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Military Spending
From the Dep’t. of “If You Have to Say It”

In an article entitled, “Yes, the new carriers will have aircraft,” the UK Defence Journal reports that:

When the carrier first deploys operationally, the UK will have 42 F-35 aircraft, with 24 being front-line fighters and the remaining 18 will be used for training (at least 5 on the OCU), be in reserve or in maintenance.[..]

According to a source we spoke to at the heart of planning for the carriers, the vessels will usually deploy with around 20 F-35Bs as a minimum and a number of various helicopters.

In addition to the joint force of Royal Air Force and Royal Navy F-35Bs and their pilots, the air wing is expected to be composed of a ‘Maritime Force Protection’ package of nine anti-submarine Merlin HM2 and four or five Merlin for airborne early warning; alternatively a ‘Littoral Manoeuvre’ package could include a mix of RAF Chinooks, Army Apaches, Merlin HC4 and Wildcat HM2. We understand that vessel would still carry at least one F-35 squadron aboard in such circumstances to offer air defence as well as support to the helicopter assault activities.

The number of aircraft that the HMS Elizabeth-class carriers would carry, and indeed whether there would be any at all, has been in question for some time.

The ever-evolving plans for the carriers under several governments have become an almost perfect metaphor for Britain’s search for a world role. At various times, plans have been mooted to scrap them, arm them to the teeth, deploy them nude of any aircraft, or even try to get American planes to do the flying. This is apparently not wholly off the table:

Recently, the Ministry of Defence confirmed plans for the deployment of American F-35 aircraft alongside British jets aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon had earlier suggested that the US will deploy F-35B aircraft on board the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth when it comes into service, with British jets expected to do the same on US vessels when required “in the fullness of time”.

Michael Fallon has now signed an agreement to allow Marine Corps F-35Bs to fly from HMS Queen Elizabeth, the announcement came at a meeting about action against the Islamic State.

US aircraft will augment British jets on coalition operations, not replace them and they will not fly from the vessel first.

The return of aircraft carriers to the British fleet in a few years will restore Britain’s ability to project sea power around the world in a way that only a few nations can—if it wants to. As the plane story indicates, though, the carriers alone are not sufficient to do so; they must be matched with sustained investment in defense capacities, a commitment which has been somewhat variable in recent years.

Brexit has sharpened all the strategic questions facing the UK, including whether the nation will turn inward or pivot to the world. Defense in this regard is not only important in its own right, but as a tool of diplomacy and of trade, keeping sea lanes open and signaling commitment to allies. As the carriers approach launch, this will be a story worth keeping an eye on.

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  • Fat_Man

    “Mr. President, Cancel the F-35” by Mike Fredenburg on January 6, 2017

    “The F-35 is irredeemable. Contrary to the conventional wisdom on the Hill and at the Pentagon, there are practical solutions that can replace the failed Joint Strike Fighter project quickly while creating tens of thousands of jobs and filling America’s national-security needs … no stronger message about reforming our broken defense-procurement process can be sent than by canceling the dumbest fighter program ever conceived. Mr. President, please cancel the F-35.”

  • Disappeared4x

    When has the UK ever turned inward since QEI joined the Age of Exploration? Is the UK not looking at the Commonwealth of Nations as a logical alternative to the EU?

    The F-35B works, but the US Navy F-35B for aircraft carriers has serious problems to solve. Following the F-35 saga best done in very small doses.

    • Andrew Allison

      I think what you’re suggesting is that, as one of just four NATO countries paying its dues, Britain can hardly be accused of turning inward. Whether building sitting duck platforms for an aircraft that is unfit for any of its missions makes sense is a different issue.

      • Disappeared4x

        Was thinking in terms of 400 years of British history in response to author’s ‘turning inward’, which seemed author was thinking Brexit.

        Also, was a bit puzzled by the Brits using the Marine Corps F35 variant for an aircraft carrier. F35B has vertical liftoff.

