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Britain May Go Back to Buying the F-35B

by John Reed on March 14, 2012

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.

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{ 61 comments… read them below or add one }

@matheusdias_uk March 14, 2012 at 10:27 am

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

Do more with less.


Belesari March 14, 2012 at 5:32 pm

When your at the bottom of the barrel you dont "so more with less. You do less with less and become another nation that just tries to piggy back off NATO. Aka "let America handle it" oh shiz…….America is saying so more with less too………

I for one welcome our new chinese overlords.


Belesari March 14, 2012 at 8:13 pm

Whats wrong truth hurts? My view point isnt a power point by some guy who is inline for a promotion and a job at BAE if it tanks its regular arty guys in the marines, army infrantry guys and sailors.

WE and the brits are already at the bottom of the barrel.


William C. March 16, 2012 at 1:56 am

The UK has cut way too much over the past decades. You can't do "more with less" when you are left with none of the nice things you used to have.


Riceball March 14, 2012 at 10:38 am

The London?


fromage March 14, 2012 at 11:11 am



Noha307 March 14, 2012 at 12:53 pm

"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.


fromage March 14, 2012 at 2:08 pm

For clarification: we were critiquing language issues, not rhetorical issues.


Eric March 14, 2012 at 2:17 pm

The extra 250mi range the Charlie has over the Bravo is mitigated by the dispersion & multitude of platforms the B allows.


John Moore March 14, 2012 at 11:22 am

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


Guest March 14, 2012 at 11:39 am



blight_ March 14, 2012 at 11:44 am

"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 March 14, 2012 at 12:24 pm

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 March 14, 2012 at 12:10 pm

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 March 14, 2012 at 12:14 pm

almost forgot there is also F18E/F as well.


FtD March 14, 2012 at 12:22 pm

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 March 14, 2012 at 12:34 pm

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 March 14, 2012 at 12:44 pm

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 March 14, 2012 at 1:31 pm

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


Dan March 14, 2012 at 12:45 pm

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


EJ257 March 14, 2012 at 1:16 pm

I imagine it’s not the actual EMALS system that is causing the cost hike but refitting a ship designed with a ski jump to accept the EMALS. Does anyone know how far along in the construction the two carriers are? Do they have to rip out a lot of bulkheads and such to accommodate the EMALS?


EJ257 March 14, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Forgot to mention, since its going from a STOVL to CATOBAR you also have to install arresting gear. It’s not just three wires running across the top of the deck. There is a lot of machinery underneath that makes the whole thing work. I hate to be the guy that has to redesign the internal of the ship to accommodate all that change only to have the MoD say “wait wait, forget it, lets go back to the original plan”.


Michael March 14, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Yeah…that's management for ya.


Dan March 14, 2012 at 1:25 pm

The first steel for Prince of Wales was cut in May 2011 which is the carrier intended to be fitted with Catobar (I think Queen Elizabeth will be a helicopter carrier). I would think thats pretty early in the process to be causing such cost implications for even a major change like this? I've got to say I'm really disappointed in the MOD if it turns out they did not design a possible change into the equation. Its pretty obvious I think even to a laymen that the Catobar option would end up being the best solution for the RN.


EJ257 March 15, 2012 at 9:32 am

I thought they were further along than that. Then there is really no excuse for such massive cost increase. I know the dollar has been loosing its value but it can’t be that much in only 2 years.

FormerDirtDart March 14, 2012 at 1:39 pm

If I recall correctly, the QE class was specifically designed with the possibility for being retrofitted for CATOBAR operations.


chris March 27, 2012 at 12:47 pm

They are.

SteveD March 14, 2012 at 1:34 pm

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


tee March 14, 2012 at 1:58 pm

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!!!


guess March 14, 2012 at 6:03 pm

The F22 does fly, but it also has the nasty habit of suffocating and poisoning its pilots


kyle March 15, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Thats because harris Tech who makes the oxygen system for our pilots is still buying the electronics boards from VR industries in RI, who send defective parts to Harris intentionally.

The F22 really does fly and more than half an hour without pissing fuel all over the place like the F35.


pandaa March 14, 2012 at 2:37 pm

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


Sanem March 14, 2012 at 3:39 pm


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 March 15, 2012 at 2:06 am

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 March 15, 2012 at 10:56 am

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


Brian Black March 14, 2012 at 3:52 pm

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 March 14, 2012 at 4:05 pm

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


Elijah March 14, 2012 at 4:24 pm

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 March 14, 2012 at 6:30 pm

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 March 14, 2012 at 7:06 pm

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. March 15, 2012 at 1:52 am

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


Howe March 14, 2012 at 7:12 pm

"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.


Riceball March 15, 2012 at 11:30 am

While we're on the subject of typos, it's "you're welcome" as in "you are welcome", not "your welcome".


jessmo March 14, 2012 at 7:28 pm

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


itfunk March 15, 2012 at 11:19 am

Vertical take off yea with no weapons LOL


Riceball March 15, 2012 at 11:31 am

It's probably designed to do what the Harrier does, take off with a light fuel load and mid-air refuel shortly after take off.


cs4 March 14, 2012 at 11:45 pm

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


passingby March 15, 2012 at 2:01 am

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


Jay March 15, 2012 at 8:39 am

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


Kski March 15, 2012 at 10:43 am

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_ March 15, 2012 at 2:40 pm


Honeywell makes the OBOGS.


Richard March 15, 2012 at 4:52 pm

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


tee March 15, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Canada having second thoughts on getting the F-35


Just the first of many more to come.


daryl March 16, 2012 at 7:59 pm

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 March 17, 2012 at 6:09 pm

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 March 20, 2012 at 12:07 am

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


guest March 20, 2012 at 9:03 am

i didnt say it was simple, its just that the QE is too far along the construction process to be converted now apparently, so rather than spending money on converting it later, continue with the old B purchace for one squadron for the QE. But as i mentioned in the other post, weather this will be cheaper is unknown to me. i rather suspect its too late to change their minds about this without costing too much or wasting money already spent.


Arthur Delgreco May 22, 2012 at 2:35 am

I used to be able to find good advice from your content.


incense stick July 26, 2013 at 5:48 pm
itfunk March 14, 2012 at 7:01 pm

More contractor lies. The LRIP prices are going up because Lockheed was playing creative accounting previously to hide the real costs.

The F-35B will eventually be canceled and the Brits left with a helicopter carrier


cs4 March 15, 2012 at 5:33 am

Well, at least Gripens and Rafales are tested and are operational.


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