Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Chris Walker

It’s the 60’s Phantom purchase again concurrent with the then carrier saga. We’ll be down to 1 carrier and 40 max. aircraft. 40 FG.1s were bought (a unique variant in that case) so that number is important. The French only have 40 Rafales so why does the RN need more? The RAF never lets go, never fails to display the insecurity eating away at it since 1918. Look at what they did to “Joint Force” Harrier – sacrificed so that geriatric Tornados could lob Storm Shadows at Libyan oases. I made a statement on another site 5 or more years ago that the F-35 would be a “silver bullet” purchase and that critical mass would not be achieved. Splitting the buy confirms this. We’d have been better off buying the C model if the “adaptable” carriers were actually that – oh, hang on – that version is even more expensive. The B is the best compromise enabling “even” RAF pilots the ability to deploy aboard ship with a modicum of training.


To be fair the RN ordered 52 Phantom FG1s in the 60s, enough for two frontline sqns and a training unit plus spares, to operate from Ark Royal and Eagle. Then Eagle’s upgrade was cancelled and 20 of the FG1s were delivered in RAF Camo, the first the RN knew of it. Same BS, different decade. It’s odd though that the RAF are adhering to the doctrine of one of their greatest adversaries, Herman Goering, whose attitude was ‘Everything that flies belongs to me!’. In the 60s and 70s the RAF grabbed all the Navy’s Phantoms and Buccaneers, then in the 80s when we really needed them down south, they all sat impotent on the sidelines because we no longer had carriers capable of operating them. It’ll be the same if we buy ‘A’s, they’ll sit back in the UK whilst the Navy takes all the ‘B’s we can muster to the next ‘surprise party’…


Entirely correct Obi-Wan. The Air Marshalls have been weasels since day one. Where are the politicians to reign these people in?


Sure no problem, just make sure the NAVY get and have full control over at least 90 F35Bs and the RAF can get whatever they want afterwards. I hate to say I predicted this or ‘its CVA-01 all over again’ but it seems that way if true. I can understand it from an RAF perspective, you don’t join the RAF to go to sea but I knew when they said about at the whole cross party rivalry is over and they’re working to the future together that it was b**ls*it. The RAF have too much of a monopoly on the jets in the first place, the first squadron should of been FAA not RAF 617.
But theres no confirmation yet so we can hold hope and Im okay with a split buy if we get enough F35Bs first! I do believe that in the 2030s we should convert the carriers to CATOBAR and operate F35Cs and/or ‘Sea Tempests’ or something but its wishful thinking I know.
The RAF-Screwing the Navy since 1918!


The Navy could have had the first F35 sqn and the first F35 land base but when as a service it doesn’t have enough suitably qualified pilots and maintainers, its trade structures don’t have the depth of skill and when frankly the F35 programme (aircraft and systems) is being funded from the RAF budget it needs to be realistic.

Sitting in MoD

Frankly (@Leaside) thats absurd drivel. Firstly F35, as with the QEC, is being delivered from JFC provided funds.

How many qualified pilots do the RAF have spare for carrier based aviation? I ask that as at present the RAF struggles to properly man a lot of its squadrons. Which is lucky given the serviceability and availability of Typhoon (40 out of 134 able to fly?). The RAF are also struggling to man P-8 and they are starting to experience the PVR rate in engineers (avionics, engines and CIS) that the RN did many years ago. In sum, their manning state is incredibly parlous.

The Navy bought into the Joint concept and kept alive a lot of FJ maintainers, aircrew and AVn specialists by seed cornining them with the USN and USMC. They didn’t want their own squadrons/bases because they’d agreed and bought into a Joint operating concept.


How is the Navy doing with FAA manning these days ? Badly. The Navy bought into a JFC concept because in the last 18 or so years it has tried to remain a relevant force because our “wars of choice” have been land and air heavy, so with the noble exception of the Royal Marines there has been little for it to do. As to the budget for F35 it has been drawing heavily on funds allocated to RAF support and procurement.
Finally RAF aircraft availability and the pvr rates are bad, the same as the Army and Navy because there simply isn’t the money and the whole government spending drive is away from the MoD. The elephant in the room for every aspect of defence spending is the Dreadnaught programme. That is the only programme that counts to our politicians.

Sitting at MoD

FAA manning is actually fine – I think you’re a little out of touch!

JFC delivers enablers thats why ALL the there Services bought into it and resource it with people. Odd that you think the RN has had little to do over the last 18 years or so, when its been busy every single day. You really are out of touch or just in denial.

And you really have zero idea how money is programmed for capabilities! Money for F35 comes spookily from money, programmes for…… yes, F35.

Money for Tornado, Typhoon etc is all in discrete and specifically allocated funding, there is no mix and match! Finally on that front the funding for F35 came from money allocated to JFC from HMT, not from RAF funding.

Is the Government spending drive is away from MoD, how come we keep getting more and more money? You need to stop reading the Daily Mail!


There is some sense to this idea – the RN will in theory be able to operate 72 -Bs off two carriers but this is extremely unlikely outside war. So let the RN have the first 90 -Bs for normal operation off land and sea, and sea-based war time surge. Then the RAF can choose whatever model they like for the next 48.

J Toner

So if we take the above calculated facts as correct, we are already considering that the 2nd carrier, Price of Wales could well be mothballed in the very near future ?
That seems to the layman that there was hardly any futer thought of the entire program.
One unforeseen stone thrown into the pond and a ripple of magnitude beyond comprehension !!
That idea alone after comitting vast sums of money seems proposterous
Some good news PLEASE

Iqbal Ahmed

I read that David Cameron cane very close to selling the Prince of Wales tons friendly power like India. So I think throughout the carriers working life, there will always be speculation of mothballing or selling off to another navy.

This is what comes of trying to maintain great power status without the money to back our play. Leave this game to the Indians and Chinese. It is their time in the sun.


The F35b is the most over-engineered, complicated and potentially dangerous plane ever invented. The RAF are right to be running away from it. There is no practical reason for them to operate a plane that takes off and lands vertically. The massive engine to support a heavy, draggy plane is so big and hot that the plane can’t land on standard surfaces like roads and car parks, so the entire purpose of the vertical landing is pointless.

A plane that takes off and lands vertically needs a massive lift fan in the centre section which adds to weight, reduces performance and most critically leads to massive maintenance complexity. The F35b has short range, poor maneuverability and can only carry a meaningless and ridiculous payload (two small bombs) and no gun. There would be problems returning to carrier with weapons given the massive heat of the engine during verticle landing meaning that they could explode without jettisoning potentially multi million pound weapons each flight first.

Other planes that take off and land vertically like the Harrier and V-22-Osprey are very dangerous planes to fly and have unnecessarily killed many pilots in crashes. The F35b is likely to be even more dangerous than these planes due to the massive size of the engine and highly flammable nature of the plane. US Marines have almost completely cannibalised their entire previous fleet of hundreds of F/A 18s to support almost useless handful of F35B.

It is British admirals fault for ordering two carriers that they could not afford and a plane that is so expensive that they cannot afford it in any significant numbers. A large number of the ones they do buy are likely to crash or have maintenance problems. The airforce should not have to bail out Admirals bad decisions.


The harrier was light and had a much higher bypass ratio than jets of its day,so it was at least plausible to operate it away from paved runways.Even so there was only one killer app,the Falklands. When the RN operated its carrier in support of operations over Kosovo the USMC operated its harriers from air bases as it has done in every operation in the middle East because logistics are much easier.We were told how useful these aircraft would be to the RAF when not on the carriers,it turns out that the RAF don’t really think so.They should wait for the D/E models which will hopefully be less compromised by the B model.


David you ignore that the RAF have been intrinsically involved in the F35B development programme from the outset and publicly committed to this joint programme. if the plane is a bad as you say the RAF share the responsibility and cannot just walk away as we have already ordered a considerable number of the first 48. They have also been part of the Carrier regeneration programme for which most of the money has been spent so the cheapest option is to order just enough F35Bs for the carriers and not another aircraft type.
For what it is worth I personally think all this jointery is just a political fudge. You don’t join the RAF to spend six months with the Navy.
The RN should have all the F3Bs lets say 70+ and the RAF a similar number of As with the Bs all ordered first. The RAF can then enjoy a “holiday” with no dedicated strike aircraft just as the Navy has had with no carrier.
More seriously I do wonder if a purchase of say 90 F3Bs for the Navy could be followed with an additional order for the Typhoon for the RAF, which would better support home grown aircraft production. The Typhoon seems more than capable of carrying a range of air to ground ordnance so whilst it would be nice to have a dedicated strike aircraft is it really needed.
The RAF perhaps should be looking at Tempest as its future aircraft and have a single type in Typhoon for the next decade or so.


And yet again David shows he has no subject matter knowledge. However I am intrigued, David how has the USMC cannablised their F18s, to support the F35? I very much doubt their is any commonality between parts of both aircraft pal, apart from maybe a few USMC stickers. However i have another question, like I have mentioned to grubbie and his pathological hatred for the carrier, you seem to have the same with the F35. So my question is, when did an F35 sleep with your missus?

Sitting at MoD

@David, Then the F-18s that I was watching operate out of MCAS Miramar last week were mirages?

Go and look at the accident ratios of various aircraft – I think you’ll be amazed to find Harrier wasn’t the worst offender by far.

And your analysis of its payload and manoeuvrability is entirely at odds with the aircrew flying it. Having spoken often with the USMC pilots, many of whom have converted from F18 and AV-8, they love it.

And finally I’ll think you’ll find that no British Admirals ordered the carriers – Centre led programme – funded and directed by MoD, with SROs who may have been RN, but a Joint MoD decision.


Remember the time this all came about. The banking problem that no one could afford.

Fat Dave

Absolutely right, David.

Lord Curzon

There may be an operational case for the RAF to have some F-35A. I also disagree with some of your analysis; there is supply chain interoperability with the US who are basing F-35 in East Anglia and I am not sure the 25% shared component statistic you presented between the variants is accurate.

Obviously it would be ideal to have as many F-35B onboard the aircraft carriers as possible, but realistically this is going to be 12-24 with capability for a surge in times of conflict.


You can read about the % of shared components in the report written for the Senate defence committee.
The figure is actually 23% shared components.
This was always going to happen and the RAF will have a powerful ally in the treasury because of the headline cost savings.
Cameron should had pushed through the change to cats and traps and not let the Boy George talk him out of it ,the cost was estimated at £450 million per ship .
What it boils down to is we have spent £6 billion and gutted the surface fleet to provide a taxi service to the USMC F35B.

Way to go Gordon Brown and Lord West .

Lord Curzon

None of you seem to recognise the F-35 is totally different to the Tornado and its combat role is designed to operate with other aircraft in an intelligence-gathering capacity. It makes a lot of strategic sense to have some F-35A.

Oh wow, a senate defence committee report – like they usually have the truth in them!

Lord Curzon

Personally I would rather do a deal with the RAF and let them have some F-35A in exchange for the procurement of some V-22 Osprey.


Chances of a V-22 purchase in any form are and always will be highly unlikely due to one simple fact. It’s not money. It’s not training. It’s the simple fact the V-22 will never pass certification from the MAA. They are an amazing aircraft but also flying deathtraps.


Deathtrap is a understatement , US marines detest flying in them .
A innovative idea let down by the limits of technology.

Michael Watson

I have read an arcticle that mentioned about the SAS who operate the V22 Osprey, that is only used in the UK. So it is within the realms of possibility the Osprey might operate from a carrier for short period of time if required.


The SAS don’t operate the Osprey. The Daily Mail wrote a story about it a few years ago, but in the years since no one else has seen or heard anything about an Osprey purchase. Special forces matters are obviously not up for public discussion, but the JSFAW is an AAC/RAF formation, with its composition easily confirmed. Most likely, the SAS carried out some multinational training with the US Osprey squadron based at RAF Mildenhall, and the press blew it out of proportion.

Part of HMS QE’s trials involved operation of USMC V-22s though, so we know that the carriers are at least equipped to operate Ospreys or similar aircraft in the future.

Lord Curzon

There are also plans by USMC to have refuelling V-22s – very useful for the shorter range F-35Bs!


Seeing as it was compiled by Lockheed i would suggest that it is probably very accurate about the part compatibility .

Try sarcasm when you actually know what you are talking about.

