Another Aircraft Carrier U-turn

Artist depiction of the Queen Elizabeth-class,...

Artist depiction of the Queen Elizabeth-class, two of which are under construction for the Royal Navy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m several days late in reporting this one, but earlier in the week it emerged that the current governing coalition is planning to perform a u-turn and introduce both Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers into service. Previously, it had planned to mothball one. Both will enter service with the Royal Navy once completed, as was originally planned by the previous Labour Government.

The mothball option emerged in the Strategic Defence and Security Review, which also opted to purchase conventional ‘cat and trap’ versions of the joint strike fighter rather than the vertical version -a decision that was also reversed earlier this year. Yet another defence u-turn raises questions about the coalitions judgement – whilst changing your mind is nothing to be ashamed of if the situation demands it, that decision makers have got so many things wrong in the first place is worrying. If decisions about acquiring equipment appear to be unsound, how much confidence can we – or more importantly our servicemen – have about the decision making when it comes to commiting troops?

I have always been a firm believer that there is no point in having just one of anything in defence terms. If you only have one aircraft carrier, it can only be fully operational half of the time. At best. And if you feel that you can do without it 6 months of the year, do you really need it that other 6 months? The French have had all kinds of trouble with their carrier Charles de Gaulle, and whenever she’s in port, the French have no other carrier. The Falklands – and the Royal Navy’s recent operational tempo – shows that to have one ship effective at any one time, you need at least one, preferably two more in refit or working up. One suspects that the current era of no strike carriers was prompted by the RAF trying to prove that we do not need them at all. That philosophy has clearly proved to be unsound, with carrier-borne air cover proving to be effective – militarily and financially – over Libya.

According to Defence sources, the first Carrier – Queen Elizabeth – should be undergoing sea trials by 2017. Sections being constructed in shipyards around Britain are currently being assembled in Scotland. Both ships will be based in Portsmouth, and extensive work is going on in Pompey to configure jetties and supporting infrastructure to take them. Seeing them steam into Portsmouth for the first time is bound to be an impressive sight. They are perhaps overkill for out financial means nowadays, and probably bigger than we really need militarily, but on the flip side, it is difficult to overestimate what an impact a 60,000 ton flat top could project.

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16 Comments

Filed under Navy, News, Uncategorized

16 responses to “Another Aircraft Carrier U-turn

  1. Reblogged this on nebraskaenergyobserver and commented:
    I would be inclined to call this decision a victory for freedom. Another Carrier Battle Group flying the White Ensign will be most welcome in this troubled world.

  2. Agreed, Dave! Always good to have company when going into the darkness!

  3. James Daly

    I forgot to add… the prospect of one of these floating in the South Atlantic would probably make Fernandez-Kirchner think twice about any funny stuff over the Falklands. One QE Class could carry almost as many fighter/strike aircraft as Argentine possesses in total.

  4. Based on history, I would say err on the large size side. After all, several of the early Japanese carriers had multiple flying-off decks, and replaced them during refits with a single, longer deck. Unless you’re wedded to an all-UAV future, stuff is just going to get heavier, and need more room for take-off. Better to have it and not need it, then need it and not have it.

    • James Daly

      With the Royal Navy, you find that the planners tend to over-build new platforms, with an eye on future upgrading. Post WW2 there were a couple of classes of Destroyers and Frigates that were tiny, and unsuited to modernising in the missile age. The same with the Type 21 Class when Sea Cat became obsolete, they were so small you couldn’t do much with them. Hence from Type 22 onwards you see the hulls growing, so theres room to add things if need be. With a ship like T45, they have a potential in-service life of 30+ years. As long as the ship itself is looked after OK, the only things that are really going to age it are the systems, which you can always update as long as the space is there for mountings, magazines, desks in the ops room etc.

  5. Can’t believe I didn’t comment at the time:

    Since the decision in May 2012 that we would purchase F35B as originally planned, and that future CVF operations would be STOVL ones, the issues of retaining STOVL skillsets amongst both aircrew and ships’ personnel are more relevant than ever. The issue of whether of not the UK needs a fixed wing carrier capability in the next few years is brought into focus by talk of possible conflicts which may involve UK forces, for example possible hostilities in the Gulf or international action over Syria.

    Potentially all of these things could be sorted out. We have STOVL capable ships, STOVL trained pilots and carrier crews, have a STOVL future to prepare for, and STOVL aircraft do exist. The politicians could make this into a success.

    See http://www.pprune.org/military-aircrew/431997-decision-axe-harrier-bonkers.html#post6023131

  6. Talk of intervention in crises involving Syria or Iran can only make the SDSR decision to bin carrier aviation for a decade look even more like something that could only be made or a fool or a knave.

    Which one describes Cameron better?

  7. Sorry John didn’t see your reply.

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