SDSR – Analysis #05a (Carrier Strike)

In looking at the subject of carrier strike I am setting myself up, if I agree that they are a good idea then I am deluded or if I think they are not a good idea I am simply an RAF stooge unworthy of taking seriously.

In much of the debate around carrier strike there is an absence of strategic context and an incredible amount of hyperbole. There are many good arguments for and many against, inevitably any judgement is simply a view on the relative priorities of those advantages and disadvantages.

Supporters of CVF and carrier strike point out that the most compelling advantage is the ability to operate independently, without host nation support and without the complication of seeking approval for over flying.

When we look at this subject it is absolutely critical to note the difference between the theory of carrier strike and practice as characterised by CVF and the Royal Navy, the two are certainly not the same. Proponents of a UK carrier strike capability often conflate the general theory with actual practice when discussing the advantages and disadvantages but we must look beyond theory and explore hard-nosed practicalities.

The Royal Navy is not the US Navy.

I am going to look at the contentious issue of carrier aviation across a number of areas

Overfly Rights

It seems to be the generally accepted view that the need for overfly rights magically disappears when flying from an aircraft carrier but one look at a map confirms this is simply not the case, it very much depends on where and when. When is important because overfly permissions can change depending on political expediency and specific access may be limited to non offensive operations, as has been the case in several recent operations.

The US attack on Libya in 1986 (Operation El Dorado Canyon) is good example of the mission type having a direct impact on permissions. The nature of the operation and need for simultaneous attacks to maximise operational effectiveness meant that the combined power of 2 USN carriers was not enough so land based F111’s were needed to supplement the carrier strike package. The F111’s needed a round trip flight from the UK that was 5,500 miles long, lasted 15 hours and multiple in flight refuelling operations per aircraft because Spain, Italy, Germany and France refused overflight permission and/or basing rights. These were NATO or other allies and yet local, regional and other political considerations meant that they judged denial of airspace for this particular mission worth the damage to relations with the USA.

The only time overfly rights will not be needed for carrier aviation is if the approach and target are in alignment i.e. a direct vector from sea to target with nothing in between or where we might not care too much for the country we are transiting (an unlikely proposition but worth pointing out anyway, you don’y always actually need permission if you are OK with the consequences)

To illustrate the complexity of over flight issues, how about a flight of fancy (see what I did there)

We decide that after years of provocation the bloody French are avin’ it but the Spanish don’t wish to be involved, so we decide to launch our aircraft from the Queen Elizabeth operating in the Bay of Biscay.

No overfly rights are needed, point proven, carrier aviation doesn’t need them.

As the operation proceeds the French decide to transfer all their forces to Andorra for a spot of skiing, we need to launch a deep strike, but wait a minute, France has just deployed a new version of their experimental laser death ray so the only accessible route to Andorra is via Spain.

Bloody Spaniards want Gibraltar and Wayne Rooney in return for granting permission.

Bugger, there is no way Sir Alex would agree.

Of course, this example is ridiculous; the French would never go skiing in Andorra!

More likely Middle East or African scenarios throw up similar contradictions, some potential areas would be much easier to access from the sea but others less so.

Carrier supporters often make the point that a high percentage of the world population is within a few hundred miles of the sea but this statement, whilst true, fails to take into account politics and the vagaries of geography when applying it to target access.

Therefore, depending on the situation, overfly rights can affect carrier borne aviation every bit as much as land based aircraft and for some locations, access from land bases may actually be easier to achieve, closer or offer a better political situation.

However in many cases, there is no practical alternative from an access perspective, than to use carrier launched aircraft.

Host Nation Support Introduction

Host Nation Support or access is defined by many organisations but in this context it means the availability to mount the full spectrum of air operations from an ‘friendly’ facility (air base), these friends and allies may choose to be directly involved in combat operations, offer qualified support or completely deny assistance.

The three main constraining factors for useful home nation support are availability, suitability and vulnerability.

Host Nation Support – Availability

Availability is the first issue to address, if geography or the will of the host dictates that operations cannot be conducted from any given facility then there is very little point considering the others. Operations in the South Atlantic in 1982 are an excellent illustration of the geographic availability issue, there were simply none available within a reasonably short distance for the type of tactical strike fighters needed. Geographic availability tends to be the exception to the rule although if we envisage future operations in the south Atlantic this may not always be the case.

