Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Good article demonstrating the versatility of the Carriers.
Does anyone know what the small yellow box on the flight deck near the stern lift is?




Thanks for asking, I asked in the comments on the previous post and now I know!


Lol, I’ve been thinking the same thing for ages, now I know it’s a small provisions lift.?


Possibly contains a chemical spill clean up kit, fire fighting equipment, or something else related to H&S or damage control? it would seem odd to me that if it is the top of a lift shaft that it would be yellow, thus drawing an attacker’s attention to a lightly protected entry point/shaft into the heart of the ship for a guided weapon.


The ship deck has thousands of nozzles that sprays foam everywhere for fire fighting and chemical spills, it’s another great innovation of UK carriers.


Imagine how many Ford class we could afford if we quit propping up Israel.

Andy ardron

In what way do we prop up Israel? Don’t get me wrong I respect them, they apologise to no one and defend themselves first before all else. Sometimes go to far but hey after WW2 can see why. In what way do we prop them up? I believe we have no bases there. They buy USA kit. We don’t give them aid, ( unlike aid to widows of plo bombers)
Please correct me

Meirion X

I think Don means the US government gives ‘foreign aid’ (a grant) of about $3 billion per year to Israel.


British Palestine, look it up. We british created Israel or gave them Israel…


Actually we did not create Israel , the Balfour declaration was in favour of formally recognising the 90,000 jews who already lived in Palestine in 1917 as a protectorate.
British politicians actively sought to prevent the establishment of Israel in the 40s and after WW2 until 1948 when Truman informed the British government that the USA would recognise David Ben Gurion declaration of the state of Israel they knew the game was up .

David Steeper

We didn’t create Israel the Jewish people did that. We were as willing to give ‘Palestine’ up as readily as anywhere else we were not wanted or needed ! As in everywhere (at least until 1960) we spent a lot of desperately needed cash and blood before we realised either.


But if the british never held the area it would be very different today.


Learn something new every day, I thought we sold out the muslims in favour of an Israeli Israel.


Why Jordanian Kingdom with a defeated Arabian tribe – if you know History- don’t bugs you…it was also part of Palestine… and that was really created by Britain…

Will O

Imagine how many Ford class you would need if you abandoned Israel. Works both ways.


That would be Germany, not us. There are two ways to maintain a strategic ship manufacturing capability, buy ships or sell ships. Germany doesn’t do enough of the former, so it subsidizes the latter, paying for a third of the base manufacturing costs of the Israeli Sa’ar corvettes and Dolphin submarines.

We won’t directly subsidize, so in times of a declining RN, our shipyards are in constant peril. Nobody props up anyone else without a selfish reason.




Not one Ford,
Btw in your ignorance you don’t know that is to pay mostly American weapons and employ American workforce.


There’s definitely a case for a mixed force. You could easily get 2-3 CATOBAR QECs for the price of a Ford, so maybe a force mix of 5-6 Fords and 10-15 QECs. The big nuclear carriers act as fast response platforms able to steam around the world, while the QECs cover the bulk of standing deployments


Nuclear carriers can’t go some of the places non nuclear can, HMS QE Advantage.

Gavin Gordon

Yep, just imagine if the SNP were potentially faced with the banning them from returning to the place they were built ☺


A Ford class can stay on station longer, carries far more aircraft, as well as a better mix of aircraft, USS Ford Advantage.


First two points are true, but given that we’re talking a potential USN CATOBAR version, they’d carry the same mix of aircraft.

A Ford might carry a bit over double the aircraft, but at more than triple the cost. There are obviously a lot of advantages to singular big carriers, but the biggest disadvantage is obviously that it can only be in one place at a time, and when its out of service for maintenance a huge percentage of your force is out of action.

A 70,000t carrier carrying 40-50 aircraft is more than capable of performing the same peacetime or non-peer warfare roles as a 100,000t carrier carrying 90 aircraft, which frees up the big carriers for concentration in high-tension areas like the SCS.


But Hms QE can carry 60+ aircraft if the will to do so was there like yank carriers, but keeping half your aircraft on the top deck because no space below for extended periods isn’t great for them.


