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Iqbal Ahmed

Given the small number of F-35 combat aircraft being purchased, accounting for maintenance and overhaul attrition and the F-35s many design issues, our carriers are likely to essentially act as glorified helicopter carriers for much of their lifetime. Due to the catapult issue, we won’t be able to use different types of combat and support aircraft. This would negate much of the strike potential to the RN.
However, given that the carriers ensured thousands of jobs in key regions of economic deprivation and strengthened the UK presence in Scotland, it was a marginally good reason for the Labour Party to build them. The carriers don’t make military sense, because of the imbalance in the surface fleet due to financial pressures and politically, the reluctance amongst the electorate to embark on foreign adventures.
These carriers will unlikely to be used against ‘first rate’ powers in high intensity conflicts due to their vulnerability to air power and improved missile technologies in countries such as Russia and China. However, they would be useful against countries such as Syria, whose armed forces are technologically several decades behind or defenceless jihadis hunkered down in caves. But we can do that without carriers anyway.

Steve Rigg

As an island nation we should not forget that very little military equipment can enter or leave this country in strength without crossing the sea. This is particularly relevant to the Army, where large and heavy vehicles are involved which can only be transported in any numbers by ship. In this context the Army should surely be supporting the Navy if they really want to retain the capability for foreign excursions, where air support from carriers near the scene is infinitely preferable to flying vast distances from land bases with limited time on station. as over Libya. Even France and Italy, with bases much closer than the UK, chose to utilise air power from the sea. The very fact that F35B is being procured rather that the A version, leads to the conclusion that they are indeed intended for forward deployment on the carriers. The RAF would otherwise have insisted on the CTOL variant! Will we see the designed strength of 36 planes embarked? possibly not, but 24 is said to be realistic by around 2023. Contrary to popular belief, the cost of F35 IS falling, and the carriers with F35 will have a capability only surpassed by the US Navy. Yes all of this is expensive, but let’s not forget that the 6bn cost of QE and POW is spread over something like 20 years and is not a one off payment which wil suddenly become due!
Major conflict may seem unlikely at the moment, but can the future be predicted with such confidence? Crimea and recent tension with North Korea would suggest otherwise,and having these ships able to deter aggression by their very presence could we’ll prove to be money well spent!

Dern

“This is particularly relevant to the Army, where large and heavy vehicles are involved which can only be transported in any numbers by ship.” -This is the only part I disagree with you on. Even the heaviest of armoured vehicles can be moved in large numbers by rail, and there is now a rail link between Great Britain and the Continent (and yes the army has moved armour through the tunnel before).

Steve Rigg

Assuming the French agree and make their network available – or they may even go on strike! In any case, were now in France – how would that get us to Kuwait, or Iraq or any other likely trouble spot? There would likely be many countries to cross who would not agree to allow us access, Getting to mainland Europe would be the least of the problems!

Hutch

I am persuaded by a previous post which suggested( reflecting the above) that a better investment would have been one QE style carrier and 2 smaller helicopter carriers. Thatvway the number of F35Bs could have been at fuller complement.
I also wonder whether the above post quoting £3billion lifetime cost reflects the multiple refits every capital ship has in its lifetime. I doubt it and refits to these carriers will be in the hundreds of millions each time.
The jury is definitely out on these two for me.

4thwatch

Rumour has it that we intend to purchase 130 F35B’s. Although the majority will be apportioned to the RAF it makes sense for an Island nation like ours to have aircraft equipped and built so that aircraft from both services can be deployed at sea. This gives an extraordinary degree of flexibility.

David Graham

It is not a rumour The UK is the only tier 1 partner with the US in the F-35 project, and we are committed to the purchase over the life span of the manufacture of same to purchase 138 aircraft.

Hutch

Yes dont disagree with any of the balanced view above. The misplaced justification for building these carriers is indeed overcome by new hypersonic missile technology against which there is no current defence. If Russia sells that to 2nd and 3rd ranking countries when it is perfected a £3.5billion carrier looks decidely vulnerable. There are too many admirals out of touch but desperate to be high ranking as a navy 1on the world map. The days of empirical navy are gone . The Navy will have too few capital ships even to support these carriers as a ‘ carrier force” a la the USA and too few to justify the ludicrous number of expensive admirals still in post in a decreasingly sized navy.
It was even outmoded thinking when the UK committed to these carriers.