Patrick O'Neill

I can completely understand why the RAF wants the A: They have a problem in that they are replacing the Tornado, a specialised long range bomber with a big load capacity and that can carry everything in NATO’s arsenal, with a short range strike fighter with very limited bomb load However, as the article argues, changing to the A completely undermines the carrier project and so unfortunately for the RAF they need to focus on maximising what they have – Typhoon & F35b.


I usually always agree with everything posted on this site, but i cannot agree with this article and its verdict on the situation.

The RAF have a responsibility to seek the most capable aircraft that has the best stats available for the good of the nation. In terms of cost and capability, the F35A clearly wins easily for the purposes the RAF have. Why should the RAF opt for a much less capable aircraft?

The solution is clearly to go for a mix of both F35A for the RAF and F35B for the Royal Navy. The debate then legitimately can turn to where the balance should be in numbers, ensuring that the RN get enough F35Bs to properly equip the two carriers and for training / spare parts etc.

The Royal Navy does not need over 100 F35Bs to effectively equip two carriers. A split of like 75 F35Bs for the Royal Navy and 80 F35As for the RAF would give the UK a much greater overall capability than if it just got 138 F35Bs.

I think when it comes to this issue, you are being far too biased towards the royal navy at the expense of what is best for the national defence as a whole. The Royal navy and RAF should both get the best for their needs. and that is the F35B and F35A


> A split of like 75 F35Bs for the Royal Navy and 80 F35As for the RAF would give the UK a much greater overall capability than if it just got 138 F35Bs.

I agree here, but this has no replation to split buy now.

So, first buy 75 F35B and then buy the remaining As. This is reasonable.

If we go for split-buy now, RAF/FAA needs to set up logistic and training chains for two sub-types of small numbers of F35B and A. Very inefficient, I think.

Lord Curzon

I agree completely!

Meirion X

Uk airfields, incl. RAF Marham, are vulnerable to a Russian missile strike, including non-nuclear. Tornado’s procured in the Cold War where mainly forward deployed in Germany.
The RAF no longer has airbase’s in Germany.
Presently only a few Tornado’s are forward deployed in Cyprus on Op. Shader. F-35A’s would be sitting ducks at Marham!
F-35b’s remaining at Marham will use S/TOVL and SRVL to get airborne. All we need now are V22 tankers.


And you think placing our whole airfield infrastructure and aircraft on moving target at sea where you can now also attack them with submarines is a better solution ? At least with land based aircraft you can disperse to any number of UK airports if you want.
Comparing land based to carrier never works for many reasons from logistics through to sortie generation rates then on to security etc. Each option has +s and -s.
Aircraft carriers are great for pretending you are still a global player or disaster relief but if you try to face down a growing China or Russia you will send these ships, their crews and aircraft to the bottom of the sea.

Meirion X

How can you disperse conventional aircraft from damaged airfields??
This scenario was the reason for the forward deployment of Harrier GR’s in Germany in the cold war.
The F-35B would be the best fighter aircraft to get airborne from damaged runways.
No aircraft carrier has been sunk since WW2. Aircraft carriers are protected from submarines by anti-submarine frigates,
ASW helicopters and our own Submarines.
The best form of defence from aircraft at sea, is aircraft deployed from carriers.
A lot Russian and Chinese defence equipment will turn out to be crapp, like the fearless Mig’s in 1970/80’s, look what happened in the 1982 Lebanon War, 86 shot down, to 1 Israel!


You disperse your aircraft at a time of tension much in the same way you would move fleet out of harbour or deploy your army to the field.
As to the vulnerability of aircraft carriers in modern tier 1 warfare I think the effort and assets the US Navy allocate to support a carrier battle group would suggest just vulnerable they feel their carriers could be. Can the Royal Navy match that ?

Meirion X

Yes, the Royal Navy will be more then able to protect a QE carrier from missile attack by the deployment of a type 45 destroyer which more then capable of intercepting anti-ship missiles, and deploy electronic counter measures directed at missiles. The fleet would have moved from the target point and maybe leaving behind a false electronic target, by the time a missile arrived at a target point.
And the best form of defence from aircraft at sea, to defend a fleet,
are aircraft deployed from an aircraft carrier.
Also, as I said before, the RN is ahead in the game of anti-submarine warfare.


So lets hope no potential enemy use a swarm of missiles or hypersonic missiles to saturate the carrier and her escorts and that they don’t send more than a couple of subs to hunt the group too.
I look at the amount of effort the U.S. Navy puts into escorting a carrier battle group and look at what the Royal Navy propose and think “sitting target”.


US Navy has ~800 F18C/D/E/F and forms 9 CV Air Wing, each with ~48 of them, for 11 CVNs. In other words, they have 2 fighters for 1 fighter in front-line CV Air Wing.

I think minimum needed for the 2 CVF is, QNLZ carrying 24 F35B and PoW 12 F35B. Doubling this 36 means 72. Better be 24+24 = 48, which means 96. Then, RAF can think of shifting into F35A or F35C for the remaining 66 or 42.

F35 is a replacement for Jointforce Harrier AND Tornado, not only the latter. RN and FAA suffered a lot by “lacking” fighters for a decade. RAF might be suffering a little by having B and not A, but it is quit small issue compared to the RN/FAA’s. Also, RAF has a good chance to have 66 or 42 of As (or Cs) if they like, in the late phase of the program.

Overall, I agree there is zero rationale on RAF guy’s proposal for split buy of A. Zero, I agree.


Please resume normal balanced service, this headline and the article are hysterical. Between 75 and 90 F35Bs would be plenty for the Navy to use on both carriers, especially with cooperation from US Marines.
It is also logical to supply the rest in F35A guise for the RAF.


You forget the elephant in the room HM Treasury.
At the mere hint of savings money in the short term the treasury will go all out for it.

Unfortunately the Treasury nows has to much power over other departments except Health which is a cult of it’s own.

We will only buy 48 F35B and the carriers will be a taxi service for the USMC , the USA will quite happily sacrifice our assets for there interests.


“RAF plan for F-35 split-buy undermines aircraft carrier programme”. Wheres the hysteria? It is a 100% true fact: if the Lightning fleet isn’t entirely STOVL, the carrier programme IS undermined.

The rule of 3 has been a well known military fact for centuries at this point. To maintain continuous deployment of an asset, you need another asset in refit/on leave, and another getting ready to deploy. The more steps you introduce, the more robust the system is. For 36 aircraft on the carrier, you need 108 total.

As the article clearly and logically points out, in an ideal world the RAF could have the conventional variant for the strike role, but the reality is, with such a limited budget and so much investment already, carrier strike is far more important. It’s CVA-01 versus TSR-2, but this time lying about the location of Australia isn’t going to help the RAF. History has shown repeatedly that carrier strike is more useful than long range bombers: it wasn’t the Vulcan that won the Falklands, it was Hermes and Invincible.


The first thing to say is we have to spend more on defence, even the President of the U.S.A. has said European countries have to spend more on their own defence in future, and in a poll most British people who were asked agreed. We have to get defence spending up to 3% of G.D.P.

48 F-35Bs is not enough if and when a war situation arrives. We need at least 36 on one carrier and 24 on the other for a total of 60. Minimum. Otherwise the huge investment in the large carriers will have been a waste and that cannot be allowed to happen.


You are forgetting that the treasury never wanted the carriers and they only came into being as a job creation scheme for the Scottish shipyards in a vain attempt to keep the SNP out of labour’s Scottish seats.
The RAF killed the CVA-01 project mainly on the grounds of cost , yes they moved Australia but it was there success in stressing how much cheaper the F111 was which sealed CVA 01 fate , they might not had got the F111 but they did emasculate the FAA and when the Harrier fleets where merged they wasted little time in getting rid of the sea Harrier and then constantly managed to limit the deployment of the harriers to the ark royal and invincible further eroding the FAA capacity to retain fast jet pilots.
And when the opportunity arose to get rid of the harriers completely they never hesitated and in doing so removed the FAA ability to train fast jet pilots .

The RAF would sacrifice the whole F35B program if they felt it meant the carriers were mothballed.

I don’t think the public truly understands the RAF hatred of the Army Air Corp and the FAA and how they constantly manoeuvre to downgrade and eliminate there capability.


The CVA 01 programme died on the alter of economic reality not because of the RAF. The Navy and the Army both let down their own air arms because they don’t see “aviation” as a core discipline in support of their operations unlike the U.S. or even the French. The RAF is just the scapegoat.


The CVA-01 died on that alter because it was forced onto it. The Treasury preferred aircraft because they thought they were cheaper; the Defence Secretary was hell belt on killing our global presence; the RAF just wanted to make sure the RN bore more of the cuts than they did. The navy was hammered with demands to reduce the cost of CVA-01, and as such the design constantly changed and was heavily compromised.

How exactly do you think the army and navy willingly let their own air arms down? You seem to be ignoring the fact that the RN fought hard for fixed wing aviation, lost, and then found a work around in the form of Harrier-equipped “cruisers”, and then lost its Harriers because the RAF wanted to keep Tonka. As for the army, aviation ISN’T one of their core disciplines, land based air power is meant to be the RAF’s domain. The only unique aviation capability the army has are attack helicopters, which I do agree need more investment.


The Navy to failed maintain the balance between investment in old equipment and looking for the new. Sea Harrier MK2 is an example. The radar was great but the airframe and engine combination not so. If the Navy had selected the Harrier 2 airframe – similar to the USMC it would have gained a more capable force with the critical mass of the Harrier GR5/7 force. This would have helped justify a greater investment in sustaining Harrier.
However it did not happen. The Navy opted for rebuilds of Sea Harrier before opting to join the RAF Harriers. The RAF Harriers had a number of issues prior to this which was making the fleet very expensive to support and have a very limited upgrade path. It was a dying fleet before SDR 2010 finally killed it off.
So you are a service that is looking to reduce costs what do you look at first ? An aircraft that has number of system and engineering failings, that struggles badly to generate even the basic forward fleet with no capacity to surge in a crisis, an aircraft that cannot deploy a gun, heavy weapons, cruise missiles or a highly capable reconnaissance pod (Raptor) and is severely range and weather affected ? Or do you keep a proven all weather, highly capable and adaptable aircraft that deploys all your weapons and is from a large pool of airframes that can sustain a high tempo intense combat operation with no drop in availability because you have a large pool of spares and an economic support infrastructure ?
Against this Harrier – rightly so was scrapped and the actions over Libya, Afghanistan and Syria by the Tornado GR4 force have justified that every day since.


Oh I fully supported retaining Tornado over Harrier: Harrier had been obsolete for a decade at least, and it’s only users had no alternatives until F35B. The point I was making was not that Harrier should’ve been retained, but that the RN and FAA did fight for it


The Navy might have fought for the Harrier but they what they expected was the RAF to scrap the far larger and far more versatile Tornado force to keep the Harrier. However if the Navy had requested the Harrier force move to their service and their budget I don’t think the RAF would have objected.
Afghanistan did show the severe drawbacks of the joint force concept and it concerns me for F35B.


I do understand it, and it’s not going away anytime soon. The Falklands proved the need for Carriers and the FAA, the RAF were determined to be involved and Black Buck was born almost out of desperation with Harrier GR3’s hastily prepared and shipped out. Post Falkland a joint FAA/RAF airwing became common place on the Invincible class. That was of course until the Sea Harrier FA2s – the best air to air variant of the Harrier ever created were conveniently sidelined as funding for main spar replacement was refused with the RAF claiming the GR7 was all that was needed……..from then on the Invincibles saw more foreign Harriers visiting their decks than ‘Joint Force’ RAF aircraft.


Then there’s the problem of the F35Bs range vs anti ship missiles. I just can’t see an opponent worthy of a stealth fighter that is going to be scared of a carrier group with 24 fighters which exhibits so many limitations.


24 planes Grubbie , is the F35B a fighter or a fighter bomber or just a bomber not even Lockheed is sure.
It depends on who they are trying to sell it to.


In reality it is neither. Air to air ability is massively limited by engineering challenges in making it take off/land vertically and “stealth”. You can fit two little 1000lb bombs inside it – a meaningless payload for any kind of conventional war.


F35a can carry only 2 bombs as well, a little larger. Air to air has also only a little difference because it is not dog fight nowadays.

I agre F35A is better here but it is not “greatly”. If you think stealth is not needed, then buy typhoon, not F35A.


