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Govt U-turn on the F-35


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Technologically the Russian aerospace industry has suffered from poor investment since the collapse of the USSR and that's been becoming pretty apparent in the past few years. Russian candidates were the first to go in the Indian MMRCA. In general, they have started to ween themselves off of Russian equipment because of the issues they have with it. In a whole host of other competitions, Russian equipment experienced very quick exits. Various export customers are not pleased with their orders. And the Russians themselves are realizing this. In areas like avionics, radars and they are rapidly being left behind by American and European designs. Its not like the glory days of the 1980s... Russian kit just isn't the same level as it once was.

Indeed. Russian avionics still lag some way behind Western stuff. See the comment from the Russian AF general at MAKS last year where he said the Su-35's "systems" were still inferior to those of Western aircraft. It'd cost a fortune to integrate Western avionics, at which point we may as well design a totally new aeroplane.

There's also the awful reputation the Russian manufacturers have for technical support.

Let's just forget about the T-50 for a minute and consider the next best thing the Russians are making - the Su-35BM. How long have they had to develop this now? And it's still not in service? All the same reasons I stated above for the Super Hornet being a poor choice for an air force looking for something to keep them on the front line for the next 30 years apply to the Su-35BM... it's a souped up 30 year old airframe but this time lumbered with Russian engines and avionics :wacko:

Now considering the delays and problems the Russians are having getting the Su-35BM into service, what are the implications for the T-50? :unsure:

Edited by Pielstick
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But the 35C is even more capable than the Harrier and will be cheaper to purchase and operate than the 35B so that's not a great argument in its favour.

Without a doubt the F-35C should end up having a greater payload/range capacity and greater aerodynamic performance than the F-35B. The problem is the B looks like it will be ready quite a while sooner than the C.

I believe that's more to do with the USN's priorities than any inherent difficulty in operating the 35C. Certainly it's been launched from a catapult shore side and they're already working on fixes to the tailhook so it's not as if the issues involved aren't yet known.

I was simply pointing out the F-35B is further down the development road than the F-35C in the sense that is has actually gone to sea - quite an important step for a carrierborne aircraft! You can't be sure what problems will arise until you send it to sea, ultimately the whole point of sea trials.

The Super Hornet does though offer tanking and ECM options that the F-35 doesn't, currently there's not even provision for fitting buddy pods to it as the US have no requirement. The F-35B may even have less growth room than the SH as it's already on a fine line in terms of thrust/weight. The other advantage is that SH is cheaper, there are some rough figures out there indicating there's a ~$1Billion saving by buying SH and fitting both carriers with EMALS. Also worth remembering the USN sees the F-35 a complimentary to the SH, not supplanting it.

As I said originally, the Super Hornet is a souped up 30 year old airframe. There's no way Boeing can squeeze much more out of that airframe or the F414 engines. If you seriously want to have a fighter that can still fly on the front line in 20 years when Russia and China are exporting the T-50 and J-20 then the Super Hornet is not a good choice. It's already at the back of the pack when it comes to aerodynamic performance.

The USN carrier work up time is also due to the size of the air group, this isn't parking six jets on a CVS for a couple of months it's about getting 80 aircraft operating from a deck in a safe sustainable manor for months on end. With the size of air group planned for CVF the work up time is going to be longer no matter what aircraft is used if you want to use the capability properly. Also worth pointing out they're not just making sure the pilots can take off and land, it's about getting the whole ship's company up to speed, deck handlers, engineers, flyco etc. etc.

There's no doubt training an air wing for CATOBAR ops is far more demanding and time consuming than STOVL ops. Maintaining a cadre of carrier qualified CATOBAR pilots will be a much greater drain on resources than a cadre of STOVL pilots.

Ultimately this is the root cause of the current indecision, some quite frankly barking estimates have been emerging for the cost of converting the PoW. The kit is ~$500 million, how that's ballooned to ~£1.5 billion to have it fitted and installed makes no sense unless someone's employing supermodels to do the actual welding. This is making some people nervous about the cost of CVF, hence the head flapping and talk of reversion to the F-35B, however all that does is delay the problem because the increased price of the B dwarfs the increased cost of the catapult equipped carrier.

Look at the record of defence procurement we have. BAE Systems have the MoD in their pocket. Whatever BAE wants the MoD will ultimately pay. Now there is a huge risk in putting all our eggs in the EMALS basket - it is an unproven technology. I reckon the powers that be reckon that risk is too great to take on given the inability of the defence budget to absorb any unforeseen problems - and let's face it there will be lots.

There's also the wee matter of the cost to maintain EMALS which isn't going to be cheap.

