I mean at least Carl Vinson was the Navy's best friend in Congress for well over a decade and the ships he helped get procured were critical in WWII

No question, no elected official ever did so much for the Navy as Vinson.

But I think the thing to do with him was to name a naval base after him, not a carrier. Stick a huge statue of him at the front gate.

If it's a president who also happened to be a successful military leader (Washington, Ike), it might be a different story.
CVF-90 Part 3 (Hawks, Hornets and Hawkeyes)
One of the reasons why aircraft carriers are considered by many nations to be the ultimate prestige items (after SSBN’s) is the fact that they are generally only operated by the few truly top tear blue water navies of the world. The reason for this exclusivity is simple cost. Many smaller navies around the world over the years have produced designs for smaller vessels but the vast majority of these never amount to more than some artists impressions that look good in PR material. While some of these designs will be motivated by genuine operational need just as many will be driven by reasons of prestige in being allowed to join that most exclusive of naval clubs (after the club of nuclear submarine operators). What pretty much uniformly kills off these aspirations is the reaction of the respective nations leaders when they are told of the likely costs.
Building an aircraft carrier isn’t a singular project just to produce a ship. It is a programme built of a great many projects to not only build the ship but to develop and purchase the necessary specialised aircraft and support equipment and to build up the skillset required to operate the thing.
When the UK had embarked upon the CVF-90 aircraft carrier programme a large number of individual projects had been set in motion. Individually these projects would be challenging enough for reasons ranging from the technical to the financial. However, each one was but a small cog that would be expected to fit seamlessly into a larger machine otherwise it would have no reason for being.
Three of the largest projects were simply to put aircraft onto the decks of the new ships.

During the course of the Phantom’s service with the RN a total of 48 aircraft had been procured. Of the FAA’s fleet of 48 15 had been lost in accidents representing almost a third of the fleet. The thought of such a thing occurring with the planned fleet of 80 F/A 18 Hornets was something beyond horror. Even before the 1983 Defence Whitepaper had formally committed the UK to a new generation of carriers and Naval aircraft it was obvious that something needed to change. Indeed, this had been an unofficial condition from the treasury if they were to finance the navy’s new generation of fast jets. A study had been undertaken into FAA aircraft and pilot losses over the last 20 years. The studies findings regarding the causes of the losses weren’t to surprising. Operating an aircraft at sea from the deck of an aircraft carrier above the hostile environment of open water is an inherently dangerous business. Whereas a pilot operating over land will have a number of options of where to land if he finds himself in difficulties a pilot out to sea will likely only have the options of returning and landing on the carrier which in itself is dangerous enough or ditching in the water where there was a strong chance of him drowning or freezing. His only hope of survival would depend on someone else locating and rescuing him. The study had made reference to the fact that it was believed that a large number of Argentine pilots in the Falklands conflict had died of exposure or drowning in the South Atlantic after ejecting from their aircraft and that the majority were still officially listed as missing as no body had ever been found.
In terms of the individual aircraft losses most had occurred when the aircraft had for whatever reason exceeded their capability envelopes or in accidents that had occurred during launching and recovery to the carrier. Aircraft carrier landings were known to be extremely difficult and stressful for aircrew requiring pinpoint accuracy. As a result, a number of aircraft had been written off as a result of landing accidents at sea. In one notorious case a Phantom crash aboard HMS EAGLE during the Falklands Conflict had not only written off the aircraft involved but had rendered the fight deck unusable resulting in two other aircraft (A Phantom and a Gannet) having to ditch due to not having anywhere else to land. Indeed, an aircraft didn’t have to be in the air to be at risk. In another notorious case This time aboard HMS ARK ROYAL a Buccaneer that wasn’t secured to the deck had rolled of the side of the ship resulting in the loss of one of the crew. The study also noted that in incidents where an aircraft entered the water with the crew still inside such as launch failures and the aforementioned incident crew survival rates were extremely low due to the crews being strapped into an aircraft that would generally sink like a stone long before even the plane guard divers could reach them. The study wasn’t able to make any recommendations as to how to mitigate this last issue.

The conclusion of the report was that this was a training problem. In the 1980’s RN fast jet trainees followed the same syllabus and trained alongside their RAF counterparts only learning the art of operating from the deck of a carrier in the last stages of their training when they converted onto the frontline type that they would be flying.
The solution was felt to be the addition of a specialised maritime and carrier flying course before they converted onto type. The idea being that once they had completed their advanced fast jet training with No 4 Flying Training School at RAF Valley RN pilots would then undertake another fast jet course to teach them the specialist skills they would need for operating at sea with extra training being delivered on things like sea survival and generally trying to get the trainees more hours in the cockpit. This course would also be where trainees would be introduced to and taught the skills required for carrier operations. The reasoning behind this was that when they converted onto the F/A 18 Hornet the trainees would find it much easier if they were merely having to adapt skills, they already had rather than having to start from nothing in an unfamiliar aircraft. It was hoped that by learning these skills (in particular landings) in the less demanding training aircraft the trainees would be able to build up their confidence and hopefully this would reduce the washout and accident rate. It would also eliminate one particularly annoying issue. Landing an aircraft aboard a carrier at sea is one of the most difficult, frightening and most demanding feats of airmanship out there and the simple fact of the matter is that not every pilot is up to it for reasons of not having the required natural skill or nerves. At present carrier qualification was the very last thing that a pilot would achieve before graduating from training. While failures at this stage were rare, they were extremely annoying as it meant that all the years of training and vast amounts of money spent on the pilot in question were effectively wasted. Generally, the pilot’s career could be salvaged by transferring him to the RAF but that was of little comfort to the RN.

Therefore, it had been recognised that a modern carrier capable training aircraft would be required. In 1976 the RAF had introduced the Hawker (Now British Aerospace) Hawk advanced jet trainer as a replacement for the Folland Gnat and Hawker Hunter in the jet trainer role. Even back then the RN had viewed the aircraft as an ideal replacement for its own Hawker Hunter trainers meaning that pretty much every FAA fast jet pilot trained since the late 70’s had experience on the type.
The Hawk was already becoming something of a runaway export success.
Even better at the time of the 1983 Defence Whitepaper’s release which called for a navalised Hawk such an aircraft was already well into development.
In 1978 the US Navy had launched the VTXTS Advanced Trainer Program to find a replacement for their T-2 Buckeyes and A4 Skyhawks in the jet training role. Ironically though as always the preference was for a domestic aircraft no US companies were able to provide a serious contender on their own. Instead US aircraft manufacturers went into partnership with foreign manufacturers with British Aerospace offering a navalised version of the Hawk known as the Goshawk in partnership with McDonnel Douglas who would be the prime contractor. This partnership and experience of working together would prove to be crucial once the UK’s F/A-18 procurement program got underway.
Much to the delight of the British government the British Aerospace/McDonnel Douglas Goshawk proposal had been selected by the US navy who had a requirement for potentially up to 200 aircraft. The fact that the development work had already been paid for plus economies of scale meant that the Goshawk would be a damned sight cheaper than any other proposal and with a significant share of the work being undertaken in the UK it was fairly easy to get political backing for the procurement of the aircraft.
The plan was for the aircraft’s fuselage, wings, Rolls Royce engine and certain other components to be manufactured in the UK at British Aerospace’s facilities at Samlesbury and Brough with other components and final assembly taking place at a McDonnell Douglas facility in the US. The initial batch of aircraft would be assembled in the UK in order to train the McDonnel Douglas staff. With a production line available in the UK for political reasons it was decided that the UK’s aircraft would be assembled in Britain.
The choice of the Goshawk upset some US politicians who weren’t happy that the US was in effect merely licence building a foreign aircraft and that most of the development work and component production and therefore a large number of jobs were in the UK and not in the US where they felt US defence contract jobs should be.
In particular the fact that the first batch of aircraft were being built almost entirely in the UK caused a stir as some weren’t happy with the US Navy using foreign made aircraft.
The solution to this was to announce that the first batch of aircraft manufactured would be going to the Royal Navy with only aircraft assembled (This was subtly changed to manufactured to try and avoid any more annoying questions) by McDonnel Douglas being delivered to the US Navy.