All three of these planes are unnecessarily expensive, complicated an unreliable, although yes, if you had to choose from the three, the F35b would be the worst, followed by the F35A and then the Typhoon.

Meirion X

It is the role of a destroyer to intercept anti ship missiles, and deploy electronic jamming directed at missiles. The fleet would have moved from the target point and maybe leaving behind a false target, by the time a missile arrived at a target point.


I agree with James, Wisdomofsolomon and others who believe that this is not the terrible news that the article suggests. While I understand and share the concerns raised, there are a number of reasons to believe that there is some merit in such a decision if it were to prove to be true:

I just checked the historical exchange rate and the pound is currently almost exactly 20% weaker against the dollar that it was at the 2015 SDSR. International supply chains are complex but it seems reasonable to assume this is a good proxy for their real cost difference so in short, for the same money we can now afford to buy about 2 fewer squadrons that we could in 2015. On the other hand, a LRIP11 A model costs 23% less than a B model. In terms of initial procurement, the maths are clear. In terms of operating costs, the A model is obviously more numerous across partner countries and it is certain that this could lead to lower maintenance costs. To what extent this offsets the dual supply chains is unclear but it’s interesting to note that the impressive JSDF has apparently decided this solution works.

Best for the nation
Obviously Linked to affordability and numbers but also agree with the comments above that there is surely a case for the RAF having the A in the same way that there was a case for the RN to have the C due to increased capabilities in many areas. I think we’ll end-up needing to fit boom refueling to the voyager fleet soon anyway since we already have a need stemming from all the 737-derivative types we’ve bought so IFR should be taken care of.

RN Operational Control
The joint force looked all fine and dandy on paper but to those who think the RAF is perfidious and out to undermine the RN at every turn, what do you think would happen in the likely case where there was choice to be made between carrier and land basing? It seems to me that so long as there are different services with different agendas, there is considerable upside to having an amicable divorce before things turn nasty.

A few scenarios..

The 2015 SDSR explicitly mentioned 24 deployable jets by 2023. If you use the 2:1 ratio, there’s your 48. Due to manning issues and operational cycles, it’s likely that there will be only 1 carrier at sea most of the time with periods of having 2. So in normal circumstances, counting only UK resources, we either have a modern-day 1970s Ark Royal sized CAG or eg. 1 QEC weighted towards strike with 18 jets and the other in a USMC-esque commando carrier config with 6 jets + a complement of commando and attack choppers; ASE/AEW would be split as required. Either way it’s compelling and unquestionably in excess of anything that anyone in the world can put together except the US and China. In most limited or general war scenarios, we would be operating with allies – notably the US but possibly also Italy, Spain or even Japan – although that seems less likely for now at least. Our F35 force could therefore be supplemented by partners. In the unlikely event that we have to operate independently, we could – as was done in the Falklands – get all the airframes to sea giving us 2 credible strike carriers. At a pinch, there’s a good chance we could borrow/lease/buy a few extra airframes from the US. Either way, its important for our flexibility to keep rigorous commonality with the US jets in particular.

I also want a couple of carriers with 50+ USN CAGs but it ain’t going to happen – and arguably, it shouldn’t as that’s OTT for our planning assumptions. So I think the split buy makes sense.



After working on 20 large defence projects including the CVF I am delighted that someone i.e. OOA appears to bring a degree of sanity to this debate. The MOD equipment programme is running hot (see MOD HoC reports) and a critical budget cost driver here is the SSBN replacement programme. This friction will have to be resolved and finding a compromise which gives a balance between F35A and F35B in UK service seems very sensible first step to addressing that issue. As OOA makes clear –asking for Gold plated solutions cuts no ice with the Treasury. Moreover the Treasury just absolutely loves to exploit inter service bickering so both the RAF and the RN together need to get their act together, decide on and present a united front and fast.

On a note of further reality. I would be very surprised if you will need 2 additional aircraft i.e. used for training and maintenance for every operational F35. If so Lockheed Martin has plainly been fibbing ( and of course I so cant believe they would do that!) compared to what they said about the F35 aircraft maintenance cycle both in public and private. Secondly F35 pilot initio training is carried out using a high level of synthetic training and while my memory isn’t brilliant last time I was involved in this area it was 70% Synthetic -30% live possibly higher. On going Steady State pilot training balance is likely to be slightly lower but not by much and flying hours required for training are lower these days. I am afraid the idea you need 200% again of the operational fleet for training and maintenance does not reflect modern maintenance and training policy or reality.

I really enjoy this website by the way and find the discussions interesting – however the best way to save the Royal Navy —assuming by the way it needs saving —is by applying a cold hard logical analytical approach to its defence, understanding political reality (repeat after me 10 times there is no more money) and accepting a degree of compromise.

Harry Bulpit

The fleet air arm really should independently operate four combat squadrons of F35B, and allow the RAF to operate independently with F35A. As originally planned.


That would be the best solution. The Navy owning and operating their own F35B variant and the RAF the F35A. However this would mean the Navy buying F35Bs and not relying on the hard pressed RAF budget buying and supporting the F35 force.
That is the fault line that ran beneath the Joint Force Harrier and will eventually undermine the joint F35 programme.

Harry Bulpit

Well the underlining problem with it all, is a lack of care from the government and therefore money.


Buying 2 such large carriers was clearly a ego thing and made absolutely no sense at the time and even less sense now with the reduced budget.

The problem is they now exist and we can’t unwrite that. The other issue is 1 alone is not enough to ensure 100% availability and so selling off one is a no go, even before we start thinking which nations would actually want one, which are probably nations with questionable ethics/human rights.

So we are stuck with 2, maybe 1 being bothballed like the albions over time and we are stuck with each platform being of significant size that putting a handful of jets on them like the old invisible days would just make britains armed forces look even weaker and overstretched than they currently do.

As such we need at least 80 odd f35b plus ‘spares’. 80 today is all very good but in 20-30 years time, when they are getting old, availability will drop and so need more than 80 to be able to surge the carriers if needed, how many of our tornadoes are actually usable today.

A split buy means we are forever relying on allies to fill the gaps and that means the US. Relying on one ally to always be there is not sensible, as seen with the Falklands.

I also don’t get why the RAF are anti the B variant, yes it is shorter range and carriers less ordnance, but it brings ability to launch from restricted spaces, which in the event of a war we would need, especially as we have little in the way of domestic air defence and ever reducing air bases.

There is also the cost, split buy means split spare parts, yes the A and B variant are similar but i bet there are many parts different and also split training on repairs/flights which come with extra costs.

Makes no sense to me, it just reeks of the air force complaining that the navy has their toys.


If true this really is poor form by the senior command and in particular Nick Carter, who having wasted millions on FRES now cant seem to control the RAF top brass.

The real problem is broken promises by HMG and an outdated command structure that may have worked for a million strong force but does not work for a 200k strong force structure.

I think we need integrated commands and corps for capability management. In this case we really do away with the airforce as a command force and make it so that all air assets support uk land or naval forces.

Enough is enough, if they cant play nicely, then create forces of Circe 25k personnel and give them specific tasking across the whole spectrum of activities, with differences in equipment as needed for the task at hand.

I believe there is some truth in this and it is just madness, the UK really cant afford a split buy, much better to concentrate on Tempest or Taranis/Magma…

Just unbelievable lack of integrity and management


Maybe we should embrace the nuclear option as put forward by a senior civil servant and abolish the Army/Navy/RAF and replace them with a UK version of the USMC ?
Would get rid of a huge number of senior top brass , and duplication in other areas .
It is a interesting idea.


I couldn’t agree more, the USMC does an incredible job on its stated budget and is circa the same size as the whole of the uks defence forces. If the USMC can afford 400 F35’s why cant the UK also have a similar sized combat fleet.

The USMC also have audited accounts and they do everything for circa $30bn pa (give or take 10%).

4 Commands and an HQ is a good option for the UK allowing for 8 Divisions of all assets. Really doesn’t have to be as complicated as we make everything.

We do need a larger force and we do need more money, but actually Taranis is the platform the RAF should be looking at and developing as it is at least 50% of the price of a typhoon or F35B and can work with those aircraft, for a deep strike capability.

Why do we always shoot ourselves in the foot.


I am always amazed by comparing our three services to the US Marine Corps. As a service they are totally dependent on the three other US arms for everything from training through to procurement and deployment. Which given their limited (in the sense of US military practice) role they still have a massive administrative tail.


your only problem there is that the USMC owns no ships, so how would they move independently and resupply

Anthony D

Ideally let the RAF buy the A, if it agrees to the navy getting enough B variants and pilots to routinely deploy three squadrons. That would mean 36 aircraft on board and 36 in maintenance and training. So 72 B variants.

However, could probably cope with 24 UK aircraft deployed and 12 USMC. A further 24 in maintenance and training but ability to surge at least a squadron onto either carrier. So possibly only 48.

The advantage to the navy of agreeing the split buy is that the FAA will not be undermined in decades to come by having to battle for sufficient aircraft. It will have a dedicated air wing.

Glenn Ridsdale

I’m staggered by the ignorance of so many of these comments. Sky News dig up some twat with a grudge and you all go hysterical. It’s pathetic.


Actually this some twat you so rudely refer to has on numerous occasions been proven correct in there information.
And for your education the option for splitting the F35 program between the F35A and F35B was put forward in 2007 and again in 2010.
The RAF have been lobbying for the F35A for 10 years and they know in the end it comes down to cash and the F35A is £20 million per plane cheaper than the F35B so we will probably get 48 F35B and then 90 F35A .
Making the carrier program a waste of money because they will only ever embark 12 to 24 planes at most .
To paraphrase what the germans said about the churchill tank a lot of aircraft carriers for so little planes ( a lot of tank for such a small gun) .


Disband the RAF and transfer assets and functions to the Navy. Air bases become naval air stations. Time to play hardball with the Air Marshalls if they won’t behave and cooperate.


The Navy simply does not have the skills required to run the complex missions that the RAF undertake. The complete farce that was Joint Force Harrier and FAA contribution of the “Naval Strike Wing” or as we called it the “Nothing Serviceable Wing” and the hash made of the Merlin transfer has only highlighted that. The Navy and the Army are completely dependent on the RAF because aviation are not their core missions.

Harry Bulpit

People really need to stop insulting the RAF. They have arguably done more to defend this country in the last 100 years then any other part of the armed forces. At the end of the day the B varient is not a good aircraft for them, nor is the carrier strike role their job. Both the Navy and RAF have been forced in to this unpleasant situation, by the government. I only hope that this is some planed nagative pr to persuade the government to start doing their job.


Harry what’s your spin on Obi-Wans post at the top of this thread?


Harry in the early sixties an alliance developed between the Air Ministry and the Treasury against the navy’s carriers and the CVA01 program that was getting underway. Tth RAF was strongly pushing it’s new idea of long range strike aircraft operating from a string of island bases located around the world. At that time the naval staff discovered an RAF map that demonstrated its proposed string of air bases had moved Australia 600 nautical miles in order to close an embarrassing gap in land based air coverage east of Suez by its hope to buy TSR.2 strike aircraft. This kind of treachery is why us navy aficionados are highly suspicious of RAF motives.

Harry Bulpit

Unfortunately I support the RAF action there. But just like today with a lack of money they where forced to each others throat.


The RAF is a waste of money and resources.
And your claim they have done more to defend this country over the last 100 hundred years is a joke .

They never wanted the hurricane or spitfires, completely obsessed with bombing .
Constantly denied resources to coastal command , grossly exaggerated the impact of there bombing offensive over Germany, had to be ordered to switch resources to D-day .
Ignored Frank Whittle research until it was rammed down there throats.
All the RAF think about is bombing , they are the least effective of the 3 services and should be disbanded.

Rob N

Perhaps we should start again… anything that flies is ‘air force’, anything that floats is ‘navy’ and anything that goes on the land is ‘army’.


Have one UK defence force with a single unified command structure…

Perhaps we should have a shake up…


Sorry Andy but I would suggest you read some history and not the garbage put forward by the Phoenix “thinktank”. Where can I start with the corrections – the first Air Defence Ground Environment or serious high altitude research and ground breaking developments in tactics and aerodynamics while the Navy was still fighting WW1 with its battleship obsession and the army still spending more money on horses and stables than armoured vehicle development.
No service is perfect but if we left defence to admirals and generals alone I would be typing this reply in German.


