Umm:

F-35 stealth jet ‘will not be able to fire its guns until 2019’

Not sure I can anticipate quite that long really.

47 thoughts on “Hmm”

  1. Bear in mind the version we are getting doesn’t have a gun, although there is an option for a gun pod. The full capability isn’t due to arrive until 2019 either, with 3F version of the plane’s software, which does seem a bit “monolithic”…

  2. So Much for Subtlety

    You would think people would have learnt from the F-4 Phantom that the gun is a wee bit important.

    The Americans are struck with this dog of a corporate welfare disaster. All that the F-34 seems designed to do is prove the crack that in the future, the entire Air Force’s budget would buy just one plane. And it is not as if they weren’t warned. The last time they tried to build one plane for everyone they ended up with the F-111.

    Britain ought to opt out and buy something built by Saab.

  3. Let’s look on the bright side.If our fighter plane can’t actually fight no one is going to bother to shoot it down. Think of the cost savings.

  4. The whole F35 story is shocking from start to finish. The Register has published some fine articles on the subject over the years: just type F35 into the search box.

    Nobody in Britain dares cancel it, for fear of upsetting the yanks; and none of them want to cancel it, because they’re all either insiders now, or hope to be in the near future.

  5. So Much for Subtlety

    Andrew M – “Nobody in Britain dares cancel it, for fear of upsetting the yanks; and none of them want to cancel it, because they’re all either insiders now, or hope to be in the near future.”

    Yeah, but Britain doesn’t have a good record of canceling turkeys either. I mean, Nimrod? It would be hard to think of a major defence contract that the MoD has not screwed up.

    Dan – “I always link this video of the designer of the A-10 ripping the F-35 a new arsehole. It never gets old.”

    He should be p!ssed. The A-10 does what it is supposed to. And what Americans need planes to do these days. They are going to be blowing away terrorists for decades to come. Who exactly do they need an expensive stealth plane to fight? The F-22 worked out so well didn’t it?

    So naturally, what does the Air Force want to cancel? What they have in fact cancelled?

    “Still, it has been remarkably successful in it’s primary task — ie enriching defence consultants and providing pork for US pols.”

    Hang them all.

  6. I think you’ll find that the A-10 is a sitting duck against unmaned alien drones. At least the F-35 might get close enough to fire a tactical nuke into the engine of the mothership, while being entirely unaffected by the resulting nuclear explosion, another plus for the designers.

  7. SMFS – We could’ve bought a navalised version of the Saab Gripen for a tiny fraction of the cost of F-35. The Gripen isn’t quite as advanced, but it’s proven, reliable (far lower ratio of maintenance-to-flight-hours), and quantity has a quality of its own – far better to be able to fill our new carriers with warplanes we can afford to fly than have them sitting half-empty with planes we can’t afford to give pilots much time on.

    Or we could’ve gone for the Dassault Rafale, which is a brilliant plane, a bit cheaper than F-35 and available now. The Frogs spent over €50 billion developing it and are desperate for foreign buyers. We could’ve worked out a very cordiale entente with them.

    But we couldn’t do either of these things because we’ve built two carriers without cats and traps. So the only planes that will fly from them are VSTOL birds. The only choices there are the Harrier – which we binned to save money – and the F35B, which is the shittiest version of the most overpriced and shit-tacular defence procurement abortion in human history.

    If only we’d spent a couple of extra billion upfront putting atomic reactors on our new carriers, they’d produce abundant steam to power conventional catapults and have far greater range without needing refuelling, and have far better flexibility to mount power-hungry directed energy weapons in future.

    But the MoD doesn’t exist to take sensible long-term decisions to defend the realm. It exists to pay its bloated army of functionaries huge salaries and pensions, and to funnel as much taxpayer money as possible to the vampire-squid that is BAE.

  8. Three misapprehensions in one set of comments…

    1. The F-4 Phantom needed a gun. Actually, it didn’t, the gun was an excuse.

    The US Air Force and US Navy both flew F-4s in Vietnam, using Sidewinder and Sparrow missiles (no gun fitted). The USAF sent transport and tanker pilots to fly fighters (‘no involuntary second tour’ manpower rules), cut close combat out of its F-4 pilot training syllabus (it risked accidents and threatened careers of the officers running the schools), didn’t teach aircrew to use the weapons they had, didn’t maintain the missiles, and used seriously inappropriate, inflexible tactics. Entirely unsurprisingly, the NVAF flew rings around them on the occasions they came up to fight, which the USAF blamed entirely and completely on “not having guns” (despite having put a gun pod on the F-4C and –D, and getting an internal gun into the –E model)

    During Linebacker in 1972, the USAF was running an air-to-air exchange rate of about 2:1 (and this was in Phantoms with guns, though of the 40-odd kills they only got five or so with guns – for all the effort and complaining, the gun turned out to be marginal). In the same period, the US Navy and USMC – with properly trained pilots, better maintained weapons and effective tactics – were getting a 6:1 exchange rate, in Phantoms without guns.

    Of course, in the honest, unflinching analysis of performance after Vietnam… the USAF reflected carefully and thoroughly on what worked and what didn’t? The gun was politically essential for the next generation of fighters, but found itself very little used, hence the move back to a modular fit for the F-35B.

  9. 2. The A-10 is an amazing aircraft.

    The A-10 had a confused origin. Its specification was as a replacement for the venerable A-1 Skyraider, a piston-engined 1940s-vintage fighter bomber that in the 1960s had given excellent service in Vietnam, being able to fly slower and lower for a fairly long time (prop rather than turbojet) with a large weapon load and being pretty robust to small-arms fire and light AA guns. However, the A-1 vanished like morning frost from Southeast Asia when SA-7 and ZSU-23-4 started appearing and swatting them out of the sky: the A-10 was therefore designed to survive 23mm hits (not ignore them, but at least get back to base) and be resistant to SA-7, either by hiding the hot engines from the primitive SA-7 seeker or by ensuring that the missile would only take out one engine, again getting the A-10 home.

    So far, so good: a niche aircraft for close air support in fairly safe air environments and extremely good at it. Unfortunately, the Military Reform Movement (Pierre Sprey and others) were riding their “missiles bad, guns good” bandwagon and proclaimed the A-10 to be the ultitmate tankbusting aircraft, able to slaughter entire regiments of Soviet T-64s with its mighty 30mm gun while being immune to ground fire or enemy fighters because… well… armour, big gun, dakadakadaka boom!

    The A-10 thus found itself programmed to fly over 3 Shock Army at a few hundred feet and three hundred knots, strafing tanks with its cannon… while being engaged by MiG-21 and MiG-23s from Frontal Aviation, SA-7 and ZSU-23-4s from the forward units, SA-8 and SA-9 from the brigade HQs, and divisional SA-6 systems (the Soviets understood all about mobile, overlapping and interlocking air defence, as their Arab proxies demonstrated to the Israelis in 1973 – note that the Israelis repeatedly rejected the A-10). As a result, once the reality of the aircraft’s life expectancy set in, the A-10s were hastily shuffled off to the Air National Guard, where their simplicity and robustness were an asset.

    Its big combat test arrived in 1991, when it saw combat against Iraq: despite some breathless hype, it did rather poorly, taking higher casualties than other aircraft: instead of being able to operate low and slow, serious early losses forced the A-10s up high above the MANPADs and AAA, and instead of using the vaunted GAU-8 cannon the main weapon used was the AGM-65 Maverick – ironically, the weapon whose purported uselessness had driven Sprey and the MRM to demand the A-10 be made a front-line warfighter – because it had the standoff range and accuracy to destroy tanks from outside the Iraqi defences.

    The A-10 has the same sort of support that the IOWA-class battleships once enjoyed, with about as much underpinning analysis: it’s a one-trick pony routinely advertised far beyond its capabilities, and it’s required all the “useless boondoggles” (electronic countermeasures, night vision gear, targeting pods, guided missiles) it was explicitly designed without, to be bolted back on to make it vaguely usable. Meanwhile it’s still inherently slow, underpowered and suicidally vulnerable to air defences: useful for strafing insurgents who you know have nothing more than MANPADS, but a deathtrap if there’s a RF-SAM (let alone an enemy fighter) around.

  10. 3. We could have bought Hornets / Rafale / Sea Gripen / Sea Typhoon to fly off our carriers.

    Yes, technically it’s straightforward, the major problem with CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Takeoff But Arrested Recovery) comes down to training – which means money.

