The Royal Navy, after deciding last year to switch from the STOVL F-35B (short take off vertical landing) to the CATOBAR (catapult assisted takeoff barrier assisted recovery) F-35C, has now switched back to the F-35B. There are three apparent reasons; first, the F-35B has been doing relatively well in testing, making the British more confident that it will actually be built in numbers; second, the process of converting one of the new British carriers to fly CATOBAR aircraft would have been enormously expensive; third, the F-35B will be able to fly off both RN carriers (the British only ever considered modifying one for CATOBAR).
Advantages of going STOVL:
- Cheap (not the planes, but the carriers)!
- Flexiblish (F-35B could also potentially operate from other RN platforms, like HMS Ocean or HMS Illustrious)!
- Experience (F-35B kinda like the Harrier, only much better)!
- Interoperability (maybe with the Spanish or Italians or Australians)!
Disadvantages of going STOVL:
- Can’t fly heavier AEW planes like the E-2 Hawkeye, which cuts down on overall airgroup capability.
- F-35B is range and payload deficient compared to CATOBAR aircraft.
- Can’t decide to go with an alternative aircraft (unless you want to convince Russians to restart Yak-38 line).
- Slower pace of carrier ops.
- No interoperability with the French.
For my part, I think that if you’re going to build a couple of 65000 ton carriers that’ll be the centerpiece of your navy for 75 years, you might as well do it right. I’d have shelled out the cash for the CATOBAR conversion and tried to save money by buying F/A-18s, or some other appropriate CATOBAR plane. But then I’m no David Cameron.