Go and read some history.
The RAF never wanted the hurricane or the spitfires it was totally obsessed with bombing.

The reason you are not speaking German is because 20 million Russians died fighting 2/3 of the German armed forces in Europe.

Hitler could had destroyed the RAF in 1940 but operation sealion still would had failed .
The German army thought crossing the channel was like a river crossing.

D-day nearly failed due to the weather in June , Hitler wanted to invade at the end of September, have you ever attempted to cross the channel in a river barge? Which was what the German army was using as a landing craft .

The RAF is still obsessed with bombing that it sends a £75 million plane and a £25,000 bomb to blow up a 10 year old hilux pick up carrying 4 men , great use of resources.

Want to win a war put boots on a ground , want to be a terrorist recruiter send the airforce to bomb the civilian population.


The old fantasy about the Royal Navy stopping Operation Sealion. It would have an enormous challenge but I think an unobstructed Luftwaffe would have made very short work of the Royal Navy as we saw to other navies when there is no control of the air over their ships.
As to the wisdom of using a £75 million jet to bomb a hilux that is what our lords and masters wish. But be careful. When you question the wisdom of using a Typhoon for this task you completely undermine the case for a £3 BILLION + aircraft carrier and £90 million + F35 jets in any similar task.


I did not claim that the RN would stop Sealion .

Sealion would have failed because the German Army did not have the logistical support to make it work.
The idea was to tow the barges across the channel, very little planning was put into how they would resupply the landing force .

The barges had a freeboard of 4ft , would you fancy your chances of success of actually getting halfway across the channel in such a boat .

The case for the carriers is complex , but we are a island nation if we wish to project force then a carrier makes sense .

I would see it as a waste of resources to use carriers to bomb hilux pick ups just like it is a waste of resources using the RAF to do it.

The west is grandstanding and soothing there troubled souls by bombing the odd pick up or alleged terrorist house in Syria and Iraq.

We lack the moral courage to bleed for our beliefs.


I think the the submarine service would have done a pretty good job of derailing Sealion even if the RN’s surface ships were savaged by the Luftwaffe.

Harry Bulpit

The RAF don’t bomb civilians. Unfortunately like with all other services mistakes happen and civilians due, but also like all other services the RAF does its up most to prevent such incidents. The RAF is not obsessed with bombing but the government is and its the RAFs Job (besides what do you think the carrier would be used for). While foot soldiers would always work best the government simply doesn’t have the will power to deploy them, so until then your stuck with air power. Also the price had nothing to do with the RAF its simply the price of things thses days. Besides the same argument could be made about using a 1 billion pound ship to hunt down a $50 boat with a few blocks and an AK. Also the RAF do more then just drop bombs. Don’t forget they also have to defend our airspace something they been doing none stop since ww1, transport all are kit in the strategic aircraft fleet and perform ISTAR role. Something that the FAA or AAC could do.


‘The RAF don’t bomb civilians.’ LOL…Dresden residents might have an issue with that one. Harris thrilled to bombing civilians and the ‘man in the street’ saw it as payback for the Blitz and the Gotha/Zeppelins in WWI…


Good post and unfortunately true of most Air Forces. Over 90% of planes in the US Air Force are planes that Air Force generals criticised and didn’t want, but had to be forced onto them. They hated the F-16 because it was small and cheap and the A-10 because actually supporting troops on the ground made them feel subservient to the army. Probably their best historical plane, P-51 was also essentially forced on them in WW2.

Really the most useful thing the aeroplanes can do is support troops on the ground and it’s telling that most air forces have no interest in planes like the A-10 or SU-25 that are designed specially for this purpose. You can’t support troops on the ground reliably flying at 30,000 feet.

Long range, high altitude bombing is a totally useless mission demonstrated in every war where it has been attempted. Germany could have “won” WW2 with more emphasis on Stuka, which was always only given lip service within Luftwaffe. Decision to strategic bomb London killed many of their air crew and planes while achieving very little. You would think RAF would have learnt from this, although they copied German mistake by sending many bombers to Germany to bomb civilian targets, achieving very little, while many air crews where killed flying unescorted missions. Air Marshalls claimed bombers could defend themselves which was not true.

Unlike Germans not recognising success of Stuka, Russians actually learnt from earlier mistakes by emphasising use of Il-2.

US carpet bombing of Vietnam with B52 etc. probably did more to help the North Vietnamese than hinder them by rallying public support against the Americans. Similarly it was probably the biggest factor that helped Pol Pot come to power in Cambodia.

We also know how bombing of Iraq has turned out…

Harry Bulpit

The strategic bombing of Germany by the allies had an incredible effect on the German war effort. Especially on Germany oil supply. However, the RAF have stopped using strategic bombing or at least in the traditional sence.



I dont think people are insulting the RAF, but what we are all saying is that petty politics by seniors is not good all round.

The one part of your statement that is factually incorrect is that carrier strike IS THEIR JOB as is managing all air assets.

But the RAF inventory needs to align to the requirements of the Army and Navy in the main.

We do not need F35A it is unnecessary, as we are going for tempest and have also spent a load of money on Taranis and Magma.

For me dilution of a capability, and the F35b is regenerating carrier strike, is the most important element of this order. Replacing the tornado and Typhoon fleets is another budget line and the RAF should be managing this instead of diluting a strategic capability.

Harry Bulpit

Tempest is at least a decade away. Tornado retires next year. The A varient isn’t the best replacement for Tornado an aircraft that since 2010 has been in almost constant use in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and now Iraq. However its certainly better then the B varient, and is a capacity the country desperately needs. Typhoon is certainly a good aircraft but wasn’t designed for the strike role and suffers because of it. I don’t want to see the B varient throughout and I think at the moment that both services should work solely on the B varient. But I understand why the RAF would want the A and needs it.


1: At least, the original Sky News article is reporting about splitting the initial 48, specifically remaining 13, in to F35B and A. Is this good approah or bad? I think it is bad.

2: In this savetheroyalnavy article, the author is talking about, “even 48 is not enough”. This could be a good point to discuss. (I personally think 72-96 F35B is needed, and 42-66 “could” be F35A).

Let’s think about an extreme case, 48 Bs and 90 As senario.
(a) If we follow Sky News, “£90m per jet for the B-model and £70m for the A-model”. So, if 90 units are changed from B to A-model, it will free up £1.8B.
(b) complication of logistic and training will cost significantly, but we do not know how actually it costs. (But, if we still to “only B for initial 48”, we can “learn” from Italy, how it will work).
(c) if (b)-cost turned out to be only £900m (assigned to “RAF-side”, which is for getting “better” assets), the remaining £900m can be used for “naval” issues? As a “purchase cost”, we can buy at least 1 more T26, but to be more “politically neutral”, how about investing all £900m for P-8A fleets, which means RAF can increase the fleet from 9 to 15 (+6 units, ~£900m each)?

This is just an example, and in this scope, a good discussion can take place, I think.

Also, in terms of 2-(b), insisting on initial 48 to be all B-model will give us good time to see how Italian military handles it, how it works, how much (money and personel) it will cost, and in 2020, we will be able to more clearly discuss about 2-(c).

Anyway, item-1 (about initial 48, proposal for including F35As in the 13 remaining units) is, for me, no good for BOTH RAF and RN. I think it is clearly logical…


My understanding is that the Italians are now reconsidering their order for the F35B on the grounds of cost and switching to the a wholly F35A fleet .
There is also some doubt as to weather they will buy them at all .

I honestly think that we should have built carriers with cats and traps and not have gone down the 5th generation plane route with the F35 program.

The top brass and senior people at the MoD have a fixation on gold plated solutions like FRES , Type 26 , Type 45 when what is needed is a understanding that we do not process the resources to buy in quantity needed these items.
6 type 45 for 12 type 42 going from having 4 available to deploy to 2
23 type 22/23 to 8 type 26 going from 8 on deployment to 2 .
12 swiftsure/Trafalgar subs to 7 Asute from 4 on deployment to just 2 .

There are more captains than ships , more admirals than bases , more generals than divisions , more squadron leaders than squadrons ,more civil servants than sailors, soldiers and airmen .

We say we spend 2.1 % on defence when we actually spend 1.4% because of Osborne padding of the defence budget .

We need to have a very honest debate about what we want to do with the actual £26 billion budget that is spent on defence because we can’t carry on like we are .

The joke that by 2050 the navy will be a row boat on the serpentine and the army a man with a toy gun and the raf a youth with a airfix model is not that far fetched on current budget trends .


Seriously because of lack of money, UK must not split buy F35 now. What if UK can only buy ~60 F35 at the end? It will result in ~40 Bs and ~20 As. (added logistic will easily erase or even overwhelm the “cheapness” of A model. )

As such, Split buy will seriously degrade the efficiency and hence even less units.

So, in both cases being pessimistic AND optimistic, the only solution is to go with all B fleet, for the first 48 units.

Only after commitment of nearly 100 is confirmed and budgeted, split buy discussion can happen.


The problem is the fact that you don’t join the airforce to fly from a aircraft carrier.
The RAF successfully denied the RN full use of the harrier fleet and has already said only 6 F35B will be available for naval operations over the next 3 years, so the QE and the PoW will be taxi service for the USMC or the world’s most expensive helicopter carriers .
And the stupid idea of the PoW doubling as a amphibious helicopter assault vessel has again been put forward.

This will all end in tears.


Andy you have forgotten that the Navy got rid of the Sea Harrier because it was pig. It was the admirals choice alone. The aircraft was too heavy for the engine and that engine/airframe combination could not be upgraded further. Hence the Sea Harrier was very good at bombing the ocean with expensive un-used weapons.
The Harrier GR7 then GR7A/GR9 tried to resolve the issue but it was ultimately an Air Force assett. So once again if the Navy wants to play with the big carrier league it will to have fund its F35B from within its own budget and not expect the hard pressed RAF or Army budget to pick up the bill.


Actually I suggest you read Hansard the decision to remove the sea harriers was taken at ministerial level and the decision was based on cost alone, the option to upgrade the sea harrier was refused because of the cost.

It took 20 years of political wrangling to build the QEC and then they where only built to save labour seats from the SNP.
The head of the army said in 2007 that the royal navy would live to regret there building just like said FRES was a waste of money , he retired 6 months later and he has never been offered a job in the defence sector.

Just face facts we have built two taxis for the USMC.
I have searched hansard and all the briefings released when it was announced the building of the carriers and nowhere was it mentioned that they would routinely embark USMC F35B squadrons .
The USN will happily sacrifice our assets for there interests.

And USMC is a amphibious force and when I last checked they like there aircover close to shore .


Absolutely right. You are one of the few people who seems to understand the issue. Even if you were to double or triple the defence budget, the actual ability of the armed forces would still be in decline due to fixation on expensive toys that have little usefulness to the reality of war. The procurement process is not only incompetent but border line corrupt given the way that senior members of the armed forces walk into jobs with contractors soon after “retirement”. The government would actually be better off nationalising these private contractors who collect massive amounts of money in return for delivering very little in actual capability.


David the problem with defence procurement is less to do with seniors in the Navy/RAF and Army and more to do with an overly powerful treasury working hand in hand with the dreadful choices made by politicians. The Defence budget is also a play thing for civil servants. It’s money is used fund multinational political programmes, subsidise British jobs and industry and has become a defacto industrial policy.
Proof of this is FRES, Astute,F35, A400m and Typhoon. Luckily these have become great kit but in the down side it’s also given us the whole mess that is PFI…… MFTS and Airtanker spring to mind.
When your military is given such awful leadership then interservice rivalry moves to a more toxic level in a scramble for the few available resources.


Actually airtanker is turning out to be a good deal compared to the usaf choice .
Even the NAO has said that airtanker had been positive for the RAF budget.


It’s a great deal for Airtanker but not really for the RAF which is the problem. The airframe is a great tanker but if for example we want a boom for AAR of F35A, P-8, C-17 and possibly Wedgetail we will have an expensive and time consuming negotiation. Airtanker also have a great fleet of lease aircraft and a facility for third party maintenance all funded by the tax payer. The NAO may like the programme because of the accounting garbage about off balance sheet assets etc but they choose to ignore the fees underlying the PFI.
As I said it is a pity because the Voyager is a great aircraft and in the Airbus MRTT for its a world beater compared with Boeing’s offering.