Also I believe the US will be the first to use the system for the Gerald Ford which should be operational by 2015, this should allow the UK to adopt any modifications before the PoW is operational sometime next decade.

You're right there, the Americans should have it in service before us, but it's still a big risk for us to commit to an unproven technology that will be absolutely critical to the operation of CVF and effectively dictates our aircraft choice.

Edited by Pielstick
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You're right there, the Americans should have it in service before us, but it's still a big risk for us to commit to an unproven technology that will be absolutely critical to the operation of CVF and effectively dictates our aircraft choice.

I think the problem is we have two choices, both of which rely on unproven technology. Either the F-35B, the failure of which means we have two rather useless carriers, or EMALS, the failure of which means we have two rather useless carriers, unless the F-35B succeeds.

The F-35B's future is far from secure at this stage with the budgetary pressures the DoD is going through and the various problems the programme has, not that the problems themselves are exceptional in the development of a modern combat aircraft. But if something has to give for the programme as a whole to succeed then the B is the obvious choice to go, the numbers needed are small and the USMC could operate Cs without a massive change in their doctrine.

The advantage with the EMALS route is that you're not tying the future of the carrier to a specific aircraft, if F-35C is available we can take that, but if it proves unaffordable there is the fall back option of Super Hornet or Rafale both of which are cheaper, work and could be in service before the carrier rather than five years after.

Still at least the US defence industry's record on developing multi-service airframes from a common core is sound, <cough>F-111B</cough>

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As you point out, it's far from an ideal situation.

F-35B....

The Good:

It doesn't need EMALS! It can potentially be in service sooner than the F-35C. It's cheaper and easier to maintain a cadre of STOVL pilots than CATOBAR pilots for carrier ops. We could have both carriers in use.

The Bad:

It's less potent than its siblings. It will very likely be more expensive to maintain. USMC aviation doesn't have a huge amount of influence in the States.

F-35C...

The Good:

It's more potent than the F-35B. The USN have a huge amount of political clout that we can ride on the back of.

The Bad:

We'd be betting the farm on an unproven EMALS. We'd only get one carrier capable of operating the aircraft. It's probably going to take longer to get into service than the B.

Decisions, decisions.

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Stoopid question time:

Why does the F-35C need EMALS to be launched? If there is concern over the technology, why not use proven steam catapults?

What catapult technology is the French using for their carrier? And why can't this be used on the British carriers?

Jens

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Stoopid question time:

Why does the F-35C need EMALS to be launched? If there is concern over the technology, why not use proven steam catapults?

What catapult technology is the French using for their carrier? And why can't this be used on the British carriers?

Jens

To consistently generate enough steam for jet ops you need a nuclear reactor. Once it was decided UK would not go into nuclear powered carriers steam cats were not practical. CDG is a nuclear powered ship.

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To consistently generate enough steam for jet ops you need a nuclear reactor. Once it was decided UK would not go into nuclear powered carriers steam cats were not practical. CDG is a nuclear powered ship.

Steam is sure needed for a steam catapult, but not necessarily from a nuclear reactor. The problem with the CVF is that being gas-turbine powered, they will need a dedicated steam generation equipment, adding to the cost and complexity. Plenty of older carriers had steam catapults of the same power as those used by the nuclear carriers but the steam came from good old boilers. Even the US Navy kept non nuclear carriers in service until not too long ago, and these could operate the same aircrafts of their nuclear powered younger sisters.

Edited by Giorgio N
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Steam is sure needed for a steam catapult, but not necessarily from a nuclear reactor. The problem with the CVF is that being gas-turbine powered, they will need a dedicated steam generation equipment, adding to the cost and complexity. Plenty of older carriers had steam catapults of the same power as those used by the nuclear carriers but the steam came from good old boilers. Even the US Navy kept non nuclear carriers in service until not too long ago, and these could operate the same aircrafts of their nuclear powered younger sisters.

I have had this discussion with both FAA and RAF pilots who have done exchange tours with the USN about possible conventional carrier ops post Invincible class. True it doesn't have to be a nuclear reactor to generate steam but my understanding is that separate boilers to produce steam were not deemed efficient enough to support combat sortie rates of a modern CAG - to do that you use a nuclear reactor or you need new tech such as EMALS. That was a determining factor in original CVF options. Answering Jens's question "what technology are the French using" - nuclear reactor to generate sufficient steam.

Edited by ghb180658
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The game changer is that the US EMALS electomagnetic launcher has succesfully undergone its live testing with the fleet of USN carrier aircraft including the F-35C and the the initial component are being installed in the new US CVN CV-78 USS Gerald Ford which is due in service in about 2016. The system works and the hardware will be debugged by the time we would be ready to use it on PoW. The US have already said they would cover the cost risks of the UK catapults for PoW and the price of the EMALS and AAG (Advanced Arresting Gear) are known and come in below the expected price, whats not known is what the exact cost of the adaptation to the design and engineering required to fit the equipment by the ACA.