    Some big broad handfuls, using dollars because I’m swiping numbers from the USN’s experience; it’ll drop short because it’s mostly just looking at flying hours, no other costs. The following is almost certainly wrong, but it’s wrong as an underestimate…

    Firstly, you’ve got the flying hours for deck training; take a qualified fast jet pilot who can land on concrete, put them in something like a T45 Goshawk (navalised version of our Hawk), and teach them to land on a moving carrier. That’s about two or three hundred flying hours (40 weeks, 125 hops) for the USN; $1,500,000 immediately just in T-45 flying hours, plus you actually need the T-45s to fly (about $30 million per airframe at last rough check; the USN gets about 60 hours per aircraft per month out of them, which is considered excellent going, but that ends up needing half an airframe per trainee in the pipeline). Consider that the USN’s washout rate hovers at around 50%; if you want to sustain 48 trained pilots on an eight-year service commitment, you’ll need to train about fifteen a year, so eight T-45s up front ($240 million) and $22.5 million per year steady state. (Just in airframes and flying hours, no salaries or other costs)

    At that point you’ve built a force of 48 pilots who can land a T-45 on a carrier: transition training to F-35 will need more hours on a very expensive-per-hour Lightning ($32,000 per hour or so), and then the skills need to be maintained; the USN estimates their pilots, aboard a carrier in home waters during workup, are flying 30-32 hours a month to build and sustain their skills (about 50% more than their land-based contemporaries; all the usual requirements, plus staying current on carrier operations). Handwave away conversion courses (land-based F-35B pilots will need to transition too) but it still gets very expensive.

    Ten hours, per pilot, per month, for an air wing of twelve Lightnings in normal jogging; that’s pushing fifty million dollars a year just to keep the embarked pilots current. If you want to surge to a larger air wing, you’ll need warning time and some serious workup (and the capacity to conduct it, which will otherwise be sitting around idle annoying the Treasury) because a lot of your force are out of practice and will need to refresh; the USN reckon on having to requalify after a shore tour.

    See where the costs start coming from? We’re not looking at instructors and simulators, nor are we considering the cost of having an aircraft carrier steaming around in the SCXAs chasing the wind, plane guard helo aloft, while a succession of nuggets do touch-and-goes or arrested landings on her deck (so she’s not available for operational deployment), and there’s the risk of accidental losses; the US Navy and USMC’s aviators suffer 20-odd Class A mishaps (loss of life or more than a million dollars’ worth of damage) per year, with about ten aircraft lost and about ten dead, each year. Even assuming we’re one operational carrier to their eleven, that’s an aircraft a year gone; even if it’s a (relatively) cheap T-45 that’s an extra thirty million a year.

    So to qualify forty-eight for a surge, and keep twelve pilots up and skilled, we’re looking at $240 million up front and a bit over seventy million a year in running costs, even assuming no accidents. Over a thirty year life, that’s more than two billion dollars in extra costs, in order to save $800 million on the airframes because the -C is cheaper than the -B. (Lose one T-45 a year in landing accidents, which is in line with USN experience, and the cost goes up by another billion)

    See why the numbers simply don’t add up for CATOBAR, and why it actually becomes a very inflexible asset when all the realities of trying to surge the embarked airwing to 30-odd F-35Cs hits the rocks of “just give us a year and a shedload of cash to get all our pilots back in date for night landings…”?

    Also, the F-35 is a joint asset and the RAF are very committed to it, and would have zero interest in adding some “like Typhoon but foreign” types: so a RN fixed-wing asset would be a small, Navy-only “as well as” buy of Rafale / Hornet / a non-existent navalised Gripen – with all the costs and risks of running a small fleet with limited support that drove us to Joint Force Harrier in the 1990s.

  11. Jason Lynch – you’ve dropped a lot of interesting knowledge there, bravo.

    Re: CATOBAR. Would it cost much more to train pilots to fly from a carrier with catapults and traps than it will anyway to train them to fly from a carrier without them? Really? Really really?

    Re: accidents. Yes, we’re going to see accidents one way or t’other. It’s a cost of doing business.

    Flying costs: Jane’s estimates the cost per flight hour of the F-35 at $31,000. The Rafale is about half that.

    The Gripen costs $4,700 per flight hour (!).

    http://www.stratpost.com/gripen-operational-cost-lowest-of-all-western-fighters-janes

    I’m no accountant, but over a 20 year period either of those non-F35 options would amount to a metric fuckton of savings. And that’s not even taking into account the lower upfront cost of buying the planes.

    The other disadvantage to the F35-B is its poorer operational range and smaller weapons package than the non-B variants and Rafale (the Gripen has a bigger combat radius but slightly fewer hardpoints). So, are we buying the best equipment for our forces? Clearly not, whether you measure that on capability or value for money.

    “Also, the F-35 is a joint asset and the RAF are very committed to it”

    Let them stick to their Eurofighters and drones. All this interservice bollocks does nothing to help defend the United Kingdom. If we’re going to run two carriers, we need to do it right, not hamstring them with raggedy-arsed joint asset nonsense. They tried to save money on the Astute class by re-using an inappropriate reactor, look how that turned out.

    There is nothing more expensive in the long run than a second rate military.

  12. I expect that the aircraft carrier will become as obsolete as the battleship became, at least against first rank foes i.e. China, say, plus anyone it chooses to equip.

    What the devil do we want them for anyway? So that Blair-lite can attack a Libya, or a Syria?

    I can see the point of nuclear subs, but aircraft carriers I have my doubts about. In fact, I’m not really sold on much in the way of surface ships. Prince of Wales; Repulse; Bismarck …….

  13. Steve,

    We could and did take RAF Harrier pilots and basically tell them “land on that part of the deck there” with success, no months of training or conversion required: it’s easier to stop, then land, than it is to land and then stop. Coming into the hover, then settling down, is inherently safer than flying at the back of the ship at 170 miles an hour and hoping to snag one of the wires. (Indeed, we once recovered a Sea Harrier onto a container ship – had to pay salvage to the owners IIRC). F-35 also has the option of a short rolling landing, for bringback at heavy weights, but again much simpler and safer than arrested landings.

    The other issue that is much overlooked, is that F-35 can go places other aircraft (like Rafale, Typhoon and Gripen) can’t: we’ve managed to avoid going up against an opponent with a decent air defence system so far this millenium, and as a result there’s a degree of forgetting how much effort it takes to do so (arguably the last major IADS we went up against was Iraq in 1991).

    A major issue with “are we going to bomb Syria?” was the fact that the Syrians still have got a decent IADS, as you’d tend to have with the Israeli Air Force a semi-regular visitor, and the RAF found themselves very uncomfortable at the idea of flying into S-300 range rings.

    We’re looking at an initial capability in the early 2020s that’ll be operational until maybe 2050; Gripen entered service in 1997 so would be a quarter-century old by the time we began operations, not a good starting point.

    The reason we’re going for F-35 is to avoid “second rate” thrashing around with outdated capabilities that find large tracts of airspace denied to them, and choosing F-35B means we get a decent-sized force that both allows a steady-state maritime deployment but also makes it possible to surge up to 48 airframes onto a carrier for a serious effort (and the carriers are designed to generate 120 sorties a day during that surge).

    The problem with defence is that the issues are often not well understood (the A-10 getting lauded for “gun and armour, must be amazing” being an example) – or for the Astute, there was no problem with the reactor (PWR2 is an excellent, quiet, reliable and powerful unit that’s given superb service on the V-bombers) and the larger hull diameter, meant an extra torpedo tube and 50% more weapon storage: the issue was a (political) directive to re-use auxiliary machinery from the T-boats to “save money” which meant that the full power of the reactor couldn’t be brought to bear.

  14. Dearime,

    Surface ships let you go places and do things (like keep the Straits of Hormuz open) that you can’t do with mines, missiles or submarines; there’s a fundamental difference between sea denial (stopping others using it) and sea control (being able to use it yourself).

    They’re vulnerable if misused, but – for example – by 1945 we were able to push battleships into gunnery range of Japanese mainland airfields and factories (which proved that we were better off bombing them with aircraft, than shelling them with ships, but I digress)

    The carriers are being planned for maximum flexibility precisely because we don’t know the future, but having a large chunk of airfield able to go pretty much where it wants on the blue bits of the map, relocate at a rate of five hundred miles a day, and embark a battlegroup of troops with the helicopters to lift them, a flight of Apaches and a squadron of F-35Bs – or variations thereof (lose the troops and get another fixed-wing squadron, base the fighters ashore and embark a brigade) – keeps options open in an uncertain world.

