Learning From History (Why STOVL not CTOL on CVF)

Discussion in 'Diamond Lil's' started by mikh, Oct 19, 2015.

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  1. its probably been done elsewhere, but What If

    HMS Ark Royal (R09) had still been in commission and operational in 1982. With its compliment of Buccaneers, Phantoms and Gannet AEW3's backed up by the Harriers of the Invincible and Hermes. Would we have lost as many ships and men as we did?

    I do not think we would have, the AEW3 would have given much better early warning of incoming Aircraft, the Phantoms would have been faster to intercept and the Bucs would have been hitting hard targets on the ground, added with the longer legs and carrying capacity of Cat and Trap aircraft air cover would have been of a magnitude greater.

    Now we come to the learning from History, it seems we cannot (or at least the politicians cannot) We had the option of Cat and Trap on the QEII class, it was also supposedly meant to be designed in as a retro fit option, (alas it appears it wasn't). The Harrier was a remarkable aircraft, hopefully the F35Bs will be better, but they will suffer from the shorter legs and lower payload that is the cost of STVOL aircraft.

    I dare say I will get a few 'robust' replies, hence posting in lils
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  2. Purple_twiglet

    Purple_twiglet War Hero Moderator

    To play devils advocate, assuming the invasion ocurred, you'd have to assume Ark was operational (big question mark given her material state by 78). You'd also have to remember the weather was pretty poor down there, which would have meant that she would have been unable to launch/recover in the same manner (I recall reading that operating conditions which VSTOL could do, were outside the parameters of the CTOL carriers on regular occasions in 82).
    Don't forget that if Ark was in service, we wouldnt have had SHAR either -this only came about as a result of the loss of CVA01. At best you'd have had an invincible 'cruiser' carrying some helos and little else.

    As for the CVF CTOL debate - the best evidence I've read on it came from the NAO, which looked in depth at the issue and concluded the move back to STOVL was the right one for a long list of very good reasons.
  3. P_T the proviso was she was still operational. As for the weather, with the legs the Phantoms and Buccaneers had, this would have given the Aircraft a much greater range, and meant they would have been able to look for better conditions (and IF memory serves, the Argentines could not launch from their carrier due to Lack of wind)

    The NAO, I take it that is the National Audit Office? A great center of Military thinkers, or a bunch of bean counters? How anyone can say that the STVOL is the right choice over cat and trap, especially when the STVOL aircraft in question was not only not proven, but were still in the Design stage when the Carriers were first announced. If the French had gone ahead with their version of the QEII class, they were going with C&T, the US Navy are going for the F35C with the USMC going for the B variant.

    Throw into the equation that if the F35 had turned into a white elephant, with its capabilities nowhere near what was planned, with C&T there would have been a number of other options the RN could have gone for, as it is we are handcuffed to the F35B, Which STILL has a number of design (soft and Hardware) problems to overcome.

    For those interested, the NAO report on reverting to the STVOL variant is below - as far as I got into it, the predominant reason for STVOL was financial not operational

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  4. Purple_twiglet

    Purple_twiglet War Hero Moderator

    The point I'm making is you assume ARK was seaworthy, ready for sea, not in the middle of a docking period due to breaking down etc. She was in very very poor state in 78, and I genuinely doubt she'd have been in better state by 82.

    The point on weather is this - in April / May 1982, there was serious weather which restricted flying operations for CTOL carriers - Ark would not have been immune to this.

    Saying 'Ark would have been better' ignores that she needed to have gotten there without breaking down, and that she could have operated in the historically deeply challenging environment.

    As for NAO - they are people who are very good at asking difficult questions - I've read both their report and the HCDC one - the NAO one is long, but it is well worth reading and digesting in detail to understand the logic behind the decisions made (e.g. the huge slip times for entry into service, the risks and the costs and the very overly optimistic assumptions made). CTOL was a last minute sop to the RN in 2010 to appease it for the loss of ARK - it was never properly costed or planned and when they did the figures the resposnse was 'this makes no sense to do'...
  5. Seadog

    Seadog War Hero Moderator

    QEC; QE Class, Queen Elizabeth Class.
    No II or 2.

