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.
- Government plans U-turn on aircraft carriers as catapult costs spiral (guardian.co.uk)
- You won’t believe it: UK considered bringing back one aircraft carrier and the Harrier for Libya (theaviationist.com)
- Philip Hammond defends aircraft carrier U-turn (guardian.co.uk)
- UK to reverse decision on F-35 version. Two aircraft carriers and 72 retired Harriers later. (theaviationist.com)
- Who got it ‘wrong’ on jets Prime Minister? (itv.com)
- MoD wasted £40m of your money after jet u-turn (itv.com)
- HMS Queen Elizabeth: It’s taller than Nelson’s Column and generates enough energy to power 5,500 homes – but does Britain really need a super-sized £3.5bn aircraft carrier? (dailymail.co.uk)
- Cameron set for U-turn on jump jets (express.co.uk)
- Ship Photo of The Day: Bow of HMS Queen Elizabeth Leaves Portsmouth (gcaptain.com)