Tag Archives: Libya

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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War Graves desecrated in Benghazi

I’m absolutely appalled by the footage of armed men desecrating British war graves in Benghazi in Libya. Click here to watch.

Footage on the BBC website shows a large group of armed men – accompanied by what appears to be a reasonably professional film crew – smashing numerous CWGC grave stones. A man is then shown climbing a ladder to try and damage the cross of sacrifice that is present in all larger cemeteries. One gravestone is clearly seen to be engraved with a star of David, denoting that it is the grave of a Jewish serviceman. At no point does anybody seem to stop them, least of all the camera crew. The group act calmly and casually – this is not the work of a few idle youths.That it was filmed does suggest that it was organised. Of course the Libyan Government has condemed the attacks, but did they do enough to stop them? Will they do enough to stop them in future? I’m intrigued about who exactly the film crew were.

War graves in Libya have been pretty inaccessible for many years, since Colonel Gaddafi came to power. One Portsmouth man is buried in Beghazi – Bombardier Henry Herbert, aged 22 who was killed on 8 January 1942 serving with 51 Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery. The CWGC have confirmed that graves have been damaged, and will be carrying out a full survey soon.

Desecrating war graves is a particularly cowardly thing to do. Especially considering British servicemen have done a lot to help ordinary Libyans, both during the Second World War when the Eight Army fought to push back both the Italians and the Germans, and in the past year or so when NATO forces helped the overthrow Colonel Gaddafi. It is a cowardly thing to do, because the man buriede beneath the gravestone cannot fight back. And more important than that, a war grave is deserving of respect, no matter who is buried there. A person who died doing their duty deserves dignity and peace regardless of the uniform that they wore, or the mistakes of their political masters.

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HMS Ocean – All I want for Christmas

This video has been doing the rounds in the UK and beyond this week. After being sent on what was planned to be a seven week deployment to exercise in the Med, HMS Ocean and her crew found themselves involved in the war against Colonel Gadaffi. The ship is due to return to Plymouth tomorrow after seven months away – a long time in modern naval deployments – just in time for christmas. Apparently even Mariah Carey herself has given her blessing via Twitter!

Typical British military rank and file humour from Jack Tar and Jenny Wren!

And while we’re on the subject of HMS Ocean, here’s something completely mental!

 

Related articles

 

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The True Cost of US Military Equipment

I’ve just come across this very interesting infographic, putting into perspective the US’s spending on Defence.

The True Cost of US Military Equipment

Puts things into perspective doesn’t it? I wonder how many of those Billions are as a result of the desire to gold-plate everything that Mike Burleson used to highlight on New Wars?

Of course, we here in the UK can have a pretty robust discussion about defence procurement – it would be interesting if somebody worked on a comparable graphic for the MOD!

…. on another note, here is a wonderful graphic demonstrating the US Army‘s commitment to medal-itis…. I’ve never understood the logic of giving a soldier a badge to commemorate that they can fire a rifle…

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First Sea Lord – Royal Navy ‘in a very bad way’

Something of a media storm has kicked up today, over comments made by the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope.

In a rare example of an Admiral standing up for his services, Stanhope said:

‘How long can we go on as we are in Libya? If we do it longer than six months we will have to reprioritise forces. That is being addressed now. Certainly in terms of Nato’s current time limit that has been extended to 90 days, we are comfortable with that. Beyond that, we might have to request the government to make some challenging decisions about priorities.’

Admiral Sir Jock Slater was First Sea Lord during the earlier 1998 Strategic Defence Review:

The position the First Sea Lord and the chief of staffs is very difficult indeed because if you want to retain the confidence of ministers you should not speak directly to the press about your concerns. But the fact remains that the navy is in a very bad way. The loss of Ark Royal and the Harriers was the worst decision by a government for many, many years. I think what Mark Stanhope has done is to state the obvious. You can’t carry on doing more with less.’

