HMS Ark Royal to be scrapped – Defence Review

It’s emerged this morning that the Royal Navy’s Flagship and only operational Aircraft Carrier, HMS Ark Royal, is to be scrapped ‘almost immediately’. The original plan had been to retain Ark Royal And her sister ship HMS Illustrious in service until the new Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers reached service. The news is bound to spark outrage, with Ark Royal being such a famous name.

My guess is that Ark Royal will be decomissioned as soon as Illustrious leaves refit, which she is currently undergoing. Bearing in mind that the other Aircraft Carrier, HMS Invincible, is rusting in Portsmouth Harbour and completely useless for operations, this will leave Britain with one Aircraft Carrier for some years. And who knows if Illustrious will survive that long anyway?

The Harrier is due to leave service early, and the Joint Strike Fighter is due (this may slip) to enter service in around 2019, which means that for almost 10 years the Royal Navy will not fly fast jets off their aircraft carriers. This gap in service is very serious – it means that a lot of the skills connected with naval aviation, whilst not completely lost, will be by no means as sharp as they could be, and it will take some time to regain that effectiveness.

And with a sizeable gap with no aircraft carrier available, the Royal Navy will not be able to provide air cover for its own operations, especially vulnberable amphibious operations which depend on air superiority. Which effectively means that Britain cannot mount independent naval operations. As my mum – hardly a defence analyst – said watching the news this morning, “we’d might as well tell the Argies to walk in the front door”. If I were a Falkland Islander waking up today, I would be feeling ever so slightly let down by a Government whose first duty it is to protect its citizens.

On the whole, the RAF seems to have done rather well out of the Review. Retiring the Harrier early is not a huge loss for the junior service, and retaining ‘some’ Tornado Squadrons – even when it is in the process of being replaced by Eurofighter Typhoon – is bizarre in the least. The best solution would be to retain at least some Harrier presence until the pilots can begin transferring to the Joint Strike Fighter, and to retire the Tornado early as the UK has the Eurofighter coming onstream in the fast air interceptor role.

The Army seems to have done OK, with stern lobbying resulting in only low level cuts in numbers of troops, but cuts to many armoured and artillery units – capabilities that are being described as ‘cold war’. But at least a grain of capability is being kept – its easier to expand a tank force, for example, if there is even just a basic capability and experience, than it is to raise one from scratch. Flying US and French jets from British Carriers is pie in the sky stuff – it would be hostage to all kinds of political and diplomatic considerations, and in any case would the French and US Navies have enough jets spare to do it more than once or twice a year?

It might have made more sense, from a naval point of view, to scrap HMS Ocean, which was built to commercial standards as a stop-gap is apparently falling to bits. Then Ark Royal and Illustrious could have been retained with one acting as a Helicopter Carrier if need be. The run-down of Aircraft Carrier capability is also bad news for Portsmouth as the home of Royal Navy Aircraft Carriers. Especially for anyone who saw the considerable report from Plymouth on the BBC News this morning, complete with schoolchildren writing letters to the Prime Minister along the lines of  ‘please save my Daddy’s job’. The BBC’s line seemed to be that Portsmouth can take a hit much more easily than Plymouth could. Which may be true, but still painful none the less.

Other reports suggest that the Royal Navy’s escort fleet – Destroyers and Frigates – will be cut from 24 to 19. My guess is that this will mean the loss of the four Type 22 Frigates (Cornwall, Chatham, Cumberland, Campbeltown) and the remaining Batch 2 Type 42 Destroyer (Liverpool). Or, alternatively, if any of the Type 23 Frigates are due for expensive refits then they might be retired early and flogged off.

An even more unbelievable report suggests that while both new carriers will enter service, the first – Queen Elizabeth – may be mothballed and sold after three years in order to recoup the costs of building the thing. The indignity of the Royal Navy selling one of the largest warships that it has ever built, named after the Queen, is fairly evident to even those with a weak grasp of defence politics.

