U.K.-One of two new carriers-troops and helos only, no F-35

The U.K. has decided to sacrifice one of its two new aircraft carriers F-35 flight capability due to that bleeding ulcer called a defence budget.

While the U.K. is committed to buying two “aircraft” carriers in the original contract, the second one, the Price of Wales, due to go into service in 2018, will be used as a troop and helicopter carrier.

With this, the U.K. will cut their F-35 order from around 138 down to 50. This has been agreed upon by senior navy and air force commanders who are preparing for the strategic defence review.

“We always knew that the real cost of the carrier project is the JSF fleet to go on them. It would cost us at least £12 billion if we bought all the aircraft we originally asked for. We are waking up to the fact that all those planes are unaffordable. More than half of the £5 billion contracts to build the two new carriers have been contracted, so it is too late to get out of building the ships. This way at least we are covered when Ocean goes out of service.”

In August, I mentioned here that the U.K. has also considered to drop the Short-Take-Off-and Vertical Landing (STOVL) F-35B in favor of the U.S. Navy style F-35C.


18 thoughts on “U.K.-One of two new carriers-troops and helos only, no F-35

  1. In contrast, US still insists on buying big guns, big ships and expensive warplanes,

    in spite of budget deficits.

  2. They need to just cancel both of them. They simply don’t have the money. A supercarrier without the ability to launch fighters is a waste of money.

  3. Noted: F-35C article on 16.net.

    One question regarding the QE Carrier story though… 1 new Carrier of the 2 will be dropped? But the Quote says: “More than half of the £5 billion contracts to build the two new carriers have been contracted, so it is too late to get out of building THE SHIPS.”??

    I wonder what the penalty fees would be to cancel the contract on the 2nd, if UK is actually stuck w/ building it? Very tragic really..

    And one can’t help to wonder how many additional, upgraded deterrence-projecting Type 43 (including weapons) and AIP subs could have been bought with £5 billion allocated instead? 3+4? Or that could have procured about 50-60 F-35A block IV/V in itself…

    I’m sorry to grind this on… just letting off some frustration being an ‘outside’ vocal critic over the last couple years – against implementing the all-consuming, QE decision – while being shot down and brushed off in the debate virtually every time.

    Respects –

  4. Pritty surprising that the biggest USA ally has come out and saying in public that the Gold plated F-35 is simply to expensive. The F-35 is just in early stages of testing and if the biggest foreign customer reduces the potential order then its a clear sign that the program is out of control. I mean before full production has started customers back down isnt a good thing.
    Still a wise decision. Eurofighter is good enuff for the next 30 years.
    Uk like many other countries need to focus on hybrid wars. That means more combat forces, more transport, more uavs, more ships etc.
    No need for an overpriced bomb truck that hardly wil be used cause there plenty of other options that get the job done way cheaper.


  5. This ought to be a procurement scandal. It’s clear that the carrier contracts were written with “poison pill” clauses that would make cancellation impossible. Britain may sink into the sea but the carriers will be built whether they make any strategic sense or not. The RN is now an official naval “fashion victim.”

    And what will they get? The P of W will be little more than an San Antonio-class LPD, except it will cost five times as much and do the same job less efficiently since it was designed for a different purpose. It will have an excess of speed and no docking well. If the RN really had a helicopter assault unit, or any tradition or capability along those lines, it might make some kind of sense, but they’ve never carried off a helicopter assault greater than company size. Think for a moment: if the P of W existed right now, what would it be doing? It would be sitting in port and its helicopters would have been sent to operate from land bases in Afghanistan. They don’t have the funding for all the helicopters they need right now but somehow they’re going to cobble the money together to buy thirty or forty more and send them on a leisurely world cruise?

    DesScorp is dead right on the most important fact: the only thing that justifies the expense of building and operating an aircraft carrier, the largest and most expensive warship class ever built, is its ability to operate conventional fixed-wing high-performance fighters. If it’s not doing that then you are wasting the asset. For the cost of this ship the RN could have built two REAL amphibious assault ships and two more destroyers and been infinitely better off. For the cost of both ships they could have fully funded their original destroyer program, which is of much greater import to their actual strategic needs (island nation, remember? dependent on shipping and trade for survival, haven’t you heard?).

    But the admirals and the politicians wanted to chase after the emblems of past glory, even as navies and air warfare are at a crossroads. Consider this: in 1935, how many admirals would have predicted that in ten years the last battleship would be delivered? Or that the RN would mothball all its battleships by 1950 because of strategic irrelevance? Britain does not have the resources to make a wrong bet on naval technology; they should have left capital ships in the grave.

  6. Maybe in a few years from now UK will realize that they can’t even afford to buy the 50 or so JSF because of the budget issue. The only solution to left by then is to fill the deck with super hornets, if that is possible at all.

  7. James, great post btw. A rather definitive perspective.

    torrent, re: Supers, I just don’t think Boeing could crank out enough to fill GB’s needs? USN and possibly even USMC will be filling production line capacity?

    As a random SNAFU-recovery plan to partially offset loss, perhaps: Strike strategic deal to License Produce Rafale-AESA and upgraded engine. Joint train and support/maintain with French and joint deploy an exchange squadron on co-deployed Carrier ops as force-multiplier – ensuring full decks during alternating Carrier tours (North Sea to med round trips)?

    • If Rafale M could be re-engine with EJ2000
      and that CAESAR-AESA could be designed around Rafale’s nose section & avionics suite….