How can it stay on station longer? Because it’s nuclear?


Yeah but for the massive price difference you would hope they can carry more jets and better mix. And Hms QE has almost 4,000 less crew which is a massive operation cost reduction HMS QE Advantage. And For the price and being equipped with F35 jets Hms QE is still a major weapon and power influence you have to give HMS QE respect. And non nuclear doesn’t mean worse. Rolls Royce turbines are the best on earth. I’m glad they are equipped with Rolls Royce turbines. Keep nuclear powered for our submarines.

Will O

They already have a mixed force, they have Marines with ESGs. Around a dozen Wasp & America class LHDs/LHAs.


True, but they can carry far fewer F-35s, I think they max out somewhere near 12 if they want to be able to have any kind of useful rotary wing force on board, and that’s the America class, which don’t have well decks.


Excellent article, needed to be done. The government has made a wise investment and the two carriers will give magnificent service.


The Top picture is one of my favourite pictures, of HMS QE, It shows her true size. many years ago Royal Navy officials said they want and need a big deck carrier Again, so we built two.

Fat Dave

Primarily, they are for sale to the highest bidder, so the UK can get rid of these obsolete pieces of metal.
The RN needs the money and manpower redirected into a larger, more effective fleet and the RAF needs the more capable F-35A.

There is no credible argument for the UK retaining aircraft carriers of this size.


Parochial attitude of the kind that ensures a country is pushed about by others.


Militarily Illiterate


Hypothetically, what size carriers do you think the UK should retain? Please bear in mind that these two are pretty cheap and ‘only’ provide enough fuel and munitions for about 5 days of combat operations (about 360 F-35 sorties at 72 per day). Smaller carriers are not going to be much cheaper but you are going to eat into their air capability very quickly as you shave off 10’s of thousands of tons of displacement and 100’s of millions off their build cost.

Gavin Gordon

Consider: they represent the RN’s main offensive, as opposed to defensive, surface platform by some margin. Plus each unit of their primary armament will have the situational awareness and strike power of many a smaller vessel but with a crew of just one and, even at £100m each, a lot less cost. Perhaps you should forward your arguments to the Americans, Chinese, India and also Russia (who strive to attain the ability even whilst stating they’re targets – like everything else, in fact) countries who, upon receipt, will no doubt cease manufacture forthwith.


Perhaps he is thinking of what the Pacific Fleet commander (USN) was saying about how he’s worried over the safety of his carriers. Or perhaps the commandant of the USMC whose worried over the safety of his large ships when faced with a defended shoreline.
Both of these men have stated they would like to look at a new method of delivery the same capability, perhaps using lots of smaller ships. However, as we discovered with the Invincible class trying to pack too much capability in a small hull has its own ramifications when on operations, sustainment being the biggest problem. Smaller ships will require more frequent refuelling, rearming, restocking etc, which means you need a larger robust fleet auxiliary, so what are you really saving?
They have raised concerns that if the South China Sea became a conflict zone, they would struggle to minimise losses. This is due to how China have swamped the area and built up fortified atoll bases. Their navy is trying to get on par in numbers and their capability has risen dramatically. They have put in place innovative methods of trying to attack carrier and their strike groups by the use of ballistic anti-ship missiles, new more deadlier sea skimming missiles and new torpedoes for their subs.
This is all great, but being faced with a new form of offence, methods of defence will be researched on how to deal with these new threats. It’s a continuous circle of life type of thing. The carrier concept is not dead by any means. Its primary means of defence are the aircraft it carries. For the US, the Hawkeye is perhaps the fulcrum for its defence. However, the capabilities of the F35 are on par, so the effective radar window can now be pushed even further out. The aircraft and its capabilities are still in their infancy. So who knows what the future holds and how it’ll be used tactically.
With regards to anti-missile missiles the USN is moving away from semi-radar guided to radar guided. This means missiles like ESSM, SM3 and 6 no longer need to be launched in pairs, as a single missile now has just as much chance to hit the target. It also means that missiles with their own active radar seekers can be launched in swarms to counter mass attacks. The only issue being is the number of missiles the ship carries.