Naval Historian and analst Professor Andrew Lambert, of Kings College London, had this to say:

I think what the First Sea Lord has said in a very quiet and polite way is what everyone else has been saying in a very loud and aggressive way for a considerable period of time. The government has committed themselves to doing something when we have not got the equipment to do the job. The problem is the government has not got the political courage to admit they have made a mistake and as a result we are spending vast amounts of money doing things inefficiently and ineffectively. We’re getting laughed at by the French for not having a carrier off Libya. It’s hard enough when they beat us at rugby or football but when they beat us at carrier aviation it is unacceptable.’

‘It’s not the business of government to make perfect decisions all the time. It’s their business to run the country and respond to events. They have held their hands up when they got things wrong with the NHS reforms and sentencing but they seem unable to do the same with defence. It’s gone beyond a joke really. I know governments will stick to their own rhetoric but this is costing us too much and may even end up costing lives and that’s why the First Sea Lord was right to speak out because the situation is unacceptable.’

The Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, is either clearly living in la la land, or is secret ex-RAF officer:

‘Operations in Libya are showing how capable we are post-SDSR as a leading military power with the fourth largest defence budget in the world. We continue to have the resources necessary to carry out the operations we are undertaking and have spare capacity with the Royal Navy Cougar Taskforce which is currently on exercise in the Gulf. The SDSR is not being reopened. The Harrier has served with great distinction over a long period and in a number of theatres, but we are not bringing them back into service. Our planning assumptions remain valid and we have been able to effectively conduct missions over Libya. We are now progressing with the disposal of the Harrier force.’

planning assumptions valid? They were invalid before the ink even dried Foxy. Leading military power? Our projection doesnt back that up. And as for rourth largest defence budget? Our inventory does not back up that one either.

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said:

‘This is yet another convincing argument in favour of reopening the defence review, which has not survived its first contact with world events. ‘The country will be dismayed to hear that the operation in Libya could have been conducted more cheaply and more effectively had the Government taken a different approach. ‘I hope the straight talking by the First Sea Lord will be met with some straight answers from Ministers. In particular, it is vital that Ministers tell us now how they intend to equip the mission in Libya should it go beyond the six month mark.’

Looking beyond all of the party political and and inter-service dialogue, even the most ardent Tory party card holding RAF airman would claim that the SDSR isn’t looking, in retrospect, like a pile of horse shit. Even Cameron and Fox know it, but of course politics being politics they can’t say so. Ironically, I suspect that most people would respect them more if they admitted that they had got it wrong.

There are bigger contexts to the the rapid and serious decline in the Royal Navy. Admiral Sir Sandy Woodward, the Task Group Commander in the Falklands War, wrote in the Daily Mail the other day that Defence cuts would leave Britain unable to recapture the Falklands if they were taken again by Argentina.

Heres a summary of Woodward’s arguments:

  • America, whose support in 1982 was crucial, appear to support Argentina’s claim to the Islands. Even to the point of referring to them as ‘The Malvinas’ in a joint declaration with Argentina.
  • Why isn’t Cameron getting straight on the plane to Washington to demand an explanation from Obama? 253 British lives were lost defending the islands, and the islanders right to determine their own sovereignty.
  • The Mount Pleasant airbase in the Falklands is not as defendable as thought, and in any case the Argentinians would not attempt a landing without taking out the airbase first.
  • The staging post on Ascenscion Island is leased to America, whose permission we would require to use it. Without it, any sustained operations in the South Atlantic would be impossible.
  • Mount Pleasant can only offer up 3 or 4 Typhoons. The RAF is struggling to get enough Typhoons airworthy for Libya, let alone a war 8,000 miles away. With no aircover and without Mount Pleasant to rapidly reinforce the islands, we could kiss them goodbye.
  • With no carrier-borne air cover, retaking the islands would be impossible. The French are unlikely to lend us Charles de Gaulle.
  • Fundamentally, the islanders are British, and want to be British. The Argentines want them for spurious, vain domestic political reasons. The fundamental values of the UN enshrine the right to self-determination.
  • If David Cameron decides, in a crisis, that the Falklands are not worth defending, who will lose the next General Election.
  • With the new carriers and joint strike fighters not due for some years, we have to muddle through this situation for another 10 years at least.

