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Excellent article, you’ve covered basically everything we’ve all been arguing about in the comments all these years.

Realistically, while STOVL may be worse off in a game of top trumps, it’s still superior to almost anything else in the world minus the US: 24-36 F35Bs plus helicopters is easily the best in Europe, a million miles better than anything Russia, India, or Japan are fielding or will field anytime soon, and far more capable than the Chinese carriers until they start fielding CATOBAR supercarriers.


The Chinese, Russian and Indians all use STOBAR, it’s far cheaper than CATOBAR and the CONVENTIONAL jets are FAR cheaper than STOVL.


They also can’t take off with a full load of fuel and weapons…its either/or…


To be fair though, Europe is a bit of a bad comparison as really only the UK and French are power projection capable, and their successor carrier will likely be far better.

And with regards to potential adversaries, yes, they’re better than anything Russia, India or China currently have (though the Chinese development and building program is almost SpaceX-like rapid), land-based fighters & air defences should also be considered.

I am just concerned that though in the present it looks like we’ve made the right decision, if, in the fullness of time that will stay the same, or will we come to rue being tied to the F-35B for the long haul.


I agree with many of the points made and I do think that EMALS could be a future addition when the ship goes through a mid life program. Possibly money can be put aside over a ten year period for this.
I have no complaint with the ski jump or the F35 B as I think for the state of the nations finances the MoD have done a good job getting two good sized carriers to the fleet.
My complaint is that the I think the carriers should have two-three arrestor wires and a crash barrier. Reason for this is as follows, if the lift fan or swivel nossel fails how will the aircraft land? If a US or French aircraft is in trouble and the QE is the closest deck how could we land the plane, we can’t. I am not saying that they will be able to take of again, it could be possible but more than likely they would be landed when the carrier is docked.
It is possible that there is plans or postions for a crash barrier but I have not noticed it, so does that mean if the lift fan cannot open that the pilot ejects and a £100 million aircraft is lost due to a failed catch?


The F35B with its small wing would have a massively high approach speed. To withstand the forces needed to stop it on a career deck would need a lot of heavy structural reinforcement.
When to far from land to divert F35 pilots like Harrier pilots before them will need to bail out if there is a major failure of the lift system.

Supportive Bloke

I totally agree re stress for B variant.

The only reason for any kind of catapult would be UAV for overwatch.

That being said the very persistent duration high level solar drones are very long range and can silently sit above a CBG.

The only issue with solar UAV is that they will be passive detect devices as there is not the onboard power to bong out radar pulses to paint things actively.

Even then the rate drone tech is coming on I don’t see it as being that far in the future that an ICE power packed VSTOL drone is a thing. Payload, persistence and power density are the keys.

Personally I don’t see Crowsnest as being the long term solution. Just part of a more comprehensive solution.


I also have wondered about the cost of just fitting a few arrestor wires. Not for the “B” though, as I believe it Is too much like the “A”, if the vertical components fail. It would allow you to operate as a basic STOBAR carrier if needed for US or French carrier aircraft. They should have no problem taking off again using the ski jump, but likely with less ordinance/fuel. Might even allow a squadron of SAAB Sea Gripen light fighters for flying CAP over the fleet (where their flying cost per hour may make that worthwhile) & leave the F35B for strike operations.


Whenever you catch yourself writing “just” in terms of just doing something, stop. Just is your subconscious’s way of saying, we both know it’s not that simple but if I add just, maybe some idiot will believe it is.
Arrestors aren’t just some wire, and just fitting arrestors will not let you operate STOBAR. Soon it’s an angled flight deck, so recovering planes at one end won’t stop you operating at the other for fear of bolters. Then there’s the extra cost of operations, with more flight deck crew, and engineers. And there’s the training of your Gripen pilots for landing with arrestors. As nobody yet runs Gripen Maritime that means developing and delivering a unique training programme for a dozen pilots, all of whom not only have to be certified, but need to remain certified. Not to mention the risks of being the first/only country to run the planes themselves. And if we are the first/only country to use them, and we only want to operate a squadron, the cost per plane will be higher than the F-35B. Getting spares in 20 years time, might be a bit tough verging on impossible.

“Just” some wire. It’s never “just”.



As you say, it’s not that simple & I did say ‘basic’ STOBAR. The SAAB was more a query. However, without arrestors, the two RN carriers will remain the only large carriers anywhere in the world that cannot land STOBAR / CATOBAR aircraft, not even in an emergency.


True. But if we aren’t going to run CATOBAR/STOBAR aircraft, it’ll be somebody else’s emergency. Why would you want to pay someone else’s insurance policy?
The US don’t equip Wasp/America, nor France the Mistrals, and they are the countries we would be most likely underwriting.

David Adams

i agree once you have made your decision the best thing is to go with it and practice working within you limits

Kevin Hastie

Jon, I think you are being a little over-critical in respect to the context of DJ`s assertion of fitting arrestor gear. He is using the word “just” to denote “only” , i.e. without catapult, not to suggest such an addition would be an easy “bolt-on” extra. Such a suggestion does not merit haughty dismissal. It is true that such an addition would be problematic and costly, but it is also true that it would augment the operational capability of the carrier.


One of us misread it, and if that was me, DJ, I apologize for my manner.

I believe a hybrid STOBAR/VSTOL carrier compromises both modes, so I don’t think it would augment the operational capability of the carrier.


Jon – no worries. I did mean ‘only’ as Kevin suggested. No ‘cats’. No angled flight decks either. I should have worded things better. I did indicate I was wondering about the cost of doing it & if there was value in it. I know it won’t be cheap – if it involves aircraft carriers & fighter jets then it rarely is.

RN will soon have two operational large carriers, but so far have only ordered enough F35B for a full loadout for one carrier (48 fighters) & it appears delivery of the 48 is still going to take years (so much so that they are going to embark some USMC F35B in the mean time). The total is supposed to be 138 eventually (how long might this take?), although RAF don’t appear really interested in theirs & would rather F35A. Anything below 100 ‘B’ & UK will not be able to field two maxed out carriers, even if both are available.

France does have 44 ‘M’ fighters but only one carrier. These aircraft exist (not a future order). If you could do it cheaply enough & not overly affect the ships, then can a basic STOBAR configuation (no angled decks) for A-A loaded fighters only, work & work well enough to be usefull? UK does not need to own the fighters (SAAB was only mentioned because it’s the cheapest to fly – not a recommendation) & it would not need to be the norm. With all the noise about ‘B’ / not ‘B’ / ‘B’ again & costs of doing CATOBAR v STOVL, I don’t remember seeing much of STOBAR other than ‘STOBAR won’t let you operate with a full load therfore bad idea’. A fighter loaded out for air to air operations are way under full load. Russia, China & India all operate at least one STOBAR carrier & studies have indicated that the Super Hornet & Rafale-M can both operate in STOBAR mode with a more than usefull loadout. Would HMS POW with 24-36 French owned Rafale-M fighters & aircrew & Merlin ‘crowsnest’ (or similar) be a ‘viable’ NATO aircraft carrier & how much would it cost (the UK) if you did it for 1 year every 3-4 years when the French carrier was unavailable?

I am talking two types of emergancy here – somewhere to land an allied plane (because they can’t land on their own carrier for whatever reason) & an emergancy carrier option (because UK may have a 2nd carrier available but not enough aircraft).

Steve R

The only advantage that a hybrid VSTOL/STOBAR carrier would have is that it could land US or French carrier jets in an emergency.

Other than that it’s got to be either full VSTOL or full CATOBAR. As the article states, if we were operating on a 3% GDP or more defence budget (£60billion a year) then CATOBAR and F35C would be the ideal, but in our reality of a limited budget and limited manpower it makes more sense for the B version and STOVL.

There remain to be challenges with this version, such as reduced range of aircraft carried and limited range of the F35Bs, but then CATOBAR has its own challenges, too.


And who would pay the development costs of the currently nonexistent Sea Gripen? And who would pay to setup and maintain the support and training ecosystem for the type. Given the numbers involved it would be far far cheaper to buy and operate more F35B.