  15. Jason L
    Carrier/F-35 case very well made. Hopefully, our carrier escorts will get Standard 3 anti-missile defences to see off the DF21D & its successors.

  16. I would rather have carriers than not. Yes, you might lose one – it’s war!

    The A10 is an awesome weapon against men in dresses wielding AKs.

    Other than that I can’t add anything, except to wonder if anyone knowledgeable can say (apropos driverless cars ironically) how far away pure autopilot carrier landings in shit weather are?

    Part of me thinks they can’t be far off but I suppose the RN air bods would say otherwise.

  17. “keeps options open in an uncertain world.” But what options: are we still going to be American running dogs, invading parts of the world where we have no vital interest? Bloody madness.

  18. Interested,

    The concept’s been around a while: the system you’re thinking of is the Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS), expected to begin operational use in 2019 with full capability in 2030. One concept for CVF in 2002 or so was Sea Typhoon, a lightly navalised Typhoon using autoland to reduce the stress on the airframe and the training costs: promising, attractive in many ways, but scarily immature and expensively risky if it didn’t deliver

    It’ll roll out as a land-based system, initially for transports and tankers, crossing over to maritime as it matures: the USN is keen to cut the massive training overhead of carrier landings, but the system will need to be giving a great deal of confidence before it’ll be relied on: late 2020s likely on current form. (I think there have been some cautious at-sea trials, but nowhere near full validation yet)

  19. @JL ta. I suppose eleven years to go operational is about right, absent a war to speed things up. Though I doubt we’ll ever see that kind of war again, which lasts long enough against relative equals to allow for much in-war development.

  20. So Much for Subtlety

    Jason Lynch – “So far, so good: a niche aircraft for close air support in fairly safe air environments and extremely good at it.”

    Which is, actually, precisely where we are right now. We are not faced with the Soviet Army pouring through the Fulda Gap. And even the Russian Army would struggle to maintain a full AA array these days. We are faced with shooting people in places like Afghanistan. For which a cheap-ish close air support plane is perfect.

    “As a result, once the reality of the aircraft’s life expectancy set in, the A-10s were hastily shuffled off to the Air National Guard, where their simplicity and robustness were an asset.”

    And of course the Air Force does not like CAS. They would do anything to get rid of it. The A-10s were not put out to pasture because they were useless but because the Air Force does not do air-to-mud operations if they can avoid it.

    “Its big combat test arrived in 1991, when it saw combat against Iraq: despite some breathless hype, it did rather poorly, taking higher casualties than other aircraft”

    It did most of the dangerous work, so high losses are not unexpected. It was not like the Tornado that turned out to be useless for pretty much anything. It actually did its job and destroyed a lot of tanks. It is absurd to say it did poorly. The US Navy sent 106 F/A-18A/C Hornets and Marine Corps 84 F/A-18A/C/D to the First Gulf War. They shot down two planes. They lost two planes. That is not a particularly good record. The A-10 is credited, for what that is worth, 900 Iraqi tanks, 2,000 other military vehicles, 1,200 artillery pieces and two helicopters. For the loss of four planes.

    “it’s a one-trick pony routinely advertised far beyond its capabilities, and it’s required all the “useless boondoggles” (electronic countermeasures, night vision gear, targeting pods, guided missiles) it was explicitly designed without, to be bolted back on to make it vaguely usable.”

    Yes but what a trick that one trick is. The Army demands CAS. It need CAS. The Air Forces of the world won’t do it. The A-10 is the one attempt to get a dedicated CAS plane. Naturally the Air Forces of the world hate it. It does not need all those useless boondoggles that the Air Force bureaucracy loves to cripple a plane with. Although some things like FLIR help. It is just that the Air Force bureaucracy needs to reward its bureaucrats by putting all those bells and whistles on the plane. As they do with every plane.

    “Meanwhile it’s still inherently slow, underpowered and suicidally vulnerable to air defences: useful for strafing insurgents who you know have nothing more than MANPADS, but a deathtrap if there’s a RF-SAM (let alone an enemy fighter) around.”

    Which is fine. If the Red Army ever tries to make it through the Fulda Gap we can send the F-22. But as we are likely to be spending a lot of time fighting people who are lucky to have MANPADS and don’t have a great deal in the way of SAM-6s, the cheaper, slower, more capable CAS plane is what is needed. Airplanes should not be about middle ranking Air Force bureaucrats’ careers.

    Jason Lynch – “Also, the F-35 is a joint asset and the RAF are very committed to it, and would have zero interest in adding some “like Typhoon but foreign” types”

    The RAF ought to be ignored on whatever planes they are committed to. Their choices have been poor at best.

    “so a RN fixed-wing asset would be a small, Navy-only “as well as” buy of Rafale / Hornet / a non-existent navalised Gripen – with all the costs and risks of running a small fleet with limited support that drove us to Joint Force Harrier in the 1990s.”

    But that would still be better than the alternative which is no Air Fleet Arm at all. Which is basically what we are going to get. There was another option of course – buy the Harrier. Buy the up-graded US version by preference. But of course that does not generate jobs for mid-career Air Force bureaucrats in the Development bureaucracy.

    Jason Lynch – “We could and did take RAF Harrier pilots and basically tell them “land on that part of the deck there” with success, no months of training or conversion required”

    Although, of course, training pilots is expensive. It is not a choice between cheap training and expensive training but expensive training and a little bit more expensive training.

    “Coming into the hover, then settling down, is inherently safer than flying at the back of the ship at 170 miles an hour and hoping to snag one of the wires.”

    I think the Harrier’s safety record could give you an argument about that.

    “F-35 also has the option of a short rolling landing, for bringback at heavy weights”

    The F-35 is, so far, Vapourware.

    “we’ve managed to avoid going up against an opponent with a decent air defence system so far this millenium”

    Just out of curiosity, where do you see a likely enemy with a decent air defence system coming from? Even the Syrians are in such a disarray that their system is unlikely to be working. Although it has worked to dissuade any Western power from trying it on.

    “We’re looking at an initial capability in the early 2020s that’ll be operational until maybe 2050; Gripen entered service in 1997 so would be a quarter-century old by the time we began operations, not a good starting point.”

    Vapourware again. We have a promise. That is unlikely to be fulfilled. And the F-35 is such a piece of junk it is not likely to last long. The Gripen works, it works now, it is relatively cheap and we can buy some tomorrow. That is, the Air Force is about defending the Realm. Not providing welfare for BAe and mid-career bureaucrats.

    “The reason we’re going for F-35 is to avoid “second rate” thrashing around with outdated capabilities that find large tracts of airspace denied to them”

    No, the reason we are going for it has to do with the petty personal concerns of the MoD’s staff. Yet again they have chosen poorly.

    “and choosing F-35B means we get a decent-sized force that both allows a steady-state maritime deployment but also makes it possible to surge up to 48 airframes onto a carrier for a serious effort (and the carriers are designed to generate 120 sorties a day during that surge).”

    There is no way the Air Force is going to let anyone play with their planes. Much less get salt on them. And it may well turn out that the Air Force will have the F-35s although some pilots may be told to pretend they are in the Navy.

    48 planes is next to nothing. Even if they could bomb Syria at most they would just annoy them. We are buying a very expensive plane hasn’t worked so far and can’t do much if we get it.

    “(PWR2 is an excellent, quiet, reliable and powerful unit that’s given superb service on the V-bombers)”

    Sorry we put a reactor in a Valiant?

    “the issue was a (political) directive to re-use auxiliary machinery from the T-boats to “save money” which meant that the full power of the reactor couldn’t be brought to bear.”

    It is amazing that every time the defence bureaucracy works hand in glove with the defence companies to really screw Britain’s defence, it is always the fault of someone else.

    Jason Lynch – “but having a large chunk of airfield able to go pretty much where it wants on the blue bits of the map, relocate at a rate of five hundred miles a day, and embark a battlegroup of troops with the helicopters to lift them, a flight of Apaches and a squadron of F-35Bs – or variations thereof (lose the troops and get another fixed-wing squadron, base the fighters ashore and embark a brigade) – keeps options open in an uncertain world.”

    Not much in the way of options. The new carriers are too large and too expensive. So they cannot be brought near anyone who might shoot at them. Which makes the F-35 largely useless anyway as most people who might shoot at them have longer-range planes.

