Plan for Britain and France to ‘share’ Carriers

FS CdG11

FS Charles De Gaulle (Image via Wikipedia)

Rumours regarding defence cuts have reached a new level of lunacy, with reports that the Government is considering talks with France to share aircraft carriers.

The plan would see the two countries co-ordinate refit cycles, so that at least one aircraft carrier would always be at sea. In effect, what we would see is an Anglo-French task group. Which is all very well in theory when both countries are agreed on action, but what if – say, like with Iraq – there is disagreement about intervening? The UK would be powerless to contribute an aircraft carrier if Queen Elizabeth happened to be in refit.

Take, for example, the Falklands. If Argentina were to invade again, any task force to reclaim the islands would need air cover – which means an Aircraft Carrier. But imagine if Queen Elizabeth is in refit, are the French going to let us ‘borrow’ Charles De Gaulle? Very unlikely, in my opinion. In effect, this would mean a French veto on UK foreign and defence policy.

Even IF the plan could be made to work, it is unlikely to be very popular with either country, particularly the British and French sailors. There is nothing wrong with inter-state co-ordination (take, for example, the Anglo-Dutch Amphibious Group, a model joint poject), but it only works if the constituent parties are willing to work closely together and can rely on each other. Would a British Task Force get the same effective cover from Rafale’s flown from De Gaulle as it would from a Queen Elizabeth class with F-35’s? I doubt it. In any case, the CDG has been riddled with technical problems throughout her service life – a French former President even referred to her as ‘half an aircraft carrier’. The consensus seems to be that she is neither reliable nor effective.

Politically the French are unreliable. Long term enemies of Britain, the twentieth century may have seen France become an ally, but it has none the less been an uneasy entente cordiale. There is still animosity over Britain’s withdrawl from Dunkirk (I don’t know quite what else they expected us to do) and the destruction of the French Fleet in 1940 (again, what else could we have done?). De Gaulle made for a very uneasy bedfellow during the war (somehow managing to gain a status as a French hero without actually doing anything), and his withdrawal of France from NATO could have had disastrous results if the Warsaw Pact had rolled across the Iron Curtain. French Foreign policy – and Defence policy- is invariably governed by what is good for France, and not much more.

I’m not against co-operation, far from it. But it has to make sense and be workable. I did read a suggestion in a well-known warship magazine for closer co-operation amongst Commonwealth navies, which is something that would make a lot of sense. Not only do countries such as the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand share a head of state, but they also share much culturally, politically and linguistically. Such countries almost always find themselves co-operating in coalitions, alliances and operations. The only fly in the ointment might be public opinion in countries which are keen to assert their independence of the ‘mother country’.

Make no mistake about it, this is an accountant driven plan. It would enable the MOD to either make Prince of Wales a Commando Carrier, sell her to another country, or scrap her completely. Yet the cost to British Defence capabilities would far outweight the potential savings, which in any case might not be as much as hoped. And militarily, it makes about as much sense as the UK offering to sell Argentina the Bulwark or Albion LPD’s. But that is exactly what the French ARE trying to do – sell the Argentinians one of their landing ships…

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39 Comments

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39 responses to “Plan for Britain and France to ‘share’ Carriers

  1. x

    When you say Anglo-French task group you really mean EU task group don’t you? ;)

    As you say this ludicrous so I won’t waste time commenting.

    • James Daly

      funny thing is, an EU task group would be quite formidable. In particular there are some excellent air defence ships out there. But that means multilateral, not just us doing the three-legged race with the French!

      • x

        You could trust the Dutch, the Danes, the Swedes, and the Poles. But you wouldn’t get very far with the rest of them. Of course I am talking about the political elites. I am not commenting on any nation’s fighting men.

