Up to 150 aircraft to be ordered, but MoD to pursue a larger than necessary CV carrier

The UK has selected the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) version of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) over the US Navy's aircraft carrier (CV) variant. In a linked decision, the Ministry of Defence has told teams led by BAE Systems and Thales that it intends to pursue a larger CV carrier rather than a STOVL dedicated ship.

The UK plans to order up to 150 JSFs to replace BAE Systems/Boeing Harrier GR9/As from 2012. The acquisition is expected to be worth £10 billion ($15.5 billion) on top of the £2 billion contributed to the on-going JSF system development and demonstration.

Defence procurement minister Lord Bach says "the STOVL variant fully meets all our needs and builds on the UK's unique STOVL experience". Chief of the air staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Peter Squire, says the variant offers improved flexibility as, for instance, it can be operated in seas too rough for conventional carrier operations.

Bach says the MoD will order the slightly larger CV carrier- equipped with a ski-jump to operate STOVL aircraft and "for, but not with" the catapults and arrestor gear for non-STOVL aircraft - to "future proof" the ships. "It is highly desirable [for CVF] to be compatible with a further generation beyond the F-35, even if it is not STOVL," he says.

Observers suggest the MoD's approach provides a fallback position should the STOVL JSF not proceed. Bach denies this, saying: "We know the CVFs may last 50 years, we don't know if STOVL will last this time".

Sir Robert Walmsley, chief of defence procurement, says a CVF "bigger than strictly necessary" will cost up to an additional £150 million - £3 billion has been allocated for two ships. The MoD is due to select a winner early next year.

The CVF will operate 48JSFs, four airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft and six AgustaWestland EH101/Merlin helicopters.

Building the CVF without "cats and traps" effectively eliminates the Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye from the RN's future AEW competition, leaving the Bell Boeing V-22 tiltrotor or an adapted Merlin as the likely platform. BAE and Thales are also competing for MAS, with a selection also due early next year.


Source: Flight International