“With a 60-knot SRVL, the bring- back capability is significant,” said Wilson. “With vertical landings, you are not going to be bringing back 2,000-pound bombs but when was the last time the U.K. was using 2,000- pound weapons? More often than not we are seeing 1,000-pound or 500-pound weapons being used.”
Wilson said the SRVL work was also influencing how the Marine Corps may also use their F-35Bs on larger vessels such as the U.S. Navy's big-deck nuclear carriers. Several Navy carrier air wings feature Marine squadrons, and the Marines are examining if it might be possible to use SRVL on the larger vessels without issues with systems such as the arrestor wires.
“The B model offers huge flexibility,” said Wilson. “The U.S. Navy has 10 large-deck carriers capable of delivering first-day strike, with the F-35B operating from LHDs [landing helicopter dockships], you have then got 20 carriers capable of doing that, and that's a very different concept.”
Wilson says the choice of the F-35B for the U.K. is significant mainly because the training burden is substantially reduced, particularly compared with the AV-8B Harrier but also for conventional carrier operations. During the DT-1 deck trials on the USS Wasp in October 2011, one of the test pilots, who had previously flown F/A-18s was cleared to land on the Wasp after conducting 18 vertical landings on ground.
The U.K. is now looking to make its first significant orders for the F-35 with plans for the purchase of 14 aircraft currently winding its way through the Defense Ministry. Those plans will reach the Treasury later this year. The U.K. wants to be able to deliver an initial operating capability from land bases toward the end of 2018 and a full capability, including carrier operations by 2023.
The U.K. has a program for the operation of 138 F-35s, however it has been reported that the number could be reduced to as few as 48, with just 12 flying from a carrier at one time. A final decision on the number to be procured will not be made until the next Strategic Defense and Security Review, which is due to be undertaken in 2015.