  2. Pingback: Plan for Britain and France to 'share' Carriers « Daly History Blog

  3. x

    I think shutting Devonport would be a mistake. Militarily it doesn’t pay to concentrate your assets (yes I know the likelihood of an attack on the UK is remote, but…) Portsmouth harbour entrance is so narrow and Devonport is so open. I am not sure about navigable the approaches are but I think it would make a better base for CVF than Portsmouth. Is the large ship repair building still in use? Because surely that is an asset worth keeping; better than wrapping frigates in plastic as they have to do in Portsmouth. And lastly the place, Plymouth (Guzz) is still, well, so Navy. (Though I do admit when I go there it is a foreign land compared with Pompey!)

  4. James Daly

    The problem with the naval base issue is that MP’s always wade in with the time old adage of ‘my constituency…’ which results in a fudge – decisions are made to placate voters worried about job losses.

    In all honesty, even taking away sentiment, I don’t know what I would do. Portsmouth isn’t any less ‘Navy’ than Devonport, its not so visible but its still in the citys veins. And I don’t think the entrance of the Harbour is too much of an issue – much bigger ships in the past have gone in and out of Portsmouth Harbour than the RN currently has. The thing with Portsmouth is that the MOD have let the yard run down, but the docks, basins etc are all still there. Spithead is just as good an anchorage as it ever was, and Portsmouth is much more accessible to the rest of the country, espec London. CinC Fleet is based here at Whale Island, although headquarters can move – I read someone trying to justify keeping Devonport open as it was the home of the Amphibs and 3 Cdo Bde is based in the west country – well, no one thought they would see the day the Paras moved from Aldershot! And Sultan, Collingwood, Excellent and Temeraire etc are all nearby. On the other hand Devonport is further down the channel, and better for whatever FOST is called nowadays. And its better equipped for handling nuclear subs and has the Frigate overhaul complex. I think militarily theres still enough need to justify the two bases.

    I can see pound signs in the MOD Defence Estates eyes – all those miles of waterfront areas at Portsmouth, incredibly valuable land just waiting for development… and Portsmouth would survive closure better than Plymouth, because Portsmouth has a bit more going for it in terms of diversity of economy.

  5. x

    When I was talking about the entrance to Portsmouth harbour I was just shooting the breeze. I hadn’t really thought about giving as a detailed replied as you did. But I do agree with everything you say. It is hard to reconcile Gun Wharves with those council flats as you enter Portsmouth proper. You do get that feel of “posh overspill” from the yachting set across the Solent. (We have similar thing here as I am live in a village just across the border from “posh Cheshire”.) I like those flats just down the road from Nelson. If I won the lottery I would be there like a shot. And I think Portsmouth is now nicer than Southampton(!)

    It has crossed my mind though that Southampton could be used as a “berthing port” for CVF with crews etc. just transiting up and down the M27 so in effect CVF would still be a Portsmouth ship. Sorry its the way my mind works.

    Lastly I actually did look up who were currently the MPs for Plymouth, for the very reasons you stated.

  6. James Daly

    Southampton is probably one of the few ports that could actually take CVF, along with the other container ports that are used to taking deep draught vessels. Thats one thing with big carriers – there are fewer places they will be able to visit. I can’t imagine Queen Elizabeth being able to go through the Thames Barrier and up the Thames as easily as Ark Royal can. I know its very much a side issue, but it won’t be able to pop into Liverpool of Sunderland for the weekend.

    Thinking about it, its funny how the RN ships to this day still insist on having 2 or 3 tugs in attendance, while you see larger cross-channel ferries and container ships closing up alongside without any assistance. I think there is a fear of embarassing episodes such as the grounding of Vanguard on her way to the breakers yard. But all the same, some of the big container ships that transit the Solent steam through deep water channels with only a couple of feet of water either side.

  7. x

    I have been taking an interest in ships for about 15 years now. And I have noticed how the bow thruster is now a given in almost all designs of all varieties of ship. Well it seems that way to me; perhaps the adoption of the bow thruster started earlier.