Meirion X

Dim Fat Dave Learns Nothing at All!
Obsolete Himself!
You are wasting Your time on Here posting such idiotic comments!


No credible argument for the UK retaining aircraft carriers of this size ……

Written as comment at the end of an article that gives a thoroughly credible argument for exactly that ….

Maybe he didn’t read it!

Meirion X

That Troll (FD), is Too Thick to read it!


As always, a very valid criticism by Max Hastings. The conception of these oversized, limited application, highly specialised VSTOL carriers serves to illustrate the complete absence of any cohesive maritime policy. DEFENCE should be the name of the game – carriers are essentially offensive tools. Two World wars that brought this country to its knees prove our vulnerability to the interdiction of our maritime lifeline by submarines. As World leaders in nuclear Hunter-Killer attack submarines, this is were our limited defence resources should be directed. The seven Astute class that we currently possess are woefully inadequate.

Phillip Johnson

For the RN the issue has never been carriers as such. The UK has had carriers in recognizable form since the 1920’s.
The issue is whether going to 65K ton carriers consumed too much of the available resource (money and manpower) compared to the rest of the RN. The answer is plainly YES.


Instead of looking at the displacement of the carriers, try looking at the cost and manpower requirements for them and the capability they provide for the surface fleet in wartime.


A lot of merit in this approach


I’m sure I heard a statistic that every one of the 50+ aircraft shot down in air to air combat by UK forces since WW2 was engaged by an aircraft that flew from the deck of an aircraft carrier.

That sounds right (Falklands, Korea, Suez I think all had air to air kills) but I’ve never been able to find a source to back it up.

I find it astonishing that people criticise £6bn for two carriers but little is said about the £40bn spent on the Typhoon when land based fighters of their number and sophistication are a lower defence priority for a country surrounded by allies whose main air defence threats come from long range Russian bombers rather than 4th and 5th generation fighters.

I think it would be perfectly sensible to reduce the F35 buy to only enough to put a couple of dozen on each carrier and spend the rest of the money on improving the Navy which is more relevant to our defence needs. At £80m per aircraft buying 50 fewer F35’s gives you 5 Type 26 frigates or 16 Type 31 vessels or 3 Astutes or 12 conventional submarines or a combination thereof. I’d argue that’s money far better spent than on numbers of F35’s beyond those required for our carriers when they carry weapons already deployed on the Typhoon.

Des Kerrigan

We have OUR Carriers because WE CAN ⚓️


What are the most likely places where the ‘big stick’ will be used in the next decade? The humanitarian relief seems more relevant to future participation in global events, The notion of ‘Prestige’ is more for domestic consumption. How much domestic political prestige is needed? Apart from selling weapons, it is not an ideal platform for trade and diplomacy.
Trident used to be a national icon. Trident has had no targets since 1994, yet is on patrol everyday which must look pretty stupid to everyone else but ourselves. Why cannot these boys not be brought home and put on a more relaxed patrol pattern consistent with the status of the threat and a posture of ‘several days to launch’ (25 years and counting)? Are Aircraft Carriers the new national icon? If so, reduce the focus and cost of the older icon and seek a minimal state for the nuclear deterrent where re-targeting will be legally very complex given the nature of the weapon.


Yet another military illiterate shows their stupidity.


Let’s see more ships in Gibraltar then!!


case in point….

From ‘The Diplomat’ on Indo Pacific Policy

Britain’s secretary of state for defense, Penny Mordaunt, echoed her U.S. and French counterparts’ statements in her speech, but without a published policy paper, and perhaps a military deployment — Parly informed Mordaunt that the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier strike group was docked in Singapore while there was an absence of Royal Navy ships — her speech and answers to questions from journalists and analysts had less of an impact than her counterparts’ speeches.



The recent announcements by Rockhopper PLC and Premier Oil referred to the development of the Sea Lion project in the Falkland Islands, have triggered a reaction from the Argentine foreign ministry.