All in all, its a balls up and its wrong of the politicians to insult our intelligence by suggesting anything otherwise. I suppose we shouldn’t have expected anything different from a Defence Review that was completed in five months, headed by the Prime Minister’s National Security Advisor and largely cut out the Ministry of Defence and Service Chiefs, who now have to pick up the pieces and work with whats left.

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59 Comments

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59 responses to “HMS Ark Royal to be scrapped – Defence Review

  1. As an 11yr 2 Badge Leading Hand, 4 ships under my belt, & over 8yrs Sea-time, I’m Gutted, Disgusted, & Ashamed to be British & an Ex-Sailor. To take OUR Flagship, the ARK ROYAL, off the RN is nothing short of Theft. You wouldn’t take Buckingham Palace off the Queen,Downing St off the PM, & The Bank of England off Threadneedle St.
    It’s Wrong to rip the Flagship off the Navy, as not only will be without a Carrier, we’ll be a Laughing Stock.
    We must say a “Big Thank You” to the New Owners of the Government, for letting us down so Badly & in such Spectacular fashion.
    Makes one proud to be British…….. NOT.

  2. Is Illustrious even up to operational standards? From the little bit of information we get on this side of the pond, it seems she’s spent the vast majority of her recent years in a variety of “refits” and capability expansions” and not a lot of time moving under her own power. As to cutting the Harrier squadrons, and again forced to speak as a Yank, I know the USMC has had a VERY high accident rate during training, and not the “oops I bumped something” types, either. While it doesn’t make military sense, it might be more cost-effective to teach pilots how to fly something that doesn’t require the dexterity of a one-armed chainsaw juggler. How’s the Air Arm’s safety record in training?

    • x

      To be honest John for a while now the Royal Navy has only operated 2 carriers despite having 3 hulls. (I mean prior to Invincible being decommissioned.) The refit part of the ship life cycle has always been greatly extended beyond what you as an American would expect. And operating those two hulls has always taken a toll on the service. It has always been a bit of sleight of hand that we appeared to have 3 carriers.

      (No trolling please I am speaking very loosely)

      • James Daly

        And also every now and then one has been pressed into service as an LPH, prior to Ocean’s arrival in service and whenever shes in refit.

  3. James Daly

    John Illustrious is currently deep in refit in Scotland. This was scheduled to be her last refit in order to see her through until decommissioning, whether she will even see through that refit remains to be seen.

    As for safety records, in the 60’s and 70’s fixed wing naval aviation used to be very dangerous – ditchings, sliding off the deck, all sorts. As far as I know the safety record isnt too bad now, probably because there simply isnt as much flying going on any more.

  4. x

    The RAF have never liked the Harrier. I know back in the Cold War there was all that operating from forest clearings crap that looked very spectacular and good for recruiting. But having that capability made a nonsense of the RAFs position that airfields are safe. And it must be remember one of the RAF’s key NATO missions was attacking air fields at low level! Though I think the junior service was looking for a role with this one. If there had been any value in this or more importantly if it was “safe” the Yanks would have being doing it. Can you imagine barrelling along at cherubs 2 being lit up by a whole menagerie of Soviet fire control and air search RADARS? The RAF have never been interested in CAS. The RAF have never been really interested in controlling the air space above the poor sods on the ground.

    I just can’t believe that the RAF have got away with it again. I want to know how many RAF stations have runways long enough to operate Typhoon and Tornado. But I just can’t be bothered.

    I do genuinely feel very, very upset and very betrayed. I won’t vote Conservative again.

  5. To James- I was wondering what the Air Arm’s record with Harrier has been. As I said, our Marines have definitely had problems in training, though once up to speed as it were, they do seem to be a Marine CAS favourite. Though our Marines do have quite the obsession with their helos – they’ve actually hit the “Z” variant of the AH-1 Cobra and are still talking more upgrades! And to X, I must state that I, too, had doubts about the “pop out of a clearing” concept, since a slow-hovering VERY hot target would be far too much of a gift to hand-held SAMs. And for the rest of you out there, as I said before, it’s not just Britons who are upset over this. I think it’s positively idiotic to forgo seaborne fixed-wing air cover for a decade or more while the politicians argue over monies. I find it hard to believe that a simple 5% pay cut throughout the upper levels of government couldn’t keep Ark Royal at sea for a decade, plus get Illustrious out of her long-term refit. But I won’t argue politics vs. the military too much – we’ve got our own collection of single-digit-IQ politicians trying to ruin the US military! Must be something in the water…..

