WEST ON ISLAMIC STATE: Damned if it does or doesn’t!

It’s been a very tough call in Parliament today.
GRAPHIC-28.1C-ISISEverybody loathes Islamic State (IS) and what it stands for. The need and desire to stop them in their tracks by all in the civilised world is understandable. Airstrikes may blunt their activities for a while, but they’ll soon be hiding in civilian areas like cowards in women’s petticoats.
You may not like what he says, but George Galloway speaks a lot of sense.
One huge problem is in Syria itself where IS was spawned. Fifty per cent of the population love President Assad, the other half loathe him. The division is both political, religious and tribal.
Part of the opposition to him is IS, another part is more secular and ‘reasonable.’ Which sector, if any, may be victorious against him? Doing the maths, there’s a less than 25% chance that any new government would be West friendly.
It could well be argued that it’s in the West’s best interests for Assad (leaning to Russia) to remain in power, like other West-friendly absolute monarchs and dictators who frequent the Middle East.
Their replacements in a new democratic world (as it was initially in Egypt, and possibly now in Libya) may well be of anti-western jihadist persuasion.
Islamic State has run a pretty cool digital media operation but the individuals are pretty thick and sick.
These impressionable and zealous types, history has proved over and over again, are the easiest to ‘turn’ back.
However much you may despise him, do not dismiss ‘Gorgeous George”s advice. IS is only an evil militia run on the fuel of its own horrific publicity to generate terror in its enemies before a shot’s been fired.
In the end locals in the region (once Baghdad sorts out the political mess the USA left it in) must fight this war and win it. Because if they don’t, there is one country that will do the job for the world. And that may not end in a pretty or predictable result.
Of course, that country is ISRAEL.


Sharkey Ward-C1WORLD EXCLUSIVE:  This Blog hosts the second SHOCK REPORT from outspoken Falklands War naval air ace STARKEY WARD.

You can only read here IN FULL about our new Aircraft Carriers what the Defence Secretary, the MOD and the RAF don’t want you to know.

Dear Secretary of State and Colleagues,

Further to my recent email and paper on the “UK response to ISIS Threat”, I now have pleasure in forwarding an educational paper on the Extreme Flight Safety Hazard that will be represented by the F-35B STOVL aircraft attempting to do Ship Rolling Vertical Landings on board Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers in all weathers by day and night.

This planned rolling vertical landing procedure will either result in major limitations on the amount of operational flying that can be conducted (additional to the constraints resulting from a ramp fitted deck with no catapult and trap) or, conversely, in major loss of life and equipment – or both.

A major change in course is necessary if our new carriers are to achieve the potential required of them by our national security and defence interests.

With kind regards,


 F-35B STOVL Carrier Deck Landing – An Extreme Flight Safety Hazard in its own right: to Life and Limb and Equipment

By Commander Sharkey Ward DSC AFC:  One of the only living British military aviators with extensive experience of both Conventional carrier and Harrier carrier deck landings and operations in all weather by day and by night.

Executive Summary

The F-35 STOVL aircraft already has insufficient power for it to be able to land vertically on F35BBritain’s new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers in hot/foul weather conditions when carrying expensive stores.

As the aircraft ages, its power/weight ratio will further decrease.

The MoD answer to this most serious problem is for the aircraft to conduct Ship Rolling Vertical Landings (SRVL) instead of Vertical Landings (VL) on board.

In very wet bad weather with serious ship movement in all axes (yaw, roll, pitch and heave), the STOVL aircraft will have very little braking efficiency and much reduced directional control during an SRVL – a recipe for a catastrophic crash on deck or loss of the aircraft overboard.

This paper explains how this is a recipe for disaster and why a change of course away from this aircraft type is essential if we are to avoid loss of life and our new carriers are to achieve any 24/7 strike carrier capability at all.

In poor weather and heavy seas the SRVL can only be described as a most severe and unacceptable Flight Safety Hazard. It will cause the loss of men and machines. People will die and it is ludicrous to suggest it can work as an acceptable procedure.


 HMS Queen ElizabethFor the new British Queen Elizabeth class strike carriers to be effective weapon systems in peace, tension or war, their embarked fighter combat aircraft must be able to operate in all weathers by day and night on a 24/7 basis. The old Ark Royal and modern conventional U.S. Navy strike carriers had/have this capability. Britain’s Invincible Class Harrier carriers also demonstrated this capability remarkably well in the Falklands war, 1982.

Unfortunately, we now have the extraordinary situation where a new fighter aircraft is to be embarked in British carriers but this aircraft will not be able to operate in all weathers by day and night on a 24/7 basis. Far from it: in hot/foul weather and/or high sea states it may not be able to operate from the deck at all.