In effect the ministry recalls that the two companies, together with “Argos Resources” which holds the adjacent license PL001 to Sea Lion, are “operating in the continental platform close to the Malvinas Islands, without the authorization of the Argentine government”

Richard C Castle

Carriers have no value for defence of nation.
They are aggressive tools and far too expensive for UK. No use these days as hypersonic now rules. More Frigates and Destroyers and coastal protection needed.
Simplicity means more of everything. Complexity often fails the user. Learn something from the yank failings in, well, everywhere.


Your quite correct they are about the projection of global power and influence. And if we lived in Norway with a GDP of 400billion USD, I’d agree we couldn’t afford them . However, we live in UK with GDP of 2.6 Trillion USD. Given the current (right or wrong) trajectory of our International Policy to become an independent trading nation we need to invest more in our Defence. If we can even contemplate investing £100 billion is HS2 we can invest more in our armed forces.

Meirion X

@Richard C Castle
I See that the bury-heads-in-sand momentum-Mob idiots, are out in force this evening!
Actually, simplicity even Fails You!


Warfare is a mixture of offense and defense. If UK only does defense, the enemy will carry their “hyper sonic missile” on numerous simple barges, move them near the Britain island, and just fire it. Being short range, the “hyper sonic missile designed to beat defensive UK” will be very cheap and numerous. It is because you have offensive weapon that their missile range gets longer and thus expensive.

So, locating a air strike capability “near” to your enemy is important. And, when the “hypersonic rules”, a land-based air force is not neccesarily safer than CV. Runway cannot move = is very vulnerable, easy to hit. Only 2 hits can ruin the run-way. Yes it can be repaired, but again only 2 hits can ruin it again. As it does not move, enemy missile can even be “blind” to hit it, and thus jamming is not useful. They will easily hit the fighter hangar as well, because we are here talking about “a hypersonic missile which can even hit a CV”.

To hard-kill the hyper-sonics missile (I think it is doable, just a technical issue), as land-based air-base does not move, any AAW asset must be ready 24hrs/7days a week/365 days. In case of CV, the AAW asset (yes we need to modify T45 to handle hyper-sonic things) is needed only when CV approaches to the theater, and thus can be 100% ready.

If you are talking about a balance between offensive and deffensive, yes there could be some arguments like “QECVs are a bit too much for UK”, as it causes its escort fleet to shrink significantly. It is a “pre-Lehman Brothers’ ” origin project, so I agree a bit too much in this “post Lehman Brothers’ ” era. But, it is the result of UK choice. If the question is, “is it totally bad?”, my answer will be “not that much”.

Will O

Hence why the F35B is such a good choice.

T45s should first be modified to handle SRBMs – Scuds, Iskanders etc. (with Aster 30 block 1NT)
Then further modified to handle IRBMs – like DF21s, or Masudans Iran bought form North Korea (with Aster 30 block 2).

They could then provide some area defence, as well as defence of the carriers.

There aren’t enough Type 45s. seems to be no capacity on the Clyde for another batch either.
A batch of AAW Type31es, with rafted plant, would make perfect sense to me. To take pressure off those Type 45s.

The UK should also offer to host Aegis Ashore, given Norway’s recent refusal. – Land based though it is.
One wonders if Norway would have refused if it had more faith that the Norwegian Sea would be defended.


Technically speaking SM3, 6 and Aster 30 have defeated hypersonic targets. Admittedly these were ballistic missiles and were following a relatively simple flight path. The issue is that these missiles were taken out at a significant altitude, not 100m above the sea and approaching you fast. So we know theoretically the radar and missiles can do the job, the problem is that there are no target drones that can simulate this speed! Therefore everything is done via simulation, but that can only go so far in replicating a sea skimming hypersonic anti-ship missile.

Will O

In short, this is my concern. Saturation;

Gavin Gordon

Thanks for supplying your full name, Richard. Appreciated. Regarding simplcity, I often draw the analogy of a football team with only a back 3 and goalie facing a team with a defence and forwards (you will be familiar with the latter concept). No matter how good those goaline players, they are inevitably going to lose if they cannot take the game to their opponents. Think how demoralised they and their loyal fans are going to end up. I will assume you’ve served on a warship so will be familiar with how vunerable a flesh and blood crew will feel if they are constantly awaiting incoming ordnance, no matter how special their anti-missile defence is said to be (nothing works as well in the heat of battle as it does in trials). You can indeed argue whether the UK can afford what remain the best offensive surface platforms available, should you wish, but to dismiss them is to concede that, as a pelargic nation, you are never going to seriously concern a half-competent maritime opponent

Will O

The UK/RN could have a hypersonic missile if it so chose. That it’s choosing missiles with better targeting & range instead rather suggests hypersonic doesn’t yet rule.