  6. Without a proper catapult, how will they be able to launch the wardroom piano?
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  7. They havent for the last 25 years ;)
  8. She would have made a very big target.
  9. At first blush, just looking at what she brought: R09 Ark would have been a major gamechanger. Phantoms cued by Gannets mean much heavier attrition of enemy air and make it extremely dangerous to fly AM39 missions, which means we probably don't lose Atlantic Conveyor, which greatly eases life for the troops ashore with lots more helicopter lift available.

    However, as P-T points out, the reality was that Ark was utterly, utterly shagged by 1978 and wouldn't be any better for four more years of age: just as 25 de Mayo missed her window for attacking the Task Force (low winds and her knackered machinery meant she could launch Skyhawks with fuel, or bombs, but not both) Ark was going to struggle terribly to become operational, and to stay operational. Looking at how hard the crews of much younger ships had to work to hold back the rising tide of OPDEFs and breakdowns, it's a lot more likely that Ark breaks down badly and misses most of the fight, than than she turns the tide and wins us the war cheaply.

    (The other issue is logistic - she'd be flying a lot of sorties, burning a lot of fuel - did we have the means to keep her in F44 at that distance from anywhere friendly?)

    A less dramatic "what-if" that still cuts our losses sharply, is a little more warning time: enough that the Sea Harriers get the urgent modifications that just missed the fighting (bigger drop tanks and twin-rail Sidewinder launchers to double their external fuel and weapon load, plus ALE-40 chaff and flare dispensers) and the Sea King AEWs are embarked. More endurance, more weapons and - crucially - decent AEW. Not as dramatic as Phantoms, but the Sea King AEWs would likely have saved several ships.

    As for CTOL F-35 - sounds fine until you try to train the aircrew. The USN struggle to manage it with a bigger budget and eleven carriers, we'd have no chance of sustaining a decent number of trained, current crews. As far as I can tell, this was pretty well known from about 2002 or so (when the STOVL decision was made) and nobody, anywhere, is willing to admit to recommending the 2010 change back to CTOL - it seems to have been a Prime Minister's Really Good Idea that nobody was willing to argue with.

    And because it's easier to land STOVL, the "range disadvantage" isn't as bad as it seems: CTOL aircraft have more notional range, but need bigger divert margins in case the deck goes foul or something else goes wrong, so their usable range is often significantly less than the headline figures would suggest once you allow for "divert to somewhere that'll let an armed British aircraft land".
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  10. P_T, you miss completely the 'What If' bit of my original post, regarding still in service and OPERATIONAL.

    As for the C&T. I attended a Meet the Navy event way back in 2008/2009 in place of one of the Directors of the Company I was working for at the time, The New carriers were brought up by one of the officers at the meeting, (Commander), I asked about the lack of cat and trap, and the answer I was given, we although they were not being built with them, they were designed for later addition if it was decided there was a requirement.

    As I understand it, in 2010 it was looked at fitting C&T during build, but this was deemed too expensive (shoots the meet the navy response I was given right out of the water). IMHO, the ships should have been equipped with C&T (after all, you can fly a STVOL off a C&T equipped ship, but flying a CTOL aircraft would be problematical :) with out C&T). The QE Class (sorry for original error SD) has been limited to ONE class of fixed wing aircraft, an Aircraft that is beset by problems and looks like it will not live up to the hype


    With a C&T carrier, we could have bought proven off the shelf aircraft, the F18s from the US, (I do not believe I am saying this bit) Rafales from France, the early warning birds could have been fixed wing with a greater range rather than Helo based. The STVOL deck option was short sighted, financially & politically driven.

