Tag: Lightning II

UK F-35Bs ready for take off from HMS Queen Elizabeth

A Royal Navy Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II

UK’s F-35B fighter jets are now cleared for take-off from the Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth after they passed land-based ski-ramp trials.

This was announced by UK defence minister Harriett Baldwin who spoke on Tuesday before the House of Commons Defence Select Committee.

“Successful ski-ramp trials mean the F-35 is cleared to fly from the carrier as the momentum continues for this game-changing jet,” Baldwin said. “This milestone comes as our pilots and planes prepare to return from the States, ready for next year’s unforgettable flight trials from the deck of the nation’s new flagship.”

One of the other questions addressed at the Defence Select Committee were concerns raised in a Times report which said the UK F-35Bs would be too heavy to land vertically on HMS Queen Elizabeth under full load. During the hearing, Lockheed Martin UK CEO, Peter Ruddock assured MPs that the F-35B was capable of landing vertically with a full internal weapon and fuel load.

The UK currently has 12 F-35 jets out in the United States where they are being tested ahead of flight trials from the Royal Navy’s 65,000 tonne carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, next year. Two more aircraft are set to be delivered by the end of the year.

During today’s Select Committee session, the Defence Minister announced that the  Integrated Test Force,, has now successfully completed ski ramp trials. That milestone clears the aircraft for take-off from the deck of the Carrier.

Speaking about the jet, Squadron Leader Andy Edgell, part of the F-35 Integrated Test Force which includes five British pilots, said: “The launch of the F35s from the HMS Queen Elizabeth is a once in a generation historical event. To be the first to fly off the carrier, to have a front row seat, would be an absolute privilege. It wouldn’t just be about the pilot – there are hundreds of people who have been working tirelessly behind the scenes to make this happen and the honour will be theirs too.”

There are already 150 UK personnel out in the US working with the jets.

The new home of 617 squadron, RAF Marham, continues to build towards the arrival of the jets next year, moving a step closer earlier this month when the runway intersection resurfacing was completed. 617 Squadron will be the first operational British F-35 unit.


Countdown to flight trials

The UK Royal Navy’s (RN’s) new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is set to bring the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II on board for trials for the first time towards the end of next year.

Fixed-wing First Of Class Flight Trials (FOCFT) are planned to begin off the US eastern seaboard in October 2018. It is expected that two fully instrumented F-35B development aircraft will embark on the ship for two embarked periods each lasting approximately four weeks.

FOCFT test points are intended to define the safe envelope for the operation of the F-35B from Queen Elizabeth and sister ship HMS Prince of Wales. Test planning for FOCFT is already well underway using BAE System’s F-35B/QEC integration facility at Warton.

A Royal Navy Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II

As well as ski-jump launches and vertical landings, it is expected that next year’s trials will include the first executions of a new manoeuvre known as a shipborne rolling vertical landing (SRVL).

An SRVL exploits the ability of the short takeoff vertical landing F-35B to use vectored thrust to slow the speed of the aircraft approach to about 35kt of closure relative to the carrier while still gaining the benefit of wingborne lift. The primary benefit of an SRVL is a significant increase in payload ‘bring back’ compared with a ‘standard’ vertical landing.

Queen Elizabeth is currently alongside in Portsmouth following arrival at her base port on 16 August. The ship is expected to resume trials in October, with handover to the RN before the end of the year.


Lincoln Tests F-35C Lightning II at Sea

USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72)

ATLANTIC OCEAN (NNS) — The Nimitz-Class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) became one of the few ships in the fleet to trap and launch the F-35C Lightning II, Sept. 3.

The “Grim Reapers” of Strike Fighter Squadron 101 (VFA 101), from Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, are the training squadron for the F-35C.

“The F-35C is still in a testing phase, so it is not fully operational yet,” said Lt. Cmdr. Chris Karapostoles, a pilot assigned to VFA 101. “We are the training squadron for the F-35C, so we are onboard this ship conducting our carrier qualification training, qualifying pilots, landing signal officers and maintenance crews.”

The launching and recovering of the F-35Cs presented an opportunity for the crew of Abraham Lincoln to work with a new aircraft and play a role in the development of this new fighter jet.

F-35C testing aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, October 2 2016

“Being part of the primary flight control team for the landing and launching of the F-35Cs was such a unique experience,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Airman Mariana Monima. “The F-35Cs are so amazing and powerful. I feel privileged to have been a part of this historic event.”

According to the F-35 Lightning II Pax River Integrated Test Force, the F-35C should reach its initial operational capacity in 2018.

“I love the F-35C,” said Karapostoles. “Compared to other jets it’s more powerful and really just a beast. Some of the controls are different, which can take a little bit of getting used to, but that’s what we have training like this for.”

