It’s Official: UK to Fly F-35B JSFs

It’s official, Britain is going back on its choice to buy F-35C carrier variant Joint Strike Fighters and will buy the F-35B short take-off and vertical landing version of the jet, you know, the model the Brits originally intended to fly. News emerged yesterday that confirming months of rumors that the United Kingdom wanted to go back to buying the B-model after it was revealed that equipping the Royal Navy’s two Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers with General Atomics-built electromagnetic catapults and arresting gear would be a lot more expensive than originally thought; as in, it jumped from $1.6 billion to $3.2 billion.

Here’s part of UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond’s May 10 announcement on the descision:

As the programme has matured, and more detailed analysis has been carried out by suppliers, it has become clear that the conversion to ‘cats and traps’ will cost about double what was originally estimated – and would not be delivered until 2023 at the earliest.

That is unacceptable.

The cost growth distorts the equipment budget crowding out other important investment in the Armed Forces.

And the delay extends the time period when our Armed Forces lack a carrier-strike capability.

The most cost effective route to deliver Carrier Strike by 2020 is now to switch to the STOVL variant of the Joint Strike Fighter.

We will complete the build of both carriers with ski-jumps, in the STOVL configuration – giving us the ability to provide continuous carrier availability throughout the life of the ships.

Although the range of the STOVL variant is lower, it is a 5th generation stealth aircraft – with a range significantly greater than the Harrier – and represents a step change in the UK’s combat air capability.

The STOVL variant has been significantly de-risked since the SDSR, and flight trials from American ships have taken place, with a US Marine Corps initial operating capability date of 2014 declared.

On the basis of the latest information, we can plan to start flight trials with STOVL JSF off the HMS Queen Elizabeth from 2018.

Keep in mind that the under construction Queen Elizabeths were originally designed to accomodate STOVL F-35Bs by launching them into the air using a ski jump ramp on the bow — the way the Brits did for decades with their Invincible class Harrier carriers. The switch to the C-model meant that the flight deck and spaces below it had to be redesigned to accommodate the multibillion dollar catapult and arresting gear systems. However, the B-model has less range than the carrier variant and by limiting its new carriers to STOVL jets and helos Britain may be giving up the opportunity to operate a new crop of long-range, stealthy, carrier-launched UAV strike fighters that many see as the future of naval aviation. Oh, and what about all that planned interoperability with France’s catapult-equipped aircraft carriers?

39 Comments on "It’s Official: UK to Fly F-35B JSFs"

  1. Smart Move!

  2. And the glorious British Empire takes the final step down and joins former greats Italy and Spain as a 3rd-rate power unable to operate independently against a technically advanced adversaries. No organic AEW or air refueling capability means no venturing into range of people who can actually fight.

    Oh well…The 'Bee' should be good enough to push around4th rate powers like Libya and Argentina, anyway.

  3. Lightbringer | May 10, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Reply

    What a mess… The decision is logical in the short term, but represents a humiliating political U-turn for the coalition government. The notoriously predatory British press are already making heavy weather of this.

    It’s such a shame cats & traps worked out so expensive: it feels like the carriers are now not as future proof as they might have been… But on the plus side at least we’ll have two of them in service now!

  4. Mark the German | May 10, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Reply

    I read the whole Secretary Philip Hammond’s announcment and i do understand the decision. Congrats to the brits at last for two fine carriers, skijumps with STOVL JSF aint too bad and a lot better than cancelling the program in 2023 because of further rise in costs . Converting the skijump carriers to EMALS would not have been like changing the headlights of a car… Imho this idea was always weired from the beginning. One bird in the hand…

  5. Wise decision.

  6. Not really clear why the limeys did not collaborate more with france regarding carrier design. While the de gaulle had some problems, seems the naval rafale integrated well.

    And if memory serves, doesnt the russian carrier lack catapults?

  7. This now makes the only customer of the F-35C the US Navy. The F-35C model is now also the ideal model to kill since only one force is buying it. I guess if the U.K. won't have CATOBAR capability the F-35B is now their only option. Just like the USMC they are putting all of their eggs in the F-35B basket. This is a terrible decision, Hopefully the UK and USMC won't regret this later.

  8. Why is it France, GB, Italy and Spain never got together to design a common aircraft carrier like they did with the Eurofighter?

  9. Sure hope the B model works. If the C didn't at least the UK could still buy some kind of carrier aircraft, it's all in for the B now.

  10. matheusdiasuk | May 10, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Reply

    Be free to corret me if I'm wrong.

    STOVL fighters were designed because of the small area of carriers like Invincible Class Carriers or Amphibious Assault Ships, right? Sacrifice range and a true strike capability because of the cost.

    Now, what's the bloody point of building a hell of 65,000tonnes carrier, with a flight deck big enough to operate a carrier variant fighter with every advantage that comes with it If you won't use IT?!

    What about that "blá blá blá" about interoperability with France’s aircraft carriers? Just free talk? –'

    Yes, Royal Navy will get the carriers soon. But and the fighters? What guarantees London have that F35B will be ready and in their hands before the F35C? It's going to be funny to see Britan with the largest helicopter carrier ever built by humanity.

