This report by the BBC says that the MOD and government is reviewing the type of aircraft used to equip the new aircraft carriers under construction.
Already there are plans to modify one carrier to operate cat & trap aircraft to support French co-operation, but if one carrier is being fitted out for cat & trap, then why not the other? It makes sense as they can be operated in rotation, without impacting their operating status.
The report says that the government will possibly dump the STOVL version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and move to the cat & trap version instead, which makes sense as the STOVL version is more expensive and is taking an age to develop.
What's not being said of course is that by moving to Catapult-equipped carriers (ostensibly to support French Naval Rafale Fighters), it also opens up the possibility of ditching the F-35 altogether and equipping the Navy with the Rafale as well, thus sharing not only the carriers but the air platform with the French. Of course we could go our own sweet way at more expense and develop a naval variant of the Typhoon, thus keeping the UK military aircraft industry going. But can we justify the expense?
Establishing a de-facto European standard naval air platform could in all seriousness be a key driver behind all of the expensive changes being made to our carriers. I say expensive, but certainly not as expensive as having to develop aircraft that can fly off two different types of carrier.
Along with carrier and aircraft interoperability, the E2 Hawkeye early warning aircraft is being considered to replace the ageing Sea King early warning helicopter. Both the US and the French use this aircraft, adding yet another common platform. Plus it only has cat & trap capability, so unless both carriers are modified, only one carrier would have long range early warning capability, an enormous operational flaw. Well, fingers crossed they modify the carriers to suit the aircraft, as reports suggest the early warning version of the expensive and complex V-22 Osprey is also being considered, which would be able to operate off both carriers if only one is modded for C&T, but god knows how long we'd have to wait before it entered service, nor the final cost.
Its relevant to note that the Rafale and the E2 Hawkeye are already in service, neatly sidestepping the issues surrounding the F-35. After all, even America is having doubts about it, due to ever-lengthening development time, increased costs, design flaws in prototypes and a host of other issues.
Common sense says ditch the expensive, over-complex and flawed F-35, modify both carriers for cat & trap, allowing both to enjoy the same levels of operational capability, source common aircraft off the shelf, such as Rafale, F/A18 Superhornet and the E2 Hawkeye.
If the MOD decides on having only one C&T carrier thus being forced to continue with with the F-35 and then go on to procure the V-22 AEW variant, expect to be digging very deep into those taxpayer pockets, all because the MOD couldn't see the idiocy in a policy of operating two carriers with totally different operational capabilities.
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