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ATH

I think you may well be right about the need for more pilots an usual for the F35. Modern maintenance practices should allow more missions per day.
What I don’t understand is the wish for more smaller squadrons. Surely more squadrons will lead to more CO , dep CO, chief Instructor and chief bottle washer jobs. Would not a smaller number of big squadrons help keep a lid on the back office costs. There is no need for squadrons to deploy as a whole as you suggest in the piece.

Dern

While that is true, making “bigger squadrons” allows for less tactical flexibility. This is why the army has platoons and companies instead of just deploying a division of people and saying “good and be done with it.”
If you don’t deploy a squadron as a whole you still need to create a chain of command for your splinter squadron as it gets sent out, thereby creating all your “bottle washer” jobs as you call them. Except now instead of being a group of people who know their jobs and are used to working together you’ve created a situation where the jobs are being done by people who usually don’t. Not the kind of situation you want to create when peoples lives are on the line.

ATH

I can see this is an issue, but with a bit of modern thinking it can be overcome.
If the whole big squadron only 24 aircraft is not deployed a combination of the command elements of other squadrons in the U.K. and modern fast communication should allow a part deployed unit to be properly lead and the elements left at home to be supervised it their training.

Dern

So your solution to having fewer squadrons is to make command assets of other squadrons do double shifts. This doesn’t work. 1) You are asking people to go into warzones they need leadership they trust, not leadership that has been ported in from somewhere else. 2) You still need the ground crews and other work that can not be “telecommuted” to help your “half squadron” out. 3) Sorry but you clearly don’t work in the military, operational tempo is a killer. People are overworked and overstretched everywhere and your solution is to give people *even more* jobs? Just no.

ATH

The civilian world has found ways to streamline management and back office functions in lots of ways. Iam not sure the military has taken much of this on board. More money is probably needed but to stand any chance of getting it the military needs to show its keeping up with the modern world. So small “personally lead” squadrons together with single battalion regiments need to go. More money spent on doing and less on managing and leading.

Dern

Again Squadrons have to be “Personally led” because that’s how the chain of command works. You seem not to grasp this. If you get rid of Squadrons or enlarge them then all you do is duplicate a higher level of command.
Put 2 or more squadrons together and you have a wing. Divide the Wing and you have a squadron. Essentially what you are advocating is “get rid of the squadron as a permanent formation,” reducing the flexibility of the RAF. Which perhaps works in a civilian management world, but not in a military command, control and maintenance world. This simple fact seems completely lost on you. In addition: so far you haven’t seemed to be able to address any of the issues I’ve pointed out with your opinion, beyond just regurgitating “small squadrons need to go!!!1!”
Also: How many single Battalion regiments do you know of in the British Army? Never mind I’ll answer that: Only the Footguards, and they’re somewhat of a special case.

ATH

Not saying I have all the answers, but I am saying your argument sounds like we have always done it this way so it must be the best way. As technology and people’s expectations change the best methods of command and leadership change.
The world outside the military had moved to much flatter management systems with far fewer levels. This may or may not work in the military but it needs to be trialled, the potential Hugh cost savings demand it.

Dern

It has been “trialed”. Before WW1 much flatter management systems where used. Companies where the smallest element of maneuver on the battlefield. And it got lots of people killed. The modern battlefield requires small units with low level commanders who are empowered by their CoC and trusted by their troops, enabling rapid reaction and efficient handling. It is not the most cost efficient way in terms of money, but it is the most efficient way of managing in terms of effect on the Battlefield, which is the militaries primary concern.

Bloke down the pub

The RAF only went along with the F35b purchase because they didn’t want the Navy to have a carrier that they wouldn’t be able to operate from, which might exclude them from the limelight.

ATH

That’s just the sort of inter services stupidity that make the general public think a plague on the lot of you.

