that there be a carrier capability inbuilt into the future european fighter aircraft.

The Brits insisted otherwise. Cue the French exiting and making the Rafale; the Brits, Germans and Italians going on to the EFA and eventually Eurofighter.

Now look. Unsurprisingly (if you look at the string of chronic MoD decisions down the years), they were wrong yet again.

Oh, and don't even get me started on the latest Nimrod program....

RE: Huh.
By hornetfig on 10/20/2010 3:41:06 AM , Rating: 2
^ well anything to do with government procurement in Britain would be a mess now anyway. And MoD would need to be considering the timing of the availability of the carriers against the F-35C too - both of which are in flux. I mean, you can't have a CATOBAR carrier in trials but only Harriers to fly...

Meanwhile rumours persist on whether Australia will re-form its fixed naval air wing. Maybe they could end up the F-35Bs only export customer. More likely it will have none.

RE: Huh.
By Aloonatic on 10/20/2010 4:05:57 AM , Rating: 2
Oh, and don't even get me started on the latest Nimrod program....
What Nimrod program? :-D

I quite agree that the MoD make mistakes. My father used to work in procurement for the Navy and had all sorts of stories. However, you can point at any government department with a large capital project going on and the same sort of strange mistakes will be being made. When politics and money come together anywhere, conflicts of interest and vested interests lead to strange decisions being made. You see it just about everywhere in government. It's just more obvious in defence as are nearly always a few large capital projects going on, which are ripe for abuse.

At least these changes mean that the carriers will be to some use to someone. With the scrapping of the Harrier, we wont have any planes to put on the new carriers for a while, apparently.

Lots of flat deck with nothing on. Anyone for tennis?

RE: Huh.
By roadhog1974 on 10/20/2010 5:43:58 AM , Rating: 1
The brits dont have nuclear powered carriers so steam
driven catapults are not really a goer.

The EM catapults were an unknown quantity and they
were comfortable with how the harriers operated.

They combination of F35B delays , EM catapult tests
having positive results and a change in government
no doubt prompted a change in thinking.

Going back you could suggest not giving the eurofighter
carrier capability was a mistake given it caused to
french to leave the consortium and now the brits will
have to support two almost entirely different fighter

Easy to second guess 20 year old decisions though.

RE: Huh.
By Amiga500 on 10/20/2010 6:05:18 AM , Rating: 2
Not when they are continually making the same mistakes.

Flexibility (without undue performance sacrifice) always wins in the long run.

RE: Huh.
By xthetenth on 10/20/2010 11:33:54 AM , Rating: 2
Really, every option sucks. EM catapults aren't heavily tested enough (but are still probably the best option), the ski jump limits the range of the planes heavily (about 2/3 the combat radius), and steam cats would likely be problematic to make work with a gas turbine carrier (I think it'd be the first time it'd been done, the Kitty Hawks were still steam turbines). It does seem somewhat likely that they've decided to go with EM catapults, but keeping in mind that they've had the option to go with catapults designed for a long while, they've probably got a workable steam setup. Lead time and all that, it's probably a reaction to F-35 progress, not a shift to EM catapults, though I wouldn't be surprised at all to see the second getting them.

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