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White Paper to consider F-35Bs for LHDs – report

written by australianaviation.com.au | May 23, 2014

The F-35B - coming to an LHD near you? (JSF PO)
The F-35B – coming to an LHD near you? (JSF PO)

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has instructed the authors of the new Defence White Paper currently in preparation to consider the acquisition of the STOVL F-35B variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to operate from the Navy’s forthcoming LHD amphibious ships.

“It is understood Mr ­Abbott has instructed planners working on his defence white paper to examine the possibility of putting a squadron of 12 of the short takeoff and vertical landing version of the JSFs — the F-35B — on to the ships,” a report in The Australian newspaper on Friday says.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister contacted by the newspaper did not confirm or deny the suggestion the F-35B would be considered as part of the White Paper process, only noting that the White Paper’s Force Structure Review would: “examine a range of capabilities and will provide the government with options to ensure Australia maintains a sustainable, versatile and highly capable defence force in coming decades”.

However, on April 23 when Prime Minister Abbott announced the decision to acquire a further 58 F-35As for the RAAF to take the total buy to 72, he made passing reference to the fact that the F-35 variant slated to be acquired for a final batch of up to 28 jets  (to replace the Super Hornet) some time next decade had not yet been determined.

“We are certainly retaining the option to purchase an additional squadron – a further 18 Joint Strike Fighters and we haven’t decided precisely what type it might be – that will be something that will be looked at in the context of the coming Defence White Paper,” the PM said. While at the time RAAF officials explained to Australian Aviation that the figure of 18 aircraft was a slip of the tongue and should have been 28 jets, but the comment about “what type it might be” went largely unnoticed at the time.


But the question of F-35Bs being acquired for the ADF was subsequently flagged by Defence Minister David Johnston in an interview with The Weekend West on May 17, where he said the acquisition of the F-35B was “an option which has been considered from day one.”

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Comments (28)

  • Hendy


    Maybe the money could be better spent elsewhere in defence but as a 17 year old want-to-be navy pilot this makes me pretty excited.

  • William Reid


    I hope we do, and be up there with Spain, Italy and UK Navys using LHD for there vstol aircraft and it will be awesome when it comes to joint exercises and operations.

  • Frank


    As a former RAN eggbeater pilot and with a son going through RAN training at Duntroon, he’s hoping all the “talk” is not fruitless and even a bigger batch of F35b’s purchased.
    Maybe even another LHD from France instead of selling it to the Russians.

  • Adrian


    I would prefer all of the F35s to be type B. When you consider most of the recent wars have involved insurgents the ability to disperse and hide in vegetation would useful home and abroad . no expensive vulnerable airfields required. I also remember the RAF Harriers could be put on any vessel with a flat deck backing up a maritime requirement and how good they were in the Falklands. Perhaps we should have brought Harriers long ago.
    I think Mh370 has exposed our lack of maritime capability and should be addressed.

  • Scotty


    I thought the whole idea had been down played as the LHDs lacked the space to support the F35B with such things as maintainance areas & fuel and also werent designed with F35B in mind. seems a waste of money to do a report. when they already know the answers

  • Tom


    We should buy a Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier (considering one will be up for sale anyway from the RN), and go in low price as we did with the RFA Largs Bay. Besides, England has no money and this a great way to get a Carrier, rather than depend on one of our LHDS. Instead of getting 12 subs in the near future, get 9 Subs and use the rest of the money for more AWD’s, Supply Ships for this Aircraft Carrier. Even 12 F 35B’s is enough for this Aircraft Carrier when a lot of this ship can be used for other roles.

  • The Road Runner


    The White paper due out in 2015 will shed some light on what the government is thinking.
    It could be we purchase another LHD but fitted out as a light carrier or we upgrade the Canberra LHD.
    Or we just purchase F-35A instead.

    I am sure it would be a waste to upgrade the Canberra’s as they would loose some of the their capability to carry army kit and be a humanitarian asset. Could you imagine the greens if we said we are turning the Canberras into light carriers.

