UK to study F-35C ‘buddy’ refueling

UK to study F-35C ‘buddy’ refueling

Although U.S. Navy officials love to extol the wisdom of “necking down” to the fewest types of airframes possible, the introduction of the F-35C Lightning II may be a welcome exception: Rather than needing to use its brand-new, frontline fighters as stand-in tankers, as it must do with its F/A-18Es and Fs, the Navy will be able to use older Super Hornets to refuel new Lightning IIs, the way its retirement-age A-6 Intruders and S-3 Vikings once refueled newer fighters. Today, the Navy must use new and existing Super Hornets to refuel each other, meaning that for a given mission, some of the latest combat jets aren’t actually available for combat — and taxpayers are buying a full-up warplane but actually getting a part-time fuel mule.

The Royal Navy, however, effectively will be building its carrier aviation capabilities from scratch when it gets its Cs. It won’t have any existing 4th generation fighters that it can use as tankers. So, as Robert Wall reports in AvWeek, this is one of the may things the Brits have to figure out as they get closer to actually fielding these ships and aircraft:

The Defense Ministry has since tried to address some of those uncertainties, although it may take another year to define future plans completely.

For instance, the move to the carrier version (CV) has caused the Defense Ministry to explore air-to-air refueling capabilities in case of a disruption on the flight deck during recovery operations. The U.K. has asked Lockheed Martin to assess the feasibility of using the F-35C in a buddy-buddy refueling mode. Under rules of the JSF program, countries must themselves fund studies into unique capabilities they want for an aircraft. Since the U.S. can rely on F/A-18E/F Super Hornets as carrier-based refuelers, the U.K. has to finance the engineering assessment on its own.

A U.S. military official says the engineering details and cost estimate of the upgrade should be ready “later this year.” But the U.K. may take longer to decide on its course of action. Peter Luff, the U.K.’s minister for defense equipment, support and technology, tells legislators that the assessment of how to provide “the most cost-effective means of providing an embarked air-to-air refueling capability in support of the department’s future Carrier Strike capability” should emerge around March 2012.

This isn’t only something you need in case of emergencies: On U.S. Navy carriers, the first aircraft to go off as part of flight operations is usually the tanker, loaded down with external tanks so that it can top off jets after they launch but before they actually set off on their missions. Fighter jets drink fuel like teenagers drink Mtn Dew.

This isn’t the F-35’s first international mid-air refueling confusion. Up in Canada, where the F-35 is consistently controversial, there was a kerfuffle back in February when somebody added 2 and 2 and came up with 4: Canada plans to buy A-model fighters, which are designed for U.S. Air Force-style boom refueling, but Canada’s tankers are set up for probe-and-drogue style refueling, to accommodate it existing fleet of CF-18 Hornets. So Canada will either have to modify its CC-150 Polaris tankers, or ask for its CF-35s to be modified for probe-and-drogue operations. Last we checked, the jury was still out on that.

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Its probably worth indicating that the new UK tankers (named voyagers) themselves cannot be refuelled while in the air, for some odd reason the odd PFI contract didn’t included this even though other nations with the same aircraft can!!! So if RAF and Naval air operations are intense, and bearing in mind not all tankers will be available. added with distance away from a friendly air base. Someone has worked out the UK will need some friendly help if it needed to get the RAF down to the Falklands, ie being a bit closer to accession island for a start with maxim fuel.

Oh and it seems we’re not going to load the carriers chocker block with aircraft, suggestions we’d probably have 12 and then reinforce with numbers when needed.

If I were the UK I would look at getting some old S-3s and use them for tanker support.…. I have no idea why the Navy stopped doing that other than the difference in speed between the S-3 and F-18 causing issues for mission planning. I believe the S-3s have plenty of airframe life available.


I agree. There must be older aircraft the UK could buy or lease cheaply for this role. Adding another airframe may add to maintenance supply chain issues, but using the hugely expensive F-35 as a tanker (and losing it as a combat aircraft) seems absurd.

This basically means that the Boeing sales force is now driving part of the requirements conversation. This was never an issue when the U.K. was supposed to be an all STOVL force for the new carriers. Now all the sudden, it is. With the MOD having one foot in the grave, expect this to keep going. Confused? That is what the Boeing sales force is hoping for.