This short paper examines the facts surrounding this appalling state of affairs – that has been created by Ministers listening blindly to the wrong “Messenger”.


It appears certain that our Ministers ignored any representations made to them on the choice of aircraft by the Naval Staff and successive First Sea Lords. Instead, the “Messenger” that Ministers listened to was that of the Royal Air Force (the loudest voice in the Ministry of Defence) who had almost as little carrier operating experience as the Ministers themselves.

It was therefore a clear case of “the blind leading the blind” – and at considerable probable cost to Britain’s future global security and prosperity.

 What our Ministers did not realise (because the Royal Air Force conveniently evaded the subject) is that fixed wing deck landing operations are complex and are governed by the elements and deck configuration as much as the capability of the pilot and/or a computer in the cockpit.

Decades of Naval Service experience of Conventional carrier operations as well as Harrier carrier operations have produced vital hands-on expertise and standard operating procedures which, if not followed precisely, can and will result in fatal accidents on deck.

Conventional Take Off and Landing (CTOL)

All weather, carrier borne, fixed wing combat aircraft have been able to operate safely from and to our carrier decks for many decades. Prior to the introduction of the Sea Harrier to naval service all such combat aircraft needed catapult assistance for take-off and arrestor gear for landing.

An angled deck was employed for recovery in order to allow aircraft that failed to catch an arrestor wire to “go round again”. The approach airspeed for such Conventional Take Off and Landing (CTOL) fighter aircraft is approximately 135 kn – which, when the wind over the deck of the carrier is taken into account*, equates to an approach speed relative to the ship of up to 110 kn.

*The carrier steams into the wind to create this wind over the deck.

Vertical and Short Take Off and Landing (VSTOL)

With the Sea Harrier came the ability for the carrier borne aircraft to hover over the deck and then land vertically (in similar fashion to a helicopter). This obviated the need for catapults and arrestor gear (Cat and Trap) and, importantly, did not require the carrier to steam into the wind to generate wind over the deck for the landing. This latter conveyed upon the carrier considerable extra versatility during combat operations or in confined/pilotage waters.

On the downside was the fact that in hot climates (and also with usage/age) available engine power decreased and there was not enough power for the aircraft to land vertically on the deck when carrying expensive ordnance/weaponry – or, indeed, a sensible reserve fuel load.  This is the ‘quoted reason’ why the Sea Harrier was withdrawn from service in untimely fashion.

Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL)

A new acronym, “STOVL”, describes the specified launch and landing procedures that were supposed to be the hallmark of the new fighter aircraft destined for our Queen Elizabeth class carriers.

The carrier-borne F-35B STOVL aircraft has not yet completed development and yet it already suffers from severe weight problems. MOD/DSTL analysis has already demonstrated that, like the Sea Harrier at the end of its service, the F-35B has insufficient engine power (even before it enters service) to allow it to Vertical Land (VL) in warm climates when carrying expensive weapons/stores.

In other words and from square one, the term ‘STOVL’ is a misnomer for the aircraft and our new carriers will not benefit from the considerable extra versatility that would be realised with a full, all weather Vertical Landing capability.

Vertical Landing was the principal and only advantage that the F-35B aircraft had over other aircraft options for the Queen Elizabeth air group. Indeed the F-35B suffers many disadvantages (both operational and fiscal) compared with other CTOL options.

But instead of using common sense and disqualifying the aircraft as a viable strike carrier option because of its lack of engine power, the UK Ministry of Defence decided to adopt an entirely new and untried form of deck landing for the aircraft which supposedly would allow it to return on board at greater weight.

This untried/unproven form of deck landing is known as the Ship Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL).

Instead of hovering, the aircraft would now maintain a steady forward speed relative to the landing point on deck so that the airflow over the wing provided extra lift to supplement the deficient engine power. Even this acronym is a misnomer: SRVL should read SRL because the vertical component has been removed.

The Ship Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL)

On land, the Harrier Rolling Vertical Landing (RVL) was used for short air strips and required the pilot to fly a 6° glideslope at 50 kts groundspeed down to touch down. A steeper glideslope made it difficult for the pilot to see the touchdown point under the aircraft nose.

It is likely that the same difficulty will be appreciated in the F-35B. However and unlike the land based RVL, for an SRVL the carrier will have to be steaming into wind to generate wind over the deck. 

This raises considerable deck landing and flight safety considerations that appear not have been properly recognised/understood by “The Messenger”, by MoD, by Ministers or by the Naval Staff.

Deficiency in Engine Power Can Only Become Worse

As already intimated and in addition to high-temperature/low thrust considerations, the amount of extra lift required from the SRVL will steadily increase during the life of the aircraft as:

  1. engine thrust decreases with age and
  2. aircraft weight increases with in-service modifications/repairs.