The Goshawk first flew in 1988 and entered service with the RN in 1991 and the USN a year later. Ultimately the Fleet Air Arms 736 NAS based at RNAS Yeovilton (where the Sea Harrier currently operated from and the upcoming F/A-18 was expected to operate from) would operate 24 aircraft in both the training and aggressor role. Though 736 NAS had been stood up and begun operations a few years before HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH was due to enter service, they were still going to be one of the FAA’s busiest squadrons. The RN felt it extremely important to keep CATOBAR carrier flying skills alive in the decade long gap between HMS EAGLE being decommissioned and HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH coming online. To this end a numerous RN aircrew had been seconded to USN squadrons in part to keep these skills alive and also to try to build up a body of experience on the F/A-18 before it entered service with the UK. In preparation for the QE entering service a large number of RN aircraft handlers had been seconded to the USS George Washington in order to learn the skills needed to operate the American built aircraft catapults and arrestor wires that QE would carry. The large British contingent onboard coupled with their habit of smuggling alcohol onboard to keep alive Royal Navy traditions on a dry US Navy ship led to numerous jokes amongst the Americans about the British attacking Washington again.
In the meantime as well as training brand new pilots 736 NAS would be busy preparing the current generation of FAA pilots who by this point mostly only had experience on the Sea Harrier for the conversion to the F/A-18. The most experienced pilots in the FAA had all found their way to 736 NAS as one of its most important roles would be as the trials squadron for the new aircraft carriers. These men would be in effect expected to write the book on how to operate aircraft from the QE class carriers.

Compared to the Goshawk program the E-2C Hawkweye procurement project was relatively straightforward and painless. The Fairey Gannet had done sterling work down in the Falklands but that had often been more down to the skill of the Observers flying in them than the capabilities of the aircraft themselves. While they had proven the need for Airborne Early Warning capability at sea the aircraft themselves were ancient and hopelessly obsolete and in dire need of replacement. The decision had been made to go with an off the shelf solution in the form of the Grumman (Which became Northrop Grumman during the procurement process) E-2C Hawkeye. In this case there would be no attempts at trying to allocate some of the workshare to UK companies or anything like that as it wouldn’t be worth the extra pressure on an already very strained budget. These aircraft would be added on to an existing US Navy production run and apart from some small modifications to make them compatible with UK systems would be pretty much identical to their US counterparts.
The first aircraft entered service with the Royal Navy in 1992 being one of the first aircraft of the latest and most advanced Group II production runs of the E-2C.
849 NAS which had previously operated the Fairey Gannet and been disbanded in 1984 when the type had been retired was reformed at RNAS Culdrose to operate the Hawkeye.
The RN would purchase a total of 8 aircraft. It was envisaged that the QE class would typically carry 3 aircraft as part of their air group and at a push 4. Eight aircraft would allow for both carriers to be at sea at the same time with their full complement of AEW aircraft while leaving some behind for things like training, deep maintenance and attrition replacement.
The addition of the Hawkeye as it would be known in RN service to the Fleet Air Arm threw up some issues with regards to training. It had been many years since the RN had operated multiengine propeller driven aircraft at sea and there were questions over how this skill could be relearned and how a training pipeline could be maintained for what would be a very small cadre of aircrew. The simplest and only really cost effective solution was to send Hawkeye pilots over to America for training with the USN at NAS Norfolk in Virginia for conversion onto the type. This way the RN would only have to pay per pilot rather than maintaining yet more training aircraft.
The addition of the E2C Hawkeye to the RN’s order of battle and the greatly enhanced capability it brought tied in nicely with a concurrent RAF program.
Like the RN the RAF had a need to replace its elderly and obsolete AEW aircraft. In their case the Avro Shackleton which had first entered service in 1951. The initial solution had been a project to convert a number of Nimrod MPA airframes into a new AEW variant. The programme had begun in 1977 and had frankly been an embarrassing failure. The design was hugely complex, extremely expensive to develop, produce, maintain and operate and after years of work had yet to produce a fully functioning and capable prototype as engineers struggled to integrate large and heavy radomes and computers into airframes that already had some mileage on them and had never been intended for something like this. The first flying example had even been nicknamed “Frankenstein’s monster” by some. Developmental cost overruns had seen the number of aircraft intended to be produced halved from 12 to 6 in the infamous 1981 “Nott” Defence Review.
In 1983 the MOD had undertaken a full review of the Nimrod AEW program which had run concurrently but separate to the 1983 defence whitepaper. To say they were not happy with the programmes progress would be an understatement. So far, the project had cost close to one billion pounds and had yet to produce a single working aircraft. The entry to service date was repeatedly being pushed back and it had become clear that the capability offered by the aircraft if (and it was a big if) it could ever be made to work wasn’t going to be what had been hoped for.
With their procurement budget being cut in order to finance the navy’s CVF-90 aircraft carrier program the RAF had made the easy decision in 1983 to scrap the Nimrod AEW and buy something off the shelf instead. The aircraft they had opted for to replace provide AEW capability was the Boeing E-3D Sentry of which the RAF purchased 7 examples with the first entering service in 1987.
The Sentry together with the Hawkeye meant that the UK had taken a quantum leap in air battle management and situational awareness capability. One senior RAF officer even described the two aircraft as the most important new capability in the air since the introduction of the guided missile.

Of course, as important as these aircraft procurement projects were, they all paled into insignificance against the real big ticket programme. The McDonnel Douglas F/A-18 Hornet.
The UK had committed to buying 200 examples as part of the 1983 Defence Whitepaper with 80 going to the RN to fly from the Deck of the QE class aircraft carriers and 120 going to the RAF to replace the Phantom and other older aircraft.
When the Whitepaper had committed the UK to the F/A-18 (which would officially be known as the Hornet in UK service) in 1983 the aircraft was still under development not entering service with the USN and USMC until 1984 and not going to sea until the following year. There was no real rush on the part of the UK in these early stages to get the aircraft into frontline service. The RN wasn’t expecting its first new carrier until at least 1994 and so wouldn’t have much use for the aircraft until then. The RAF was already busy with numerous aircraft procurement projects such as the Tornado and Harrier GR5 which was eating up most of their budget at the time and so wanted to wait until the majority of the aircraft they already had on order were delivered whereupon a large chunk of their procurement budget would be freed up. There were many other advantages to waiting to actually place an order for any aircraft. The intention was to begin production sometime in the late 198’s by which time the USN/USMC would have been operating the F/A-18 for a few years and would hopefully have ironed out the various kinks in operating and maintaining the aircraft and carried out any necessary modifications thus the MOD would be saved from having to learn any of those lessons when the Americans could do it all for them.
The Americans traditionally had a habit of developing upgraded versions of new aircraft every few years based upon operating experience. By waiting a few years the UK would be in a position to take advantage by either procuring upgraded aircraft without having to pay any development costs or if they were feeling bold and the timing was right trying to get involved themselves to try and produce an aircraft that was more tailored to their particular requirements and generating some work for the UK aircraft industry.
Politically waiting a bit to order was an attractive option as the bean counters within the government and MOD knew that it was much easier to not order as many aircraft as you had planned than to cancel something you had already signed the contract for.