Am reminded of a certain Arthur C Clarke short story…

Meirion X

Uk airfields, incl. RAF Marham, are vulnerable to a Russian cruise missile strike, including non-nuclear. Tornado’s procured in the Cold War where mainly forward deployed in Germany.
The RAF no longer has airbase’s in Germany.
Presently only a few Tornado’s are forward deployed in Cyprus on Op. Shader. F-35A’s would be sitting ducks at Marham!
F-35B’s remaining at Marham will use S/TOVL
and to get airborne from damaged airfields. Similar to how Harrier GR’s deployed in Germany in Cold War.
All we need now are V22 tankers to refuel F-35B’s.
The RAF should only be responsible for the Air defence of Uk airspace.
The Army should have it own air assets, e.g. air transport, CAS, ISTAR etc.


As I have already pointed out before, in time of serious tensions we disperse our air force, move the Navy out of harbour and deploy the Army into the field. If such a surprise cruise missile based strike did occur I think a few missiles would have targeted other places such Portsmouth or Faslane too.
As to using the F35B in a similar way to the old Harrier force in the field U think we still have development work to go yet.

Meirion X

I have read somewhere before that heat resistant mats have been developed and can be folded up to deploy to wherever STOVL aircraft are operating.


So its not as straightforward as loading some tool kits, GSE and supply pack ups into the 4 tonners and heading off into the countryside. Sounds like it will also need something better than PSP taxiways to any hides.


agree 100% I actually like the split but it must not be at the loss of capability of Carrier Airpower, id even go as far as selling QE and reinvesting that money into a2x F35 capable LHD such as JC1 replacing the Albion’s LPD

As Rec

It’s clearly madness for the RAF to be dragging round, and paying the purchase price and ongoing maintenance to drag round, a load of lift fans and ducting gear they’ll never use. 48 Bs isn’t quite enough to to keep the carrier’s full I agree, so we need say 72 Bs and the rest As. The conversation between the two would be no different from the standard pre deployment training if you wanted to send an RAF A squadron away to sea.


I totally agree the F35B is totally wrong for the RAF but it is also totally wrong for the RN .
The carriers where built this big to have cats and traps, there is actually have void space to install cats and traps.
But a conflict of interest in the admiral responsible for selecting the aircraft for the RN led to the treasury forcing the F35B on both services on the grounds of cost , this admiral now sits on the Lockheed board .
The navy would have been better off with the F18 or F35C and the RAF with the F35A.

It now transpires the maintenance costs of the F35B are 40% higher than the F35A , its airframe life expectancy is 25% shorter than the F35A and its sortie rate is 30% less than promised.
The USMC has used the F35B in combat in Afghanistan on 10 occasions max payload carried 3000lbs needed air to air refuelling for each mission and only had a 35% success rate compared with 87% for the F18 .
The Auditor General report for the Pentagon states that the F35B consistently fails to meet even the amended targets and had ongoing software problems and comprehensively fails to meet turn around and maintenance targets .

And a little light humour the tyres on the F35B need replacing every 10 sorties unlike the 25 sorties on the F35A because of the weight of the lift fan .
They cost $25000 a piece .

Meirion X

A CATOBAR QE carrier would need a crew of about 2500. QE carriers have around 400 cabins for max 1600 crew. Also a CATOBAR QE only planned to have 2 CAT’s, which means half the sortie rates of a US supercarrier.

Matt K

Trouble is the cost of having to take the OCU program apart to canter for both types of F-35. Although the A and B are both F-35, they are still different aircraft. Therefore, needs its own set of procedures and RTS made for the A version.
Personally, I’d rather see us just getting the B version, the RAF Forgets it still has its Typhoons for a number of years yet, plus the current Project Tempest that may result in a future aircraft.

The additional cost of trying to run both types will be pointless, the fact on paper the A only has slight increase in range, however in a tactical sense and how the aircraft will operate doesn’t really mean much. Most of the time for RAF operations, aircraft are supported by tanker regardless of aircraft type.

We havn’t got the funding to have both, the plan has bee for us to stick with the B version, that’s what we should be doing. 617 Sqn has just had good success in the joint French, US operation last week, already showing it can operate well with the B version.

Sitting at MoD

If Deborah Haynes chooses to listen to low level, Junior Officers chippy comments and meld that into an article so be it but meanwhile the Carrier Programme and those supporting it are firmly behind the Joint operating concept.

I’ve not yet met any real Senior RAF Officer who is open to considering an F35A as a replacement for Typhoon nor who would wish to see the F35B procurement reduced. Yes, there are those who wish to see the funds aligned for a future airframe programme but they fully understand why the Carrier and F35B were procured and agree to it.

Buying F35A creates as many problems as it solves. I suspect the RAF, who will have Typhoon for a very long time, will be looking at a very different aircraft.


As an interested observer of all matters Navy, I can see a number of issues with this. One, the current policy is reduction of types for commonality, which leads on to cheaper logistics/maintenance/training etc, which is all part of the rationale for the removal of the GR4, and the use of Typhoon and F35. If by all accounts the 25% commonality comment is true then that does raise a number of issues which go against current policy. Also, is the purchase of the F35A going to be worth the extra expense in the long run, even though it has less “flyaway” cost? Can we rally forecast costs 20 years into the future? If history shows us anything the MOD and HMG cannot forecast the costs for the next day!

Also, what weapon systems/ordnance have been planned and bought, or budgeted for, for the RAFS F35? I personally think the carriers have now given the RN a role, albeit one at the expense of hulls. The RN needs to get back to two things, firstly, its core work of ASW with the 23/Merlin/Astute combo and secondly, power projection, with the CBG. Yes they are low on hulls, and recruitment is dire, but they have the ability to form both groups concurrently (but little else) if needed. Also if the QE only has 12-24 F35s on-board, can I ask when in the last 15 years, since Iraq, has the RN/RAF ever deployed more FGA aircraft? Current and on-going ops use a lot less, and those ops are in conjunction with allies. The QE gives the RN an ability to deploy, both soft and hard power, with Allies on deck or floating next to it, and to move and deploy without the need for land based assets and the politic chuff that goes with overflying/using different countries airspace! Yes we would love more airframes, ships, tanks, helis etc but unfortunately numerous Governments like to pretend to spend, and bluff their way through any defence issues. Use what we have but we need to use it wisely and effectively.

I also understand that the F35 is more than a bomb truck/Missile thrower, its all about network enabled info, with ISTAR and the quick and easy passage of information, as a force multiplier. I think getting away from the “how big the bombs are” is the way to go and the way forward is “how to use those bombs to best effect”. And apologies for a long winded post lol.


Interesting comments below, but I respectfully disagree with a few points.
Carrier strike is both a political and military benefit to the UK; in the same way that our nuclear deterrent keeps us on the security council, a continuous (i.e. 2 carrier, one active and one in maintenance/training) force keeps us a prime partner of NATO and other international military alliances. The RAF shouldn’t be arguing against carrier strike.
People are looking at aircraft numbers and saying we only need ~90 F35B to provide a suitable rotational force for the one operational carrier at any one time. I fully agree with that, as I think that operating both carriers together is highly unlikely. But the 138 aircraft buy is for the entire life of the project, up to 2040. By that time, we’ll likely have had to replace some of the early buy aircraft- so that number is to maintain a credible force over the lifetime of operational service. I’m hardly an expert, but I think 138 F35B is the number required, rather than 90.
People have commented that it’s not fair on the RAF to replace their long range bomber / strike aircraft with a short range strike aircraft, and a lot of others have commented on the F35B’s short legs. A quick check on Wikipedia shows an internal fuel range of >900 nautical miles for the F35B, 870 normal (shorter) miles for a Tornado on a “typical combat mission”. In other words, the F35B with internal stores only (so admittedly limited offensive armament) has a longer range than the RAF’s current strike fighter. Yes, the F35B has a 300 nmi shorter range than the other two F35 models, but it’s the most multipurpose of the 3, and still better than what we currently operate. The argument about range is not valid in my opinion.
The argument with armament is fairly valid, although not as bad as has been noted. My understanding is that it can carry 8 SPEAR3 internally, plus a couple of Meteor, which isn’t bad. Not sure how may Paveway, but I’d venture a guess between 2 and 4. I’m honestly not sure the F35A is all that much more able to carry quantities of bombs, my understanding is that they can carry individually larger weapons like 2,000 lb class weapons. We don’t use those as far as I’m aware, so unless an F35A can carry a storm shadow internally then it’s a moot point.
The biggest issue I have with the F35B is that it’s unable to carry any current full-size anti-ship missile internally. The JSM will fit in an F35A/C, but it seems pointless to have a navalised aircraft of any type without a ship killing missile. but it’s equally pointless giving it only to the hypothetical land-based force, so not really an argument for giving the RAF F35A.
To me, the only way to give the RAF F35A is to increase our total buy, rather than split it, and I don’t see that happening.


Let’s be realistic, the navy does not require sufficient aircraft to equip both carriers from the start as it doesn’t have the crews to man two carriers.

Meirion X

HMS PoW will be fully crewed, a majority coming from sold off HMS Ocean.
There is a need for sufficient F-35B’s for both carriers if necessary, that is a max. of 36.

The best form of defence from aircraft at sea, is aircraft deployed from an aircraft carrier.

Captain Nemo

Nice observation from Leaside in defence of the RAF, I wonder if the services having varying opinions actually works in our favour, if you accept that any one of them should be right at any given time.
Also a great observation from Donald’s that a split buy could produce a divorce dividend in an expanded P8 buy that would benefit both services. I’d add that the F35A has room for internal carriage of an ASM (in the form of the Norwegian NSM/JSM) which the F35B doesn’t, so I’d see that as another plus for us over water if we’re looking at it to bridge the harpoon gap until spear 4; I wonder how big spear 4 will be? However, didn’t we get a lot of pressure from the USMC when we were considering the F35C? I think a reduced buy on ‘B’ pushed their unit cost up.
The carriers actually top out at 40ish aircraft if you want to put everything below deck, so four squadrons for the FAA would be a reasonable goal for them as they could surge an on station carrier, or with supporting aircraft, fill both if we were going somewhere on our own again and the RAF could look at the ‘deep strike package’.
I think both parties might be happier if they were left to their own devices and walked away with a wing each, the sarcastic amongst you will of course point out that a plane can’t fly with one wing, but for some reason I’m reminded of the chessboard in ‘Porridge’.


Classic porridge scene .

Basically all 3 services distrust each other , something that the political class play on and civil servants actively encourage.

I just think that we need to embrace the nuclear option and merge all 3 services into a UK version of the USMC we would get more bang for our £££ .

And we should not renew trident, it has never been a independent nuclear deterrent we are totally reliant on the USA to launch it and the D5 is to much missile for our small number of warheads .
Especially now as the programme has to be funded from the defence budget instead of the treasury special fund .
Having nuclear weapons is not a prerequisite for our seat at the UN top table .

I personally think india should have our seat on the security council.

Our time in the sun is over and we should choose to go into the sunset and remain forever the UK .

There is no shame in passing the baton to a country like India but there is shame in pretending to be something we are not.

Meirion X

I am disappointed that you look at third world countries in rosie tinted spectacles! Just look how China behaves!
I don’t have to go into detail here. If not, please take off those rosie tinted spectacles!
China does not deserve it’s seat on UN SC.
Britain does need a nuclear deterrent, but not Trident.


We cannot afford a nuclear deterrent, the successor program will destroy all 3 services it is already running 1.2 billion over budget and NAO says that it will cost 23 billion more than the 45 billion quoted in the MoD accounts.

We where quite happy to recruit Indian troops to die for the British Empire in the middle east, Europe,Burma, Singapore , so they are good enough to die for us but not good enough to take there place on the security council.

I think they have earned there place at the top table , they are the worlds largest democratic country, yes they are not perfect but neither is the UK .

I can only conclude Meirion X that you are a traditional racist.

Meirion X

CND type people are party responsible for the extravagant Deadnought submarine replacement program! They make sure any Campaign for a sensible alternative deterrent, is well and truely sabotaged!!
A familiar pattern with people on far left and right, in the pockets of various state

Meirion X

There seems to be two Andy’s posting on this site?
One is anti-establishment, anti-nuclear and anti- STOVL carrier.
And Another is pro Royal Navy aund anti RAF, pro mergerof Armed Forces.
I am confused?
Which is which??