A much more likely availability constraint is the issue of politics and this is a landscape filled with shifting sands. In 1982, Chile might have offered land bases all things being equal, but they had to balance the politics of long term regional relations and national politics, clearly, offering the UK host nation support was not a realistic option. Turkey is another example, containing Saddam Hussein and the enforcing the Northern no fly zones to protect the Kurdish population was in their interests and political acceptability but offering a northern route for land based forces to invade Iraq was not, Turkey was and is a great supporter of NATO but local politics came into play for an arguably non UN mandated mission. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a huge and complex mission but whilst the execution was impacted by HNS issues, the outcome was not.

Afghanistan in 2001 is another great example that proves nothing!

The early combat missions were carried out by naval aviation but they would have been impossible to carry out without land based AAR/ISR and extensive overfly rights. The initial carrier strike missions were also joined by land based bombers, ISR and transport aircraft.  Today, a significant proportion of CAS is provided by carrier based aircraft but this is not on an enduring basis even with the richness of resource that the USN enjoy and there might be very good reasons and some not so very good reasons why this is the case; having a dog in the fight is as useful for the USN as it is for anyone in a world of budget scrutiny.

The geopolitical landscape in the Middle East is as fraught as it gets but in more or less continuous operations for the last 20 years in the area, air basing has always been available. Of course there have been complications, upsets and compromises but the reality is, HNS availability has not been a significant strategic problem and if there is any region on the planet where it is likely to have been a problem, the Middle East is it.

Real Politik means that we should consider the issue of HNS availability but be aware it is not the defining justification for carrier strike. You could also argue that for out of area operations, if the neighbouring countries are not sufficiently engaged with the operation to offer host nation support, we shouldn’t be there anyway or at least strongly question our approach.

Looking at potential future operational areas it is clear that the complex patchwork of geography and politics will combine to most likely provide HNS availability.

The published SDSR stated that HNS had been secured for the decade or so in between the withdrawal of the Harrier and introduction of the F35, what is likely to happen beyond that decade that has changed the equation.

Nothing, that’s what,

As with over flight rights, the HNS issue clearly favours in an abstract sense, the carrier. But, in a real world sense, as demonstrated by ACTUAL operations it is much less convincing. Obtaining HNS is difficult, complex and generally laden with conditions but it will most likely be the most realistic option.

Host Nation Support – Suitability

If political and geographical barriers can be overcome the issue of suitability has to be considered.

Suitability has many variable factors, runway length, apron space, facilities for air/ground crew, logistics capacity , defencibility and a myriad of other considerations play their part in determining whether a particular location is suitable for sustained or even intermittent air operations at the desired scale.

No matter what statistics are provided by biased sources there is simply no way that any UK carrier would be able to match the sortie rate on a sustained basis of a modern conventional air base and it is fallacy to suggest otherwise. Carriers can peak and sortie generation can sometimes exceed land bases for short periods but this is self evidently dependant on weather and the capacity of the air base/carrier in question.

Specious comparisons are often made with the notional sortie rate of a 36 aircraft CVF and the fact that the RAF can ‘only manage’ 8 or 10 aircraft in Afghanistan. This is a completely false argument, force levels in theatre are dictated by need and political force limits i.e. cash. The RAF have maintained high peak levels and sustained expeditions at short notice for a long time, simply look at the simultaneous operations in over the last couple of decades. Anti RAF diatribe aside, deployability should always be something that we look to improve though. The issues with the Tornado deployment to Afghanistan highlighted potential shortcomings in rapid airbase augmentation and expeditionary support.

Where carriers have the clear advantage in capacity terms is where limited support infrastructure exists at the host nation airbase. If the RAF is to deploy to a working military airbase that location will likely have all the fuel, munitions handling, communication, force protection, accommodation (no Hilton jokes please!) and myriad of other facilities required for modern air operations. It is also worth noting that an in theatre air base is often used for command and control, logistics transit and as a base for other air assets that may be closer to the area of operations than a carrier.

Therefore, if the host nation air base is well provisioned for aircraft, deployment will generally be much quicker for land based than carrier based aviation, Mach 2 being quicker than 30knots!

Where this rapid deployment by air does not apply is if the location(s) in question is austere or carriers are already in the area, poised ready for operations.

Extra aircraft can be surged onto a waiting carrier, reinforcing the embarked force if necessary and equally obviously, the carrier has everything it needs to initiate and maintain offensive air operations from that point.

No build up is required.