Though despite the British Government announcing in 1983 that it would be procuring the F/A-18 but then deciding not to actually place an order until about 1987 the time in between was certainly not wasted. When HMS EAGLE had returned from the Falklands the US Navy had been very keen to get some of her now battle hardened airmen on exchange postings where they could pass on their experience to the USN’s own flyers. The RN had agreed to this on the condition that some of their men be posted to F/A-18 squadrons. This Americans agreed to this in exchange for some of their pilots being given positions in 892 NAS which until 1986 was still flying the Phantom and was now arguably the most combat experienced squadron in the world at that time and definitely had the highest proportion of flying aces. These exchange tours allowed the British to build up a level of experience with the aircraft and allowed them to start to plan things like what should be included on the training syllabus, how to make best use of the aircraft in the air, how to be as efficient as possible with regards to availability ect.

When the decision had been made to go with an American aircraft many within the British aircraft industry had regarded it as a disaster or even a death knell for them. The trade unions within the industry had kicked off which had caused plenty of problems. Industry figures argued that loss of development and building work meant that there would be nothing to sustain the industry and that the knock on effect would be massive job losses and loss of industrial skills and capabilities.
Politically it was a bit of an unwinnable situation for the government. Job losses were never a good thing and wouldn’t help a government that had already managed to establish a reputation for destroying entire industries and the livelihoods of masses of people. On the other hand, there wasn’t the money to design and develop a completely new aircraft from scratch. Going down this route would have been very expensive and likely produced an aircraft that wouldn’t be much better than what was available off the shelf and would be guaranteed to probably cost twice as much due to the development costs having to be shared across a relatively small number of aircraft. This would have drawn plenty of criticism for the government and made them look incompetent (well perhaps more so).
Mindful of the political fall out if the British aircraft industry which barely 30 years ago had been world leading was allowed to wither away and die the government decided to do what governments usually do in such a situation and tried to find a compromise.

In order to preserve British jobs in it was decided that the aircraft would be licence built in the UK by British Aerospace. The good working relationship that British Aerospace had established with McDonnel Douglas through the T45 Goshawk project and the relatively large order that the UK intended to place meant that it was fairly easy to browbeat McDonnell Douglas into accepting this. Many pointed out however that merely assembling aircraft from kits shipped over from the US was no replacement for the work that would have come from designing, developing and testing a new aircraft and manufacturing components in Britain and that there would still be job and skill losses. Again, however the government was able to find a compromise that was actually effective.
The RN and RAF had examined the F/A-18 A/B and built up a degree of experience with the aircraft and concluded that while they were very impressed with it the Hornet did not quite meet all of its requirements in its current form feeling that it was a bit of a jack of all trades but master of none. The RN wanted a more specialised maritime strike aircraft while the RAF wanted a multirole fighter to provide air superiority and close air support. Obviously, some development work would need to be carried out to make the aircraft compatible with UK systems. The initial solution was to look at developing a UK version of the Hornet. Such a thing would play well for the British Government who could claim that they were preserving British jobs and delivering an aircraft more suited to British needs.
Many however were wary of going down this path owing to the previous experience of trying to do this with the Phantom where they had ended up with an aircraft that was slightly more capable but vastly more expensive than simply buying the standard American version Phantoms. They also pointed out that the whole reason for buying something off the shelf was to save money and that doing so would have been completely pointless if the money saved was merely spent on an “anglicised” version that wouldn’t really do anything that its original American version couldn’t already do.
Nevertheless, the MOD formed a group of scientists, planners and aerospace engineers and initiated a project to investigate and develop potential modifications to the F/A-18. The MOD reasoned that this project would help to keep aerospace development skills alive, find a way to integrate the aircraft into the UK’s order of battle and there was always the chance that they might develop something that could be sold back to the Americans who by this point were developing a block upgrade for their Hornet fleet.
To this end in early 1986 a single seat F/A-18A and a twin seat F/A-18B were purchased directly from the US Navy (as opposed to McDonnell Douglas who did however send over a number of their engineers to join the British development project) and flown to the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at RAF Boscombe Down. The project team were presented with the aircraft and told to do their worst. The results of their work were pretty interesting.

There were the necessary and relatively straightforward things first up such as fitting UK communications and crypto equipment to the aircraft.
The F/A-18’s engines had been paid considerable attention by the likes of Rolls Royce who reckoned they might be able to provide an alternative British design as they had done with the RN’s Phantoms. The problem was the General Electric F404-GE-402 is quite a small engine and that the airframe had been built around this particular engine. Rolls Royce found themselves unable to offer anything small enough to avoid the need for a difficult and expensive airframe redesign as had happened with the Phantom while providing an increase in performance to make it worth the effort. A cap had been placed on the unit cost for the aircraft which had killed the idea of doing anything with the engines.
Swapping out the M16A2 Vulcan cannon for a British made Aden Cannon had been looked at. While it was found to be technically feasible and fairly simple to do doing so was judged to be undesirable. Vulcan gun pods were already in used by the RAF’s Phantoms anyway meaning that the 20mm shells and spare parts were already in the logistics chain. Even though the Aden was very slightly cheaper the switch from 20mm to 30mm shells would not only reduce the amount of ammunition that the aircraft could carry but the redistribution of weight would entail rewriting some of the aircrafts software (being effectively a computer flown aircraft) which would likely cancel out any savings for no capability gain.

Where the team did have success however was in the realm of weapons and sensors.
The F/A-18A was a single seat multirole aircraft which was broadly what the RAF were after. However, they wanted their new aircraft to be able to carry British missiles which they felt were in some way’s superior to the American one’s that the Hornet currently carried.
The F/A-18B was a two seat trainer version for the F/A-18A. While a two-seat trainer version was always useful the British and in particular the RN had something different in mind for the two seater. The RN wanted an aircraft with much more capability in both the strike and fleet defence role and therefore wanted to put a Weapons System Officer/Radar Intercept Officer (Observer in RN parlance) in the back seat. The Observer branch which had been previously planned to become a rotary wing only specialisation had been given a new lease of life. When it was found that the Americans were already thinking along the same lines for their own Hornet block upgrade a joint project had been established with McDonnell Douglas. Much of the electronics that would go into the rear cockpit were designed in Britain as their project was somewhat ahead of the Americans and many components would ultimately find themselves being used in the F/A-18D.
From the outset one of the intentions had been to adapt the Hornet for British made munitions. When the decision had been made to upgrade the Sea Harrier FRS1 to the much more capable FA2 variant a much more powerful radar had been required to replace the Ferranti Blue Fox. The result was the vastly more capable and impressive Blue Vixen radar. Multimodal and capable in both the air intercept and air to surface strike roles and look down shoot down capability Blue Vixen was already compatible with the British missiles that the RN/RAF wanted to use and crucially was also compatible with the American made AIM-9 Sidewinder short ranged air to air missile. This last point was important as it also meant that it would be fairly easy to make Blue Vixen compatible with the upcoming AIM-120 AMRAAM should the British ever decide to purchase that particular missile at some point in the future.
Perhaps the biggest British specific modification to the F/A-18 was the decision to replace the Hughes APG-73 radar with Blue Vixen. The differing size and shapes of the radars meant that the Hornets nose had to be redesigned to accommodate the Blue Vixen becoming slightly wider and thus longer making British Hornets very distinctive amongst differing variants of the F/A-18 around the world.
In terms of armament once the Blue Vixen radar was integrated attention could now turn to the wiring and software necessary to carry British made weapons.
The Sea Eagle sea skimming anti-ship missile had been introduced in 1985 to replace the Martel ASM which had claimed quite a few scalps in the Falklands. Already carried by the Navy’s Sea Harrier FA2’s and the RAF’s Buccaneers and Tornados it went without saying that the MOD wanted the Hornet to be able to carry this missile. Integrating the extra wiring and software to enable this was never going to be easy but it was at least relatively problem free and straight forward.