You are confused because of your racist thoughts

Meirion X

So to diagree that a country should Not have a UN seat is RACIST!!
A country that breeched the UN proliferation treaty does not deserve a UN seat!
It is people like you are the real FASCISTS!!

Meirion X

It looks like I have Exposed You as a far left aggravater, who’s real intentions are to bring this site into disrepute, and to do harm to Britain.
Your behaviour is most disgraceful for a human being!


Ah the last bastion of the weak and the loser, accusing others of racism when they have no other, relevant and educated argument to use. You are obviously out of your depth on the subject being discussed, so my advice is to educate yourself in order to join in, or leave the issue to grown ups.


138 F35 is a number left over from the 1990s and is seriously out of touch with the military and financial realities of the here and now.

A rational approach would be to purchase 70 F35b to ensure the on duty carrier embarks 24 as routine with the ability to deploy more in an emergency and then replace the trance 1 Typhoon’s with longer-legged and more capable tranche 3b’s.

Gives the RAF it’s ‘strike’ platform, keeps the Typhoon production line running, saves the MoD a fair bit of cash and provides a smoother transition into the early stages of the Tempest procurement.

The only question mark is how locked in the UK is to buying 138 F35? Would there be any penalties for going back on this commitment and in a wider sense how likely/feasible would it be for the Americans to strip us of the 15% work-share?


As much as I personally was keen for the carriers to be CATOBAR, it’s a good thing Cameron didn’t convert them as the USN/General Atomics are still having issues with EMALS on the Ford, both in terms of cost, sortie rate and maintenance (all four catapults must be powered down for one to be worked on). While I’m sure they’ll get it right in the end, if the UK had gone down that route it would have been a massive political disaster both for the Govt of the day and the RN, and could’ve ended up with the permanent demise of UK carrier aviation.

With nuclear prohibitively expensive, the only other options for CATOBAR aviation would have been the untried, untested, purely theoretical COGES solution where steam is bled off to power to catapults, or to use oil burners in a modern COSAG version. Operating costs would be a higher with oil burners, but for night operations the F35s could probably use DAS to find their way home from 800 miles!

You could argue then that, despite subsequent developments, the QE Class and F35s were probably the safest procurement options the MoD has taken for some time. Some have queried the size of the ships but ultimately it wouldn’t have been much cheaper if they had opted for 40,000t hulls, for much less capability, and STOVL was a known quantity.

Similarly, while F35 was a challenging project, it was a US project, so they would always push it through and make it work, as opposed to the damaging politics of European partnerships. It’s perhaps one of the rare occasions in the last 30-40 years where you can’t blame the MoD for picking it.

However, the F35 has turned into a sh!tshow, which was pretty much apparent from the start when they talked about one aircraft to rule them all. The biggest question was, why, in the post-Cold War world, after the death of history, etc. would anyone want a STOVL aircraft?

The RAF has belatedly come round to that thinking. The per-unit price saving is certainly a headline grabber (buy 4 F35As, get one free!), but the reduced maintenance costs are where the long term savings are, and will ensure higher numbers of serviceable airframes and higher sortie rates.

Personally, I’ve never been a fan of joint force operations. Leaving aside inter-service conspiracy theories for the moment, what they (Joint Force Harrier, Joint Helicopter Force, now the F35 programme) have consistently achieved is enable politicians to say by pooling resources the Armed Forces can do more with less.

Ultimately, 138 F35s of whatever shade are not enough to sustain both RN and RAF operations except looking through the warped vision of a Whitehall mandarin. 138 new air frames would probably just about replace the Tornado fleet, which means Harrier numbers will never be replenished. As far as I remember, the MoD still hasn’t purchased the last batch of Typhoons to replace the ones Gordon Brown sold off to a Middle East air force in the late 2000s, although I could be wrong.

It makes sense to have dedicated Navy pilots and aircraft (which will always be more expensive than their land based counterparts) focused on the Navy mission, and dedicated Air Force pilots focused on the land based mission.

Buying a mix of F35As and Bs and dividing them out as appropriate would seem like the way forward, but unfortunately the 23% commonality between the variants will probably make it uneconomically viable.

The other great problem facing F35 procurement, and this is true for the current “F35B only” plan but even more so if the MoD were to go for a “A/B” mix, is that we are very short on airframes with Harrier gone and the Tornado fleet on its last legs. The legacy jets need replacing as soon as possible, not in 2030. However, to increase the purchase rate would mean missing out on further savings that stretching out the procurement promises. Therefore, buying F35A and Bs and equipping the RAF and RN concurrently isn’t possible, and neither would be buying one type ahead of the other and making one or other of the services wait their turn.

Even if all parties continue to accept the status quo of the 138 F35B order (and let’s face it, it’s highly unlikely we’ll order more than that), the RAF and the FAA are in a dangerous position where they have both operated with so little for so long that politicians will see current strength as normal and appropriate. This is certainly the case as far as RN surface combatants are concerned.

One option that hasn’t ever been talked about would be converting the carriers to STOBAR configuration. This would enable a wider range of aircraft to be carried (F35C, Rafale, possibly Super Hornet, if Boeing is to be believed, and the Sea Gripen if it materialises), for presumably marginal cost in adaptation. Seeing as the F35B uses the ski jump to take off, and won’t actually land vertically on the carriers but do its rolling landing manoeuvre, I can’t see why there wouldn’t be an issue operating F35Cs from the QE class in STOBAR configuration. This could offer an opportunity to buy the -C variant with its increased payload, range and (marginally) lower purchase price, if not lower operating costs also.

There is an argument for purchasing a third low cost airframe to increase overall airframe numbers, should there ever be the political will to do so. The Saab Gripen E/F would be a useful expeditionary fighter for low threat environments like Afghanistan or Libya, which could also operate in the CAS role in a high intensity campaign against tier 1 adversaries while Typhoon and F35 handled the air superiority and interdiction missions respectively. If Saab were able to make the Sea Gripen happen then that too could bulk out the FAA CAW.

Of course, no one would have the stomach for purchasing a 3rd jet these days, so they should focus on completing the F35B order and upgrading the Typhoon fleet with AESA radar, conformal fuel tanks and the upgraded EJ200 engines.

Meirion X

I doubt aircraft operating in STOBAR mode, would be able to take off with a meaningful load of ordnance, like aircraft flying from Russia’s aircraft carrier.
The Sea Gripen with its one engine will struggle to get airborne, unless it has thust vectoring engine. When a F-35b takes off, the engine nozzle seems to be at a 45° angle.
I can’t see no reason why a F-35b engine can be use in a F-35C without a lift-fan, it could be use in STOBAR mode.


Any “third low cost airframe” should be drones that can be operated from the carriers and controlled from F35Bs.

Meirion X

The US Marine Corps required a replacement
for their ageing Harriers, that was why a STOVL aircraft was developed in a post-Cold War world.
Maybe USA was not expecting the Cold War to really end, only the Europeans fell for the false peace!

Meirion X

Has anyone thought of the idea of a F-35C with a F-35b engine, yes the one with a swirl nozzle, but without a lift-fan to give a F-35C thrust vectoring?
The F-35C could land using Rolling Landing.
F-35C uses same refueling system as B version.
If this idea worked, I will give RN/RAF
more options.


For some reason American plane designers are not keen on thrust vectoring .
You would think they would embrace the idea for carrier jets.


Pretty sure the F22 Raptor employed thrust vectoring, though not with the range available with the F35B.


I really enjoy your colum and find it informative however I have to take issue with what you have written here. It seems to me that you a very anti and negative view of the RAF. I worked at the Joint Forces Command and Staff College for a year and we a lot of time and effort to work together. In my experience every RAF officer was totally 100% professional and in all cases great people to work with. I have no doubt that they saw working with Navy and the Army as an important part of the job and to quote Top Gun “remember we are all on the same side”. I don’t think writing in this style helps. On the technical side although I am not a pilot I think the arguments for going for the longer range version of the F35 are compelling for the RAF. If you look at operations since the first Gulf War the Tornadoe with its long range and high load cabablity has been the aircraft of choice. The Harrier couldn’t have carried out a lot of these operations. It seems to me that it would make sense to split the order.


Wouldn’t this lead to the dreaded “fleets within fleets” outcome though? And there’s a potential issue regarding in-flight refueling the F35A in RAF service, although presumably the RAF will look to install the boom to Voyager anyway so as to refuel the P-8 fleet when it comes into service, as well as Rivet Joint.

Of course, the Japanese are now looking to go down a two type procurement path, so in a sense, why couldn’t we? considering the Japanese economy is a similar size to the UK’s, and their defence budget is roughly the same, they seem to do a much better job of kit procurement, albeit without the stresses of the nuclear deterrent or overseas deployment etc.

If Lockheed Martin did manage to bring the cost of the F35A down to $80m by 2020, the cost saving of the RAF purchasing 138 F35As over the B variant would be the equivalent of purchasing an additional 48 F35Bs at today’s prices. That would allow the RAF to replace the Tornado GR4 fleet like for like and give the RN enough airframes to equip both carriers with the same number of fast jets as the French currently hold on the CDG, and enough to pack one carrier in the event of a large scale conflict.

But then would any UK Govt. agree to purchase more airframes than what was originally stated?

Meirion X

The RAF does not seem to make use of it’s existing Typhoon’s. It has procured 160 in all, it is scrapping about 20 Tranche 1’s.
There’s still a lot of Tranche 2/3’s in strorage. There seems to be only about 40 operatioal. I can not see the RAF making use of more then one squadron of F-35’s.


The Typhoon is a great aircraft and the Centurion upgrade is a massive leap forward. However the Typhoon force is in the same position the rest of the RAF and the Army and the Navy, that is there is no money for spares or people. What is killing all three services and their capabilities is an unrealistically low defence budget for what our politicians want to achieve.


I don’t totally understand the argument about personnel v the number of aircraft? I firmly believe nothing has changed since WW2 in terms of the strategic reserve. In 1939 we were found wanting across the RAF and Army, due to the wash from the Great war still making rearmament an unpopular subject. We must not fall back on bad habits, we as a nation should have the means to defend ourselves with the best equipment. The argument we don’t have the money is not necessarily a reason to not buy equipment for future use. I’m advocating sensible amortisation of assets in a timely manner. Modern materials require considerably less manpower to maintain, and there are still considerable storage facilities in the UK in which, to store them? Yes, a lot of sites are due for closure however, there are plenty of existing locations free from the axe.

In times of crisis and in a truly modern war scenario, attrition rates will probably be little changed from those of WW2, and we won’t enjoy the replenishment times of that conflict. I’m not talking about reckless purchasing but a policy that can keep up with wartime pilot call – up rates.


Well it seems that we are all in agreement, what the RAF needs is something with more range and payload. Something like a modern F111. All we need to do is somehow free up some money to pay for it,any ideas?


I know the standard answer, stop wasting so much money on ForeiyAid. For some reason even though it would be hugely popular with the public the government just doesn’t listen.


Actually a very simple fix would be to take pensions, dreadnought program and MI5,MI6 and GCHQ out the defence budget which would reverse the Boy George padding of the defence budget .
Instead of pretending to spend £35 billion on defence it would become clear we are actually only spending £28 billion or 1.6% of GDP .

It would force the government to explain why we are not meeting the target set out in the 2010 SDR and would lead to more money for defence.


I just knew this issue would raise its head. The argument to split types has already been decided by the US DOD and rightly so. The RAF needs both A & B to make the F35 force a truly cost-effective and a meaningful fleet. The 138 airframes I’m sure is purely an arbitrary number. There is a good argument to say the Navy does not need access to such numbers, even at a time of direct action? A sensible mix should be easily agreed with no downgrading of the QE Class capability. The F35A could offer cost advantages that make an increase beyond 138 aircraft more likely in the future.

Meirion X

The RAF can Not even make proper use of it’s existing Typhoon fleet, Never mind to procure another aircraft type!

RAF has procured 160 Typhoons in all, it is scrapping about 20 Tranche 1’s for parts!
There’s still a lot of Tranche 2/3’s in strorage. There seems to be only about 40 operatioal presently.

I can not see the RAF making use of more then one squadron of the F-35A which would be uneconomical to procure.