This what happens to previously great naval power, when paying people to not work becomes the priority. Add to unrestricted immigration of people who soak up more money for social services then that group will ever contribute.
And you wind up this half-ass naval air situation. They shouldn’t even bother with naval air if this is the mess they’re going to field. Tying up a significant portion of your strike force carrying gas cans is ridiculous.

No it demonstrates once again that you have no clue what you are talking about.

With the F-35B, the MOD figured an almost zero change of a bolter or wave-off during landing — so no need for a tanker orbiting near the ship.

With the F-35C, the MOD recognizes a significant probablity of a bolter or wave-off during landing — so there is a need for a tanker orbiting near the ship.

Ummm…Didn’t I read somewhere that the Brits were going to use Hawkeyes as AWACs, if so, is there a reason they couldn’t strip an old Hawkeye of its radar & control systems and convert it into a tanker? That would keep the number of airframe types in service low, while giving them a REAL tanker to play with.

Or are there just too few Hawkeyes around to do that?

Congratulatons. You just discovered that. Now go figure out who has an existing tanker/strike-fighter for less money and two engine safety around the carrier. Actually having something puts you in the sales driver seat. Especially when the customer is desperate. I don’t know how else you could describe the MOD in this situation. After all, it is a political must-have (jobs program) to build the boats. As long as something point flies off of it: mission accomplished. That would not be btw the Just So Failed program. While you are still on the learning curve, look up the 2006 DOD contract that pulled clearance of external tanks from the F-35 SDD phase. Marketing pukes and their PPTs then started to hawk– look mom-no external tanks needed… AND well you may want to wonder why that is. Answer, they could not do it in time given the risk of various shapes of tanks they tried. That will be some magic trick turning the F-35 into a buddy tanker when they haven’t performed ONE asymmetrical external stores approach (hung stores etc.) on the carrier yet thought external tanks a bad aerodynamic risk once they started SDD. Another victory for CAIV.But hey…given the $36B funding black hole facing the MOD, all that is cart before the horse. The $200+ each fighter will just climb in price. Especially with all those missing orders. Where (wait for it) an early JSF program boss stated that the business plan needed 1500 some aircraft made before the prices “flattened out”. The plan (or should I say bad dream) has driven off the known map of reality. No amount of PowerPoint slides will fix that.

Well stated ELP!

The hilarious thing is that Lockmart and company are still pushing the $68 million dollar price tag for a plane that looks like it may even be more expensive then the F-22 when it finally reaches IOC (at some distance point far into the future).

Let’s see, two engines, inexpensive and affordable, reliable, in service and battle ready, and can buddy refuel ALREADY. Ding! Ding! That’s describes the Super Hornet!

“Ding! Ding! That’s describes the Super Hornet!”

I doubt the Brits would go for the Super Hornet, it’s far more likely they would go with the Rafale, since their talking about cooperating with the French so 1 of the carriers is at sea year round, having both fly the Rafale would be easier on the maintenance crews & allow for pilot exchange.

I’m not advocating that decision, it’s just appears more likely at this point.

They might even be able to put a Erieye radar system on the back of an S3 for the AEW&C role

Except said the Super Hornet is less capable and won’t be able to match future threats. As for the “twin engines are needed” argument, the US Navy operated the A-7 Corsair II for many years and it was never considered a deathtrap. Plus there was the F-8 Crusader and many other single engine aircraft before that.

External fuel tanks for the F-35 are still in development last time I checked. Yeah they aren’t the same capacity as the 480 gal ones carried by the Super Hornet but it beats having angled weapons pylon.

As for the cost, thankfully for the British, we’re the ones buying the $200 million LRIP aircraft. By the time they get theirs they will be significantly cheaper.

How is the Super Hornet less capable than an under-tested second-tier fighter that is not yet proven and doesn’t as of yet have a stable design? Both the Super Hornet and the F-35 are second-tier fighters that will need the F-22 to take on the big threats.
Then compare the self-defense jamming of the Super to the F-35 when the F-35 goes naked. Good luck with that.
How will the UKs F-35s be “significantly” cheaper? It as of yet is not tracking that way as the F-35 is of yet still not a complete weapons system.

I don’t see why the British are even bothering. They’ve got zero expeditionary aircraft capability now. Skip the F-35s, use the saved money to fit both of their carriers for fixed wing and buy a half dozen F-18 squadrons. It would be an exponential leap in capability over what they even had before the budget hacking. Certainly more then enough capacity for the actual needs of the UK.

When the Brit’s figure out they can’t afford F-35 they will pay 1/3 as much and buy F/A-18s just like STemplar’s example. That also solves the tanking problem. With the extremely limited carrier force they would only go up against the big boys with USA participation anyway. So they can project power on their own for many circumstances but participate against larger threats while letting Uncle Sam pick up the big bill for F-35s.

Why William we happen to be in total agreement today on the F-35! Lets review some of the tangible ways that the F-35 is more capable then the Super Hornet.

1. Its more capable in not meeting development schedules. In fact the F-35 has not been able to completely stick to an SDD for over 10 years.

2. Its more capable in the area of have more technical and mechanical problems then the Super Bug as evidenced by the latest catastrophic failure which has now grounded the entire fleet of test aircraft.

3. Its more capable of being over budget in pretty much every aspect of the program. Lets see, how far above the advertised price of $60 million dollars each was the latest LRIP contract? By the time the UK gets the F-35 it might cost $300 million each considering the rate of inflation in the JSF Program so far.

4. Its more capable of NOT being able to carry out any mission what so ever involving warfighting. No bombs dropped, no missiles tested, no cannon rounds fired. A simply brilliant track record for a “strike fighter” to date.

And I could go on and on, really its so much more capable in so many undesirable ways.

Yes, you are right about the Brits. I would like to add that the Brits should look at cost. I mean, we are talking about 25 million per example, as compared to the Rafale. Boeing has a clear picture for SuperHornet upgrades as well. The Brits could also get the SuperHornet pre-wired for the Growler role just like the Aussies. Im not saying the SuperHornet is better than the Rafale or JSF, Im saying it’s the best opition as far as price.

The F/A-18E/F is going to be in USN service for quite some time to come (the F-35C is the F/A-18C/D replacement) & had been quite clear for some time that Britain was going with the F-35B so there was no pressing need to develope ‘buddy’ refueling for the F-35C. It is ONLY when Britain switched from the F-35B to the more capable F-35C (which the RN wanted in the 1st place but government leadership forced the F-35B down its throat) NOT the LESS capable F/A-18E/F that it became an issue.

“The U.K. has asked Lockheed Martin to assess the feasibility of using the F-35C in a buddy-buddy refueling mode.” NOT ‘The U.K. has requested a number of Boeing F/A-18E/F with ‘buddy’ fueling.”

LM & the JPO are still ‘pushing’ the $65–70 million URF because ACTUAL costs are STILL trending along that line. The FY2012 budget request (19 A & 13 C) shows the F-35A ALREADY LESS EXPENSIVE THAN THE F-22!

The F-A-!8E/F has a frontal RCS two orders of magnitude larger than the F-35C (with EVEN GREATER DISPARITY in most/all other aspects).

The F/A-18E/F has a lower payload/range tha the F-35C.

The F/A-18E/F has less capable avionics/sensors than the F-35C.

This blog does not alow enough characters to post all the ways the F/A-18E/F is less capable than the F-35C…

Try joining the real world. The F-35 is ALREADY less than $200 milion & is in fact tracking along a line to put it ‘just’ ~20% more expensive than the F/A-18E/F.

NOT 1/3. 4/5…

Except that if the UK wanted to equip both it’s carriers for fixed wing ops it has to come up with the money to equip the first carrier for it. The F-18 is cheaper, period. It can also be delivered faster. To say the F35s payload is better sort of tosses the whole RCS perk out the window. I’ve yet to see specs for this Block III variant F-18 Boeing is talking about, so its likely the F35 will lose in the combat radius comparison as well.

William C and JSF advocates. You can’t afford anymore losses. Single engine is still not survivable, its an old hat, its extremely vulnerable, it causes very nasty risks for land and overwater operations and over the battlefield. Remember 41 out of 116 RAAF Mirages were lost because of the some bird strikes, some of the maintenance problems and some also fired 30mm DEFA cannons during gunnery missions that caused the SNECMA Atar 9 turbojet engine to surge and caused a failure, also pilot errors happened as well. Seriously when the engine fails anywhere over the ocean or hostile areas, the JSF or other single engine jet will drop like stone, again horrifies the aircrew and puts their lives and the every sorties at huge risk, I’m telling you it’ll happen again on my watch. I don’t care how the JSF’s Pratt & Whitney F-135 engine is, I don’t trust it, it can still fail. Twin engines are certainly needed for survivability which is number 1, number 2 for long endurance flights, number 3 faster throttle response and overwater operations for maritime strike sorties.

“Single-engine you’re a dead duck”. Its as simple as that.

How much cheaper is it if it needs to be replaced 10–15 years down the road because it is obsolete?

But the F/A-18E/F isn’t that much cheaper & is significantly LESS cost-effective. The F-35 can be delivered almost a quickly as F/A-18E/F, one just has to wait if they insist on Block III (which all pre-Block III F-35s CAN & WILL be easily updated to).

I didn’t say the F-35’s payload was better, I said its payload/range (what payload can be delivered to what range/what range can what payload be deivered to). A F-35 with external stores is STILL stealthier than a CLEAN F/A-18E/F & while an F/A-18E/F HAS to carry external stores (including 2 drop tanks just to achieve F-35 with internal fuel like combat radius), the F-35 MOST of the time does not.

The combat radius of a possible F/A-18E/F BLock III will depend GREATLY on the fuel capacity of the CFTs. I would assume that like the F-16 that the CFT will give a combat radius about the same as 2 external tanks.

Wrong. Single engined has since the inception of the airplane been plenty survivable. It has ALWAYS been the case that mutliple engines are only necessary when a single engine does not provide sufficient power.

Durring the later half of WWII US CAWs were entirely powered by ONE engine. The F6F & F4U fighters, SB2C dive bomber & TBF torpedo bomber were ALL poweed by a single P&W R-2800!

Cheaper for Canada to get just get boom tankers. Every F-16 country seems to be fine with it.

pfcem — I very strongly disagree with that. It still causes very nasty risks etc. I’m telling you that more losses will occur. I prefer twin engines for survivability. If you’re a JSF pilot and if something happens to you, you’ll be a glider and you’ll either end up in the ocean out of middle no where far far away from you’re home base or ended up in the hostle territory or dead. That’s why single engine is NOT trusted anymore.

Well that was all those years ago, when later half of WWII US CAWs were entirely powered by one engine with the F6F & F4U fighters, SB2C dive bomber & TBF torpedo bomber were all powered by a single P&W R-2800

Now its still not survivable anymore, it can still fail at anytime. You’re wasting billions of dollars down the drain buying more single-engine (JSF) turkeys and its costing lives for the aircrew.


pfcem — Do you realise how dangerous single engine is nowadays? And you think single engine the aeroplanes have plenty of survivability, I reckon thats really crazy to think that

The JSF is not survivable, even though modern engines are very reliable, that doesn’t mean it won’t fail, it still does. Twin engines provide superior flight safety in long range or over water operations, as the loss of one engine does not guarantee the loss of the aircraft, although it is apt to cause the mission to be aborted. For Australia’s geography this is likely to result in a smaller number of lost aircraft during decades of peacetime training, but also a better ability for these aircraft to survive battle damage over a target and recover to home base to be repaired. It also reduces demands on Navy warships to be available to rescue aircrew in the event of engine failure, and thus become exposed to enemy air attack.

Exactly what I was thinking. Of course the US has the Hawkeye for AEW&C, if I’m not mistaken.

We have many KS-3 Viking dedicated tankers in storage(last I checked). Seems like those would have the airspeed for that.

If looking at the Hawkeye — it has a sister design called the Grumman C-2A GREYHOUND, that would be easier to modify for tanker duty. But I’m not sure you would want a turbo prop aircraft as a tanker. The airspeed issues would be more difficult, if not impossible.

That is just the problem. US taxpayers are getting tired of always being the one left holding the bag. I realize the UK is in financial trouble, but so are we, with our stupid politicians.


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