Personally i suspect the £1.8 billion price tag being banded about by the press is to convert QE which would cost more to modify blocks already built, delay delivery and delay the build and assembly of HMS Prince of Wales which will trigger additional payments to the ACA. Because its involved in a current contract, the ACA and MoD are keeping quiet about those costs but i get the feeling once resolved one way or another the details will come up and another stink will be raised as a result.

The press reporting on the issue is bleedin aweful, defence correspondents are utter useless, QE will be delivered in 2016 as is (unless it is decided to convert her first) and will conduct 2-3 years of sea trials, PoW would be delivered in 2018 if unmodified or nearer to 2020 if converted to CATOBAR. So the carriers will be both be in service by 2020 not 2025 or 8 years late as some morons have said.

The deal breaker is the F-35, the F-35 won't hit series production till 2017 and hopefully those aircraft ordered then will be production aircraft with the flaws fixed when they are delivered in 2019. Aircraft of the earlier LRIP of all types will still carry design defects that can effect their use and handling and they won't have the full block 3 software package to be classed as fully capable operational aircraft.

This effects both the B & C variants, before the US deferred their production back this February the UK was slated to get 18 F-35 aircraft by 2020, of which 6 would be retained in the US to form part of the training wing, 6 would in the UK for OEU/OCU duties with the RAF and 6 would be avialable for the basis of the Naval carrier wing. The remaining 6 aircraft would not appear till 2023.

So those people with a fantasy of seeing two RN STOVL carriers are going to be disappointed as at best would could field 6 of them in 2020 on one of the carrier, this assumes that production is not further delayed or the US cut backs haven't effected our slots. Those pusshing to order more sooner to make up for the US shortfall want shooting as we would be paying through the nose for aircraft that are not fully capable and would require upgrades and possible rebuilding to bring them upto the standard of operational aircraft.

The only difference between the F-35B and the F-35C is that the USMC are rushing to put the F-35B into service with whats are effectively beta grade aircraft, so it will be operational by 2017 (but with limitations) and numbers will be restricted to a token unit or two becuase the bulk of the production doesnt start to be delivered till 2019.

The USN are somewhat different, they won't go operational till they have full production Block 3 software aircraft, and with their delayed bulk production they won't be ready for sea service till after 2020, possibly a year or two after that. Thats where our the 2023-25 dates come in for the RN Catobar carrier in servcie date comes from as our carrier unit will train and qualify in the US with the USN and we won't be ready untill they are.

This is why many are suggestion the interim solution of a RN Super F-18 unit to cover the shortfall created by the delayed F-35 program untill the F-35C is available in number to allow a Carrier unit to be worked up and formedsome years after the carriers are ready for duty.

G

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To consistently generate enough steam for jet ops you need a nuclear reactor. Once it was decided UK would not go into nuclear powered carriers steam cats were not practical. CDG is a nuclear powered ship.

I know the Charles de Gaulle is nuclear powered, but what about the French carrier that is designed/projected to be built similar to the QE2/PoW? Will it be just the shape of the hull and general configuration that is similar and nuclear vs conventional propulsion? If the new French carrier is nuclear, then I can understand why a catapult is more feasible than on a conventionally powered carrier.

And the other thing I'm wondering is why is the Super Hornet a better solution as a stop-gap than the Rafale?

Jens

Edited by jenshb
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I have had this discussion with both FAA and RAF pilots who have done exchange tours with the USN about possible conventional carrier ops post Invincible class. True it doesn't have to be a nuclear reactor to generate steam but my understanding is that separate boilers to produce steam were not deemed efficient enough to support combat sortie rates of a modern CAG - to do that you use a nuclear reactor or you need new tech such as EMALS. That was a determining factor in original CVF options. Answering Jens's question "what technology are the French using" - nuclear reactor to generate sufficient steam.

Yes, the problem is with the separate boilers and their optimal size.

Older ships did not have the problem as the same boilers used for the propulsion also generated the steam for the catapults. There was never any problem in providing enough steam for a CAG. As the CVF will use gas turbines, these provide no steam and need a separate dedicated boiler. Ironically, the older propulsion technology was better suited to a carrier !

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I know the Charles de Gaulle is nuclear powered, but what about the French carrier that is designed/projected to be built similar to the QE2/PoW? Will it be just the shape of the hull and general configuration that is similar and nuclear vs conventional propulsion? If the new French carrier is nuclear, then I can understand why a catapult is more feasible than on a conventionally powered carrier.