    The main role for Britain’s carriers is, presumably, disaster relief. For which the new ones are too big and too expensive. Even so they carry a tiny number of planes and a smaller number of soldiers. It is a very expensive way to deliver a company of Royal Marines anywhere in the world.

    We should have simply built another Illustrious. But that of course would not generate jobs for BAe – and hence corporate goodies for the bureaucrats – it would not be a prestige post for a sufficiently important RN commander, and it might be useful for the sort of jobs the RN does not like.

    Britain’s Armed Forces are well down the path to Third World incompetence and even, I am guessing, corruption. We have a procurement system that would put Brazil to shame. And a bureaucracy that is incapable of thinking of anything but their careers.

  21. So Much for Subtlety

    Jason Lynch – “1. The F-4 Phantom needed a gun. Actually, it didn’t, the gun was an excuse.”

    Yes it did and no it wasn’t.

    “The US Air Force and US Navy both flew F-4s in Vietnam, using Sidewinder and Sparrow missiles (no gun fitted). The USAF sent transport and tanker pilots to fly fighters (‘no involuntary second tour’ manpower rules), cut close combat out of its F-4 pilot training syllabus (it risked accidents and threatened careers of the officers running the schools), didn’t teach aircrew to use the weapons they had, didn’t maintain the missiles, and used seriously inappropriate, inflexible tactics.”

    But you cannot claim this as if it wasn’t connected to the lack of a gun. They cut a lot of close combat out of training because their wonks told them missiles were so good that most fighting would be BVR and so not need. Nor was the gun. As it turned out they were wrong. The missiles were designed for destroying high flying, large, slow Soviet bombers. Not useful for combat with fighters. But even then they did not work. As can be seen by the fact no one was able to get them to work. Not just in Vietnam.

    “Entirely unsurprisingly, the NVAF flew rings around them on the occasions they came up to fight, which the USAF blamed entirely and completely on “not having guns” (despite having put a gun pod on the F-4C and –D, and getting an internal gun into the –E model)”

    The NVAF hardly flew rings around anyone. They were a tiny Air Force but they did manage to shoot down some US planes. The gun pod initially lacked proper sights and so was next to useless and of course it does not help the aerodynamics of the plane. The internal gun is what they needed and what they got. But yes, the basic problem was the people who said the missiles were so good dog fighting was not important.

    “In the same period, the US Navy and USMC – with properly trained pilots, better maintained weapons and effective tactics – were getting a 6:1 exchange rate, in Phantoms without guns.”

    During the war, U.S. Navy F-4 Phantom squadrons participated in 84 combat tours with F-4Bs, F-4Js, and F-4Ns. The navy claimed 40 air-to-air victories at a cost of 73 Phantoms lost in combat (seven to enemy aircraft, 13 to SAMs, and 53 to AAA).

    The Air Force claimed 107 kills while “A total of 445 Air Force Phantom fighter-bombers were lost, 370 in combat and 193 of those over North Vietnam (33 to MiGs, 30 to SAMs, and 307 to AAA)”

    “Of course, in the honest, unflinching analysis of performance after Vietnam… the USAF reflected carefully and thoroughly on what worked and what didn’t? The gun was politically essential for the next generation of fighters, but found itself very little used, hence the move back to a modular fit for the F-35B.”

    And yet the USAF and the Navy put a gun into every plane they designed since. As every other manufacturer in every other country had always done. The gunless plane was a bad idea that no one else was convinced by. It was not merely politically essential, it was essential.

  22. SMFS,

    The USAF didn’t decide that close air combat was obsolete, indeed they tinkered with the F-104 as a speedy dogfighter (mixed results, though some pilots swore by it): the training staff at Luke AFB (where the F-4 conversion courses were flown) decided that the accidents involved in training for it, were too career-damaging and so made flying those six sorties (only six hops, in a thirty-flying-hour course to turn a bomber or tanker pilot into a Phearless Phantom Phlyer) optional; if weather, or breakdowns, or other complications arose, they weren’t flown. Politics and careerism, not a policy decision.

    Also remember that USAF tactical aviation (fighters and fighter-bombers) were in the 1960s a backwater where the losers and rejects were parked: Strategic Air Command was the pinnacle of the USAF and the route to stars on your shoulders. (Also, you had the B-52 pilots doing miserable tours in North Dakota or Montana, then being sent to Vietnam in Phantoms, then SAC – which didn’t recognise a Phantom tour as anything significant – would send them to Andersen or U-Tapao for a Vietnam tour in BUFFS… lots of broken marriages and early exits from service, part of why the bomber mafia lost its grip)

    And “nobody” got missiles to work? The US Navy was getting a 50% SSPK with AIM-9G by war’s end, part of the reason they didn’t bother putting a gun into the Phantom. We got over 80% with the AIM-9L in 1982, and one of the major problems the Sea Harrier had was “not enough missiles” – with hindsight we’d gladly have traded the 30mm gun pods for more Sidewinders, more fuel, and more countermeasures,

    Again – the USAF blamed “no gun in the Phantom” for a wide range of issues, but that’s to be expected of a service that considered “sortie count” (flying more missions than the USN) more important than its pilots: during the 1967 bomb shortage, F-105 squadrons were being sent out in flights of eight with one bomb per aircraft to get the count of “missions flown” up and some missions were flown “FAMMO” – no weapons except the internal gun, which produced about as much result as you’d expect.

    During the major air offensives of 1972, of something like fifty NVAF aircraft shot down by the US, only seven fell to gunfire despite by then the USAF having F-4Es with an internal gun or F-4Ds with a gun pod mated to a good lead-computing sight: even the USAF was taking most of its shots with missiles, simply because you could fire from two or three miles instead of two or three hundred miles.

    Sorry, but the “Phantom desperately needed a gun” myth is just that.

  23. So Much for Subtlety

    Jason Lynch – “The USAF didn’t decide that close air combat was obsolete, indeed they tinkered with the F-104 as a speedy dogfighter (mixed results, though some pilots swore by it)”

    Yes they did. It did not last long. But taking the gun off the F-4 was part of a larger, and incorrect, view of where aerial combat was going. Long distances at high speed.

    “Also remember that USAF tactical aviation (fighters and fighter-bombers) were in the 1960s a backwater where the losers and rejects were parked”

    Again, part of the larger picture. Missiles and bombers were going to do all the cool stuff. Didn’t work out that way.

    “And “nobody” got missiles to work? The US Navy was getting a 50% SSPK with AIM-9G by war’s end, part of the reason they didn’t bother putting a gun into the Phantom. ”

    OK That was sloppily phrased. No one got the longer range missiles to work. They thought that combat would be BVR and it did not turn out that way. Partly because the BVR missiles did not work. As I said, no one got them to work. Sidewinders? Fine. Sparrow? Not so much.

    “Again – the USAF blamed “no gun in the Phantom” for a wide range of issues,”

    And yet everyone has agreed with them that the lack of a gun is a problem. No one much has built a plane without one since.

    “even the USAF was taking most of its shots with missiles, simply because you could fire from two or three miles instead of two or three hundred miles.”

    You mean two or three hundred metres?

    JeremyT – “Good stuff. Here’s one of the Vietnam fights”

    Not surprising they lost really.

  24. Jason Lynch – you make some interesting points and state your case well.

    But I think you’re wrong. Or, at least, optimistic.

    We could and did take RAF Harrier pilots and basically tell them “land on that part of the deck there” with success, no months of training or conversion required: it’s easier to stop, then land, than it is to land and then stop.

    That’s great if we want to save a few quid by putting RAF pilots on ships. Here’s my view though: just hire more naval pilots if we need them.

    Sure, they cost a lot to train, but it’s peanuts compared to the equipment costs, and if we ever have to actually fight another major war we’ll be grateful for the extra trained manpower to make up for combat losses, rather than running both the FAA and RAF fast jet squadrons on a swap shop basis. Besides, if the politicians and top brass get their own way and successfully train more female fast jet pilots, we’ll need the extra bods to fill in during the inevitable pregnancies.

    F-35 also has the option of a short rolling landing, for bringback at heavy weights, but again much simpler and safer than arrested landings.

    I’m just not convinced CATOBAR carriers pose that big of a safety issue. The Americans and the Frogs don’t seem to have any major problems with them. Obviously landing on a carrier is inherently unsafe, but that’s why pilots get the girls.

    And, of course, the advantage of CATOBAR is that it unlocks a huge variety of different aircraft to us – including ones with much better combat range and weapons-carrying capability than the F-35B. If our carriers are meant to be a weapons platform for smiting our enemies, rather than some kind of floating humanitarian offices from which we deliver food parcels, this would seem to be something of a boo-boo.