According to the Joint Strike Fighter Fleet Integration Office, the F-35C will introduce next generation strike-fighter aircraft capabilities to the Navy Carrier Air Wings, enabling the Carrier Strike Groups and numbered fleets to effectively engage and survive a wide range of rapidly evolving threats.

Abraham Lincoln is underway conducting training after successful completion of carrier incremental availability.


United Technologies to buy Rockwell Collins in multi-billion dollar deal

Credit: John Kent

United Technologies is buying avionics and aircraft parts manufacturer Rockwell Collins in a deal considered one of the largest in aerospace history.

The total sale will cost United Technologies $30 billion U.S. The deal was announced Monday.

What’s the reason behind the purchase?

The transaction creates an aircraft-parts giant better positioned to withstand the squeeze from plane makers Boeing and Airbus for pricing discounts and higher output, Bloomberg News reports. It pointed out that the “resulting company will boast a broad suite of products for commercial aircraft, from Rockwell Collins’s touchscreen cockpit displays to jet engines made by the Pratt & Whitney division of United Technologies.”

Pratt & Whitney makes the engine for the F-35, among other aircraft.

“This acquisition adds tremendous capabilities to our aerospace businesses and strengthens our complementary offerings of technologically advanced aerospace systems,” UTC Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Greg Hayes said in a statement. “Together, Rockwell Collins and UTC Aerospace Systems will enhance customer value in a rapidly evolving aerospace industry by making aircraft more intelligent and more connected.”

Collins Aerospace Systems will be the name of the new unit, according to United Technologies.


Dutch Air Force updating RCAF on F-35 acquisition

(Photo above shows a Dutch air force F-35 at Abbotsford International Air Show. Photo by Mark Pugliese)

Dutch air force officers are updating their Canadian counterparts about their progress on the acquisition of F-35 fighter jets as the aircraft’s manufacturer tries to convince the Liberal government of the plane’s suitability as an interim replacement for aging CF-18s.

Lt.-Gen. Dennis Luyt, the head of the Royal Netherlands Air Force, said his organization has been providing updates to Canada on its F-35 purchase and aircrew training. “They are very interested in our experiences,” Luyt said in a recent interview.

“We’re on track,” he added. “It’s looking very promising.”

The Netherlands is purchasing the F-35A as the replacement for its F-16 fighter jets. The Dutch parliament approved an initial order of eight aircraft in March 2015.

The first aircraft are to be delivered in 2019 and Dutch pilots and maintenance crews are currently undergoing training in the U.S. The Netherlands will purchase up to 37 F-35s.

A Dutch air force F-35 was recently on display at the international air show in Abbotsford, B.C.

Luyt said if Canada does eventually buy the F-35, that acquisition would further strengthen the user group of nations operating the plane. Having allied air forces capable of being interoperable with each other is important, he added. “If we operate the same platform it’s obviously a big thing,” Luyt explained.

AF1 Pilot Giggs, AF2 Pilot Griffiths. Tom Reynolds Chase photographer. Public release approved John Kent

In a June 1 letter, Lockheed Martin offered the Liberal government the F-35 as an “interim” fighter aircraft.

Last year, the Liberals announced a proposal to buy 18 interim fighter jets from Boeing to deal with a capability gap facing the Royal Canadian Air Force. But that multibillion dollar plan to acquire Super Hornet jets has been thrown into limbo after Boeing filed a trade complaint in the U.S. against Bombardier of Quebec. The Liberal government broke off discussions with Boeing on the Super Hornet deal.

Lockheed Martin has seen opportunity in the rift and has told the Liberals it can deliver F-35s on a similar schedule that was being considered for the Boeing planes. Lockheed Martin president Marillyn Hewson said in the June 1 letter to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and then procurement minister Judy Foote, that Canada could acquire the F-35 at a cost of between $80 million U.S. and $85 million U.S. per aircraft.

Sajjan’s office stated that no decisions have been made about the interim fighter jet and that various options are being looked at.

Luyt said the Netherlands conducted an extensive process to purchase a new fighter jet. “The biggest thing we needed (was) to make a technology leap to a 5th Generation aircraft” he pointed out.

Part of the consideration in selecting the F-35 was interoperability with U.S. forces. If the Dutch air force goes into combat it will likely be with the U.S. “That (interoperability) is an important consideration but not the only one,” Luyt explained.

Every F-35 contains components manufactured by Dutch companies, Lockheed Martin has noted. On Aug. 16, the U.S. Department of Defense announced the overseas warehouse and distribution centre for parts for F-35s in Europe would be located in the Netherlands.

Luyt said one of the other main attractions of the F-35 is that it will be constantly upgraded. “It will be state of the art for decades,” he added.


Lockheed Martin receives $427.1M for F-35 production

Aug. 22 (UPI) — Lockheed Martin Aeronautics is receiving a $427.1 million order against an existing contract for ancillary and pilot flight equipment for F-35 Lightning II production, the Department of Defense announced on Monday.

