The Future of Naval Fixed-Wing Capability


Lantern Swinger
On a little musing, I've been thinking about the future for the Royal Navy's fixed-wing component of the FAA and was wondering if the F-35 JSF really is the best option. I don't know the actual figures, but I do know that the UK has invested a lot of money in the development of the F-35, and it still isn't in service yet. However, in fairness there were substantial delays caused by arguments about whether the UK would be allowed to repair and service the aircraft in home territory.

So what could be the alternatives to the F-35? With British Aerospace playing a huge part in the development of the Eurofighter Typhoon (which will soon see service), I wonder if a navalised version of this aircraft could be employed. It will lack the V/STOL ability of the F-35 and the Sea Harrier aircraft, but it is an adaptable fighter that can switch from air-to-air to air-to-ground with the flick of a switch. This could be a cutting advantage in naval aviation, where pilots are expected to fill many roles.

But the Typhoon does also make me think of the Rafale and the Saab Gripen aircraft. These modern fighters are currently in service with the French and Swedish forces already. The French Navy operate a navalised Rafale so development won't even be neccessary. However the bullet that we would have to bite with this is the impossibility of servicing and repair in home territory. Since the Rafale is developed and in service we would have no leverage to convince them to trade with us the blueprints and technical documentation as well.

Finally, although this really is on a serious point out-of-the-question, would all these aircraft be surpassed in the naval aviation role by an upgraded Sea Harrier, which is a tried and tested aircraft?


Lantern Swinger
I think it is a question of whether we could foot the enormous bill of navalising Typhoon, personally I think that BAe already have a contingency for this which they would rip UK Plc off to implement, i am of course cynical!!

Remember that aircraft like F-18 have seriously beefed up undercarriage to deal with the impact of the landing. Typhoon, Gripen etc etc would need extensive mods to make them carrier proof.

Alternatives: SU-27K and MIG-29K (political suicide if we bought them I think.)


The French did offer John Reid, when he was temping at MoD, RAFALE because the Yanks were getting cagy about the software access to the F-35.

I think for ease, payload and performance i'd choose FA-18F.

WAFUS would probably differ from me, however it is in service at the mo, would be cheap because of the amount that have been produced and the through life costs would be manageable as well.

Final Point:

GR9 is a great CAS and AG aircraft by the looks of things, but isn't really multi role or beefy enough for the kind of work we want it to do.


War Hero
Very recently I was fortunate enough to host some BAe guys, because of the nature of the meeting and subject matter discussed I learnt quite a few technical details about JCA, I've got to tell you we want it, Typhoon, Rafale et al are nothing more than bloody spitfires in comparison, it really is the next generation aircraft / engineering / maintenance package.

your damn right

during one of our many standdown days due to no hets in the final throes of Sea Harrier we were fortunatre to meet with some of the bigwigs of JSF and yes this a/c will wow anybody with its technicological smart packages.

i just hope that i get 2OE so i can work on em
The F-35B was chosen because the RAF demanded a STVOL aircraft. If that requirement had been dropped, the F-18E Super Hornet was the clear winner on cost and availability. The F-35C was the clear winner on stealth and technology. Unit cost of the F/A-18E, $60m. Unit cost of th F-35C, $65mil. Unit cost of the F-35B, $90mil.

Let's not forget, the STVOL F-35B is still a paper plane and may not even work as advertised, it's still over a year away from it's first flght. To lose weight to get it to work they have already reduced the size of the internal bomb bay significantly and left off the gun.

We are paying 50% more for the more complex version with less range, no gun and a significanlty smaller internal weapons load. Sounds about right for MoD procurement decisions!


War Hero
A navalised Typhoon would be too expensive to develop for such a small production run, much as BAe would love u to do so!

An upgraded FA2?!! Why would you upgrade a 1960's technology airframe with poor endurance and payload? Likewise, the GR9 is an 80's design.

Realistically, if we don't get the F-35, we'll have to buy off the shelf FA-18E/F or Rafale. Both are capable with advantages over the other. Given how underpowered the Rafale is, like DingDong, I'd also probably go for the Hornet although the aircraft is less than impressive in a number of areas. I suspect any such purchase would be a lease whilst a robust UCAV capability was established for the longer term.

However, the F-35 therefore undoubtedly remains the best option. It should offer us good low observable capabilities and a superb sensor capability largely derived from the F-22. Which JCA variant is however a moot point. The F-35C is undoubtedly the most capable of the 3 variants. However, the STOVL F-35B would be capable of operating from austere locations such as the GR7 is doing now. Swings and roundabouts.

I'd caution a little bit about getting too gooey eyed about the Lightning II however. Whilst it'll have superb sensor capabilities, theF-35 will be less manoeuverable, have far less payload, overall endurance and supercruise endurance than the Typhoon.

Nevertheless, F-35B or C will be the right option for the RAF/RN and should compliment Typhoon well. We need to stick with it.



Lantern Swinger
Even though the F-35 now has negative cannons?

I'm afraid to say that I've never flown an air-to-air combat sortie, so I cannot actually talk with too much (if indeed any) authority, but I would have imagined that some form of weaponry would be quite advantageous in dogfighting. I realise that although great faith is placed in BVR and ASRAAM's and AMRAAM's, but one can always store more bullet rounds on an aeroplane than guided missiles. Bullet rounds are more often than not cheaper to fire, too.

However, as I said before, my experience of actual dogfighting is nil; But I do still believe that cannons are a crucial piece of weaponry. Perhaps a veteran pilot would be able to agree or disagree? But in an attempt to remain focused on my point, is the F-35 still the best option despite the lack of cannons?


War Hero
All variants of the F-35 have cannon.

The F-35A will be internal. The F-35B and C will be podded but this will be fully stealthy, not take up a weapons pylon and will be removable for missions where you don't need a gun.

However, with or without cannon, the F-35 is the best choice for JCA.



yes the F-35 or Lightning 2 to give it its proper "unused" name is a great aircraft one which we need as soon as possible given the sorry state of the borrowed Harrier GR's. However UK/US political stuff aside, when has british defence spending ever been on time and on budget, without sight of our two new carriers (remember these are in-service in less than 5 yrs and they haven't even been ordered yet) the case for the future of fixed wing naval aviation looks bleak. we are about to get a Prime Minister who hates the military, please look at your payrise for proof, any excuse to cut a few billion from the spending and he will take it.
a pay rise - since when

if you mean the retail price index renumeration package then that is not a pay rise

thats a pay freeze.

give us 8% and I'll suck of TB and GB