Grubbie

A Knight in gleaming very expensive armour complete with expensive horse and fighting gear, colours representing his arastocratic family,skewered by some oik with a long bow. Our enemies are just not going to be that impressed.

Ian Willis

Not sure about characterising increased spending on health, education and welfare as ‘ misguided government priorities’.
Governments exist to make their peoples lives a little better.
‘Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed’.
From President General Eisenhower’s final speech.

Dern

Eisenhower was also trying to reign in the American military industrial complex, which now has a budget the size of the next 7 nations combined, which kind of puts that quote into context. How much it applies to the UK’s armed forces at present is extremely debatable.

Grubbie

Even for the military mind the military industrial complex is a killer.Soldiers,sailors and airmen will die for lack of resources whilst the carriers sit uselessly in harbour, Bae and LM sucking the life out of the RN.

Hutch

Is defence of the realm not one of the 2 key duties of government?

Chris Jones

Governments should exist to create the conditions necessary for the people to make their own lives better. Leaving that up to the government inevitably leads to mediocrity.

David Flandry

A government cannot make lives better if it cannot defend the nation. As a percentage of GNP, and of national budget, defense spending is at its lowest in a long, long time.
(Eisenhower did not worry about the military budget when he was Supreme Allied Commander. )

Michael

Your fish and chips is going to be hard to come by mate, if the UK had no maritime ability due to an enemy dominating the home waters.

Ian Willis

Michael, at over £6 billion, that’s one helluva expensive portion of fish and chips!
Of course, without the carriers being carried albatross-like around its neck, the navy could have expanded the surface fleet and bought some proper fisheries protection ships, as the Scottish Government has been crying out for.

Gerry

Who?

ANDREW JOHN WILDE

Governments do not exist to make the populations lives “a little better”. The only duty a Government, any Government has is a duty to protect its own position against all comers until election time when,
as we all know , the priorities change. Defence of the realm is the convenient description for this procedure of self protection adopted by all Governments and usually involves a delicate balancing act of removing as much cash from the defence budget as possible, to the point where although the Armed Forces appear to be adequate they are in fact totally outmatched by the quality and size of other countries armed forces.
Increased Government spending on health, education and welfare are not misguided government priorities, they are a sign that the Government feels it can safely reduce the Defence budget even further without alarming the population who are slowly forgetting just what the Armed Forces in this country should be used for and what level in the world they should operate at.
If I may change the subject slightly. Can anyone explain to me how on earth the R.A.F are involved with the aircraft carrier and F-35B procurement programmes, and why are the R.A.F still purchasing Typhoon,s at £130 million each. Maybe, as with the Offshore Patrol boats being built in Scotland the Defence industry also exists as a means of reducing unemployment. Politicians, who needs them!!!

Ron

Whilst looking at the comments I can see that there are a lot of questions and issues about the capability of the new carriers and then finance. So I will tackle the second issue first, what has cost the armed forces and especially the Royal Navy heavily is the cost or the Ballistic Missile Submarines. These were normally seen as a strategic asset under the control of the Government and manned by the Royal Navy. As such they were paid for from the strategic finances and not from the MoD. With the change made that the MoD budget will include the Ballistic Missile Submarines a minimum of £2 billion per yerar went missing from the budget. I came to the £2 billion as the next class of submarines now being built will cost approx £100 billion over a 50 year period, this does not include the running of the present class. This sum would equate to 25-30 additional type 45 destroyers over a 50 year period.
Now to the carriers, the capabilities and the aircraft carried. Yes the QE has a ski jump, but in the future the ski jump could be fitted with a electro-magnetic launchers. This would mean that she could carry a diffrent type of aircraft such as Tanaris. She could also in her mid life refit undergo a major change by increasing her lenght and carry a third lift. This would put her on par with the new American carriers. The question however would be where do you base her. There is no RN base for a 100,000 ton carrier. Is she value for money, Yes, only look at the cost of the American carriers. Is she a capable platform Yes it only depends if the government and the people are willing to use them to there maximum capability.

