Busy time in naval news circles

British crewmen lift a Royal Air Force British...

Harriers on Illustrious - maybe not a thing of the past

It’s been a very busy few days in naval news circles.

Firstly, the BBC reported that the bill for the CVF/QE class Aircraft Carrier project has rised by another billion pounds to nearly £7bn. And according to the reports, it still seems uncertain exactly whether one or two – or any – of the aircraft carriers will be fitted to operate jet aircraft. BBC Business Editor Robert Peston offers an explanation here. My take? Costs rises in big projects are always described as ‘just one of those things’, but when its the public purse thats carrying the can, is that good enough?

Secondly, last Thursday the Portsmouth News carried an exclusive report from un-named senior naval sources that HMS Illustrious is being equipped to operate Harriers. Is it possible that the crisis in Libya, and the RAF’s unconfirmed plea for an Aircraft Carrier have forced a very tacit u-turn from the Coalition Government?Originally Illustrious was going in for a ‘regular’ refit as a strike carrier. Then we were told that she was being fitted out as a Helicopter Carrier to fill in for HMS Ocean while she is in refit, and now the possibility of her being a strike carrier again is floated out. As we discussed here recently, it does not take much to turn a helicopter carrier into a harrier carrier – higher grade paint, plus of course spares and armaments. And crucially Illustrious still has her ski ramp. The Harriers themselves have not been scrapped, and are in storage at RAF Cottesmore. Apparently it would take around two months for them to be regenerated a fit state for operations. It seems like a sensible step to me, but of course a sensible step would have been to keep Ark Royal in the first place.

Finally, the recent issue of Warship: International Fleet Review is good value as usual. A healthy dose of deserved spite directed at the Coalition Government and the Strategic Defence Review, and plenty of sound editorial on how events in Libya and the Arab world have undermined the Defence Review only a matter of weeks after it was published. For me, the big question is, if the current Government can get its Defence Policy so wrong, do we trust them to ever get it right at all? How did the Government allow themselves to be hoodwinked so badly by the RAF? If only some of our politicians had a grasp of history – they would have known that the RAF ‘moved’ Australia on the map to suit their arguments, and apparently won the air war in the Falklands singlehandedly.

Also in Warship IFR, there are some interesting opinions – believable, in my view – that the Defence Review was soft on the RAF thanks to underhand lobbying and bad advice from light blue quarters, and also as a sop to the then Chief of Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, who was asked to step down as soon as the review was completed. Having read a lot of the thinking from the current CDS, General Sir David Richards, I doubt very much whether he would have wanted the RAF to remain as it has, with most of its expensive toys retained. How did anyone think it was a good idea to have a Defence Review steered by a senior officer who then left, leaving everyone else to pick up the pieces?

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44 Comments

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44 responses to “Busy time in naval news circles

  1. John Erickson

    I can’t really speak to internal British politics, but turning Illustrious into a strike carrier would give the most options. If the FAA doesn’t have enough parts or gear for Harrier, the USMC can “loan” parts from the AV-8B. It may take work to get a ship up to Harrier ability, but once there, you can go back to helos with VERY little effort.
    As to “budget creep”, I’ve been asking about that one for decades, and never gotten a straight answer. “Standard business practise” is the most common answer. It’s along the lines of why we, as individual householders, can’t run deficits forever, but governments can.
    What is it with Air Forces? Our Marines have 30-40 year old equipment; the USN can’t get a new destroyer to save its’ soul; the Army is struggling to find a Bradley/Stryker replacement – but the USAF has TWO fighters in the pipe, they’re getting C-17s they claim they don’t want, they redid the KC-X buy until they got what THEY wanted… Trust me, it ain’t just the RAF! ;)

  2. x

    I have got to go into town on Thursday so I will buy a copy of IFR……

    As for RAF lobbying well it is something I bang on about over at Think Defence. Well more that organisations have a natural tendency to promote themselves and seek their own survival; unsurprisingly enough both human characteristics as humans are the “atoms” in any organisation. I don’t think many of my fellow commentators (a bright and varied bunch) actually grasp what I am saying. The latent semi-historian in me sees that culture drives the services probably as much as equipment. I think I also loose them why as somebody who is fervently anchored faced can see, again from cultural perspective, how the government decided to bring about the formation of the RAF. If I mention how having a large standing in Germany runs against the grain of history well I might as well go and talk to my cockatiels……..

    My trouble when arguing for the RN is that my position is based on what I perceive to be logical deduction on the value of sea power, but I am also sentimentally attached to the organisation. If you let the latter leak into the former in discussions you can leave yourself open. You get tarred with the same brush as Sharkey Ward and Lewis Page; even though the body of evidence of the RAF’s less than sparking performance is large. Sadly I don’t think the sea power lobby will win.