    The other issue that is much overlooked, is that F-35 can go places other aircraft (like Rafale, Typhoon and Gripen) can’t

    IF it lives up to the manufacturer promises, and IF the stealth surfaces don’t degrade too much in a saltwater environment, and IF potential adversaries don’t make advances in radar over the next couple of decades that make F-35’s stealth USP obsolete. And IF the only way we want to degrade an enemy’s AA is through stealthy jet strikes, rather than, say, using a combination of ECM and conventional fast jets, or cruise missiles, or drones, or James Bond, or whatever.

    That’s a plethora of ifs for a plane that is still years behind schedule, and which we’ll be lumbered with for at least two decades even if it turns out to be a flying white elephant – because we won’t be able to afford to replace it.

    OTOH, the Rafale and Gripen are known quantities – we know they’re not perfect, as no plane is, but they do what they say on the tin, and they’re available now for much cheaper than F-35.

    And why are we putting all our eggs in one cockpit? We haven’t fought a first rate power since 1945. Why not get a much cheaper workhorse for the naval air arm – like the Gripen, or even the good old Harrier – in considerable numbers, and supplement it with a smaller number of cutting edge fighters like the F35 or the Rafale or the Super Hornet, for those rare occasions when we really need the big stick?

    At the moment we can only be reasonably confident of getting 48 x F35B’s, and that’s it. (Down from the 138 we planned to buy originally) I won’t be surprised, given recent developments in defence funding and the F-35’s rising costs, if we find we can’t afford any more. That’s not terribly impressive given that our 48 planes will be split between the RN and the RAF, so we may well by the end of this decade have two aircraft carriers with largely empty flight decks.

    Gripen entered service in 1997 so would be a quarter-century old by the time we began operations, not a good starting point.

    Well, Eurofighter entered service in 2008 and we’re already thinking of replacing them (though not any time soon of course, they cost too much). Could be a lesson there for big whizz-bang fighter jet programmes that promise the sky and turn out to be years late and massively over budget…

    And Gripen’s not a bad starting point. They’re so comparatively cheap we could use them as a bread-and-butter aircraft for the next 20 years easily, supplemented with a smaller number of super-duper-mega-expensive-wonder-planes when they become available. Or even drones. And you and I both know that Gripen will continue to be upgraded during its lifetime, like any other jet.

    But instead, we tried to build two large carriers on the cheap, only it hasn’t worked out cheap given that the only plane we can now plausibly buy for them is ridiculously dear and – even if it lives up to its hype (and I hope it will) – will probably take several years to shake out all the bugs and kinks.

    And we’re still buying the least deadly version of the F-35, the B variant that can’t fly as far and can’t rain as much death on the enemy as its non-STOVL sisters.

    Hopefully nobody attacks us in the meantime, eh?

  25. So Much for Subtlety

    JeremyT – “FWIW, most F-4 kills were with missiles”

    But not the BVR long range ones. Even when the Sparrow was used, it was rarely used at any reasonable range. It did not work.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AIM-7_Sparrow

    25,000 AIM-7Es were produced, and saw extensive use during the Vietnam War, where its performance was generally considered disappointing. The mixed results were a combination of reliability problems (exacerbated by the tropical climate), limited pilot training in fighter-to-fighter combat, and restrictive rules of engagement that generally prohibited BVR (beyond visual range) engagements. The Pk (kill probability) of the AIM-7E was less than 10%; US fighter pilots shot down 59[Note 1] aircraft out of the 612 Sparrows fired.[4] Of the 612 AIM-7D/E/E-2 missiles fired, 97 (or 15.8%) hit their targets, resulting in 56 (or 9.2%) kills. Two kills were obtained beyond visual range.

    Two planes shot down BVR – the entire reason for the missile in the first place.

    So the Sparrow worked well. If you sat right in front of it. And it is probably a little bit embarrassing that the Sparrow has been credited with an early F-4 kill:

    The first Phantom air-to-air victory of the war took place on 9 April 1965 when an F-4B from VF-96 “Fighting Falcons” piloted by Lieutenant (junior grade) Terence M. Murphy and his RIO, Ensign Ronald Fegan, shot down a Chinese MiG-17 “Fresco”. The Phantom was then shot down, probably by an AIM-7 Sparrow from one of its wingmen.

  26. So Much for Subtlety
    January 2, 2015 at 11:00 pm
    SMFS,
    I’m glad you can confidently predict that the next forty years will only ever see us doing counterinsurgency in a permissive air environment. Can you also tell me next week’s lottery numbers? We were surprised by Argentina grabbing the Falklands, by Iraq invading Kuwait, by the need to spend several bouts in the Balkans, completely blindsided by Sierra Leone and Libya … the record for confident predictions well into the future is dismal, which is flexibility and options remain important.

    For a personal example, we were tooling up for an evacuation out of Beirut in 2006 when the confident assertion that “effective anti-ship missiles are only used by nation-states” turned out to be unexpectedly wrong, because Lebanese Hizb’Allah used a Noor battery provided by Iran to smack the INS Hanit and sink a merchant ship that was minding its own business in their line of fire. (Also refuting the assertion that ‘we will have ample warning of the deployment and siting of these systems so will be able to avoid them’ – Lebanon was probably the most intensively observed and surveilled landscape in the world at that point, with the Israelis enjoying total air superiority and operating in fangs-out search-and-destroy mode, yet they never found the system) Cue a *lot* of hard work to ensure that the RN ships going into Beirut had the absolutely most up-to-date advice possible should more of those missiles, which weren’t meant to be there or to be a threat, be fired at them. (They weren’t, to my relief)

    “The Air Force does not like CAS” – utter bollocks, I’m afraid, even B-1 and B-52 bombers have done CAS very effectively (a choice of bomb sizes and fuzing options, delivered with precision guidance, from a platform with lots of weapons and enough endurance to stay on station for hours rather than minutes). The USAF don’t like an aircraft that’s extremely vulnerable to ground fire, lacks power, sensors, and countermeasures, and takes twice as long to get to and from the troops in contact as more useful assets. CAS is a lifesaving mission, and politically it generates soldiers crediting the flyboys with saving their lives followed by politicians funding aircraft, aircrew and programmes. However, the A-10 is not a good platform for CAS in anything but an utterly permissive environment.

    The A-10 didn’t do “most of the dangerous work” in Granby, it was flying over frontline killboxes: the targets that other aircraft were told “use your bombs here if you can’t find anything better”. It didn’t do suppression of air defences, it didn’t do airfield attack, it never went near downtown Baghdad or weapon storage sites. It
    The kill claims for most aircraft against Iraqi armour were grossly inflated, in large part because the Iraqis were playing simple, old tricks like hastily repainting wrecks to hide smoke and soot, while blackening up and throwing buckets of burning diesel in front of intact tanks; as a result lots of knocked-out tanks were attacked repeatedly, others that were intact were missed; one Iraqi battalion commander commented that after three weeks of bombing, he went from forty to thirty operational tanks, but in three minutes against US armour his unit was wiped out. (The most effective air weapon against Iraqi armour turned out to be F-111Fs with laser-guided bombs: a 500lb bomb through the turret roof provided decisive proof of destruction and left the wreck unmistakeably wrecked).
    Enemies with decent air defence? Well, Syria has definitely got working systems, though Assad’s gone from hated enemy to reluctant sort-of-ally against ISIS (we and our Eurasian allies are at war with Eastasia, we’ve always been at war with Eastasia, Eurasia will always be our ally, it’s treason to suggest we’d ever fight against Eastasia, and we will not rest until the last Eurasian is begging for our mercy…) But again, even Serbia in 1999 had good RF-SAMs and kept them operational and annoying all the way through Allied Force (nailing a F-117 Nighthawk in a beautiful operation requiring a mix of USAF overconfidence, sloppy security, a treacherous Frenchman and some good skills’n’drills from a S-75 crew, and also bagging a supposedly invincible A-10 that believed its own propaganda). Ukranian rebels have stolen and fired RF-SAMs (mistaking an airliner for a military transport, if you want to be charitable).

    We’re in the equivalent of the 1900s, reassuring ourselves that we only need to do “colonial policing” to slap uppity fuzzy-wuzzies armed with sharpened mangoes and congratulating ourselves on the victory at Umboto Gorge.

