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No F-35Bs for RAN LHDs – report

written by australianaviation.com.au | July 8, 2015
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A US Marine Corps F-35B. (Lockheed Martin)

A proposal to operate the STOVL F-35B variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter off the RAN’s new LHD amphibious assault ships has been dropped, according to a report in the Australian Financial Review.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott had asked Defence to evaluate operating F-35Bs from the LHDs as part of the Defence White Paper deliberations, but that proposal was recently dropped on the basis of cost and complexity, according to the report by the Australian Financial Review’s defence writer John Kerin.

“There were just too many technical difficulties involved in modifying a ship which takes helicopters to take fighter jets and it is also very expensive,” the report quotes a source as saying. “You can safely say it has been dropped.”

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The two LHDs, the recently-commissioned HMAS Canberra and the soon-to-be delivered NUSHIP Adelaide, are based on Spain’s Juan Carlos I, which was designed to accommodate AV-8B Harrier STOVL ‘jump jets’, and as such feature a ski ramp. But the Canberra and Adelaide would still require extensive modifications to allow them to embark and operate F-35Bs at sea, including new heat resistant deck treatments, approach landing aids and modifications to the ships’ aviation fuel storage and weapons bunkerage.

As it is it is unlikely the LHDs would even host US Marine Corps F-35B or AV-8Bs during future military exercises or engagements.

“Potentially, but it would need a significant amount of pre-planning and work to do that,” HMAS Canberra’s commander air, CMDR Paul Moggach, told Australian Aviation in an interview featured in the magazine’s July edition. “We are planning on integrating US Navy and US Marine Corp aircraft at RIMPAC 2016 as part of that exercise but certainly the ‘jump jets’ are not part of that.”

Continued CMDR Moggach: “Certainly, in an emergency, as a spare deck, it is plausible that we could land one on, but it is not something that we are planning on at all.”

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The Australian Navy has not operated fixed wing aircraft at sea since the retirement of the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne in 1982.

The White Paper is expected to be publicly released in late August.

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NUSHIP Adelaide and HMAS Canberra. (Paul Sadler)

 

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15 Comments

  • stuart

    says:

    typical small minded defence dpt thinking …. build the juan carlos class with ski ramp … then don’t by stovl aircraft for them ” its toooo hard !!” …… thats as daft a waist of money as oh I don’t know … buying FA18 Hornets with carrier capable landing gear !!! ,,, cos thats what defence did 30 yrs ago ….. joke … absolute joke ..

  • Steve

    says:

    Let us wait until the Spanish Armada solves the problem. They built the Juan Carlos to carry Harrier and its intended replacement the F-35B and, after decommissing Pricipe De Austurais their older carrier, Juan Carlos is now the only option for what has been the Armada’s structure. Even though it may be some years before Spain can purchase F-35Bs it will do so even as the Italian and UK Royal Navy are in the process of doing.
    Finally despite desparaging remarks from some, the ski jump on the LHDs may well serve to launch UAVs and even light attack aircraft like the Textron Scorpion which is about to be tested by the Royal Navy following its exhibition at the Paris Air Show.

  • Jason

    says:

    appropriate decision.

  • An opportunity to purchase a 3rd LHD with the facilities to house and operate F35B’s as it appears that the process for the manufacture (being a joint Spanish/Australian build) has been highly successful. As I understand it, there was an option for a 3rd LHD that was not taken up. Australia has to move rapidly to acquire new OPV’s (20) up to 10 new frigates and of course the new submarines. The Federal government can do a great deal in the coming decades to prevent the loss of valuable skills that have been acquired in the build of “Canberra” and “Adelaide” and guarantee thousands of jobs for decades to come if it approaches the coming wind down of Australian naval ship building and give the RAN teeth with combat aircraft capability.
    As previously stated, the Spanish will only have the LHD “Juan Carlos” to operate it’s Harriers on. It seems that the Spanish Navy are capable of doing it, why not ours?

  • BH

    says:

    Correct me if I am wrong with this but wasn’t the Canberra Class a modified version of the Juan Carlos..? Ie this could have included removing features for support of fixed wing aircraft instead opting for other capabilities. I know the ski jump remains, but it has been stated that it was cheaper to keep the ski jump than re-engineer the bow to remove it. As it turns out the space underneath it is quite useful.
    Money doesn’t grow on trees in this country but it seems fantasy wish lists do… These lists have been popping up on various forums lately with wildly unrealistic views. Sadly it often seems to detract from the usually constructive discussion and debate that these sites are good for.