And the other thing I'm wondering is why is the Super Hornet a better solution as a stop-gap than the Rafale?

Jens

The French PA2 was the CVF design using the C-13 catapult and a donley boiler for the steam, but this design goes back to 2007, DCN has since rejected the Thales CVF design and revised it to merge with its own Juliet design to look something like a lengthened Charles de Gaule with a longer islane to accomodate the various vents & exhausts. If i recall correctly they too switched from steam catapults to EMALS as this is todays technology.

HOWEVER PA 2 was postponned when Sarkozy came to power and is not in the current French 5 year plan. The assumption now is that it will be built in the next decade and will probably replace Charles De Gaulle rather than complement it.

Super Hornet becuase its cheap and in full scale production at present, its also dovetails in better with our current training with the USN and also complements the cross decking with them as two thirds of their combat aircraft will F-18 Super Hornets to a third F-35Cs so were more likely to a Super Hornet aboard in US colours than an F-35. Plus the US are more likely to accomodate the need as still going with a US product, and it wont be seen as an alternative to the F-35C but more to complement it, as we can use it for dedicated carrier use for CAP, tanking, maybe even EW if Growler option taken in addition to strike roles. Plus going with a Super Hornet wing now not only has an airgroup ready and trained up for the carrier when it enteres service, but it could either be replaced at a later date by additional F-35C or we could use it a stepping stone to get our industry onboard with F/A-XX Next gen Air Defence the USN are looking to replace Super Hornet with, which could be the basis of not only our own Super Hornet replacement but possibly even the Typhoon in the 2030's !

Geoff

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A pretty smart vid of the F-35B trials on USS Wasp.

http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=Ki86x...;feature=colike

Notice how it didn't burn a hole in the flight deck or blow everyone into the oggin.

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And the other thing I'm wondering is why is the Super Hornet a better solution as a stop-gap than the Rafale?

What would it do to Typhoon sales if Britain was seen to be buying a French jet?

Of coure, this ignores the point that Typhoon is not carrier capable, but still...

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What would it do to Typhoon sales if Britain was seen to be buying a French jet?

Of coure, this ignores the point that Typhoon is not carrier capable, but still...

Maybe I'm naive, but I expect government officials deciding what to spend billions of £/$/€ on are a lot more informed than the great unwashed masses.

Jens

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Maybe I'm naive, but I expect government officials deciding what to spend billions of £/$/€ on are a lot more informed than the great unwashed masses.

I'd expect the same as well. Doesn't mean it's gonna happen! :lol:

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Why don't we do a short term lease on some F-18's? We seem to be leasing everything else these days.

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Why don't we do a short term lease on some F-18's? We seem to be leasing everything else these days.

arnt the USN currently mothballing f-18s at davis monathan

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arnt the USN currently mothballing f-18s at davis monathan

I have a feeling most of the legacy Hornets they're mothballing have used up all their carrier launch cycles so possibly not the best bet.

For some reason I was under the impression the Australians are leasing their Super Hornets pending the F-35A being available but I may have imagined that, still it would make some sense for the UK to do it and de-couple the carrier and aircraft programmes.

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I have a feeling most of the legacy Hornets they're mothballing have used up all their carrier launch cycles so possibly not the best bet.

For some reason I was under the impression the Australians are leasing their Super Hornets pending the F-35A being available but I may have imagined that, still it would make some sense for the UK to do it and de-couple the carrier and aircraft programmes.

Yeap i thought the original deal was a lease, but they may have bought them when the F-35A delayed delivery was calculated, i know they are trying to get growler kits for back fitting which would indicate they are bought & paid for.

Yeap thats the problem at the moment, the Carriers and the JSF programs are too closely bound as both were expected to be in sevice at the same time. Its the F-35C delayed entry into carrier service thats putting the CATOBAR carrier back to the the middle of the next decade, so they really do need to do a deal like the RAAF to get carrier capable aircraft into service sooner to cover the F-35 shortfall

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  • 2 weeks later...

Well, at least they've made a decision!

...for now...

In my view, after following this thread through, this was ultimately the right choice. While the -C might have better range/payload, there's no question that it will be delayed considerably compared to the -B. In the meantime, as everyone can see, we have a gaping hole in our naval aviation capability that needs plugging ASAP. And however well the LiftFan performs, it is creating jobs for British workers, something the country desperately needs.

That's about as positive as I can make it :) Would be nice to see CATOBAR operations at some point.

Cheers,

Tim

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So we'll have jump jets carriers with no catapults, so no AWACS aircraft - will we continue to use Sea Kings for AWACS or will someone add an aftermarket radar dome and radar operator chair to an F35B?

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