The SRVL speed of the aircraft relative to the deck will therefore have to increase making it more dangerous.

Aircraft Speed over the Deck

In low wind/light and variable wind conditions our carriers will only be able to guarantee a wind over the deck of approximately 25 kn (induced by its speed through the water). The F-35B is not as aerodynamically efficient as most of its modern counterparts owing to the unique aircraft configuration – meaning that more speed through the air will be required for a set amount of generated lift.

As the aircraft ages, it is therefore probable that to enable a safe landing with adequate power margins the aircraft will be required to maintain a forward speed relative to the deck of no less than 35 kn – giving an airflow over the wing of 60 kn. This 35 kn touchdown speed will need to increase in very high temperatures, with relatively old engines and/or with basic airframe weight increases. Otherwise the aircraft will not be able to land on board.

But it is not just the speed of touchdown on the deck that can contribute to deck landing problems/hazards. The issues are manifold and the major ones are discussed immediately below.

Intended Touchdown Point on Deck

This must be defined taking into account:

  1. The position of any new deck landing sight.
  2. The movement of the ship in high sea states/foul weather.
  3. The assistance given to the pilot by any new stabilised deck landing sight.
  4. The amount of braking distance required to bring the aircraft to a halt before it runs out of deck – especially in wet weather.
  5. The point of no return.

These factors are interrelated and together will define whether a safe SRVL is possible under prevalent environmental conditions.

As with all fixed wing conventional deck landings on board, the flight parameters of the aircraft on the SRVL approach will have to be carefully controlled if the aircraft is to touch down precisely at the intended point on deck.

A defined glideslope will need to be adhered to and air speed must be kept at a defined constant (e.g. 60 kn). A deck landing sight would provide the pilot with necessary glideslope information and this landing sight must be positioned at the desired point of touchdown.

In flat calm conditions, it may be possible for the SRVL to be conducted safely by the “advanced flight control computers”. (Even that is not yet certain.) However, with serious ship motion in heavy seas and a wet, slippery flight deck (over which the flight control computers will have no control whatsoever) the SRVL will remain an Extreme Flight Safety Hazard.  

By comparison, the Harrier vertical landing on deck was an easier, much more failsafe evolution than the SRVL in bad conditions. 

Our engineers have already claimed technical solutions to various F-35B STOVL problems but many of these claims have proven to be nothing more than wishful thinking, e.g. maintainability of the stealth qualities of the aircraft in the embarked environment; “excellent braking qualities on deck” when de facto the STOVL aircraft’s braking system has been reduced in capability to save weight; etc.

Assurances about SRVL need therefore to be questioned.

In the most difficult conditions, the carrier will be pitching, rolling, yawing and heaving. The point on deck where pitching and yawing have least effect is amidships and this therefore represents the most stable/safest target touchdown point for a SRVL (450 feet from the bow).

This, therefore, is where the deck-landing sight should be positioned. (If the landing site was positioned near to the stern of the ship, it would move up and down with the pitch of the ship – 2° of pitch in the Queen Elizabeth translates to the stern moving up and down 30 feet; which would make the sight totally unusable and the SRVL impossible.)

There will still be ship movement that can be disorientating to the pilot and that can result in an actual touchdown point that is some distance from the intended touchdown point.

For example with ship heave of up to 20 feet (the ship and the landing site bodily moving up and down vertically with sea movement) and using a 6 degree approach angle, this will mean the pilot could land up to 190 feet further down the deck. (20 / tan 6).  This would leave a braking distance of only 260 feet before the end of the deck.

The ability of a 14 ton, tricycle undercarriage aircraft (with just three narrow wheels) to brake to a halt on a moving, wet, slippery deck from 35 kn (40 miles an hour) in less than 260 feet must be considered marginal at best – impossible at worst.

Braking capability is reduced further when the ship pitches and/or heaves downwards at or after the moment of touchdown.  Essentially the weight of the aircraft is less on the deck, meaning that less braking force can be applied before a skid is induced – the layman will understand this by the feeling that you experience when on a ferry and the floor seems to fall away from you as the ship pitches, or when you are in a lift and it starts to descend.  

If the deck is wet this leads to an even lower coefficient of friction – even more braking distance being required.

Aircraft nose wheel steering authority is limited but will need to be applied to counter the rolling motion of the ship (to stop the aircraft sliding over the side or into the ship’s superstructure): so differential braking from each main gear must also be applied. This again reduces the max braking force available.

The erosion of braking distance available through necessary deck-landing site positioning, ship movement, wet weather and, of course, pilot error has been further exacerbated by the designed reduction in F-35B braking capability resulting from the braking system being made lighter as a weight saving measure – to enable vertical landings (which it can no longer do).