The Skyflash semi active air to air missile had proven itself during the Falklands campaign and had down a large number of Argentine jets. In most air to air engagements the superior range offered by this missile coupled with its high success rate had been the decisive factor in deciding the outcome. In light of the missiles performance in the Falklands conflict the previously cancelled project to produce a fully active Skyflash missile had been resurrected. The resulting missile had a much higher probability of success, a slightly longer range thanks to some tweaking with its motor, was less susceptible to electronic countermeasures and was in the short term at least a strong rival to the AIM-120 AMRAAM. Already being introduced to the RAF’s Phantoms and Tornado F3’s the upgraded fully active Skyflash was another missile that would be carried by the Hornet.
Despite Skyflash being a rival to AMRAAM it was almost certain that British Hornets would carry the AIM-120 at some point going forward either if the British ultimately purchased the newer missile at some point in the future to replace Skyflash or perhaps even operating alongside the Americans who would only have AMRAAMS in their stocks. Therefore, the kit needed for compatibility with AMRAAM was retained.

Another set of modifications to the Hornet were carried out to make it compatible with another British made weapon. This time it was the WE.177 freefall tactical nuclear weapon. The F/A-18 had been designed from the outset to carry the American B61 nuclear weapon. However, the Americans had a policy of removing all technology relating to nuclear weapons deployment from aircraft for export. While British Aerospace had a very close working relationship with McDonell Douglas on the Hornet project this did not extend to anything involving nuclear weapons owing to national security restrictions in both nations. Engineers from the Atomic Weapons Establishment were brought in to help the British Aerospace team integrate the WE-177. The weapon had been carried by pretty much every British combat aircraft going all the way back to the Canberra so adding the required hardware to the Hornet was pretty easy. The difficult bit came in writing and integrating the software to enable the Hornet to deploy the weapon via toss bombing.

Yet another British made missile to be integrated with the Hornet was the Air Launched Anti Radiation Missile (ALARM). After a bitterly fought bidding process in 1983 the British Aerospace Dynamics made missile had been selected to meet the need for an antiradiation missile necessary to carry out Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD) missions. The anti radiation version of the Martel had played a decisive role in the Falklands Campaign destroying Argentine radars at Port Stanley Airfield and even disabling and leading to the subsequent sinking of the Argentine Type 42 destroyers ARA HERCULES and ARA SANTISIMA TRINIDAD.
Granted ALARM was a very ambitious project and Royal Ordinance were having some difficulties I getting the burn-loiter-burn aspect of the missiles motor to work properly but the capability offered by the missile could be an absolute game changer in establishing air superiority over the battlefield.

Another missile underdevelopment which would ultimately be carried by the Hornet was the ASRAAM which was being developed in a joint project with the Germans, Canadians and Norwegians as a replacement for the AIM-9 Sidewinder which while still capable would soon start to show its age. This project had come about as the result of a Memorandum of Understanding signed by these countries and the US in 1980 who agreed to develop the AMRAAM to replace the AIM-7 Sparrow then in service with many NATO air arms while Britain and the other nations developed the ASRAAM.

Away from the realm of weapons and sensors there was one other British development. This one actually impressed the Americans and other Hornet operators to the point where they adopted it themselves. Mindful that the F/A-18 would be the only jet aircraft in and majority of the air groups of their new carriers the RN had been looking for a way of extending the aircrafts range. The aircraft was already air to air refuelling capable and so a “buddy pack” similar to those used on the Buccaneer was being purchased. However, this threw up the traditional issues of a fast jet bot really being able to carry that much fuel to transfer to other aircraft to be effective in this role. The F/A-18 was perfectly capable of carrying drop tanks however this meant a reduced weapons loadout and reduced aircraft performance owing to the extra weight and drag of the large fuel tanks.
Previous generations of British aircraft designers when faced with the task of extending the range of the fast jets then in service with the RAF such as the English Electric Lightening and Gloster Javelin had come up with what was called the Distended Internal Tank. This was an enlargement of the internal fuel tanks which created a bulge underneath the aircraft but still being flush with the fuselage had only a limited effect on aerodynamic performance.
When presented with the issue of extending the Hornets range the British Aerospace team had therefore designed and successfully tested conformal fuel tanks mounted on the fuselage above the wings. These eliminated the need for underwing tanks and the drag penalty that came with them increasing lift and adding an extra 130 miles to the aircrafts combat radius. The slight disadvantage was while these tanks could be added or removed as necessary before flight they couldn’t be disposed of in flight.
The conformal fuel tank was to become standard across the RN and RAF Hornet fleet. The USN and USMC plus the RAAF and RCAF were impressed enough to order the tanks for their own fleets of F/A-18’s. With the tanks all manufactured in a British factory quite a few in the British government and aircraft industry were very pleased with this particular outcome of the British Hornet Development Project.

Though the MOD had from the outset been attempting to avoid producing an anglicised specific version of the Hornet that is essentially what they ended up with. Many breathed a sigh of relief though seeing as they seemed to have avoided repeating the mistakes of the Phantom and ending up with a vastly more expensive but not that much more capable aircraft.
The main differences between British and American F/A-18’s was the Blue Vixen Radar, the compatibility with British Weapons, conformal fuel tanks and some British electronics and computer programming. Essentially what had been designed was a British variant of the F/A-18C/D which were starting to be introduced to the USN in 1987.
Though the F/A-18C/D’s did include a number of British components that had been found to be superior or preferable for different reasons. Therefore, every American F/A-18 produced from now on would include a small amount of components manufactured in Britain.