Grubbie

Read any book authored by participants in the Falklands war and you will know that it’s true. Pathetic.

sisyphus

I would have thought an acknowledgement to Gabi’s blog at UK Armed Forces Commentary for the link at the end of the sentence, ‘A more detailed explanation of why the RN should resist this RAF proposal can be found here.’ would be in order …
He cares more than most about the demise of our armed forces

David Stephen

Why is it that nobody can listen to the official announcements. By 2023 there will be 24 F-35B available for carrier operations. Eventually we will have 4 frontline squadrons and the OCU. From that we can manage 24 airframes on a deployed carrier or even 36 in extremis.

The Ginge

Sorry but I think the writer has swallowed the USMC’s admen playbook 101 whole. Lets have a look at some of the comments above
1. Sortie Rates. The simple fact is the USMC gets its sortie rate up 20 from 10-12 airframes is because this is that the LHA they will be flying from is a “Landing Ship” it will be close in to the shore at most 20 miles out, followed by operating from Lilly pad on shore facilities . The RN’s ambitions for the QE/PoW was for them to be Attack Carriers such as the Charles De Gaulle and Nimitz Size US Navy Aircraft Carriers. Unless your happy to take your undefended (American LHA and French have anti Air/Missile Defence Systems built in) Carrier within range of Mach 3 plus capable land based Anti ship Missiles and I Presume at least 2 of your very expensive T45 Air Defence Destroyers, as well having pretty much most of Her Majesties Capital Ships costing £5bn sitting within in range of £100k multiple swarm attack missiles it doesn’t work. That is the whole point of using Fast jets at Sea, the range and speed allows you to sit 100’s of miles of shore.
2. This brings us to the second problem. The fact the RN has no organic air to air refuelling capability. The USMC are going to use V22’s which whilst not ideal (lack of Weight Capacity to lift a meaningful fuel load) will be able to extend the short (under 400 miles radius from take off) range of the F35B. This means that the RN will rely on RAF Voyagers entering possibly contested air space with the resultant requirement for protection from Fleet Aircraft. How the RN proposes to operate in the South Atlantic (however improbable that may seem) or when RAF Assets are fully committed to other operations (especially during a large operation such as maybe another Iraq War or Maybe N Korea or Russia) is beyond me.
So those two problems for the RN immediate drop your Sortie rates just because of pure logistics. Secondly the USMC sortie rate is based on a full out max effort. The benefit they have is after a week or two at max they will have another LHA or full on Carrier to step up to the plate, the RN will not because the other Aircraft Carrier will be sitting in Dock in maintenance as we only have 2. So I think comparing the use of RN F35B’s too USMC ones is unfair and impossible.
Then we have the other Myths included in the piece.
1. That F35B’s can do electronic warfare and SEAD missions without any specialist equipment. There is a reason the USN are buying more F18 Growlers, because technology has overtaken the F35 because of its long development period. (Remember it was supposed to fully operational in final versions by 2010) Thus its radar and computer processing which is hard wired in to the airframe is now old hat compared to the latest Pods fitted to F18’s and RAF Tornado’s/Lightning’s because newer technology can be put in a pod and hung under the wing and does not involve a major rework of the airframe.
2. The same is true of the aircrafts optical tracking and targeting capability. The latest RAF Raptor Pods are at least 2 generations ahead of the F35 and there is nothing you can do about it, because to maintain the stealth characteristics that equipment again has to be hard wired and fitted in to the skin of the aircraft.
3. The F35B is fully operational. No it’s not and any plane bought before 2022 when the next update is completed can not fire or carry anything other than a few dumb bombs (no laser guidance) and Side Winder/A120m Anti Aircraft missiles. It most definitely can not carry or fire any UK specific weapons. This should not matter until QE is operational around the same time. But the fact is that this upgrade, is behind schedule, is struggling in testing and the Software has huge problems.
4. Maintenance. The F35 is so easy to maintain that it cuts the work load in half. The problem with that is that the USS America and USS Wasp are deploying with double the maintenance crew they normally carried for Harriers, if you count the hundreds of Lockheed employees who are having to deploy with every F35B. You will not see them on any crew list or head count but they are there on ship being paid for y Lockheed to make sure they work.
There are a number of issues I could go on with but these are the major ones. The fact is the F35b is a major upgrade over the Harrier Force, but it is not a game changer because of the compromises of stealth and VTOL capability. It is not a dog fighter air defence aircraft although it will have to be for the RN, and against the Air Defences of a peer adversary it is questionable that Stealth and Networking will actually be able to survive the high quality Electronic Warfare Technology that Russia and others are now deploying not just to counter the F35 which is the less stealthy version of the US Stealth Aircraft (B2 & F22 both are Lower Observer ability) but because it uniquely relies on one hot engine to power it, it makes it vulnerable to BVR Infer Red detection that the Russians and Chinese are deploying.
Finally we have the issue of numbers and Conversion units. The Fact is the UK has only committed to buying 48 airframes of which 8 will stay in the USA. We have agreed to supply aircraft in a pooled OCU to cut costs and airframes along with USMC/USN/Italy etc based in the US. So of the 40 Airframes you are getting it is a rule of thumb that at most you get 50% deployable to your operational fleet. (Look at numbers of Lightning’s and Tornados overall compared to operational Airframes) so at most you might get two 12 Airframe Squadrons flying, hence why the talk of 12 Aircraft Regularly deployed on QE/PoW which could be managed with 2 squadrons and at times the Ships having no Aircraft to meet RAF Harmonisation Rules for Crew, and in a “National Emergency” scrapping together every flyable airframe and ignoring Civilian Safety Rules (The same for Falklands) would get 36 Airframes on the deck.
We have not ordered 60 Airframes, we have ordered 48, with an “ambition” to purchase 135 in total by 3035 or 28years hence. We know in UK perspective what “ambition” means. Therefore talk of 60 aircraft is both premature and unhelpful. We must base any expectations on deployment of 12 Aircraft which will be hard pressed to provide a CAP for example in the Gulf, hence why the concern from many that choosing VTOL aircraft carriers limits our options. That is not to say the F35B is a bad aircraft it is a massive upgrade from the Harrier but it is not going to do the job of a US or French Strike Carrier but as evidenced by the writer’s suggestion we partner with the USMC that what we have a very large LHA.

