Wednesday, 2 June 2010

F35C Versus F35B Combat Radii Applied To Historic Air Wars

The United Kingdom is currently committed to buying the F35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter for the Royal Air Force and Royal Naval Air Service.

This gives British forces four options for applying  air power in future wars:F35B from land bases;F35B from sea bases (aircraft carriers);F35C from land bases or F35C from sea bases.

We can examine the implications of these options by applying the combat radii of these aircraft types to base locations used in the seven major air wars in which the United Kingdom has participated in the 65 years since 1945.

In the following illustrations red flames indicate the area which is the main focus of combat operations.

A navy blue anchor indicates an aircraft carrier.

A light blue aeroplane indicates an air base on land.

A navy blue circle indicates the unrefueled combat radius of a sea based F35.

A red circle indicates the unrefueled combat radius of a land based F35.

Solid arrows indicate which radius is centred on each base.

Dashed arrows indicate the need for aerial refueling in order to reach the area which is the main focus of combat operations.

Click on each image to see it full size.

The Korean War 1950 to 1953.

The Suez Crisis 1956.

The Falklands War 1982.

The Guf War 1990 to 1991.

The Kosovo Conflict 1999.

The Invasion of Afghanistan 2001.

The Invasion of Iraq 2003.

The closer the operational area is to the centre of the tactical radius the better.

This permits aircraft to generate more sorties,spend more time on station or have more fuel margin for manoeuvre.

Thus allowing combat power to be delivered at a lower cost by a smaller number of combat aircraft.

Beyond the aircraft's tactical radius aerial refueling becomes essential.

Within the tactical radius the need for aerial refueling diminishes if the operational area is closer to the base area.

The cost of aerial refueling is substantial and money spent on tankers is money which cannot be spent on combat assets.

The vertical landing capability of the F35B gives it more basing options within the area of it's tactical radius.

However,the greater tactical radius of the F35C gives it a 60% greater area in which it may find basing options.

For the sea base,greater tactical radius increases the sea area in which the aircraft carrier may conceal itself.

It can be seen from these illustrations that the sea base,the aircraft carrier,is almost always closer to the operational area than the land base.

This permits significant financial savings by allowing substantial reductions in the number of combat aircraft and tanker aircraft required to generate a given level of combat power.

The longer combat radius of the F35C permits a further substantial reduction in the aerial refueling requirement.

This will more than pay for the additional cost of equipping aircraft carriers with catapults and arrestor wires.

The F35C is also said to be considerably cheaper than the F35B,one recent article claimed the F35C cost £15 Million less than the F35B which,if true,would equate to a saving of £945 Million on the 63 aircraft required to field a 36 strong carrier wing.

The F35B has advantages over the F35C in terms of being able to disperse away from airfields known to the enemy and being able to operate from a wider range of ships.

However these advantages come at a high cost both financially and operationally.

The F35B will cost more to buy and will require more expensive aerial refueling support.

In addition,it is less capable than the F35C in terms of range,payload and endurance.

There is an additional advantage which comes from using catapult equipped aircraft carriers as a sea base.

Helicopter based Airborne Early Warning (A.E.W.) aircraft are limited in terms of range,endurance,speed and altitude (and hence radar horizon).

They are incapable of supporting combat aircraft operating far from the sea base.

Consequently they must be supplemented by land based fixed wing A.E.W. aircraft.

These large aircraft operating far from their land bases have a substantial requirement for aerial refueling.

The cost of operating two A.E.W. fleets and providing the additional air tanker support for the land based aircraft is significant.

However,a carrier equipped with catapults would permit both of these fleets to be replaced with a smaller number of carrier capable fixed wing A.E.W. aircraft at a far lower cost.

In conclusion,the sea based F35C appears to be the most cost effective means for the United Kingdom to deliver air power.

Combined with fixed wing carrier capable A.E.W. aircraft,this option may offer cost savings of close to £2,000 Million a year combined with an enhanced ability to deploy air power globally.

These cost savings would derive from the following:

The ability to reduce the combat aircraft fleet from 330 aircraft at present to around 210 aircraft needed to maintain a front line strength of 124 aircraft with no loss of combat power due to the aircraft carrier's higher sortie generating capability.

The replacement of the Future Strategic Tanker Private Finance Initiative with a more economical outright purchase of 6 tanker aircraft with no lack of tanker capacity due to the much reduced aerial refueling demand.

The replacement of 7 Sentry and 13 Seaking A.E.W. aircraft with 10 E2D Hawkeye A.E.W. aircraft.


Martin said...

Very interesting comments however it is my understanding that a STOVL aircraft can generate almost twice as many sorties as a CATOBAR. Pilots can also launch in worse conditions. A Osprey equiped AEW platform could perform aq simialr role to a E2D hawkeye. Taking this into account your choice of the F35C might not be the best. The much higher training requirments will also make the fleet much more expensive to run.

tangosix said...

Hello Martin,

you raise some very interesting points,in order to answer them more fully I think I will write a post when time permits.

Just for the moment I will say that sortie rates in combat for British and American catapult equipped carriers are no lower than those which the Harrier carriers managed in the Falklands war.


Anonymous said...

as they are now saying , we may have no planes to fly of the carriers, because of incompetence, surley and sane goverment, while awaiting the results or delivery of these new planes, would it not be simpler just to buy , say 40 F18s that can fly of our carriers, or any planes that can fly of our carriers, untill the new ones get here,, rather than look silly , as the only navy with a carrier with no planes .thank you, criss of UK

Anonymous said...

You For get the advantages of SRVL for landing F35b. Also the F35C is in small numbers and strengthened greatly. Is the cost so different? Hmmm. You also did not mention merlin AEW is a maritime function as well and future links node. It can operate away from the carrier on escorts and RFA extending range and using vertrep. E2D Hawkeye's cost a fortune. You could buy a fee merlin for one offsetting shortcomings of range. Also the actual radius difference of F35C to B..... is it that big as to be a problem. Doesn't look like it to me. Also cats and traps are slower for sort rates. Emails is around 2 billion just to fit and not reliable enough yet. The cost to delay our UK carriers could not be offset like you say. It's far more complicated then you say. Nice maps and attempt though.