Why aircraft carriers may be good for parking cars but not landing new jets
Sailors' cars fill the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan during transit up the U.S. West Coast.
January 16th, 2012
11:33 AM ET

Why aircraft carriers may be good for parking cars but not landing new jets

As this third week in January starts, we're learning three things about the U.S. military aircraft carrier program:

- The Pentagon may be looking at reducing the number of carriers in the U.S. fleet from 11 to 10 to save money.

- The military's new F-35C Joint Strike Fighter may not be suitable for carrier use.

- Aircraft carriers make fine automobile transports.

On the first point, The Washington Times reports, citing unnamed sources, that the U.S. Navy may be trying to cut one of its 11 carriers to save money.

Congress has mandated by law that the Navy maintain 11 carriers. But the Pentagon is also under orders from the Obama administration to cut $488 billion from its budget within the next 10 years, Rowan Scarborough reports in the Times.

Cutting a carrier, along with the other forces that make up and support a carrier battle group, could save the Navy billions of dollars, according to the Times report.

An F-35C test aircraft launches from a test catapult in Lakehurst, New Jersey.

As for the F-35C, reports have begun circulating that the aircraft the military says is "the most affordable, lethal, supportable and survivable aircraft ever to be used by so many warfighters across the globe" won't be able to land on aircraft carriers, apparently because its tailhook is too short and is situated too close to its landing gear for the plane to properly grab the arresting cables that enable planes to land on aircraft carriers.

The report was first seen last week on the website aviationintel.com and was backed up by a report in London's Sunday Times that has been picked up by press across Britain.

Aviationintel.com reported that the design flaw is not fixable because there's just not enough space on the belly of the F-35C to move the tailhook back.

British naval sources said the flaws could place the entire JSF program in jeopardy, according to a report in The Daily Telegraph. Britain was expected to buy about 50 of the planes, the Telegraph reported.

Jim Murphy, the shadow defense secretary, said, "An island nation like ours should be able to operate aeroplanes from an aircraft carrier. The government must come clean on the full impact of the defense review. It's essential we know how long we will be without carrier strike capability," according to the Telegraph report.

Just last week, the U.S. Marine Corps reported it welcomed its first F-35B into its fleet. The first Marine jets will be used for training at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, the Corps said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the website Jalopnik reports that aircraft carriers also make great automobile carriers and save the Navy money in the process.

Photos from the USS Ronald Reagan show its flight deck loaded with the personal vehicles of sailors as the carrier travels along the West Coast to Naval Base Kitsap in Bremerton, Washington, where the carrier will undergo maintenance.

And the saving money part?

"First, the only other way to get vehicles owned by Navy sailors to their final destinations is to put them in another ship. Second, if they didn't send soldiers' vehicles they'd have to pay for transportation at the final destination. Both of which would absolutely cost more money," Jalopnik points out.

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Filed under: Marines • Military • Pentagon • U.S. Navy • United Kingdom
soundoff (455 Responses)
  1. Easy E

    Typical Pentagon/MIC boondoogle disaster. Spend $100B over 15 years and THEN figure out that, OH, yeah, by the way, we actually would like to LAND these things on the carrier as well. Geniuses all. More MIC corporate welfare, coming up! Who says the military and socialism don't mix!

    January 17, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheThinker

      You do know that the AF and Marine variants of this aircraft work just great, right? And that the issue is that the "bolter" frequency is higher, attributable to the length of the tail hook. (i.e. it works, but leaves little margin for error.)
      But hey, if this is your only opportunity to throw your hands up and yell "boondoggle", go for it.

      January 17, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stunning

      I think you have articulated the issue quite well. The MIC has used it's financial power to create a bit of a welfare state around itself. After all, it does not really compete for spending resources in a constrained market of choices.

      I love it, US businesses have created the equivalent of a welfare state through lobbying.

      January 17, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  2. L

    What I'm curious about is why the F-35 STOVL variant couldn't be for carrier use. Short Take-Off, Vertical Landing sounds pretty suitable to a carrier to me.

    January 17, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Easy E

      As other posters have mentioned, the VTOL carries a lot less weapons and has less range, the latter being the real trouble if you aren't focused more on the littoral front like the Marines.

      January 17, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • sielingfan

      Still, I mean, throw some external tanks on the hardpoints or something.... Surely there's a way to make a 5th-generation VTOL aircraft useful at sea. Maybe not under current tactics, I'm just saying, scrapping the whole shebang doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

      Anywho the Air Force loves our A-models.... Good thing, since we're (rightly) slashing the 22. If the program did nothing but make up for lost Raptors at a fraction of the cost, it was worth doing.

      January 17, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Richard

    The F-35C won't be able to land on a carrier because the designers at the Skunk Works have never designed a navy plane. All they have ever designed were recon platforms such as U-2, SR-71 etc. Lots of money wasted. Should have been done my another company. I think Boeing should have done the work because they do navy planes!

    January 17, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      Perhaps you'reforgetting the F-80/T-33, the P-38, Electra, the Orion, the P3 (a Navy plane, albeit one incapable of landing on a carrier), the L-1011 and so many other aircraft that were not spy planes. And insofar as the U-2 and SR-71 being a waste of money? The U-2 is still used to this day, almost 60 years after the design and the SR-71 provided the most accurate and up-to-date images of such hot spots as the Middle East. These systems have paid for themselves several times over.

      January 17, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheThinker

      LOL, Boeing has a long history of making navy aircraft. Take for example the, uh... um...
      (silent mic... sound of crickets chirping)
      The F35 walked all over the Boeing aircraft. So, no, going with a Boeing would not have been preferable to modifying the tail hook on a dominatingly superior aircraft.
      Sheesh, it's a tail hook.