    • By the way, a Lib Dem Email just informed me that there will be no renewal of the Trident SLBM system during this session of Parliament, just so you all know.

      • And the US Army has declared October “National Depression Month”. Not National Depression AWARENESS Month, oh no. Definitely something in the water……

        • x

          What annoys a lot here is that the UK’s international aid and development fund, approx 9bn, has been ring fenced.

          It is seen as a security investment because helps to keep the Third World stable. But I imagine most of it ends up in TW government pockets, wasted, or just replace previous aid.

          Some people are also questioning the cost of the British Army at 15bn a year. I have seen one blog post today that speculated a budget swap, RN with 15bn, and an Army with 7bn. I can’t see once we are out of A-stan any government trying a similar venture for a generation. What are “we” to do with the Army then?

          • James Daly

            In the announcement about the SDSR the Government announced that it would be scaling back aid to countries like Russia. Come again?!

            • x

              It is crackers isn’t it?

              You do know we send money to China too?

              I could rant on about this for hours. But in these PC days I would come across as a racist.

  6. I also feel betrayed. I wonder who advised the Government?

    My service has been betrayed – in ten years time rebuilding the skills to run run a carrier will be a massive challenge. The pilots can go on exchange with the USN, but whatabout everyone else involved in running a carrier’s flying operations, like flight deck crews – the chockheads who need to be able to work safely on the flight deck, moving aircraft (engines running) around the deck in tight confines, the people on the Bridge keeping the ship heading the right direction for flying, the Marine Engineering types in the Ship Control Centre – maintaining trim for the benefit of flying, the operators and maintainers of various sensors and landing aids, ATF, Fighter Controllers, and more. We’re not sending them on exchange.

    I am genuinely upset. I have no doubt that, tis together with the reduction in amphibious capability, will invite aggression.

  7. James Daly

    I’m trying to think how to place this programme of cuts – i wont dignify it by calling it a review – in terms of history. Essentially its more swingeing that the Nott cuts in 81/82, but at least then there was some kind of overarching strategy and a clear defined enemy in the Warsaw Pact. These are the biggest and most serious defence cuts since 1945, and also the most rudderless and enacted by a Government with no defence credentials at all.

    Since 1945, even though the British Empire is a distant memory, Britain – and the Royal Navy – has been living on the tail end of the global influence that comes from global presence. Not for much longer, I fear. And what will fill the vacuum?

  8. x

    I am going to be play the revisionist card here but the Nott review at least concentrated on submarines. And these are still the platform that make us a world class navy. If WW3 had happened the RN frigate force in East Atlantic wouldn’t have lasted long.

  9. James Daly

    I know the life expectancy of tank units in BAOR was something like 2 hours, I should imagine the RN in the N Atlantic/GIUK gap would have been along the same lines.

    • x

      Yes BAOR would have speed bumps for Third Shock Army.

      I am also sceptical of the old quality verses quantity argument that was “put about” during the Cold War to defend NATO’s small numbers.

  10. At the risk of again using an over-used phrase, it appears that the so-called Review is prepping the military to fight the last war. The range and scope of cuts seems to point towards a fairly strong land army (albeit one that does not require armour), a moderate “top cover” air force without too much CAS, and a sharply cut Navy, especially in the expensive ships. (I will not the carrier details – I want to keep my language clean!) There are some duocuments I’ve found, but haven’t yet had chance to read. One is called “The National Security Strategy”:

    http://www.direct.gov.uk/prod_consum_dg/groups/dg_digitalassets/@dg/@en/documents/digitalasset/dg_191639.pdf

    The other is from the House of Commons:

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmselect/cmpubadm/435/43506.htm#a5

    As I said, I haven’t read them, so I can’t comment on their contents, but they’re both supposed to explain the whole defence climate and what cuts are required (and, allegedly, why).

  11. As to Allied forces in Europe during WW3, most units (land, sea AND air) were all expected to have life expectancies of days at best, hours at worst. I think, James, you may have mentioned this book elsewhere, but it bears re-mentioning: “The Third World War: the Untold Story” by General Sir John Hackett. Although it is a bit dated (looking at a “future” of 1985), it shows the truly bloody nature of a Soviet invasion, with entire brigades wiped out in moments. A very good read, I highly recommend it.

    • x

      That is a book I know about and read once but I don’t own a copy.

      I do have a copy of this though,

      A good but confusing read. Beloved of war gamers apparently.

      • I haven’t read it, but it sounds like it would be a perfect scenario script for a role-playing game called Twilight:2000, which is based around the US Army in Europe trying to re-assemble and ship home following a limited exchange which caused political turmoil, a new US Civil War, and the abandonment of forces in a Europe without infrastructure, government, or even fuel and food. It is a very good, and realistic, game system for us rabid wargamers.

        • x

          The book was produced by a Canuck staffer.

          I have two problems with it. One it is a bit air light. Any fixed formation would have been pummelled. Two, to make the book last and to lessen confusion the scenario is drawn out a tad. Good book though.

  12. And two unrelated topics, with apologies for going off-thread. BBC News (from 11 am your time) made mention of Lady Thatcher entering hospital with an infection. On the heels of our brief Cold War sidestep, my wishes for her to speedily recover.
    And James, could you start a thread, with a far happier theme, covering Wojtek the Polish bear, who carried mortar ammo at Monte Cassino for the troops? Yes, he carried rounds in his paws for his adopted unit. A great story, with a Scottish connection – they’re building (or have built, the memory is very bad this morning) a statue for him in Edinburgh, in whose zoo he spent his postwar years. A nice, positive story in these dark days. Thank you!

  13. One more post, then I’ll shut up for a while. I don’t recognise the participants, but the rest of you may. This is an interview skit between a presenter and an admiral, providing a rather humourous look at the Navy’s attempt to present the two new carriers in a positive light. Enjoy!

    http://bit.ly/cfvAEg

  14. Sorry to add yet another, but I had to share this, with all the bad news on this thread. From the U.S. site Military.Com:

    http://www.military.com/news/article/brits-force-pirates-to-row-home-in-shame.html?wh=news

    The HMS Fort Victoria found a whaler towing a skiff off the coast of Somalia, loaded with weapons, and meted out some truly enlightened justice. Well done!

    • x

      >cough< RFA Fort Victoria……. ;)

      • x

        On a tangent this why putting that Bay into mothballs is such a bad decision. Much cheaper than frigate it could have plodded up and down around the Horn of Africa saving an escort for more arduous duties,

      • As Homer Simpson would say, “D’Oh!”. Sorry about that one, I didn’t see the ship’s ….um… whatever you call that (HMS, USS, etc), and made an assumption. Please forgive an ignorant American!

        • x

          I wasn’t being nit picky for the sake of being a whiney pedant; I am not like that.

          I knew you would “appreciate” being told.

          The Brazilian don’t have an equivalent of HMS or USS.

          • Make you a deal. If you promise not to teach me how to pick a nit, I won’t teach you how to ped an ant. Deal? (Yes, the word you are looking for rhymes with “art glass”!) Never fear, I could never picture you as whiny or pedantic. Besides, I’m the Yank here, it’s ME who should be the annoying one! ;)

  15. As to quality vs. quantity issue, I submit two WW2 examples. One is the US M4 Sherman vs. the German Tiger. The second is the Russian T-34 vs. the German Panther. In both cases, the greater Allied numbers defeated the superior German product – in the second case, the Panther was designed specifically to “out T34″ the T-34, and still lost. Yes, the US Abrams worked well in Desert Storm against the Iraqis, but that was with air supremacy against a poorly trained opponent using old equipment. I’m just glad for our sake that the tanks, or the tankers, weren’t of a higher quality.