        Our comments were simultaneous – just saw yours. Sitting duck platform for sure, but useful when you need moveable air power.

        • f1b0nacc1

          The reasons that the Brits are using the F-35B (rather than the F-35C) are all centered around cost. The QE carriers are not designed to handle large, heavily loaded aircraft. Both of the carriers will be designed to handle VSTOL aircraft only, and neither will have catapults. This was done for cost reasons (catapults are extremely expensive), and without any real attention paid in the defense review to the long-term limitations imposed by VSTOL aircraft.

          • Disappeared4x

            Thanks. was wondering what happened to Harrier. No catapults? maybe that will be how the USNavy solves their problems with the F-35C: scrap the catapaults…oh, eagles are screaming at me!
            It is difficult to get excited about British carriers. So much else happening. Ten USS carriers, none in the Med or ME. Would rather know more about THAT.
            Busy times.

          • f1b0nacc1

            One of the biggest problems with the F-35 (and there are many) is that the plane’s fuselage was made unusually wide in order to permit the vertical thrust arrangement which in turn enables vertical take off and landing. This ruins the plane’s manuverability, substantially complicates its stealth features, and leaves the plane with a significantly degraded maintainability. It also is stupendously ugly, but I suppose that isn’t really relevant here (grin). This ‘feature’ was added in order to get the Marines (who demand this capability so they can operate the aircraft from remote fields and Amphib carriers, something of highly questionable utility) to sign on to the project. The Navy’s version of the aircraft (the F-35C) requires catapults for launch, which is why the Brits won’t use it, instead being satisfied with the grossly inferior F-35B.

            The Harriers have simply worn out. The design is now 50 years old, and wasn’t a particularly useful one even then. The Brits lucked out when they faced a grossly inferior foe in the Falklands, where their well-trained pilots made scrap metal out of obsolete aircraft at the limits of their effective range being flow by inexperienced pilots. Had the Falklands been 50 miles closer to the mainland, the results would have been significantly different. The Harrier has been a very effective killer however, mostly of its own pilots, since the plane has an accident rate several times that of comparable naval aircraft from the same era. Given the complexity of vertical take off and landing, this really shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.

            As for the carriers, you need to remember that for every carrier deployed, you have one in maintenance (typically this takes about 9-12 months, there is a LOT of maintenance that gets done), and one in training/preparation for being deployed. This means that out of the 10 carriers, you really only have 3-4 available for deployment at any given time. Since you almost always have at least one in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific, that only leaves 2 (at the most) for deployment. Right now you have one in the Indian ocean, and a second one in the Pacific, so none are free for deployment in the Med or middle east, though the one in the Indian ocean could move fairly quickly to the gulf.

          • Rodney

            Back in the early 90’s, I spent four years on a CVN, and the SRA’s were typically 4-6 months. In 91-92, my ship’s SRA included time in drydock and was still around 6 months. What has changed to yield 9-12 maintenance time?

          • f1b0nacc1

            Typically this includes not only time in drydock but also training and other non-deployable assignments. And yes, it has been getting longer, and longer over the last 30 years.

            In some ways I am less concerned about this than some, as I would prefer having the higher readiness that results from long periods of maintenance and training, though there are of course limits to how much of this is entirely suitable. Of course it was also a lot more tolerable when there were 14 CVs than when their are 10….

    • f1b0nacc1

      The F-35B works in that it can take off and typically fly without crashing. In all other significant aspects of performance, it does not work in any meaningful sense. Part of this is simply the inherent limitations imposed by VSTOL aircraft in general, part the unique limitations of the F-35B, but in neither case should this aircraft be considered anything but what it is…an albatross that should not be built under any circumstances.

      • AaronL

        You’ve got me really worried about the F-35. I’m Israeli and we’ve just got our first two F-35As. We’re supposed to buy another 48. The commander of the IAF raved about them. We don’t really have any other choice. We can only buy American aircraft and the F-35 is the only plane on offer. The F-15’s are also expensive and an old design.