    I am sure Navantia/BAE would be more than happy to build us a dedicated light carrier built off the LHD!

  • James


    This seems like a pretty cool idea, but is it really worth it considering they’re only interested in the aquision of 12 f35b aircraft? The cost to operated the jets off the LHD and service them will probably more expensive then the original price of the f35b.

    • australianaviation.com.au


      James – not sure where the ’12’ number of F-35Bs came from. Phase 2C is for about 28 aircraft which is probably the minimum number you’d need to put 10-12 to sea for an extended period and still cover training and maintenance.

      Tom – that idea may have more weight than you can imagine, although I suspect we may have trouble crewing it!



  • Trevor


    With 18 to 28 F-35Bs they could easily use the existing LHDs to field 6 to 12 aircraft per ship, on deployment. Lets face it, the lack of support issues for the F-35B were more for propaganda purposes than fact. Operating STOVL jet aircraft instead of helicopters is sort of a non issue. They both use Jet A fuel, they both operate jet engines, they both take up hangar and deck space. As for weapons storage, the Tigers are armed so it simply means modification of storage facilities for different weapons. As for parts and maintenance facilities on board, this is more of a logistics issue than a structural one. I see it as this: with slight modifications you could easily operate the F-35Bs from the LHDs. The difference is that you must fit the aircraft to the ships for the mission. If you want to operate helicopters then the Bs stay at home, if you want to operate as a carrier, then you remove most of the helicopters. In fact, with two LHDs you can have a mixed force structure, one can be acting as a light carrier, the other as an amphibious assault ship, or visa versa, or both doing the same mission. It certainly gives you flexibility.

  • Raptor1


    As an American with real “ponies” in this race: The F-35B is a great “idea”; an idea built around the belief that hypothetically, in a conflict where one faces an aggressor that can take out airfields from great distances, an aircraft that can operate from austere airfields would be an important asset due to its survivability; and that for the types of low-intensity, short-range conflicts seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, having forward bases in remote locations shortens the delivery of ordinance to the front lines . The real problems center around the first half of the theory (no arguing that forward basing decreases transit times, assuming that no large, long-loiter aircraft are positioned overhead) and are not so “leaky” at first-glance (as the F-35 Program undeniably attests to, what you aren’t told will ultimately cost you more in dollars and capability, but will get you committed early-on.)
    To put it into context, let’s assume there WERE a conflict where an aggressor took out a vast majority of airfields. To the layman, a bunch of aircraft have survived, yay!. But the first important thing to note (and at this point in our scenario, too late to reconsider) is that if one’s primary airfields have been destroyed, you are obviously facing an aggressor possessing likely a combination of precision weapons – cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, long-range strike aircraft, sat and laser-guided PGMs, etc… which means your assets can be “found” and targeted. However, this is actually the least of your problems, since you at least can HIDE – Unfortunately, the aggressor has at best (for you) stunted your ability to defend against further attacks, and at worst, has left you with a severely compromised airframe (compared to purpose-built airframes) that you must operate in an environment WITHOUT true air superiority airframes (bases taken out).
    The questions that taxpayers need to ask themselves are simple: Given that you can’t get true air superiority and other capabilities in a mini-me “mobile” aircraft, is YOUR money BEST spent on the types of assets that have “proven” worth in low-risk conflicts like Iraq/Afg (Harrier, F-35B)….better spent on well-defended air superiority / strike bases…or a combination of both? And in answering that question, to make the decision relevant to proposed planning like this article discusses, one must consider if the money spent on 28 F-35Bs lines up with the intended benefits/uses of the aircraft .
    If 28 F-35Bs satisfies a plausible future need (Afg/Iraq-scope scenario), AND the meager 28 airframes are ABLE to deliver the intended capability, AND the cost of those 28 airframes (figure on $3B + just for the aircraft) is worth the capability, then you have a “winner”
    Me, personally, I wouldn’t touch the -35 (ANY model) until the price is dropped, its capabilities are PROVEN, its testing is completed, and its maintenance costs and down-time drop considerably – But hey, that’s just a consumer doing what a consumer does, looking for value in investment – Most politicians, especially when they dive into a “jobs” program like the F-35, are not average consumers; they have “benefits” to reap, for which they’re willing to babble straight off a fancy PowerPoint.. Only TIME will tell if the -35B can deliver…. So take YOUR time, Australia.