Grubbie

Electro magnetic launchers.The carriers were promised to be future proof with provision to easily retrofit catapults.This was proved to be an outright lie from various admirals and politicians.

Steve Rigg

E-MALS and advanced arrestor gear was priced by US at around £400 per set. BAE then upped the price to modify the ships to £2bn each. Why? To protect the F35B, which represents a greater investment to them. Rolls Royce (lift fan supplier) probably also had something to say about it. By whatever route, the correct decision was probably made – the F35B has the same combat systems as the C variant. Yes it has less range (still better that F18) and smaller payload (still compatible with intended UK Weapons) but will still offer commonality with US Marines and Italian’s. if Cats and Traps were fitted, the most desirable addition to the air group would be E2 Hawkeye’s which RN was never going to be allowed to buy due to cost. Specialised EW planes (Growler) were never contemplated and COD can be fulfilled by helicopters. In any case, EMALS and arrestor gear can still be added in future if required, and who’s to say STOVL technology can’t be applied to UAV’s?

Grubbie

No, emals and arrestor gear can not be fitted in future if required.
£100 million was wasted proving that. £3 billion for QE and a cut price deal of £2 billion for POW, as she was still in the early stages of construction. This is twice the original projected cost of both ships.May as well scrap them and build new ones.

4thwatch

I don’t believe its impossible to fit Emals and Arrestors you just need to send them to S Korea to get the job done! That is the appalling truth.

TridentEdge

Good luck with all that.
It would cost billions to retrofit the QE ships for EMALS and arrestor systems. The RN has no experience with those systems. Other than the ones they had decades ago, but the last RN carrier, that had cats and traps, was decommissioned in the late 70’s. The QEs can never really compete with the Nimitz or the Ford class carriers. The RN couldn’t afford to field even one of those carriers. You’re just going to have to make do with what you have and live with it.
The USN is the best in the world in carrier operations, with the best carriers, CVNs and LHDs/LHAs.

johnno

The new carriers look like they will have the same fault as all British carriers……………an inadequate air group.
The problem with QE and PoW is that there cost is deforming the rest of the RN.

Steve Rigg

You’re assuming of course that the money saved would be spent on the RN? Also remember that the cost is spread over more than 20 years, it’s not just become due in one lump! The choice of F35B actually makes it more likely that they will go to sea – otherwise the A variant would have been chosen.

johnno

All naval construction is spread over may years. The RN has a considerable habit of seeking the vessels the politicians don’t really want to fund,

Iqbal Ahmed

Part of the reason the RN surface fleet will remain unbalanced is because of rotten leadership at the top.
RN top brass come from too narrow a social demographic strata of society in comparison to the country they serve.
They are mostly public schoolboys speaking RP from wealthy families. They join the service early, without any life experiences like having to live within ones means, thinking outside the box and the importance of planning ahead. When all of life’s opportunities are earned effortlessly, one doesn’t develop these skills. The RN is collectively paying for their myopia.

4thwatch

Iqbal Ahmed I want to say you do talk a strange talk. We are all trying to have a reasoned discussion with many of the contributors very knowledgeable in their fields. If you knew the reputation in which the RN is held and its effectiveness, it would contradict much of the criticisms you make of its personnel.

Iqbal Ahmed

I think the word ‘reality’ would be more accurate than ‘strange’.
The RN leadership, coming from such a narrow social background, have overseen an organisation that is out of touch with modern progressive Britain and its values. For example, the resistance to women entering the service, toasting the Queen and wives and mistresses and calling people ‘goliwogs’.
Other public sector organisations have made huge strides in inclusivity and matching skills to personnel by broadening candidate pools and the armed forces should not be seen as an exception. Otherwise we get sailors like Arthur Batchelor, who broke down when his Iranian captures said he was like Mr Bean.