Two British variants had been designed. The first was named the Hornet FGR1 which was a single seat aircraft broadly the equivalent of the F/A-18C. The second was a two seat strike aircraft named the Hornet FGR2 which was the equivalent of an F/A-18D. Despite being officially named the Hornet in UK service throughout its life the aircraft would be commonly referred to as the F-18 in the UK.
The aircraft would be manufactured under licence in British Aerospace’s facility at Warton where the Tornado was being manufactured. Cynics pointed out that “manufactured” in reality meant merely assembling kits shipped over from McDonnell Douglas’s plant in St Louis consisting of components manufactured in the US. They weren’t far from the truth. St Louis would assemble the components for F/A-18C’s and D’s and transport them by air over to Warton. British Aerospace would then assemble the components under the supervision of McDonnell Douglas engineers with experience of producing the aircraft and then integrate the British specific components which would have naturally been manufactured in Britain.
Where possible the British Government had sought to obtain licences for components to be manufactured in British factories as long as it was cost effective to do so and sustained British jobs. McDonnell Douglas were opening to and accommodating of this arrangement being well used to their products being licence manufactured abroad as had happened with Australia and Canada (who had designed and built their own variant called the CF-18). They felt that having a strong supply chain and manufacturing facility in Britain might help the F/A-18 push further into the European aircraft market. Already they had managed to break into that market when the Spanish Air Force had placed an order for 72 aircraft with deliveries having commenced in 1985. There also positive noises coming from the Swiss Air Force and perhaps led on the British the French Navy were looking at the aircraft for possible use aboard their next generation of aircraft carriers.

Finally in late 1988 with the development work complete and manufacturing arrangements agreed (and unions beaten into submission) the British government placed an order for 200 F/A-18’s with the buy split into 120 FGR1’s for the RAF and 80 FGR2’s for the FAA.
The first production aircraft would begin flight testing in February of 1990 and be delivered to the RAF later in the year. The Navy would receive its first aircraft in January of 1991.

The RAF’s first Hornet squadron was Number 111 Squadron which would be the Operational Conversion and Evaluation Unit for the type responsible for converting air and ground crews onto the type. 111 Squadron was to be based at RAF Leuchars which would become the RAF’s UK centre of operations for the Hornet. The first operational squadron to be converted onto the type was Number 19 Squadron followed by 92 Squadron both based at RAF Wildenrath in Germany. The RAF intended for the Hornet to be a replacement for the Phantom and so starting with the squadrons based in Germany intended to convert the Phantom squadrons onto the Hornet as the Phantom was gradually phased out of service. In the meantime, there were planned to be frequent reallocations of individual Phantoms to the remaining squadrons as aircraft with fewer flying hours would be kept in the operational squadrons while the older and more worn aircraft would be withdrawn from service and dismantled for spares as had happened with the RN’s Phantoms.
In the meantime, the RAF were acutely aware of the need to replace their 65 strong but aging fleet of Buccaneers and in the need in the longer term to start thinking about a replacement for the Jaguar. A possible second order of Hornet FGR2’s this time for the RAF was being keenly eyed as an efficient and capable solution to both needs.

The Royal Navy had decided to base its Hornet’s at RNAS Yeovilton. To this end beginning in 1988 Yeovilton had undergone a massive expansion with large numbers of Hardened Aircraft Shelters being built along with new munitions bunkers, maintenance facilities, new accommodation blocks and amenities to house the bases increased population, ect. This work was ongoing when the first Hornet arrived in 1991.
The first FAA squadron to receive the new aircraft was 700 NAS which would serve as the Operational Conversion Unit. The previously planned Joint Hornet Force between the RN and RAF had never really materialised. The decision of each service to operate different variants of the aircraft had reduced the need for a joint training squadron and while RAF aircraft were perfectly capable of operating from the deck of a carrier and some RAF pilots would be trained to do so it wasn’t felt that this would be a regular enough occurrence. The closest Joint Force Hornet would get to becoming a reality was a joint administrative organisation set up for the purpose of procuring and allocating spare parts and such things. If the RAF did decide to procure their own Hornet FGR2’s then the idea might be worth another look at.
the first FAA frontline squadron to begin flying the Hornet would be the reformed 892 NAS which had previously flown the RN’s Phantoms and become legendary for its Falklands War exploits. Some of the older members of the reformed squadron were extremely proud to have served and in some exceptional cases flown with the squadron in that conflict.
The problem for the reformed 892 NAS and the squadrons that would eventually come after it was that they were at present without a deck to fly from. HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH wasn’t expected to be handed over to the RN until 1994 at the earliest and even then, there would be at least a year of flying trials with helicopters, Goshawks and 700 NAS’s Hornets to get the ship certified for frontline operations before 892 could even consider embarking on the ship. In the meantime, they would have to contend themselves with occasional deployments to US Navy carriers to gain experience of operating their aircraft from a flight deck.

Going forward the plan for the RN was to reform 767 NAS as the next Phantom squadron. Beyond that once HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH came online the plan was to retire one of the INVINCIBLE class carriers and then the second once HMS EAGLE came online. In fact, the decommissioning of the INVINCIBLE class ships would probably happen somewhat before the commissioning of the new QE class in order to free up manpower for the larger ships larger crew and to save a bit of money. The INVINCIBLE class were planned to be put up for disposal but there was speculation that at least one of the ships may be retained and converted into an LPH to replace HMS HERMES which had been retired some years ago. Consequently, this meant that when these ships went so would the Sea Harrier with 800 NAS and 801 and 899 scheduled to convert over to flying the Hornet.

It was recognised that despite the expansion with Hornet’s, Goshawks and Sea Harriers operating from there RNAS Yeovilton would become pretty crowded despite that fact that a significant number of the Hornets would probably be away at sea at any one time.
Therefore, it was decided to rejig the basing of the FAA’s helicopter squadrons with the Commando Helicopter Force consisting of 707, 845 and 846 NAS’s flying the Sea King HC.4 being relocated from Yeovilton to RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall. To free up space at Culdrose 814 NAS flying the Sea King HAS.5 ASW helicopter would relocate up to RNAS Prestwick up in Scotland. Culdrose itself would be expanded to cope with the influx of aircraft and recreate the specialist facilities that the Commando Helicopter Force had had at Yeovilton. Facilities including a small number of Hardened Aircraft Shelters were also built in order to allow Hornets to operate from the base should it become necessary.

It was infrastructure and support projects like these that helped to the UK’s aircraft carrier programme to become one of the most expensive defence projects ever undertaken by the UK with the exception of the Trident programme.

6th July 1991, Cammell Laird Shipyard

Today was a big day for Cammell Laird. The day in which nearly 4 years of hard work would come to fruition. As the managing director stood in the shadow the gargantuan structure that was HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH, he couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of pride in what his workforce had achieved. Though he was too modest to say anything he also felt a quiet sense of satisfaction in himself in that he had overseen and delivered what had been asked for and overcome every challenge and obstacle along the way.

Today was a day of great ceremony and probably the most exciting thing to happen in Birkenhead since the Luftwaffe had flattened much of it during the war. Today was the naming ceremony for HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH. The government and Royal Navy had really pulled out all the stops for this one. The yard was filled with the great and the good, the Royal Navy had provided an immaculately turned out 60 man guard and the massed bands of the Royal Marines.
The VIP’s included the Prime Minister, the local Labour MP Frank Field (who would be criticised by some of the more militant elements within his own party for shaking hands with the Conservative Prime Minister), the Defence Secretary Tom King and other members of the cabinet. As well as the current Prime Minister who had only taken office the previous year the previous incumbent whose government had ordered the construction of the ships was also present in a private capacity.
On the military side of things, the Chief of Defence Staff Marshal of the Royal Air Force Craig Radley was present along with the First Sea Lord Admiral Julian Oswald and the other defence chiefs and a sea of senior RN officers along with visiting senior officers from France and the US.
The real VVIP’s had arrived that morning aboard the Royal Yacht BRITANNIA which had berthed by the yards Basin. They were driven in a Rolls Royce State Limousine from the BRITANNIA escorted by heavily armed Royal Protection officers through the shipyard to No5 Dock where the ceremony was taking place. As the car arrived by the ship the assembled dignitaries, yard employees and invited families and other guests all stood up as the Royal Marines began playing the national anthem. This was the first time that either of the VVIP’s had seen the ship in person. In an event well captured and documented by the press the Queen acted with the professionalism and decorum she was well known for while the Duke of Edinburgh himself a former naval officer seemed unable to hide his look of awe and excitement upon seeing the gigantic vessel for the first time.
Acting as a sort of chaperone to the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh was Captain Michael Gretton. Captain Gretton had previously commanded HMS INVINCIBLE and though nothing had been announced yet it was known that he had been tapped as the first commanding officer of HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH who would oversee her fitting out and sea trials.