Oh dear clueless. Any defence requires an option for either local, tactical offensive action and/or strategic level. Any military that only ever defends will lose every time. I can see you have had zero military experience pal, never mind, try another subject matter, embriodery maybe?

David Steeper

As to QE versus Ford. Read up on our decommissioned SSN’s and whats happened to them since ! I seriously wonder if anyone is wise building anything with a nuclear reactor.


Indeed, plus the fact that CVNs still need to take on Aviat. Fuel & Solid Stores (fresh water can be desal. with nuke powerplants).

With the exception of SSNs, escorts also need constant top ups of everything. It means that CVNs become a lower support risk once at sea but is that enough to offset procurement cost? We here and elsewhere have discussed this before. The procurement of CVNs is more political than military in nature. The USN is terrified of trying out something like a CATOBAR Queen Lizzy and proving them effective because congress may well slash nuke powerplants going forward.


I would point out that you don’s need nuke power to run a desalination plant. In fact, most desalination plants are none nuke.


as usual, and i say again… just write nice stuff on this site. It’s unpretentious, informative and well crafted. Big thumbs up from my litle bit of Cumbria..good work fella!


My local news station in Orlando posted this picture on their Facebook page the other day. Captured off the coast of Jacksonville
comment image?_nc_cat=109&efg=eyJpIjoidCJ9&_nc_eui2=AeGenEkIZvyxvlAjtBm3lHaUke10Qqsztd1DoXtkadwO8bZ_dGVuri8XaCXKzwdpnCe33Ix0V98qXPGKjBo1sCw9sP-ZGPmC1Ioj0_NtkMERNg&_nc_oc=AQk1hOvmBpxIbZFcACFJb9aYRBf7NTyXdLwt82al9h6Ibhi5wcM_GW3aUw17h79uW3cSbRWBUPjhXvtC9I8ywWTE&_nc_ht=scontent.ftpa1-1.fna&oh=64102cf102b66cce95b9f870730baf74&oe=5E284FCC


sorry, that didn’t post how I imagined it would

Meirion X

Jaralodo, you have missed out the http bit of the link to the facebook page.
It would be good to see it!

Will O

I’ve no doubt at all that the F35B is the right plane for the RN, that the carriers are near optimal for the F35B, & for the RN/UK.
(They would be more optimal with SeaCeptor, as SeaCeptor looks to be optimal for the carriers, once it’s given a silo lid)

Elsewhere in the RN, things aren’t optimal because there’s too few of everything, cuts have gone way way way too far.
How can govts get it so right on carriers, but yet mess up so massively when it comes to properly funding the fleet elsewhere?
I sincerely hope it starts to be put right in SDSR2020. The cuts have gone so far it can no longer be put right within a 5 year timescale, it will take decades to correct the vandalism of SDSR2010.

Meanwhile, over in Russia, they’re planning at least one carrier for their Northern Fleet by 2030. They don’t do things by halves, for their carrier they intend to have 10 surface supports (double our own), and knowing Russians, those will be cruisers packed with newer hypersonic AShMs/VLS.
Their doctrine looks to be different in that their carriers support their subs, not vice versa, and it’s their (70+) subs;
the Oscars/Yasen-Ms especially which should concern the UK.

We should be asking now, in 2019, a decade ahead of time whether our own CSGs, and the UK itself, are adequately protected & prepared. SDSR2020 needs to start reversing the cuts & capability gaps, & begin to address that.


Russia is always planning some sort of amazing carrier that never gets off the drawing board.

Will O

True of course, but more relevant to the UK is how much of their overall plan gets off the drawing board, not whether they ever actually complete their latest design for a super-carrier. Their Yasen-Ms are already being built & launched. They’re already a threat to our carriers & to the UK.

