As predicted here since the day the news hit that the UK would switch their requirement for a carrier fighter from the F-35B to the F-35C the Cameron government and MoD have realized just how near-sighted that decision was and will once again procure the short takeoff and vertical landing capable F-35B. In addition, the savings garnered from not having to install catapults, arresting gear, and other costly conventional carrier associated equipment will apparently allow the Royal Navy to actually operate both carriers that they have already committed to purchase. Under the strategic defense review it was determined that one carrier would be mothballed, possibly shared, or even sold and one would be put into active service. The decision to operate both carriers is great news as having two ships in active inventory will allow the UK to have a single ship almost always available for emergency operations.

The next big question, one we may have to wait a while to have answered, is exactly how many F-35Bs will be procured by the UK? Hopefully the MoD will look at this issue realistically as there is little use for two aircraft carriers if you have no planes to operate on them. I do think it will be inevitable that the USMC will deploy regularly aboard the UK’s Queen Elizabeth Class carriers. If such deployments are proven effective they could turn into a joint-use agreement between the two countries which would see such joint-cruises become standard operating procedure. This would take some serious financial weight off the UK as they would have to purchase less aircraft and it would make sense for the USMC as well, who currently lack a forward deployed squadron in that part of the world.

I have written on this subject extensively, and I have to underline once again that I have nothing but praise for the Cameron Government for truly realizing the economic and operational realities of their previous choice, and fixing this mistake before it would be to late.




The F-35’s helmet mounted display (HMD) and the aircraft’s game changing distributive aperture system (DAS) was originally one of the main selling points of the F-35, and without it the aircraft would lose some pretty awesome capabilities that go well beyond easily pointing targeting sensors or 360′ night vision. This is why it was such a disappointment when serious problems with the system, including jitter and latency, in other words lag, were disclosed over the past year or so. The system was so fouled that the Joint Strike Fighter office and Lockheed began integrating a less advanced helmet made by BAE just as an alternative to the more enticing but troubled option. It seems now that there may be a fix in the works that has not been verified in flight testing but has apparently performed well in lab tests. If these fixes work it would be a great piece of positive and worthy news for the troubled program.




DoDBuzz.com has a writeup on the status of the F-35 program that contains some quotes from program lead Vice Adm. David Venlet taken during a recent congressional hearing on the Joint Strike Fighter. The super upbeat and optimistic view on the project held by Admiral Venlet, sprinkled with quick admissions of major problems, is interesting in that its all very nonchalant, almost as if America has all the time and money in the world to fix this thing and make it all work properly:

“Good old fashioned engineering is going to take care of every one of those (issues) and we will work on those hard enough that they’re deemed good enough by the fleet.”

Of course “good old fashioned engineering” will fix the F-35’s woes but as I have said time and time again it is not a question of if the F-35 will be a useable weapon system, it’s a question of how much will it cost and how long will it take to make this happen? Predicted to be well over $100M a copy once the program stabilizes and the F-35 is deep in production, and much more expensive now, will the F-35 really be a value to the American tax payer and the war-fighter? If costs continue to rise and procurement continues to drop I think this will be a very tough question to answer in the affirmative.

I find it disturbing that those currently involved on an executive level with the program have no idea when the system will be available for real-world operations. It’s as if the DoD and the private sector have given up on schedules totally. This is NOT a good sign for a program as complex and as expensive as this one, as the program is only 1/4 through its initial test schedule. If the pace stays fairly consistent, with no major mishaps or issues, than one would have to guess the F-35’s true initial operational capability (not a fabricated one that allows the jets to be flown with gobs of restrictions) will come to pass closer to 2020 than previously envisioned.

On another note, the F-35C’s tailhook still seems to be an issue. Vice Adm. Walter Skinner, who also spoke at the hearing, noted that there still remains a lot of work to be done when it comes to fixing the F-35C’s hook design. He further described the situation as thus:

“The hook not engaging has happened to other aircraft besides the F-35… We’ve gone through initial fault trees for that occurrence, we’re still in analysis, we’ll have a preliminary design review at end of next month, at which time we’ll be able to ascertain the scope of the fix, the cost, and if there will be a schedule penalty associated with implementation.”

Its funny, all these issues seem to have lengthy “studies” and “analysis” done on them. When I hear this sort of thing all I see is dollar signs. Further, with all due respect to Admiral Skinner, yes other aircraft have had this problem but none of them were a low observable design where the hook is of a finite length and has to be integrated into the guts of the jet. And this jet has little space to lengthen the contraption as it there simply is no more fuselage to extend it into. Further, these “other aircraft” were not actually dependent on a single common design for two other variants of the same jet. In other words, how will the projected fixes impact “commonality” with other F-35 variants and thus price and schedule. Will there have to be costly retrofits across the board? Will the designed fix be so complex that it will invite safety and reliability concerns for what is one of the most important parts of a carrier aircraft? The questions just go on and on. Once again, they will fix it but at what cost and how on earth was this missed in the initial design stages and why does the American taxpayer have to pay for it?!?!?