The Point of No Return

In poor weather and/or in hot weather there is therefore no doubt/no question that only up to half the carrier’s flight deck will be available for aircraft braking after touching down from a SRVL. And it is clear from the above that perhaps only 260 feet of the flight deck may be available for such braking. 

This is a dire circumstance which will demand clear decision-making by the pilot and indeed by the command (whether flying operations are possible or not). The odds are already well set against a safe recovery on board by day and these odds are exponentially increased by night particularly if the landing aircraft only has enough fuel remaining for one single approach to the deck.

In such circumstances and with three or four aircraft airborne returning from a mission for recovery, it is difficult to see how all these craft could be recovered safely without a considerable reduction in mission range/endurance. (The second and subsequent aircraft to land would have to wait until the aircraft ahead has been secured to a flight deck tractor and moved safely out of the way.)

 On deck, each pilot will have to make a split-second decision and decide whether he is going to be able to stop safely or whether he will have to eject before sliding over the side or crashing into superstructure or other aircraft parked on deck.


All of the above sounds bad enough by day in a rough sea.  Now put that into a night scenario, with low cloud and rain too.  Recovering at max landing weights (limited by the available engine power) with unspent stores from a combat mission, perhaps with a cloud base of 200 feet (standard instrument minima) and one has a very ugly situation.  With insufficient power available in the F-35B, it is clearly not an acceptable answer to adopt the Ship Rolling Vertical Landing for recovery on board.  

Admirals and Air Marshals who have little or no fixed wing carrier operational experience/expertise may misguidedly suggest that “we can make it work” or “we have to make it work”. 

That is ‘head in the sand’, wishful thinking at its worst. If the Prime Minister, Secretary of State and colleagues are serious about our national security and power projection capability in defence of our trade routes and energy supplies, they will take note of this expert opinion and configure our new carriers with ‘cat and trap’ and a fully capable fighter aircraft such as the F-35C or, even better, the F-18 Super Hornet family of aircraft.

Unacceptable Flight Safety Hazard

1.  In poor weather and heavy seas the F-35B STOVL SRVL can only be described as a most severe and unacceptable Flight Safety Hazard. It will cause the loss of men and machines. People will die and it is ludicrous to suggest it can work as an acceptable 24/7 deck landing procedure.

 2.  Unless a change in course is made (away from this aircraft and flight deck configuration) preferably at the coming Defence and Security Review, 2015, the Queen Elizabeth class carriers will become a laughingstock with little if any true Strike capability and just a marginal amphibious close air support capability.













































Sharkey Ward-C1This blog is proud to be allowed to publish a damning major Research Paper (unedited) by ‘STARKEY WARD’. British naval air ace and squadron commander in the Falklands War, he is accepted as Britain’s most experienced expert on naval aviation.

Here he challenges the delusion of the current British government and the MOD that it can defend this country’s vital interests in the Middle East and beyond:

Dear Secretary of State and Colleagues,

In your deliberations on how the UK can protect its energy and trade interests in the Middle East in the face of the ISIS threat, I trust that you will at last realise how poorly equipped our new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers will be to project Britain’s power and political influence.

The attached paper explains in layman’s language (hopefully) how your choice of fighter aircraft for the carriers, the F-35B STOVL, and its associated flight deck ramp will deny our new capital warships any capability to act as an effective and powerful strike carrier. Indeed, the proposed introduction of Ship Rolling Vertical Landings to replace the Vertical Landing capability will, to all intents and purposes, render the flight deck inoperable in high temperatures and/or heavy sea states. A second paper covering this extraordinarily poorly planned and untried deck landing procedure will be forwarded shortly.

I hope you will understand that a change in course is a vital necessity if you are to provide this Island Nation with the Defence and Security that is so necessary to its continued prosperity.

Kindest regards,

‘Sharkey Ward’.

​N D MacCartan-Ward DSC AFC Commander RN

UK ISIS Response – The Wrong Tools from the Wrong “Message”?

By Commander Sharkey Ward DSC AFC:  the only living British military aviator with extensive experience of both Conventional carrier and Harrier carrier deck landings and operations in all weathers by day and by night.

Executive Summary 

This paper suggests that, when taking advice on national security and defence matters, our political Masters have placed far too much faith in the “Messenger” and have not taken adequate steps to examine the validity and operational relevance of the “Message”.

The predominant “Messenger” that has had the ear of UK Government Ministers has been the Royal Air Force. 

The UK Government has therefore been advised on most warfare matters predominantly by a single Service that has little or no expertise/experience in Maritime warfare (including Carrier operations) or Land warfare.