    If the F35B ends up not being able to do the job, there will only be 2 outcomes, the Carriers will be turned into Helo carriers or the bullet will have to be bitten and C&T will need to be looked at being retro fitted, although once completed this may not be an option. As with many short term financial gains, the long term cost far outweighs the more expensive option, either in hard cash or the lives and wellbeing of the Service personnel who will have to reply on the F35B to do the job
  11. I served in Ark in 1976 and as a ship she really did need an awful lot of cash spent on her to bring her back to fighting condition. I was also in the RN during the Falklands, testing and preparing Sea Skua missiles before they went South to the ships.
    At the time and even now I remain convinced that had the Ark been brought to a standard where it could have been used down the Falklands we would have lost very few if any ships. The Ark as a fighting machine was fantastic. Gannets would have given long range radar cover, Phantoms would have intercepted and destroyed any Argentinian aircraft and precision bombing and strafing attacks by the Buccaneers would have sorted out the ground troops.
    As for PTs comment about weather, I have witnessed Ark practicing launching and recovering aircraft in some horrendous weather, sure when on a war footing she would have managed to find a bit of oggin suitable for operations (she always seemed to)
    Buccaneers, I loved them still my favourit aircraft after all these years, built like a brick shithouse and lethal to the enemy
  12. Fife was plane guard to Ark in 73 , even then she was knackered with 4 fuel tanks ruptured and unusable so RAS almost every day to re-fuel , boiler feed/ fresh water problems.....this is just the ME side.
    Apparently she was so costly to keep at sea they had to pull the plug , 78/9 ?.
  13. Purple_twiglet

    Purple_twiglet War Hero Moderator

    If memory serves, pre 1966 the plan was for Ark to be replaced in about 72/73 by the new CVA01 and then Eagle was to run on due to Arks already very poor material state then. I cant remember what the rationale was post 66 to scrub Eagle ahead of Ark Royal other than the phantom refit.
  14. As I stated, short term savings, long term cost. If we had gone ahead with CVA01-03 (& the 82s), there is a very good chance the Falkland war would not have happened, but if it had we would have been able to project significantly more air power, with every chance that the ships we did lose would have survived.
  15. cost of phantomisation - they couldn't afford to do both ships* and they'd already done the Ark for trials.

    *well, they could, but they couldn't afford to then run both of them, which would have left Ark with Phantoms and Eagle having a short and interesting war with a Sea Vixen air group....
  16. Re-read what jrwlynch wrote about diversion fuel. Yes, with a STOVL aircraft you are limited on the amount of fuel you can hover with but you KNOW you are going to land on the carrier. Even with a foul deck or RASing etc, there's always going to be a square of steel you can plonk the bird down on in emergency and you can always hover into wind, unlike a CV which needs to be turned into wind for CTOL aircraft to land. So, at the end of the day, your landing fuel can be down to the lowest permitted to keep the pumps covered and the engine running; which means you can use all the rest doing the job. Compare that with a non-hovering machine and you then need to keep diversion fuel for an airfield up your sleeve, which equals less fuel to do the job. Of course, blue water rules could be instigated, which throws away the diversion airfields but the people who get paid the big $$$s then have to factor in the potential loss of CTOL aircraft versus them having the fuel to kill the baddies. Weather then becomes a BIG factor in their considerations and now STOVL really does win hands down every single time. A CTOL aircraft has to land at the beginning of the strip and the longer that strip gets then the greater the height difference between the the arse end of the boat being down and being up. A typical US CV goes out of limits at around 3-4 degrees because the back end is then moving up and down 60-70 ft.......and that's not a good thing when you're trying to park your F35C/F18 etc on the end (the same sort of figures with R09 would have put her out of limits at 5 degrees). Enter the STOVL aircraft: land in the middle of the boat i.e. the centre of the pitch and it's not going up and down that much at all, therefore the boat stays doing its job a lot, lot longer.

