The Sunday Times reports that the Royal Navy’s new Aircraft Carriers will have a much reduced air wing.
Reportedly the Navy can save £8.2bn from its budget by only purchasing enough of the new Joint Strike Fighter Aircraft to equip one Aircraft Carrier. This would leave the other in the class to operate with mainly Helicopters, in an amphibious commando role. With only one ship operating in the strike carrier role, this would leave the Navy without air cover while she is in refit. Although apparently discussions have been ongoing with the French about ‘borrowing’ carriers, I doubt very much whether they would lend us Charles De Gaulle if Argentina were to have another go at the Falklands.
It was always unlikely that we would have enough aircraft to operate both of them as strike carriers at the same time – this is the case at present anyway – but by permanently designating one as a commando carrier the MOD are looking to save even more money. They know that they cannot cancel the second for fear of job losses.
Todays Portsmouth Evening News has more. The MP for Portsmouth South, Mike Hancock, who sits on the Commons Defence Select Committee, said that he was certain that both ships would be built, but the issue would be how they would be used. An MOD spokesman gave a usually diplomatic statement, saying ‘Challenging financial circumstances mean some difficult decisions will have to be taken to prioritise our forces efforts in Afghanistan. However, the Secretary of state remains 100 per cent committed to the Aircraft Carriers. At the moment theres absolutely no threat to jobs’.
The whole affair poses very serious questions. While everyone is quite rightly focussing on Jobs, the long-term impact on the Royal Navy and UK Defence is impossible to quantify.
Why were the RAF allowed to purchase so many Eurofighters, an aircraft that cannot operate from onboard carriers? Are the RAF getting an easy ride because at present the Chief of the Defence Staff is an airman? Is there any long term planning at all in UK Defence policy apart from continual cuts, overstretch and underfund? If Afghanistan is the priority, when will there be an order for some more Chinooks, relatively cheap compared to the Eurofighter?
All in all, the Royal Navy will be left with one aircraft carrier, and one huge commando carrier, when we already have one in HMS Ocean. The Royal Navy have accepted cut after cut in the number of Destroyers and Frigates, the workhorses of the fleet, in order to get the Carriers. This leaves the Navy seriously inflexible and unbalanced. The whole affair has been badly mismanaged from the moment the Admirals started dreaming of Super-Carriers.