Building a functioning air base from scratch or austere beginnings is going to take a great deal of time and expense. Runways might need to be extended or repaired, fuel storage facilities improved and filled with fuel on an ongoing basis, weapons, crew and other consumables, plus all their combat support/combat service support have to be established and maintained.

This is no small feat but over time as less airborne refuelling from distant carriers is needed and support infrastructure is established and improved, a land based facility will easily exceed the capacity of a carrier and at a significantly lower cost.

Carrier proponents argue that a carrier can stand offshore and poise more or less indefinitely, continuing operations on an enduring basis. This statement is true except for the indefinite part, ships and crews must be rotated so for enduring operations we would need at least three carriers. It is the same argument for continuous at sea deterrent, to absolutely guarantee availability, 3 are needed; this drove the decision for 3 CVS and because of a higher risk factor, the need for 4 Vanguard class submarines.

There are also competing arguments for logistics reach-back issues, some argue that the logistics chain to an embarked carrier is less constricted and has more capacity than that for land operations, citing Afghanistan as a good example. Again though, politics and geography come into play and despite a number of issues, operations in Afghanistan which are conducted at a high tempo, have not been adversely impacted. With carriers even simple things such as food have to be transferred at sea, a land based air base can simply buy locally.

In recent decades the world has seen a significant increase in the number of airports and an improvement in their facilities. The availability of civilian infrastructure should be factored into availability/capacity calculations and pre-positioning stocks of weapon and other material may mitigate some of these early entry barriers.

Again, quite clearly, the suitability argument is nuanced, favouring neither but depending on individual circumstances.

The unique characteristics of carrier borne aviation become absolutely indispensible if capable land facilities are not available during the early phases of an operation but diminish as land based facilities are established and improved.

Host Nation Support – Vulnerability

There are different types of vulnerability, land bases might be vulnerable to an insurgents truck launched mortar or conventional enemy’s ballistic missiles but a carrier may be equally vulnerable to an enemy submarine or truck launched anti ship missile.

Vulnerability is another complex issue.

Air bases are large and easily identified by anyone with Google, even relatively unskilled image intelligence and analysis can reveal aircraft storage areas, entry roads, pipelines or the precise coordinates of the runway mid-point. Against a sophisticated enemy with access to long range missiles conventional air bases are vulnerable but this can be mitigated with force protection measures like dispersal or anti missile systems. Against a less sophisticated enemy, air bases can be shut down for short periods by short range rockets and mortars. Long range anti tank weapons and even anti material sniper rifles can severely disrupt operations or even destroy increasingly expensive aircraft so a large area must be sanitised requiring manpower intensive ground operations. Force protection issues may be less of an issue though if the host nation is adjacent to the area of operations and might offer the force protection assets required as part of any deal.

This means for many operations where land bases are either in hostile locations or within range of such, extensive force protection measures must be taken. These are expensive and manpower intensive; soaking logistics capacity and potentially, turning the base into a ‘self licking lollipop’

Carriers on the other hand can use the vastness of the oceans to effectively disappear but this might only be possible against a poor quality enemy without access to imaging and other ISR resources whether for itself or using proxies. A competent enemy might is likely to have anti surface missiles, a range of large and small vessels and even submarines. The surface threat can be mitigated with distance and offensive operations against the enemy navy in advance of operations but it forces the carrier further offshore, increasing reliance on shore based airborne refuelling and decreasing effective sortie rates.

The submarine threat is arguably of greatest seriousness. Many nations are acquiring modern and extremely quite conventional submarines and the capability of these means that the high value assets become so high value they soak up huge amounts of surface and sub surface force protection resource, again, the self licking lollipop scenario hoves into view.

This is especially acute with UK carrier aviation, where plans are for 1 or put another way, a massive concentration of risk. Given that CVF will also likely embark a number of Merlin HM2 helicopters the number of strike aircraft will decrease, in the absence of alternatives, the delivered effect becomes very limited.

Force protection issues for land and sea based air are both the same and different, they can both be mitigated but these mitigation measures are not without operational and financial costs.

Usefulness – Coercion

There is no doubt that a fully tooled up carrier battle group sends a clear message but whether that message is heeded is debatable.

No doubt, there are examples where the deployment of a large carrier air package has de-escalated a situation but these are very few and far between and mostly from well before the last several decades. If even a US carrier could not deter the Serbs, Saddam or the Taleban then what chance will a CVF?

