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Thread: The F-35 Decision: Disastrous Implications for UK Airpower

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    The F-35 Decision: Disastrous Implications for UK Airpower

    Defence Iq

    he May 2012 announcement by the Secretary of State for Defence that the variant of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (or Joint Combat Aircraft in UK parlance) to be acquired for the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force was again being changed marks the third iteration in a decade-long process.

    The decision to revert to the F-35B short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant instead of the F-35C carrier variant, justified on the basis of the supposed cost of configuring the Queen Elizabeth-class (QEC) for catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery operations (CATOBAR), has significant long-term implications for UK airpower.

    The F-35B constitutes a substantially less capable asset than the F-35C, in particular with regard to range, persistence and internal payload, has a higher unit acquisition cost and greater through life costs and does not meet the UK’s deep persistent offensive capability (DPOC) requirement. This will require either the acceptance of a significant capability gap or the acquisition of another aircraft, that is, most likely the F-35A, to address the DPOC requirement. Moreover, the F-35B is projected to have an out of service date of 2042, whereas the QEC are expected to remain in service until 2070; follow-on systems (such as sixth generation optionally manned/unmanned maritime combat air systems) are projected to be configured for CATOBAR operations. The selection of the F-35B is thus neither cost effective nor the optimum long-term solution to UK airpower requirements.

    This paper examines the implications of the F-35 variant decision for UK airpower, with a particular focus on the difference in capability between the F-35B and C, the DPOC requirement and the potential acquisition of the F-35A to fulfil it, and the loss of the strategic flexibility provided by CATOBAR. The paper will argue that the decision to acquire the F-35B is not cost effective and will leave the UK with a sub-optimal airpower capability.

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    Moreover, the F-35B is projected to have an out of service date of 2042, whereas the QEC are expected to remain in service until 2070
    I find it hard to believe that there could be an aircraft developed today that would not become obsolete before 2070!

    If the F-35B lasts until 2042 I think it will be doing well. Drone aircraft (either computer controlled or remote controlled) are set to make all manned fighters obsolete by the 2040's anyway.
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