With Her Majesty now in attendance things got under way.
Though this was being treated as if it were a ship launch (the only reason why anything was even happening was really for PR reasons as well as tradition) a floating out ceremony would closer too the truth but still not 100% accurate.
QUEEN ELIZABETH had been constructed in a graving dock. When the time came for her to leave it would simply be a case of flooding the dock and floating her out. There would be no ship sliding down the slipway into the water or anything of that nature.
HMS EAGLE currently under construction in Barrow was being built using more traditional methods on a slipway. When the time came for her to be launched (currently scheduled for February 1993) it would be a truly spectacular sight to see close to 60,000 tons of British built aircraft carrier thundering down the slipway. With Cammell Laird being a subsidiary of VSEL who were currently building the EAGLE and having been closely involved in the construction of the ship himself the managing director of Cammell Laird shipyard knew he would be getting an invitation to that event and was looking forward to that particular day.

Ships undergo two phases of build. The construction of the hull which is usually followed by launching and then fitting out. QUEEN ELIZABETH was structurally complete but was at present essentially an empty shell. Out of sight of the VIP’s mostly in the yards newly built warehouses and open storage areas were the miles of electrical caballing and millions of pounds worth of equipment and machinery waiting to be installed onboard. Along with this was hundreds upon hundreds of gallons of mostly grey paint. Though the ships sides had already been painted and from the dockside made her look like an almost complete ship anyone who was able to get themselves into a position where they could look down onto the flight deck from above would see a good few acres of rust coloured unpainted steel flight deck.
Joining a select few who moved with the Queen around to limited space around the bow of the ship (The stands and crowds and focal point up until now being in the large and much more secure open space on the ships port side) the manging director watched as the Queen was driven around and made her way up onto the podium by the ships bow where the champagne bottle was waiting. As this was going on he for some reason found himself reminded of the fact that despite this being the MOD’s PR departments job he himself had repeatedly had to inform or remind people that the ship was not named after the Queen herself but the previous HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH Dreadnought battleship which had seen action in both world wars.
The Queen began her speech in which she emphasised that this was the largest warship ever built for the Royal Navy in all of its close to 1000 year history. Holding the champagne bottle in her hand she proceeded to say the words “I name this ship Queen Elizabeth. May God bless her and all who sail in her” and proceeded to smash the bottle over the bow to the delight and roar of the crowds.
Inwardly many of the assembled naval officers and ratings and shipyard workers breathed a sigh of relief when they saw the bottle smash. Though they often won’t admit it sailors are a superstitious bunch and its commonly said that if the bottle doesn’t break on the bow then the ship is cursed.

With the ship officially “Launched” the sluice valves to the graving dock were opened for the first time in 5 years and the dock began to fill with water. It would however take the best part of an entire day to fill the dock and lift the ship off of the keel blocks and make her float for the first time.
The MOD had seemingly recognised that merely opening a sluice valve and watching a dock very slowly fill up with water would be visually rather unimpressive. Therefore, they had arranged a distraction for the crowds and cameras. The Queen broke the bottle over the ships bows at exactly 11:30. With the kind of timing and precision that could only have come about through extremely careful planning and practising the cheers of the crowds were drowned out by the roar of jet engines as seemingly everyone in Birkenhead and Liverpool looked to the sky to see a spectacular flypast of jet aircraft that passed over the ship at exactly 11:30:30. The small contingent of Hornets currently owned by the UK led the way followed by Sea Harriers with both Hawks and one of the new Goshawks bringing up the rear of the RN contingent. Aircraft from the RAF followed on close behind with Phantoms and a number of formerly RN owned Buccaneers. The flypast was ended by a formation overflight by the RAF’s Red Arrows in bright red painted Hawks trailing a curtain of red, white and blue smoke behind them much to the delight of the crowd.

With the naming ceremony now complete next would come the part where the managing director would really earn his pay today. First, he would accompany the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh on a brief tour of the ship followed by a tour of the shipyard to view the other vessels under construction and then joining the rest of the VIP’s for a reception in a marquee that had been erected adjacent to the ship. The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh would return to the Britannia afterwards which would put to sea that evening.

The tour of the ship really consisted of a walk around the vast hangar as the ship was still an active construction site and this was the one area where the managing director wouldn’t have to face the awkwardness of asking the monarch to wear a hard hat. The Queen seemed genuinely interested and asked a few questions but to the relief of an already nervous managing director most of these were aimed at Captain Gretton. The Duke of Edinburgh on the other hand seemed to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things naval and asked plenty of questions which felt to the managing director like an interrogation.

He explained that once the ship was fully afloat a survey of the hull would be undertaken to ensure watertight integrity. Then the process of fitting out would begin and if all went to plan the ship would finally be in a position to leave the dock in 1994. The Duke had asked if the ship was not going to be floated out of the dock and berthed elsewhere in the yard for the fitting out. The director replied that this had been the original intention but there was simply no berth in the yard big enough to accommodate the ship and that moving a ship this large into the yards basin for fitting out had been ultimately judged as too risky. Therefore, the ship would be fitted out right here where she had been built and would only depart No5 Dock for the very first time when she departed the yard for her initial sea trials.

Following the tour of the ship and the yard the managing director had accompanied the Royals to the reception where they had thanked him for being such an excellent host and congratulated him on his yards achievements and told him and his workforce to be very proud of themselves. They had then left him and begun their rounds of the various dignitaries they were expected to meet.
The managing director had had a rather nerve racking few hours and still had a supercarrier to finish to a somewhat ambitious timetable. He felt he needed a drink. Fortunately for him no expense had been spared today and there were plenty of trays of champagne flying around. Unfortunately for him one drink turned into another drink which turned into another drink and so on. The conversations he ended up having with the various military officers, politicians and dignitaries began to become somewhat tedious as he ended up being asked and giving the same answers to questions about the QUEEN ELIZABETH over and over again. He had therefore been rather pleasantly surprised when someone had engaged him in a very interesting and enjoyable conversation about the yard as a whole and the outlook for its future. In his already somewhat tipsy state the managing director simply didn’t notice that the person he was talking too had introduced himself by name only and not mentioned whether he was a member of the government or MOD or any other organisation or company.
Much to the managers later horror the individual turned out to be a journalist who had been covering the ceremony and wanted to try and gather more information for follow up stories.