      January 17, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheThinker

      @ michael. Dude, you're totally forgetting the F104, F117, c130, c141, and the c5.

      @ everyone else: Boeing makes the world's toughest aircraft, Lockheed makes the highest-performing aircraft. Tomayto, tomahto.

      January 17, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stunning

      Frenkly, I think this si a problem endemic to today's DoD. They are simply too far in the pocket of the contractors to hold them accountable for good work. We would have never prevailed in WWII with this kind of crap.

      January 17, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sandman

      Too bad Grumman is no longer building fighters. Those were planes worth flying in.

      January 17, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Paul

    Granted this should never have been overlooked during design but aerospace engineers are a pretty intelligent group. If the two choices are
    1) Have the naval program canceled
    2) Figure out a way to make the tail hook operational
    My money is on #2.

    January 17, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stunning

      The only way they are going to figure out the DoD and contractors "fixed" the tail hook is through pilot fatality rates....

      January 17, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Brian

    The naval variant is a must. I am sure some intelligent engineer will find a solution to the problem.

    January 17, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stunning

      Of couse, it is hard to explain an easy fix when they have known about the problem since 2007.....

      January 17, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      Correction, intelligent engineers wouldn't have let the problem happen in the first place!

      January 17, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Brian

    They should have never gotten rid of the F-14. Spend the money on updating it! The airframe was as solid as a rock. My idea for the tail hook, instead of having one point where the tail hook attaches to the plane, make it two and move them out toward the main mounts. There is a lot more room there for hook mounts. The center point mount was always a bad idea because it puts too much stress in one point and was unstable if you didn't catch the wire just right.

    Peace and Tomcats forever baby!!!

    January 17, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • sielingfan

      Careful with those ideas, you're in the Danger Zone.

      Superhornets seem to be working out so far...

      January 17, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheThinker

      F14s cost too much to operate. And remember, they are basically 1960s ideas and technology.

      They should NOT have scrapped them all, though.

      January 17, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Slewatha

      What happens when only one arrestor hook on a wing grabs the cable and the other side does not?

      January 17, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  7. the_dude

    Sometimes it takes wasting a hundred billion dollars to realize you made a mistake.

    January 17, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • sielingfan

      It's not like the two other variants are suffering from a tailhook problem. At worst we wasted, what, 10 billion? Pocket change, dude, that's walking-around money right there.

      January 17, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stunning

      I think we are going to find huge issues in the other two variants. Just watch the spec's for speed and range to deterioriate..... Thing will end up as a supercruiser with no more range than and F-14/F-18

      January 17, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  8. MrWright

    Might I intrest the Royal Navy in this rather large butterfly net I own?

    January 17, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  9. bill

    just fix the damm tail hook

    January 17, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  10. RichWW2

    "the most affordable, lethal, supportable and survivable aircraft ever to be used by so many warfighters across the globe" won't be able to land on aircraft carriers, apparently because its tailhook is too short and is situated too close to its landing gear for the plane to properly grab the arresting cables that enable planes to land on aircraft carriers."

    As a former member of the US Military this does not surprise me in the least. Only the government could manage something like this where some things are not compatible. Kind of like the square and round air filters from Apollo 13. It would be funny if it wasn't our tax dollars hard at work.

    January 17, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • MB

      Even better, this is the European variant, and let's not forget the Beagle 2 😀

      January 17, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Dale

    Do any of you out there feel the United States has been infiltrated?
    I'm going to use the word "They" could not beat U.S. with military so "they" did what "they" do best.
    They infiltrated the world stock markets and the world governments, right now "they" have a few problems but they seem to be doing pretty good with their banks and stock market.
    And it seems they are setting themselves up to do even better, because the rest the world is doing badly because of their handiwork if you know what I mean.
    And their weapon of choice electronics instantaneous results just look at the graphs up-and-down up-and-down, and I think the White House has been infiltrated need to investigate some of the staff.

    January 17, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  12. QC Lou

    What was the name of the Mars probe which crashed due to the use of METRIC dimensions by one contractor and Enhlish dimensions by the other ??

    January 17, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Aron

    It's the F-111 all over again. One fighter cannot fill every role in the universe. I agree with the people who said the Tomcat should not have been decommissioned. After all, the B-52 airframe is 1940s -50's technology and we intend to use those for at least another 15 to 20 years.

    January 17, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • sielingfan

      Not really the same thing. High-performance planes get stressed a lot differently than a B-52, which probably never sees more than 1.5Gs (and that on a hard landing).... I would be surprised if there was a single Tomcat left that's not bent to hell. That doesn't mean the things weren't flyable, but the time to look for a replacement was ten years ago - and the 35C is the plane to do it, hands-down.

      January 17, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Sailor101

    Bring back the F-14. The platform was retired way before it's time in favor of the F-18 which carries a smaller payload and has to be brought topside in order to extend and load the weapon stations at the end of the wings.

    January 17, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Fred Mannerino

    While I read the stories and links regarding the F35; its costs, its problems and related stories regarding the F22 all on CNNs website, there is no reporting of these issues on CNN TV. There too busy over there repeating over and over the political news and / or the sinking of a cruise ship. It's not just CNN. Its CBS, NBC, ABC and that so called fair and balanced news from Fox. Because of the current coverage on CNN TV being nothing but repeating things ad nauseum, I've quit watching. At least on the website I can choose what I want to read about, if its new.

    January 17, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • sielingfan

      Better solution: go to actual sources. CNN is reporting (online) that the F-35 is costing Americans hundreds of billions of dollars or whatever..... if you research the issue you'll see that this is a very (extremely) one-sided assessment. Maybe I'm overstating the case, but my point is relying on CNN to keep you informed isn't a whole heckuva lot better than relying on FOX. Or, you know, Family Guy.

      January 17, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
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