    Sorry for the bad English.

  11. Poor choice.

    They're sacrificing, payload, range, and a much more simple aircraft design for a much more expensive, less capable aircraft that's likely to be a maintenance nightmare. Even with the catapult's cost increase, you'd ultimately be opting to buy cheaper aircraft with increased capability with the F-35C. So would you really be losing in the end? I don't think so.

  12. The point is we shouldn't have considered ski jumps in the first place. Steam or EM, CATOBAR is a winner.

  13. What larger carrier?

  14. Bad move better to have planes that already fly well and carry more fuel ammo and munitions than a crappy Harrier replacement. I hope they reverse this decision and go with the C model.

  15. The Accountant's pen is mighter than the Naval sword…… Sad, but true.

  16. matheusdiasuk | May 10, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Reply

    Yep. The U-turn can still become a S-Turn

  17. Once the decision had been made to build 65kt ships, the design should have been for catobar aircraft. The only real benefit that STOVL gave was the ability to launch from small carriers, and that need went out of the window years ago.
    Had the ships’ design followed a single operational concept from the start, rather than flip-flopping back and forth, cats and traps could all have been a whole lot more affordable too.

  18. If the shit really hit the fan in terms of a drawn out war and as in the past we had to do things like convert other ships into temporary aircraft carriers which of these aircraft would be the easiest to accomodate under those circumstances? I do not know the answer but if I did that is what I would choose. We are no longer one of the big cheeses and yes if it really came down to it and we had our back to the wall we have the nuclear deterrent but it would be better to have more options available before geing forced to make such a decision and take such a terrible action.

  19. What is the deal with the twin island design by the way?

  20. I see a lot of good / bad comments, but no reference to defined missions. Who or what will these carriers be up against? Bombing runs against Lybia, defending Singapore against the Chinese, or guard convoys across the Atlantic?!?

  21. By the time the UK Carriers are ready the Saab Sea Gripen ( Being Co-Developed in Britain ) will ready ( 2015 ), and at around $60 Million a pop. They want their Carriers Desperately. Does anyone really think that their involvement with getting the Sea Gripen ready by 2015 is "Just a Coincidence ". I don't think so.

  22. Good lord!

    1.If the Brits cannot afford cats and traps for the F-35C how will the rafale be able to magically trap?

    2. The Typhoons is more expensive than the F-35, even at LRIP cost.

    3. You don't need stealth and sensor fusion for missions like Libya and Afghanistan.
    This plane allows the British to punch above weight class. Mix a F-117+F-18+Rivet joint+Sea harrier+F-16 all together in a pot, then stir, This is the F-35.

    4. Since #1 and 2 are true, the plane can launch 1st day of the war strikes.
    Throw in the NSM cruise missile (100NM range) Now you have worked around the range issue.

    5. The plane is a remarkable upgrade over the harrier please research before posting.

  23. Of course, the Brits could have compromised and modified both of their ships for STOBAR. Just add the arrestor gear and modify the flight deck a little to account for the angled deck. That way, the Brits could still go with the F-35B’s and also fly F-35C’s, F/A-18’s, Rafale’s, E-2D’s, etc even though the conventional carrier planes would have to operate with a little less payload.

  24. I'm really divided by this decision. The F35-B is the version with the highest british component content. its also the "coolest". But tactically the C has its advantages.

    The one thing I do know is that you yankies will be pissed beyond belife if us Brits are the first to have serious stealth carrier strike capability ;)

    And lets face it that is now looking alot more likely …

  25. The Tories should never have switched to the F-35C in the first place, fitting cats & traps to ships that were already being assembled was always a non starter. It was just their usual conceited arrogance & the fact they could not resist the opportunty to grandstand & attack the previous government. It was utterly ridiculous that Queen Elizabeth would be mothballed or only used as a giant LPH. At least now the UK will have two fleet carriers in service, with a very capable 5th gen fighter. After all it's not like the UK is ever going to be fighting the Russians or Chinese on it's own anyway!
    Two air groups of F-35Bs is more than enough firepower for the UK, even with STOVL jets QE & PoW will give the UK a greater force projection capability than every other navy on the planet except of course for the USN. The stupidest decision of the SDSR was to scrap the Harriers, then flog them to the US for peanuts, especially now they have gone back to a STOVL design! The GR9s could have flown from the new carriers untill the F-35B enters service in significant numbers.