(Plus it’s not unlikley that whatever Russia plans for it’s as yet non-existant carrier, has a fair chance of ending up on Chinese & Indian carriers anyway).

My point is, (& Russia is just one example) it would be complacent for ourselves to plan for the fleet they had, or the fleet they currently have, when we should be planning for our own fleet in 2030 to at least take into account what Russia is likely to have in her Northern Fleet by 2030.

The forces generally, lack lower end stuff, because politicians are traditionally very dumb, and they say, well we have one of these cheaper things, why can’t we scrap one of these expensive things. So the RN &other forces avoid getting any low end stuff in the first place, & thus end up imbalanced. Then, naturally, the UK finds itself in protracted asymmetric campaigns, with only high end expensive gear to fight with, and it eats into budgets. The root of the problem is the perpetual dumbness of politicians who cut things stupidly, and withhold essential funding.

It would make perfect sense for the UK to have an LPH, as the article suggests, to complement the carriers, & preferably a Juan Carlos type LHD.
Cuts in 2010 & the Capita farce, would now make crewing an LPH very difficult, and if the RN got one of those as would be sensible, politicians would inevitably be tempted to cut an Albion or Bulwark (which would not be at all sensible), or heaven forbid, one of the two carriers.

John Clark

I agree Will.

The first (and most important) responsibility for any government needs to be the defence of it’s citizens and country.

The 2020 SDSR needs to see a comprehensive reversal of Naval cuts in particular.

The cornerstone of this needs to be 3% of GDP on defence, it’s a sensible amount to to allocate and this should be ringfenced.

With a specific focus on amphibious capability renewal, I would like to see three Juan Carlos class LHD’s replacing Bulwark, Albion and Ocean, with two leading amphibious ready groups, with one in reserve or refit.

Operating with the the three amphibious auxiliaries and imbedded within the active Carrier Strike group.

The billions of extra funding would allow the cuts to be reversed, though it would take time and it needs to be done with maximum value for money at its core.

No more ridiculous wastes of money like the Wildcat program, or companies like BAE Systems ( among others) would just happily spend the lot!

We need to actually procure the equipment the armed forces ask for and in an expedited fashion, not use the defence budget to serve the needs of the defence industrial complex, it’s the tail wagging the dog and it needs to stop.

Will O

Albion & Bulwark are assets the RN already has, & even if replaced, should still be retained. The cost of retaining one in extended readiness for a year, costs around the same as just half a dozen V22 flying hours.
I don’t think they need replacing yet, but if they are, keep them as an extra reserve anyway, as the costs of doing so would be really minimal.

If only there were a 3% budget like that John, there really needs to be an increase & a reversal of cuts.
If there were extra funding; being that we’re building T31es anyway, then building dedicated frigates for escorting/supporting Amphibious Assaults, along the lines of the original Absalons, to offer NGFS etc. would be the way to go I think. Not too expensive, & given the commonality with the in production T31es, there’d be all sort of logistical advantages, right from production to usage. – They can also be converted to Hospital Ships (which the UK needs) within a day, so ideal for responding to crises around the world too.

As you say it’s what the forces ask for directly that counts. There still needs to be public support (which there is, & has always been), or politicians won’t fund it & do all the things needed.

With us leaving the EU, we need to justify our place as a top tier nation now in our own right, keeping that permanent seat on the UN security council etc. We need to be strengthening things like amphibious capability. We really cannot afford to continually underfund defence the way we have for the past three decades if we expect to be taken seriously as an independent nation on the world stage.


I agree a second batch of T31 should consider some Absalon variants. I think they would be good for the Caribbean and supporting the Minewarfare group in the Gulf.

John Clark

Hi Will,

A typical example below of what the forces ask for and subsequently get told to bugger off.

Back in the mid 1990’s I was at a dinner party, one of the invited guests was a Tornado F3 pilot who I had a long and very interesting discussion with.

He was telling me (and still smarting about) that a group within the RAF was lobbying hard for an interim buy of 36 F16’s to replace the Jaguar and give the RAF a capable and deployable swing role fighter.