    But it appears to me that bow thruster doesn’t appear on RN ships. I know the T22, T23, T42, and T45 don’t have one. And neither do the LPDs. And it appears that CVF will bereft of them too. (If I wrong please tell me!) Why? Underwater noise? Sea keeping? Or perhaps cost? If it is the latter it is odd because surely it is cheaper to include a bow thruster than employ Serco here and foreign tugs abroad. One of the costs identified to be cut back at HMNB was ship movements.

    The first time I saw the QM2 she was pirouetting around near the cruise ship berth like a mini on a supermarket car park. An awesome sight. But as you say CVF will have to be berthed by a flotilla of little helpers. Remember the QM2 is a just a bit bigger than CVF.

    (All the above was off the top of my head. If you know better please say!!)

  8. x

    When I say adoption of the bow thruster I meant to say “mass adoption.” As with any field of technology a feature can be around a long time before it is adopted universally. I know the bow thruster was in existence way before the mid 1990s. Sorry.

  9. James Daly

    They’re obviously not planning to introduce it any time soon either, given that Serco Denholm have just taken delivery of a new flotilla of swanky azimuth tugs. will be sad to see the old workhorses Powerful and Bustler go…

  10. x

    It is a shame we Brits have a poor history of ship preservation because I think Bustler or Powerful would be wonderful vessels to keep. Just as in the railway preservation world there is a place for diesel ships in preservation. But even the wonderful Shieldhall struggles to find funds (and has to suffer restrictive EU regs that strangely don’t seem to upset our European cousins like the Dutch with their largish steam flotilla.) Yes it a shame.

    (PS: Thinking about poor HMS Plymouth gets me upset……)

  11. James Daly

    We do have a terrible record with ship preservation. Far too much dithering, and picking the wrong ships. Just think of all the opportunities lost over the years… as interesting as Belfast is, wouldn’t it be great if Warspite or Ramillies were there on the Thames. There are so many other subs we could have preserved instead of Alliance. Of the Falklands ships, Fearless or Intrepid would have made the best Museum ships, as the dock and tank deck would have had a lot of potential for displays, and the flight deck too. And there is a gap for a carrier somewhere along the line… with lots of spare jettys at Portsmouth, and talk (whisper it quietly) that the naval museums (FAA, subs, RM) will eventually be amalgamated into one National Naval Museum, we might yet see changes in our lifetime…

  12. x

    I have just check my recollections about HMS Plymouth going to Portsmouth (isn’t the web wonderful?) When I was down for Navy Days I thought it would be wonderful if the Plymouth could be found space perhaps on the same jetty as Warrior. Plymouth is shorter and narrower than Warrior. The T12/Leanders are a successful design, Falklands veteran (there is chapel of remembrance onboard,) and it would be a useful bridge between the old ships in the historic dockyard and the active navy the other side of the fence.

    Isn’t Alliance in trouble too funding wise? My father would dearly love to visit a nuclear submarine. Even though I have told him that one submarine is much the same as any other submarine; a tube full of lots of little tubes!! He does have the bad habit of calling them “subs”……..

    (PS I have trained the Plumouth’s Mk6 mount manually. A proper gun system. Better than that tawdry Mk8…… :) )

  13. At least in Portsmoth your local authorities recognise and celebrate your naval heritage, unlike in Plymouth….

    There is of course the decommisioned HMS COURAGEOUS – a Cold War nuclear boat.

    X

    Err, surely the guns themselves are the same?

  14. James Daly

    I agree WEBF, I’ve always felt that Plymouth doesn’t do enough to recognise its heritage. Theres plenty about the Mayflower and the founding fathers, but he naval heritage side of things is pretty weak. In the 60’s Portsmouth City Council cottoned onto the fact that the RN was declining, freeing up space in the Dockyard for a heritage area.

  15. x

    @ WEBF

    It was just a joke referring back to my comment re Mk8.

  16. x

    Albion and Bulwark do have bow thrusters. Second whoops of the internet day.

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