Saturday, 18 September 2010

Why Catapults Are Cheaper

There has been considerable recent speculation about the new British Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers being fitted with catapults so that they might operate the conventional F35C fighter rather than the vertical landing F35B.

Some have asked how this would save money.

The cost of a British electromagnetic catapult system from Converteam is not public knowledge so we can but mention it but prices for the American system are known.

Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System (E.M.A.L.S.) and Advanced Arresting Gear (A.A.G.) have been developed for the latest class of American aircraft carriers.

The U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford (C.V.N.78) is due to enter service in 2015,a year before H.M.S. Queen Elizabeth.

Thus the technology will be well proven before H.M.S.Queen Elizabeth is outfitted with it.

The cost of the new American Advanced Arresting Gear (A.A.G.) for the Gerald R. Ford class aircraft carrier is $102 Million (£66 Million) for one ship set,or two sets for £132 Million for both Queen Elizabeth class ships.

The cost of the Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System (E.M.A.L.S.) ship set for the same vessel is up to $573 Million (£370 Million).

That is for a set of four catapults,enough for both new British aircraft carriers.

Which suggests a total cost of £502 Million for two complete ship sets of catapults and arrester gear for the two new carriers.

There would also be some minimal redesign costs but as the upper works of the ships have not been built yet and the vessels were designed from the start to accommodate catapults,this should be a small expense.

It should also be noted that the Queen Elizabeth class will almost certainly have to be fitted with catapults at some point in their lives anyway.

The additional operating costs would also be small,probably adding no more than a small percentage to the ship's annual operating costs.

In contrast,comparing the costs of the F35B and F35C is far more difficult as officially published figures for FY 2010 (Item No 6 Page 1) lump both types together.

There are many unofficial sources which claim the F35C costs far less than the F35B,which is as one would expect given the added complexity of the latter.

The current production schedule for British F35s can be seen on Page 88 of this document.

It suggests British procurement will be largely concentrated in two batches,the first procured between 2015 and 2020 and the second batch from 2023 and 2027.

The United States Navy's FY 2011 budget does give discrete price estimates for the two variants from 2011 onwards.

The FY 2011 United States Navy budget suggets the F35C will have a unit cost of about $155 Million in 2015 (Item No 5 Page 1) with later aircraft costing $108 Million each.

The same document suggests the F35B will cost $157 Million in 2015 (Item No 7 Page 1) with later aircraft costing $111 Million each.

This suggests that a fleet of 138 F35C would cost approximately £250 Million less than a fleet of F35Bs.

It is particularly interesting that the cost of the engine for the F35B is over $25 Million in 2015 while the engine for the F35C is less than $12 Million in the same year.

As both aircraft use the same engine,the difference is presumably due to the cost of the vertical lift systems on the F35B.

The lift fan,drive shaft,clutch,rotating nozzle and hover control systems on the F35B will certainly require far more parts and man hours to maintain over the aircraft's lifespan.

The F35B engine may also experience greater wear in the hover.

This source suggests the total life cycle cost of the F35C will be about £4,760 Million less than that of the vertical landing F35B,it is not clear where their figures come from.

If their numbers are correct then that saving far exceeds the previously mentioned £502 Million cost of two ship sets of catapults and arrestor gear.

If we deduct the cost of the catapults from the savings they suggest will be made from buying the F35C,we get a net saving of about £4,267 Million over the aircraft's lifecycle or £85 Million for each of the fifty years the new carriers will be in service.

That is many times the small additional operating costs of a catapult equipped ship - E.M.A.L.s has been designed to be far cheaper to operate than traditional catapults.

There are other potential savings from operating the F35C rather than the F35B.

The F35C has a significantly longer tactical radius than the F35B.

This has been an important factor in every air war the United Kingdom has been involved in since 1945.

The F35C also carries a greater weapon load than the F35B which is very important for close air support.

The importance of long range,endurance and high weapon load was highlighted during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 when naval aircraft were providing close air support to ground troops up to 800 miles from their carrier.

A longer tactical radius also directly reduces demand for aerial refuelling.

As Britain's new A330 tanker fleet is costing around £600 Million a year,three times the cost of the two new carriers,a reduction in tanker demand  translates into substantial financial savings.

Having catapult equipped carriers also allows a small fleet of fixed wing aircraft like the E2D Hawkeye to replace a much larger fleet of E3D Sentrys and SeaKing A.S.a.C. 7s. - which in turn reduces aerial tanker demand even further.

A minimum of 7 E2D Hawkeye's would be required to provide a 4 strong ship's flight capable of sustaining a single continuous orbit in combat,replacing the current fleet of 7 E3D Sentry's and 13 SeaKing Mk.7s.

With higher speed,longer radar horizon and far more advanced systems,the E2D is far superior to helicopter based surveillance assets and in many respects superior to the E3D Sentry.

The minimal in flight refuelling requirements and much smaller operating costs of a smaller,all E2D fleet would result in substantial cost savings.

The latest ministry of defence accounts do not detail the annual cost of the 7 E3D Sentrys (cost per flight hour is £33,000) but they are part of the approximately 30 aircraft in the  Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (I.S.T.A.R.) fleet which cost £1,584 Million in 2009/2010 (Page 96).

That is in addition to the operating cost of the 13 Seaking A.S.a.C.7s.

In addition to the savings on tanker aircraft,a smaller I.S.T.A.R. fleet could quite easily save hundreds of million pounds a year in operating costs.

The Out of Service Date (O.S.D.) for the E3D Sentry is 2025,just 3 years after the expected In Service Date of the Maritime Airborne Surveillance and Control (M.A.S.C.) carrier based Airborne Early Warning system.

A fixed wing,catapult launched M.A.S.C. solution would not only dramatically reduce operating costs compared to the current two,larger fleets but would also eliminate the need to spend approximately £3,000 Million (based on the cost of Project Wedgetail) on land based replacements for the 7 Sentrys in service at present. 

This potential saving alone is 6 times the cost of buying catapults and arrester gear for the Queen Elizabeth class carriers. 

A catapult equipped ship would also be able to operate long range surveillance aircraft such as the General Atomics Sea Avenger.

Without catapults the carriers would be unable to operate any I.S.T.A.R. aircraft,severely limiting their utility as strike carriers.

They would also be dependent on a larger fleet of land based support aircraft with all the attendant logistic,engineering and force protection costs and political difficulties which that entails.

But the author raises a point about carrier qualifications.

The United States Navy's (LSO NATOPS MANUAL Chapter 6-1 to 6-3) carrier qualification demands are known.

A student pilot must perform 14 carrier day landings in a Goshawk during his training.

Followed by 12 day landings and 8 night landings in a combat aircraft.

Thereafter,if a pilot does not fly from a carrier for a period of time or if he transitions from one aircraft type to another he must requalify.

A pilot who has not flown from a carrier for several months may need to make just 2 arrested landings to be requalified.

Pilots of military aircraft spend much of their time maintaining their skills by practicing their various tasks,including landing.

This will be the case for pilots of the F35B as well as pilots of the F35C.

It may be that F35C pilots have to spend a little longer practicing carrier landings to stay qualified but this simply means that they will be spending less time practicing other things.

The number of hours they fly each year is likely to differ little whether they fly F35Bs or F35Cs.

If the American standards are adopted a pilot will spend very little time qualifying or requalifying if he flies from carriers regularly.

Consequently,it is difficult to see any significant additional cost attached to keeping pilots qualified on the F35C.

This is particularly the case as the F35C is likely to be flown by Royal Navy pilots who will spend much of their time operating from carriers anyway.

However,the F35C may be more of an inconvenience for land based Royal Air Force pilots who may not regularly fly from ships and consequently would need some time to become deck qualified if deployed to a carrier.

This is unlikely to be a problem however,as there is little requirement for the F35 force to do anything other than ship based operations.

Lastly,why would the three F35 development aircraft the United Kingdom is buying have to be scrapped if Britain buys the F35C as the author of that piece suggests?

These are instrumented test aircraft,an important part of the F35's development program and never meant for service.

There is no reason to scrap them whatever aircraft the United Kingdom chooses to operate.

The suggestion that they should be scrapped is all the more odd as these aircraft have not even been delivered yet.

There may be a significant financial case for buying the F35C rather than the F35B.

Though it is difficult to quantify potential savings without knowing details of operating costs.

The savings could amount to hundreds of millions of pounds a year,particularly in terms of tanker and support aircraft.

Such savings are desperately needed at present.

In addition the F35C offers significantly more capability than the F35B.

The F35C/catapult option for the Queen Elizabeth class carriers certainly warrants further investigation.


Anonymous said...

And what about a Rafale ?


Anonymous said...

Well presented. Utter nonsense but well presented. EMALS is going to be well proven after 1yr at sea on the Ford is it?.

Your difference in acquisition fees between both aircraft types jumps from pounds to dollars and is smaller than the cost, upfront, of the CATOBAR kit and you make no mention of cat/trap cycle life limits on the C model. A key metric for a small airgroup.

Poor and biased piece of work.

GrandLogistics said...

Hello Anonymous,

perhaps you should tell the United States Navy about your concerns over E.M.A.L.S. not being well proven by 2016.
I am sure they would be very interested to hear it as they are expecting to have it fully operational on a commissioned warship in 2015.
Between now and then of course,it has another five years of intensive testing.
As does the F35B's lift system,which is at a similar stage of development.

If you should read the figures I gave again,you will find they have been correctly converted from dollars to pounds using the appropriate exchange rate.

If you read the piece again you will also note that I pointed out that:

"it is difficult to quantify potential savings without knowing details of operating costs."

Perhaps you missed that with your poor and biased piece of reading.

As for the upfront cost being greater,well done,you read that bit correctly,that is exactly what I stated in the post.

However,the potential savings in costs of support aircraft are huge in comparison with the additional initial outlay.


Anonymous said...

The USN are fully aware of the risk they are taking. They will not be able to test EMALS in its OPERATIONAL ENVIRONMENT until it is onboard the CVN. They have accepted this and have undertaken 'to just make it work'.

They are hoping to have it 'fully operational' on a warship in 2015, but, are under no illusions as to the risks involved.

Your article stated that it would be fully tested after one year aboard the new CVN. From where they are now, even with a further few years shore testing, there is absolutely no guarantee it will even be fully operational after a year at sea.

I must apologise for the comment about the dollar/pound conversion. Poor mental arithmetic on my part. The difference between the two purchases is indeed roughly as you state.

It is interesting that you dont go further to state that the cost difference is less than 2% between the two or that the upfront costs of the CATOBAR gear are significantly higher than that difference though. So buying the cats and arrestors, not even looking at the costs of operating and maintaining them for 50 years, wipes out that 2% difference in multiples.

You did indeed say the upfront costs would be greater. Then immediately offset them behind a £4.7bn operational cost differential even you cant begin to explain!. A poor attempt at spin.

You ignore utterly the higher costs from CATOBAR in the ship. You note the increased training overheads for deck quals, but, dont figure those in the costs for that training. You ignore, absolutely, the costs associated with dissolving the JFH structure and the standing-up of an RN-only fastjet basing and logistics capability.

Against that the operational cost increase for F-35B might be 'increased wear and tear in the engine' and higher maintenance requirements in man hours?. A near £5bn cost differential in man hours eh?. You think that £4.7bn is a figure with any connection to reality do you?.

One last point...before advocating the replacement of a Sentry with Hawkeye find out what the difference in capability between the two is...and I dont mean in radar range!. It may save you looking a little foolish if you repeat that anywhere else.

Anonymous said...

During the selection process for CVF, BAE submitted an interesting version, Hybrid carrier:

"According to Mark Kane, managing director of BAE Systems' CVF team, its 'STOVL hybrid' design concept _ an unsolicited additional submission to the DPA _ would be primarily configured to operate the STOVL version of JSF, but would also incorporate an angled deck, a single waist catapult and arrestor gear to enable the operation of the E-2C AEW&C aircraft and other CTOL types as appropriate."

This idea was first introduced 2002, but it seems more relevant now than ever.

Let's go off on a deep end and propose canceling any JSF purchase. Instead, invest everything into Naval Typhoon.

Instead of Tranche 3b, collaborate with India to build Naval Typhoon. This will allow production of 1 Typhoon, that can serve both the navy and airforce of India and UK.

And if they go with Hybrid carrier, it will still permit cross deck operation with US and French Navy.

Roland Lawrence said...

thats exactly the point. imagine the humiliation of having a rafale taking off from a british carrier because the planes the british ordered are going to be very late into service.

wasted billions is nothing compared to national pride and as for capability - as long as we tell those plucky sailors they are having the best equipment, how will they ever know any better?

Anonymous said...

"imagine the humiliation of having a rafale taking off from a british carrier because the planes the british ordered are going to be very late into service."
=> The humiliation of using F-35 is much greater because Harrier III was canceled to favout it after huge bribes to btrit politicians. Rafale humiliated F-22, Typhoon, F-16, F-18E/F, Grippen, Su-30 etc etc etc during evaluations or drills. F-35 is the biggest scam ever and we'll have a good laugh when canadians will compare it to eurocanards. I bet it will perform at the level of the Grippen which ever ended last in the tests. Thanks to Dassault, we went out of the Messerschmitt TFK-90, errr, I meant EF-2000 Typhoon program and will have a good laugh about brit aircraft-carriers without aircrafts or with non fully working aircrafts... Anyway, thanks to Brexit, the US trojan horse who undermined E.U. is exiting. EU doesn't need an US poodle.