‘As things currently stand, we’d have serious trouble defending anything much further than  the other side of the English Channel.’

Sandy Woodward was, in many ways, like Montgomery. A war-winning senior officer who rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way in doing so. And I, personally, find it very hard to argue with any of his arguments outlined here.

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Apaches and HMS Ocean and Libya

Apache Attack Helicopter Takes Off from HMS Ocean

Image by Defence Images via Flickr

So, the Government have announced that Army Air Corps Apache’s will be joining the fray in Libya, along with French Tigers.

A couple of things spring to mind here. Firstly, it adds to suspicions that the COUGAR Task Group exercising around Cyprus were sent to the region to possibly work up for action in Libya. Even if not, a half-decent task force is at least nearby, a la First Flotilla at Gibraltar in 1982.

Secondly, that the use of Apaches from a Helicopter Carrier undermines the SDSR. Has it occured to anyone else that flying close air support, vertical flight aircraft from a Royal Navy flat top was discounted less than a year ago?

And finally… note that the Aircraft are ARMY, flying off a NAVY vessel. The ship can get in as close as it wants, anti-air and anti-ship defence pending, and the Apaches are there for giving close support to the anti-Gadaffi forces. No RAF involvement at all. Interesting to hear what the RAF PR department make of that one.

Interestingly, only days later there was a high-profile press release about the RAF getting ‘bunker-busting’ bombs for use in Libya. All the analysis seems to be, however, that the inability of the rebels to take the offensive to Gadaffi is their lack of heavy weapons on the battlefield. Something I can imagine the Apaches helping with a lot. Shame we can only put in three of them – imagine a full Squadron…

PS – any speculation about whether a certain well-known Apache pilot is out there?….

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USS George HW Bush departs… for Portsmouth?

070505-N-6854D-003 MEDITERRANEAN SEA (May 5, 2...

USS Anzio, part of the Bush Strike Group (Image via Wikipedia)

Yesterday the USS George HW Bush departed from Norfolk VA on her maiden deployment.

The Bush strike group is deploying to Europe and the Middle East, tasked with supporting maritime security. One would imagine that this deployment has been made with the conflict in Libya in mind. The Bush’s strike group includes the Ticonderoga class Cruisers USS Gettysburg and USS Anzio, and the Arleigh Burke Class Destroyers USS Truxtun and USS USS Mitscher. It’s also a first deployment for the Truxtun, and it’s also the first time that a woman has commanded a Carrier Strike Group – Rear Admiral Nora Tyson.

On her way to the Mediterranean it is thought that the USS Bush will take part in Exercise Saxon Warrior, scheduled to take place between 18 and 26 May. Rumours around the internet suggest that the Bush will be stationed off Anglesey, taking the opportunity for her air wing to bomb targets at Pembrey Ranges. It seems that much of the flying activity will be over the South West and Wales. The exercise may also include GPS jamming, courtesy of the Bush’s Growler electronic warfare aircraft.

Why the interest? Unconfirmed reports suggest that the Bush will be arriving off Portsmouth in the Solent on 27 May, staying for the weekend. Any of her strike group might arrive along with her. Of course this is subject to operational demands, but keep your watching here for more information as soon as I get it.

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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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Reports that RAF requested a carrier for Libya

Today’s Portsmouth News contains a report that the RAF has asked the Ministry of Defence to reinstate one of the Royal Navy’s axed Aircraft Carriers, along with the Harrier GR9 aircraft to fly from them.

According to defence analyst Francis Tusa, senior officers in the RAF asked for an aircraft carrier to help enforce the no-fly zone over Libya, but the request was turned down by 10 Downing Street for political reasons:

“I’ve been told by grade A1 sources that the RAF wanted a flat-top but Number 10 simply wouldn’t allow it. I think they’d rather cut their own fingers off before that happened”

Mr Tusa goes on to explain that the Tornado jets flying missions to Libya are costing £35,000 per hour to fly, and that Italy is also charging allies ‘eye-watering’ costs for using its bases. Again, these figures are believable. It just goes to show what those with more than half a brain cell have known all along – aircraft carriers are the best value  piece of Defence equipment for what they can do. Not limited to friendly bases or overflight restrictions, aircraft carriers can go anywhere – what genius! The concept was only invented back in 1918….