I agree, murphy’s law does come in to play when dealing with highly complex automation required for the B’s lift fan doors, rotating exhaust or additional air inlet doors to operate correctly and consistently. At the very least there should be a crash barrier! This would predominantly only be used for emergencies, though I suppose it could be used for any fixed wing aircraft. Whether the aircraft is still usable after being stopped by the barrier is a mute point, as its main purpose is to stop the aircraft being ditched in the sea.


This is why I’m in the traditional camp of believing that 2 engines are preferable with naval aircraft as losing an engine could leave the pilot in the sea hundreds of km away from any ships.
While it’s obviously more points of failure, I’m not as concerned about the lift fan or thrust vectoring nozzle going wrong as a simple engine failure.

A solution might be as you say to implement a simple emergency crash net (so no complex and expensive arrestor gear required) as is often a feature of CATOBAR/STOBAR carriers for times when the arrestor wires or tailhook fails (2 points of failure not on VTOL aircraft).


Well said, but I fear the “defence is the first priority of Government “ crowd will still wine on and on. They will say the First Sea Lord should just have ordered the equipment and challenged the Government to sack him or some other mumbo jumbo.
Lots of these types live in a fantasy world divorced from the really of 2020 British politics.


I’m at a loss why the RN doesn’t consider the Osprey. Seems like an adaptable aircraft offering range, payload and speed for a wide variety of operations. Certainly could be adapted for early warning, in-flight refueling and ferrying payload and people. I know it’s not cheap at some £60m; but still seems like a worthwhile investment.


That’s a question that I’ve thought about – the US Navy are procuring it to replace the C-2 for COD, while the US Marines are working on its use as a tanker. Seeing as Crowsnest is palletised, how difficult would it be to install on the Osprey? That way, you have Ospreys dedicated to those roles aboard the carrier, allowing the limited Merlin fleet to be used in what really should be its dedicated role.


I’m lead to believe that there was a study into that. It ended when they got to the price tag.


The US Navy did do a trial using a “palatalised” radar on a V22 Osprey. It was proper Heath Robinson, where they used the radar from a S3 Viking. The radar was bolt to the bottom of the ramp, then lowered to a horizontal position once in flight, so that it rotated clearly below the aircraft. The problem here was that the crew had to use individual oxygen to fly above 10,000ft. Oh and it did’t work very well, so they binned the concept. Why they didn’t borrow the kit from a RN ASASC Sea King I don’t know. Boeing have also shown some drawings/publications with the Osprey having a triangular AESA antenna fixed above the fuselage, but this hasn’t gone anywhere, due to the E2D.

The best option for us, is to replace the Merlin/Crowsnest combination with what the USMC are doing with their MUX program. This uses the Bell multi-role V247 Vigilant unmanned tilt-rotor aircraft. The aircraft was originally planned to be used for close air support and reconnaissance. But the USMC and US Navy now require their America/Wasp class mini carriers to have a local AEW capability. The V22 is the obvious choice, but they have decided to use the V247 instead. One of the radar options is to use a variant of the F35’s APG-81. This will give them an awesome capability, as not only will it fly higher and longer than a Merlin. The APG-81 is a true multi-mode low probability of intercept radar and is leagues more advanced than the seaspray in the crowsnest.


Best option in my opinion is the AW609 for the AWACS and COD on the UK carriers

Meirion X

AW609 Too lightweight for the task!
V22 can take more load.


Sure V22 is better than AW609 if money was no concern. My choice of the AW609 predicated on cost versus the V22 and fact that it is only slightly more expensive than the Merlin but has better range and payload than the Merlin which current has the AWACS and COD role on the UK Carriers.


Plus the cost of a support/training ecosystem to run say 10/15 aircraft. Or for the same money we could have an extra squadron of F35 and one of Merlin.


Three Billion US Dollars for 17 Ospreys… Or ten times the amount that the RN had for Crowsnest, twice the amount that the Royal Navy has for the T31 program or half of the entire CVF program.
No money, no toys.


.Tim D

I’m sorry to have to say this but you start your argument from a position that supposes F35b or F35c and EMALS were the starting point and that is not the case.

At the time the UK was re-entering fixed-wing aviation after a break of considerable time and the goal was for two large carriers along the conventional lines of RO9. if you prefer a rebirth of CVA01.

DefenceSynergia of which I am a member pushed very hard for a gradual entry back into CATOBAR with F18e/f and ICCALS which could have been easily accomplished and with greater savings. (Nowhere near the quoted £2 bn from MoD). Building up to F35 as and when funds were available and the Carriers were properly worked up. Not to mention with more capable fixed-wing AEW.

ICCALS, in particular, was known about long before the Uturn and was available in a modernized form for $50million per catapult (fitted). Discussions were in hand by Stallard associates with the USN on using mothballed traps from recently retired USN CV’s which were in A1 condition and this was cleared in principle with the USN. ICCALS was due to be fitted to CVN77 on cats 3/4.

There would have also been savings on using F18 over F35, not only in initial cost but also in costs per hour and availability.

We briefed the HCDC and several ministers on this And I know for a fact that the Naval attache in Washington knew of this long before March Uturn, the Uturn decision made a full six months before the end of the CATOBAR study was meant to report.

And today, over 6 years later EMALS and AAG are only just workable on GR Ford and while the current state of affairs is workable on the QEC we believe CATOBAR was possible, affordable and had the above been properly considered might have meant the retention of other hulls that were disposed of through lack of funds.

A couple of points for info:

We were informed by letter from Peter Luff (defence minister at the time) that ICCALS wasn’t considered as it was not offered by the US (even though MOD knew of its existence).

A former RN officer in DS was told by a serving civil servant that the UK had never operated CATOBAR carriers!!!!!

.Tim D

We discussed this at the time with you personally and there is more to this story than you suggest in your reply.

I maintain a buy for the RAF of the F35 A would still have allowed the UK to maintain its tier one status and the sums saved by not buying the B initially would have afforded the purchase of F18 for the Navy and the CATOBAR version of QEC.


So why wasn’t the UK’s EMCAT ever considered? It works for Qinetiq as they use them for launching target drones. The company at the time, Converteam, said their system was scalable. But then they got bought out by GE Power, so did they put the knife in to make sure it wasn’t picked?

.Tim D

It was early on and soon dropped. I have a letter from Mod Stating that to be the case. A GE engine for F 35 was dropped at some point in favour of a PW version. I personally don’t think GE put the Knife in but others might have done.

I cannot say enough times that pressures were applied to the project from both commercial and service agents. And they have spent years trying to justify some really poor design choices (Type 45 anyone?) either through political, financial or not invented here mantras.

We Briefed Liam Fox on ICCALS, F35 and the carrier project with a view to getting the best for the UK, (with no financial benefits to DS) ultimately we failed, through no fault of Liam Fox, I might add. He actually said to DS that the MOD was and I quote, Liars and incompetent. He told us that he had personally spoken to Leon Panetta about the viability ICCALS but you must remember General Atomics and Lockheed are closely connected and had a vested interest in making sure EMALS won the US contract (even though it could not be back fitted to the Nimitz class ) and any possible future UK contract. Somewhere in this time frame, NASA also picked EMALS to assist in rocketry launches, further enhancing its supposed bonafide.

Even early on in the CATOBAR project, we knew of the design flaws for EMALS including structural failure of surrounding deck plating and heat dissipation and at the time, an actual failure rate of one launch in 200 which is not sustainable with aircraft costing £100 million-plus.

We paid to be a tier-one partner in JSF and from a commercial point of view, a buy of 138 F35 by the UK over the lifetime of a project that was slated to produce over 2400 aircraft for US and overseas customers is chicken feed – BAES is contracted to get 15% of all F35’s produced, whether we bought the aircraft or not

I might add the oft-quoted price £70m per aircraft (both in parliament and Mod) has never been attained and there is some debate as to whether that price ever included an engine.


Aren’t you missing the key point with all this?. The Fleet Air Arm was nowhere close to large enough to stand up 4 frontline F-18E or F-35C squadrons and an OCU.