David Graham

Absolutely spot on. USS America has apparently circa 44 LM employees permanently embarked to try and sort out the ongoing problems with ALIS. There is a resounding silence regarding ALIS within the UK, but it should be remembered that without it, the F-35 family cannot become operational.
The National Audit Office [NAO] produced a report on carrier strike earlier this year, in time for a debate in the Lords on Defence. In it , it was stated that Carrier Strike, to be effective from 2021 would involve flying a squadron of up to 12 Lightning II jets, supported by a squadron of Merlin AEW aircraft equipped with Crowsnest. [It is officially stated that 30 airframes will be fitted and operational by 2022].
Further more, the NAO state that “the carriers will perform a range of roles, including acting as helicopter carriers or transporting military forces. This would represent the full Carrier Enabled Power Projection [CEPP].”
Delays to the production caused by manufacture alongside design testing [amongst other factors] has meant a later than planned delivery of UK F-35Bs. Eight have been delivered by January 2017. These include the three development aircraft which will NEVER become operational aircraft. A further eight are scheduled to be delivered by August 2018. This will no doubt allow 617 Sqn Royal Air Force to be formed sometime in 2019. The intention is to deliver 48 aircraft in total by 2025. This will allow 809 NAS to be formed in time for the proposed operational deployment of PoW in 2026.
Frankly, I cannot see [nor have I read anything to suggest it] 4 F-35B squadrons, even of 10 aircraft, being a reality with that number of aircraft.
I read elsewhere that the new RFA solid support ships may not materialise until 2026. RFA Fort Victoria is scheduled to pay off in 2019 [although it is suggested she will be “double hulled” later this year]. Fort Austin is due to decommission in 2021, and Fort Rosalie in 2022. So there you have a task force with ever more limited food, ammunition, explosives and stores [including vital air stores].
Sadly, Emperors and Clothes comes to mind.