I think Congress would be smart to haul in folks that are not in the military, or involved with this program or it’s vendors directly, or do not receive a paycheck because of it, such as outside analysts and others, to give their thoughts on the situation. Further, these folks could give their alternatives to the F-35 program and explain to the folks who hold the purse strings that there are other options available to the US military than this aircraft alone. In many ways these other options would result in savings and a more flexible and resilient fighting force. The current congressional echo-chamber where beating up on DoD and industry execs and military brass who have a vested interest in this program have become a ridiculous and circular exercise. By letting some other folks be heard lawmakers may finally realize that they are being duped day in and day out by the same car salesman who sold them this lemon of an idea in the first place.

I realize that these are harsh words, but I care about my country and our military and this whole ordeal has highlighted just how unsustainable and broken the current DoD and Congressional ways of running a weapons program have become. Frankly, its a matter of national security and it needs to change.




The Navy is interested in getting the ball rolling for the Super Hornet’s replacement, now called the F/A-XX 6th Generation Fighter. This aircraft is supposed to be fielded sometime in the 2030s as the Super Hornets will be meeting their design life limits at around that time. Sounds great right? Well it really is not.

First off the Navy cannot afford, in any possible realm of the imagination, the F-35C and a new 6th generation fighter in the timeline currently proposed. If the US Navy actually thinks a 6th generation fighter will be needed in the time-frame they have specified than they need to pull out of the F-35 program right now and begin working on that system so it can be fielded within about a decade or so, a decade sooner than their current fantasy-land time-frame. Why? Because the USN will have some very expensive carriers with no first day of war capable fighter aircraft onboard and will be totally reliant on extremely expensive standoff weapons for opening strikes of any kind. Seeing how US Carriers are our “911” expeditionary force, and seeing how the Pacific theater, where the DoD is focusing in the future, has limited land basing options, this would be a very unfortunate situation. By the mid to late-2020s, decks full of Super Hornets alone will be a fairly impotent fighting force against an enemy with advanced fighters and a robust integrated air defense system. So, if the USN want a new 6th generation jet, they need to cancel the F-35C immedietly and begin dumping funds into the F/A-XX concept now.

The reality is that if the Joint Strike Fighter is to continue on, and it almost certainly will, the Navy and the Marines are the ones who will benefit the most from it. They will both be able to forward deploy stealth assets for the first time to any trouble spots around the globe with ease via their floating carriers and helicopter docks. Further, the F-35C will give the US Navy the first day of war punch that was originally promised to them via the A-12 Avenger some 20 years ago. Additionally, the F-35C/Super Hornet combo really will complement each other nicely on CVN decks. Otherwise, if the USN cancelled the F-35 and bought more Super Hornets in the meantime and waited till the mid to late 2030s for their dreamy 6th generation superfighter as proposed, they would basically make their prized super carriers irrelevant in the coming decade and beyond, and irrelevant is not a good thing to be when it comes to making the case for continued funding of these floating cities that basically burn cash like diesel.

If the F-35C makes it to the decks of US carriers than the replacement for the expired Super Hornets in the 2030s and beyond will be updated F-35Cs and unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs), not a new superfighter airframe. Honestly I am a little blown away that the Navy would be so numb to the fiscal realities in Washington right now that they would float this idea without saying directly that its an alternative to the F-35C and will come a decade sooner to replace a void left by it if need be.

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  1. Sanem says:

    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

    • aviationintel.com says:

      Well it is a mess there is no doubt but the UK is building two carriers, of which one would have not been used because of costs. Now with the F-35B they will have two ships which is key. The big mistake here is retiring their Harrier fleet in knee-jerk fashion and selling it to the USMC for pennies on the dollar. They could push of F-35 acquisition for a decade and flow the Harriers from those ships. Either the politicians are running the military over there or the military is being ran by some seriously mentally impaired folks.

