Former First Sea Lord on government’s fighter plane “shambles”

10th May, 2012 4:41 pm

  • Bill Lockhart

    Remind me again why we are building two 65,000 tonne aircraft carriers even though Labour originally specified the STO/VL F-35B which needs nothing like that size of ship?

    Oh yes, I remember, more  jobs for Brown’s neighbourhood.  Defence policy used for the most cynical pork-barrel politics. And we and the RN will be paying the price for 40 years.

    • SkippyBing

      The size of the carriers is determined by the sortie generation rate, to generate X sorties a day you need Y aircraft however they take off and land.  The sortie generation rate led to a requirement for Y aircraft (about 40 plus helicopters and AEW) which leads to a carrier of at least the 50,000 tonne size just for parking/support/maintenance not to mention getting airborne. 
      For various reasons including operating in high sea states 65,000 tonnes was more cost effective than 50,000 tonnes, i.e. steel is relatively cheap compared to all the radars etc. that are going to be on there whatever size it is.
      Unfortunately the government now seem to have reversed the one sensible decision they made in the SDSR.

      • Bill Lockhart

         But “Queen Elizabeth” will only ever embark 12 F-35s and will be alone, so there will never be 40 fast jets in theatre.
        The F-35B really does sound like the worst possible outcome if actual defending is the ambition. Inferior performance, higher unit costs, higher through-life costs and much worse availability. Ooh, let’s buy those. Stand by also for juicy stories massive cost increases as the landing zone of the Queen Elizabeth’s deck has to be thickened and possibly water-cooled to withstand the ridiculous heat from the engine exhaust column during vertical landings. The Aussies have ditched the idea of buying them because they’d have
        melted all their standby/emergency/ improvised vertical landing sites. Though they may not be ‘vertical’ landings after all- the new idea is apparently “rolling vertical landing” to make up for the F-35B’s inability to make a full vertical landing in hot climates with a full warload- the same problem that plagued the Harriers.

        • Stephen Collins

          The Harrier could VTOL with a warload. Are you sure you aren’t thinking the Russian Yak-38?

          • Bill Lockhart

             In hot/high environments Harrier had problems with vertical landings with a full warload.

        • SkippyBing

          The QE Class may only ever embark 12 aircraft, but that’s not the requirement it was designed against, the requirement it was designed against requires an air group of ~40 fast jets. As they have a design life of 50 years it’s probably a bit premature to say they’ll only ever embark 12 of anything, the Invincible class were never originally designed to carry fixed wing aircraft.
          The deck over heating is some sort of urban myth carried over from the V-22 which does have a problem due to the engines always being in the vertical position on the ground.  None of the sea going trials the F-35B has undertaken have shown any issues with regards to the heat footprint.
          It is still the worst option, especially when you consider how few aircraft you’d get for the cost of the catapult install on the QE Class.

          • David

            Should the US navy perfect their rail gun programme, this class of ship appears likely to become at best significantly reduced in importance, and at worst as defunct as the old battleship class.

          • SkippyBing

            That’s like saying if China perfects the orbital ion cannon the carrier will become defunct.  It’s still an experimental technology with limited use as no one’s figured out a way to make the projectiles guided due to the acceleration involved. 
            On the flip side a rail gun would also make an airfield pretty redundant inside five minutes and they don’t even move to make the targeting tricky.

          • TomFairfax

             Big ‘should’ at the moment. The technology required for that and the cats that were to be used on these is similar, but the energy consumption of the rail gun are higher.

            There is also the interesting issue about what you mount the rail guns on. A modern battleship so equipped will be just as vulnerable as the old style type without adequate air cover.

          • TomFairfax

            You forgot to mention the option to use much cheaper Rafales and Hornets if the cats were installed, plus the essential airborne early warning craft, which don’t exist for a sto/vl carrier.

    • TomFairfax

       The RN wanted and still wants the carriers.  What they don’t appreciate no doubt is the vastly inflated prices that BAe seem to always be able to extract from the MOD.

      As for the assembly location. The number of options is rather low given the number of ships of this size built previously for the RN. i.e none.

      As George Osborne has been keen to point out. Wages are lower in Scotland. Which more expensive location would you have chosen?

  • Stephen Collins

    The F-35C was had better ranger, was much less complex and arguably cheaper.

    I know defending the country or carrying a big stick for any trouble that arises isn’t as much a vote winner as giving people free pocket money but it would be nice if they could have at least tried to give a damn.

    Is there any main party with a sensible defence policy? 

    • TomFairfax


  • Daniel Speight

    And now the BBC is carrying a story of paying 3 times over the odds for the RAF’s refueling aircraft in a PFI signed by Labour, but not renegotiated by the Tories. The British defense industry has done rather well out of  successive governments supplying overpriced and sometimes under performing equipment. Arguing about the carriers is just about a symptom not the cause of our problems.

    • SkippyBing

      What I can’t figure out from that piece is whether they’re comparing like for like, the PFI, includes the cost of running the things, i.e. the £2 billion is for everything, maintenance, training, a nice new hangar, actually flying the things etc. divide that by 14 aircraft and you get £150 million.  The price an airline pays is for just the aircraft so will obviously be less.
      That’s not to say there aren’t issues with the contract, if only because MoD seems institutionally incapable of writing one where it doesn’t get seen off, but I think the BBC is looking at the wrong area.  They could be asking if the Air Tanker consortium has managed to employ any of the pilots it’s supposed to provide on the relative pittance they’re offering…


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