Britain May Go Back to Buying the F-35B

While Canada joins Japan in the sounds-like-political-rhetoric club by saying that it still reserves the right to back out of any plans to buy the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Britain may actually have to reverse its descision to swap its buy of F-35B short take-off and vetrical landing JSFs for F-35C carrier variants.

(The pic above shows the UK’s new carriers equipped with ski jumps to launch bomb-laden F-35Bs)

The reason? It’s going to be damn expensive to outfit the Royal Navy’s two new Queen Elizabeth class supercarriers with the electromagnetic catapults and next-generation arresting gear that were going to launch and recover the Brits’ C-model JSFs. The estimated cost to refit the ships with catapults and arrestor wires has more than tripled since the 2010 decision to swap the Bs for Cs.

From the UK’s Telegraph newspaper:

Estimates for adapting HMS Prince of Wales so that it can be used by the Joint Strike Fighter are understood have risen from £500 million to £1.8 billion.

Millions have already been spent on studies to look at how to convert the ship after ministers decided to scrap the jump-jet variant of the plane in favour of a conventional take-off and landing model. But so great is the rise in total costs, ministers are considering abandoning the plan and reverting to the Ministry of Defence’s original proposals.

Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, believes there is not enough money in the budget to afford the £300 million a year to carry out the work over six years.

“We are certainly looking at what’s affordable and what can be done in terms of risk and cost,” said an MoD official. “If you have an unaffordable programme you cannot ignore it.” The move is likely to be embarrassing for the Government as the changes were at the heart of the Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2010. It will also heighten criticism of the Government for disbanding the fleet of Harrier jets and selling them to US Marine Corps for “peanuts”.

Under the new plans, the Government is expected to choose the jump-jet version of the JSF, even though the take-off and landing model can fly further and carry more bombs.

That last sentence is pretty key, going back to a jump-jet carrier may cost lest money, but it may cost more in terms of lost capabilites. If the RN’s new carriers used the U.S. new EMALS catapult system, the ships would be open to operating not only the JSF, but a host of new long-range, stealthy UAVs being designed for 21st Century carrier warfare.  Sticking with jump-jet carriers (no cats or arresting gear) might limit the Brits to flying the B-model JSF, helos (manned and unmanned) and small fixed-wing UAVs from the carrier decks. Also, as the Telegraph points out, getting rid of the cats will make the Royal Navy’s planned interoperability with American and French carriers a bit more difficult.

Maybe the London deems this tradeoff worthwhile. It all depends on what the UK wants its Navy to do in the coming decades. Remember, these ships will be around for a very long time.

  • “It all depends on what the UK wants its Navy to do in the coming decades.”

    Do more with less.

  • Riceball

    The London?

    • fromage


      • Noha307

        “Under the new plans, the Government is expected to choose the jump-jet version of the JSF, even though the take-off and landing model can fly further and carry more bombs.”

        Well, the jump-jet version definitely has shorter range if it can’t “take-off and land”. Either there’s a word missing or the UK is buying a REALLY, REALLY cheap model.

  • John Moore

    What year is the f-35 supposed to enter service?

    • Guest


  • blight_

    “estimated cost to refit the ships with catapults and arrestor wires has more than tripled”

    Hmm. Have we begun to refit our ships with the new electromags yet? Perhaps if we can do it at a better cost due to economy of scale, they’re welcome to let us refit their ships. It’ll deliver more value to the British taxpayer, keep people in Newport News at work, and perhaps give our guys experience with repairing foreign vessels-which might be useful in wartime. Alternatively, it’ll just be a big boondoggle.

    • FormerDirtDart

      EMALS hasn’t been retrofitted into any ships yet. The Lincoln, which enters RCOH this fall, is scheduled to have the Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) installed. So, its likely Washington will be the first Nimitz to receive EMALS. Probably safe to assume Stennis, Truman, Reagan, and Bush will follow. I would guess it will depend on costs and complexity of the retrofit, if the other five Nimitz’s will have EMALS installed outside of RCOH

  • FtD

    If the ships are fitted with cats, in worse case if F35 gone cactus at least RN still can buy Rafale. Or else they will just be expensive LHD as there is no other STOVL program in the horizon. Brits are cutting themselves really short if they throw the eggs into the F35B basket.

  • FtD

    In fact I think it will be quite smart choice to run 2-3 sqd F18E/F/G. Very cost effective and does the job plus Being will certainly bend backwards to take business away from LM

  • Paul R

    I think Planning Round 12 is at the end of the month, so certain parties in the MoD like to try and muddy the water.
    Best wait till we hear the results. I’d expect more pushing decisions back.

  • Charley A

    If they decide not to install cats, there goes the cross decking with the French (and the US.) And no NJG, E-2D, UCAS-D, etc.

    • 29

      The Brits can cross deck with French Helo Assault Ships and the 11 Marine Big Decks with the F-35B.