The RAF would be off doing their own thing with their A models. Why would they be interested in letting us have space at Marham gratis?.

Maybe we’d have shared some training and the logistics elements that can be shared between the types (assuming F-35C), but, predominantly the costs to stand up the air stations for a sizeable, advanced, fastjet force and the training and support backend would have landed on the RN. What’s cancelled to find that money?. CASD?. T26?. The second carrier???.

CATOBAR is inherently inflexible owing to the need to keep deck quals up. STOVL doesn’t suffer that penalty as we’ve proven.

Money no object and with a desire to stand up the FAA fastjet component to the size of the Aeronavale yeah sure. That wasn’t the picture we were presented with was it. Simply there was a good reason we picked STOVL twice.

.Tim D

Deck quals are just as important in either case but you are right the FAA would have needed to increase in size for 4 Sqdns of F18 but thats not to say RAF pilots couldn’t rotate between the two types.
But I understand what you are getting at, the point is we don’t spend enough.

We are where we are and will have to make do now but things should have been different.


Four Sqn´s of Royal Navy F/A-18E/F?! Pie in the sky.
Right now the entire RAF fields seven sqns of front line jets.


Deck quals are vastly, unrecognisably, simpler with STOVL than CATOBAR. Even the likes of the SRL technique are less demanding than cat/trap and SRL only needs be used in very specific circumstances.

Which of the air stations could handle 4 squadrons of fastjets?. Marham cost £500mn to stand up for -35B – we didnt have that to spend on getting a new-look FAA bedded down even if we could have bought the planes on the cheap.

RAF pilots rotating to sea duty?. Why?. Whats in it for the light blue?. For them its a net loss having to put a pilot through the whole month long deck qual phase then lose him/her for a 6 month tour. All to gain experience in a 4th gen strike type when their 5th gen strike type (assuming that would be -35A) would require a different set of skills.

Sorry Tim but, as was the case at the time, CATOBAR meant massive sacrifices elsewhere. It was never realistic. Most likely we’d have ended up caught in the same absurd fix the French snookered themselves with in having a single deck part-time carrier capability. Better STOVL availablity near 100% of the time than CATOBAR availability near 50%.

Hugh Jarce

But the F-35B won’t give us 100% availability because of its atrocious fully mission capable rate and atrocious sortie rate.

“The F-35B’s fully mission capable rate fell from 23 percent in October 2017 to 12.9 percent in June 2018, while the F-35C plummeted from 12 percent in October 2016 to 0 percent in December 2017, then remained in the single digits through 2018.”

“To tell how many planes can actually get to the fight requires a second measure, the sortie generation rate: that is, how many flights per day each fighter in the fleet completes. The 2018 DOT&E report makes no mention of it. The fleet-wide sortie rates for the three F-35 variants POGO calculated from the 2017 report were extremely low, averaging between 0.3 and 0.4 sorties per day. During Operation Desert Storm, frontline combat aircraft including the F-15 and F-16 flew an average of at least one sortie per day, and the A-10 fleet averaged at least 1.4 sorties per day. Even under the pressure of recent Middle East combat deployment, the F-35’s rates have not improved. According to statements from the squadron commander, 6 F-35Bs onboard the USS Essex flew over 100 sorties in 50-plus days in the Middle East. In other words, each F-35B flew a third of a sortie per day—meaning they flew an average of once every three days—in sustained combat.”


Mission capable rate in 2016-2018 is not necessarily the same we will experience or expect with a further developed aircraft in 2021.

Look at the atrocious issues that hampered the revered F-14 Tomcat it its earlier years. These things are not uncommon with service-entry aircraft.

It’s still no justification whatsoever for a CATOBAR decision over STOVL when, for our needs, CATOBAR was never a viable option without binning one of the decks.

The very simple equation was one CATOBAR deck or two STOVL. That decision takes whole milliseconds to consider.

Hugh Jarce

For starters there’s a difference between the mission capable rate and the FULLY mission capable rate. Pretty much all an F-35B has to do is take off for it to be classed as mission capable. Being FULLY mission capable is another thing altogether and is the only measure that matters.

ALIS is still causing serious problems with sortie rates as the 2019 DOT&E report shows:
“Although the program released several new versions of ALIS in 2019 that improved ALIS usability, these improvements did not eliminate the major problems in ALIS design and implementation and are unlikely to significantly reduce technical debt or improve the user experience. ALIS remains inefficient and cumbersome to use, still requires the use of numerous workarounds, retains problems with data accuracy and integrity, and requires excessive time from support personnel. As a result, it does not efficiently enable sortie generation and aircraft availability as intended. Users continue to lack confidence in ALIS functionality and stability. The program should expedite fixes to Electronic Equipment Logbook data as it is a major ALIS degrader, frequent source of user complaints, and a major ALIS administrator burden.”
“Software instability may be the least of the F-35 program’s cyber concerns. The F-35 relies on a tightly integrated network of computer systems both in the air and on the ground to operate. The problems with that system, called the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), have become so extensive that Pentagon officials announced in January they would replace it with a new system by 2022.”

That new system is called ODIN:

Today’s F-35Bs could start going to the boneyard as early as 2026 though, so it’s all moot anyway:
“During durability testing, the Marine and Navy F-35s have suffered so many cracks and received so many repairs and modifications that the test planes can’t complete their 8,000-hour life-expectancy tests. The Marine version’s airframe life could be so short that today’s F-35Bs might end up in the boneyard as early as 2026, 44 years before the program’s planned 2070 sunset.”

And carriers with cats and traps would be far superior to STOVL carriers. With cats & traps we could launch:

  • Growlers for EW
  • Hawkeyes for AEW which would be superior to Merlin Crowsnest in terms of speed, altitude and range
  • 4th gen jets like the Super Hornet and Rafale-M to provide redundancy and to act as missile and bomb trucks for the F-35s
  • MQ-25 refuelling drones once they’re ready to buy

But since it’s very unlikely that the QE or POW will ever be fitted with cats & traps, it would make sense to buy Ospreys (a) so that we can refuel the F-35s and (b) to use them for AEW which would free up Merlins for ASW duties. It would also make sense, if possible, to convert a couple of F-35Bs to dedicated EW aircraft.

If the proposed Sea Gripen ever gets built, then fitting the carriers with arrestor wires and using the Sea Gripen in a STOBAR configuration might be a possibility. It all depends on what it would cost to fit the wires and how long it would take. The Gripen is relatively cheap to fly and maintain and is relatively easy to maintain. Plus it would give us a measure of redundancy instead of being wholly dependent on the F-35.

Last edited 4 years ago by Hugh Jarce

Cheers Tim, always wondered why it got dropped. The ones Qinetiq are using up at Benbecula to launch the Banshees etc seem to be working ok and they use them for different sizes of drones. Granted the weights they are launching are much smaller.

Meirion X

Possibly a removable mini Ecat catapult could be fixed to the deck to the left of the Ski ramp to launch Drones up to about a few tons, on a QE carrier?

Meirion X

I mean, place a mini catapult adjacent to the Ski ramp on forward section.

.Tim D

Point is ICCALS could be fitted in the ramp but you still have the problem of arrestor gear.
And F18 and E2 (I believe) were tested on a ramp although they would need stiffening to the landing gear.

Meirion X

I never heard of a catapult setup, that can be fitted inside a Skl ramp before. Does anybody else know?

Bloke down the pub

‘For F-35C pilots, making safe arrested landings is far more demanding than the highly automated, push-button vertical landing of the F-35B.’
My theory on the choice of aircraft has always been that the QEs only got the go ahead because the RAF gave them their qualified blessing. They wanted the benefits of having a base close to the fight that they could use but were not willing to commit the time and effort needed to keep crews trained in the use of cats and traps. For the RAF, the only option they would consider was the F35b.


I wouldn’t go as far as to say the only reason we got the carriers was because of the RAF, but they probably played a role in the STOVL configuration being selected. A single replacement for both Harrier versions to equip both services was also very appealing to the Treasury.

