This paper recognises that the initial choice for the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy of an Advanced Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (ASTOVL) variant of F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter was primarily based on cost. But there was also a desire to retain the proven Vertical Take Off and Landing (VSTOL) flexibility of the Harrier family of aircraft. However, during its development the ASTOVL F-35B has encountered problems that have increased its cost, that deny it this full range of flexibility and, critically, that mirror the major operational disadvantage suffered by the Sea Harrier and US Marine Corps AV-8B+: that is a decaying and arguably inadequate power to weight ratio that eventually restricts operational vertical landings in hot climates.
The roles and responsibilities of the Future Carrier Air Group are examined within the context of Britain’s Global Interests and a detailed comparison is made of the flexibility (or otherwise) of VSTOL and ASTOVL in the operational context.
An operational capability and cost comparison is then made between the F-35B and the F-35C, respectively the chosen variant for the United States Marine Corps (USMC) and the United States Navy (USN). Conclusions are drawn from these assessments and a Recommendation on the way ahead for the Future Carrier Air Group Joint Strike Fighter variant is made.
Date of release: August 2010
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