    “F-35 is such a piece of junk it is not likely to last long “ The Gripen was an overpriced piece of junk that crashed during testing and would surely be far more expensive and less capable than a Viggen upgrade, until it turned out to work. The F-15 was a useless overpriced boondoggle that’s currently 100-nil in air combat and continues to be highly successful. The F-16 was nowhere near as good as the awesome F-4 Phantom, unless you remembered Vietnam in which case the F-4 was rubbish compared to the F-100. And so it goes, all the way back to the Wright Flyer being the greatest and most powerful military aircraft ever with everything since then downhill.

    Oddly enough, the folk actually involved with the F-35 think better of it, but hey… experts, what do they know?

    “The Gripen works, it works now, it is relatively cheap and we can buy some tomorrow. “ We can buy carrier-capable Gripens tomorrow? Really? Are you sure about that? Or do we need to pay for, and accept the risk of, converting a land-based fighter to carrier use – which hasn’t got a particularly outstanding track record? (Wasn’t the Seafire a world-beater? No? Oh…)
    And don’t neglect the age issue. Just on the chronology, buying Gripen to fly off QEC is the equivalent of bringing HMS Ark Royal (the 1950s version) into service) with an air wing of Gloster Gladiators and Fairey Swordfish.

    “Sorry we put a reactor in a Valiant?” No, we put PWR2 in a Vanguard, a Victorious, a Vengeance and a Vigilant.

    “It is amazing that every time the defence bureaucracy works hand in glove with the defence companies to really screw Britain’s defence, it is always the fault of someone else.” Astute works really well: I’ve been aboard, talked to her crew after her first operational deployment. There’s a minor machinery issue, addressed and fixed, that’s been blown out of all proportion by the usual suspects who can’t bear to accept that anything ever goes right. She’s a better boat than her predecessors and extremely capable: even the USN treat her with respect. For some reason that seems to really upset some folk who can’t accept that we ever procure anything that works, and rarely trouble themselves to speak to the end-users before getting out the Basildon Bond and filling the pen with green ink (pressed down REALLY HARD so it goes right through the paper)

    One of my more visible personal contributions to “screwing British defence” was getting Phalanx Block 1B onto HMS Daring before she deployed to the Persian Gulf, for example. Personally I’m quite proud of that one, rather than feeling shame. (Out of interest, what have you done for British defence recently?)

    I’m afraid your analysis on the carriers is massively flawed; they can stand many, many miles off the coast from the areas they’d like to deter, dissuade, damage or destroy (all DCDC-approved effects) which makes targeting them extremely difficult while still reaching many miles inland to hit defended targets – that’s the whole point of buying F-35B rather than baking in obsolescence with a quarter-century-old airframe not currently able to fly off ships – and carriers have escorts to protect these mission-essential units from rude folk meaning them harm.

    If we really don’t have to worry about enemies with air defences more capable than MANPADS and heavy machine guns, why are we stressing ourselves about enemy air forces and long-range aircraft? (and F-35B’s sensors and weapons give it excellent capabilities for slapping fuzzy-wuzzies in nightshirts and Toyota Land Cruisers, as well as getting through capable air defences; while flying a 25-year-old bodge job of Sea Gripen doesn’t get you the same flexibility) If we *do* have to worry about enemy aircraft, then flying something that has a sensor and weapon advantage over them, and the range to stand off and force them to come out hunting for us, is a major help.

    The notion of operating carriers against enemy air forces isn’t new, indeed there are a fair few examples of carriers sneaking up on enemy bases and slapping them robustly (Taranto, Pearl Harbor, Colombo, Trincomalee, Altafjord, Rabaul, Kwajalein, Kure…) despite being outranged by the land-based air protecting them.
    We could have built new Invincibles… and flown Harriers off them, with a range of under a hundred miles with payload (instead of 400-500 for F-35B) which loses most of the advantages of “the enemy carrier is out there… somewhere, we’re not sure but the scouts go out and don’t come back” and particularly loses survivability: Harrier was retired because it was absolutely out of growth room, as well as having been flown to bits in Afghanistan (intensively doing the CAS missions that the RAF supposedly hate so much)

    Do you actually have any sort of coherent or consistent argument other than “everything everyone does is wrong”? Because we’re meant to be wrong for wanting to be able to cope with a capable opponent that will never appear because for the the next fifty years we’ll only be doing TIC CAS against insurgents with AKs – except we’re also wrong because the enemy’s first-division air force will rush out and find and sink our carriers across hundreds of miles of open ocean.

    Which enemy, exactly, do we expect to fight that has such awesome maritime search and strike capabilities, yet has land forces limited to “blokes in dishdash, flipflops and AK” and no air defences beyond small-arms fire and the occasional MANPADS? This is your threat scenario, please flesh it out a little for us.

  27. So Much for Subtlety

    Jason Lynch – “I’m glad you can confidently predict that the next forty years will only ever see us doing counterinsurgency in a permissive air environment.”

    I think we can agree there is a very narrow window where bringing 36 F-35s to the fight will make any difference at all. Virtually all our potential enemies will be too powerful or too weak. Now you do not have to be a super-genius to notice this.

    “the record for confident predictions well into the future is dismal, which is flexibility and options remain important.”

    Overly large carriers and vastly expensive planes that do not, as yet, work are not compatible with flexibility or options. But we can make some confident predictions. BAe will never produce anything that works on time or on budget. The Army, Navy and Air Force will continue to agree to how to divide the defence budget among themselves without reference to Britain’s national defence needs. The Army, Air Force and especially the Navy will continue to insist on kit that is good for officers’ careers. Not for the ordinary serviceman nor for Britain’s national defence needs.

    “utter bollocks, I’m afraid, even B-1 and B-52 bombers have done CAS very effectively”

    Doing it and liking it are two different things. And this response so neatly avoids what I said it is almost as if you are dodging the issue.

    “The USAF don’t like an aircraft that’s extremely vulnerable to ground fire, lacks power, sensors, and countermeasures, and takes twice as long to get to and from the troops in contact as more useful assets.”

    Or to be more blunt, they don’t like anything that is not sexy and to be sexy it has to be fast, even if that means it is inaccurate and cannot do CAS properly. They love all the bells and whistles because it requires a decade of planning and design creating lots of jobs for middle ranking career officers and lots and lots of corporate hospitality.

    “CAS is a lifesaving mission, and politically it generates soldiers crediting the flyboys with saving their lives followed by politicians funding aircraft, aircrew and programmes. ”

    And yet Air Forces won’t do it unless forced to.

    “However, the A-10 is not a good platform for CAS in anything but an utterly permissive environment.”

    I don’t know “utterly permissive” means but it did a good job in Iraq and that was hardly utterly permissive.

    “It didn’t do suppression of air defences, it didn’t do airfield attack, it never went near downtown Baghdad or weapon storage sites.”

    Sure. It did the important stuff. SEAD is useful. So are denying airfields. We can probably do without blowing up power stations.

    “But again, even Serbia in 1999 had good RF-SAMs and kept them operational and annoying all the way through Allied Force”

    So they did. An enemy against which 36 F-35s would do nothing.

    “We’re in the equivalent of the 1900s, reassuring ourselves that we only need to do “colonial policing” to slap uppity fuzzy-wuzzies armed with sharpened mangoes and congratulating ourselves on the victory at Umboto Gorge.”

    Actually we are not even there. We have three services which have not put forward a realistic case after the end of the Cold War. The Navy continues to insist that they need big destroyers. Which just so happen to provide the right officers with the right command billets. Just as they did when the Soviet Union still existed. The only people who seem to have noticed the end of the Cold War is the Army.

    “The F-16 was nowhere near as good as the awesome F-4 Phantom, unless you remembered Vietnam in which case the F-4 was rubbish compared to the F-100.”

    That is not true. The Air Force tried to nobble the F-16 too but the Fighter Mafia mostly got their way and were proved right immediately. Remembering the Fighter lobby wanted an even lighter and cheaper plane without all the bells and whistles the Development Chappies insisted it have.

    “Oddly enough, the folk actually involved with the F-35 think better of it, but hey… experts, what do they know?”

    No expert who is not paid to build the F-35 has ever said anything nice about it. It is nearly universally acknowledged that the F-35 is a piece of junk. If you want to play this sort of appeal to authority you will lose. Now they may be wrong. They may get it to work. But the historical record suggests it is better to bail now.

    “We can buy carrier-capable Gripens tomorrow? Really? Are you sure about that? Or do we need to pay for, and accept the risk of, converting a land-based fighter to carrier use – which hasn’t got a particularly outstanding track record?”