  • Craigy

    says:

    The Navy has said that it would need to make alterations to the ships to enable them to carry fixed wing stol aircraft. They haven’t said they can’t. Its just a question of what capability is required to meet Government policies and then funding it.

  • Chris G

    says:

    BH the best document in the public domain re Spanish Navy ships is JCI_en_v*.PDF. The only changes too ours were in the starboard island structure particularly the ops rooms. I have confirmed that storage quantities are at least equal to those stated above without identifying by whom. People stating they are less are either misinformed or confusing long UK, metric and short USA quantities and specific gravity volume to weight conversions.

    Spain designed Juan Carlos 1 for the F35B before the exhaust heat issue was fully known. The unique fueldraulic activation and focus of the exhaust on deck was lessened plus coatings found by the USN via trials on Wasp. The aircraft elevators dimensions are F35B compliant and weight limit MTOW. The hangar width is 2 x F35B wingspan plus. JC1 has a Precision Approach RADAR at the aft end of the island structure ours would need. Our RADARs are also different. After the Sea Giraffe is replaced by CEAFAR on the ANZACs post 2017 the same will become operationally unusable on our LHDs because opposing ESM will identify the high value LHDs immediately it is fired up. CEAFAR was still undergoing trials at the time the LHD tender went out. LHD sensors are going to have to be replaced in the near term anyway.

    The main reason we need F35Bs at sea is because the RAAF cannot secure our ALOCs or SLOCs in the Indian, Pacific and Southern Oceans AOs from fixed bases from reasonable threats with their current equipment, acquisition plans and structure as nations like China and India develop their sea based fixed wing assets in that region. Never mind the aspiration of Japan and South Korea who have both built flat tops over the last decade or so. Italy, Spain, Turkey and other Europeans have acquired/are considering fixed wing aircraft at sea because they know the power projection advantages France, Russia, UK and USA have had securing ALOCs and SLOCs and intervening in conflicts when nearby air and sea ports were either denied politically, damaged by conflict or natural disaster or non existent.

  • Steve

    says:

    The new AWDs – when they eventualy commisioned are due to be fitted with SM-6 missiles with a range of about 200NM espescially if guided from external information such as Wedgetail.
    However I will always recall the tale of F-111s that had carried out a mock attack on HMAS Melbourne and were comfortably setting into cruise home quite some distance after its ‘attack’. Much to the crews surprise and chagrin they saw an RAN A-4 formating on their wingtip – no radar warning as the A-4 had been vectored in by a ship radar.

  • Daryl

    says:

    By all accounts this jet is an absolute dog…so far.Lets wait t o see if they can get it sorted.

  • Daryl

    says:

    Steve,when I lived in the Tumut valley(NSW),we would see the kiwi A4’s wandering around the hills waiting for the Pigs to arrive.That valley was one of their low level tracks.

  • KJB

    says:

    Kickstart the Harrier production line again, the only real proven STOVL

  • Adrian P

    says:

    The art of procurement is to define a requirement and match it with what is achievable.
    Current practice appears to be buy some of what others are having.

    If the F35 has a hot exhaust can it be tracked by satellite with a thermal image capability?

  • Gerald Casimatis

    says:

    Operational imperatives not our current perceptions will dictate the manner in which our naval assets are best used in the future.
    Speculating on what these versatile ships will be doing in ten or twenty years when it appears the Western Pacific will fill with perhaps scores of multi purpose flat tops, uavs and stealth aircraft is premature.
    The saving grace for Australia is that these ships are capable of being altered albeit at a cost to suit a number of functions.

  • TimC69

    says:

    I really don’t see why the Canberra Class can’t be used as light carriers(10-12 fighters), we would be able to project our power in the region and thus dissuade any adversary from ever contemplating an attack. Also an addtional AWD., with regards to replacements for the Anzac class…look no further than the Hobart class-its a glorifed frigate, once class of ship (12-14)…also 20 Freedom class Corvets to replace the patrol/survey/mine clearing fleet. 3 new re-sup vessels(Spanish or Korean), one additonal Bay/Choules class for sealift and 12 Virginia class subs, And then 6 BMT Caimans to replace the heavy landing craft…most could be built here in Australia(Fthe reedom are Austal from WA)…And they pay so called experts millions that took me 30 minutes to determine>>>..

  • Will

    says:

    You are all lost in 2015, we need a proper carrier. If we can buy a proper carrier, such as an America or wasp class carrier, we can recycle our legacy and super hornets and put them on that, as we transition to f35s for land-based activity. After all, something is better than nothing. We have no power against a Chinese type 001, so this would put us in a better position, while not costing us too much. I am fine with the government buying a Nimitz class carrier if the US wanted to sell any one day, but that is a very far fetched idea.

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