If the only issue is the in-flight refueling system (probe/drogue), wouldn't it make more sense to buy the A model and modify the tankers. The refueling issue doesn't compare to the performance penalty (range/internal weapons) of the B model.

  • $\begingroup$ It's only a guess, but maybe the RAF is replacing their Harriers and wanted VTOL ability in their replacement. $\endgroup$
    – SnakeDoc
    Sep 25, 2018 at 16:54

2 Answers 2


The most probable reason is because of commonality, to reduce costs and support logistics. But, it also increases operational flexibility. The UK MOD want to operate them off the Queen Elizabeth carriers, and they do not have a catapult launch, but a ski jump. Only the B version can get airborne with this setup. So, the RAF had to go with the B version also. As mentioned in this article, having all aircraft as B versions means it is easier to always have the amount needed to fill operational squadrons for the carriers. If you split the buy between A and B versions, A versions cannot fill the place of B versions down for maintenance. Note however, the decision wasn’t “plain sailing” (without debate), as mentioned by J Southwell’s answer.

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  • $\begingroup$ That is for the Royal Navy. I was asking about the Royal Air Force. The conventional A model would have been much more suited. $\endgroup$ Sep 26, 2018 at 4:06
  • $\begingroup$ @TejasTasgaonkar. Good point, I updated my answer. $\endgroup$
    – Penguin
    Sep 26, 2018 at 8:57

The MOD originally planned to buy the B version, then changed their minds and wanted the C version, then changed their minds again and reverted to the B version when the cost of converting the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers to catapult operation proved excessive.

  • $\begingroup$ Makes sense for the Navy. Was asking about the RAF. $\endgroup$ Sep 26, 2018 at 4:07
  • $\begingroup$ The Navy operates ships - the RAF operate aircraft. So all the F35s will be operated by the RAF, and some will be based on-shore and some will be based on the QE. $\endgroup$
    – RAC
    Sep 26, 2018 at 8:38
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @RAC That's not correct at all. The Royal Navy have the Fleet Air Arm, which will operate the F35 for the navy. Most RAF Pilots aren't trained in carrier operations - I'm not sure if this will change with the introduction of a common platform, but the two services are very much distinct and have their own pilots and aircraft. The Army have their Army Air Corps, too. $\endgroup$
    – Dan
    Sep 26, 2018 at 9:12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ My understanding is that the intention on the part of the MOD is to have a fleet of F35B aircraft which will be capable of operating from either carriers or land bases as required. $\endgroup$ Sep 26, 2018 at 15:57

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