Real life operational history is replete with examples where a carrier alone coerced precisely nobody; the only thing that has altered anyone’s intentions and actions is going ashore with land forces, in strength and in a sustained manner. The Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan all enjoyed carrier borne fast air but the mission was not completed until land forces went ashore in depth and sustained for a period of time beyond a few weeks. This by the way is why the strategic raiding concept is deeply flawed but that’s for another discussion.

Usefulness – Flexibility

An aircraft carrier is not just an aircraft carrier; it can act as an operational hub for a wide range of missions and unlike most land and air forces can be rapidly re-tasked, switching missions and locations as required with relative ease.

Carriers can be used to protect sea lines of communication or routes into an area in any build up phase, again a unique capability unless resources from land air bases are allocated to the this role, less likely during the initial build up phase.

Against a competent adversary they also introduce an aspect of unpredictability, able to attack from a number of less predictable vectors.

Summary of the Need

Continual operations for the last 30 years have demonstrated that carrier aviation, FOR THE UK, has been essential ONCE (Falklands). Every other operation has seen carrier strike play a role but that role has not been decisive or indeed essential.

This is a simple fact.

However, in these operations where it has not been essential it has certainly been useful and, there is always tomorrow.

So for certain operations in certain locations at certain time points there is no substitute for carrier aviation.

But, it often cannot operate without extensive support from land based aircraft and lacks the capacity for extended operations without a significant logistic effort. If the aircraft carrier is conveniently sited it can provide extremely short response times but if not, transit over long distances will be slow. The need for overfly rights is not automatically eliminated just because one is flying from carriers and to claim any other is clearly ridiculous but being able to approach from the sea provides a greater choice of routes, if, and only of the target can be directly approached by sea.

CVF can deliver air power from locations and in timeframes that would challenge land based air but once this land based air, especially logistics support, has reached a sufficient mass in a suitable location (assuming one is available), it becomes much more efficient for sustained operations. This is where the decision on STOVL is particularly sensible because it allows the aircraft to be deployed from CVF in the early stages and redeployed to a more suitable land base in a sustained operation. Of course you can do this with any aircraft but STOVL reduces the training bill so it becomes the economically sensible thing to do.

Therefore, carrier air is not a replacement for land based aviation but a valuable adjunct, essential in some scenarios and for early operations (given certain conditions) but not in most, as has been proven many many times in real operations.

Nothing has changed in this.

People tend to be polarised on the issue of CVF but the arguments are often made by comparing apples and aardvarks, conflating carrier strike theory with UK realities and inflating relative advantages/disadvantages.

My take on the situation is this, there is a clear need for carrier aviation because it occupies a number of niches that it and only it, can fill but It cannot replace land based aviation either, the two ARE COMPLIMENTARY.

The argument therefore, is about the shape and size of such a capability in the context of possible future operations, our financial reality and any strategic context we care to put them in.

Decisions Past

Since the 1998 SDR the UK has made the planning assumption that for small operations we should retain the capability to act alone.

The terminology has changed in the 2010 SDSR but the result is the same.

By definition and this should be abundantly clear to everyone, anything above that small scale all arms, full spectrum operation, is DISCRETIONARY.

Our previous failing has been to completely ignore this assumption and try and create both width and scale, or put another way, silk purse from a pigs arse.

The RUSI paper that described the various strategic options had some measure of this but failed to crystalise the grey areas, presenting them as discrete and exclusive when in reality they are more complex.

We absolutely 110% must retain an all arms, full spectrum capability. We are a great power and must have the means to operate independently in defence of British interests but we also have to recognise there is a limit to the scale.

What am I saying; we do recognise it, we have recognised it since the 98 SDR but we have singularly failed to do anything about it, head in the sand, fiddling whilst Rome burns, pissing in the wind; pick your own metaphor!

Beyond this small scale independent operation we have also recognised that we will always be in a coalition; whether this is NATO, the US or even the EU is in some ways irrelevant but we need to really, actually, for definite this time, recognise this fact and act accordingly.

Therefore, we need as a minimum, carrier aviation capability for a small scale focussed intervention, the latest trendy jargon.

Beyond that, despite all the hyperbole about sea lanes, punching above our weight, imports and energy, the simple choice is what capabilities, because we can’t do them all, we bring to a coalition.

You can’t say to NATO or the US or even the EU, we will bring a little bit of everything because that means you bring a little bit of nothing, in fact, you become a burden and an impediment to forward planning because your little bit of everything is constantly under budget pressure.

If we go down this road we end up with an inability to act independently and useless in a coalition.

