I think we all agree that SDSR 2015 will be unlikely to change the fundamental strategic direction of SDSR 2010, despite the tumultuous 5 years in between the publication of the two.
Slight course changes, correcting errors in the post SDSR 2010 plans and ensuring what we have in a post Afghanistan world in terms of personnel, organisation and equipment is maximised will likely be the key themes.
One of the talking points in the run up will centre on the great carrier conundrum.
Should we bring both into full service, sell/scrap one or have the second operate in some ‘semi permanent’ state?
With one in full service any refit period or downtime due to accidents for example would leave the UK without that significant capability. That might be an acceptable risk, after all, the UK will have operated without fixed wing carrier aviation for many years by the time the first carrier comes into service,
A related issue is that of HMS Ocean, which we know will be out of service roughly co-terminus with the first carrier entering service.
Operating with just one ‘flat top’ means the flexible carrier enabled power projection concept would rest on a single platform. Bringing the second carrier into semi permanent service with a reduced crew and sailing time would at least provide some measure of resilience but would still leave the UK dependant on one hull for CEPP. Operating with both in full service would provide some resilience and operational flexibility but at what cost?
Can the Royal Navy man both vessels in full service, would compromises have to be made elsewhere and other questions need to be answered.
This would also beg many other questions, the decision cannot be taken in isolation
Final F35 numbers, RFA requirements, casualty receiving and aviation training roles and number of frigates, in addition to smaller issues around amphibious doctrine in the absence of landing craft or vehicle space on the QE ‘class’ for example
Many issues, many questions, but ultimately;
One carrier or two, perhaps with an alternative of one and a half carriers
Over to you…