  • PHIL


    TOM, England has no money ??? the second Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier up for sale ?? what planet do you come from ??

  • Alpha


    Just some ideas for contemplation.

    The whole AU defense force is in a significant transition that i am sure you are all aware of. That which has been done before may need to not be added into factoring going forth. Obviously there is a financial limit too. But i will put something onto the table.

    The 12 standard Super Hornets are the transition number. And, thus, where that 12 operation number come from with 18 total F35B. The extra 6 will be for training and failures like you guys in other detailed comments for other posts are very astute on. There are near term 12 standard and 12 Growlers for the current 24 total Super Hornets. There will be 36 Super Hornets all up with 12 having the ability to be upgraded totaling 24 growlers all up. Those 12 remaining non-Growlers will be made growlers as the steal tech of the F35 isn’t as good as it seems and the radar tech of other nations is likely to improve also. We will end up having a force of 24 growlers as a long term thing for a specific purpose related to radar jamming and elimination. I would say that many other F35 Gov’s are looking to do the same thing but expect the real financial issues that were avoided in 2008 by getting out of extreme debt by getting into even more unsustainable debt to really kick in very soon. Making this strategy possibly out of the other nations means for now. These issues are going to intensify political instability hence the huge increases in military spending globally. So, when you see this, there has been a plan for many years to run parallel growlers with the F35 when you look as to when decisions had to be made. This has been known for a long time.

    So future Air Force (28) vs ‘Marine (18)’ acquisitions should maybe considered separate entities possible. Both relevant. The Growlers are the new tech on the block for a different style of technology as a whole external to the standardization of F35. Working alot with the Wedgetails as the hub for mission allocation.

    As for our LHDs. It has probably been classified the configuration relative to F35B. But, military makes plans decades in advance. Don’t discount them already being partly ready just because we have not been told. The weapon lifts do suggest to this though no doubt like the standard ski front too. The new choppers will carry hellfire missiles etc. Working with and stating that the interoperability with other nations suggest this also. With our 2 LHDs, only 1 will ever likely be deployed at any one time so the F35B’s will be a unit that switches relative to the need of the deployment of either ship i would say. US Navy does this I believe though their resources are staggering. It will also take time to develop the operation procedurally from new too which will take many years. So, maybe another Canberra class might be on the cards. I would not expect anything other that a standard hull so buying yet another frame of some sort i would say is invalid. Buying that transition ship (HMAS Choules) suggests the possibility like the 12 Standard Super Hornets i suggest above for another LHD in the future. Though the deployment of a full LHD may be a bit excessive relative to some missions so open to being incorrect. Providing forward command platforms in international waters though should not be under estimated. The new Anzac Class replacements in the decision phase at present (when you look at the vid below) i would say would be like the AWDs too. Ageis likely our standard going forth.

    There is an interesting segment in the AWD video below re Ageis controlling the battle space (5:30min in approx) that shows how all things will integrate. So, you are very across the air aspects here. It goes across many platforms now i have no doubt you know.


    Enjoying reading all your comments guys. Just some thoughts of mine for you to add. Interesting times. Lets hope there is never a need for any of these things to do anything but rust.

  • Mark G


    This is sensational news. How could they not consider it.

    Alpha, it’s still early days. Great aircraft take time to develop, and I won’t waste my time rattling a long list off.

  • Tom



    1. U.K debt Clock.


    England has no money.

    2. RN-HMS Prince of Wales final decision on the fate of the second carrier will be taken as part of the 2015 SDSR. (No money and cutting back on Military spending).