    Well carrier-capable may take a few months. Saab is working on it. The risks are infinitely smaller than trusting the F-35 is going to work out well.

    “Just on the chronology, buying Gripen to fly off QEC is the equivalent of bringing HMS Ark Royal (the 1950s version) into service) with an air wing of Gloster Gladiators and Fairey Swordfish.”

    Oh come on. There is a level of argument you cannot go. The 1940s saw one of the biggest changes in technology since the Wright Brothers. Propellers to jets. Of course biplanes were out of place by the 1950s. But the Eurofighter is a pre-stealth design. It has taken so long in development. But it doesn’t matter as much as the over all level of technology just has not advanced that fast. Older designs are still fairely good. To put it another way, the Grippen first flew twenty years after the F-16. Now if we had a sane Air Force, we would still be flying the F-16.

    “No, we put PWR2 in a Vanguard, a Victorious, a Vengeance and a Vigilant.”

    Ahh, boomers.

    “For some reason that seems to really upset some folk who can’t accept that we ever procure anything that works, and rarely trouble themselves to speak to the end-users before getting out the Basildon Bond and filling the pen with green ink (pressed down REALLY HARD so it goes right through the paper)”

    Alas our record for not procuring anything that works sort of poisons the well. Especially where BAe is involved. But, hey, let’s all wave the flag and accuse anyone who says otherwise of being nuts. Let’s ignore the utterly criminal behaviour of the contractor shall we:

    Some serious quality assurance problems have been identified in the first boats built. Due to the failure of a pipe cap, made of incorrect material although construction records indicated the correct metal had been used, Astute was forced to surface following a leak that was flooding a compartment. Other problems have been identified, including the wrong type of lead being used in a reactor instrument, and other quality issues leading to early corrosion of components.

    So they were using sub-standard metals and faking the records to say otherwise. If there is one thing you do not do on a nuclear reactor, or on a submarine, much less on both of them together, it is to use substandard materials and then lie about it.

    “and carriers have escorts to protect these mission-essential units from rude folk meaning them harm.”

    And this is the problem. We need to spend billions, involving dozens of ships, in order to project 36 F-35s. This is hardly cost effective and is unlikely to deter anyone.

    “If we really don’t have to worry about enemies with air defences more capable than MANPADS and heavy machine guns, why are we stressing ourselves about enemy air forces and long-range aircraft?”

    I did not say we did not have to worry about them. They are just the main enemy right now. This plane with these carriers means we have a very limited window of enemies who might give a damn. For most of our likely needs, they are not particularly useful.

    “(and F-35B’s sensors and weapons give it excellent capabilities for slapping fuzzy-wuzzies in nightshirts and Toyota Land Cruisers, as well as getting through capable air defences;”

    Vapourware again.

    “The notion of operating carriers against enemy air forces isn’t new, indeed there are a fair few examples of carriers sneaking up on enemy bases and slapping them robustly (Taranto, Pearl Harbor, Colombo, Trincomalee, Altafjord, Rabaul, Kwajalein, Kure…) despite being outranged by the land-based air protecting them.”

    Look how many of those were surprise attacks. By all means, let us try to do that as often as possible. But that is an argument for smaller cheaper carriers, not really big ones with really expensive planes.

    “Harrier was retired because it was absolutely out of growth room, as well as having been flown to bits in Afghanistan (intensively doing the CAS missions that the RAF supposedly hate so much)”

    You buy new planes when old ones wear out. Not scrap the entire class of planes. The Harrier has problems in places like Afghanistan. But we could have gone for the more capable US version. We could have had a modest programme of upgrades – without any BAe involvement by preference. Instead we have gone with vapourware.

    “Do you actually have any sort of coherent or consistent argument other than “everything everyone does is wrong”?”

    If you are not following it, that is not my problem.

    “Which enemy, exactly, do we expect to fight that has such awesome maritime search and strike capabilities, yet has land forces limited to “blokes in dishdash, flipflops and AK” and no air defences beyond small-arms fire and the occasional MANPADS? This is your threat scenario, please flesh it out a little for us.”

    This is verging on dishonest to the extent that is not worth dealing with.

  28. @General Rear Admiral Air Vice Marshall Sir Somuchfor Subtlety VC CGC DFC DSO and bar OBE, overlooked as head of procurement for all UK forces by some combination of corruption and idiocy, congrats on:

    Comment of the thread (1):

    “I don’t know “utterly permissive” means but it did a good job in Iraq and that was hardly utterly permissive.”

    Comment of the thread (2):

    “Sure. It did the important stuff. SEAD is useful. So are denying airfields. We can probably do without blowing up power stations.”

  29. You would think people would have learnt from the F-4 Phantom that the gun is a wee bit important.

    As I understand it, the F-35B turns so poorly that it’s dead if the other guy gets within cannon range. So a bit pointless to stick one on there.

  30. bloke (not) in spain

    Dunno
    Certainly interesting spectator sport as the two of them lock swords. But i can’t help wonder if both of them miss the point.
    In the C21st, what are the UK’s realistic capabilities?
    I can see a strategic role for defending UK Atlantic approaches. So couple of carriers & some F35’s to fly off them might figure in that. Although the only likely threat to UK sea lanes is Russia & the RN going up against Russia on it’s tod is going to get the RN creamed. The US has carrier battle groups for that sort of job & we’re not the US. So we go down shooting for the purposes of posterity.
    But none of that involves ground attack, penetrating hostile airspace over land etc etc. So half the argument evapourates.
    I can see a role for going beating up fuzzie-wuzzies with muskets in Toyotas. Politicians like that sort of thing. Makes ’em feel important. You could nigh on do that in Swordfish.
    What i can’t see is any role for the military in any of the services between the two extremes. Unless it’s a very, very small country with some stuff they bought second hand off N. Korea they’re going to kick the shit out of us. Afghanistan & Iraq must have taught us something. Even playing second fiddle to the Yanks stretches our capabilities to breaking point.
    Unless we increase our defense budget by a very great deal we are out of the game. We’re just kidding ourselves, otherwise.

  31. bloke (not) in spain

    Incidentally. on the carrier/F35 thing. I haven’t heard any mention of AWACS, tankers, anti-sub capability & all the other things a carrier force needs to be viable. Why?

  32. bloke (not) in spain – Although the only likely threat to UK sea lanes is Russia & the RN going up against Russia on it’s tod is going to get the RN creamed.

    Quite possibly. Though we can make it expensive for them, which would hopefully deter any aggression. Or at least buy time for our allies to help. In that scenario, we’d probably be looking at nuclear war though.

    What i can’t see is any role for the military in any of the services between the two extremes. Unless it’s a very, very small country with some stuff they bought second hand off N. Korea they’re going to kick the shit out of us.

    We’re a mid-sized power so we should aim to be able to beat up other mid-sized powers or smaller, and make it prohibitively expensive for a larger power to threaten us.

    So basically we need to be able to invade France, steal their women and their wine, and cart the contents of the Louvre back to Blighty. Oh, and drop a tactical nuke on Brussels. With a custom-designed mushroom cloud that looks like two fingers being raised aloft…

    …a man can dream, right?

    Incidentally. on the carrier/F35 thing. I haven’t heard any mention of AWACS, tankers, anti-sub capability & all the other things a carrier force needs to be viable. Why?

    I’m not a navy man, just an interested landlubber, but it is slightly concerning that we have more admirals than we do active warships. Carriers do indeed need a lot of other vessels and infrastructure to support them. We’ll have two carriers but probably don’t have enough hulls to put together more than a single carrier battle group at any one time.

    So we currently have 2 x Astute class attack subs in service, a third due to start sea trials this year, another 3 in various stages of construction, and a seventh on order.

    In the meantime we have four of the older Trafalgar class nuclear subs in service.

    We have 15 minehunters in service – some of them getting on a bit, but about half of them dating back to the late 90’s / early 2000’s – so not too shabby, assuming we need minehunters for a particular mission.

    We’ve got 6 x Type-45 destroyers – apparently all very good at air defence and enough to support at least one carrier battle group during wartime, but it wouldn’t leave many (if any) left over for anything else – bearing in mind not all ships are available at all times, due to maintenance, etc. We probably want to put 2 x destroyers in a carrier battle group.

    We have 13 x Type 23 frigates for anti-submarine duty. Most of them date back to the early 90’s though and are due to be replaced with the Type 26 class, starting five years from now.