Bringing back an Aircraft Carrier and the Harriers would be hugely embarassing to the Government, so soon after the Strategic Defence and Security Review decided that we could do without carrier-borne air cover for 10 years. The RAF, apparently, had argued that they could provide air cover from any land bases, thus making the carriers un-necessary. Less than 6 months later – if these reports are true – the RAF has basically admitted that its argument was ill-founded, and therefore based on self-preservation rather than British defence interests.

Sadly, the only carrier that could be brought back – Ark Royal – has been decomissioned, and largely gutted while tied up in Portsmouth dockyard. All of the living accomodation has been removed, and no doubt they will soon start on the plant and electronics. I suspect this has been done quickly to make it impossible to bring her back and spare any embarrasment. You only have to look at how quickly the Nimrod’s were butchered to see that axed Defence equipment is being shredded with un-nerving haste.

Of course a Downing Street spokesman has denied that any request has been made, but we only have to look at the fate of John Nott’s political career after the Falklands War to see what backtracking on defence reviews can do to the frocks. Sadly, while in 1982 Admirals Lewin, Leach and Fieldhouse were able to save the Navy’s future and liberate the Falkland Islanders, as the Nott cuts had not yet taken full effect.

I have to say I would not be suprised if it was true. And if so, it must call into serious question the ignorance of politicians, the apparently devious advice given by Air Marshals during the Defence Review, and once again the Royal Navy’s inability to fight its corner.

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UN approves no-fly zone over Libya

Muammar al-Gaddafi Mouammar Kadhafi Colonel Qu...

Image by Abode of Chaos via Flickr

The United Nations has approved the imposing of a no-fly zone over Libya, in an attempt to prevent Colonel Gadaffi and his forces launching air-strikes on dissidents unhappy with his rule. Gadaffi promptly announced a ‘ceasefire’, although whether this is genuine or simply to buy time remains to be seen.

In a rare attempt of the UN moving quickly, last night the Security Council passed a resolution approving a no-fly zone over Libya. A no-fly zone is probably the most appropriate way in which the outside world can intervene in Libya, without putting troops on the gound – that would be unthinkable after Iraq. Preventing Gadaffi loyalists from flying aircraft over Libya should give the freedom fighters some breathing space. If in the future troops are to go into Libya it would be better if they came from African and/or Arab countries, to avoid the cat-calls about Western imperialism.

It’s a feather in the cap for the UN, which all too often in modern times has been found to be slow and ponderous. The resolution emphasises that the no-fly zone is to safeguard the majority of Libyan civilians who no longer want to remain under the rule of an erratic and mentally questionable dictator. This sort of scenario is exactly what the UN is there for. Credit as well to France for actually voting for the resolution for a change, rather than vetoing it.

Exactly what part the UK can play in such a no-fly zone is open to question. Any RAF aircraft will be operating at maximum range from either Malta or more likely Cyprus. 10 years ago we could have quickly moved an Aircraft Carrier and its task group to the North African Coast, complete with a squadron of the proven Sea Harrier. Even the vision of a British Carrier over the horizon would probably be enough to rein Gadaffi in. But thanks to the RAF undermining the Fleet Air Arm, and now the ConDem Government axing the aircraft carriers, that can’t happen. And to think they told us the cuts would not mean a loss in capability.

There was an interesting post on Think Defence the other day highlighting the aircraft in the inventory of the Arab League. Some basic research has shown that the member states making up the Arab League possess over a thousand fighter aircraft (including F-16’s, F/A-18 Hornets, Mirage 2000’s and Typhoons) , 10 tankers and 13 AWACS-type surveillance planes. Why then are European and other countries even needing to get involved?