      • Why would that be necessarily conditional? If UK in fact buys some F-35A or C for RAF, will they accept the PW powerplant in the end? I’m not sure actually, just asking your opinion.

        And it would be doubtful Raf-M could accept the larger (longer and wider) EJ2000…But perhaps Snecma could team up with RR, cough and upgrade/license produce an M88-GB ? That would be a joke right? 😕

  8. The heart of the problem is that:

    * the eventual cost of F35 is still uncertain will [most likely] only go up, and not down.

    * given the hybrid-warfare in future geopolitical landscape, the perceived need (and therefore, budget allocation) for fast jets – let alone uni-purpose stealth jets like F35 – will only dwindle.

    Sneaky as it might sound, i would wait until F35 is further down its flight test program and pick up diverged orders that primary customers could no longer afford (eg Saudi Typhoon order). Still convinced that there isn’t much F35 can do that Eurofighter with appropriate armament cannot.

  9. I can’t see Britain buying Rafales, even though that’s the easiest course of action. The difficulty for JSF now is that the F-35B is the problem child of the program. Whenever people talk about cancelling it, the USMC points to Britain and declares we’ll be letting down an ally and big partner if we don’t build the F-35B. So what can the USMC say now?

  10. Part of me sees this as workable

    That is that the big flat-tops will be very valuable for war ops with troops AND most important, big Chinook sized helicopters and yes growth room down the pike. LOTS of versatility.

    I do not see a problem with having-

    12 F-35Bs on each flattop

    A third squadron of 12 on a rotation on land based tours (hello Kabul)

    The forth squadron for school house and RandD

    Big deal that they can’t carry 40 some jets in peace time. One carrier CAN carry 40 some jets as a war surge if needed.

    Assuming the new plan can be paid for and F-35 works, it is workable although I do worry about the sustainment and manning a carrier strike force (support, escorts etc) given the huge amount of MOD budget stress.

  11. @geogen

    torrent, re: Supers, I just don’t think Boeing could crank out enough to fill GB’s needs? USN and possibly even USMC will be filling production line capacity?

    I’ll promise you that, even if we canceled the F-35 and the Navy decided on an all-Super Hornet force, Boeing could still supply the fighters. If the desired buy for the UK was big enough, politics would probably dictate that the Supers would be produced in the UK anyway… see the UK F-4 Phantom buy.

    Hey, come to think of it, that might not be such a bad idea this time around. Recall that the Brit Phantoms used the RR Spey engine (which, compared to the GE J79, sucked… the old fighter pilot joke was “What happens when you Spey a Phantom? It gets fat and slow”).

    However, one of the Super Hornet’s problems has been one of being underpowered in some phases of flight. So the Brits putting EJ2000’s in Supers would be interesting indeed.

    • However, one of the Super Hornet’s problems has been one of being underpowered in some phases of flight. So the Brits putting EJ2000’s in Supers would be interesting indeed.

      Not particularly. The EJ200 has less thrust than the F414 (20000 lbf vs 22000 lbf).

      I think a growth version of the F414-EPE would make more sense, and would probably be beneficial given the smaller size of the CVFs.

      Personally, I’m still betting on Super Hornet FGR.1s on the CVFs.

  12. Des –

    I’m curious what your realistic-hypothetical, total UK Super procurement number would look like.. Would it be a split RAF/RN? All RN? 40 in total? 50? 100?

    If the number would be on the lower 40-50 side, perhaps assembly done in US, with BAE doing some ‘block III’ Super upgrade work? And just to carry this working-theme going… maybe such a ‘block III’ could include UK manufactured composite parts and a joint GE-RR enhanced F414 (+10-15%)? Such an engine could eventually replace world-wide Supers’ F414 power? Otherwise, I wouldn’t see a stock EJ2000 really fitting the Super well, without structural redesign?

  13. Has LM just introduced a potential unmanned alternative to F35? MQ-35 Saber Warrior?

    Back to topic on RN, it would never be justifiable to introduce a brand new type for a 35-55 airframe fleet: whether it be re-engined F18EFG or Rafale M. UK doesn’t have much options left (adding the fact that UK would certainly never go Sukhoi or Mikoyan) on the table when it comes to putting a fast jet on proposed carrier.

  14. Just buy late-model Super Hornets. It’s the most cost-effective solution. Then readdress the situation later with more sophisticated technology.

  15. Debate in this and other forums often too much ignores long-standing lessons of war-fighting and the stark reality of the world economic scenario which heralds a severe recessionary phase for maybe a decade.

    The Falklands War proved the folly of putting too many assets in one ship and so-called helicopter combat assault was discredited during Vietnam operations. The escort requirements for big flat-tops are simply not cost-effective and many smaller nations like Australia would not have adequate naval resources. The optimum size amphibious support vessel is something around the Galicia class or smaller with just a few helicopters embarked and several of these in lieu of larger LPD/LPH would be a much more cost-effective and flexible military capability anywhere in the world.

    As a virtual last act before he called Election 2007, Prime Minister John Howard approved acquisition of 2 large LPD (28,000 tonnes displacement) and 46 unproven MRH90 which are a totally unsuitable battlefield support helicopter. These 2 bad decisions may ultimately waste $10billion plus of taxpayer funding. To grudgingly give the Rudd Government a single point, they apparently did consider cancelling the 2 x LPD but squibbed the penalties associated with bugging out of the contract.

    Trundling large expeditionary forces around the world on pretty vulnerable platforms makes no military strategic sense and those nations committed to acquisition of large floating aircraft platforms will severely inhibit their other military capabilities when funding for military hardware is necessarily tightened.

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