By Taylor Marvin
Sorry that it’s all F-35 week, but in potentially very big news the Cameron government has decided that the Royal Navy will purchase F-35Bs, rather than the longer range, more capable catapult launched C variant. The justification for the reversal is short-term cost: refitting one on the two Queen Elizabeth carriers under construction with the catapult systems necessary to launch the F-35C and other large aircraft was judged to expensive, with the savings hoped to offset the higher price tag and greater uncertainty of the short takeoff vertical landing B variant.
Lewis Page makes the obvious criticism of the decision:
“In fact it’s a lot worse than it seems, as the contest in real life was not between the F-35B and the F-35C: it was between the F-35B and – for the immediate future – one or another cheap, powerful, modern carrier jet already in service. This would most most likely have been the F-18 Hornet as used by the US Navy and many other air forces around the globe, but possibly the French Rafale instead of or alongside Hornets.”
Is this good news for the troubled B variant? Unfortunately for Lockheed, probably not — while the Royal Navy buy will look good on press releases and avert the specter of Boeing jumping into the British market (gasp!) with their proven F/A-18 series, the UK was never buying enough F-35s to have any meaningful impact on the unit price. The F-35, B variant especially, will live or die in congress, not the international market.
At least the Cameron government isn’t the only one bullish on the F-35B. Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the USS Midway museum — it’s a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it if you’re ever in downtown San Diego.
The museum has a small model of the US Navy’s upcoming Gerald R. Ford class aircraft carrier:
The X-47B-type drones on the deck are interesting, as is the mix of F-35s and Super Hornets. The model maker is clearly optimistic about the use of combat drones on future carriers.
More unexpected: the F-35 variants shown are the Marines’ F-35Bs (look at the lift fan doors behind the cockpit and the shape of the tailplanes), not the Navy’s F-35C. Since the STOVL variant will serve on amphibious assault ships like the Wasp and upcoming America class, depicting them on a CVN’s an odd choice.
Anyway, here’s a F/A-18A in Russian aggressor colors if you’re interested.