As a result UK Governments have consistently approved massive investment in land-based combat aircraft and minimal investment in the Naval Service and the Strike Carrier option. This has led to the emasculation of the latter’s planned operational capability and of the Royal Navy’s global peacekeeping, power projection and deterrence capability.

Britain’s ability to intercede in crisis areas beyond Suez (such as Kurdistan/Iraq) and away from NATO bases has diminished in parallel with the gap in British strike carrier capability.

Our large land-based fighter aircraft fleets of Typhoon and Tornado can do little to support the Kurds in the fight against ISIS. Instead and once again, we have to rely upon the United States strike carrier to provide appropriate air power support.

The paper demonstrates that with a ramp-fitted deck and the F-35B STOVL embarked, the HMS Queen Elizabeth suffers from at least six severe operational constraints that will prevent her from emulating US strike carrier capability in the Middle East. Indeed the aircraft becomes almost unoperable from the deck in heavy seas or in hot weather.  She can therefore be categorised more as a large amphibious support vessel.  

Only reconfiguring the deck to ‘cat and trap’ will enable the embarkation of a fully effective  strike carrier air group – and this can be achieved at relatively low cost compared with continued support costs for the less than flexible Typhoon and Tornado programs.


The disintegration of peace and stability in the Middle East and in the Ukraine should serve as a severe reminder to our political Masters in Whitehall and to our Armed Forces’ representatives in the Ministry of Defence that they and their predecessors have failed to honestly and properly apply adequate, effective oversight to the development of Britain’s ability to project power on a global basis – particularly East of Suez and in the South Atlantic.

This has led to the near emasculation of the Royal Navy, to the appalling mismanagement of the Queen Elizabeth carrier project and to the unwarranted extension of the major gap in Britain’s strike carrier capability (that is so essential to the preservation of our national offshore interests).

Britain’s ability to intercede in crisis areas beyond Suez and away from NATO bases has diminished in parallel with the gap in British strike carrier capability.

Arguably, the key to the cause of this government ‘delinquency’ is that our political Masters have little or no military experience/expertise themselves and, when taking advice on national security and defence matters, have placed far too much faith in the “Messenger” and have not taken adequate steps to examine the validity and operational relevance of the “Message”.

The “Message” Not the “Messenger”

Over the last few decades, the predominant “Messenger” that has had the ear of UK Government Ministers has been the Royal Air Force.

The UK Government and Civil Service have therefore been advised on most warfare matters predominantly by a single Service and its associated Academics that has little or no expertise/experience in Maritime warfare (including Carrier operations) or Land warfare.

Governments have demonstrated blind faith in this single-Service “Messenger” without any logical critique of the “Message” being conveyed. 

As a result, UK governments have consistently approved massive investment in land-based combat aircraft and minimal investment in carrier-capable combat aircraft. Figure 1, below, demonstrates this huge and regrettable imbalance.

ure 1.


£350 billion   Non-carrier capable aircraft

£15 billion     Carrier capable aircraft

£10 billion     New QE carrier programme 

(Figures approximate)

Kurdistan/Iraq and ISIS

The horrific events across Syria and northern Iraq that have been generated by the emergence of the terrorist organisation ISIS are a significant threat to the stability of the whole Middle East and to Britain’s gas supplies from the Gulf upon which our economy depends on a day-to-day basis.

What then can our large land based air force (100 odd Typhoon fighter aircraft, our £1 billion per unit Voyager aircraft and 100 odd obsolete Tornado aircraft) do to assist in stemming the tide of expansion of ISIS?

Tornados in Cyprus

Britain’s military airfield in Cyprus, Akrotiri, costs the UK taxpayer well in excess of £200 million per annum to administer and sustain. This is equivalent to the annual running cost of three Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers (which, of course could be deployed at will to any part of the globe – unlike the airfield, Akrotiri).  Further, the airfield is vulnerable to missile and/or air attack from Syria whose coastline lies in close proximity.

Directly between Cyprus and the city of Irbil in Kurdistan (550 nm) lies Syria and the ISIS-controlled region of Syria and northern Iraq.

The Syrian Civil War is ongoing and President Assad has the strong material support of Russia in his war against the rebels. Russian supplied surface-to-air missiles may or may not include the now infamous SA11/SA17 that shot down the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine.

Common sense would therefore appear to dictate that Tornados accompanied by essential air to air refuelling tankers costing £1 billion apiece (Voyager) would be routed around Syria and ISIS controlled territory.

Routing through Turkey would be the shortest alternative (670 nm) – but would President Erdoan permit the use of Turkish airspace for such missions?