The least of all options

What drove the CVF design?

Experience with the Illustrious class and numerous studies and simulations defined the size of CVF, it is without a doubt a most efficient design when considering crew, displacement and projected costs for its intended role.

The problem was and is; its intended role.

During the post 1998 SDR period and when interventionism was the in thing, the design was based on a requirement for a strike role, in this it excels. The designers have produced an innovative design of which they and we should be proud.

However, with the benefit of special bloggers hindsight goggles we should have realised that the specialism as embodied by the distinct amphibious and strike vessels would lead to escalating costs and an increasing and desperate need to chip away at the edges to justify them.

Some might say that it was Admirals vanity, getting one over the French or merely trying to compare tackle with the USN that drove this single minded approach but I think it is simply a reflection of the unrealistic 1998 SDR and wishful thinking about being a force for good that has infected political and military planning in the last decade.

What we should have done was lowered our sights and realised that dreams of a mini USN carrier battle group with 36 aircraft each were unattainable and modified the design. CVF design was not frozen until the 2004/5 so there were plenty of opportunities to reconfigure CVF to be more versatile, able to comfortably operate as a so called ‘Commando Carrier’ with a mix of helicopters, F35B’s, landing craft, accommodation for a good sized embarked force, command facilities and their equipment.

This would have been a compromise solution, no doubt, trying to operate a sustained CAP whilst embarking assault helicopters would be difficult but when operating in a pair or in part of a larger grouping it would be possible and this eventuality would be the exception rather than the norm. These could have easily been scheduled to replace CVS and Ocean and arguably this would have represented a more versatile solution. By holding out for the gold plated solution we have painted ourselves into a corner and trashed any notion of a balanced fleet.

The idea of halving the displacement of a ship resulting in a 50% reduction in cost is completely false but for the cost of 2 CVF’s and their 36 apiece air group we might have been able to obtain 3 or even 4 Cavour type vessels with 8 F35B’s each.

These would be politically and economically achievable, keep the RN in the carrier strike business and meet all the requirements for independence. With a smaller crew they would be more economical to run and are designed to be much more multi-purpose than CVF. They could be fully interchangeable as an amphibious LPH, command and control vessel or others. Although 3 or even 4 Cavour type ships would be less capable when acting together than 2 CVF, the resilience and versatility arguments are compelling. A more numerous class also contributes to forward presence and defence diplomacy missions. The Cavour is a modest design even though in many ways is better equipped than CVF, Aster 15 missile system for example. Able to embark 8 F35B’s or a smaller number if helicopters are included this would still provide a viable capability for protecting an embarked amphibious brigade and with the second available in surge, provide a modicum air defence. This might not offer a great deal to a larger coalition but that is in line with the Think Defence doctrine of selected contributory ‘capability plus’

Alternatively, we may have chosen just one or two such smaller vessels and spent the money elsewhere depending on how we scaled the RN to meet the actual maritime security needs rather than the expeditionary force for good approach that has not served the nation well.

But I hear you say…

But for a mere couple of billion more than a Cavour we can have CVF and look at the power that gives, the difference is massive?

This argument is at the root of the MoD’s problems, we aim high, fall short and end up with very poor value for money.

We aimed for 2 CVF with 36 FJCA each and ended up with one of a smaller design than originally envisaged, with fewer capabilities, a massive ‘routine 12 aircraft’ airgroup and a 10 year capability gap.

No wonder other nations our sniggering behind our backs!

The defence, therefore, rests.

Still, we are where we are and CVF was the chosen option.

SDSR Decisions – Aircraft and Carriers

With the withdrawal of the Harrier GR9 there is little point having an aircraft carrier without any aircraft so HMS Ark Royal will be immediately decommissioned and HMS Illustrious retained as a landing platform helicopter if the decision is to withdraw HMS Ocean (one of the two is going)

Despite the SDSR making great play of the uncertainty in the future it makes a bold prediction that says in essence we don’t need a carrier strike capability for the next ten years but will after that.

Eh, what complete and utter nonsense. Not even Mystic Meg would make such an outrageously ridiculous statement about the future but given the recent revelations about the industrial aspects of CVF the SDSR is quite clearly providing a figleaf for the real decision, yet another illustration of the lack of strategic thought or vision in the SDSR.