    Yes, the Phantoms and the Buccs would have had much longer legs IF the powers-that-be decided to throw away the diversion airfields and go to blue water rules. However, given the appalling weather and the ease with which R09 would have gone out of limits, I think their Admiralships would not have been that blasé and, so, we would not have seen the flight operations that were sustained by the Harriers.

    As for the suggestion that a cat was a retrofit option for the QE, I thought the lack of that was the reason for the double u-turn of the Government and in the F35B - C - B argument. The electromagnetic cat was not going to be ready in time (and still is not) and the cost of fitting it was going to be far, far greater than the difference in costs between the F35B and the C and so they decided to return to Plan A, with the B (if you see what I mean). It is a shame that no cat can be fitted because it would provide a few very useful extra tricks up the sleeve and allow cross-decking of CTOL aircraft etc but the money is never going to be available for such a big 'what if', especially when there are so many Chesnaes that need their sugar pops and their 15 year-old mums that have to get their B&H paid for by the Govmint....innit.
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  17. A part of the issue was that at the point you were being told "still possible to add...", the ship was actually being built and the bills for "let's put in lots of massive cabling in case we want to fit EMALS one day..." were thrown back with "Rejected" scrawled across them. A very definite political decision to walk away from "should be fairly simple to...", albeit because EMALS had come along more slowly than hoped and still had (still has) a lot of risks involved before it's a proven, working system.

    Financially driven, only because CTOL couldn't be afforded. It wasn't just the costs of fitting the electromagnetic catapults (horrible though they were), it was how much it would cost to qualify a full air wing's worth of pilots for CTOL and keep them current, compared to the proven ability to take land-based helo and STOVL pilots and train them fairly quickly to cope with flying off a ship.

    Also, F-18 is a thirty-year-old airframe, lagging well behind Typhoon and F-35 in capability terms: fine if you're flying it today, not so good if it's meant to be a primary power projection asset in twenty years' time. (Imagine choosing an air wing of Seafires for Ark Royal in 1954 for a thirty-year service life...) Similarly, SKAsAC/Crowsnest doesn't give much away to the E-2C in capability and buys you lower costs and more flexibility.

    At the time it was announced in 2010 I thought the same way you did: the more I've looked at it, though (in and out of work) the more I realise that going STOVL in the first place was a sound move and the CTOL shuffle was a politically-motivated bodge job that wasted a lot of money for no benefit.

    And while there's a lot of ill-informed doom and gloom, the end-users are quietly positive and very much looking forward to what F-35B - especially with carrier basing - could do if asked. The F-35's problems are being turned up to eleven when they're not being outright fabricated: at this point in development, the F-16 was nicknamed the "Lawn Dart" it crashed so often, the F-18 couldn't roll faster than thirty degrees a second, the F-14 was suffering catastrophic engine problems (that actually plagued it most of its life)...
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  18. jrw, I do see your point, the mag launch was and still is in the development stage (but there again the F35B is not really that far ahead of it). But can you answer why we went for a dieso electric propulsion system in the 1st place rather than nuclear, the frogs managed it with the Charles De Gaulle, and that is 20, 000 tonnes lighter than the QEs.

    As for my point about off the shelf aircraft, this would have been a stop gap until a suitable 5th generation aircraft was tried and tested, after all, how many F18s can you buy compared with 1 F35B?
  19. Purple_twiglet

    Purple_twiglet War Hero Moderator

    "As for my point about off the shelf aircraft, this would have been a stop gap until a suitable 5th generation aircraft was tried and tested, after all, how many F18s can you buy compared with 1 F35B"

    Plenty - but you'd need to introduce an entirely new logistics chain, support network and training system as well as buy a carrier trainer. It would cost so much to buy the entire capability (not just the plane) that F35 would be off the radar for a generation as a result.
  20. Have you seen the cost of a reactor? Let alone training, retention of Nuclear Engineers, and the you have Force Protection of a nuclear asset?

    Attached Files:

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