Routing south of Syria (800 nm) would give minimal time on task overhead Irbil but could hardly be described as a cost-effective way of providing ‘additional surveillance’ over Kurdistan[1]. Figure 2, below, gives suggested routes and distances.

Cyprus Map

It should of course go without saying that any planned missions from Cyprus to the Irbil theatre of action should be supported by clear Search and Rescue (SAR) plans for the timely recovery of downed aircrew during the mission. (The age and poor airworthiness/reliability of the Tornado fleet is added reason for ensuring that SAR precautions are properly taken.)

But without flexible strike carrier support the UK does not have the necessary resources to guarantee such timely SAR. Unless full SAR support can be guaranteed by the United States, any such missions should not be countenanced.

Where is the Typhoon?

Ministers and the taxpayer should now be questioning why the much more modern RAF Typhoon squadrons are not being mobilised for combat missions over northern Iraq rather than the obsolete Tornado.

After all, significant sums of money have been spent to transform the Typhoon into a viable air to ground combat aircraft. Has this money been well spent? Or has the “Messenger” been misleading Ministers yet again concerning real RAF operational capability? 

Perhaps the Public Accounts Committee should investigate this inconsistency?

In contrast to the futility of Tornados in Cyprus, US Strike Carriers are once again demonstrating the utility and flexibility of Maritime-based air power projection. Without these capital warships, the Western bloc would be powerless to intervene in and resolve these Middle East crises.

It follows that properly equipped strike carriers are what Britain needs to protect its global interests and, as suggested in Figure 1 above, such a way ahead would be far more economical and cost-effective than any further investment in land-based combat air power.

How much damage has the “Messenger” inflicted upon our new Strike Carrier/Power Projection capability?

What was initially described by the British Government as an “up to 10 year gap in British strike carrier capability” has now expanded to approximately 15 years – during which time Britain must rely heavily upon the United States for guarding our interests in the Middle East and further afield. The ownership of 200 land-based fighter aircraft situated in the UK will not provide adequate deterrence[2] to those that would harm us.

Carrier Delays – The Loss of Catapults and Arrestor Gear

The delays and changes in configuration of the Queen Elizabeth strike carrier project can be directly attributed to unwarranted and ill-advised interference by the “Messenger” (the Royal Air Force and by an RAF Chief of the Defence Staff, now Lord Stirrup). Senior RAF officers have dominated the Ministry of Defence Committees and twice denied the Naval Staff its strongly preferred choice of Joint Strike Fighter.

HMS Queen ElizabethThe F-35B STOVL aircraft was forced on the Royal Navy against the latter’s wishes (in spite of claims to the contrary by Prime Minister Cameron) and this resulted in the major/detrimental change in carrier deck configuration from ‘cat and trap’ to a simple ‘ramp-fitted deck’.

Carrier costs wrongly overemphasised

The bizarre/unacceptable operational consequences of this decision have not yet been properly understood by Ministers or by the British taxpayer. 

Instead, much ‘improper’ emphasis has been placed upon the increased cost of our two new aircraft carriers. Again, the “Messenger” has provided such emphasis in order to hide the real “Message” that is so well portrayed in Figure 1 above.  The Typhoon programme is costed to be at least £58 billion which is enough money to buy at least 10 Queen Elizabeth class carriers, including air groups.

The UK is certainly not getting value for money with the Typhoon especially considering that it has little if any utility or capability for sustained Maritime/Littoral operations East of Suez.

Will HMS Queen Elizabeth be able to match U.S. Navy strike carrier operations?

Although somewhat smaller than the US Nimitz class carrier, the Queen Elizabeth has the capacity for embarking an air group of at least 50 combat aircraft.

Unfortunately, the decision to configure the flight deck of the Queen Elizabeth with a ramp and without catapults and arrestor gear places severe constraints on the type of air group that can be embarked and on the operational effectiveness of that air group.

These constraints, the main ones of which are itemised below, are the direct result of Ministers taking the word of the “Messenger” (RAF) and ignoring the authentic “Message” that was and continues to be put forward by highly experienced Naval Carrier Operators.

The idea that the Royal Navy should “make do” with what has already been decided amounts to an abrogation of responsibility and a clear lack of understanding of the operational and fiscal penalties associated with the current chosen way ahead.

Without a positive change back to ‘cat and trap’ and possibly away from the ill-fated F-35 programme as a whole, our new carriers will not be able to match U.S. Navy strike carrier operations and may be no more capable than any large amphibious support vessel.

Constraints resulting from a Ramp Fitted Deck and the F-35B STOVL

The following list of severe constraints is likely to be expanded in parallel with the continued development of the F-35B STOVL aircraft.  A fully-fledged strike carrier requires a well-proven mix of aircraft capabilities that is essential to the safe conduct of flying operations on board as well as to the effective conduct of combat operations over the sea or in support of ground forces.