The CATOBAR F35C will require catapults and arrestor equipment to be fitted to the carriers. This will require extensive redesign (whatever they maintain about it being adaptable design), additional capital costs and most significantly, the through life costs of maintainers and deck crew will be high. For example, pension payments accrue as personnel change over the lifespan of the ship. So at the end of the in service period, for each nominal position on the ship, we will have accumulated multiple pension costs, as people are living longer those pension costs snowball so at the end of the CVF’s life, for each position on board we will be paying a number of pensions, not just one. This is why every position has a disproportionate impact on the calculation and why forces in the western world are leading a headlong dash to automation and personnel reduction.

CATOBAR means extra people which quite simple means extra cost.

The initial estimates are that an additional 50 crew will be needed, this doesn’t sound like much but they will have to be aboard whether there are aircraft embarked or not and 50 onboard means many many more ashore, in training, on leave etc. An additional 50 crew also means 50 less for something else.

Balancing those extra costs is the potential for less aircraft maintenance costs and a lower capital cost per aircraft.

With the final cost of the F35 being a rather movable feast the calculations are quite evidently nothing more than educated guesses but one thing that is certain is that every single study the MoD had carried out before the change of Government a few months ago, consistently pointed to the STOVL model being the cheapest through life.

It is also certain that the cost of modifications is equally uncertain!

In a recent parliamentary question/answer, the government confirmed that they don’t actually know how much extra it will cost to install the catapults and arrestor systems beyond ‘a range of estimates’

Given our rather poor track record of estimating it is almost a certainty that any final figure will be to the expensive end of that estimate, if not greater.

The recent build time extension for CVF added nearly a billion pounds so the delay due to a redesign and more complicated deck infrastructure to accommodate catapults and arrestor systems is going to be anyone’s guess in cost terms, are there any takers for an additional billion.

This drives a coach and horses through the F35C = cheaper argument because we simply do not know. With the F35B we have had many years to work out the human costs in minute detail; with the F35C we are taking a leap into the dark on costs.

I therefore remain extremely sceptical about the F35C being cheaper than the F35B but acknowledge that I don’t really know for sure.

The only logical conclusion I can draw is that the interoperability argument i.e. joint carrier strike capability with the French has trumped all others. I therefore maintain that the decision to go with the F35C is to support the capability sharing agreement with the French with a hope for the best on costs and a light sprinkling of extra capability left to provide a thin justification.

In pure capability terms the F35C offers more than the F35B but how significant this difference is, is open to debate. Whilst it is easy to say the F35C has better range and payload one might equally say the F35B can operate from shorter runways ashore, in more severe weather and generate higher sortie rates. Detractors of the F35B point to the dead weight of the lift fan, but the carrier variant has a great deal of extra weight in structural strengthening and enlarged control surfaces.

Things are never black and white, however, I think I am on safe ground saying it will significantly increase costs in the short term.

The sortie generation argument is equally interesting, the size and configuration of the STOVL CVF deck arrangement means that it would be very flexible with launch and recovery operations interleaved, especially with SRVL. Going CATOBAR means deck launch and recovery operations become cyclical and more vulnerable to break down or damage of the catapults and arrestor gear. If the arrestor gear is damaged or denied in any way there will be nowhere for any still airborne aircraft to land. With STOVL, a pilot has a number of options, even a Type 45 or RFA vessels helicopter landing pad would support an emergency recovery. Of course a second CVF or nearby allied aircraft carrier/land base would provide such a secondary recovery facility but we will not likely have a second CVF and may not always be operating with allies.

Given the additional training burden of conventional carrier operations, these skills are very perishable and need constant practice to remain safe, it is difficult to see how the FAA and RAF can sustain a reasonable availability with such a predicted small number of aircraft. Modern synthetic training environments may significantly improve things here though.

One of the stated reasons for going CATOBAR was interoperability with allies, the French and US, both of whom operate conventional aircraft carriers. This means that UK aircraft will be able to operate from these other aircraft carriers but if we are on a joint operation will they be deploying without their own air wing?

The number of conventional aircraft carriers is actually quite small but the number of amphibious ships that the STOVL B model could comfortably operate from is much greater and this number is IN ADDITION to the conventional carriers which can operate the F35B with some small limitations (no ski jump)

In going CATOBAR we are losing the ability to operate from the Italian Cavour, Spanish Juan Carlos, US America Class and Australian Canberra class, a huge reduction in flexibility for joint operations. US and French aircraft would not be able to use CVF but the USMC, Spanish and Italians are planning F35B purchases so its swings and roundabouts, pick your interoperability partners.