    I had better qualify “less than sparkling.” In most respects the RAF has done an adequate job. But the image that is sold is one of the war winner and guardian of our freedom. Yet during the Cold War they were just a force in being; they would have been shot out of the skies by the Soviets quite quickly. Even the V-bombers were an anachronism before they flew; the long range strategic bomber was as dead as the dodo when the first V2 hit London. Actually the same could be said about the strike jet when GPS came along which meant missiles could guide themselves to their target. Actually if the Royal Artillery had a battery or two of cruise missiles they could bombard Tripoli from Hyde Park. Of course that only works if the French give you access to their air space; but as overflying rights and restrictions by host nations are ignored by the pro-RAF bunch I will ignore them too! It is my fault really. I see Britain in terms of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries when we traded with the world and used sea power to great effective. And not just in terms of a 20th Britain cowering in the corner of continent that resents her and yet turn about accuses her of being insular.

    • John Erickson

      A question first: Did the UK witness a “Desert Storm” over-emphasis on air power? The US military has been battling against the image of missiles flying through windows ever since. It’s a large part of why the US Army drove Humvees over IED-laden roads, and why we had to scramble to come up with MRAPs. The US Navy boys have their carriers and subs, but the smaller forces have suffered, giving rise to the mixed-up LCS.
      I would argue that you still need airpower, if for no other reason than for fire direction. A cruise missile from Hyde Park takes a while to get to Libya, and targets could shift or become occupied with civilians. Airpower also gives you “on the spot” firing without comms delays. Agreed, though, that the bomber is, and has been, dead for decades. While our B-52 makes a nice “bomb truck”, the B-2 is WAY too expensive, and the B-1 really doesn’t have a function anymore.
      That’s the view from this side of the pond, anyway! ;)

      • x

        Air power is important. But as you acknowledge it isn’t a panacea. The trouble is in the UK in the minds of the public the terms airpower and RAF are synonymous.

        • James Daly

          The RAF has a cultural and historical problem with trying to justify their own existence. Right from the off no-one wanted the RAF, least of all the RN or the Army, and for years Trenchard and his cronies had to deploy all kinds of underhand tactics to ensure that the RAF remained in being. What you find also is that the RAF is always defensive of anything that it does independently and thus consolidates its own position.

          Maybe I’m naive, but personally I think UK defence overall should be the over-riding factor, and as much as services and entities will always fight their own corner, the RAF goes far beyond that and the inability of politicians to take them to task is just baffling.

          • x

            What I find annoying is if you are seen as being pro-RN and complain when the RN loses a capability you are are accused of being silly, sentimental, or illogical. That questioning a tri-service MoD is near heresy.

            Take the CVF FJ situation. At the moment all FJ pilots come down the same pipe. You go to either Dartmouth or Cranwell for initial officer trainer and then it is off for flight training. Now in times past the FAA was quite an efficient little airforce with it own pilots. But when the old CATOBAR carriers were done away with the stream of FAA FJ pilots began to dry up. Many of Ark’s last air groups depended on RAF manpower to fill gaps. Many pro-RAF see this as the FAA having always had a dependence on the RAF for air crew. They don’t seem to see that maintaining supply of personnel to a “dying” force would be problematic. Anyway back to today. Any suggestion that filling FAA FJ training berths could be met by just whittling down RAF numbers (and perhaps pushing the FAA a tad) are met with derision. Apparently nobody wants to join the FAA to fly! But if you suggest the reverse that nobody wants to join the RAF to go to sea well that is silly. And any attempts to convey the idea of a ship as a fighting whole are lost completely. Understandably really because the vast majority of the RAF never ever go into harm’s way. Over the last decade if you have been in the army you have been to Iraq or A-stan. If you serve in today’s tiny RN you have spent a good portion of the last ten years at sea (who is constant enemy not to be underestimated.)

            I see CVF as an opportunity to focus UK defence thinking away from the plains of Central Germany. Tomorrow’s wars will be fought along way from Europe. If flying 6 hours across friendly skies is seen as heroic just to launch a handful of stand off weapons God help us if we have to fight in the Arctic, Antarctica (and her environs,) and in the India Ocean and its littorals. How will the UK do this with just 9 tankers once FSTA is up and running? It took two tankers to support the Libya raids from Marham. For the cost of FSTA annually the UK could build and operate two fleet tankers. All that needs to happen is for the MoD to put its weight behind FAA getting F35c in toto. Lean on the RAF for their expertise yes. But don’t let us see maritime airpower again being a subsidiary to landbased air just to keep the RAF going.