David Stephen

ok but we have “committed” to 138 over the life of the programme. We are expecting to have a forward fleet of some 63 aircraft in four active squadrons and one OCU. So I still don’t see how we cant assign two of the four active squadrons to the deployed carrier. Yes there are issues with F-35B but it is still an increase in capability compared to what we had previously or indeed have now. We managed fine during Operation Corporate without a dedicated AAR platform so fail to see how we could not do so now.

Necessary Evil

There were some factual errors in what you wrote. No one is putting radar in pods on combat aircraft, nor computer processing for such for that matter. The Growler has radar jamming pods, but the Tornados and I assume you meant Typhoons of the RAF do not have a similar ability. US commanders have said that the EW capability of the f-35 will augment that of the Growler (remember that jamming is more effective the closer you are to the enemy, and the f-35 is more survivable than the Growler), and since this capability is classified, there is no way for you or me to tell how capable it is in comparison to the Growler (which we also do not have any information on). Your logic in this regard is not foolproof; how do we know that the Growler are not being bought to ensure that the Super Hornet, rather than the f-35, is more survivable? The fact that the USAF are not buying the Growler (or any other EW aircraft) suggests that this second scenario is more likely.
Also, the f-35 already has the ability to use laser-guided weapons, the GBU-12 in the American case, whilst Paveway IV has also been tested, as has ASRAAM. You were perhaps confused about this because the latest models of both Paveway IV and ASRAAM won´t be certified until Block 4F, however the earlier versions will be.
You are wrong about not being able to do anything about the EOTS. Lockheed are already developing EOTS Block 2 or whatever it is called for f-35 Block 4F, leveraging some of the technology you seemed to be referring to (the RAPTOR is not a targeting pod, it is a reconnaissance pod, perhaps you were thinking of the Litening pod).
Finally, your comments about the South Atlantic are very easy to rubbish. We faced a much more capable Argentina during the Falklands War with a similar mix of (less capable) aircraft. As for the whole range debate, I think some people overlook the fact that aircraft and aircraft carriers can be used in different ways. In my view, the best use of aircraft carriers in a high-intensity conflict might well be as a aircraft carrier – i.e. to ferry aircraft to where they are needed. Take the East China Sea. Why would you risk any kind of carrier when you have Taiwan, an ´unsinkable aircraft carrier?´ And before you object and say that Taiwan won´t have any runways left, why do you think the Marines are buying the f-35b? So, in some cases, a STOL aircraft carrier and its aircraft can be more survivable and effective than a CATOBAR aircraft carrier. Why not just fly them in with tankers, you might say? Well, which is more survivable and therefore has a better chance of getting into the theatre, an aircraft carrier group or a bunch of tankers? And which would allow the f-35 to be maintained for longer in theatre? If the carrier is to be used in a more conventional role, then V-22 can be fielded (from either a future UK fleet or the USMC one), and once drop tanks are developed for the f-35 (which the Israelis will surely do) these can be procurred (these would be dropped before they would be able to compromise the f-35 survivability in a high-intensity conflict). And before you talk about cost, how many V-22s could be bought for the price of installing EMALS on just the PoW? And what would we do when the PoW was being refitted?
The fact that you made several factual errors suggests that those with a better command of the facts might well see the current plan as the most effective one that is attainable within the current budget.

Iqbal Ahmed

Once again the wisdom of building and purchasing these two aircraft carriers must be questioned, given the burden they place on resources made available to the RN.
We have insufficient manpower, surface combatant escort ships, armament on ships such as cruise missiles and lack of aircraft or the right type of aircraft. It seems to me that independent global deployment of these ships, the raison d’etre of this class of vessel, is unlikely without significant US support, not least of the Air Group. In those circumstances, a maximum of 24 combat aircraft ought to suffice. Our contribution to air sorties is likely to be purely symbolic, to represent the nebulous ‘international community’ (usually the US, UK and Micronesia) in any unilateral US action.
Resources available to the RN must dictate deployment of these vessels in low/lower intensity conflicts rather than in wars against nations which can strike back. The politicians should not expect more than the RN can deliver. Our sailors, mostly working class boys and girls from economically depressed regions, must not be put in harms way for the sake of national posturing and corporate interests.

