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.



Filed under Navy, News, politics, Royal Air Force, Uncategorized

41 responses to “Reports that RAF requested a carrier for Libya

  1. John Erickson

    But the whole question is academic. No other navy uses something as silly as a Harrier. You guys need a REAL carrier with REAL planes, but you can’t afford…..
    What’s that?
    Among the first US wave of attacks were Harriers?
    And they HIT something?
    And they’re NOT falling out of the skies like our F-15s?
    Never mind. 😉

    • James Daly

      Shock Horror… aircraft that aren’t THE most advanced and most flashy can actually do a pretty good job in capable hands. We should have deployed some Harriers in ’82, they could have made mincemeat out of the Mirage…

    • George Orweed

      the us is purchasing & has been harriers for it’s navy
      Harriers were used in lybia ,iraq ,afganistan wars whit success!

  2. Edna Cahill

    Have forwarded to my MP, a very reliable man. Edna

  3. x

    I am waiting to see what Think Defence says………. 🙂

  4. James Daly

    It’s interesting, this doesn’t seem to have gone viral yet – I haven’t heard of it being reported anywhere else other than the News.

  5. x

    Well I have been out and about and waited to see if it was mentioned over at Think Defence in the “Libya and Aircraft Carriers” thread. It hasn’t so I have posted a link to here.

    Tusa knows his onions and is well renowned in defence circles so I trust what he says. Um. GR9s would be useful if the Libya “campaign” became more of an intervention in the way the French see it.

    • James Daly

      If we’re talking interdiction, ie tactical bombing raids to help the rebels and to stall the Gadaffi loyalists, then you would have thought that the Harrier’s would be ideal – its exactly the kind of thing they were designed for in the Cold War. Unlike the Typhoon which, although pretty, is hardly suited to the ground attack role – general consensus seems to be that it was given a ground attack capability just to make it appear more useful than just being a jet jockeys toy.

  6. El Sid

    Not sure why you mention the £35k cost of running a Tonka – Harriers are £37k/hour, plus it costs more to train a Harrier pilot (nearly £10m) than the two crew of a Tornado.

    Harriers are fine if you just need to drop Paveways and Mavericks – but they would be more useful if they had Brimstone integrated (under way, but never completed) and of course they didn’t have some of the fun standoff toys like Alarm and Storm Shadow which you need if the enemy are likely to be shooting at planes (unlike near Benghazi, where the USMC Harriers were operating). And without a radar, Link-16 or a BVR missile, they’re not a whole lot of use enforcing a no-fly-zone.

    Don’t get me wrong, the GR9’s are fine planes, but it’s horses for courses and they’re not day-one aircraft.

    • James Daly

      re the running costs, I’m quoting Francis Tusa from the Portsmouth News. I don’t have masses of information, so any contributions in that direction are most welcome!

      Would the GR9’s have been more useful if they hadn’t been neglected by the RAF for much of their lifespan? Perhaps utilising the radar from the SHAR and some Air to Air capability?

      • El Sid

        I wasn’t disputing the accuracy of the figure, which comes from this parliamentary reply : But it’s meaningless without context. It was clearly used to suggest “look how incredibly expensive Tonkas are”, when in fact they are the cheapest of the four FJ types we were running pre-SDSR.

        It’s worth emphasising that those are not cash costs, but include things like depreciation of capital costs. The dark blues argue that does not give a representative view of future cash costs, as you’re including the costs of the recent Harrier upgrades, but excluding the costs of the Tornado upgrades that were planned for the next few years. From the outside, there’s probably some truth in that, but it’s probably overstated.

        The basic facts of the SDSR were that our fleet of Cold War types had to be cut to the bone, it was one of the few areas that could be cut given that 90% of the MoD budget for PR11 is already committed to PFIs and the like. (per Liam Fox to the Defence Comittee on 9 March) And deleting whole types saves a lot more money than salami slicing, because that way you’re closing down whole bases and logistic chains.

