The advent of the F-35B Lightning II stealth fighter jet is a huge leap forward in almost every indicator compared to the Harrier.
Naval aviation has been a costly and challenging field since the beginning. To this day, as the level of technology and defense budget increases each year, not every country has the capacity and resources to operate even a single aircraft carrier capable of operating fixed-wing aircraft.
But aircraft carriers seem to be on their way back to the globe. China’s ambitious carrier program creates a significant pressure for the nations in the region. Wealthy neighbors in northeastern Beijing such as South Korea and Japan are working hard to convert their helicopter destroyers into small aircraft carriers. The United Kingdom also soon has its own new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers. There is a common factor behind these developments, and that is the F-35B stealth aircraft.
F-35B Lightning II stealth fighter
The advent of the F-35B Lightning II stealth fighter jet is a huge leap forward in almost every indicator compared to the Harrier. Possessing short take-off and vertical-landing ability, even smaller amphibious assault ships can become an aircraft carrier. It became particularly attractive to medium sized navies.
Compared to carriers and amphibious assault ships, destroyers are much more common, and also easier to own for countries with limited defense budgets. Nearly every destroyer in the world today has a helicopter deck.
The idea here is, with its special takeoff capability, could the F-35B land on this landing deck and continue operating? A destroyer that can carry F-35 will bring significant deterrent power to any navy force possesses it.
A F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will act as the eyes and ears of the destroyer, providing data on targets the ship couldn’t even see. The combination of sensors and data networks, the new system will allow Navy ships and aircraft to cooperate to defeat enemy missiles and aircraft at greater distances than ever before.
That idea is impossible
The idea is like that. However, for the F-35 to actually be deployed as an asset for that destroyer, meaning to be stationed on it. The short answer is no. Landing a F-35B fighter on a destroyer could potentially render both the F-35B and the ship incapacitated, or worse, seriously damaged.
In order to have a clear explanation for the idea of landing F-35B on the helipad of the destroyer, it is important to understand that the landing deck is just one of many factors serving an F-35B fighter. Theoretically F-35B can not land on destroyers, because the destroyers’ decks are designed to serve helicopters with a load capacity of only about 9.5 tons. Meanwhile, the maximum weight of an F-35B can be 3 times greater than that.
Vertical take off is very fuel-intensive and means it has to sacrifice the payload for fuel. On the other hand, the fuel that the F-35B and the helicopters use is also different. So even after successfully landing on the destroyer deck, the F-35B had no fuel to continue operating.
One of the most important systems for F-35B fighters after the fuel is ALIS, an Autonomic Logistics Information System that helps diagnose and load data for the F-35B before each flight. Certainly destroyers do not have this system.
The heat generated from the exhaust nozzles of the F-35B engine is too great. The original helicopter landing deck was not designed to withstand this. The heat of a downward jet blast would be destructive the pad. It should be emphasized that the ability of the F-35B to fly depends on the jet engine, while the helicopter depends on the wind turbines generated. These two types of lift have a very different heat output.
Next is the hangar. The F-35B is much larger than a conventional helicopter, and even if it lands on the destroyer, the F-35B will not fit into the hangar. Even giant destroyers like the Zumwalt-class or destroyers with hangars for two helicopters cannot accommodate F-35Bs. The length of the F-35B is 15.7m (51.4 ft), wingspan of up to 11m (35 ft), and it should be remembered that F-35B is not capable of folding wings like F-35C. Leaving a hundred million dollar machine exposed to the harsh marine climate will undoubtedly cause the F-35B to be seriously damaged, especially in its stealthy shell.
Next is the ammunition supply system. No destroyer is designed to carry weapon of the air force, such as air-to-air missiles, cruise missiles or smart bombs. This makes the F-35B after landing on the destroyer will not be able to re-equip weapons.
Finally the logistics system. Because it was not designed to serve the F-35B, the destroyer did not have spare parts available, and even the maintenance for this expensive fighter was difficult.
Thus, in an emergency if an F-35B lands on the destroyer deck, it is likely that both the aircraft and the warship will be seriously damaged after landing. Even with a safe landing on the destroyer deck, the F-35B will not be able to take off again due to the lack of ALIS system. There was no fuel to use, no maintenance in place, no supplies of weapons, making the fighter useless.
So even in an emergency where it is impossible to return to the aircraft carrier, landing on sea will still the best option for the F-35B instead of “occupying” the deck of the helicopter on the destroyer. It is better to lose a fighter than to endanger destroyers and crew members.
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