stuart broome

“Once again the wisdom of building and purchasing these two aircraft carriers must be questioned, given the burden they place on resources made available to the RN”. £1billion was wasted on slowing the build of these ships and serviceable aircraft, updated at a cost of £500m were given to an ally for peanuts that could have served on the carriers until the late 2020s.
The comment below about licence building Arleigh Burkes and Astutes also misses the point. T45;s costs doubled only because numbers were slashed and we pay BAE more to actually build submarines slower than they would otherwise do.
it is not the lack of resources but the waste of resources that is the problem for the RN and the British military generally. We scrap and discard perfectly good equipment too soon and by comparison with the US Marines we get a lot less for our money. The blame sits firmly with our leaders and I share every posters frustration on here!

David Graham

Absolutely correct, Stuart. In addition to the money wasted on slowing the carrier programme, the NAO calculated that the cost of slowing the Astute programme was circa £1.2 bn, which would have built an eighth submarine, thereby reducing [a little] the strain on the SSN fleet. Waste of resources seems to be a by-word in the MoD these days.
As to Corporate and “managing fine”, simply not true. As a serving officer at that time I am well aware of just how close run an affair the campaign was. What would really have helped was if Ark Royal IV had still been in commission [the Gannets, for example, would have been invaluable and saved putting Type 42s as radar pickets up-threat], and also a relaxation of the RoEs allowing SSNs to dispose of Argentine surface ships within their 12 mile territorial sea. Hipolito Bouchard and Piedra Buena [former USN destroyers] would certainly have been dispatched by HMS Valiant if that had been the case.
Thirty five years after the event, one thing is perfectly clear; if General Menendez had not surrendered in mid-June 1982, we might well have had a much longer campaign to contend with, and is the reason why HMS Illustrious was completed in such a hurry.

David Stephen

Yes but we still managed. So saying we cant with more resources in the future is wrong.

David Graham

David,
We did not “Still Manage”, we were simply lucky. In mid-June, Julian Thomson and others walked into Stanley and suggested to General Menendez that street by street fighting to take Stanley would result in many unnecessary civilian casualties, and, as a professional soldier, he agreed.
Had he known that we were helicoptering ammo to the various mountains on the approach to Stanley, he might well have come to a different decision. There is no question that we [the UK] could not have sustained the campaign for more than a week. [The loss of the Atlantic Conveyor featured large in this].
On taking PVR from the RN, I workedin the Falklands from 1987 for 4 years as the ops controller of their Fisheries Protection service, and therefore had an opportunity to discuss the campaign with islanders, and the staff of C/BFFI [many of whom had served during the campaign].
Phantoms were the air superiority fighters of the time, and could have taken the fight to the FAA, well to the west of the archipelago, whilst Buccaneers could have dealt much more effectively with Stanley airport than the Vulcans did, and also been able to give support to British forces on the ground in a manner which could not be achieved by Harriers, despite their enormous contribution to the fight,
Anyone with any knowledge of the islands knows that whomsoever controls RAF Mount Pleasant controls the islands, and therefore, if the UK really means to retain sovereignty, the resources in both air defence and air superiority must be maintained.

David Stephen

We still won so therefore did manage. We found out that we needed a dedicated AEW platform so made one. We have an updated version coming on line therefore we are in a better situation than we where during Falklands campaign.

4thwatch

I agree with many of the comments here about waste at the MOD. Added to that must be a lack of reality.
The carriers simply must evolve. At present they are probably more or less going to work for limited operations against an unsophisticated opponent. However when reality strikes as it might, they are going to need 1st class self defence armaments. If they are caught alone in dock or anywhere else they must have a chance to survive. Anyone who has seen film of the BPF carriers banging away with their 4.5’s against Kamikaze’s will understand the phrase forewarned is forearmed.
The next unreality is on the subject of in flight refuelling and AEW. To achieve these one hopes drones will evolve rapidly to help fill this gap. Sooner or later we a going to need a means of launching and recovering these. They may be lighter than manned equivalents or they may be V22’s. In the end investment in either route will be an immeasurable benefit and cost saving through less attrition.
I’ll leave it to the beancounters to produce the figures as to which has the best payback as long as they don’t make the final decision.