Grubbie

20 year old able seaman Arthur Batchelor, told that it was fine to sell his story and encouraged to dramatise it a bit by the papers, will take shame of this disgraceful performance to his grave. Hardly officer material, he was a bit of a fall guy for those higher up. The real problem is that the RN fights more for itself than the national interest.

Ted

The QE Aircraft Carriers are exactly the type of Warship that a post Brexit, Global trading Great Britain will need at the centre of the Royal Navy fleet. They can carry u to 70 aircraft and providing they are given a normal peacetime air group of at least 24 F-35B they will be very powerful ships. We have always been told that they will carry 36 F-35B if on a important operation. That would give one of these ships vastly more clout than all three Invincible’s together.
Aircraft Carriers are nowhere near as vulnerable to missiles as the ill informed seem to believe, especially at the centre of a task group with other escorting warships.
Yes the RN needs 25 major surface escorts and a increase in manpower, but neither would be antwhere near as useful without the Carriers. Let us hope that the bloated British overseas aid budget, much of it going to nations with missile programmes and advanced jet fighters, is hugely cut and a large roortion of that money given to Defence.

Grubbie

Yes we need 25 escorts and more manpower, but we’ve wasted all our money on the carriers. 4 sunk in the Falklands, another 6 would have been lost but for Argentinian fusing arrangements,duff torpedoes and a bit of luck There are not enough to protect the carriers never mind anything else.

4thwatch

Sure we need 25 escorts and more manpower. However consider whether the Falklands war would Ever have happened if we had had CV01? You know the carrier to have been built in the 60’s. If she had gone to the Falklands there is a strong possibility our losses would have been much less. My belief is the war would never have occurred as the Argentines would have gauged it too risky with a swift and devastating response.

Grubbie

Ah,but they would have had enough escorts. The Argentinians had to be virtually encouraged to invade.

The Ginge

Having read the article and comments I would just point out a few things.
As a platform, the QE Class is a superb piece of engineering. However, it should be allowed to do what it is intended to do. Be an Aircraft Carrier and not a super large LHA. This with the absence of an Ocean Replacement is what the powers that be intend, with the Senior RN Commands agreeing on the basis that they’ll get an Ocean Replacement through as part of replacing Albion & Bulwark in the 2020’s/2030’s.
Secondly it is severely limited by the decision to go for VSTOL F35B. Why, because it limits the other types of aircraft you can fly from it. You do not need a Hawkeye but lifting Crowsnest (which was not cheap even compared to a Hawkeye) severely limits its range. Placing it on any form of aircraft that could be Catapult launched and was a fixed wing aircraft able to cruise at twice the height of a Merlin would be invaluable. Also in the F35 itself by choosing the B option you limit Combat Range from A 669mi, B 505mi, C 640mi. In context, the amount of fuel lifted at take-off for each variant is in Thousands of lb’s A=18.4, B=13.3, C=19.6 now you don’t have to be a maths wizard to see that the B is significantly fuel light. This is further compounded because the RN have no organic refuelling capacity and the B has no plans unlike the C for a Buddy system. So, allowing for Combat Burn rates any “Strike” launched from the QE means she must sail within 400miles of the target. Here again is the limitation of Ski Jumps because if we had Cats and Traps Lockheed had plans to refit S3’s quite cheaply as tankers but the only option for the RN is to hope the RAF can fly Voyagers somewhere close which asks the question why didn’t we just buy a long-range strike bomber instead of the QE, or eventually purchase or borrow on Nato ops some Marine V22’s. Finally, you are flying around with 100’s kgs of useless lift fan for 95% of the flight, directly effecting the length of the weapons bay and what can and cannot be lifted. Without going in to details and rehashing the F35 debate nobody within the USA is ever suggesting the F35 is an air defence platform so the RN will be stretching the envelope of what is achievable by that aircraft. Thus the problem is that by going down the Ski Jump route the RN has locked itself in to having to use the F35B with no other option. The USN are buying a lot of F18’s to bridge the gap, and in the UK we could have looked at the Rafael or F18 which are significantly cheaper which would have given the RN critical mass by being able to buy twice as many for the same price. The RN cannot generate that mass with 12 F35’s on a 60,000 aircraft carrier.
Turning to the RN’s other perennial problem of escorts. I think the RN seriously needs to ask itself whether it needs to tie a 8/10,000 Frigate (really they are Cruisers at that size) with super quite engines, a massive flight deck and Mission Bay to sit in the vicinity of a Massive Aircraft Carrier creating enough noise to be heard a 1,000 miles away, with a massive flight deck, and room for 200 Marines/Soldiers ? Surely the type 31 should be built at 3 to 4,000 tonnes to tow a Type 2087 sonar within the Carrier Group with limited ability to process data, networked to a central command centre either on the aircraft carrier or T45’s with standard engines. As long as it then has the range of the T45’s/Aircraft Carriers which is considerable less than the T26’s it could provide the ASW cover. It could even have a lot smaller hangar and flight deck cutting the cost significantly thus allowing strike length tube to mount Asroc capability or launch Tomahawks and some anti air capability. Thus, the RN could end up with 8 T45’s providing 3 Vessels at any time to work with the Aircraft Carrier or Amphibious Group for Air Defence, 9 or 8 T31’s to provide 4 Vessels to provide an ASW Screen for Carrier/Amphibious Group and 8 T26’s to provide Global Reach for deploying Special Forces, Marines, operating singularly or operating in the N Atlantic Hunting Russian Subs on their own etc etc.
Thus the simplified, less manpower intensive T31’s uses the benefit of the computing power and space of the Aircraft Carriers/T45’s as they are under the umbrella of the Air Group, whilst the T26 with its expensive flight Deck, size, Strike length Mk41 Cells, Super Silent engines and good air defence system and radar is released to do what it would do best which is to operate independently and not be tied to a massive Carrier Group. (It’s the reason the USN uses Burkes as ASW platforms).
I think that way we could then relieve the T45’s/T31’s of any need to operate other than part of an integrated Aircraft Carrier Group.