The equipment will go toward low-rate Lot 11 F-35 construction for the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and foreign military participants in the program. The work will primarily take place in Inglewood, Calif., and White Plains, N.Y., with an expected completion date of December 2020.

The F-35 Lightning II 5th generation stealth fighter is slated to replace much of the U.S. fighter fleet and many foreign air forces. The U.S. is by far the largest customer, with an expected procurement of well over 2000 aircraft for the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. Foreign customers are also expected to purchase hundreds of the aircraft, including key members of NATO.

The F-35 is the most expensive weapons program in U.S. history and has been marked by delays, cost overruns, and development problems. The Block 3F software package required to make it fully operational is still pending fixes and final verification, though Lockheed says the software issues will be resolved by the end of 2017.


UK F-35B – on final approach to the HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier

The countdown is now on for the return of UK Carrier Strike. TIM ROBINSON reports from BAE Systems Warton on the behind the scenes activity to make the Lockheed Martin F-35B ready for the Royal Navy’s new Queen Elizabeth class.

In just over a year’s time, one lucky UK test pilot is set to perform a historic flight – the first landing of a new fighter aircraft on a brand-new aircraft carrier – a double first that is a major milestone. “This is the SuperBowl of flight test – a once in a lifetime opportunity,” enthuses RAF F-35B test pilot Squadron Leader Andy Edgell. The majestic entrance of HMS Queen Elizabeth into Portsmouth earlier this week and the pride and excitement surrounding it, is an indicator of the importance that the first F-35B landing on the carrier will carry.

Indeed, while next year it will be eight years since the retirement of the iconic Harrier, you have to go back over 50 years to 1963 when Hawker test pilot Bill Bedford made the first jet fighter vertical landing on an aircraft carrier on HMS Ark Royal in the P.1127. The rest, as they say, is history with the Harrier, Sea Harrier and AV-8 being adopted for shipborne operations by the UK, USMC, Italy, India, Spain and Thailand.

Fast forward to 2017 and Edgell (UK MoD First of Class Flight Trials (FOCFT) Lead Test Pilot) is one of the UK F-35B test pilots embedded into the JSF Integrated Test Force at the US Navy’s Paxutent River flight test centre in Maryland.

His role in the US, (like his colleagues Cdr Steve Crockatt (RN and Team Leader) Cdr Nath Gray (RN), Sqn Ldr Ben Hullah (RAF) and BAE Systems’ own Pete ‘Wizzer’ Wilson) as a developmental test pilot is to define the edges of the envelope, investigate handling and focus on safety.

Edgell stresses that this developmental testing (higher, faster and, occasional, slowest) is separate from the F-35 work undertaken from the RAF’s 17(R) Sqn at Edwards AFB that concentrates on weapon employment, combat tactics and how to use the fighter operationally.

This team (along with UK engineers, maintainers and support personnel from the RN, RAF and industry) have been busy this year conducting the second phase of land-based F-35B ski-jump testing at Pax River – a critical stage in proving that the F-35B is ready to go to sea in 2018. Over 70% of the ski-jumps needed have now been completed with the team working on the toughest challenges, such as maximum stores asymmetry and crosswinds (One drawback of the land-based ski jump testing at Pax River is that the team have to wait for the wind conditions to co-operate for the correct speed and direction.)

These pilots are also tasked with developing and de-risking the new Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL) technique which will allow higher bring-back of stores in hot climates than the traditional hover. This uses a straight-in approach with the aircraft slowing from about 140kt to approximately 60kt over the carrier’s stern –  with the aircraft still getting some aerodynamic lift from the wings. As well as allowing higher bring-back weights, SRVL also has side benefits, such as reduced wear and tear on the LiftFan and less damage on the same landing deck ‘spot’ from the powerful rear-nozzle exhaust.

While some critics worry that it could be more workload-intensive in bad weather or a fouled deck, others describe it as a ‘doddle’ in the sim. One F-35B pilot is sanguine about the technique, pointing out that a short, slow landing is nothing new for land-based Harriers and observes: “In fact, if we were still operating Harriers now, we’d probably be using it”. It will thus be for Edgell, Wizzer and the rest of the team to prove this concept at sea.

STOVL comes home

BAE Systems test pilot Pete ‘Wizzer’ Wilson pilots a fully bombed-up F-35B BK-2 off the ski-jump at Pax River. (US Navy)

Then, in the fourth quarter of 2018, off the east coast of the US will be the main event – the first F-35B at sea testing aboard the Queen Elizabeth. Edgell says that four pilots will be assigned to the task, with two aircraft to be used over two four-week periods with a break in between. With a heavy flying schedule, a break in the middle will be welcome for pilots, engineers and deck crew to keep concentration at the highest. He expects that, after getting to grips with the ship and carrier qualifications for the pilots, the first four weeks will see ski-jump take-offs and vertical landings during the day/night and with the deck dry and wet to get comfortable.