Former BAE employee

Absolutely agree, you only need to look at the build rate and cost per ship of countries like France and Japan’s naval programs to see how badly we are wasting money on delayed and downsized programs. I was told it was because the treasury kept telling the MoD to reduce their yearly spend, so they would drag projects out as long as possible reducing the yearly spend but inflating the overall cost.

nothappy

All we had to do was license the Arleigh Burke design and for the horrendous price of these carriers, planes and the type 45 we could have had a fleet of 16 destroyers armed to the teeth with Aegis and another 6 astutes. That’s a navy!
A complete friggin fiasco.

4thwatch

We would have had to have bought planes any way except we would have needed many more for the same effect if land based. The type 45’s would have been OK if we had built 12 as originally planned.
The Ardleigh Burkes are an obsolete design coming to the end of their production cycle. No helicopter. All USA equipment. No stealth or anti submarine capability worthy of the name. Huge crews and running costs. Pleaaaase.
The complete friggin fiasco is the Foreign aid budget. Just One year’s worth would have bought both carriers and their complement of a/c. Fact.
We as a forthcoming independent country need our own defence design and build capability.

Michael

I do not know from where you get the notion that the Arliegh Burke is obsolete. The US Navy is still building them with new electronics suites in terms of radar, ecm, fire control and C3. The ASW capability is excellent, and the Burke has had a aviation capability with the advent of the flight 2&3 versions which have been around since the mid 90’s. Add the ABM capabilities, and you have one of the most capable surface combatents in the world. The US has no problem crewing it’s ships because they have the means to do so. The Senior service must manage with the fiscal kit they have. That said, horrendous decisions have been made.

Scarlet Pimpernel

The design was a shameful but typically British on-the-cheap compromise. The aircraft complement would be the equivalent of an Invincible class. If we are to fly jump jets, why not use the billions to build a greater number of Invincible class? They worked brilliantly. These over-priced, under-performing behamoths should never have been ordered without the will to spend the required cash. A nice modern 65,000 ton Invincible class carrier.

Michael

Well put. If MOD had spent the money required, the QE would have been built with cats and traps. It would have given the RN so many more options, one of them being purchasing the F-18 super hornets, a potent and proven work horse and the backbone of American fleet air power. Think how many of them the Crown could have purchased at a 1/3 the cost of the F-35.
The other asset of cats would have been the capability to inter operate with French and American platforms, from strike aircraft, as well as jamming and control assets such a E-2 Hawkeyes. As it is the QE will be limited to it’s F-35’s as well as American Marines.
For the money spent the Senior service could have purchased 3 new Invincible class, along with a new Type 45 to boot.

Dern

Instead the Royal Navy will be able to inter-operate with American, Italian, and Spanish platforms. Oh dear, what a shame.
Out of interest…. who would crew 6 Invicible class carriers?

Michael

I believe I said 3, not six.

Dern

3 new. In addition to 3 old? Or are you suggesting replacing 3 old designs with 3 equally old and outdated designs? Why bother even spending the money at all at that point.

Grubbie

Easy, just magic them up just like the QE2s crew.

Harry

I like the idea of 6 squadrons, but feel that honestly instead of doing 50 50 the navy should have two squadrons and the airforce four. Meaning the naval squadrons can be dedicated solely to carrier operations. Also I feel the number should increase to 14 aircraft to cover maintenance.

UKExpat

Excellent article, however could it not be that the USMC extra sorting rate was due due to them carrying out simpler sorties i.e. short range ground attack support as apposed to full on long range strike missions?

Peter Lever

Has anybody thought that now is a good timefor the Treasury to buy US Dollars (£1 = US$1.43 today) and bank it for the next batch of Lightning jets for the carriers ? At the time of the Brexit decision the Pound Sterling was at £1 = US$1.45 so the cost factor has been an issue for the last 2 years when the Pouind had slumped close to US$1.20 at one stage.