So we have a ten year capability gap, during which the Charles de Gaulle will undergo a 2 year refit, which will see the UK without any organic maritime fast jet capability. CVF supporters think 10 years is OK because it keeps the RN in the fast jet business and one might be thinking that is all that is important.  Ten years seems rather an optimistic time span and even if it were to be so there is no way the Fleet Air Arm can maintain a training pipeline for that long. A few exchange programmes with the US or French forces is not going to change that. Keeping the pipeline flowing until a STOVL F35B/QE came into service was one thing but the F35C is quite another. The F35B is having a few development niggles but they are just that, niggles. The F35C is still likely to be the last of the trio in service which means the Italians and Spanish are likely to have a more capable maritime aviation component for the next ten years than the Royal Navy, because the Royal Navy will have none.

Having only one means that CVF will be a part time capability, best not need it whilst it is in dock.

Oh, hang on, we can rely on our allies, the French.

All across defence there has been capability reductions but the Admirals insisted on an increase, 2 CVF with 36 strike fighters each was the vision and despite having ample opportunity to scale back these opportunities have never been taken until we got to the crunch point and it was too late.

The aircraft ownership issue remains to be resolved, as do a number of other issues, yet again the SDSR was light on detail. A personal opinion is that the Fleet Air Arm will cease to be in the fast jet business, the time delay is too great to sustain a career stream for air and ground crew and the fleet size means no economies of scale will be achieved across a small service that is part of a larger service whose business is not flying. I am neutral on this issue but can see the benefits of a single fast jet force. The argument that RAF personnel don’t join to go to sea has some truth but as the new engagement model starts to build and new personnel join it would not be impossible to include time at sea in the engagement model for RAF ground and air crew.

UCAV’s favour a conventional take off and landing configuration so this might have had some role in the decision to switch but one of the defining characteristics of unmanned aircraft is extreme range and endurance, so the need for operating them from carriers becomes weaker to a degree.

The stated intention is to have 2 CVF with one in extended readiness or sold, a far cry from initial plans.

Decades of STVOL operational training and expertise has been cast aside and we are going to have to relearn skills we discarded a very long time ago.

Contracts are going to have to be renegotiated, equipment in build like the ‘ski jumps’ and production B models stopped midstream, expensive and risky developments entered into (catapults etc)

The painfully obvious lack of knowledge about the actual costs of converting to CATOBAR will become clear in the next year or two and these will be seen as increasingly unaffordable, putting yet more pressure on a programme that represents a capability we have decided we can do without for a decade.

We have the difficult task of persuading the US that we are a reliable industrial partner and have been shown yet again to be impossible to do business with.

No wonder BAE stitched up the CVF build contract, can we really blame them.


The unmitigated disaster that is CVF has been chewed over by everyone but suffice it to say, it is a weapons grade cock up that puts the Chinook HC3’s, FRES or Nimrod AEW into the column marked, outstanding success.

There are many unanswered questions and the future is still uncertain; how many, who will the aircraft be flown by, how much integration with allies are we actually talking about, what might this mean, what about the second one and many more. I still feel that the F35B will be cheaper to operate, in the round, than the F35C and the switch to CATOBAR was motivated mainly by political considerations.

Building CVF in its current form, over a barrel, suits no one. Yes BAE get to complete but the sour taste will linger affecting their long term relationship with the MoD and the decision to swap to CATOBAR is going to result in a series of uncomfortable conversations with the US.

The ten year capability gap is simply ridiculous and beyond rational thought.

There is no doubt that carrier strike is a capability that can be justified in the context of an adaptable expeditionary posture, it is not as versatile or useful as the most rabid of its supporters would have you believe, but for the UK, essential nevertheless, in the most likely strategic context.

The real question is scale.

I think a smaller ambition and reduced scale would have been more appropriate as it would have afforded a more robust, balanced and versatile force structure able to meet real maritime defence and security needs and support expeditionary land operations, but here we are in 2010 with very little room to wiggle.

It’s hard to see any positives; we are going to have a part time capability that will cost a small fortune, suck the life out of the RN budget for decades yet offer a relatively low level of capacity and significantly less flexibility than envisaged. Current plans seem to be for a normal deployment of 12 F35C’s, which is fewer aircraft than the CVS it is replacing, admittedly the F35C is a step change from the Harrier but nonetheless, it is food for thought given the huge cost and impact CVF has had on other capabilities.

The chiefs and previous governments ambition and unrealism has resulted in us being backed into a corner, left with very few alternatives.