  26. He, he, he….
    With ALL the spotlight on overspending….
    People here STILL want to spend EVEN MORE!
    Good for Brit's!
    Common Sense solution to a problem…

  27. on the RN, I think they should have gone with CATOBAR, because it gives them with a lot more alternatives long term. short term, it means that if the F-35B fails (not unlikely), the only alternative at this point will be helicopters

    on the USN, they never wanted the F-35C, like they never wanted the F-111. they’re pumping a lot of effort into UCAVs, and plan to fly them IOC by 2018

    that will be huge, because they’ll be the first to fly advanced, stealthy UCAVs, and certainly the first to fly them off aircraft carriers. after that, manned aircraft will be to UCAVs what prop aircraft are to jet aircraft: a niche capability at best, but without the cost advantage (to the contrary)

    either way, both the UK and the US will soon be bankrupt, and they won’t be able to afford large carriers, never mind F-35s. and the JSF program will become a symbol of the wastefulness that will cause such great nations to fall

  28. The right decision and F-35 model comparisons notwithstanding, is imbued with quite some symbolic significance for the UK. It is what we can afford; it is what all 3 service chiefs want (interoperability between rival services comes before interoperability with France – charity begins at home); it required the Prime Minister to get off his high horse; it maintained continuity of thinking from the previous government (a miracle almost unheard of in adversarial UK politics); it affirms the skill of the English and Scottish shipbuilders who by their teamwork have in fact already voted on Mr Salmond’s referendum on the Union; it respects relationships and commitment to the US Marines and the F-35 project; it respects the history and pioneering technology of Harrier; it strengthens Rolls Royce and (since it is unlikely SAAB who are developing Gripen) will buy BAe, it keeps UK in the manned aircraft business; it frees up the defence budget to buy other capabilities (more and better frigates, maritime patrol); it validates the United Kingdom industry alliance of (British) BAe, (French)Thales and (US) Babcock. One CV carrier shared with the French was never a choice – just a French scam hoping we would fold, buy Rafale and, as they see it, become a French poodle rather than a US poodle. Remember your Shakespeare. “To be or not to be, that is the question”. Now we have the answer. This is a very good decision; the United Kingdom is no-one’s poodle. The UK is back!

  29. GlobalStrat | May 12, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Reply

    Let's just be honest!

    These are hypothetical aircraft for as yet hypothetical ships. We're going to be waiting a few years before we even see one in training, let alone two, without even being near to being deployed with a full airwing (whichever aircraft). Plenty of years for them to yoyo about yet!

  30. what may now be considered is the addition of long range stealthy missiles to the carriers to make up for the short range of the b ,work is being done on future versions of the radar carried by the carriers and the 45,s to double its range this should be urgently looked at ,these ships will operate closer to harm to be effective and may face supersonic missiles and the lack of an e2 type aircraft .

  31. I think this may provide a opening for Boeing To sell the V-22 to the RN. How hard would it be to make a AEW/ COD version? A tanker would be nice if it could handle the takeoff load.

  32. Brazil will build the RXX carrier with French assistance. 2 for Brazil, 1 for France and (rumored) 1 for Argentina. The South American nations are now bouyed by huge oil(Brazil) and natural gas(Argentina) industries. France is smart to marry up with young countries with new money, instead of their nearly bankrupt Euro allies. RXX is a 280 meter, 75000 ton CATOBAR carrier capable of operating 55-75 aircraft. Its on the front page of every Argentine and Brazilian newspaper weekly. French design and cheap South American Materials and labor make it a big possibility. Brazil also plans 2 Mistral class assault carriers, 4 Nuclear attack subs, 12 Scorpene class desiel subs, all before 2025. After the way Obama dismissed President Rousseff on her trip to Washington last month, most Senators in Brazil want to use the $100Billion Obama gave for oil developement on 60 Rafale M for the Navy and 50 for the BAF. They have enough private oil investment funds from China & Russia anyway. $20 say the Brazilian Navy launchs a Rafale M from their carrier before the UK gets its carrier and the USMC gets F-35B off safety hold.

  33. A joke , Clown Brown the PM at the time and the idiots at the MOD and Admiralty have sunk their own fleet !

    This money could have gone a full compliment of Astute Class Subs which are as good as anything the US has plus more Daring Class with a full cruise , anti-ship ,and some BMD capability .

    Two Astutes could blockade any Country except the US and Russia .

    A battle group of 3 astutes and 3 Daring Class could reduce pretty much any potential enemies , argentina, military infrastructure to dust in a hour or two .

    We don't need carriers , HMS OCean rammed with Merlins and enough Army Apaches should be good enough to help secure any on shire invasion with teh Daring's providing air cover .

    We have lost power, projection and bang for buck all for some Royal Navy fantasy and Scottish Labour jobs !

  34. When they said they were making this change, I said it didn't make sense since they were simply trading $15M/copy savings for fewer than 100 fighters for a $1.5B ship redesign… the decision reversal is made the more easier by the jump up to $3.5B

  35. Semi-unrelated question: Why doesn't the US give or sell one or two of our decommisioned carriers to the British (and Aussies and Canadians if wanted)?

  36. It seems to me that the decision to make the QEs ski-ramp carriers instead of CATOBAR is kind of short sighted. Assuming that the RN plans on keeping these carriers for a long, long time not making them CATOBAR means that when they eventually retire their F-35Bs they'll be forced to replace them with another VSTOL aircraft unless they think that UCAVs will have completely matured by then and that they'll be able to make a VSTOL UCAV. They really should have made the QEs CATOBAR from the get go so they'd have more plane choices down the line although I suppose that it could be argued that the Invincibles never lasted long enough to worry about a Harrier replacement.

  37. Do you have any video of that? I’d like to find out
    some additional information.

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