1) ANALYSIS: UK combat air future hinges on SDSR decisions
But one of the most eagerly-awaited elements of the planning document will be its contents about the F-35B [more on the current review here].
Three of the type are already being used by the UK to support initial operational test and evaluation activities in the USA, with a fourth to be accepted during 2016. The MoD has already announced funding to acquire its first 14 operational examples, which should also be handed over from next year.
Initial operational capability with the RAF’s 617 Sqn is planned for the following year at Marham, and the UK’s second unit to be equipped with the STOVL design has already been identified as the Fleet Air Arm’s revived 809 NAS.
With the UK having previously committed to buying at least 48 F-35s but with the US programme of record still listing its interest at 138 of the type, this review could deliver a long-needed answer about how many of the fifth-generation type it needs, and more importantly, how many it can afford. Only once the MoD reveals this answer will the future strength of the UK’s combat air capability take shape.
…aircraft carriers aren’t much use without aircraft, either. Each QE-class ship can accommodate 40 aircraft of various types, but not all of those are going to be fighters. (Indeed, the British are planning to operate Queen Elizabeth with nothing but helicopters until its first F-35s are delivered). The maximum capacity for F-35s is reportedly 36 aircraft, but during routine operations, each carrier might have only a dozen F-35Bs on board [more on the carriers here and here].
Will each carrier eventually get a full complement of F-35s? “Any sort of further commitments on details… whether it’s numbers of aircraft or numbers of frigates or what have you, that will be coming out of the SDSR process,” Mordaunt said. “But what I would say [is that in the SDSR] there will also be a lot of radical thinking about the kinds of things we will be operating… .from the carriers,” not just F-35s but “other air assets, whether they’re manned or unmanned..”…
More broadly, note “Comments”: