Naval Air: To F-35B Or Not F-35B


May 3, 2012: Britain is having second thoughts about equipping its new aircraft carriers with the American F-35B vertical take-off jet. Years of development delays have driven up the price of the F-35B and reduced its performance. Deliveries have, not surprisingly, been delayed. It's gotten so bad that Britain decided last year to equip their two new carriers with catapults, so they could use the simpler, cheaper, and more reliable F-35C. But now it's been found that redesigning the carriers for catapults and installing them would cost over $2.5 billion. That's seen as too expensive in light of the shrinking defense budget. So now that plan is being revised again to bring back the F-35Bs, whenever they do arrive.

The Royal Navy is building two new 65,000 ton carriers, to replace the three existing 21,000 ton carriers (one of them inactive and in reserve). The new carriers will carry 24 F-35s each. But these aircraft and the new carriers won't be in service for another 6-8 years. At this point the F-35Bs and the new carriers are expected to show up at the same time: the end of the decade.

The F-35B, which will replace the Harrier, is a 27 ton aircraft that can carry six tons of weapons and is stealthy. In vertical takeoff mode the F-35B will carry about twice the weapons as the Harrier  and have about twice the range (800 kilometers). The 27 ton F-35B is armed with an internal 25mm cannon and four internal air-to-air missiles (or two missiles and two smart bombs) plus four external smart bombs and two missiles. All sensors are carried internally, and the aircraft is very stealthy when just carrying internal weapons.

The F-35Cs have longer range and carry nearly a ton more of weapons than the F-35B.




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