James Fennell

We got involved in the F-35 program in 1995 and CVF was a product of the 1997 SDR. F-35 was a one-for-one replacement for Harrier and Sea Harrier. The F-35 program made CVF affordable – we were buying 138 for both services so we would have enough to fill the large carriers. Any change would always have resulted in having two types of F-35 aboard if a full air wing was required on both ships. The option for CATOBAR was to provide flexibility if there was not a credible VSTOL F-35B replacement program during the life of the carriers. Thank the lord common sense has prevailed and we stuck to the original plan.

James Fennell

The point being F-35B was always a joint RAF/FAA and industry programme (we pioneered VSTOL), so a move to F-35C, or, God forbid, F/A18 or fanciful ideas about Sea Gripen or Sea Typhoon undermines the cost, joint-service and industry benefits which made a large carrier option feasible in the first instance.


Not quite. F35B is an aircraft, which didn’t exist in 1995. The US programme that resulted in it was JSF (Joint Strike Fighter), which evolved from JAST (Joint Affordable Strike Technology).

Back in the nineties, there were UK naval programmes – CVSG(R), then CV(R), then CV(F) for which the proposed aircraft was FCBA (Future Carrier Borne Aircraft) and which could have been STOVL, STOBAR or CTOL aircraft(CATOBAR is a made-up nonsense acronym, dating from the nomenclature applied to F35, you won’t find it mentioned anywhere prior to about 2003). The RAF had a separate programme – Future Offensive Air System (FOAS), which was very definitely a standalone programme.

SDR98 confirmed big deck carriers compared to CVS-a-likes, but the FCBA aircraft choice was still left open across STOVL, STOBAR and CTOL, although it was obvious that STOBAR was a gash idea even then. One of the aircraft options was a navalised EF2000 in either STOBAR or CTOL mode, the others were FA18E and either STOVL or CTOL (F35C) JSF. Navalised EF2000/Typhoon was doomed from the off, largely because of the approach angle of attack the aircraft required, as well as the inevitable strengthening of gear, structure required and the various materials and EMI issues that arise when you try to operate a land-based design from a ship.

In the early to mid-noughties, the two separate FOAS and FCBA programmes were merged to result in FJCA (Future Joint Combat Aircraft), which eventually became F35B, then briefly F35C before reverting to F35B again.

The adaptable carrier approach was carried through because the STOVL cab had only one credible solution and therefore a CTOL option was required as a risk reduction/fallback. The reason that the CTOL conversion became so expensive was that the ship contract never covered the actual detailed design of the structure, systems and compartments for CTOL – it only made sure there was enough weight, space power provision in the basic STOVL design to allow conversion if required. By the time SDSR10 came about, QEC was well advanced in build and to do the detailed design for a CTOL ship would have meant pausing the build for about 18 months. Which meant paying the yards to have their guys standing about unable to progress. that’s where a lot of the cost came from.

Bloke down the pub

‘In the long term the development of VSTOL UAVs, perhaps sharing the costs with the USMC, would seem sensible.’
Quite agree.


Agree F-35B is the way to go. Its range (900 nm ) comparison with F-35C (1200nm ) misses the real issue I think; the Blackburn Buccaneer had a range of about 2000nm in world where Exocet type missiles were yet to become a threat. Carriers today have to get closer in for a land strike and are more vulnerable; they are dependent on the protection of their escorts. Also, for comparison wiki has F-18F combat radius as just 390nm. So for me 2 carriers with F-35B in service earlier versus one catobar was the right decision; very credible offensive capability available 100% of the time.


Are you absolutely certain that those range comparisons are valid?


Per my reply to JohnT I am relying on the authority of the wiki authors.


I’ve not seen the 900 nmi and 1200 nmi figures for F-35 anywhere other than wikipedia so I suspect that someone just doubled the official published radius of action numbers.

John Wood

There is a huge difference between “out and back” and “combat radius” and it’s mainly due to those little reheat thingies!!


390nm for a Super Hornet? I think not, I believe you are quoting an F18C fully loaded.


Got the number from the F-18E/F wiki page, which also quotes the range with 2 Aim 9 missiles as 1275nm and a ferry range of 1800nm. There is another wiki page for the F-18C/D which quotes a ‘range’ of 1089nm and a ferry range also of 1800nm but no combat radius number. So I am dependent on the authority of wiki authors.


According to the Federation of American Scientist, a Washington Think tank….The F18C has a standard combat radius of over 500 nm, Boeing chooses to not report actual specifications. The one number that Boeing is willing to give is that the F18E has additional internal fuel capacity along with increased wing area providing a 41 percent increase to it’s range over the C model. Additionally the F18E can carry 17750 pds of ordinance, quite a bit more than F35. Both are excellent aircraft, but it must be remembered that a conventional take off aircraft will invariably have greater performance than a V/STOL aircraft as it does not need, the additional, performance inhibiting, design compromises.


Understood. I am not arguing that the F-35B is the strike equal of F-35C in terms of range or payload; or even F-18E. Although precision weapons allow lighter payloads. What I am drawing attention to is that in the last few decades the range of carrier based strike aircraft has fallen while anti-ship missiles, especially upcoming hypersonic missiles, make the aircraft carrier much more vulnerable: to the point where there is an argument that there are really now 2 viable distinct classes of carrier; Ford class CATOBAR super carriers and America/QE class STOVL carriers. Thoughts?


I think, that we are embroiled in the old pre WWII argument over smaller or bigger carriers. Just like those days I believe that bigger is definitely better in this case. Simple engineering states that the bigger ship is more survivable then the smaller. A larger air group will also directly translate to survivability not just for the carrier but it’s attached escorts as well, with diversity being key. Also power generation will be extremely relevant, as the new laser weapons and others are very power intensive, more power equals greater numbers and more survivability.


Care must be taken though that you don’t end up with the marine equivalent of the WW2 German Maus (mouse). In some ways, the Ford class is starting to look that way. The old saying of ‘too many eggs in one basket’ is as relevant today as it ever was.


The Ford Class in no larger than a Nimitz, and that class have proven to be exceptional. Her price is a result of new technology, not size increase.



The problem with the Maus was not just it’s size. It was how much in the way of resources was diverted & wasted trying to make it work. Only 1 was ever completed. How many Tiger & Panther tanks were not built because of it?

Nimitz works – Ford doesn’t. Some of the design decisions look very questionable, especially if they take battle damage. How many QE class carriers could they have built for the cost of 1 non functioning Ford class? How many Nimitz mk 2 could they have built? Yes there is a lot of new technology, most of which appears to have never been tested before they decided to build a 100,000 ton aircraft carrier around it. Even if everything eventually works, is it worth the outlay? Are we looking at another Sea Wolf class equivalent?

Captain Nemo

Very well written article, many thanks.

I’d agree that I’m cautiously optimistic that persistent AEW may solve itself for our needs due to the continued and hopefully cost effective development of tiltrotor and UAV’s.

One question:
“Theoretically, the B can achieve this using Short Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL)”
Any clues as to how much it can land with otherwise?

For a light hearted piece further extolling the versatility of VSTOL, I’d direct interested parties to something I stumbled across on youtube recently: ‘One of Our Harriers is Misssing’.



SRVL is only required when the temperature is high. In northern climates, a full load may be landed vertically. I do not know the exact temperature point.


I genuinely think powering the EMALS with IEP would have come with its own problems. Nuke carriers with EMALS is a good next project for Britain, which we can get to maybe in 2050!

Will O

I disagree. Basing & refueling of nuke carriers would be a very expensive, impractical & unnecessary headache. Should perhaps start gradually exploring the design/tech for the next carriers now, given the time it takes to build them. LPHs/LHDs should be given priority first, there’s a practical need & use for those.


Anyone know what happened to ECAT?

Supportive Bloke

The key factor in the B/C debate is the sheer cost of training pilots for C.

Secondary is the range of sea states the B can cope with and that is writ large in RN consciousness because of Corporate.

The long flight deck on QE does help with payload as good horizontal speed can be gained prior to ski jump without red lining everything. This should reduce stress on the airframe and engine/lift fan.

Realistically we have got something which will work very well for a price we can just about afford.

The interoperability with USMC B’s is a really big thing and the QE’s will be out front quite a bit flying a really big RN flag with USMC supporting cast.


I just recently found this site and think it’s remarkably well done. Thank you for the excellent work.

I am very surprised at what I see as penny wise and pound foolish decisions. For a relatively small investment the ship can be fitted with the Osprey tanker. Yes, they cost money. But the increases in capability is tremendous.

Perhaps a leasing arrangement with the USMC can be arranged so that the aircraft would only be used during work ups and deployments? The advantages seem so huge as to warrant cutting corners elsewhere.

From the US perspective this would make sense. Having a a more capable QE would take some of the load off our Navy. The article mentions how the US was eager to help with cost sharing.


Welcome to the site. Unfortunately, “penny wise and pound foolish” sums up a lot of our defence procurement over the past couple of decades. In this case though, it’s just not practical. It might seem like a relatively small investment, but our defence budget is running on fumes as it is, and spending more on leasing foreign aircraft when there are more pressing concerns would be ill-advised.

Supportive Bloke


It the USMC are on board anyway, literally, they may, hopefully, bring Osprey with them.

That way the work up costs are on the USMC who then get to leverage the UK platform further.

RN gets a mature worked up derisked solution presented to them that they can test at their leisure.

As @March9999 says the great benefit to USMC/USN is that they get another really capable platform to take strain off their carrier operations.

There are loads of benefits to having USMC on board and there may be other gear tested in the same way that the RN can then take derisked decisions on purchase/lease/loan. Try before you buy is a big plus!


The USMC isn’t going to be a permanent edition though. I’m all for it if they want to bring V-22s with refuelling equipment with them for trials (the V-22 itself was tested during the last Westlant op I believe), but the fact remains that we don’t have the budget to consider something that’s a nice-to-have when we’re lacking in must haves like the Lightnings themselves and the weapons to equip them.


I’m involved in defense contracting. Quite a bit of sales go to foreign countries after we “prove” the hardware here in USA. I think that people may be overstating the cost. The R & D and operational proving Will already be done.

I’m no expert in this field but it just seems to be a great way to go. We share SLBMs with the RN for crying out loud! Surely working a leading program for Ospreys (by the flight hour for example) wouldnt be too hard. Some RN pilots and contractors for maintenance and you could really increase the capability.

There’s also the safety factor of having a tanker.

Finally, it could actually save money. Less sortie generation needed since a single aircraft be kept airborne longer instead of two aircraft sorties required.

Hugh Jarce

Whenever anyone suggests ways to improve the carriers (or the RN in general), why do people such as yourself always bring up cost and say we can’t afford it? The government found hundreds of billions to bail out the banks, is spending tens of billions on HS2 (when commuter trains at peak times are overcrowded and are a far higher priority imo), spends £13 billion a year on foreign aid (much of which ends up in tax havens), spent over £6 billion on our two new carriers and is buying ridiculously overpriced F-35s — see for the true cost of these aircraft (over $166 million for each F-35B).

The government always picks and chooses what it says it can and can’t afford. We’re in perpetual debt, which we manage rather than pay off, so more debt makes little difference as long as it doesn’t affect our credit-worthiness as a country.

Being able to refuel the aircraft on our carriers using Ospreys makes perfect sense. If we’re not going to build our ships properly, then why build them at all?


“why do people such as yourself always bring up cost and say we can’t afford it?”
There are generally two approaches you can take when considering ways to improve the RN, or any military force:
1. You say what you want and then work out the cost.
2. You consider what sort of budget you could have, then plan what you’d spend it on.
Option 1 is how defence budgets should be: you identify your requirements and receive the funding to do it. Option 2 is the reality though: you have an arbitrary number like 2% of GDP that you then have to get as much as you can from. 2 is how “people such as myself” approach fantasy procurements. We consider what a plausible budget increase would look like and then what would be the most effective use of that money.

As far as I’m concerned, we CAN’T afford all the excessive public spending. Organisations like the IMF are warning us that the world is heading for a debt crisis, yet people are still willfully ignoring that because more spending makes the general public happy

Hugh Jarce

Properly equipping ships so they can carry out their missions isn’t “fantasy procurement” though, is it? It’s the bare minimum that should be done. Otherwise, why bother building ships in the first place if they’re going to be second or third-rate vessels. Fantasy fleets is saying things like “We should have 100 bajillion carriers and escort ships”, not saying that the aircraft on board the carriers need better range or, for example, that Sea Ceptor should be fitted to the carriers. And you ignored everything I had to say about the government picking and choosing what it says it can and can’t afford. It found hundreds of billions to bail out the banks who gambled with our money then got bailed out wiith more of our money.

“Organisations like the IMF are warning us that the world is heading for a debt crisis.”

Of course we are, these things happen in cycles, there’s always another debt crisis just around the corner. That’s no excuse though to not properly equip our ships. Either equip them properly or don’t build them at all. My preference would be for a mainly sub and drone based RN anyway, at least until railguns and laser weapons provide a cheap, reliable way to shoot down anti-ship missiles and until drones provide a cheap, effective way to deal with subs and mines.


Is what you’re proposing planned or funded? No. Is it likely to be planned or funded? Also no. Therefore it’s fantasy. It doesn’t exist. That’s what 90% of the conversation on these sites is, a discussion of fantasy that should in our opinions be reality.

I didn’t ignore what you said, I answered: public spending on makes the general public feel better. More specifically, spending on civil works like infrastructure or services which directly and visibly affect their lives. Infrastructure and transport also has the added benefit of enabling business and boosting the economy, which makes justifying it economically easier than expenditure on military equipment that, once built, only loses money.

Believe me, I’d love for a properly funded military to be a public priority. Unfortunately as much as we might wish it to be different, it’s a fantasy until another war comes along.

Hugh Jarce

“Is what you’re proposing planned or funded? No. Is it likely to be planned or funded? Also no.”

But it should be when it comes to the bare minimum required to properly equip and defend a surface ship. Anything else is negligent. We can afford over £6 billion to build two carriers, but we can’t afford to put Sea Ceptor on them? That’s just ludicrous. It would be a lot more expensive to repair the carriers if they’re badly damaged or to replace them if they’re sunk as opposed to fitting them with Sea Ceptor now. (Just to give one example.)

“Therefore it’s fantasy.”

Properly equipping and defending surface ships isn’t fantasy, it’s the bare minimum that should be done.

“I didn’t ignore what you said, I answered: public spending on makes the general public feel better.”

It makes me feel better knowing that the ships are as well equpped and defended as possible. But still, your reply still doesn’t answer my point. You sound like you don’t give a damn if these ships are well equipped or if they’re well defended or not.

“Believe me, I’d love for a properly funded military to be a public priority.”

Could have fooled me.

“Unfortunately as much as we might wish it to be different, it’s a fantasy until another war comes along.”

This is just a lame excuse for not properly equipping the RN.

Steve R

That’s not his attitude, he’s just accepting the situation as it is. We all talk about what it should be and wish it were and what we would do if we were holding the purse strings, but the unfortunate fact is we don’t, and, sadly, for most of the public defence spending isn’t a massive priority.

Most don’t want to see defence cuts but when they see it on the news or read about it in the papers, to them it’s a shame, nothing more. Few see it as a problem enough to write to their MPs about, and fewer still would even consider protesting.

Even when you do write to your MP they usually just talk about financial constraints on the public purse or bleat the usual line about how the UK as meeting the NATO minimum 2% defence spending.

Some MPs see defence spending as a priority. Unfortunately most are backbenchers with little power.

Simon m

What happens when your cats break or flight deck is damaged?


That was excellent. I was aware of all these issues but in a not so connected manner. Your article brings everything into a much clearer alignment. Thank you.


Traditionally the first choice for extending range is external fuel tanks. I am curious as to why they’re not mentioned in this article and do not appear to be in anyone’s plans going forward. And yes, I know there were some hints at one time that the Israeli’s might develop some but nothing so far.