    3. Which Planet am I living on?. The same Planet as you live on Phil.. You should stick to fighting Aliens.

    4. Andrew, I think the RAN will have trouble crewing 12 Future Subs.

  • Frank


    Where have you been?
    Everyone knows the UK are in financial disarray.
    Particularly the military which are struggling to find funds for a much needed overhaul of all the UK’s military establishment.
    They make Australia’s military funding problems pale in comparison.
    There has been talk over the past year or so in several forums re possible interest and sale of the second Queen Elizabeth class carrier to Australia.
    Benefit to the UK, more funds to upgrade the Tridents and associated aging submarine fleet.

    @Andrew (Aust Aviation)
    Andrew, was there an article a little while back on AA which mentioned what modifications are needed to the LHDs to operate F35B’s?

    Crewing will always be a problem but in an economic environment where teens leaving school are falling short of finding a job, always a great career to be had in the DF.

    Have to remember, those like myself old enough who can, the former RAN carrier Melbourne was not designed to operate Sky Hawks but it did and very well I must add.
    Vastly inferior to the US carrier task force in terms of numbers but had a very profound sting when needed. At times even surprising our allies at what was achievable even with small numbers.

    Some great stories from times long gone where US pilots refused to land their Sky Hawks on our little Melbourne 😉

    In summary, this nation NEEDS a mobile sea going air strike capability.
    Even as a supplement to the two LHDs as another LHD purpose built or the second UK carrier.

  • Brad



    Good call on Point #4. They can’t even crew the 6 they have without resorting to ‘musical submariners’!

    Mind you, if there ever comes a day when all six are out of maintenance and fit for sea at the same time (thereby actually REQUIRING six crews at once), I’ll buy you a Coke.

    (Caution: bigger picture)

    AUSGOV can buy all the toys it likes with our $$$, and JSF debate is no different, but they always seem to forget Airpower 101. Without the people to maintain the aircraft/ships/tanks etc and support operations (not to mention all the other members required in support of raise, train and sustain), our ADF risks becoming effectively an incredibly expensive, geographically-dispersed, static display.

    Perhaps halting the decades-long erosion of service conditions for ADF members (over which BOTH major parties have presided) would go some way towards addressing the crewing issues for subs etc.

    Anyway, more food for thought.



  • Dave


    If the Libs hold power long enough it will happen.
    As for UK selling of a new carrier that won’t happen.

  • Dane


    We have a defence force. Projection of airpower is not something Australia really needs. The LHDs were purchased for the sole use of helicopter and amphibious operations and humanitarian assistance. The last thing we need is a small capability with an expensive supply chain and a USMC style expeditionary force.

  • Alpha


    Army’s plans which include an amphibious (Marine) element:


    Planned restructuring

    Under a restructuring program known as Plan Beersheba announced in late 2011, the 1st, 3rd and 7th Brigades will be re-formed as combined-arms multi-role manoeuvre brigades with the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (part of the 3rd Brigade) forming the core of a future amphibious force[10] The force will be known as an ‘Amphibious Ready Element’ and will utilise the former Royal Navy 16,000-tonne auxiliary Bay class landing ship RFA Largs Bay (L3006), bought for $100 million to become HMAS Choules.


    This shows the aim for 3 formations on rotational ready etc. Hence, the potential for a 3rd LHD though i am sure having 2 and one operational serves this function. The ability to host in international waters cannot be underestimated. The Townsville Army Battallion to become ‘Marine’ style. Where the LHD(s) will operate from other than Sydney home port. I am sure this is a transition step. Perhaps Marine separation is the next plan once all up and running.

    Like a ‘Coast Guard’ just been established recently separate from the Navy, so to is a Marine type of force. Hence the separation of sorts suggestion regarding aircraft. Those 12 standard Super Hornets without any Growler tech are the transition until tech re F35 is ready. Really ready.