No Catapult and Arrestor Gear

The lack of ‘cat and trap’ prevents the aircraft carrier from operating any air vehicle whether manned or unmanned that requires a catapult to get airborne and/or arrestor gear for landing on board.

There are certain types of air vehicle that are essential for the safe operation of air group aircraft and/or for ensuring that the warship does indeed have a full independent carrier strike capability. The majority of these cannot operate from the Queen Elizabeth ramp-fitted flight deck.

It appears certain that the associated safety concerns and operational concerns (listed below) were neither understood nor addressed by the “Messenger” or by Ministers when the decision was made to fit the flight deck with a ramp.

Further, it appears that the “Messenger” did not inform Ministers adequately concerning the lack of engine power in the F-35B STOVL aircraft that is now preventing this aircraft from enjoying the versatility and flexibility of Vertical Landings on board when configured for combat operations and in warm climates.

Without this Vertical Landing capability the F-35B STOVL loses any possible advantage it might have had over the F-35C (cat and trap version of the aircraft) or other carrier deck landing aircraft.  Indeed the aircraft becomes almost unoperable from the deck in heavy seas or in hot weather.


The F-35B STOVL will no longer Vertical Land (VL).

Throughout its long development process, the STOVL version of the F-35 has increased markedly in weight but without any parallel increase in engine power. This now means that the aircraft cannot land vertically on board with an operational weapons payload (e.g. BVR air to air missiles) in a warm climate[3].

  1. The UK Ministry of Defence has decided to try to overcome this major deficiency in specified performance by proposing that the standard recovery procedure for the aircraft will be the unproven Ship Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL). 
  2. Instead of hovering like a helicopter over its landing point, the SRVL requires the aircraft to maintain enough forward speed during its landing to provide extra wing lift to counter the deficiency in the aircraft’s engine lifting power. 
  3. It is understood that a special landing sight costing in excess of £100 million is being developed to assist the STOVL pilot during this new type of recovery – which is similar to a conventional landing but without arrestor gear.

The initial implications of this enforced SRVL mode of operation are as follows:

1. This is not a true Vertical Landing; thereby losing nearly all the famous versatility and flexibility of the Sea Harrier VSTOL aircraft.

2. The aircraft carrier will have to steam into wind to create additional wind over the deck for the SRVL; giving the STOVL aircraft no more flexibility or versatility than ‘cat and trap’ conventional landing aircraft.

3. Once on deck, the aircraft will have to use its wheel brakes to arrest its forward motion. Whereas an arrestor wire provides a landing aircraft with considerable directional stability and a failsafe, predictable landing distance in all weathers, the same cannot be said for the SRVL procedure.

In very wet bad weather with serious ship movement in all axes (yaw, roll, pitch and heave), the STOVL aircraft will have very little directional control and much reduced braking efficiency – a recipe for a catastrophic crash on deck or loss of the aircraft overboard.

SRVL does therefore represent an unacceptable Extreme Flight Safety Hazard in its own right: a Hazard to life and limb and equipment that the “Messenger”, it’s sponsored Academics and Ministers do not understand because they lack all weather fixed wing deck landing experience and/or expertise. (A separate paper on this most serious SRVL issue will be issued shortly – NDMW/F35B/SRVL dated 30 August 2014.)


No embarked air-to-air refuelling capability (AAR)

1. Fighter aircraft embarked in strike carriers need to have embarked “buddy-buddy” AAR available for the effective execution of their prime roles and to eliminate/mitigate Flight Safety Hazards that would be otherwise prejudicial to flight operations from and to the deck.  Embarked AAR provides:

2. Extension of strike range capability – allowing the carrier to operate at greater/safer distances offshore.

3. Increased endurance on task for Air Defence, Surveillance and Close Air Support missions.

4. An essential safety net for aircraft recovering on-board by night and in foul weather – directly preventing the unnecessary loss of expensive aircraft.


No Embarked Fixed Wing Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft

1. Without dedicated AEW aircraft such as the Hawkeye “mini AWACS”, the carrier/battle group is unable to detect threat weapon platforms below the radar horizon; whether aircraft, missiles or surface combatants.

AEW aircraft are vital for ensuring the safety and survival of the carrier weapon system when opposed by a sophisticated modern threat. Fixed wing AEW aircraft cannot be operated from a ramp-fitted deck.

2. Rotary wing/helicopter AEW aircraft are less capable and less versatile. Limited in height and speed, they provide less threat area coverage and are slow to respond to any urgent changes in threat direction.


