Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Here we go again

Whilst we're on the subject of dubious Anglo-American diplomacy, it looks like nothing at all has been done about the F-35 intellectual property question. The HOC Defence committee says, essentially, that the supposed agreement on this is worthless and urgent steps should be taken to prepare a plan B. There is still no word on the fate of the VAACS flight control system developed at Boscombe, which is apparently going to be licensed back to us at vast expense. (There's a nice article on what VAACS is in Flight International, but nothing on the politricks.)

All together now: You can't get these people to do a fucking thing/Oh, you can't get these people to do a fucking thing.

The possible alternatives, you ask? I answer. Option 1 would be simple, if unpalatable. Rather than the JSF, we could order the Dassault Rafale from France, which is the aircraft the French will fly from the carriers we are building together. This would mean changes to the carrier design, as Rafale is a conventional take-off and landing type, but the good news is that this would just mean that all three ships would be identical. This would probably be the lowest-cost and lowest-risk option, as Rafales are already with at least one operational squadron.

It would, however, be very likely to suffer from "Not Invented Here Syndrome" to the Nth degree. French aeroplanes? The (US-encouraged and probably funded) jingo whingeing would be intolerable, as would the reaction at BAE. Never mind that quite a few of the Forces' major systems are part-French.

The remaining options are a long way back. Navalise the Eurofighter? BAE has done design studies for this, but it would be yet another expensive design change and delay, and would also necessitate changes to the carrier design. However, if the Saudi deal fell through, it might be an attractive option to keep the Warton line running and get rid of one extra platform's support costs.

There's also the Saab-BAE Gripen, which is considerably cheaper per aircraft than either Eurofighter, Rafale or F35, and doesn't involve the French or Germans but does involve BAE, hence politically palatable. Gripen is a lightweight aircraft and might be technically easier to navalise than Eurofighter/Typhoon, and the Saab line is currently going begging as the export sales have not been great. This, though, would be a step off the map and must therefore be discounted. One thing that speaks for it is that going either to Rafale or "Sea Typhoon" (perhaps Neddy as in Seagoon?) would definitively end the RAF and Fleet Air Arm's ability to operate without prepared bases-since 2000, the Harrier force has operated as a single outfit, JF Harrier, across carriers and land bases in support of the Army and Royal Marines. Like most Saab designs, Gripen can operate off unprepared strips, roads and such, although it isn't VTOL. Even the monster Viggen, for example, could fly off roads, and the Swedish air force regularly practised this. (The RAF's Jaguar, now going out of service, had a similar "rough CTOL" capability which was tested on the new M55 motorway outside Blackpool before the road, and the plane, went into service.)

Finally, there is option 4, an entirely new design or a rework of the Harrier so drastic as to be equivalent to a new design. This would delight BAE and lobby precisely because it would be fearsomely expensive, and would entail an entirely new support base - loads o'pork! It's fair to say that this one is a nonstarter, as much from the time factor as the cost. To avoid the HOCDC nightmare scenario of carriers without aeroplanes, they need to be here by 2012, and to avoid the end of the Harrier CAS capability, by 2010 (as the Harrier's out-of-service date is the end of 2009). Designing a new combat aircraft in this timeframe is not really an option, certainly not with BAE in charge.

Old "Virus" Grayson really needs to get his finger out. Alternatively, we could give the job to one of these cocktail robots.

Update: Reuters reporting that a Memorandum of Understanding has been signed. Document was last seen crumpled and sailing off into the wild blue from the window of Lockheed Martin CEO's Cadillac.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

God, I do hate BAE. As the whole battle over the carrier design shows, so does the DoD, but they have little maneuvering space.

Typhoon seems to have been designed entirely as an interceptor – that's what it's good for, supporting a US strike. Sweden's Grippen is pretty much a defensive aircraft – a good way for Eastern Europeans to meet their NATO commitments but not exactly the dog's bollox when it comes to power projection. Rafale is all-purpose: interceptor, strike, ground-support, bomb-truck, naval-air – great for killing uppity Africans, but rather expensive. J-35 is, potentially, terrific. But not if we have to effectively pay twice for it, in the form of all-foreign upgrades and maintenance. Not to mention total loss of operational sovereignty, and the vague possibility that the US will shaft us by scrapping the naval version if cost overruns accumulate.

No British Government is going to dare take the obvious and necessary radical step of promoting a real defence procurement alliance with France through Thales, (which owns quite a few British production assets) -- at least until the last Murdoch has been hung with the guts of the last Olver.

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