    Apologies to the editors for going outside air stuff. Just, very much in flux on many things at present and there is a overall scope understanding requirement relative to this. And, don’t discount the financial aspects. I did trade currencies many years and appreciate this urgency for proven tech short term. Good luck all.

  • David


    Not so sure of the value in this. A small number of F-35 operating off a small ship with reduced payload… How much reinforcing of the deck would be needed to handle the exhaust gas from the B’s nozzle?

    We currently have the world’s largest aircraft carrier (the continent). It seems to me that denial/deterrence off the northern shores is best handled by a land based aircraft. Ships make good targets and are very hard to defend from airborne attack.(that’s why the AWD makes no sense unless part of a US CBG.)

    By itself a ship can’t see beyond the radar horizon. Putting that many assets on a floating target doesn’t seem like good sense. The Russians can sell their very good ASMs to anyone.

    We can deal with pirates with Seahawk Rs, so the question remains, who are we going to confront with a couple of small LHDs?

  • Alpha


    For those interested, in that first post above regarding the link YouTube vid relative to the AWD ability to control a remote space with Surface, sub-surface, air and threats it shows the component usages within that field external to land. The allocation of missions in air will be driven by Wedgtails if no AWD present. The importance of the AWD is going to be core in many respects. It is offered visually there. I said 5:30mins. It starts at 5:20mins.

    The ability to host a small group of sea transported F-35Bs can be provided at this great (page3) of our region relative to flat top ships and the transition to vertical take off potentials going forth. It actually shows the Australian very high power relative to our region. Especially, when you consider we are to have 3 Ageis missile capable ships soon and the Anzac replacements currently under decision are likely to be 6-8 more going forth. So we will get more AWDs now that the ‘Coast Guarding’ role will be outsourced. Hence the potential for a 3rd LHD.

    Article (page 3 of a really great entire article very relevant for here):
    (it offers the actual enormous power a small group of vertical take off F-35Bs will afford)

    What i have hinted at with respect to the financial global situation. The world only escaped 2008 by getting into an even more debt driven unsustainable central bank system. You are seeing Russia and China (with the BRIC nations) about to implement a parallel financial system that will make this last 400yrs of central banking system based on debt invalid. The long term gas deal between those 2 nations is a cornerstone as it does not use the reserve currency as a method of exchange. Many smaller nations in the last 50yrs have tried not trading their resources in US$ and they aren’t fairing as countries too well now days. Ukraine will probably be the last one with this in mind. Enormously significant. Hence efforts going on around the world of countries no longer wishing to trade in the US$.

    Now, see where AUS fits as a component to the players relative to this now. And, see what happens relative to our financial situation, debt levels relative to gov, citizen and households, government ‘budget’ wording with ’emergency’ and ‘measures’ etc included in the language sets. Remember world history when instability is afforded on a large scale relative to these sorts of things. There is a direct proportional relationship between financial stability and the requirement for military resources. This is where the full range of rolls available going forth…forth will be important. Not that which has been in this last 20yrs of economic boom etc.

    Again, apologies to the editors re this. It is very much outside the scope (just to qualify my input deeper) of that you wish to focus on and i won’t add any more. You guys here seem very wise and no doubt because you are across this stuff here are pillars relative to those you interact with. I offer this as something to contemplate with this next 2/3-6months going forth with that in mind.

    Keep posting all your great comments all. I enjoy them greatly. As with the articles. As i said, lets hope all this stuff only sits there and rusts. Thanks all.

  • Frank


    Understand criticism against the F35B’s being purchased.
    However, I’m old school and being prepared is better than rushing/praying to get some help like we did in early years WW2.
    Land based targets are actually much harder to defend by the way as they are static and every nation with a camera on a satellite has exact GPS positions.
    Would be better to spend money on mobile land based long range anti aircraft / ship missiles.