No Carrier on-board delivery (COD) aircraft 

1. Like all sophisticated weapons platforms, aircraft carriers often need to be resupplied with personnel and/or urgent spare parts for either the ship or its aircraft. When far out to sea away from home base, such resupply needs to be conducted by specialist fixed wing aircraft that require the cat and trap facility.


No CTOL Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) aircraft

1. Specialist UAVs with very long range and endurance will soon be available for operation from aircraft carriers. These are similar in size and weight to manned fighter aircraft and will certainly require arrestor gear for recovery on board. The design being proven by the U.S. Navy also relies on catapult launch.

2. Such UAVs will provide a very cost-effective Deep Strike capability and Long-Range Surveillance capability – but not from a ramp-fitted flight deck.


The Carriers Will Have No Dedicated Defence Suppression Capability

1. All United States Navy strike carriers embark specialist, highly sophisticated Defence Suppression Aircraft. The A/E-18 Super Growler is now the aircraft of choice and demonstrated its prowess/effectiveness so impressively in Libya.

U.S. Navy strike aircraft (including future F-35 assets) will not be tasked against any modern air defence infrastructure without the support of the Super Growler. This prevents attrition of own forces and loss of life.

2. This vital Defence Suppression capability cannot be part of the air group in a ramp-fitted carrier.  The “Messenger” failed to bring this important issue to the notice of the Secretary of State and his Cabinet colleagues.

Responding to the Kurdistan/Iraq Crisis and ISIS

In the light of the severe operational constraints itemised above (resulting from a ramp-fitted deck and the F-35B STOVL choice of aircraft for the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers), it should be evident to Ministers and to the British taxpayer that the capability now invested in our new capital warship falls far short of expectations.

Ministers have been dreadfully misled and misinformed by the “Messenger” and so the current status quo is that HMS Queen Elizabeth fitted with a ramp but no ‘cat and trap’ cannot in any way be described as a fully capable strike carrier. Like our land-based air force, it could not come near to emulating the operations in Kurdistan now being carried out by the U.S. Navy strike carrier in the Arabian Gulf.

A Surfeit of Weapon Systems on Land – But Not at Sea

Further, U.S. Navy strike carriers are escorted by fully armed and fully equipped missile destroyers such as the Aegis class. Their magazines are full of surface-to-air missiles and other ordnance – in other words they are ready for combat.

This is not so with the British Daring class destroyer that might escort our new carriers. It does not even have all of its planned weapon systems fitted – “for but not with” is the absurd MoD description for this delinquent state of affairs.

Of course the Daring’s magazines are also virtually empty of any ordnance. In terms that the British layman taxpayer can understand, in their present state our Darings could have difficulty shooting down a flock of pigeons; never mind enemy air-to-surface and surface to surface missiles.

And yet Britain’s home-based, non-carrier capable fighter force of Typhoon and Tornado aircraft have a full inventory of air ordnance available to them that they will probably never use.

For example, they have more than 800 Storm Shadow short range cruise missiles that cannot interdict moving targets on land or sea, are unreliable and ineffective and yet cost the taxpayer more than $1 million per unit.

Again, this extraordinary and dangerous imbalance in investment is a direct result of Ministers listening to the “Messenger” rather than taking a critical view of the “Message”.

Way Ahead

If one puts the cost of the carrier programme into proper perspective by balancing it against the arguably nugatory and much larger expenditure on the obsolete Tornado and the far less versatile Typhoon aircraft programs, it is not unreasonable to suggest that Ministers should now ignore the “Messenger”.

At the first opportunity (probably with the construction of the HMS Prince of Wales), reconfigure these capital warships with catapults and arrestor gear (which is directly in line with what the Naval Staff has wanted from the beginning).

The 2015 Defence Review would be a good opportunity to change the current way ahead and provide Britain with a true and cost-effective carrier strike capability.

Masters have placed far too much faith in the “Messenger” and have not taken adequate steps to examine the validity and operational relevance of the “Message”. The predominant “Messenger” that has had the ear of UK Government Ministers has been the Royal Air Force.



[1] Additional to the much more sophisticated resources of the US Navy and its strike carriers.

[2] When Iran threatened to close the Hormuz Strait, that Islamic state showed no fear of land-based air attack from the USA. However as soon as a U.S. Navy strike carrier was dispatched to Arabian Gulf waters, Iran immediately changed its tune and suggested diplomatic negotiation rather than military confrontation. That international episode clearly demonstrates the utility and power of well-equipped strike aircraft carriers.

[3] The standard operational weapons payload for the F-35B STOVL will always include a minimum of two AIM-120 AMRAAM or Meteor air to air missiles for self-defence. These weapons costing approximately £1 million per unit are kept in limited numbers on board the carrier and they cannot therefore be thrown away whenever the aircraft needs to conduct a Vertical Landing.