The next phase in the second four-week period, will hopefully see the SRVL testing for real, as well as more challenging testing, including stores, asymmetric loads and high-deck motion STOVL operations. Inert stores will be used in these trials, as there is no requirement to conduct the testing with live weapons or do firings “We’ve already proved live weapons will fall off this jet” says Edgell. Following these two trials next year, a third development period is scheduled some nine months later in 2019.

While this testing will mark a milestone in the RN’s next-generation Carrier Strike capability, earlier in 2018 will also see the first UK F-35Bs with 617 Sqn roar into RAF Marham. This opens a new stealth chapter in the Services history and, appropriately enough, the RAF’s 100th anniversary year. Last month (July) saw another UK aircraft (BK-11) delivered to 617 at MCAS Beaufort, with the squadron expected to have 14 by the end of this year. In another sign of a transition to a front-line operational squadron, the first four UK ab-initio pilots, direct from fast-jet training at RAF Valley have just joined the squadron. Initial Operating Capability is expected at RAF Marham by the end of 2018.

These, the final steps in a journey that started many decades ago with the question: ‘What replaces the Harrier?’ and has passed through projects like JAST, CALF, X-35/X-32 and now the JSF are thus nearing the finish line and will see the RN, RAF, MoD and industry working together to deliver the UK’s new potent carrier strike in around 2020.

Honing vertical landings in Warton

The new F-35 QEC integration simulator at BAE Warton also includes a ‘FLYCO’ control room. (BAE Systems)

Supporting the UK developmental flight test team at Pax River is BAE Systems, where some 50+ years of Harrier experience is being brought together to make the F-35B the easiest and safest VTOL fighter ever to operate from a ship. Just opened earlier in March, BAE Systems F-35/QEC simulation facility at Warton, Lancashire is a key part in testing and de-risking fixed wing naval operations. Simulation and modelling is highly critical for the Queen Elizabeth and F-35B, not just because of the increased fidelity and processing power available but also with the UK having been out of the fixed-wing carrier game for seven years – nothing and no detail too small is being taken for granted. For example, CFD modelling of wind interaction around the distinctive twin islands is incorporated in the simulator.

The most challenging area to model, notes BAE’s David Atkinson in charge of the new facility, is in the F-35Bs transition phase between conventional wing-borne and vertical flight.

BAE says that the £2m facility, which includes a moving platform F-35 cockpit, dome visual system and a simulated QEC FLYCO (Flying Control), is its most sophisticated flight simulator yet. It uses 64 processors and 1TB RAM and allows test pilots to practice, train and rehearse safely before they even get to the ship. The inclusion of a FLYCO in the room next door also allows Royal Navy LSO (Landing Signal Officers) to experience, train and develop CONOPS in controlling F-35B launch and recovery operations. Cameras give a gyro-stabilised view of pilots’ approach with gradient and centreline guides marked. BAE is also trialling video gaming virtual reality headsets to allow LSOs to immerse themselves in a virtual FLYCO and see exactly what they would see onboard the real ship.

So, what is the value of this facility to highly experienced test pilots, some of whom have already taken the F-35B to sea, albeit on US Navy assault ships? Says Sqn Ldr Edgell: “As testers you are inherently cynical. However good the modelling is, we have to do it for real. However, it builds confidence and tells where we need to focus our efforts. It also potentially allows us to take bigger steps towards the edge of the envelope.”

Hands on with the F-35B

In the F-35B, much of the hard work has been taken out of precision hovering thanks to its amazing flight control software. (Lockheed Martin)

So, what is the F-35B like to fly? Thanks to the pioneering work of UK’s DERA (now DSTL/QinetiQ) VAAC Harrier testbeds and test pilots like Justin Paines and John Farley in developing advanced FBW software for VTOL aircraft – it is extremely simple. Whereas the Jedi-like skills are needed to control the Harrier in the hover requires movement of throttle, nozzle control and stick and has been likened to ‘balancing on the top of a pencil while needing three hands’, the F-35B’s fly-by-wire controls are just a sidestick and throttle HOTAS – with the flight computers doing all the hard work. (It is noteworthy that the UK is the only country after the US to have its own lines of code in in the F-35 software).

To assist pilots coming into land, there are two velocity vectors – a traditional one, and a ship-shaped one – showing where the ship will be. The ship’s speed is also entered into the flight management computer via the touchscreen display.

