17 May 2012 by Pelle Neroth
The Royal Navy will now be buying STOVL (short take off and vertical landing) F-35Bs, which are cheaper, but less well-armed, than the more potent, longer range F-35Cs, conventional jets which require expensive electromagnetic catapults and arrestors ("cats and traps").
This puts Britain back on the track for the option favoured by Labour. Cameron reversed Labour's jump jet choice after he came to power in 2010. One big reason: he wanted to make British capabilities compatible with French carrier fighters, which also use the catapults.
One of Cameron's main foreign policy goals was to get closer to the French in foreign policy and defence issues. As fading world powers, the reasoning went, they were better off sticking together and sharing the burdens of their force projection.
In 2010, after signing the Anglo-French agreement on extensive closer military cooperation at Lancaster House, he said:
"The last government committed to carriers that would have been able to work properly with our closest military allies. It will take time to rectify this error but we are determined to do so."
The Royal Navy is building two aircraft carriers, the 280 metre, 65,000 tonne sister ships HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales - the largest British naval ships ever constructed - and at least the former of these should be ready before the end of the decade.
According to the British media, British service chiefs unanimously support Cameron's move. The ostensible reason is to save money and to bring the completion dates of the carriers forward. The defence secretary who made the decision, Liam Fox, estimated the cost of the catapult conversions to a billon pounds. His successor Philip Hammond has tallied the cost at twice that. According to the BBC, around £100m has already been spent on design work on the project. There are also expected to be some exit costs to the US contractors. But at least, defence chiefs say, the whole cost of the catapults and traps will not now be incurred.
The British U-turn has brought forth the usual French complaints about the perfidious British, acting, they say, against the spirit of Lancaster House deal.
The French media also take the opportunity to argue, citing US analysts, that the F-35, in whatever, is an inferior plane, in fact, a calamity, and yet it is planned to be the workhorse for the next half century of not only the Royal Navy , but the United States and eight other allies. The full excoriating article here. The costs of this most expensive project in Pentagon history has ballooned to 400 billion dollars and rising.
The series of tests is just 20% complete and there is much more in prospect. It swallows nearly 40% of the Pentagon's procurement and the testing programme will be continuing until 2019, nearly a decade after the first deployment was supposed to take place in 2009.
The costs of operating the plane, not just building it, are expected to be
higher than the gross domestic product of all but the nine largest economies in the world. Critics have called it a "flying piano", all things to all customers, a compromise which lacks the air combat characteristics of the F16 or the bombing capabilities of the F15. Its most important innovation was stealth capability, which put severe constraints on design and armament, but this is not what it is cracked up to be. It could also spend a lot of time being grounded for maintenance, like its fifth generation sibling the F22.
What do the French see as an alternative to the F35, in either variant? Bien sur, their own sleek Dassault Rafale, the plane that will not now be able to land on the new British carriers because the carriers will lack catapults.
The Rafale is a light. inexpensive fourth generation fighter that flies off on their own aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, and which, gallingly, has just bested another BAE project, the Eurofighter Typhoon, to win a huge export order to India.
Peter Collins, Flight Global magazine's test pilot, a former Red Arrows team leader, said, here, that "If I had to go into combat on a mission against anyone I would without question choose the Rafale. It is quite simply the best combat aircraft I have ever flown." While the F35 is expected to be available in around 2018, a few years earlier than the conventional variant, the Rafale is of course available now for purchase/leasing should the Royal Navy wish to do so.
But the F-35 has considerable BAE participation as a contractor and the F-35B is the only F-35 option with Rolls Royce engines. Rolls Royce might have an unparalleled product portfolio, but one French commentator believes BAE are stuck with poor designs, and that BAE have to be supported somehow. One French commentator said "Let us not accuse the British of treason, let us feel sorry for them." To be fair, others say the F-35B is a better aircraft than people think, and will of course be able to land on French and US carriers, even if their aircraft will not be able to land on British ones.
Supporters of Cameron's strategy to buy the flag might say he is just shifting to the French approach of going with national preferences. And who, in the long term, can say that has harmed the quality of French technology?
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 17 May 2012 12:34 PM General
FuseTalk Standard Edition - © 1999-2013 FuseTalk Inc. All rights reserved.
"Is augmented reality the next big thing or a marketing gimmick? Is it fundamental to the future or a fashion faux pas?"
- 3 LANE ROADS [01:34 pm 20/05/13]
- Define Energy. [01:25 pm 20/05/13]
- Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3 5th Floor Highly Radioactive Debris [03:09 pm 17/05/13]
- Cluster formation on cooja simulator [01:59 pm 17/05/13]
- DSLAM Power Consumption [01:58 pm 17/05/13]
Tune into our latest podcast