        So the FJ decision came down to just retaining enough ground attack capability for Afganistan until 2015 and anything beyond that was real Brucey bonus stuff. The MoD version is that the Harriers just didn’t have enough planes with enough hours on them to be flogged to death in Afghanistan until 2015, whereas the Tornado fleet did.

        They looked at moving Blue Vixen across to the GR7 fleet when the SHAR was retired, and it would have cost too much even then. Now that the airframes don’t have that much life left in them, it would make even less sense. It’s hard to argue that the GR9 has been neglected, with the £500m JUMP upgrades ongoing. That would have provided a framework for some of the upgrades you mention, but it just didn’t fit RAF doctrine. Hell, IIRC even the USMC Harriers don’t carry AMRAAM although it’s been fitted to the European AV8B+.

        @x – the original article talks about “an aircraft carrier to help enforce the no-fly zone” – that implies air-to-air! A “no-drive zone” is another matter.

        @JE – the F-15E is not quite a different aircraft, but it’s more than an incremental upgrade like Typhoon Block 2 (F2) to Block 5 (FGR4). For one thing it carries a passenger to handle targetting and it’s got a lot of avionics upgrades to make it more all-weather, terrain-following etc.

    • x

      But the Libyan air campaign has split. It seems that we have the UN no-fly zone and dare I say “European” interdiction mission. And it is in the latter role that the GR9s would have been useful. As far as I can see here nobody is suggesting could be used for air-to-air.

      • John Erickson

        I’m hoping the US Navy will make some data available soon on the US strikes, at least. I’d like to see what (and how) the F-18s are doing, with their “easy switch” from fighter to CAS. I’m not sure exactly what makes a Strike Eagle different from the superiority version – I’ll have to look that up. Though I’d have to say, between the age of the equipment and the seeming lack of capability of Gaddafi’s pilots, I think anything from the past 30 years would do well air-to-air. Heck, I bet some F-4 Phantoms could do pretty well! 😀

  7. To be honest if both the RN and RAF had equipped with a common version of Harrier with a radar and AMRAAM etc, like the AV8B+, then yes.

    And this Libya thing will go on for a while yet.

    • James Daly

      well they’ve appointed a full Captain to take command – normally while a ship is in refit its only a Commander acting as Senior Naval Officer, so there must be an end in sight to the refit. If I remember rightly she went in during autumn 09 just after Ark Royal returned, so thats getting on for 18 months, which if I recall is about average for an Invincible Class refit.

  8. Will she do fixed wing embarkations though? Stupid not to, but you know what politicians are like.

    • James Daly

      It doesn’t look like it, the Hansard link that El Sid posted below refers to her very clearly as an LPH from now on. Theoretically she could embark foreign VSTOL if the need or occasion arose (USMC, Spanish or Italian Harriers) but wouldn’t the Air Wing need to be trained up to this? I doubt the politicians would let the RN land Harriers again, as it would go towards destabilising their whole SDSR argument about aircraft carriers.

  9. El Sid

    According to a recent question in Parliament, Lusty comes back in “Spring 2012”, having entered Rosyth in March 2010.

    • James Daly

      I gather from the reply given by the Minister that she will probably be leaving Rosyth sometime this year, before completing OST. Am I right in thinking that a ship is not classed as operational until it has gone through FOST’s hands? I’m not sure how long OST takes, but we might see Lusty back in Pompey sometime later this year.

    • John Erickson

      Do I dare even begin to hope that sense is returning to your government? And if that miracle happens, dare we, on our side of the pond, dare to hope that same sense might survive a trans-Atlantic crossing? Now THAT would be an Easter miracle! 😉

    • James Daly

      Even if there’s no plans it’s a sensible contingency. Interesting to know who decided on the higher grade paint and at what stage. Does the Air Ops side of things require different kit for flying Harriers?

  10. John

    Steady. Speaking too soon and all that!


    Apart from a few landing aids (which helicopters need too) I don’t think so.

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