        What’s the solution?

        • f1b0nacc1

          The IAF has less to worry about that most other F-35 users. The F-35I (which is the customized version that the IAF is buy) has slightly better avionics, significantly improved weapons loadout, and is being flown by arguably the best air force in the world (nothing against the USAF, the Marines, and the USN, but the IAF pilots are exceptional). The nature of how the F-35s are being purchased (largely through US military aid, which comes in the form of credits, not freely spendable cash) pretty much leaves you with little choice in the matter, as you correctly point out.

          There are a few things that the IAF could do differently, but I suspect that the pressure from the US (which has been pushing F-35 sales VERY aggressively) prevents most of these. The Israelis could have continued to buy F-15s (the Silent Eagle modification is particularly interesting, and Boeing would love to have a major customer for them), but I rather doubt that the US would have provided as many credits for purchase, and the damn things are very expensive. Another option would have been to get more aggressive with combat drones, but this wouldn’t have solved their need for a air superiority fighter in the short to mid-term. There really aren’t many other options, to be honest, the US is about the only game in town for what Israel needs to buy, and the IAF leadership is deeply committed to this approach for at least the next decade.

          Fortunately enough, the IAF tends to rely upon long-range missile tactics, which the F-35 is optimized for, so its lack of a useful dogfighting capacity won’t be too big a problem. The extremely low quality of their potential opposition helps too, though it is always dangerous to count upon your enemy to remain stupid and incompetent. Israel has been extremely clever in modifying American hardware for their unique needs (the story of how the F-15I and F-16I came to be is fascinating, and would be instructive for the USAF and USN if they were willing to listen), and their superior air to air weapons should be of help as well.

          I wish I could be more positive, but take comfort from this…the IAF has been superb at adapting even to poor choices in the past, and Israel has a deep reserve of capable and creative thinkers. They should do well…

          • AaronL

            Thank you for the reply. As always your comments are informative and well reasoned.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Thank you for your gracious response.

        • Disappeared4x

          Israel is iron-clad that all F35I maintenance be done in country – never leave Israel for maintenance. That is both reassuring yet puzzling because the maintenance depot is not close to opening. Also my rudimentary understanding is that software downloads are centralized – but Israel also seems to have a plan for control.

          My original dismay over the F-35 remains: the maintenance of the stealth coatings.

          This is the most recent, Dec 11, 2016, I have read:

          A lot of Americans are more worried about the F-35. USNavy pilots included.

          • f1b0nacc1

            I am less worried about the stealth aspect of the F-35 (for the Israelis, at least) than most, since I don’t take stealth terribly seriously in the first place. There is nothing magical about it, despite the USAF’s obsession with it (note that the Navy, which is a whole lot more likely to actually find themselves in combat with these aircraft early on than the USAF, is far less optimistic about its value), and any reasonable use of the aircraft in a realistic tactical scenario makes a stealthy configuration very, very unlikely. The F-35 has a limited weapons loadout in stealthy mode, and the tactical limitations imposed as such are likely to be much greater than many planners are going to be willing to tolerate in a general conflict. Now its ECM and ESM capabilities are far more impressive, and this is one area where I believe that the platform has some real potential. Of course much of the same benefits could be gained from a properly designed UAV. How interesting (in this context) that this is precisely what the Navy is trying to do….

            Here is a prediction for you…don’t be too surprised if the Navy doesn’t find itself with a lot more funding for their UAV research and development over the next couple of years. Trump might now have a way to cut F-35 purchases immediately, but if the Navy can come up with an alternative for some missions (and it can), he could cut a lot of the back-end F-35C purchases, which would save a LOT of money.

      • Andrew Allison

        Ike was right!

  • Andrew Allison

    Quite apart from the fact that the F-35 is unfit for any of its proposed missions, the most appropriate synonym for Aircraft Carrier is Sitting Duck.

  • Kevin

    An article reviewing the USN’s budget, options and plans for the future would be useful.

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