Alcohol loosens tongues and it didn’t take long for the managing director to admit that he held many fears for the long term future of Cammell Laird. The QUEEN ELIZABETH project had resulted in an expansion of the yards workforce and once that ship was complete a great many of them simply wouldn’t be needed anymore. Potential mass redundancy was an issue that he was dreading but knew he would have to face soon.
All of the ships that the yard had built in recent years had been for the RN meaning that Cammell Laird had ended up as a specialised warship building company along with its parent company VSEL. The problem with this was that once the current programmes were complete there were no other warship construction projects on the horizon that could potentially sustain the yard. This wasn’t an issue unique to Cammell Laird. The problem was that right now a significant chunk of warship building capacity in the UK was being taken up by the QE class aircraft carriers with other projects being allocated to other yards. Once the QE class were complete though there would be far more building capacity than could ever be sustained with defence budgets that would likely only get smaller in the future and not everyone in this business would survive. Privately he held real fears that VSEL might well sacrifice Cammell Laird to try and ensure their own survival.

The board of directors felt that the best way to combat this was to diversify into building civilian ships. The design teams were already producing designs for cruise ships to try and drum up interest from cruise ship operators. It was hoped that Cammell Lairds large graving dock and recent experience of building large and technically complicated vessels may attract customers. However, with no recent experience in this field many were sceptical could beat any competitors in terms of design or price in what was a much more cutthroat market than warship building.

It wasn’t all bad new though. The yard had recently been awarded the contract to build the future 32,000 ton FORT VICTORIA class replenishment oiler (one of six being built for the RFA) RFA FORT CHARLOTTE. This ship would begin construction in one of the other dry docks towards the end of the fitting out of QUEEN ELIZABETH when many of the work force would be becoming available. Though the construction of FORT CHARLOTTE would sustain many jobs that would otherwise have been lost unless something else came through for most it would merely be a stay of execution.
Yarrow and Swanhunter had snapped up all of the contracts for building the TYPE 23 frigate and there were currently no other new escorts on the horizon.

What was going to sustain the yard going forward at least in the medium term was SSK’s. With Barrow full to capacity building HMS EAGLE the VANGUARD class SSBN’s (with 3 of the 16,000 ton boats now under construction) VSEL had financed the building a submarine hall at Cammell Laird to facilitate the construction of the 2,400 ton UPHOLDER class SSK’s which were to replace the OBERON class.
The first boat HMS UPHOLDER had been built in Barrow and had been in commission with the Royal Navy about a year now. The first Birkenhead built boat HMS UNSEEN had been launched in November 1989 and was due to commission into the Royal Navy in about 2 weeks. HMS URSULA had been launched in February and was due to commission next year. The final boat of this first batch HMS UNICORN was still under construction in the submarine building hall and was scheduled to be launched in April of next year. Current plans called for up to 12 of the class and Cammell Laird’s submarine building hall was capable of having three boats under construction at any one time. The first 2 boats of “Batch 2” were already in the very early stages of construction. These were to be the HMS UNDAUNTED and HMS UNBEATEN. The names for the final two boats of Batch 2 and the planned four boats of Batch 3 had yet to be decided by the RN.
If the Managing Director had any reason to be positive about the future it was the UPHOLDER class SSK and the strong potential for export orders. To this end in conjunction with the MOD he had salesmen all over the world trying to secure export contracts.

Already some very positive sounding signals were coming from Pakistan. The Pakistani Navy was looking for a new submarine to replace their ageing HANGOR class boats and were very interested in the UPHOLDER class. The head of the Pakistani Navy Admiral Khan had publicly stated the navies preference for the UPHOLDER class. However, there was some very stiff competition from France who were offering their AGOSTA class boats. As usually happened when the French got involved in export competitions things had the potential to get ugly fast.

Canada had recently abandoned its CANADA class SSN program when it had become clear that a fleet of 10 SSN’s was completely unaffordable. The plan had been for Canada to purchase either British TRAFALGAR class or French RUBIS class SSN’s. This had created all sorts of problems as nuclear submarine technology is generally one of the most closely guarded secrets that any nation can hold and no one anywhere in the world had ever sold a nuclear powered boat to another country.
The failure and cancellation of this over ambitious program meant that once again Canada now looking for a conventionally powered replacement for its ageing OBERON class boats. Luckily the UPHOLDER class had been designed specifically to replace the OBERON class and therefore was being heavily marketed towards the Canadians who were showing a string interest in the design.
Portugal and Chile were also likely candidates as they looked for a modern submarine to replace their elderly ALBACORA and OBERON class boats.

There was one other underlying fear for the yards long term future held by the managing director. Like everyone else he read the news papers and watched the news on TV. Like everybody else he saw that behind the now former Iron curtain things were beginning to crumble.


Gone Fishin'
Again a well informed update.

Just one question though.

Would the UK F-18 FGR's for the FAA & RAF be called F-18/K in the USA?

Regards filer


Finally in late 1988 with the development work complete and manufacturing arrangements agreed (and unions beaten into submission) the British government placed an order for 200 F/A-18’s with the buy split into 120 FGR1’s for the RAF and 80 FGR2’s for the FAA.
The first production aircraft would begin flight testing in February of 1990 and be delivered to the RAF later in the year. The Navy would receive its first aircraft in January of 1991.
Why is the RN buying only two seat Hornets? Wouldn't it make more financial sense to purchase one squadron of two seaters for each carrier and have the rest of the air wing be single seat birds? Other than that though, excellent update!
The good news for the British shipbuilding industry is the fact that they might be able to get into commercial shipbuilding again due to capacity improvements from the Queen Elizabeth program and since the RN got its carriers and their aircraft paid for two decades early the 2000s and 2010s should have plenty of orders as related to attack submarines,destroyers, and later frigates. The bad news is that the rest of the 90s are going to be rough unless the government hands out subsidies and/or the UK is more successful in getting warship export orders. As for the aerospace industry the USN's Goshawk order helped out a lot and the French might buy some for their carrier(or carriers if Eagle's performance helped save Charles Dr Gaul's sistership). Hmmm with all the cash freed up by not funding the Eurofighter the RAF might be able to join the F-22 program which coule drawn in other interested nations like Israel and Japan who otl were highly intrested but didn't want to fund the R@D(it doesn't hurt that the US wanted partners for the program in the 90s) . Hmmm this could result in way more F-22s being built(massively driving down the per unit price which would help keep the program from being cut to the bone as per otl) and a possible Naval variant could be made as well, as could the FB-22. And then you get around to the JSF program which otl has been a major boast to the British aerospace defence industry what with about a sixth of the plane being made in the UK
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However, the Americans had a policy of removing all technology relating to nuclear weapons deployment from aircraft for export.
I am not certain this is precisely correct.

While the US generally does not export anything related to nuclear weapons, there are exceptions. The NATO nuclear weapons sharing program specifically provides a pool of US nuclear weapons (did the UK share any?) that can be deployed using a number of NATO nation aircraft, and that requires electronics compatible with US PAL systems for nuclear weapons control. Thus the US had to be willing to share something of that technology so that other countries could drop American bombs. I think the popularity of the F16 in NATO is closely linked to this, as the F16 came with the necessary capacity already designed while any non-US design required figuring out how to make it all work with US Permissive Action Link designs.