This move had been comprehensively and aggressively blocked by British Aerospace who feared it might negatively effect Typhoon.

This sort of behavior has gone on for years, the RAF would have got superb service out of that small F16 buy, instead a huge amount of money was spent on the F3 “get well” program, that turned a dedicated Cold War bomber interceptor into ….. Errr, a better Cold war era bomber destroyer!

The RAF was screaming for a multi role single seat, radar equipped, swing role fighter bomber in the 1990’s post Cold war world, it had to wait a very long time indeed to get a truly multi role Typhoon.

Will O

I think a more natural successor to the Jaguar would have been the Gripen. I’ve half wondered why the RAF didn’t go for a couple of squadrons of those, but I’m sure the same applies. I doubt BAe would approve of Gripens much either.

I seem to recall there was a plan put forward to lease some F16s. I can’t see a plan to lease them rather than buy them outright ever having much chance of inspiring many to back it, however suitable the F16s were.
Typhoon was designed for higher altitude performance anyway, so never truly optimal for multirole.
It took 20-30 years before all the necessary things were integrated, outrageous really, & much a consequence of having split production & decision making across national boundaries, with different countries having radically different requirements all haggling & waiting for the others to fork out the costs for integration. Something that the likes of BAe & co pushed for in the first place.

Ultimately I have to concede it’s resulted in a great aircraft, but it was achieved in a very costly way, & it took a very long time to reach maturity. RAF should never have had to wait for capabilities to catch up, & should really have been given what they needed in the interim. – It’s as true for the FAA; left with no fixed wing for 15+ years whilst they waited for F35Bs to arrive.


Interesting discussion. I have been one of those that have been of the opinion that the F35B has not been the greatest possible successor to the Sea Harrier. The F35 by rights should be called F/A35 & is a strike oriented heavy aircraft.. I wonder RR can fit a vertical lift fan to a SAAB 39E.

Will O

Scrapping Sea Harrier prematurely was an obvious, unpopular, & wasteful mistake, but it’s history.
Over a decade on, & is the F35B yet fully ready to take over all the Sea Harrier’s former roles?
Some gaps even now aren’t there. The then govt. was at fault, that eejit Blair lol. It’s no fault of the F35.

Why do you not consider the F35B the best possible successor though? Has it been given a chance to be? What else is there?

I presume you’re talking rhetorically/jokingly. Should be obvious why a lift fan on a Gripen wouldn’t be feasible?

John Clark

Playing devils advocate Will, in the context of the time, with a static defence budget and 10,000 troops maintained in Afghanistan, much had to be sacrificed to keep the show on the road year in and year out.

The Sea Harrier was a logical target for the bean counters unfortunately, with its limited range and ground attack capability.

Everything at that point was viewed through the lens of the ongoing war in the sandbox.

It’s a miracle fixed wing aircraft carrier capability lasted to 2010 to be honest!

Will O

In the context of the time, sticking to a peacetime static defence budget in a time of war, was imprudent & unsustainable.

Oh, we’re at war, quick, let’s scrap our perfectly good aircraft to save money for the war.
The logic of that escapes me. There was no need for fruitless sacrifices to be made, or false economies elsewhere.

I can see a GR9 being altogether better suited for ground attack (except for the gun), & hence more suited for Afghanistan. Surely better for CAS, especially of an amphibious force, relevant to the time.
Losing the AMRAAMs, AShMs, & the ARMs that the Sea Harrier carried on the other hand, I see as being a poor move, & for questionably little saving. I suspect the retiring of the Sea Harrier may have hastened the GR9’s scrapping in turn. As a purely subsonic aircraft, with only the shorter ranged Sidewinders instead of the Sea Harrier’s AMRAAMs, the GR9s on their own would be insufficient to secure airspace. Virtually toothless against enemy shipping or air defences.

Scrapping of the Gr9s was, in that respect perhaps consequential of, & a compounding of, the earlier mistake of scrapping the Sea Harriers.

Now with the F35Bs, a decade on, still no AShM yet, no ARMs yet, but full of potential, in itself a great choice of aircraft. It’s the capabilities being gapped for such a length of time that I’m criticising.
I have absolute faith the F35B can, in the very near future, surpass the Harriers in every respect.
It’s the gaps till integration that should have been foreseen well ahead of time, not merely the gap till introduction.