David Graham

Absolutely spot-on.
As there is no buddy-buddy refuelling capability, another potential problem arises. In real operations, neither the weather nor the opposition will always be benign, or capitulate. Often this means aircraft returning low on fuel for recovery. Air to air refuelling meant that aircraft, which might possibly otherwise be lost, could be held in a waiting pattern, giving rise to orderly recovery. As to Voyagers being around to refuel the carrier’s air group, how is this going to occur? Do we have friendly nations to give host nation support to the tankers scattered all around the globe? I think not.
As to the fitting of EMALS and advanced arrester gear, there is the question of generated electrical power. Do the QE class have sufficient generating capacity, never mind the fact that the alleged innovative design, which was supposed to enable cats and traps to be fitted [This was stated on the record by at least one Defence Secretary] seems to have been more of a pipe dream than anything else.
Best the RN make the best use of what they have, and perhaps the MoD might for a start, reconsider the installation of CEC to the carriers, and T45s.

Lloyd

The Russian Admiral was right ! Any ship of that size that does not have means to defend itself from attacks by air sea or submarine is just a very expensive naval target. Due to the development of very advanced missile systems, carrier warfare may well have become a very uneconomic method of waging war and will therefore become obsolete very soon.

Steve Rigg

We are talking about a ship that is not yet in commission, has not been fitted with any of her defensive systems and is still many months away from being in any way operational! Sea Ceptor may well be fitted before she deploys overseas, as all her sensors and systems are compatible and in any case a Type 45 will be in attendance, a class of ship widely regarded as capable of defending against even the latest SSM types. Add a couple of frigates for ASW together with an SSN and you may find that we have a force of reasonable capability. Indeed, if carriers are so redundant then why are China and India building them, seeing as they are two of the states who possess these so called “carrier killer” missiles?

Grubbie

“Natural place in the world as a naval power” =blagging it, our enemies will see straight through this.