            On a tangent. I have pondered for a while now why is it that the UK’s first multi-missile type VLS equipped ships don’t have a stand off land attack missile capability. Apparently this is because the latter type of missile is used in deep strike missions. And I will leave you to guess the colour of the uniform of the person who always holds the Tri-Service Deep Strike Directorate…..

  3. Bah! See http://www.pprune.org/military-aircrew/431997-decision-axe-harrier-bonkers-34.html#post6424854

    Yes, I wrote it. PPRune ain’t so bad – although some crabs can be difficult.

    • x

      Well that airbase in Italy (whose spelling alludes me) is only 650miles away so it is within the range of both GR4 and Typhoon. Though not at extremes of either ‘planes’ range the distance to be travelled is at the high end.

      But let us not forget Italy wasn’t leading the charge on this, and has been very cautious. Yet supposedly they are tied to us both by NATO, EU, and until the end of 2011 WEU. One wonders whether Call Me Dave would have been up for the fight if the French weren’t so keen. If the French had taken the German stance there would have been little the UK could have done. Further it is any stretch to believe that the Italians would have followed France more much more quickly to that position than they have done to support combat ops.

      Of course the French have deployed CdeG which had just returned from a longish deployment in the Gulf. The question here is if Southern Italy is good option for basing why weren’t the Rafaels flown ashore to allow CdeG to go for refit? Could it be flying from the own patch of mobile sovereign territory allows them to stretch the ROE under UN1973 a little bit more without facing diplomatic pressure from a host nation?

      Of course the Italians are flying their AV8bs from their CVS. The combat radius of the AV8b is only half that of a GR4. We could play about with numbers for an age to decide which is cheaper Harriers from Ark or GR4s from Italy…

  4. Edna Cahill

    Off Piste: – Hoping to get to the D Day Museum on Sunday 5h June – hope it will be open?? Edna

    • James Daly

      Hi Edna you’re in luck there, as part of my day job I work for Portsmouth City Council Museums, and the D-Day Museum is one of our Museums. Barring any unforseen circumstances it will be open on 5 June, and we normally have various activities and things in the run up to the anniversary, with 6 June being free entry for all.

  5. James Daly

    Re x’s post further up: have you seen Sharky Ward’s blog? Now, its hardly objective, as Ward is obviously a died in the wool FAA man, but what really gets me is some of the comments from pro-RAF people on his posts (which despite their partisan nature, I find hard to disagree with). As soon as somebody touches the nerve of questioning the RAF, all manner of dark forces are unleashed – its like Lord Voldermort is CAS. I’ll never forget some of the comments on my post looking at the career background of the past 10 CAS – all fast jet pilots, to a man. It sure hit a nerve…

    I don’t think you’ll find any military historians who will argue that on the whole naval aviation – especially air cover – is on the whole more effective, cheaper, and more flexible. A while ago an ex-RAF ground crew commented on an similar article that he was amazed that the RN and Army ever managed to get an aircraft up – surely on the flip side that might suggest that by comparison the RAF relies on too many ground crew, a huge organisation and un-necessary infrastructure?

    Somebody who is above inter-service rivalries really needs to take the services to task – especially the RAF, but they all do it to an extent. There’s nothing wrong with robust lobbying, but downright lying and spite IS heresy. But then we don’t have the politicians with the experience, knowledge or backbone to do it, nor the Admirals, Generals, Air Marshals who are prepared to see things in ‘purple’.

    I agree entirely about the VLS issue – I’d always wondered why our surface ships never had them, and now it makes sense.

    • x

      Yes I have read Mr Ward’s blog and yes he does leave himself open to attack. But I too was surprised at how acerbic and down right rude many commentators were towards him and even his immediate family. Give the man his due he did lead a greatly outnumbered front line squadron in a war with few resources to hand in a campaign at a great distance against a enemy with near technical parity and much greater numbers. A campaign thought by the experts (read USN/USMC) to be impossible to win with what “we” had. His detractors even mock that qualification; but one wouldn’t be surprised that the same bring up the Battle of Britain time and time again as an example of why airpower is so important.