When you look at the USMC AV8B Harrier II Plus with the AN/APG-65 radar you see what we could’ve had from our Harrier fleet if we had a bit more joined up thinking.

In hindsight it seems perverse that we developed the Sea Harrier FA2 and GR5/GR7 at the same time and yet they are two very distinct aircraft for very distinct roles. No doubt it was due to UK philosophy on having clearly delineated roles for different aircraft types, but when our major NATO allies had already moved to embrace swingrole and multirole aircraft it seems very behind the times.

it’s also somewhat ironic that we chose to develop two completely separate aircraft from a common airframe and then in the late 1990s yoke them together again under Joint Force Harrier in an effort to reduce costs.

What would have been more effective would have been to develop a 2nd generation Harrier type in the 1980s that would meet the needs of both the RN and the RAF, which is what McDonnell Douglas did for the Italians and Spanish which the USMC finally took up themselves.

Considering the UK doesn’t like to spend much on defence, we sure know how to waste a lot of money on unnecessary duplication. Oh well…maybe that’s why opting for a single type purchase of F35Bs is better than the temptation of lower costs that a split buy of F35A and Bs might yield.

In fairness to the F35B, I think it shouldn’t be looked at so much as a Sea Harrier replacement (although it succeeds the Sea Harrier chronologically in FAA service) but more a replacement for the capability the RN lost with the retirement of the Phantom and Buccaneer (albeit as you say, without an effective antiship missile at the present time!). The Sea Harrier was always a stopgap to keep the Navy in the fastjet carrier aviation game. Likewise for the RAF: whether they accept a single purchase of the F35B or convince the MoD to opt for a split buy of A and B variants, they are more likely to use the F35 in the Tornado GR4’s role as a interdictor and SEAD platform, rather than operate it as a straight CAS aircraft like the Harrier. Despite its STOVL characteristics, I think it will be difficult to operate the F35B out of FOBs in austere locations for any length of time without severely damaging the airframe and running up expensive and lengthy remedial maintenance work.

I’d agree with you that Gripen would make an excellent Jaguar replacement, and I would also suggest that Gripen would be the perfect Harrier replacement, too. Cheap to maintain, good for operating out of austere air bases, either from forward operating bases close to the frontline in large conventional theatres of war such as central Europe, or in an expeditionary capacity like our recent experience in Afghanistan, providing CAS to ground forces. Having supersonic performance, decent AESA radar and Meteor missiles would also allow it to act as a point defence interceptor for frontline ground units, engaging enemy CAS aircraft, helicopters and drones that might enter its area of operations and threaten friendly forces quicker than a Typhoon based further back. This would also free up the Typhoon fleet to focus on providing theatre level air defence and supporting F35 on interdiction missions.

However, seeing as we are struggling to run two aircraft types, I can’t see us opting for a third…the way things are going, we are well on our way to proving Norman Augustine right!


Will – Sorry only just noticed your posting.

Yes, I realise I realise you probably can’t fit a lift fan into a Gripen & make the thing work the way you would want it. I was trying to make the point that F35B is a heavy strike fighter. Yes it obviously can work, but it is still a heavy strike fighter. If you wanted to build a reliable STOVL fighter that won’t cost the earth, can operate off austere forward bases (without destroying the runway) & operate off just about any CV or LH-anything, then a Gripen sized aircraft (probably E/F size) is where you need to be.

Harriers were very light fighters. They were also subsonic & difficult to fly, but a great CAS aircraft. F35 is not a great CAS aircraft & is an expensive way of doing CAP (or just about anything without a defined target). It should be a good bomb truck & a-a fighter if you can keep it in the air. Keeping the F35 in the air is not going to be easy. It’s current sortie rate is very very poor. You need 8-9 F35B to give you the sustained sortie rate of 6 Harrier. None of this makes the F35B a bad aircraft, just not the best possible replacement for a Harrier you could have come up with. The requirements of the F35B badly damaged the F35A/C & the requirements for the F35A/C badly damaged the F35B.