Remo

After almost 80 years, the naval community may have to come to grips with the uncomfortable fact that the days of the enormous aircraft carrier, in its present form, is finished. The question may be not whether we need a big carrier or a small carrier, but what type of carrier do we need towards the end of the 21st century?
Drones such as the Northrop Grumman X-47B or MQ-8B Fire Scout are only getting better, more capable, and more heavily armed as time goes by. And we can all stipulate that the current generation of cruise missiles are not only fast, but very accurate as well. The United States just fired roughly 60 cruise missiles at targets in Syria with deadly accuracy. Isn’t it plausible that a large country like China could fire, say, 200 cruise missiles simultaneously at a huge American carrier? Even if the carrier battle group had a 95% kill rate of incoming missiles, that still means 10 of them get through to disable, and possibly sink, the carrier.
The future, for better or worse, is going to lie in missile and drone technology. The recent attack on Syria demonstrated the accuracy of these missiles and drones already have greater loiter time over targets than manned jets. Add precision weapons to these drones and you have a deadly combination, as the Reaper drones have already proved. The challenge now is simply to have bigger drones that can carry more weapons and have stealthier technology to protect them against enemy radars. Once those hurdles are cleared, then the F-35 may be the last manned strike fighter in the Navy. And missiles and drones don’t have mothers or fathers, you don’t have to be spend years training them, and we don’t have to worry about them re-enlisting or retiring.
Perhaps the solution is a new “battle carrier,” a ship that is part AEGIS cruiser and part carrier. The ship would resemble a larger version of the old Soviet Kiev class aircraft carriers, which were part cruiser and part carrier. Only the new battle carriers would be larger, perhaps in the 70,000 ton range, and be equipped with a large number of land attack cruise missiles, surface to air missiles, anti-ship missiles, and an air wing comprised of armed drones, as well as 16 F-35B vertical short takeoff and landing (V/STOL) fighter aircraft for combat air patrol and secondary strike operations if needed. Several helicopters could also be carried for search and rescue and vertical replenishment duties. A greater reliance on missiles and drones would also substantially reduce the size of the carrier’s crew.
Missiles and drones would perform all of the strike, reconnaissance, and airborne early warning duties for the carrier, while the F-35B would provide an additional layer of defense against enemy aircraft. The ship could also be nuclear powered and double hulled if needed.
There is still a place for an aircraft carrier. But the carriers of the future must adapt to future technologies.

Steve Rigg

So what you’ve just described is…a heavily armed aircraft carrier! Indeed, similar in size to the ones we are now getting. If we wanted to go that route, then the QE class could be refitted, so building an ‘enormous aircraft carrier in its present form’ is not such an ‘uncomfortable’ idea after all!