      This leads me to another point about the pro-RAF bunch. Some of them to their credit know their weapons systems back to front. But seem to acknowledge or display knowledge of how these systems fit into a strategic whole, the UK’s sparse resources, then they ignore political realities such as host nation restrictions or overflying rights, and they always seem to discount the enemy (but when carriers are mentioned the sea is thick with submarines and the air snide with ASMs) Look at how the Libyan raids have been described as epics. Now I admit if you have ever sat in an FJ cockpit, even in civilian clothes, it is a frightful squeeze and a bit uncomfortable. So being imprisoned in such, in a flight and G suit, peeing into a tube, while navigating yourself (well with the aid of GPS, air traffic control etc. and lots of sky to move about in,) for 6 or more hours is some feat. But epic? Really? Aren’t these aircraft designed to be flown easily? Where was the opposition? Aren’t these pilots super fit and the product of nearly £10million pounds worth of training? So to mind it is spin. It is taking our lack lustre power projection capability (admittedly not the RAF’s entire fault) and packaging it as combination of the Waterloo charge of the Royal Scots Greys and the finale scenes of Star Wars. One wonders if the British public, who fly to the Med quite regularly, would have been equally impressed if Storm Shadow had been dropped from a business jet or say the incoming A400m? “We” had to use Tornadoes because they were the only airframe we had that could carry and “fire” the only missile of that type in the UK inventory. A very expensive delivery van. But that is thing with missiles they can be launched from FJ, ships of all sizes, and even off the back of lorries. ll

      My other hobby horse at the moment is UK air defence. At the moment the RAF has 3 squadrons of T1 Typhoon committed so 4 airframes are available for QRA North and South. Now I am going to go a bit contrary here as I think a First World state should have a handful of FJ ready to go at a moment’s notice flying from two airfields that are well separated. But exactly what the air threat to the UK is at the present moment and indeed for the next decade or two nobody seems to be able to tell me. I suspect that if China were to reveal a hidden flotilla of SSGNs packed to gunwales with cruise missiles there is little we (read the RAF) could do to stop them. The only real military threat to the UK is Russia’s ICBM and IRBM which are countered by Trident. But the Russians will never use them and we have the Americans? Well know the Russians won’t use them because we have own missiles. And do we have the Americans? I would be more certain of the Chinese not appearing off our shores than an America returning to her traditional isolationist stance or simply leaving Europe to her own devices. The proceeding was all rambling conjecture and a bit of whimsy. Why? Because I don’t know what specific air threat the RAF meets here at home. To be honest there is more chance of them needing 12 Typhoons down in the Falklands than here at home. Even on that issue everybody agrees even the Argentines are no threat (but wait until the oil starts to flow.)

      This leads me on to one last point in that the hunt for natural resources is now one of geographical extremes. If the Arctic ice cap melts there will be a rush for resources. I think we honour bound (and dare I say in terms of own national interest) to support our Canadian cousins. Similar could be said about Antarctic and the British Territories down there. (Don’t panic the RAF are there this time!) The India Ocean as a highway for resources from Africa to Asia is going to become increasingly important as a security issue. As indeed is the entire continent of Africa. The seabed around UK, Australian, and New Zealand possessions in the Pacific will become as well. We can’t build airfields everywhere and the combat radius of even modern jets like Typhoon look small compared to the vast ocean distances. Again this is fanciful. But these are the scenarios that are dismissed by the pro-RAF bods because “we always get basing rights.” Better not to gamble me thinks.

      I was going to quote Churchill but I have just found that Ward had used the same quote so…… :)

  6. John Erickson

    Um… may I ask something? “Sharky Ward’s blog”? Who, what, where? (Well, where would be sufficient.)
    I’m not feeling the love, guys! :(

    • x

      http://www.phoenixthinktank.org/

      But the page is down at the moment. There are some quite famous people (well in the RN world) who post there. But unfortunately they make a pig’s ear of it and have become a target for a lot of derision.

      Saying that there aren’t many out and out pro-RAF websites.

      A case of “better to keep your mouth shut and have people believe you to be an idiot than open your mouth to prove it” if you get my drift. :)

      • x

        And so you know who Ward is

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigel_Ward

        Wrote a very good book called Sea Harrier over the Falklands. And it went down hill from there. Um. Like a lot of evangelical types he has gone a bit too far.

        • James Daly

          With regard to Sharkey Ward, I think Brooke’s repost to Monty comes to mind… something along the lines of – ‘of course you’re right, I know it and you know it. But the problem is you keep telling everyone’.

          Its impossible to fault his credentials, as x mentions he must be have been – along with the other 1982 SHAR CO’s – one of the fee senior British aviation officers to have realy been in at the deep in since 1945 and prevailed. Prior to commanding a SHAR Squadron he was also Sea Harrier desk officer in the MOD, and came to be regarded as ‘Mr Sea Harrier’.

