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  • UK Defense Review - Harriers Out, Tornado Survives?
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 6:00 AM on Oct 18, 2010

    UK Prime Minister David Cameron is due to announce the results of the nation's strategic defense and security review on Tuesday afternoon. After performing twists and gyrations that would have put Strictly Come Dancing's Flexible Felicity to shame, much of the media had settled last week on a common narrative. Either it's right or the Ministry of Defence's department of obfuscation will pull down the OBEs and MBEs big-time in the next honours list.

    If the speculation and leaks are correct, these are the highlights:

    The Royal Navy's two carriers survive - with much of the rest of the surface fleet sacrificed to pay for them, sparing only their immediate consorts.

    Britain will not buy the F-35B STOVL version of the Joint Strike Fighter, 24 years after the first UK-US agreement on a Harrier replacement. Instead, the first carrier, Queen Elizabeth, will enter service as the world's biggest helicopter carrier, while the second, Prince of Wales, will be completed with catapults and arrester gear.

    The F-35C will be designated as the first aircraft for Prince of Wales, and Queen Elizabeth will be fitted with cats and arrester gear at first refit.

    The Joint Harrier Force will be retired. The RAF will get 140-some Typhoons and will retain a deep-strike force of Tornado GR4s.

    If this is correct, the implications are major. Although the decisions amount to a re-commitment to JSF, a move to cat-arrest and the abandonment of the B knocks a prop out from under the F-35B:  as long as the UK was depending on it, canceling the B was not an easy option for the US. The Marines are (to say the least) a political force to be reckoned with, but now they are on their own.

    The decisions would also delay the UK's requirement for the JSF. Although the UK carriers have been designed with space for catapults, their turbine-electric propulsion system mandates an electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS), now in its development stage. When Prince of Wales would be ready to operate aircraft is yet to be determined.

    The outcome would be a victory for RAF leaders who worried that the service's deep-strike capability would be sacrificed, if the Harriers were retained as a lead-in to F-35B. Now, the service can think about (eventually) replacing Tornado with the longer-range F-35C.

    There are RN carrier advocates who will be pleased as well. Not only does the F-35C have a longer reach, but a cat-arrest option opens the way to acquiring E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes for the AEW&C mission. The RN's Sea King ASaC7 is not a bad capability but there is only so much that you can do with its altitude and endurance.

    And the F-35B was going to need a controversial shipboard rolling vertical landing (SRVL) technique to meet performance specifications on the UK's definition of a hot day - but it would be interesting if some of QinetiQ's work in this area could be diverted into fully automated carrier landing, which would indeed be revolutionary.

    Of course, this is all speculation as yet, and there are also those who say that the decision can be deferred. But one central decision cannot be deferred any longer at a sensible price - and that is whether both carriers will be built and what aircraft they will launch.

    Tags: ar99, tacair, jsf, typhoon, harrier

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