So, what Air Forces can Libya put into the air? Information is patchy, but Global Security lists the following:

  • 29 Mirage F1 (two defected to Malta after being ordered to bomb protesters)
  • 45 Mig-21 ‘Fishbed’ (most believed to be grounded, two known to be shot down)
  • 115 Mig-23 ‘Flogger’ (most believed to be grounded, at least 13 captured)
  • 94 Mig-25 ‘Foxbat’
  • 53 Su-22 ‘Fitter’ (one lost crashed, others claimed captured)
  • 6 Su-24 (two believed lost)
  • 7 Tu-22 ‘Blinder’
  • 37 Mi-24 ‘Hind’ (at least 7 lost)

The Libyans also possess around 216 Surface to Air Missiles, including the Russian SA-8 ‘Gecko’, SA-6 ‘Gainful’, SA-5, SA-3 ‘Goa’ and SA-2 ‘Guideline’. Some of these are capables systems, but whether the Libyans have the electronics and radars in order, enough missiles and good enough training to use them effectively is another matter.

Those are the raw numbers; we can probably half them at least thanks to airworthiness, lack of spare parts, and problems with maintenance and ground crew. Serviceability has been drastically affected by years of embargos and sanctions. The US State Department estimates that around half of Libyan aircraft remain in storage, including the Tupolev Bombers and most of the Migs. We also know very little about the Libyan aircrew’s training standards: probably nothing to worry too much about. And technologically there is nothing there to match the modern NATO-standard fighters.

Lets compare against what a US Aircraft Carrier of the Nimitz class carries as standard:

  • 24-28 FA/18E and FA/18F Super Hornets Fighters
  • 20-24 FA/18C Hornets Multi-role
  • 4-6 EA-6B Prowler Electronic Warfare
  • 4-6 E-2C Hawkeye AEW
  • 2 C-2 Greyhound logistics
  • 8 S3-B tankers
  • 6 Sea Hawk Helicopters

Formidable indeed. A US Carrier Group off the Libyan Coast would have Gadaffi cowering in his tent. Add in a Marine Expeditionary Force – they carry a singificant number of aircraft – and its even more formidable. It just goes to show, the utility of the aircraft carrier should not be underestimated (yes that means you, Dave and Gideon).

Therefore we can see that although the Libyans do not have any first class air-defence to write home about, they do possess a large number of basic but effective ground attack jets and helicopters. Getting these off the backs of the anti-Gaddafi forces would be a significant move to toppling the man without going in ourselves.

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PM refuses to rule out the use of force in Libya

I’ve seen various articles in recent days where the Prime Minister has been quoted as saying that he refuses to rule out the use of force in Libya. Sadly it seems to be the the same old story of politicians cutting Defence to the bone and then when the proverbial hits the fan being only too happy to over-commit whats left.

I’m not sure on what mandate an international force could intervene in Libya. After the fiasco surrounding the United Nations and the lack of a resolution for action in Iraq, it is extremely unlikely that any unilateral action could take place. The international community has little stomach for intervention at present – the debacle in Iraq – and to a lesser extent Afghanistan – has made politicians very wary of military action. US political and public opinion has never been overly keen on foreign intervention at the best of times, and with Gadaffi promising ‘another Vietnam’, many will be wary of getting involved. And the problems in Libya at the moment are not just limited to that country alone – they were sparked by protests in Tunisia and then Egypt, and there is similar unrest in other North African and Middle Eastern countries. How come the international community considers intervention in one case but not in others? Admittedly there is a difference in that Gadaffi is using his aircraft to bomb civilians protesting against him, and he has a track record of being an extremely difficult character.

Secondly, where are these military units going to come from that the Prime Minister plans to send to Libya? I wouldn’t mind betting that the Chiefs of Staff almost fainted when they read that Cameron plans to commit their ever-shrinking forces in another troublespot. Even as part of an international force within the UN, or more likely NATO – the UK would be able to contribute virtually nothing. It shows just how little Cameron and his Government understand about Defence, and how wrong it is that people with such poor judgement are running the Country’s defence.