Please don’t reply saying they would compromise stealth. Ignoring the fact that stealthier drop tanks could be developed, stealth is not always required. The F-22 has drop tanks, uses them for ferrying and there are photos of them being carried on ops.

PS Most enjoyable article. Congrats.

Ron Owen

You are misinformed. The F-35 has never been qualified for any drop tank. There is work underway that may lead to the F-35A being equipped. I don’t know if that work will feed across to the F-35B.


You are correct for the qualification, however the inner pylon hardpoints are plumbed for fuel. It will be cleared in the next couple of years first with the Isreali F35Is as they are funding most of the costs. As far as I know the Bs and Cs are also plumbed to the inner wing hardpoints.

Ron Owen

I believe there are two separate but connected programs underway. The Israeli effort and one by Lockheed. I think Lockheed, after some research, has settled on the larger 600 gallon tank as designed by the Israelis. But all focused on the F-35A/I. Nothing has been reported re F-35B’s.

Seeing that the USAF has not endorsed or funded the Lockheed program, you’re a little premature in your claim of a two year program.

My only two points are: If range is such a burning issue with RN F-35B’s, why are they not pursuing F-35B drop tanks? and secondly, why do articles such as this immediately turn to A2A refueling as a potential solution when drop tanks are clearly simpler and cheaper?


The Israelis will be getting drop tanks in two years according to their chief of the airforce. This is a short term measures as they really want conformal fuel tanks for the F35’s. For a stealth aircraft, external hard-points are terrible radar reflectors. They form a nice 90 degree angle with the wing therefore giving a near perfect reflector. It will be coated in RAM and I’d expect some form of fillet between the wing and hard-point to stop micro cavity reflections. The other issue being is that if they are using them to get to a conflict zone and then bang them off just before they get there. There will be a portion of the wing with no RAM covering, there may also be a number of cables dangling through holes, so again increasing the aircraft’s RCS. Therefore for peacetime ops drop tanks on the F35s make sense, if extra range is required the As will be getting the conformal fuel tanks.
The big question is will the US Navy/USMC look at using drop tanks and conformal fuel tanks to extend the range? My guess is that the US Navy definitely will for their Cs. The conformal fuel tank should at a conservative estimate give nearly 25 to 33% more range to both an A or C version. They according to Lockheed will not degrade the “stealthiness” of the aircraft. They have also said it will not affect the manoeuvrability of the aircraft. This brings us to the USMC, they are mostly interested in providing a dominance over the beach head, providing close air support and perhaps deeper strikes to counter reinforcements. will they need conformal fuel tanks, probably not, but it would mean the aircraft can stay up for longer. They will more likely go for the drop tanks as this helps ferry the aircraft to their carriers.
Now for the RAF and FAA requirement. The aircraft will have additional roles compared to the USMC as its required to do deep interdiction strikes and persistent combat air patrols. The current internal fuel range hampers both of these mission requirements so both drop tanks and conformal fuel tank will “probably” be required. This is especially true if the aircraft is required to replicate some of the Tornado’s deep strike missions or provide a longer duration combat air patrol.
All three types of F35 have the capability to mount drop tanks. Lockheed Martin and Israel are developing both mostly due to Isreals requirement, but it does have ramifications for the rest of the F35 family.

Ron Owen

Good luck with your F-35B imaginary conformal tanks.

Not sure I believe your Lockheed quotes. Full conformal tanks will impact maneuverability whether you like it or not.

As for cables hanging loose, gimme a break. Dropable pylons have been around for donkey’s years.


Yes, dropable pylons have been around for ages, but not with stealth involved. The quick release connectors will be left open to the elements so to speak. These hard-point areas are normally covered, no covering = higher RCS, simple.

Please check out the following links

Lockheed Martin is engaged with Cyclone Ltd., a subsidiary of Elbit Systems, on external fuel tanks to augment range beyond the 18,500 pounds of fuel carried internally by the F-35I.


“(w)hy do articles such as this immediately turn to A2A refueling as a potential solution when drop tanks are clearly simpler and cheaper?” It’s not quite as clear cut as that, from an engineering point of view yes, they are cheaper and simpler but from an operational point of view , …. not so much.

The max take off weight is a hard number, if you are taking off with drop tanks full of fuel then you are going to have to sacrifice something else in order to free up the weight, the air frame is a fixed weight and you can’t put the pilot on a crash diet – so you have to reduce the amount of ordinance you are carrying, this in turn means you have to fly more sorties against ground targets and/or you put yourself at a disadvantage in an air to air battle.

If, on the other hand, you launch a tanker first then your strike aircraft can take off with a full load of ordinance but half empty tanks (to whatever the max take off weight number is), your strike aircraft can rendezvous with the tanker, top up to max flight weight (which is a bigger number than max take off, because, physics) and go on their way.

In other words the simple, elegant engineering solution really only works on paper, in the real world the messier solution of sending up a tanker is more effective.

Steve R

Aren’t the Israeli F35Is equipped with conformal fuel tanks, too?

That would be a good way to go to limit the impact on stealth.

Nigel Martin

Good article on the pros n cons, Really thought a few years ago we would get F35b for QE in a stovl/LPH role then convert POW for the 2025 timeframe to CATOBAR with the F35C/hawkeyes, just glad the UK is back in the fixed wing big stick business !!! then maybe if money was there in the 2030 convert QE to catobar if needed

David Adams

hi’ have any studies bean carid out on building early warning f35’s of buying back sea harriers for conversion. i imagine the f35 may forgo stealth but would make up by sharing 90% of maintenance & components

kirk Langford

First I’m extreamly excited about the two British aircraft carriers! Very wise militarily speaking, especially with the choice of the
F-35B! Purely great Military judgement! Out-
You British have a very strong kick butt offense/defence. I would stand with you men back to back to to toe to the end!
Realize this the Chinese military is out to push us out of the Pacific, out of the Sea of China! We cannot allow that to happen! FREEDOM OF THE SEAS!


I don’t see the B as inferior, for the same reason the Harrier was a fantastic Cold War plane. Redundancy. Others have said it, but I’ll restate it here. VSTOL, in effect, puts the function of the Cat and Traps into every plane. As the Ford-class shows, that isn’t a small benefit. But the key advantage of that is in an actual shooting war. If you need an extra platform quickly, you can weld steel on a commercial RORO ship and deploy planes. Just like what actually happened in the Falklands. Commercial designs are vulnerable and conversions are much less effective (per individual unit), but when it counted in both WW2 and the Falklands they were built/converted in large numbers for almost everything other than fleet combat, because of their vastly superior construction/conversion time.

A QEC actually being used an an amphib in a peer war is about as likely as the RN deploying Hermes in it’s intended LPH role during the Falklands War. If there is desperate need (ie any peer war), the QEC can sail first while the UK improvises Helicopter/F35B/UAV platforms from commercial shipping.


The downwash from an F-35B is a lot greater (& hotter) than from a Harrier. Harrier did not need an ALIS system to make it fly. Operating away from carriers with heat resistant decks, will not be simple. Commercial shipping would need a lot more work to operate F-35B in comparison to Harrier.


Fair enough. I don’t doubt that operating the F35B from a conversion would involve substantial challenges and limitations. ALIS is advertised as “web-enabled applications on a distributed network” but I am sure there would be integration issues with the communication fitout. The F35B exhaust would need thicker steel, of a higher grade, with certain coatings/treatments, in certain areas. I can only shudder when I imagine the fire risk. But we would only need something that can remain functional for a few weeks of operations that would be lower intensity than a QEC, rather than something that has a low failure rate for years. If you can weld steel onto a LHA, you can weld steel onto something else.

To mitigate the deck failure issue, and I don’t deny it would be an issue, we can create more landing spots, or deploy RORO conversions in pairs (or threes or fours) to mitigate it. The turnaround and availability rates would be terrible compared to the QEC. However, it is a possible option as a wartime expedient. I’m not arguing that the B is a superior option, but that it has it’s own set of capabilities and limitations. The Falklands showed that limited aircover is a lot better than no air cover. And the F35B allows us to at least hope for a Falklands-level of air cover if both QEC’s are out of action due to refit/battle damage. If we are desperate enough.