  • Dan

    Does anyone know why EMALs is so expensive? We can build a top flight nuclear hunter-killer sub for less.

  • SteveD

    The last sentence really is pretty key; buying planes which can’t ‘take-off and land’ would be a bit bloody stupid.

  • tee

    New F-35 LRIP 5 Contract: Unit Costs Tops $200 Million.
    F-35 A Cost: $172 Million
    F-35B Cost: $291.7 Million
    F-35C Cost $ 235.8 Million

    Average Cost: $209.6 Million

    At $291.7 Million each they would have to stop funding the rest Navy. They could get 3 F-35B’s or buy a new Type 45 Destroyer at around $900 Million

    F-22A $120 – 140 Million and it actually Flies!!!

  • pandaa

    For those prices I’d expect the planes exhaust to have reverse aging effects for anyone inhaling nearby.

  • Sanem


    the global economy will be dead in less than a year
    if anyone will end up using the F-35 it’ll be China (or the technology anyway)

    • passingby

      Why would China want the F-35 when it can make something better on its own? The F-35 is for suckers. From we have seen, China is anything but a sucker in picking fighter jets.

      • cs4

        Yeah and the biggest suckers are putting all their eggs in the F35 basket.

  • The main benefit to buying the B is that you don’t need a 65kt carrier to carry it. As we’ll have the ships anyway might as well go for the versatility that CATOBAR offers.

    Going cats-n-traps also means there’ll be other fast jet options should the F35 be prohibitively expensive to buy in any numbers.

    This decision also has to be made before we know for sure each variant’s full life costs. Being tied to a single STOVL option could be more expensive in the long run, and there’d be little we could do about it.

  • Lance

    That’s nice if they can make the F-35B work, problem is its not working well.

  • Elijah

    A Shipbuilder gets the best Captain and crew he can get for the first trip. The Captain reports on the ship. The builder then adjusts his design. It is not the designer that perfects the ship but those that come after him. The builder is never the best Captain.

  • Ross

    short term savings, long term massive expense has been at the very heart of the MoD and british government policy with Defence for decades now. They will do whatever looks cheaper on paper for the immediate future. Guarantee that.

  • itfunk

    The damage done by the JSF program rolls on making our allies look like morons too.

    All variants of the JSF are of course too underpowered to use a ski-jump like the Chinese and Soviet use. So the most logical solution is to buy a different aircraft and use the savings to install catapults and arrester gear. Dumping the JSF will more than pay for itself.

    If the British navy stakes it’s future on Lockheed promises of the price of the F-35B they are bigger fools then anyone imagined.

    • William C.

      You do understand how a ski-jump works do you? I guess not.

  • Howe

    “Britain may actually have to reverse its decision to swap its buy of F-35B short take-off and vetrical landing JSFs for F-35C carrier variants.”

    You need to swap you B & C around.

    your welcome.

  • So the F-35B has power for vertical take off, but not for ski jump?
    Do you even read what you type?

  • cs4

    The Brits should buy Mig-29 or Su-33 variants for their carriers.

    • passingby

      Su-33, yes; MiG-29, no.

  • Jay

    Yeah because Brits will buy a Russian Fighter… Not!! It’s not even an option.

  • Kski

    Screw the F-35, more cost effective to use all three of the Super Hornet variants. There already being built for other countries. The Navy can provide low cost real time training. A better situation for the Brits, and for us.

  • blight_


    Honeywell makes the OBOGS.

  • Richard

    Where can you buy the lego carrier shown in the pic?

  • tee

    Canada having second thoughts on getting the F-35

    Just the first of many more to come.

  • daryl

    All this is painfully expensive talk since the JSF will likely be the last manned fighter. All of this huff-and-puff appears more for the benefit of Lockheed and its commercial partners and less for national defense. NextGen warbirds will fly by remote control, have over-the-horizon sensors and weaponery, have in-flight refueling capability, and so stay airborne indefinitely. Not only will the pilots remain on ground, the aircraft will fly out of their home bases for missions anywhere in the world. Might it make better sense to prepare HMS Queen Elizabeth to serve as a cruise ship than to prepare it to carry F-35Cs? Actually, it is a wee little thing compared to the Costa Concordia and GT Dream class super-cruise ships.

  • guest

    why not both? think about it, the QE is going to be used as a training ship for the PoW as its going to be ski jump to start off with and may or may not be converted to a CATOBAR at a later date, so to cut the costs of converting it, just use it as is with B’s, then when the PoW is finished as CATOBAR she can have a squadron of C’s. mind you the cost of buying a squadron of B’s is probably not much of a saving compared to converting the QE. Also why not slightly modify the decks as STOBAR like the russians, i read some where that super hornets could operate off a ski jump, not sure how accurate that is though.

    • tiger

      This is not exactly a skateboard ramp made in the garage here……. Nor is a catobar system that simple.

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