Approaching the ship from behind at around 170kt and 500ft, once at 200ft the pilot hits the ‘brake’ deceleration button and the aircraft begins slowing and transitioning to a hover, with the LiftFan engaging and the rear nozzle swivelling down for vertical flight. Once slowed down, the pilot can swing to the left side of the ship. The aircraft’s flight computers now cleverly match the ship’s speed, with the pilot pushing forward on the control sidestick (or inceptor) to go down. At 100ft and about a wingspan across from the deck, the pilot is thus ready to transition sideways over the deck, with fine hovering control being provided by the moving rear nozzle, LiftFan and the STOVL roll jets at the tips of the wings. At this point, with the flight controls engaged and the aircraft happily matching speed with the ship, the pilot can even take his (or her) hands off the controls – a move that would most likely be suicidal in the Harrier for the average squadron pilot.

Hitting another thumb switch on the HOTAS throttle engages a translational controller mode, enabling the pilot to slide across in the hover and line up with the centreline. Once in position – it is a case of pushing forward on the sidestick to a software-controlled stop to descend and put the aircraft firmly on the deck. At this point, control of the engine thrust and vertical motion has passed to the right hand, rather than the left hand – which on the first occasion is slightly disconcerting to push full forward on what is normally a pitch control, some 50ft above a deck.

Those raised on Call of Duty Xbox controllers will have no problems. Feet on the brakes and the aircraft lands itself. Effectively with these flight controls you are flying an aeroplane that cannot stall and where intuitive pull back/go up and push forward/go down still work – even when hovering. Says BAE: “The control philosophy is such that the left-hand commands go-faster / go-slower whilst the right-hand commands the aircraft to go-up / go-down and go-left / go-right. Each hand commands a response in the same axis in both wing-borne and jet-borne flight.” It is not quite the ‘take me home and land the aircraft automatically coffee bar button’ that legendary Harrier test pilot John Farley often joked about as something that a future VTOL fighter would need, but it is close.

Taking off is even simpler. Line up on the centreline for the ramp. Hold feet on brakes – move throttle to detent and then to full and it will take-off, with just rudder pedals used to keep on track. No sidestick control movements are needed – although pilots will guard the control stick with a hand.

Interestingly, for those wondering about the SRVL and stopping a heavy aircraft without an arrestor wire on a short deck, this correspondent found that the carrier’s deck proved remarkably ‘sticky’ with a fair bit of throttle needed to get the aircraft moving. BAE says the modelling in the simulator includes dry, wet and flooded decks – and it has also carried out friction studies with F-35 tyres and the deck material.

The UK – a vital part of the global F-35 supply chain

Advanced lean manufacturing of rear fuselage sections at BAE Samlesbury. (BAE Systems)

But it is not just in-flight test and simulation where the UK is deeply involved with F-35. Down the road from Warton at BAE Systems’ factory in Samlesbury is evidence of the huge industrial and supply chain involvement in this programme – with the company machining and building aft fuselages, horizontal and vertical tails for almost every F-35 made. While all eyes were on Portsmouth earlier this week, Wednesday also saw a significant industrial milestone passed for the F-35 – with the 318th rear fuselage section produced at Samlesbury rolled off the production. This represents just 10% of the final global production total.

Inside BAE’s Samlesbury facility,  a highly automated, cutting-edge facility building and assembling precision components for F-35 the sheer scale of the programme is apparent. After a slow start Samlesbury is now in the middle of production ramp-up, as the F-35 programme goes into high-gear – supplying assembly lines in Fort Worth, Texas, Italy and now Japan. This year it will ship 92 aft fuselages, 78 horizontal tails and 83 vertical tails (other facilities in Australia and Canada building the difference in HT/VT and aft fuselages). This represents a 30% increase in the production rate, with another 30% increase in 2018.

This is just part of the UK’s involvement in the gigantic global F-35 programme – which eventually could see over 3,000 aircraft produced. As well as the aft empennage and wingfold for the F-35C carrier variant, BAE provides the EW system, HOTAS (or active inceptors) and vehicle management computer, as well as being the lead design authority for the fuel system, crew escape system and life support, with 1,525 people directly employed by BAE on the F-35. Looking wider, it is estimated that the F-35 will sustain some 25,000 UK jobs in 500 companies when it hits peak production rate in 2020. These range from big names like Rolls-Royce (LiftFan), Martin Baker (ejection seat) MBDA/Raytheon (UK weapons integration) to smaller SMEs.

All told, some 15% by value of the F-35 is made by UK companies. Additionally, because the UK invested early in the programme as a Tier 1 partner, it also receives royalties for every FMS F-35 sold (eg Israel and South Korea).

A hidden benefit – enhanced competitiveness

Laser inspection of 500 data points on a machined titanium part. (BAE Systems)

While the sheer scale of the F-35 programme will keep British companies busy for the next 30 or more years producing parts and systems, there could another useful spin off – increased global competitiveness.

