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Real Cost of the Royal Navy Carriers

August 6, 2009

The troubled plan for the Royal Navy to deploy two new jump-jet carriers, the largest warships that nation has ever built, may have reached another roadblock. Because of the Obama Administration’s plan to scrap the second Joint Strike Fighter engine for the V/STOL version, rumor has it that the British may decide to go conventional after all and forgo the ski jump for catapults. We see more costs, and more delays. From the Telegraph:

The move, welcomed by many defence analysts and the Royal Navy, will mean that the MoD has wasted £500 million of taxpayers’ money paid to Rolls Royce to develop the highly complex engine to allow vertical take-off similar to the Harrier jump jet…The decision will also have a significant impact on relations with Washington because it will increase the price of the 350 US Marine Corps jump-jet fighters that have been ordered, forcing the US military to ask for money from Congress.

The about-turn will also mean that the first of two 65,000 tonne carriers under construction, HMS Queen Elizabeth, will have to be redesigned with cost penalties. It is possible the recent £1 billion rise to £5 billion for the carriers might by partly attributable to the change of plan.

Here is where the real cost is factored in. First the British designers were dependent on being able to purchase the F-35B with American help. Now that the US has bowed out on the second engine, it is now placing all hopes on the Americans again:

The decision also comes with some risk as the Navy will be reliant on the Americans developing a new electro-magnetic catapult to launch the fighters off the carrier. “This is a real risk because the new catapult design is a major undertaking. It is not just a widget,” said a defence aviation source. “If it breaks then the planes can’t fly and the carrier is useless.”

This is the EMALS catapult system, reported to be “in serious trouble” of late with its own problems. Now there is something you can base your entire future naval strategy around!


Artist's conception is the Royal Navy version of the Joint Strike Fighter.

Artist's conception is the Royal Navy version of the Joint Strike Fighter.

Information Dissemination has more.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. solomon permalink
    August 8, 2009 4:23 am

    no prob, that was an education for me too. i had to go into the wayback machine to dope it all out. it seems that the RN/USMC did a bunch of work together on getting the Harrier to sea. and unless this latest report is accurate, they’re still doing a lot of work together to do the same for the F-35B

  2. elgatoso permalink
    August 8, 2009 4:05 am

    thanks Solomon, my bad.

  3. solomon permalink
    August 7, 2009 8:21 pm

    “The Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR.1/GR.3 and the AV-8A Harrier were the first generation of the Harrier series”

    You’re wrong Elgatoso. The Harrier first deployed with the USMC off the Iwo Jima class carriers. It would appear that the operation was in conjunction with efforts by the Royal Navy. However the first generation of Harriers operated by the British were by RAF. The later Sea Harrier was a derivative of the Harrier commissioned by the RN along with the development of the ski ramp. You are correct about the first combat deployment but only by a matter of months…the 24th MEU was assigned peacekeeping duties in Beirut (bombings) and Marines were engaged in active although unrecognized conflict during that operation.

  4. Mike Burleson permalink*
    August 7, 2009 1:42 pm

    Thanks Elgatoso! Thought so but wasn’t positive.

  5. Mike Burleson permalink*
    August 7, 2009 1:41 pm

    Elgatoso-For range and persistence, they can’t be beat!

  6. elgatoso permalink
    August 7, 2009 1:03 pm

    The first were the royal navy with the sea harrier ,the first use in combat was in the falkland war.

  7. elgatoso permalink
    August 7, 2009 1:01 pm

    Mike:I am sure thats secretary Gates will be X-47 operational quickly,now that every force see thats unmanned is the future

  8. Mike Burleson permalink*
    August 6, 2009 7:34 pm

    Britain could also be the first Navy to deploy a UAV wing to sea, just as they were first with the Harrier (or was it the US Marines?)

  9. Chuck Hill permalink
    August 6, 2009 4:54 pm

    Going conventional would also allow use of an E-2 AEW aircraft.

  10. solomon permalink
    August 6, 2009 4:38 pm

    should have read “make the most sense”….too much coffee.

  11. solomon permalink
    August 6, 2009 4:37 pm

    STOBAR/Ramp takeoff concept…

    the dirty little secret with that concept is that even with high performance aircraft, performance is seriously degraded. SU-33’s have to launch with much reduced arms and fuel…the F-35C would suffer the same fate. There are few good options…one thing that’s being left out of this story is that if they go conventional, then why not make the Typhoon carrier capable? It would make the most since from a British perspective in my opinion.

  12. DesScorp permalink
    August 6, 2009 3:06 pm

    If the F-35 program flops… a big if, for sure… then the Brits would have two options. Go conventional on the QE class carriers. Or, ramp up the Harrier production line again, and stay VSTOL on new build Invicible-class ships. Option number one may be more plausible (if the UK can actually find the money to build the new class) because, IIRC, they were designed to be relatively easy to convert to CATOBAR or STOBAR ships. Considering that the Russians have been successful with the STOBAR/Ramp takeoff concept, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Brits looking in that direction. You don’t have to install steam cats that way, which cuts out a lot of cost.

  13. Mike Burleson permalink*
    August 6, 2009 12:54 pm

    Thanks William for the update!

  14. William permalink
    August 6, 2009 12:23 pm

    I wouldn’t rely on UK newspapers for defense information, they are notoriously unreliable in their reporting.

    From the defensealk blog:

    “Report denied on Radio 4 this morning. No change: no final decision taken, but F-35B still the preferred option. i.e. exactly the same as for several years.”

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