A guest post from Defence Synergia
We in DefenceSynergia (DS) fully understand that there are counter views to our own that cat n trap was the right way to go in respect of UK’s carrier fleet and that HMG (originally Labour) are wrong to support F35B. However, we also recognise that if our interpretation is to gain ground we must find other ways of explaining the strategic logic that drives our thinking.
To that end we have focused on the STRATEGIC requirements, implications and rationale for UK defence priorities that are being obscured or overlooked by the ‘powers that be’. In contrast we assess that a carrier policy is Strategic and must be based around a complete system not an individual piece of kit. Like the Independent Nuclear Deterrent the carrier SYSTEM requires enablers to offer full flexibility, coherence and credibility as follows:
- Two carriers required to offer maximum availability for carrier strike capability
- An effective mixed air-group that provides vital AD, Strike, SAR, AEW & AAR beyond land based air-power is essential
- Surface ships and submarines to provide an escort screen beyond land based air-power range are essential
- LRMPA and AWAC to provide an escort screen within land based air-power range are highly desirable
- Fleet support from dedicated RFA tankers and stores replenishment vessels is essential
However, not all these enablers are in-place and the SYSTEM is therefore flawed.
No 1 will remain uncertain until SDSR 2015 has been completed.
No 2 is practicably impossible without CATOBAR
No 3 is a major challenge for a total fleet of 19 FF/DD and 7 SSN
No 4 fails on LRMPA (unless the capability is restored) & fails on E3-D interoperability unless the ‘Project Eagle’ Block 40/45 upgrade is funded
No 5 as things stand RFA support would appear to be totally inadequate
Note: The published and stated position of CDS is that a fleet of 14 RAF A330-200 cancel out the inherent disadvantages of the short range F35B. However, any notion that this level of AAR force is adequate to provide support for the RAF, let alone FAA carrier operations beyond normal landbased range, is a fantasy.
We in DS accept the argument that MOD spending and its budget must be controlled and should not be sacrosanct. However, the evidence is that the costings for the CATOBAR conversion are suspect and less than exhaustive with MOD conducting some pretty half hearted one-dimensional commercial negotiations and research. The latter, it has been alleged, being driven by a ‘line of least resistance’ approach – MOD(Navy) having its focus on STOVL operations over the past few years notwithstanding HMG’s decision in SDSR 2010 to opt for cats n traps.
The S of S and CDS have publicly accept that the F35C is the better aircraft and that a 65,000 ton carrier should have been laid down as cat n trap from the outset, yet they still fail to articulate the strategic requirement and voluntarily opt for less capability. One can be forgiven for thinking that they seem almost sanguine about the notion of accepting the F35B despite the cost implications, obvious production difficulties and the operational limitations it will impose upon both the RAF and RN. Their decision apparently being made on the basis that the first carrier will be in service two years earlier than planned whilst conveniently ignoring MOD and Government decisions which created the carrier/air-power capability gap in the first place.
Therefore, you may wonder as we do, why (now that Dr Fox is no longer in post) MOD apparently accept quite blithely that it will take until 2023 (eleven years) and cost an extra £2bn for the carrier consortium to complete a single cat n trap conversion? Yet unexplained anomalies associated with the rationale for the decision go unanswered. EG. If the decision was primarily to balance the budget why has MOD failed to explore commercially available, less expensive, modern steam generating systems – in lieu of EMALS – that are not dependent upon the main or supplementary electrical power plants (such systems are known to the USN, UK maritime commerce, DS and probably TD contributors – then why not MOD)? Why was the Lockheed Martin F35 (BAE Systems as a major partner) the only option on MOD (Navy)’s wish list when a more cost effective alternative like the Boeing F18 Super Hornet – half the cost to buy and a third less to operate – was not even considered for the RN?
You might also wonder why, in all the speeches and statements surrounding the decision, before and after the announcement was made, the RAF operational requirement (OR) case has not apparently been an issue. Of course it is not for DS to speak for the Air Staff but one does wonder how the F35B, the most complex, the most expensive to buy and operate and least capable of three F35 variants suddenly fits the OR for either Deep Penetration or even a 5th generation stealthy fast jet to replace the Tornado?
What effect has the inflexible MOD policy for a 2 fast jet fleet concept played?
Which brings us back to the DS strategic position in respect of financing MOD requirements.
It is the government’s stated view in the National Security Strategy (NSS) that UK will continue to play its traditional world wide role and that Force 2020 should be expeditionary, built around strategic air and sea lift. A crucial element being a carrier/amphibious capability to project power.
Therefore, from a UK strategic point of view, the policy fails if the principal asset – the aircraft carrier – is unable to carry out certain roles like anti access and area denial tasks – what the US refer to as A2/AD. Although this is a US Navy definition based on air/sea battle doctrine – which may also call for USMC, army and air force support – if the UK does not define its strategic doctrine for use of the F35B equipped carrier, MOD is in danger of situating the appreciation yet again by trying to fit its doctrine around the capability. [Despite the current and former CDS endorsing the F35B the aircraft is seen outside MOD by many defence analysts as an expensive Harrier replacement ('mud mover') to support combined amphibious ops with little, if any, real strategic utility].
The S of S made great play over some short term facts changing to justify his CATOBAR U Turn.
But the U turn itself may well have changed the medium to long term facts too and affected the UK’s strategic capability. The question we are all left with is this:
When considering the nations long term security and international interests should UK Strategic capability requirements provide the bench mark or should short term Treasury aspirations do it?