For example, a machining subcontractor for BAE Systems, Hyde Aero Products based in Stockport, notes how its $7m investment in precision machining in 2006 needed to satisfy the stringent requirements of F-35, means that it is now a step or “half-step” ahead for meeting its other customers’ requirements for civil aerospace, such as Airbus. UK companies and SMEs involved in F-35 thus have all had to raise their game in precision, quality controls and even cybersecurity (and continue to do so) while driving down the cost. These exacting standards for a military stealth fighter thus may bring wider benefits for UK companies, improving their overall competitiveness on the aerospace global marketplace. The F-35’s massive production scale also means that these companies have the opportunity to hone their manufacturing skills and invest heavily for the future, in comparison perhaps with other products or aircraft where production runs are extremely low.

This is particularly important post-Brexit, when UK aerospace firms in the Airbus supply chain may have to fight harder and demonstrate enhanced levels of competitiveness to win (or retain) work on new programmes.

With Britain set to be the home for F-35 avionics MRO in Europe, sustainment and upgrades will also be key opportunities over the long life of the programme. Steve Simm, from UK defence lab DSTL, which has been involved from even before F-35 in giving independent technical evaluations, airworthiness and projects like VAAC, notes that there are three areas that might offer opportunities for the UK in future F-35 upgrades – sensors, all round survivability and interoperability. Can the UK exploit some of its aerospace and defence technology innovation to keep the F-35 at the very tip of spear over the rest of what could be a long service career?

Rough water ahead?

As well as the ship itself, can the UK afford all the other parts of a carrier battle group? (MoD)

This is not to say that it will all be plain sailing for the UK and F-35. Questions still remain about the affordability of the full buy of 138 F-35s – particularly given that being priced in US dollars means that the jet is getting more expensive for Britain – with the MoD spending on the jet rising by 10% in the past year. Extra hidden costs, such as 200 early aircraft that need to be modified and re-worked to raise them to a common standard, also threaten to increase the price for customers.

There are also concerns about the connectivity and networking of UK F-35Bs and whether enough attention has been paid to allow it to share the vast amounts of data outside of its own circle of other Lightning IIs. Crowsnest, for example, the organic Merlin AEW is a critical part of the carrier group’s air wing and vital in exploiting the F-35’s sensor fusion. These communication and data networks are perhaps less ‘sexy’ than flying hardware itself, but all as important to get right and invest in.

Some worry too that, in the pursuit of its long-awaited two huge flagships, the RN has hollowed itself out and that it now so short of frigates and destroyers it is unable to perform even basic missions. Others argue that the rise of supersonic cruise missiles have now rendered the flatdeck obsolete. Meanwhile, some critics point that while the F-35 is certainly lucrative to UK plc, it does little to create onshore IP for Britain.

Other news might be less important, but still make for embarrassing headlines. It is ironic that a football stadium in London has reportedly more effective anti-drone jamming defences than the nation’s flagship – even if the carrier was not at sea at the time. There is also likely to negative publicity if, for example, the first operational detachment of F-35Bs on HMS Queen Elizabeth turns out to be USMC F-35Bs – despite the strong historical links between the US Marine and UK Harrier forces and cross-decking in the past.

Worth the sticker price?

Worries about the rising cost have plagued the programme from the beginning (and indeed are not unique to F-35). However, the US lead, slick marketing and opaque claims of this fighter’s secret capabilities has fuelled criticism that the jet is an expensive white elephant.

Of course, until the F-35 has blooded itself in actual combat, the jury is still out and it is difficult for external observers to judge some of the claims and counter-claims. While Lockheed Martin’s publicity machine has boasted of 10-to-1 kill ratios in classified simulations, the results of the F-35’s combat effectiveness in mock battles are now leaking out into the real world, as the jet matures, more pilots fly it and it takes part in more joint exercises.

One example – earlier this year at the first outing of the USAF F-35As at Red Flag saw one morning where a glitch in the cryptography codes meant that no F-35As could fly that day. Having raised the simulated threat levels to give the F-35As a peer-level challenge, the result, says LM, was that flying without F-35As that day, the rest of the entire ‘legacy’ Blue Force was massacred outright.

Other Red Flag exercises with the USMC F-35B also are backing up these results and hint, that if anything, that estimated kill ratios in favour of the Lightning II may have been underestimated. It is worth noting, that Red Flag and similar exercises are designed to provide pilots with the most challenging threat scenarios that (short of aliens invading) can be imagined. In the past, pilots have reported that, apart from enemies with live weapons, actual combat seemed to them ‘easier’ that the final punishing Red Flag scenario.

Today’s sophisticated PC simulations, such as CMANO, (though using unclassified data), can also help explain why, being on the receiving end of a stealth fighter is (in the words of one player) like ‘being in a dark room with a tentacled monster while it decides which orifice to explore’.