  • Simon


    The Canberra’s are Pointless even with a 1 AWD each they have no chance of defending themselves without the Ff35b on them. base one in W.A with F35Bs and you solve two problems.
    in time of war even buying the Queen Elizabeth-class wouldn’t help as in would need to be near the Canberra’s at all time.s
    as for the 12 Subs The U.S Just ordered 10 More Virginia-class Submarines if we took 10 wouldn’t this proven technology be cheaper than the last f##kup.

  • Martin


    Couple of comments on earlier messages:

    Frank: Why would we buy a further LHD from France when the two we have already are from Spain (ie: Navantia). Also, where is that tree that the money grows on? I want to plant one in my back yard.

    Adrian: Why the preference for all type B? Without having compared the specs, it would be a reasonable bet that the STOVL capability would comes at a hell of an extra cost (including sustainment) and reduced range and perhaps reduced performance in other areas also. Would addition of STOVL capability warrant any such costs and performance reductions? Recent wars involving insurgents have typically been fought with western forces using land based airfields. Lower cost UAV’s (both acquisition and operation) are in any case probably a better option to combat such forces than a STOVL fighter aircraft! When they launch their shoulder mounted missiles I would also rather loose a UAV than a STOVL fighter and its pilot (though presumably they would fly high enough to hopefully remain clear of such threats?). I am not sure how MH370 search relates to exposing any lack of naval capability?

    Tom: We can keep buying ‘low priced’ ships (and I have never heard of a ‘low priced’ new aircraft carrier before, even if being disposed by another navy) that other navies are considering passing on and then spending more on repairing them once they are in service with us like HMAS Choules, or we can think through rationally what our defence priorities might be. Other alternative is that we find a lot more of those trees that money grows on, including for payment of the sustainment of such a capability. OK, I see you are considering cost by looking at whether the number of proposed subs is suitable.

    Trevor: Never consider aircraft integration issues as trivial. Read some of the problems the UK got themselves into with flip-flop decisions on even something so seemingly ‘simple’ as changing the type of (F35!) aircraft they were considering for their QE class carriers. Cost them dearly.

    Raptor1: Nice to see some calm objective thinking. However I will add that I remember seeing photos of Swedish conventional jet fighters (Draken or Viggens?) scattered around under cam netting off the side of roadways as a means of dispersing their forces and not making them dependant on dedicated airfields. I can’t see why that isn’t still feasible, if not simple.

    Brad: Good on you for pointing out that sustainment, not least the personnel to operate, should not be forgotten as we keep on talking about buying more and more military equipment.

    Dane & David: You get my vote too.

    Finally, I remember reading a critical review of the Harrier / Sea Harrier and the Invincible class RN carriers in an aviation or defence mag many years ago. Wish I could recall the details. It seemed to be quite objective and came to the conclusion that the UK’s push for STOVL aircraft and carriers to go with them was as much as anything ideological rather than rational. I don’t recall further details of the article otherwise would add here.

    I love the technology that makes Harrier, AV-8B, F35B etc fly, but that technology does not mean such aircraft are necessarily the best military option.

  • Michael


    Martin interesting point about the Swedish jets. The Gripen is designed to operate in such a manner and be able to take off and land in short distances, as well as be turned around in a short time whilst operating in such a scenario. We could probably by 2-3 times as many Gripens compared to F-35Bs and still have change leftover. All setup to disperse and operate from Northern desert highways in times of need. I have no doubt the RAAF could take this on after having seen that Youtube documentary where they setup an airstrip from scratch in the middle of no where somewhere in QLD for a C-17 to land on.

  • Brian Pettitt


    The disbandment of RAN fixed wing air was based on the premise that the RAAF would be able to support ships at sea.

    They can’t.

    They never will be able to.

    MELBOURNE used to operate 6 – 8 A4 and 4 – 6 S2E (plus helicopters) with the mix changed dependent upon the mission.

    6 F35B per LHD, whilst not a lot, would provide cover and strike under most circumstances.

    To me, it’s a no-brainer.

    And have the RAN operate them out of Nowra so that they can train with the ships. The RAAF have proved reluctant over and over again. That’s why we rented the A4s back from New Zealand.

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