  16. x

    M4 was an awful tank. “We” out produced the Germans we didn’t out fight them. Those numbers (plus CAS) meant the Germans would have always been caught out showing their flank or rear. It isn’t hard to imagine a Normandy with an Allied tank produced in lower numbers with thicker armour and a bigger gun. Lower numbers that would still have swamped the Germans.

    T34 vs Panther is a slightly different story. More a match of equals. The T34 with the 85mm guns is my favourite tank. And perhaps when I look at the dreadful Sherman it is the T34/85mm I am thinking of.

    • Actually, you’re absolutely correct, the M4 was a horrid tank. It’s strength was that it was a wonderful automobile. Absolutely reliable, easy to maintain, simple to hose the bodies out and re-equip for combat even in field depots, and marvelously adaptable to big anti-tank guns, artillery, recovery cranes, flamethrowers…. you name it, they hung it on a Sherman. That’s what you get when you let the auto manufacturers build a tank! (No fair pointing out the various locomotive plants that built them!) ;)

  17. As to the “better” Allied tanks, there were two Sherman variants – the British Firefly (limited by availability of the excellent 17-pdr AT gun) and the US M4A3E8 – a better-suspended Sherman with the American 3″ AA gun converted for AT purposes. Both were unfortunately limited by gun production, as indeed was the T34-85. The 85mm gave the Germans a run for their money, while the original 76mm was a fair, but not great gun. A neat bit of trivia – every army still in the fray after 1940 (sorry, France) upgraded their tanks with converted AA guns – the US (3″ and 90mm), the UK (17-pdr was their 3″ AA), the Germans (the 88), the Soviets (85mm), even the Italians and Japanese (both 90mm). In the Italians’ case, the chassis available were death traps, while the Japanese couldn’t build enough of any high velocity gun to make an appreciable difference. BTW, my favourite “tank” (after the M5 Stuart w/ 2 Cadillac V8s, any petrol-heads’ dream) was the US M18 Hellcat. 3″ high velocity anti-tank gun and 50mph road speed. Okay, so the turret had no roof, and the armour was .5″ thick (thin?), but who wouldn’t love tearing cross-country at 35mph+ when other tanks are clanking along at 15-20?

  18. This story comes, via the US Internet site Military.Com, from the Washington Post newspaper and website.

    http://defensetech.org/2010/10/21/sun-about-to-set-at-gmt-for-british-empire/

    As I said on the Trafalgar Day thread, I think the headline says it best. Quote:

    “Sun About to Set at GMT for British ‘Empire’”

    “In the face of domestic economic pressures, our main ally (and perhaps the last one of any consequence unless you count Russia) has started stepping away from having a military that can exert power worldwide.”

  19. I don’t know if any of you are familiar with this website. I thought it would be of interest, considering the topic this thread:

    http://www.navalshipbuilding.co.uk/navalship_warships.asp?ID=WAR3&catID=5/

    Enjoy!

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  22. It’s a shame because a crew can bond quite tightly, so they will all be reshuffled around which isn’t very nice.

  23. robert

    Much of the World’s military hardware exists on paper only. That is to say that it is no longer fit for active service. China is a good example of this as it prefers to keep its obsolete submarines on its active service list, even though many of them are too old and decrepit to put to sea. While such submarines will not be fighting wars on behalf of China in the future, they do make a very strong deterrent to any challenge to China’s territorial assertions by bringing their submarine fleet up to around 95 submarines. Perhaps the British could learn this rather elementary lesson in deterrence, which is practiced by most of the World’s blue water navy’s. It would mean them mothballing their carriers and not scrapping them. A mothballed carrier can be reactivated, a scrapped carrier cannot be rebuilt!

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