However, it is important to remember that stealth is not just a LO airframe but a combination of aircraft and tactics. It is here where the UK’s unique access and position, (not only in the industrial, flight test and development areas) will pay off, in helping to shape the tactics that will enable operators of the F-35 to dominate tomorrows battlespace. As new UK Lightning Force Commander, Air Commodore David Bradshaw, RAF observes: “We have played a fundamental role within the F-35 programme, the world’s largest single defence programme. As the only Level 1 partner we have had incredible influence and access”.

Finally, there is the changed geopolitical environment that the UK and other partner air forces now find themselves in. A decade ago, with a focus on COIN and Afghanistan, it may well have been a valid question as to why Britain needed an expensive stealth fighter to strike an enemy without an air force. Today, that certainty has changed and peer and near-peer threats and competitions are evolving fast – along with the proliferation of advanced radars, SAMs and fighter weapon systems. The Baltics, Ukraine, Syria, the South China Sea, Korea and even the Arctic are now actual and potential flashpoints of the future. Who knows where the HMS Queen Elizabeth, PoW and their F-35s will sail in the future in the next half century?


Big decks and fast jets are back. (BAE Systems)

The return of Carrier Strike marks a new chapter for the UK. Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales will give the country a multirole floating airbase, able to project power, deploy transport and attack helicopters and operate fixed wing aircraft – and, most probably one day, UAVs.

While the F-35 is by itself impressive as the first exportable ‘fifth generation’ stealth fighter – the F-35B should be recognised as a British engineering marvel. It is a supersonic stealth strike fighter that goes to sea – all enabled by British developed and designed STOVL technology, flight controls and the R-R LiftFan.

Some might argue, that the B model is the runt of the litter, with a reduced range and payload compared to As or Cs. However, it is notable that Israel, Singapore and Taiwan (as well as the UK, USMC and Italy who are acquiring the B) have all been mentioned as having an interest in the STOVL model. In this age of precision missiles able to easily target runways and hangars with almost 100% accuracy, could the ultra-flexible B variant one day, be the only jet fighter that a country is able to operate from small pieces of concrete while other airbases are filled with smoking wreckage?

The road has been a long one and is not over yet but, finally Great Britain is set to return to its place as a foremost exponent of naval air power. The UK, which in the post-WW2 era invented the carrier angled deck and landing mirror – making jet carrier aviation at sea viable, along with the iconic jump jet which provided a flexibility never seen before, is thus on the final circuit and approach to Carrier Strike. Indeed, it needs to be remembered that smaller, cheaper Harrier and Invincible class were originally consolation prizes for the supersonic, radar-equipped Hawker P.1154 jump-jet and the RN’s CVA-01 super carrier being axed in the 1960s. Half a century later, with F-35B and Queen Elizabeth, the wheel has come full circle.

One would like to imagine, that a certain famous Scottish naval test pilot, now sadly no longer with us, will be watching that first landing with a twinkle in his eye.

Tim Robinson
18 August 2017


UK’s new £3bn warship HMS Queen Elizabeth arrives in Portsmouth [VIDEOS]

HMS Queen Elizabeth is being described as “a demonstration of British military power and commitment to a bigger global role”.

Britain’s biggest-ever warship has arrived at its base in Portsmouth for the first time. 

Hundreds of people lined Portsmouth Harbour to welcome HMS Queen Elizabeth, an aircraft carrier which cost more than £3bn to build.

The 280m (918ft) vessel set sail in June from the Rosyth dockyard where it was built, and since then has been undergoing tests at sea.

Technically, it remains a civilian rather than a military ship until it is commissioned later this year.

It is also an aircraft carrier which does not yet have fixed-wing aircraft on board. F-35B Lightning II jets are still being built and tested in the US, and the ship won’t be fully operational until 2020.

Those on board and watching from the shore were treated to two separate flypasts of Royal Navy helicopters, the first featuring a Sea King, two Mk2 Merlins and two Mk3 Merlins, which were then joined by two Hawk jets for the second.

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said: “She is Britain’s statement to the world: a demonstration of British military power and our commitment to a bigger global role.

“The thousands of people across the UK who have played a part in building her and her sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales, should be immensely proud as our future flagship enters Portsmouth.”

The behemoth aircraft carrier sailed into the Solent before heading into Portsmouth, where, at its narrowest point, there was less than 20m (66ft) clearance on each side.

The band of the Royal Marines played as the ship slowly navigated into the harbour, which has had to be dredged to make room.

HMS Queen Elizabeth manoeuvred towards a new extended and reinforced jetty under her own power before tugs nudged her gently into position.

An 820ft (250m) exclusion zone, enforced by armed police in small boats, meant the port was effectively closed to the flotilla of boats that had turned out to greet the ship.

Lt Cdr Neil Twigg, a fast jet pilot responsible for integrating the F-35 fighter jet into the carrier group, said: “We are very ready, there is still a lot more work to be done, the aircraft is still going through its testing programme in America and the ship has still some more sea trials but we are on the right track.”