      The UCAV thing is totally unproven as of yet. Yes the Navy is moving forward but I highly doubt you will see operational iron the boat by 2018. Also, there is procurement cost advantage to UCAVs depending on the model but they are not necessarily less expensive to operate. The term unmanned is a misnomer as yes there is nobody inside but there are a large workforce of humans that need to monitor/fly them, ensure comms and datalinks are in place, launch-recover, maintain etc etc etc. Also, the semi-autonomous thing is great for fixed targets, but for these things to really take the place of manned systems they need to be able to differentiate good from bad and the lawyers have to clear their manufacturers of liability, something still very much in debate. You are more likely to see surrogate operations, where a single F-35 “controls” a few UCAVs over the battlefield than autonomous operation for anything aside from deep strike and recon. You are right though, the times are changing when it comes to aircraft and warfare, especially on the tactical level.

      Bankrupt- Man I think that we are headed down a bad road as well, but you will see a reshuffling of the world’s currencies before we stop operating carriers.

  2. Sanem says:

    on the Harriers, I wouldn’t be surprised if selling them off to the USMC was done on purpose to remove them as an alternative, leaving the F-35B as the only option if/when CATOBAR didn’t work out

    “The UCAV thing is totally unproven as of yet.”
    I would agree, except the RQ-170 seems to have been proving it for some time now, flying undetected over hostile territory while relaying streaming data back home. put some weapons on it and you have a UCAV (who’s to say it doesn’t carry them already?)

  3. Richard says:

    As to the unproven nature of UCAVs, don’t forget that many commercial airliners, yes, the things we ride in, actually have the capability to land themselves on auto-pilot. The FAA wants to keep a human in the loop, at least for the time being, no doubt due to public reaction. That said, we all know that there is very little hands flying left in the airline business. Yes, we still want an experienced and well trained aircrew for those rare circumstances where something happens.

    The point here is simply that the unproven aspect of the technology behind UCAVs is less unproven than we might think. The RQ-170 incident may have revealed human failings in the configuration of the software to resist adversary intrusion…that and leaving out a self-destruct if bad turned to worse.

    We are not quite at the stage of Captain Kirk ordering the launch of a class 1 probe, but we are not that far removed from it.

    There was a discussion three or four years ago about the rising cost of the F-35 program and the possibility of cancelling the A and C versions, keeping on the the B (VTOL/STOL) variant (which has since seen as many problems as one can imagine). The proposed alternative was to resume production of the F-22, bring it up to date with the helmet mounted display, other electronics, radar and network capabilities intended for the F-35. The thought was that the difference in cost of doing so would ultimately be less than the F-35 program as much of the F-22 development costs have already been amortized. Of course this was a somewhat optimistic proposal, but not without merit. It could easily be configured for a two man crew, which the Navy, in particular, historically prefers, and it has two engines which the Navy also prefers. With the knowledge of the maintenance requirements of the current F-22 known, it would be possible to make changes in the new variant which would actually allow it to leapfrog F-35 development. There is, however, the continuing problem of the onboard oxygen generation equipment. Until that is resolved it would be difficult to make a commitment to such a proposal.

    The long and short of it is that the Navy could do with some more Super-Hornets and F/A-22s well into the future to be supplemented by, and eventually lead by the UCAVs.

    The Air Force is in the situation where the high-low mix of F-22s and F-35s is no longer viable. The costs simply do not look to be that different. It is no longer comparable to the F-15/F-16 mix.

    As an aside, I have to wonder if the onboard oxygen generation equipment for the F-35 is different from that of the F-22 in any material respect. Here is an article that the AF was examining the OBOG systems of the F-15, F-16 & A-10 to see if there was anything to shed light on the F-22 system. http://www.airforcetimes.com/news/2011/05/air-force-oxygen-generator-inquiry-all-fighter-jets-051611w/

    With the F-35’s performance shortcomings yet to be overcome and the acquisition cost having no appearance of being under control, one has to wonder if it is time to revive this proposal. An updated F/A-22 just could become the bargain of the new century. Yes, it would still be expensive, but its costs would be much more foreseeable than the current F-35 weapon system’s costs appear to be.


    P.S. I toured the F-22 and C-130J production lines more than a few years ago. (The first F-22 had not yet been delivered.) There is one thing that has stuck with me at the “how many would you like to buy” briefing was the description of the C-130J as being a shape with well understood aerodynamics and “we just designed a new airplane inside the shape.” History now shows that the C-130J has been a very successful introduction and there are occasions when working from the known has advantages.

    • aviationintel.com says:

      Great thoughts, once again go through past posts under “F-35 Saga” category, I think you will wildly enjoy it.


  4. Richard says:

    Here is a two year old article also suggesting a revamped F/A-22 instead of the F-35 A and C models.


    • aviationintel.com says:

      Richard, thanks for shooting that over. Read through the “F-35 Saga” part of my site, about 1/3 of the bandwidth is dedicated to this issue.



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