          • x

            I dug this up for you John to illustrate my point,

            http://www.pprune.org/military-aircrew/449342-oh-sharkey-merged.html

            As I said you can’t knock the fly boys on knowledge; we all know they are the world’s biggest kit freaks. But when it comes to spin and awareness of things beyond the own tiny sphere…

            A couple of highlights. The noodle who questioned the RAF’s post WW2 air-to-air record by citing the five kills by RAF pilots flying with USAF and RAAF. He must be disappointed if an on loan player scores for his team because following his logic the goal would have to be awarded to the on loan player’s home team. And then there is a reference to RAF pilots in the Falklands scoring air-to-air kills. To reiterate thanks to light blue chicanery the FAA found themselves short of FJ pilots so had to use RAF to fill some slots; if the relocation of Australia hadn’t occurred I dare the FAA would have enough of their own people. I am struggling to see how flying an FAA only airframe (with a different role from its RAF cousin) from an RN deck counts as an RAF air-to-air kill.

            Roll on X47B and CVF with “cats and traps”…….

      • John Erickson

        Wow – I actually have that site open in another window. Don’t I feel the complete git! :D
        Oh, I know the “better to let people think you’re an idiot” phrase ALL too well. My father is NOT a literary type, but that was one of his favourites.
        Gee, a historian gone too far? There’s a Yank that shows up all over the History Channel, Harlan Glenn. He slept with somebody, ’cause his history SUCKS. He wrote a book about British and Commonwealth para units, blathered on for half the thing about Arnhem, and never mentioned the Poles ONCE! We may have different terms in the US than you gents do, but I think POS is global! (Pile of … scat, in case that doesn’t translate!) ;)

        • x

          Not a historian gone too far but an old warrior.

          Um. What I will say is that there must be some grain of truth for the anti-RAF rhetoric I see about the webs. And I don’t think the source of it all can be immaturity, ignorance, or dare I say jealousy?

          Air power is important but aeroplanes are just vehicles that mostly have a narrow band of utility. A frigate can hunt submarines, help in search rescue, help in evacuation, be a “presence,” chase pirates, even be the venue for a cocktail party (or a proper diplomatic meeting!) and a thousand and one other things.

          And as missiles and UAV technology improves the need for conventional aeroplanes in warfare will lessen.

        • James Daly

          There really are some poor ‘historians’ out there. My pet hate is people putting out drivel about a subject that is already well covered, with no new research or argument or anything – the book about Arnhem that you quote seems to fit that description.

          Recently a certain British ‘Historian’ is really grinding my gears… priviliged, gifted, but has done nothing that hasn’t been either with his dad, heavily advised by a real expert or piggy-backed off of a TV series.

          • x

            Are we playing the American game Jeopardy? If so the answer is,

            Who is Dan Snow? :)

            He is a grade A t*t isn’t he?

            It was the Little Ships stunt during that volcano business that got me. He even popped up on the Boat Race…….

  7. First Sea LORD – doh!

    • James Daly

      Privileged sheltered career politician with zero military experience – and no worthwhile life experience – disagrees with his chiefs of staff? The man really hasn’t got a clue, him making decisions about defence Is like me performing open heart surgery.

    • John Erickson

      :) I was going to say something like that, James, but I didn’t want to sound like a haughty American twit! (Not that our political/military climate is all that much better.) :D

      • James Daly

        Its like the hats and frocks all over again, except the frocks have even less idea of military matters than they did back then. I wouldn’t mind if people like Cameron would accept that they know nothing, but instead you get the spectacle of Boy George Osborne dictating defence policy.

        When was the last PM, or senior politician, to have genuine military experience? Last I can think of is Lord Carrington, Captain Grenadier Guards at Nijmegen Bridge and Foreign Sec 1982.

  8. John Erickson

    Okay, WAY off topic here, but y’all are the eternal font of naval information. Anybody know of a list of the destroyers that sortied after the Japanese carriers during the Pearl Harbor attack? I keep finding a list of the cruisers, but all I can find for the tin cans is “several destroyers”. A friend of mine, a current Navy chaplain, was asked by the descendant of a crewman on one of the CLs that went after the carriers. Thanks in advance, all!

    • John Erickson

      Oh, BTW, I found a few mentions in a number of places. I think it gives me (or more importantly, the gent I was trying to get the info for) what I need. Thanks anyway!

  9. And now HMS OCEAN is going to the Libyan coast to operate Apache attack helicopters – a ship with a big deck IS useful then..

    And this article from yesterday’s BBC news is interesting – look at what the French Captain has to say: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-13573583

    • John Erickson

      I had heard about the Apaches being Libya bound, but I hadn’t heard how they were going to deploy. Pity we yanked our “chopper carrier” out of the area, that would’ve been perfect for the situation.
      Very interesting, WEBF, very interesting! ;)

  10. Ahhh… KEARSARGE was also operating AV8Bs…

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