But Admiral Chris Parry, a former senior Royal Navy officer, told Sky News that HMS Queen Elizabeth offers “real military power” to deter rogue states – as well as terrorist groups such as Islamic State.


HMS Queen Elizabeth: Britain’s biggest ever warship set to return to UK this week

The UK’s largest ever warship will arrive back in the UK this week after completing the latest round of sea trials, the Royal Navy has confirmed.

The £3 billion HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to arrive in Portsmouth on Wednesday, a day earlier than previously expected, after weather conditions had formerly prevented the exact date from being set.

The 65,000-tonne carrier, the largest warship ever to be built in Britain, is expected to be the Navy’s flagship craft for at least 50 years.

The 280-metre vessel was previously forecast to reach its Hampshire base between August 17-22, after setting out from Scotland’s Rosyth dockyard in June.

More than 60 Royal Navy sailors and Royal Marines took part in a training exercise aboard the American USS George HW Bush earlier this month, in preparation for the ship’s entry into service.

USS George HW Bush

The carrier will remain without aircraft until flying trials are conducted in the United States next year, with 10 F-35 Lightning II jets and 120 aircrew expected to take part.

Preparations for the ship’s arrival, along with its 700 staff, saw more than 3.2 million cubic metres of sediment removed from Portsmouth harbour to enable her to reach her future docking at Portsmouth Naval Base.

In a statement on August 7, Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon heralded the HMS Queen Elizabeth’s impending arrival, and declared that it would be deployed “across the seven seas, using her strike power to deter our enemies”.

Sir Michael visited the craft for the first time in July, when he hailed the return of “big decks and fast jets”, and described the large-scale engineering project as “great for British industry”.

The warship is expected to arrive in Portsmouth shortly after 7am on Wednesday, where it will become the latest in a long line of prestigious ships to be docked in the port.




UK F-35B makes first “ski jump” loaded with Paveway IV and ASRAAM missiles

Photo: Arnel Parker

A short take-off vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B Lightning II aircraft took off from the ski jump loaded with Paveway IV and ASRAAM missiles for the first time, BAE Systems announced.

Installed at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, the ski jump is similar to that which will be used on the Royal Navy’s two new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.

According to BAE Systems, aircraft BF-02 was piloted by the company’s test pilot Peter ‘Wizzer’ Wilson, the same pilot who was the first to launch the F-35B STOVL variant from a ski-jump.

The aircraft load-out was a UK-specific one as both ASRAAM and Paveway IV are in service with UK’s Tornado and Typhoon fleet of aircraft.

The F-35B is the most expensive of the three aircraft variants and the UK is planning on acquiring close to 140 of them. The acquired aircraft will be used by both the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.

Ship-borne trials of the aircraft aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth are expected to start in late 2018 with initial operational capability slated for 2020.


Navy Looks at Accelerating Super Hornet Transitions

Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Navy is looking at ways to accelerate the phase-out of F/A-18C “Classic” Hornet strike fighters from its carrier air wings and replacing the last few squadrons with F/A-18E Super Hornets, a Navy spokeswoman said.

“As we balance operational requirements and our initiatives to build the most capable and ready forward-deployed force, we are identifying the most efficient and effective way to safely transition the last four Navy operational Hornet squadrons to Super Hornets,” Cmdr. Jeannie Groeneveld, public affairs officer for commander, Naval Air Forces, said in an e-mail to Seapower.

“In order to provide our most capable warfighting force forward, the Navy began the first of the final transitions of our four operational F/A-18C Hornet squadrons to F/A-18E Super Hornet squadrons in July, with an expected completion in [fiscal] ’19. Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 131, was the first of the four squadrons to begin the transition last month.”

The other three F/A-18C squadrons, all based at Naval Air Station Oceana, Va., are VFA-34, VFA-37 and VFA-83.

“Accelerating the transition to Super Hornets will allow cost savings and reduce depot maintenance workload,” Groeneveld said. “As the Navy approaches the end of the extended service life for Hornets, the cost per flight hour continues to increase. Additionally, there are shortages in the Department of the Navy’s spare parts and supply system that have contributed to flight line readiness challenges, as well as our ability to extend the service lives of these airframes.”

She also said the transitions give the Navy the opportunity to select its best-condition Hornets for use by the Marine Corps and by Navy support and reserve units, such as Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center, Fighter Composite Squadron 12, Reserve squadron VFA-204 and the Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels.

The Navy is confident it will be able to continue to support all operational requirements as it completes transition of the Hornet fleet to Super Hornets,” she said.

Congress has supported the Navy’s requirements for increased Super Hornet procurement to bridge the gap to the fleet introduction of the F-35C Lightning II strike fighter. The first fleet squadron to make the transition to the F-35C will be VFA-147 in 2018.