You seem to know a lot? The F35A would help to support Typhoons plus work alongside F35B’s when required. The number of aircraft in storage does not mean they are surplus, as in an emergency they would be readied in quick order, to support the active Fleet. The supply would be commensurate to the availability of frontline and reserve pilots. I doubt Tranch 1’s are being cannibalised at anything like the number you mentioned however, there’s is nothing new in that story, they have probably used spares from the stored fleet to expedite the maintenance of the active fleet for years, as standard practice? That does not mean they are surplus. No, I believe procuring a mixed fleet of A’s & B’s make consummate sense and certainly not uneconomical.

Meirion X

16 of the scraped Tranche 1 Typhoon’s, are the old two seater trainers which are to be RTP. Which I also doubt that the RAF will procure any more Typhoon’s in the future?
There is also cost of a new air to air refueling system to consider. The F-35A uses the broom system.


I think you are right about future Typhoon procurement. If by any chance the UK found itself involved in a foreign war of attrition, fellow users of the type might agree to augment the RAF fleet, to help with possible attrition rates?

I believe fleet numbers are based on, active frontline squadrons, OTU’s, experimental and active reserve, plus stored airframes for attrition. What ratio these numbers make up is no doubt secret. I think it’s always wise to operate a number of types than just rely on two major designs. The F35A is less sophisticated and would be puerly landbased if adopted by the RAF. In many ways airframe longevity could be the ‘A’s advantage over its more adaptive brother, thus giving the RAF / RN a less complex option? We must also remember that a future UK government might sell off the carriers plus a number of the RN F35B’s. In that scenario, the F35A’s would be all that the UK required. Those RN B’s remaining could operate from possibly future destroyers, Bulwark Class, or auxiliary support vessels??


I don’t think the RAF has sufficient pilots and support staff to actually to do much more than it is now.

All 3 services are suffering critical shortages in key areas.

Personally I would like to take the Boy George out and tie him to post on Salisbury plain and use him as target practice for his totally inept slash and burn 2010 SDR .

Meirion X

It is You Andy who want to slash and burn Britain’s defences!! Leave us without a Nuclear Deterrent, no aircraft carriers etc.
A very cynical ploy!!


We don’t have a nuclear deterrent, it is controlled by the USA , major and Blair both admitted we can’t launch it without American say so .
And as for the aircraft carriers we can only afford them by gutting the surface fleet , and if we are going to have a carrier capability then go for the cats and traps and have a proper carrier.
China,India, France are all building cats and traps carriers which have balanced air groups ,not a plane with no payload and no range.

Actually France wants to build a carrier but are not sure if they can afford it.

Meirion X

BEWARE! Misinformation by Andy!


Are you sure? Our missiles come from a US owned and maintained pool. Trojan Horse?

Sitting at MoD

Not quite true. We buy into that pool as partners. UK warhead and other items.

Meirion X

Warhead’s for Trident are UK owned, but Trident missiles are Not owned by UK Gov. but leased from Gov. of USA.
Leases can be Terminated!
We are at the mercy of Trump!

Sitting at MoD

I disagree. The engineering support is in the UK under UK owned companies. The US Gov has no hand in the engineering support of the deterrent. It is an independent capability that uses common components in a very pragmatic relationship.


What is RTP.

Meirion X

RTP means, reduce to product or parts.
In other words, to cannibalise!

Harry Nelson

And whilst this is going on the USMC are upgrading their Harrier Fleet, should we have kept them until F35 (either A or B or C or ???) operational??


Yes we should have kept them , but we have no money .


The money is there, it’s just locked up in the City paying for prostitutes and drugs for the ‘traders’…

David Stephen

Time to dissolve the RAF I think and distribute their aircraft between the other two services. This would do far less damage to our overall forces than the utterly retarded concept of a split buy.


I firmly believe the ‘split purchase, it makes eminent sense. The basic F35 is still a potent aircraft and the current resistance to considering it does not make sense? Fielding a less complex version under the RAF, could result over time, with an increase in the number of planes bought during the plane’s lifetime? The word ‘retard’ makes no logical sense to me, as the notion of two variants being able to co-exist is hardly a crisis?

David Stephen

And I believe it makes no sense at all. We will end up with small unsustainable fleets of both types then one type will get starved of upgrades and binned. There is no money for a split buy, it may save a few pounds up front but not in the long term. We will never have more than 4-5 operational squadrons + the OCU. If they are all Bs then we can field 60 planes if the balloon ever goes up. How many could we field if there is no available ground base and only 24-36 of the planes are Bs and the rest As? Well we could field 24-36. We will probably need 2 OCUs if we buy both variants and this will further reduce the carriers capabilities. If we can buy and field 138 planes at the same time then by all means give the RAF some As to waste but if we are only going to have 70-80 planes at any one point in time they need to all be carrier capable. The A is not needed, it brings greater range, better kinematic performance and a slightly bigger bomb bay. We have no weapons that require the larger bomb bay, the range advantage is again not required as the carrier can sail almost anywhere and we are not buying the F35 as a dogfighter we have Typhoon for that (and the RAF can barley keep a third of those deployable). In short the RAF want to replace Tornado and the choice is F35B or C. Neither has the bomb load of Tornado so the only benefit of the A would be range (which we can do without). The RN and FAA on the other hand have no choice, it’s B or nothing. At least 60-75 aircraft are required to make the carriers viable and as I stated before we are not getting any more than that in service at any one time. So do you want 60-72 Bs that can all deploy on the carriers in an emergency or do you want 24-36 Bs that can deploy on the carriers and 24-36 As that can’t? The last question is rhetorical.


No David, I understand your issues and you have far more knowledge on the finer detail of the subject. However, it was not too long ago when the RAF fielded, Vulcan, Buccaneer, Jaguar, and finally Tornado. Did that mix hamper the performance of the collective force? At least we had capable machines if one or two failed to perform. The idea just two mainline fighters is good sense could be denying strategist /pilots choice?

However, I’ve kept my final point, and it was the main reason I welcomed the idea. The possibility of a protracted operational drawdown, might result in the B’s, requiring higher maintenance than the A’s? To me, simpler the better, especially functioning in harsh climates. None of us have seen the F35 operate in a long drawn out mission, as seen by other types against fundamentalists. The option of two variants possibly underwrites that risk? I don’t know about the current behind the seans issues and budgets, but in cold conceptual terms, it should not influence the fundamental factors in choosing A over B for optimum performance. If the idea of two variants is so controversial, why have the Americans adopted both, if they see the need; who are we to call that decision crass? We can’t always rely on the carries to support operations, in Afganistan, we based fighters on the ground in airbases as did the Americans. Why would you advocate the denial of F35’s for the RAF to work alongside Typhoons at such bases?

David Stephen

Cost my friend. We are not the US and don’t have the resources to maintain both types. Like I said if we where getting all 138 at the same time then your argument is not an unreasonable one but we are not. With a small fleet of no more than 75 they all need to carrier capable. Remember if the carrier can’t get where needed there is nothing stopping us deploying F35Bs to ground bases like in Afghanistan. You can’t however deploy F35As from the carrier if the situation is reversed. Carriers and amphibious forces are fundamental to an expeditionary stance and F35B supports this and helps gives us most bang for our limited buck.

Glass Half Full

I dunno, seems to me that HMG strategy is to share F35B between RN and RAF until whatever results from Team Tempest program is available, at which point the RAF migrate to the Tempest platform and their F-35Bs migrate to RN squadrons; so the F-35Bs become dedicated RN assets. Maintaining 48 F35B in the RN fleet (which probably means more than 48 purchased over the lifetime of F35B use) is plenty for the usual single carrier deployment; and if surging both carriers then the reason for the two carrier surge would almost certainly drive embarkation of additional F35Bs from the USMC if necessary. If the Tempest platform includes a marine option, then there is an aircraft platform to support CATOBAR if that becomes a thing in the carrier mid-life update, or use F35C if no Tempest option and CATOBAR considered desirable/justifiable anyway.

In this scenario the RAF get their state of the art low observable multi-role fighter with an air superiority bias, replacing Typhoon in the air superiority role. However, just as with Typhoon, the Tempest platform is multi-role so it can also take over the stealth/LO strike role from the RAF F35Bs that get transferred to the RN. Typhoons can continue to operate into 2040 at which point the RAF might be down to a single Team Tempest platform air-frame for all roles.

All of which serves to explain why I think the RN will get dedicated F35Bs in appropriate numbers.

Something else to keep in mind in all F-35 discussion is that the UK won’t have full capability for its weapons of choice on the F-35 platform until Block 4 software sometime in the early to mid-2020’s, regardless of whether they are RN or RAF planes; which is why there hasn’t been a rush to buy more earlier, especially given the suggested upgrade costs for existing F-35 air-frames.

Oh and finally lest we forget, the UK operates in alliances and would certainly do so in any major conflict. So aside from UK based USAF F-35As, there will also be F-35As from Norway, Denmark, Netherlands and Belgium in the NATO fleet local to the UK and obviously Italy a little further away, so a significant stealth strike capability. The UK doesn’t have to also deploy F35A for a NATO role.

Meirion X

One of the main reasons that the Netherlands and Italy are procuring the F-35A, is to deploy US owned tactical nuclear bombs stationed on their soil. The UK is not in the tactical nuke warhead game any more!

David Stephen

We operated alone in the Falklands and as unlikely as a repeat is I would argue that we must retain the ability to conduct such an operation on our own. Also if Tempest delivers a viable 5th gen aircraft and we have went with a split buy the result is replacment of the RAFs As with Tempest leaving a small FAA force of Bs, surely it’s better to buy all Bs if Tempest will cover the role which the A would fill for the RAF. It is not about what is best for the RAF or even the RN it is about what is best overall for our combined armed forces and that is the F35B and STOVL.


Ref F-35 numbers, the 138 number is not random, it looks pretty precise. A squadron will have 12 frontline aircraft, 3 in squadron reserve (25%), 3 in wartime reserve (25%) and 1.5 for attrition (10% of frontline and sqn reserve), so 19.5 aircraft.

Multiply that by 6 squadrons = 117 aircraft. Add 3 for the OEU and 4 between the two wing cdrs, takes you to 124. The remaining 14 are the OCU.

Of these, 48 will be Fleet Air Arm to equip 2 FSR squadrons, 90 will be RAF to equip 4 strike/attack squadrons.

That is as good as it’s going to get. We can’t afford more pilots, ground crew or airframes because the MOD budget has been swamped by 3 mega-expensive naval prestige programmes that we cannot afford, Dreadnought, CVN and Astute.

I would scale the RN F-35B sqns down to 10 frontline aircradt each, as I think the USN does, and create 3 squadrons – 1 afloat, 1 ashore at a reasonable state of readiness and one to support 3 Cdo Bde, the RFA etc and available to surge onboard as needed. You would do that with 60 Bs, including OEU and OCU. f the budget was forthcoming for an extra 12

The A version is faster than the B, has a better thrust/weight ratio, a better rate of climb and turn, can carry a larger payload further and is 25% cheaper. It will be far better than the short-range B for the RAF’s attack and SEAD roles. 4 RAF squadrons is not a lot, we used to have 12 sqns, but that’s the penury that costly vanity projects in a squeezed defence budget take you to.

Meirion X

Looking ahead to the end of the next decade(2028), the Typhoon Tranche 1’s will be on way out of service, QRA role being taken up by T2’s(67). Leaving only 40 T3’s for leading strike role, which is too small a force. Tempest will Not be in service until 2035 or later. So a decision needs to be made to supplement the
Tranche 3’s for leading strike role in 2024/5.
So is the choice between developing a Tranche 4 Typhoon, which might starve the Tempest development program, or procure F-35A Block4+ off shelf, or even B-21(small number) might be available to procure?
By this time at least 70 or more F-35B’s should have been procured, I hope so!

Glass Half Full

Seems like some T2’s could be allocated for the strike role in addition to T3’s. Both will be at Project Centurion level of equipment capability after T1’s end of life so I don’t see a need to supplement T3’s with a T4 or F35A as you suggest, especially if 70 F35Bs, which are principally strike aircraft, have been procured.

Also it seems in common with many commentators you are assuming the UK is for some reason acting alone against an aggressor and specifically Russia? I cannot see a scenario under which this takes place. Which means NATO even without the USAF would have plenty of F35A, along with whatever Germany replaces its Tornadoes with, plus French aircraft to address any additional strike capability beyond that which the UK will be able to provide in the interim before a Team tempest platform is in service.