    AEW in the fleet air arm is currently handled by ancient Sea King helicopters, which are due to be replaced with Merlin helicopters refitted for the role by the end of this decade. These will probably be good kit, but they’re still helicopters, we don’t have the sort of longer range maritime surveillance that the Americans and the French have on their carriers with their Hawkeye prop aircraft – and we couldn’t fly them from our carriers anyway.

    We have four new tankers being built in South Korea which are due to come online in 2016.

    So looks like overall we’ve got the ships to credibly support one carrier battle group that has enough modern firepower to stick a boot up the backside of pretty much any foreign enemy, but not much more than that. If we send the fleet to the Falklands we’d best hope the Russkies don’t try any nautical nonsense at the same time.

    The main choke point is still the planes. We’re currently committed to 48 x F35’s, which really isn’t a lot (we originally planned to buy 138 but the costs kept going up). And nobody seems to know yet how many maintenance hours to flight hours we can expect in practice, which will affect availability. (I think most mature fighters have at least 10 maintenance hours for every flight hour, and some spend considerably more time in the hangar than that).

    And operating costs are going to be a bastard. By most accounts the cost of operating the F35 left the stratosphere and entered the mesosphere over the past few years, even the Americans are upset at how much it will cost to run them. Could be difficult for us to afford to give our pilots the number of flying hours they need to stay proficient. And really, we’d rather they are much better than proficient in a combat situation, we’d rather they rack up enough flying hours to be the best. Not much point in giving our pilots state of the art planes if they’re flying like learner drivers.

    Unfortunately we have to lump it and hope the F-35 lives up to its promises and doesn’t get more expensive still. By building conventionally powered carriers with no cats and traps, we’ve left ourselves with no other option. In a sense our entire naval strategy for the next few decades is built around the yet-to-be-proven F35 – no pressure.

    Unless we increase our defense budget by a very great deal we are out of the game. We’re just kidding ourselves, otherwise.

    We should cancel the foreign aid budget for a start, put it into defence.

    If I was Lord Protector I’d also do a walking tour of the MoD and find every civil servant and senior officer who spends time on things to do with “diversity”, “equality”, “inclusivity”, “climate change”, European directives, “health and safety” (beyond the obviously necessary stuff to do with making sure people don’t lose eyes or limbs), and have them all shot.

    The armed forces are for killing people and breaking things. Anybody who isn’t on board with that mission should fuck off and work for Oxfam.

  33. Steve,

    Pretty good analysis TBH, One minor point is that CROWSNEST (the AEW capability) is less limited by the airframe than some think: a Sea King can push the horizon out to a hundred miles from the aircraft, while a Hawkeye at three times the altitude only sees another fifty; and the radar on CROWSNEST is actually more capable than the Hawkeye’s (the E-2 has overland performance that’s described as “limited”, while we’ve been using our Sea King ASaC.7s to track motorbikes in Iraq and Afghanistan). Fixed-wing gets more options in some ways, but then rotary-wing AEW can be deployed even if the carrier’s not around: we’ve looked at lily-padding a SKASaC onto the back of a Type 45, for example.

    Other than that, though… maintenance is an issue, but tends to be terrible early in the programme and improving once the bugs are beaten out (IIRC the F-15 was initially 40-50 maintenance hours per flight hour, worse than the Phantom it replaced, but dropped to 15-20ish: Typhoon started around twenty and is now around nine). The plan is also to use a lot more synthetic training for the F-35, partly to use less flying hours but also because many of the missions you’d want to train, are bloody difficult to generate in the real world. Guaranteed success? No, just evidence that the risks are recognised and being mitigated.

    In terms of Defence Planning Assumptions… well, we’ve been “one big one” for a long time, Remember 1990, when to get one armoured division operational in Saudi left every other tank in the British Army up on bricks? Even the US have walked back from being able to handle two emergencies at once (albeit theirs are a lot bigger than ours)

    The cynic in me points out that we actually had a fairly robust, well-reasoned plan with 1998’s Strategic Defence Review – but that was predicated on defence getting its historical peacetime average of 3% of GDP and the idea that if we actually went from “ready for a scrap” to “fighting two medium-scale operations at once” it would actually get paid for properly. Tony Blair wanted his overseas adventures and Gordon Brown kept cutting the defence vote, and so the plan was grossly underfunded, lots of capabilities and kit were sacrificed to free up funding for Iraq and Afghanistan…

    Defence is one of the few spending departments that’s actually managed to maintain its outputs on a flat budget, but that’s put a hell of a lot of strain on the system and there’s a certain cynicism about where the wheels will fall off first.

  34. bloke (not) in spain

    Couple of things:
    The question about “takers” wasn’t ship hulls but air refueling. Or they proposing a refueling capability, one F35 to another.? In which case strike sorties on longer ranges get halved.

    And:

    “We’re a mid-sized power so we should aim to be able to beat up other mid-sized powers or smaller, and make it prohibitively expensive for a larger power to threaten us.”

    Let’s have look at that without all the heroics, yomping, “Best Soldiers in the World” ™ & all the other bollocks military enthusiasts bring in.
    Presuming no medium or smaller powers are going to threaten the UK by invading Essex, what does that mean? It does imply the British Military is going to go start a war in someone else’s Essex. Now, can we have a list of countries we could do that & have a hope of prevailing?
    I’d have a guess Belgium & a couple other of the more pacifist European nations. Possibly some of the smaller Caribbean islands. Scotland. That’s about it.
    There’s something to be learned from the Falklands, if one ignores all the Col Jones VC, didn’t he do well, bollocks. The Brit military went down to to kick the arse of a third rate military power & just scraped it. If they’d lost the carrier or another ship or two we’d have been cabling BA to ask if we could have our soldiers back, please. We only just had the capability then & don’t have now. And if the UK is going to go wage war now, it needs to do so with the overwhelming force needed to win. Which there’s no conceivable way it has. It’s not just F35s & carriers. It’s the capability to put a sizeable force on someone else’s territory, supply & support it.
    So the only game for the military, in town, are Serbias, Iraq’s & Afghanistans. Joint operations with other nations. Nice wars if you can get ’em. Cosying up to the US or other allies never hurts. Particularly politicians & military with careers at stake.
    But what have they got to do with UK defense requirements?

  35. B(n)iS

    “But what have they got to do with UK defense requirements?”

    Isn’t what you wrote above that the point?

    Whilst I agree 100% with the “defence” bit, It’s not just defence of the UK land mass is it? It’s obligations to NATO (article 5) and other existing interests (including Falklands / Gib / various others)? That’s all what we would call “defence”.

    I would ask, why 2%?

  36. B(n)IS,

    Refuelling; probably absent on F-35B, it’s got a 400-odd mile radius in Day One configuration (which is four times what we could do with Sea Harrier) or can haul external tanks: but STOVL isn’t a great configuration to do buddy refuelling from, and buddy tanking is mostly about small top-ups anyway; especially recovery tanking, for anyone coming back short of fuel, anyone who keeps boltering and is getting dry, or for keeping aircraft circling while a foul deck is cleared – the easier, quicker vertical or short-rolling landings mean those are much less necessary. The US Navy runs aboard their carriers with one or two F/A-18Es set up with four tanks and a buddy pod, so there’s a recovery tanker available but they’ve had no organic strike tanking since (arguably) the KA-3 retired, and the Hornet’s got much less range than the F-35B.

    When the USN need significant tanker support, they use land-based assets: which have the range, and the lower political profile, to be more easily made available than landward bases for strike aircraft. (For instance, during the Balkan unpleasantness, we could and did fly recce and tanker assets out of Aviano, but nothing armed)

    As for defence planning… Annex 3A of JDP 0-01, “UK Defence Doctrine”, describes “When we might use armed force” under the headings of:-

    – Protecting the UK’s security
    – Protecting the security of our dependent territories
    – Responding to a United Nations Security Council Resolution
    – Treaty obligations
    – Promoting and defending our national interests worldwide

    with some supporting explanation on each.

  37. bloke (not) in spain

    I must say. Looking out of the window & seeing a Brit carrier group operating off Fuengirola would be a sight to behold. I wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Wonder whether i could sell tickets?
    I think military types should have their toys taken away before they hurt themselves.

  38. bloke (not) in spain

    Just to to clarify. I am in no way whatsoever a pacifist. I am a great believer in extreme & gratuitous violence visited on those arouse displeasure.
    But I wouldn’t trust anyone from the military to tie their own shoelaces.

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