Now that the Americans have sorted most of the problems with AAG, I would like a study on fitting AAG to QE/PoW, during refit. STOBAR does not stop you operating STOVL, but it does give you some flexibility.

Ant Miller

I’m still not clear when JBDs were dropped from spec, and what the implications are.


Why didn’t we go with STOBAR instead, it’s far cheaper than CATOBAR, the Russians, Indians and Chinese all use it. Short Takeoff using ramp with conventional jets not STOVL, but arestor wire recovery. Can anyone tell me why not use this system? We are half set up for it. And we could even restart the naval typhoon again, the one we were trying to sell the Indians, we just need to beef it up but hey let’s build 40 new naval typhoons to keep the production line flowing and add arestor wire and blast shield to our carriers and we will have an amazing capability. Then buy the f35 c instead of the more complex B.

Meirion X

Because STOBAR aircraft can only carry Limited loads of warpons and fuel, so aircraft launched from a STOBAR aircraft carrier are only operating under their full potential.
Also the F35C would never take off from a STOBAR equipped carrier.

Will O

One reason not to do it, is it would give India, & Brazil (which already has some Gripens) more incentive to want to buy one our existing carriers, & we really don’t want to go down that road.
Restarting Naval Typhoon? If you paid close attention during India’s competition for carrier aircraft you’d understand why a Naval Typhoon would be impractical. Too weak air-frame & landing gear, modifying it would add too much weight & would in practice be a conceptually flawed redesign.
Then you’re suggesting buying the F35C too? A mixed fleet of aircraft, which would be eating into one another’s sortie rates, & still couldn’t match the adverse weather performance of the F35Bs, & couldn’t distribute defensively if carriers or airfields were rendered unusable. What advantages would there be?

I always liked the idea of Gripens for the UK tbh, & maybe STOBAR capable Sea Gripens may emerge to be the better version, who knows;
Gripens, perhaps with Storm Shadow, Brimstone, Spear3 all integrated, would be pretty useful for the UK even if they weren’t intended for the carriers. More useful than those older Tranche 1 Typhoons I think, but I understand there’s a logic to keeping those flying if there’s still plenty of life left in them, as long as they’re still competitive enough.

If the UK wants to keep Typhoon production running, then surely the logical thing would be to order Tranche 3s. Do we need to? Can we afford to? Would Germany & Italy still want to take up their Tranche 3 allocations if we did?

First priority should really be increasing UK industrial participation for the F35 now that Turkey has exited, i.e. bringing some of this back to the UK;

The F35Bs & the carriers we have are already a perfect match, & together they present a pretty awesome capability that we should all feel lucky our nation has. The question to ask now, is how best to maximize their potential & usefulness.
STOBAR, along with Naval Typhoons, & F35Cs, would add unnecessary expense & wouldn’t add very much to their existing usefulness. It would rather, to our great disadvantage, increase the risk of sale to India, Brazil, or goodness knows who else.


Ok, but if typhoon cant get a sea version, why can France have Rafaels at sea, are they also flawed?.


It’s a shame that the MoD showed no interest in a marinised Typhoon, would it have been a suitable aircraft though? Compared to the Rafale M, the canard is placed forward of the wing and below the cockpit, so would this have caused issues when landing on a pitching carrier, as it may have obstructed the pilot’s view? Being a delta winged aircraft, the wing’s angle of attack when doing short landings is quite high compared to a normal trapezoidal wing like an F18. However, it can use the underside of the aircraft to aerobrake, which slows it down quite quickly. But with the placement of the canard the deck may be obstructed from view.
The Rafale M uses a degree of automation when landing on the Charles de Gaulle, using the ship’s microwave landing aid system. It’s not a fully automatic system, as the pilot still has to maintain the altitude through throttle control.

Ant Miller

It probably isn’t far cheaper – carrier qualifications are a very big part of the ongoing operational cost, and trapping is a lot different to VTOL on land or sea. By going full VTOL we get airgroups with relatively trivial qualifications roulements, and the ability to take to sea pretty much every f35 we have, light or dark blue.

Trapping also carries very big risks – it’s just a lot more dangerous. Every missed wire means a go around, and local top up tankers to enable bolters to stay airborne for multiple attempts. Tankers which we currently don’t have take note.

The VTOL landing evolution, even SRVL, is far more efficient in terms of usage of available deck space for sortie generation.

Tony Rosier

I think to start the process to replace the current carrier’s now is a great idea, designing the new carrier’s with cats and traps and to work with pilot less aircraft should be a priority. I guess we would be looking at fighter drones to be flown by pilots on board ship or even at home in the uk. Also bomber attack aircraft as these presumably will be smaller and lighter without the need for the onboard pilot, the stress to the air frame will be much less. Also I guess a drone AWAC will also be possible ? I guess a drone AWAC might be possible on the current carrier’s as the runway length is surely long enough land could be achieved with a fairly light catcher net. I think ! Perhaps even a AWAC inflatable blimp drone could do the job ! We need to think laterally.


Far to soon to look at starting work on replacement carriers. The next carriers won’t come into service until 2070. It would be like having started work on the QE class in 1970. Technology moves on so 2045/50 would be the earliest you should start work.

The big ginge

Sorry I just can not accept the straw man arguments you put forward.
1. Cats/traps was just too expensive. Well we know a) there was a cheaper option than Emals as described in the comments below b) even emals cost was greatly exaggerated by the US Gov to give political cover for a change, the manufacturer of emals thought it could be installed for a lot less and even offered to fit it because of BAe’s intransigence c) the idea that steam can only be generated by nuclear power plants is just silly, not sure how Ark Royal generated steam in the 1970’s, d) we were repeatedly told this design could easily be changed up until the deck had actually been completed.
2. The “B” model is so much easier & suitable to the UK. Well let’s look at that a) It has higher sortie rate. Well that depends if you work in the sortie rates of F18’s & F35C’s without emal failures. If you do the air wing of an American Carrier air wing is a lot higher per airframe, b) the F35b needs a huge amount of extra maintenance compared to the “c”, is a lot more complicated than the “c” or “a” with the maintenance of lift fans and subsystem alone. C) The “b” can operate from “dispersed” airfields. What absolute rubbish, the “C” melts tarmac, steel decking, tarmac & concrete. There is a reason Marham has had to build specialist concrete pads to practice vertical take offs and landings. We also then have known weakness for the “c” for maintenance & reliance on the maintenance software. This is no Harrier designed with cool vectored air to allow landing on mud or normal tarmac, light maintenance foot print, and not lifting a dead lift fan around unused for 99% of the time, d) the idea that apart from millpond flat sea states you are going to have un-arrested aircraft attempting a rolling stop on a flight deck with any other aircraft or munitions around is madness, plus the fact you’ll have no go around facility if you cock it up that you do with a trap landing, e) the issue over range caused by the lift fan being lugged about which cuts 100’s of miles of its range, reduces its payload by a quarter. That range reduction can not be solved by air tankers. That assumes that someone will give you take off landing rights to let them be available which kind of negates the idea that an aircraft carrier can operate independently. Also I kind of think a load of A330’s loitering of a target kind of gives the game away, unless your going to provide fighter protection for them, plus EW protection and even then certain Russian made Sams can reach where these aircraft will loiters, f) the final point is the cost. The “b” is the most costly to buy (thank god the price has come down from $100m plus) and to maintain by considerable margins.
3. We couldn’t afford AWACS or any of the other stuff we’d like. Well a) the savings of buying only 48 f35c’s and then either Rafale/F18’s to make up cheaper air wings allowing f35’s to do first strike/sead roles and the other to do the heavy lifting would have provided spare cash. 12 f35c’s with 24/36 Rafale/f18’s would have provided a bigger punch than the likely 12 or 6 F35b’s with some helicopters. Unfortunately the option of using Harriers to provide “mass” was lost the moment Cameron sold them off b) we don’t have to use Hawkeyes the poded aesa radar from the F35c’s as proposed for merlin mounted on underwing hard points of those S3 Vikings sitting in the desert, along with asw fit out or air refuelling underwing pods providing a 3 in 1 option. As well as covering for a lack of T26’s in the fleet, because QE is going to need a P8 around to provide deep asw cover due to marlins range. It would have released Merlins to do there proper job lifting of destroyers/frigates. Big deck should have room for fixed wing aircraft. The limitations of range and operating ceiling of Merlins could come back to bite us in the world of hypersonic missiles.
4. What have we got. a) A large Ocean replacement, an attack carrier not a strike carrier. We will need to beg to borrow US marine squadrons to fill out the QE/PoW with enough aircraft. Especially the V22 refuelling equipment which isn’t ideal but will help. The reality is that it is a ship system that will require sailing within 400 miles of the strike location ( something USN suffers with the F18) this is fine bombing Libya or the Falklands against a poorly equipped adversary but it ain’t go up against China/Russia etc or even Houthies equipped with high end Iranian anti-ship missiles.
I expect the RN and RAF to make the very best of the equipment they have with skill and professionalism. But we made a virtue out of a necessity when we took Invincible class, Harriers and baggies into an effective force, but this time we were so close to doing it right. Add in a Buccaneer long range bomber to increase the stand off range that even the USN realises it needs and we could have done this right. Instead we are back in the game of making do.