B21 is an absurd suggestion for the UK. In 2010 dollars its >$550M per aircraft. By the time it enters service in 2025 its likely to be well in excess of that price per plane.

Meirion X

The RAF need to foget procuring F-35A’s, but procure strategic bombers instead with the range of flight to the Urals.
If Russia can afford 8 Squadrons of Tu22’s, Tu95’s, and Tu160’s, I am sure the UK with an economy over twice as big can afford a squadron of strategic bombers!
We could build a stealth Vulcan bomber!


I think this leak has prospered and inspired paranoia precisely because it’s believable… but not because of institutional service rivalry or a belief that the RAF are trying to co-opt everything that flies. It’s believable on a technical basis, because the F-35A is inherently better suited to the RAF’s needs for a Tornado reconnaissance and deep strike replacement.

I’ll justify that statement in a moment, but first here’s why this rumour prospers: if the UK does not acquire sufficient F-35B to operate a credible force from CVF (two deployable squadrons, minimum, and preferably three in the “strike” configuration) then it will undermine not only the CVF program itself, but the UK’s stance as a global maritime power. If the RAF switches to the A, and leaves the RN with a handful of FAA badged F-35Bs, then the majority of B variants you will ever see on those decks will belong to the US Marine Corp and the world will conclude that the UK designed, funded and built a couple of new LHAs which they’re sub-letting to the Americans. This will not do anything for the UK or RN’s image at all. It’s already a strong suspicion in many quarters that CVF will just become a slightly more capable LHA that can take the strain off the USN’s carrier fleet by shouldering some of the patrol burdens, rather than the real boost to UK sovereign power that it’s always been touted as. A reduced purchase of F-35B in preference for some A variants will just confirm those suspicions because, with fewer B variants, the RN will never be able to deploy enough airframes to fulfill the core strike requirement.

That’s the politics. But what are the technical merits that make this rumour believable? The F-35A has longer range, lower unit purchase cost than the B and, partly because of its similarity to the B, it has a big boxy space behind the cockpit that could take all manner of interesting future upgrades that can be coupled directly to the main power unit, like lasers, for example. It’s also simpler to fly and cheaper to maintain and can pull more g in a turn, so is probably better suited to the within visual range A2A role, as well (something we neglect at our peril: all this talk of only ever engaging BVR worries me. History already taught us these lessons).

A further point to consider is that all the F-35 variants are now so diverse from each other that they may as well be considered three separate aircraft types. Lockheed has as good as admitted to this. So there are no real logistical or training savings to be made from a so-called split buy of A and B. If the RAF can make a case for the A then it has to invest in it fully to realise all the benefits, just as if it were investing in any other completely different aircraft, such as the F-22 or Gripen (these are mentioned just for the sake of the example). This means that the RAF, if it needs the A, should not dilute its funding and manpower pool by trying to support both A and B types within its own budget. In very short order they are going to have very diverse training and logistical pipelines because certain weapons and sensors will be rated for the A that won’t go on the B, and vice versa, particularly as the RN is unlikely to get very much kit fitted to the B that that USN/USMC hasn’t helped fund the integration of. Similarly, the RAF would ride the coat tails of the USAF in terms of upgrades and integration for the A. So the two types would diverge very quickly.

Meirion X

If the RAF require some F-35’s for deep strike missions, why not them fund adaptations to the F-35B, such as removable lift-fan and drop-in fuel tank, also stealth drop tanks for all types. Extra fuel tanks for the F-35B would extend it’s range.
The F-35B can be used conventionally by the RAF instead of STOVL. So maybe 24-36 F-35B’s could be adaptations, and the rest of the 138 committed to, are standard F-35B’s.
I am aware that the bomb-bay is being lengthen for Block 4 F-35B procurements.
so the RAF need to take the decision to fund adaptations to the F-35B now.

Keith Wright

It is such a shame these two grown up kids (both now 100 years old) cannot and probably never will be able to share their bag of sweets.
Seriously, each of the three armed services will always quite naturally believe that their arm is the most important and so they should, holding up pride, fortitude, determination and skill at arms to the fore.After all if they didn’t they’d be letting themselves and their arm down.
The “Save the Royal Navy” site is, in my view excellent and I say that as an ex Army man but clearly the majority of its readership will have an RN/FAA background and therefore a heavy bias in any argument or debate involving the asset requirements of those arms.
I have read with interest all these arguments and while I do have sympathy with the “one size fits all approach,” and despite what some of the media say I do believe that the B is a good one please try and see it from the other sides perspective as well.
If you were lucky enough to be gifted with the skill to be a fast jet pilot in the RAF which version would you prefer and feel most capable in for active service ops? I think the better range, bigger bomb load and the ability to turn 9g (and therefore survivability of the A would be preferable in my eyes.
I would have been most surprised if the RAF just rolled over on this and so would most neutrals so just have a thought for the boys in blue and their needs as well as your own.
All the arguments about the vast deviations about training, logistics and manufacture etc. while very valid could be overcome if the will was there, that’s in part why our forces are so bloody good.

As someone posted earlier surely a mix of say 90 odd “B” s and 48 “A” s would make sense for both arms.
In the extremely unlikely event that both carriers deployed on full war footing this would allow the 36 aircraft on each boat + spares and at the same time three RAF Sqns with spares. Granted it would take a couple of decades to get there so maybe give priority to the “B.”

Just my thoughts as a neutral.


Having had a look at the specs online, the combat range of the F-35B (without external tanks and only internal weapons) is actually further than the Tornado’s range with a standard combat load. It’s only poor range in comparison to the -A and -C versions, remember this is a much newer and more efficient engine than the previous generation found in Tornado.
I agree with you, having the RAF fund a bit of range extension would be a great idea- although I’d probably go the conformal fuel tank (stealthed) route, as I’m pretty sure others would be interested too. We’d potentially get our invested money back, and at least offset. I’d imagine Israel at least would like to give their squadrons better range for hypothetical strikes into Iran.
I didn’t know that they’re lengthening the bomb bay for Block 4! That is really good news, because a lot of the larger weapons (specifically thinking anti ship missiles like JSM or LRASM) won’t fit. I think a carrier-based aircraft that can’t fit a heavyweight anti ship missile is a waste… The RAF will surely be happy if they can fit Storm Shadow in too, which I assume they’ll be able to?

Meirion X

Sorry Joe, but Storm Shadow will still not fit because it is 5m. F-35b bomb bay is now about 3.9m to be lengthen to 4.25m, it will be able to fit Meteor in.
Storm Shadow could be carried on F-35 inner wing pylons.


Ah, that’s a shame..! Still, that may make it just long enough for JSM, which is good news! I think that makes it a much more effective naval aircraft- I do hope they get some. Glad they can fit meteor in too, that would have been a major waste.
While not ideal, I suppose that storm shadow carried externally isn’t the end of the world, considering the range of the missile itself? Am I right in thinking that the storm shadow has LO characteristics? That could help with slinging outside, although I imagine it’s far from perfect…

Jassy Spik

Who cares what the RAF would like as it pertains to the F35 program. In this instance what they’d like is have us sell off one of the carriers in 20 years for lack of aircraft to sustain two carriers for 50 years. For what so they can maintain operational control of a varient for themselves.. Get out of here, what cockwobbles they have as brasse in the RAF.. We’ve been there done that. it’s 138 F35B’s or nothing. If the RAF don’t want to be team players then they can go without F35’s and wait for Tempest on 30 years for all I care.. The deal is done, the program is 20 years in the making, cut off the head now and the body will die and carrier strike will be lost once again in 20-30 years.. Unacceptable


Not a particularly helpful comment given that most of the F35 cost and manning is from the RAF. Ultimately though it will be down to the politicians and treasury to decide the mix of F35A/B models or even if there is a mix in the first place. If the Navy wants a much larger pool of F35Bs and if the RAF under the direction of our politicians, opt for the A variant (a rumour within the Navy but not in the RAF at the moment) the Navy will have to fund it from their budget and not expect the RAF fund out of theirs.

Fat Dave

We don’t need aircraft carriers. There is no credible argument for them but now we have them, we should operate them effectively but without undermining a balanced defence. F-35A is much more capable and therefore, the UK should buy them

John Smith

Amazing, reminds me of lucky number 1389

Humpty Dumpty

With the F-35’s poor sortie rate of about a third of a sortie a day (as calculated by POGO) we need as many aircraft on the carriers as possible. 60 F-35Bs would mean we could launch about 20 a day. Not an hour, a day. With just 24 F-35Bs we could only launch about 8 a day and with just 12 only about 4. With just 12-24 F-35Bs there’s no guarantee we will always be able to get aircraft in the air when we need them in the air to fly CAP.
“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.”

The 2019 DOT&E report doesn’t give a specific sortie figure but does say this:
“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.” [ALIS is so problematic that it’s being replaced with a new system called ODIN]

So either we buy enough F-35Bs so that we can have 60 operational at all times on the QE or POW (how many purchases would guarantee that?) or we look at another solution.

Today’s F-35Bs may be going to the boneyard as early as 2026 (and it seems like NO F-35Bs will have long airframe lives):
“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.”

Therefore, we need to urgently look at something other than F-35Bs, since they’re clearly not fit for purpose. Not just because of the reasons I’ve just given, but also because they’re riddled with over 800 unresolved problems (which could jeopardise missions) and they’re very expensive to buy and fly. And very time-consuming to maintain. They also can’t carry much ordnance internally for either air-to-air engagements or ground strike. The A and C variants can benefit from Sidekick to carry 50% more ordnance, but not the F-35B.

One possible solution might be to buy AV-8B Harriers from the US or anyone else who’s willing to sell us some. If we only end up with 12-24 F-35Bs on the QE or POW (which would be ludicrous for ships of their size), then we could top up that number to 60 with Harriers. They could be upgraded with AESA radar, IRST, DASS (that Typhoons use), as well as Meteor and IRIS-T missiles.

Meteor can accelerate in its terminal phase, has a 60km no-escape zone and is resistent to ECM and other countermeasures, so it’s far more likely to hit what it’s fired at compared to AIM-120. IRIS-T was designed specifically to replace AIM-9X and has the unique ability to be able to shoot down air-to-air missiles and SAMs.

We could also convert a few Harriers into dedicated EW aircraft, giving us Growler-type capability, which along with Meteor and IRIS-T would make F-35s and Harriers going up against enemy aircraft far more survivable.

I appreciate that the Harrier is subsonic, but when you have a missile as good as Meteor, I don’t see that as being an issue. I mean Harriers did well in the Falklands despite being subsonic because they had Sidewinders. The missiles an aircraft carries (and its pilot) are just as important as the aircraft itself, arguably more important.

Another thing we could consider is developing extremely long-ranged Aster 30s that can accelerate in their terminal phase like Meteor can. This would mean that enemy aircraft could be kept at arm’s length and could be taken out before they get in range to fire anti-ship missiles such as Kh-95MK2 (range 550km) and Oniks (range 600km – 800km depending on variant), which can both be fired by Su-35s beyond the range of Aster 30. F-35Bs with Meteor would be able to take out Su-35s carrying such anti-ship missiles, but only if we can get them in the air when we need them in the air and that’s a big if. Hence why I think buying Harriers would be very wise.

As for the RAF, I really don’t see the point of buying the F-35A. Not only does it suffer from many of the same problems that the F-35B suffers from and is equally unfit for purpose, I’d much rather that we upgraded all our Tranche 2 Typhoons to Tranche 3A and that we bought Gripen Es to boost our fighter numbers. What do we need F-35As for anyway? Are we going to be flying them into Russian or Chinese airpsace? I highly doubt it. I can’t see them surviving for long in their airspace, because of their sophisticated IADSes and fighters with IRST and plenty of air-to-air missiles, which F-35s are short of. I also don’t see the point of the Tempest aircraft, which I think would be as equally vulnerable in Russian and Chinese airspace as the F-35.

Imo the best way to take out Russia’s and China’s IADSes and mobile anti-ship missile launchers is by building vast numbers of cheap suicide drones like these:

They could be dropped by aircraft by the dozen beyond the range of S-400 (400km) and could then go looking for fixed SAM sites, mobile SAM launchers and mobile anti-ship missile launchers. They could also target aircraft out in the open at airbases and ships in port (a drone could potentially destroy a ship’s bridge and/or radars, so mission-killing it).