Dave Branney

My view on the capability of UAV/drones is that we have not yet taken a significant leap forward in technology to justify pensioning off manned strike/interceptor aircraft and the reasons for this are:
1. In a First Power Nation vs Third Power Nation conflict, drones currently have the edge over manned aircraft in mission cost, airframe cost and most importantly loiter time. For example, Reaper can stay on station for at least 8 hours whilst carrying two Paveyways and four Hellfire, Typhoon by contrast, which can easily carry three times the Reaper payload, will need constant air-air refuelling to maintain its loiter time. The Typhoon will also have a much greater maintenance and personnel footprint thereby pushing up the operating costs. looking at the F35B it is simply not designed for loitering over the mission area. It is a precision first strike fighter designed to evade enemy radar and SAM systems, then quickly bug out. The Third Power Nation cannot hope to disrupt the command and control of the UAV (unless like Iran you get lucky). The only real hope a Third Power Nation has is to try to identify the command and control or launch site and either carry out some form of espionage or a ground strike to disrupt operations.
2. The real problem with UAVs arises when you have First Power vs First Power conflicts. The UAVs major Achilles heel is that they are controlled by line of sight communications/data-link. Also, they “currently” have a very limited AI that can react to minimal disruptions or unfolding events; for example if the UAV has lost contact with the controller, it can do a 180 a fly back towards the airstrip or flying in circles until contact is re-established. It can be assumed that a First Power Nation will prioritise disrupting the opponents communications in the first days of conflict either by jamming, hacking or destroying communication nodes. The majority of UAVs are controlled via satellite data-link whereby the controller is many hundreds of miles from the conflict zone. As our Russians friends are fond of “Maskirovka”, the art of deception is part of their strategic and tactical modus operandi. It can be assumed that communications and spy satellites will be amongst the first to be targeted if we ever got into a conflict with them. This will have a very significant effect on UAV operations. The controller will be required to use extant aircraft to piggy back their data-link to control the UAV. This will be carried out initially in the short term and in the long term by replacement satellites. The main assets that would be used currently in our inventory would be Sentinal, Posiedon, AWACS and perhaps a Crowsnest “aircraft”. This will place them in greater harms way as they’d instantly become a priority strategic target. This is all very reminiscent to the way of thinking that led to the infamous “Duncan Sandys” white paper, whereby all manned fighter and strike aircraft would be replaced by missiles. This is where policy is blinded by technological aspirations and not the realities of actual fielding the product. The fallibility of which was demonstrated by a Squadron of Hunters flying in a diamond formation at low level down the Thames completely undetected by radar. The white paper destroyed our aircraft industry and set us back commercially competitively for decades in the aircraft industry. It would be military suicide to entrust all strike and interceptor missions to UAV for reasons stated above.
3. There have been moves afoot whereby UAVs can be controlled by strike aircraft such as Apache and Typhoon, but these are used as force multipliers and not individual recon’ or strike missions. Also the trials were carried out using the two seat variety due to the extra pilot workload, I’m pretty sure that there are no two seat F35Bs in the pipeline. I believe the correct way forward for the use of UAVs is that they should be used as force multipliers and not replacements of a manned strike or CAP package. Currently manned aircraft can quickly react to unfolding events and they are not subject to being hacked (not publicly proven – yet!). There are many roles that a UAV could augment the QE or PoW air wing such as ASW, maritime reconnaissance and even perform an AEW function as these could still be controlled directly from the carrier via either aircraft networking or direct line of sight.
4. What does this mean for our two new carriers? Well, if two of the following technological leaps come to fruition:
a) A means of launching and recovering UAVs such as Project Taranis from the deck of QE and PoW.
b) Lowering the Pilot’s workload of controlling a UAV when operating a single seat aircraft.
If the two above can be solved the the overall air wing strike package would be truly awesome and be closer to what a US carrier can deliver. Just a shot in the dark, but how about a standard deployment of 30 F35Bs supplemented by an additional 30 Taranis UAVs. The mission scenarios that this mix could provide is limited by the mission planners imagination. A easy scenario to imagine would be two F35Bs on CAP, operating with buddy UAVs. These would act as additional sensor nodes but more importantly carry a useful mixed payload, perhaps even allow buddy to buddy aerial refueling. Additionally on Strike missions the UAVs being controlled by the F35Bs would proceed and carry out suppression of enemy air defences or act as the recon asset. So long as the UAVs are not primarily controlled from a remote location via satellite data-link there is a very real chance that our carriers will become a force to be reckoned with!

Keith Sware

I would make the same points about depending on UAVs, the first sign that a conflict with a major power is in progress would be that satellites are being destroyed. The knock-on effect from pieces of high-speed satellite debris may be a cascade of additional satellite failures; as countries rushed to raise the orbit to take their spacecraft out of harm’s way, additional missiles would be taking out more satellites. This would affect cruise missiles, UAVs and communications with carrier groups and submarines operating across the globe.
New satellites would be launched and become additional targets to be destroyed which in turn would generate more lethal high-speed space debris.
Radar jamming would overload receivers on aircraft or battle groups coming within range of jamming transmitters signals, missiles being directed to targets would also be jammed.
So we would be quickly come back to using conventional fighter aircraft and forms of communication used after the 2nd world war. Line of sight / microwave communications would be in use, so reconnaissance aircraft being jammed at long range would still need to fly back to get out of jamming range, before they could download their reconnaissance data.
The point is, that depending on satellites and UAVs could become a significant Achilles heal if your opponent has purchased missiles that can knockout targets in orbit.