Regular readers won’t need reminding that the Royal Navy warship leading the evacuation of British Citizens – HMS Cumberland – was on her last journey home before decommissioning. The other ship standing by, HMS York, is even more elderly than Cumberland. But using Frigates and Destroyers for evacuating British nationals from a trouble spot is ever so slightly overkill – like using a Ferrari to pop to the shop. A Bay Class LPD with a few Landing Craft and a helicopter or two would be ideal. If the worst come to the worst, it wouldn’t even need to dock, it could just sit off the coast and pick people up and drop off aid.

There has been talk of basing RAF fighters on Cyprus to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya. Yet the range from Cyrpus to Libya is considerable, and would prevent aircraft being on station for any length of time. The maximum operational range of the Eurofighter is 2,900 miles. Inn the Air Defence role with a 3 hour CAP it can operate at 185 kilometres, and with a ten minute loiter at 1,389 kilometres. It is at least 800 kilometres from Cyprus to the very western border of Libya, and twice that to Tripoli. Therefore Cyprus is barely an option, and the number of aircraft and air and ground crew required to maintain a worthwhile patrol would be considerable – aircraft that we simply do not have. Two years ago we could have sent an Aircraft Carrier plus escort to sit off the North African Coast. Not now – we don’t have one. It seems that ignorance of the flexibility and utility of the aircraft carrier is coming home to roost. Neither do we have the aircraft that could have overflown Libya and told us what Gadaffi is up to – ie, the scrapped Nimrod airframes.

Where are the ground forces to come from? Special Forces have almost certainly been in Libya already, providing close protection for RAF Hercules Transports evacuating Brits from remote desert locations. Given the frequency of tours to Afghanistan, and then when you factor in training, roulement, post-op shake down and the like, the maximum the Army could contribute would be in the region of one to three Battalions. Even then, that would place a huge strain alongside Afghanistan, particularly if any deployment in Lybia went on for too long. Rapid Reaction Forces used to be maintained for such an eventuality – particularly 16 Air Assault Brigade and 3 Commando Brigade – but at any given time these Brigades are usually either in Afghanistan, preparing to go or recuperating from a deployment.

If you want to be able to intervene in global troublespots as a world policeman – with the personal kudos that goes with it – then you need to back your armed forces to be able to do that job. If, however, you want to asset strip your Defence, then you have to accept that there will be things that you just cannot do any more. The situation is more serious than after the Nott cuts in 1981, when the Royal Navy just about managed to scrape together a task force.

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HMS Cumberland waiting off Libyan Coast

from http://www.dtic.mil/jointvision/graphics/...

HMS Cumberland (Image via Wikipedia)

According to news reports the Royal Navy Frigate HMS Cumberland has been ordered to halt her voyage home from the Gulf in order to standby off Libya. Regular readers will recall that Cumberland and her Type 22 sister ships are to be decommissioned later this year. A reminder, if any is needed, that British interests and the safety of British national is being imperilled by defence cuts.

I’m not entirely sure what use a Frigate would be for evacuating the 500-odd British nationals living in Libya. Unlike an aircraft carrier or an assault ship, a Frigate does not have large hangars or vehicle decks in which to accomodate people. And a ship the size of the Type 22 has a crew of around only 200 in the first place – how would such a ship cope with a few more hundreds mouths to feed, one wonders? And Libya is a lot further from the UK than the north Spanish coast was during the Volcanic Ash Cloud rescue effort last year, meaning a longer sea journey.

This is yet another hollow commitment from the Government. In order to be seen to be doing something, regardless of whethers its worthwhile or not, a soon-to-be-decommissioned Frigate is sent to await a task for which it is wholly unsuited. And its another indication of how short-sighted our defence planning is – politicians want warships off the balance sheet, but when the proverbial hits the fan they are only too happy to commit them to action.

I’m reminded of the Israeli-Lebanon conflict several years ago. The then Foreign Secretary eagerly promised a British Frigate to patrol off the coast for illegal arms shipments. Apparently it was quietly pointed out that no Frigates were available, and that if the Foreign Secretary wanted one, then he had better make one magically appear from nowhere.

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