Curiously the F/A-18 E/F series is apparently not yet nuclear weapons capable, but it is a planned upgrade due by 2025 and is one of the theoretical selling points to try to market the design to Germany (which still participates in the NATO nuclear sharing). However, the Eurofighter is not nuclear armed, though the Rafael is nuclear armed but apparently using a different French system perhaps not compatible with US weapons, and for whatever reason the Germans were not willing to seriously consider the Rafale, which is odd given it is a very capable and European (it even has canards!) aircraft. Though I suppose in the minds of Germany nothing is sufficiently European unless it involves a German work share, and if one must buy a pure import better to buy from the Americans than the ancient enemy France... or something.
Why is the RN buying only two seat Hornets? Wouldn't it make more financial sense to purchase one squadron of two seaters for each carrier and have the rest of the air wing be single seat birds? Other than that though, excellent update!
I would have gone for a mix, but there is reason to prefer two seaters. While the USN certainly prefers a split fleet, and the French started out that way, the French shifted more of their Rafale buy to two seaters after getting operational feedback, particularly relating to strike, attack, and close air support missions. You can always leave the back seat empty on a competently designed two seater, but you can’t squeeze a second crew member into a single seater. Most fighter squadrons have more pilots than aircraft, so even if you don’t have that many observers assigned in a pinch an extra pilot could perhaps fill in, or you fly with part of the back seats empty. The USN likes a back seater to manage both the beyond visual range air to air engagement as well as to manage air to ground weapons, and pretty much everyone thinks electronic warfare needs a second crew. The back seat is also a convenient place for wing/group leader to fly and serve as strike coordinator (less necessary with E-2 support, but still a useful option) while the pilot flies the plane.
Curiously the F/A-18 E/F series is apparently not yet nuclear weapons capable, but it is a planned upgrade due by 2025 and is one of the theoretical selling points to try to market the design to Germany (which still participates in the NATO nuclear sharing). However, the Eurofighter is not nuclear armed, though the Rafael is nuclear armed but apparently using a different French system perhaps not compatible with US weapons, and for whatever reason the Germans were not willing to seriously consider the Rafale, which is odd given it is a very capable and European (it even has canards!) aircraft. Though I suppose in the minds of Germany nothing is sufficiently European unless it involves a German work share, and if one must buy a pure import better to buy from the Americans than the ancient enemy France... or something.
The French defense industry is more or less non-NATO, because they want to export to countries that are restricted from NATO technology. Anything you buy from the French fits into the French system, not the NATO system. The Rafale is not compatible with the range of weapons that the Panavia/Eurofighter axis uses.


Curiously the F/A-18 E/F series is apparently not yet nuclear weapons capable, but it is a planned upgrade due by 2025 and is one of the theoretical selling points to try to market the design to Germany (which still participates in the NATO nuclear sharing).
AIUI, and I may be wrong, the Super Hornet is nuclear capable, but has never been certified to carry the B-61 gravity bomb specifically (which, IIRC, is the main weapon in NATO shared weapon stockpiles). Boeing has promised to certify the aircraft to carry it however and the DOD is apparently in agreement with that.
With a bit of luck (and good prices), when Spain goes to modernize her EF-18A/B Hornets up to F/A-18C/D level in 1993, the Hornet FGR 1/2 could be an interesting alternative option.


Monthly Donor
AIUI, and I may be wrong, the Super Hornet is nuclear capable, but has never been certified to carry the B-61 gravity bomb specifically (which, IIRC, is the main weapon in NATO shared weapon stockpiles). Boeing has promised to certify the aircraft to carry it however and the DOD is apparently in agreement with that.

Yes, part of the German decision to buy Super Hornets this week.
With a bit of luck (and good prices), when Spain goes to modernize her EF-18A/B Hornets up to F/A-18C/D level in 1993, the Hornet FGR 1/2 could be an interesting alternative option.

As I understand It, OTL
between 1985 and 1990 Spain took delivery of ~ 70 new build Hornets designated EF-18A+ or B+ by McD D
The E was for Espana (not Electronic warfare) and the + for a host of upgrades making the Spanish planes almost equivalent to C or D level
This is too early for the Hornet FGR iTTL

Looking again at OTL
In 1995 Spain got 24 extra EF-18A+ which were ex-USN F-18A airframes reworked to the + standard in the States before delivery.

In 2003 further major upgrades of Electronics, software and weapons to the EF-18A+ created the EF-18M

If the original purchase of 70 + models goes ahead on the same schedule iTTL I don't see Spain complicating the situation by buying some FGR models

(Note: for some reason the Spanish designate these aircraft C.15 with suitable extra letters)
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As I understand It,
between 1985 and 1990 Spain took delivery of ~ 70 new build Hornets designated EF-18A+ or B+
The E was for Espana (not Electronic warfare) and the + for a host of upgrades making the Spanish planes almost equivalent to C or D level
This is too early for the Hornet FGR

In 1995 Spain got 24 extra EF-18A+ which were ex-USN F-18A airframes reworked to the + standard in the States before delivery.

In 2003 further major upgrades of Electronics, software and weapons to the EF-18A+ created the EF-18M
(Note: for some reason the Spanish designate these aircraft C.15 with suitable extra letters)

If the original purchase of 70 + models goes ahead on the same schedule I don't see Spain complicating the situation by buying some FGR model

The initial EF-18A were not + until the modernization process of 1993. So. the original EF-18A could be updated to FGR level instead of the F/A-18.

About the 1995 Hornet, I would rather like buying brand new FGR instead of second hand ex-USN Horrnet.

About the C.15. All the planes that the Fuerza Aérea española uses have a designation of its own. For instance, the Hornets are not called in the FAE as EF-18 but as C.15. Thus, the Mirage 1 were C-14, the Typhoon are C-.16, the Airbus 400 T-23, the C-130 T-10, etc ("C" stands for "caza", fighter and "T" for "transporte", transport)
Only if the US clearly warned Iraq against invading Kuwait.

Perhaps the author simply hasn't mentioned it or the impact on UK defence policy.

I was actually wondering about that...

I can't see that this different Falklands War would butterfly it away in any obvious way...

In OTL, there was a pretty substantial British naval and air commitment, with lessons learned along the way: Ark Royal, along with five frigates and five Type 42 destroyers - a pretty substantial slice of the RN's frontline combat forces. Buccaneers also made a last hurrah appearance, via the RAF...

I don't have an immediate sense of how this would play into RN planning, but it should, if anything, give a modest political boost to getting the carriers and their wings online.
The initial EF-18A were not + until the modernization process of 1993. So. the original EF-18A could be updated to FGR level instead of the F/A-18.

About the 1995 Hornet, I would rather like buying brand new FGR instead of second hand ex-USN Horrnet.

About the C.15. All the planes that the Fuerza Aérea española uses have a designation of its own. For instance, the Hornets are not called in the FAE as EF-18 but as C.15. Thus, the Mirage 1 were C-14, the Typhoon are C-.16, the Airbus 400 T-23, the C-130 T-10, etc ("C" stands for "caza", fighter and "T" for "transporte", transport)

Interesting possibilities, especially the fact that OTL original deliveries to Spain were pretty much "standard" EF-18As and only got the + later

I suppose the decision in TTL depends on which is cheaper: upgrading a F-18 to + or FGR standards?
Unfortunately, expect its the first
which similarly preempts the order to the 95 batch.

Still if these and other purchases could only abort the monster that became the Eurofighter that would be great!
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I don't ave anything to add to the discussion, but before it ends I'd just like to say ho much I've enjoyed this TL.
You've clearly put a lot of work into it and it's one of the best on the site. Thanks, flasheart.