.Tim D

Agree, although I would say it is a case of what we are willing to pay for rather than can what we can afford.


I believe there is a problem with the F35C nose leg.
At the moment of catapult launch it send a strong shock vibration into the cockpit . Pilots say it is painful and they have to cinch their harness tight which mean they cannot reach switchs in the event of a problem . Have they fixed this?

Will O

F-35C nose gear issues…

I’ve never flown one, but from what I’ve read, the issue was found between 2014-2017 when pilots were being certified for carrier operations. No weapons and light fuel loads caused the ‘bobble’ – when carrying medium to full loads the issue disappeared. Something the design team had probably not anticipated – who launches a combat plane with no weapons and low fuel load…

The ‘Red Team’ (problem solvers) made recommendations including ‘reducing the pullback on the catapult – with a light load’ amongst others. Apparently there was a similar issue with the F/A-18 initially.

All reports I’ve seen come from 2017 – I’ve not seen any this year, so I assume it’s been resolved.

More reading on this F-16 (I know, I know) forum.

Darren Brooks

It will be interesting to compare the service life of the F35B against the A&C variants. I recently watched a documentary about the USS Ford where it was stated that a naval F18 has a service life four times shorter than a land based F18 due to the effects of catapult launches and arrested landings on the airframe.


Agreed. Especially the comparison between the C and the B. It looks to me as if cats and traps put a lot more stress on the plane than ramps and vertical (or rolling) landings.

That said, the Harrier rear fuselage didn’t last very long, presumably due to the effects of the hot exhaust being emitted from the mid-fuselage section.


Could the lack of cats & traps hinder large remote drones of the future? Equiping large (f35 size) drones with vertical landing systems is possibly not an issue, but if it is, then the current set up may be left wanting?


You didn’t cover the real reason which was recently revealed by a French Admiral. When the RN decided to forgo nuclear and accept an 80W power limit the carrier maxed out at 25knts, in order to operate E-2D Hawkeyes and C-2 Greyhounds you must have 27knts. At that point it didn’t make any sense to even mess with a catapult.


Ever hear of turning into the wind?

Hugh Jarce

Re the real cost of the F-35, see

“The current $89.2 million dollar price the Pentagon uses is calculated by separating out just the costs for the airframe and the engine from the larger total procurement cost that includes ALIS, simulators, initial spare parts, and more to get to the artificially low $89.2 million. That is far from the whole story.

The Pentagon’s own budget documents list the FY 2020 procurement cost for those 48 aircraft as more than $101 million, nearly $12 million more than the figure rolled out for press reports. Using the Navy’s charts and the same math shows that the real costs for each F-35C is more than $123 million, while each F-35B costs in excess of $166 million. But even that figure doesn’t tell the whole story. None of this factors in the research and development costs of the program.”

What concerns me the most about the F-35B is the fact it could be in the boneyard as early as 2026 according to

“During durability testing, the Marine and Navy F-35s have suffered so many cracks and received so many repairs and modifications that the test planes can’t complete their 8,000-hour life-expectancy tests. The Marine version’s airframe life could be so short that today’s F-35Bs might end up in the boneyard as early as 2026, 44 years before the program’s planned 2070 sunset.”


You mention the difference in payloads but it’s worth pointing out that none of the planned weapons loads get anywhere near the max payload of the F-35B never mind the F-35C. Max payload really isn’t likely to be a factor with current or future generation weapons.


Why not use both? I mean – skijump for take off and wires for landing?
Adding hook to F35B should not be that big a deal

Last edited 3 years ago by sparrow
John Wood

Go on, give us a t.o.s for an F-35b on CAP at 80nm ( yes, just 80!)
I dare you.

John Wood


You are, surely, “Avin a laff”?
It is the sort of desperate measure that comes about when a political imperative demands a solution to an impossible problem.

See those Frenchies in their E2-D?
They are the ones laughing.


If you remembering SATS System (Short Airfielf for tactical Support), you may include Ski jump added with catapult moved by jet engine. The CE2 catapult can launch until 22 ton at 180 knots…So with the same concept, you can integrate one catapult moved by jet engine launching the aircraft for ski jump with biggest velocity.

On the other hand, Brazil had objective for implement themodernized S2t Tracker with São Paulo Aircraft Carrier. The S2T Turbo Tracker could take off without catapult due to his STOL characteristics. One S2T AEW has more range and service ceiling than AW-101. So, implementing Stobar + STOVL can be much more flexible way when you think about several aircrafts you can be use ( F-18 SH, Rafale, Sea Gripen, S2T AEW, COD, Tanker, the all over      there without restriction.


I do wonder if the current problems with EMALS etc. are colouring the opinion of systems that, let’s be honest, are unlikely to be changed for the lifetime of the ship (50 years).
While the cost of changing the design, mid-project were obviously not viable, had they been set on CATOBAR from the outset, it wouldn’t have been as expensive, with far fewer hurdles.

As it was the requirement to be “adaptable” seems to have heavily compromised the design, as the STOVL configuration promised to save 10,000 tonnes, yet that never really materialised.

While the F-35B seems perfectly serviceable today, where nearly everyone is using 4(+)th generation jets, being tied to the US and the F-35B (a plane that cannot even supercruise) for possibly another 40 years, while everyone is planning 5th (or in many cases 6th gen) replacements, the scope for replacements is very limited.

CATOBAR, though probably the worse solution in the short term, gives far more options for the long term. The French may well have stuck with the project (though they did favour a nuclear design) or at least have the option to partner with them on a successor aircraft rather than being reliant on the US (regardless of the political and economic situation in the future). But the potential of having their front-line 6th gen fighter available anywhere in the world is quite the power-projection statement.

William Pellas

The only real issue I can see with the QE’s going the STOVL route is how long the F-35B will remain in service. There has been so much noise associated with the F-35 program that it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. It would seem that at some point a decision will have to made as to whether to develop a successor V/STOL multirole jet or reconfigure the carriers. In that vein, the most cost effective way forward would surely be ski-jump-plus-arrested-recovery, which wouldn’t require a very costly rebuilding of the entire forward section of the carriers to accomodate some kind of catapult system.

christopher Samuel

As a naval officer who joined the defence industry in 1983 and was in contact with all parties involved in the evolution of the carrier I am saddened by the inaccuracies of this article and the reasoning & consequences that are being published.
The knowledge and understanding about maritime matters amongst politicians of the complexities of protection issues is alarming while the prevention of the professionals from speaking to the public is ensuring that no remedial actions are even seen to be in place let alone enacted.
UK ability to protect itself is very limited. Yet the public are still under the impression that ‘we are the best, all is well because we spend d more money. When will the British awake, become aware and take remedial action?
Would Navy lookout be interested in dealing in facts from those who were there at the time???