A sensible alternative would have been a proper sit down negotiation with BAE, not just exchanging angry letters.

Out of these negotiations would have sprung a revised design more suited to our needs and if this meant subsidising the BAE yards to more or less do nothing whilst this redesign and build up took place then that would simply have been a price worth paying to get something that we actually need and want.

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Mike W
November 7, 2010 10:29 pm

“Current plans seem to be for a normal deployment of 12 F35C’s, which is fewer aircraft than the CVS it is replacing”

The SDSR document, I think, stated: “The single carrier will therefore routinely have 12 fast jets embarked for operations WHILE RETAINING THE CAPACITY TO EMPLOY UP TO THE 36 PREVIOUSLY PLANNED.” How much store you set by the promised ability to work up to that maximum number, I don’t know. There is also the question of what would then carry the Chinooks, Merlins, Apaches, etc. in case an insertion of ground troops were needed in any given emergency.

November 7, 2010 10:38 pm

Very interesting! And passionate as ever :o)

I definitely agree with your thoughts about overstretch in our ambition ultimately – or in short order, perhaps – weakening what we can actually achieve. A bit like someone on modest means buying a house in millionaire’s row, and then not having cash for anything else, like the ‘leccy bill.

It would be fascinating to speculate on what we might do with one CVF, and no carrier aircraft at all to operate from them. (Egad, what if no-one wants to but it!) I wouldn’t rule out aircraftlessness (is that a word?) as a permanent state of play.

CVF is useful in some regards as a floating base, maybe, but difficult to fit to most roles as currently defined by RN doctrine. (At 65,000 tons, wouldn’t like to get it close to a contested shoreline for helicopter assault, for example. Way too big a target.)

What do we do? Park it off the Falklands and plonk some rapier, ASW subs and AS90 on its deck? Maybe install some tomahawk or scalp naval! Offer it to allies in NATO ops, maybe with a ski jump welded on the front for vstol aircraft from partner nations?

Maybe we just buy a load of cheapo COIN planes to fly off it, and really reign in our strike ambitions.

One thing: I thought F-35B couldn’t operate vertically from austere airstrips, ships, or helicopter carriers because its jet efflux created spall and melted decks? (I could be wrong.)

Mike W
November 7, 2010 10:56 pm


“With the withdrawal of the Harrier GR9 there is little point having an aircraft carrier without any aircraft so HMS Ark Royal will be immediately decommissioned and HMS Illustrious retained as a landing platform helicopter if the decision is to withdraw HMS Ocean (one of the two is going)”

As a landlubber I am becoming increasingly confused by the carrier situation. I thought originally, like you in the above extract, that either “Illustrious” or “Ocean” would be chosen for the role of helicopter carrier AND THE ONE NOT CHOSEN WOULD SIMPLY GO (i.e. BE DECOMMISSIONED).

And yet here is “Navy News”, the official newspaper of the Royal Navy, in its article explaining the SDSR:

“HMS Ocean” or HMS Illustrious” to serve as the “high readiness” helicopter carrier; THE OTHER WILL BE IN EXTENDED READINESS until “Queen Elizabeth” enters service.

There is much confusing information around. The above also raises the question of whether, after “Queen Elizabeth enters service as the “high readiness” carrier, whether the carrier chosen to act as the interim “high readiness” carrier (i.e. Ocean or Illustrious) will then stay on as the “extended readiness” vessel until “Prince of Wales” enters service.

Can you or anyone help?

November 7, 2010 11:09 pm

I would like to be associated with the remarks of the poster of this article.

Rupert Fiennes
Rupert Fiennes
November 7, 2010 11:16 pm

An interesting opinion, but you might want to consider another role for CVF, just as important as “airpower to be applied where the RAF and Tomahawk cannot fly”: air defense of fleet and sea lanes. Anything more than a couple of hundred km from an airbase, sea-based aircraft reduce the number of aircraft required to provide air cover at sea. Since carriers are by far the cheaper part of the equation compared to the air group, this is highly relevant for carrier justifications or otherwise

November 7, 2010 11:23 pm

@ Mat

CVF will be 284m long. The Invincibles are 210m long. So beam on the former isn’t that much bigger of a target. The Argentine Exocet easily found the 119m long Batch T42 Sheffield.

November 8, 2010 12:41 am

Are we really saying that 2 CVF at £5bn replacing 3x Vinces has ‘crippled’ the Royal Navy? Even replacing like for like would set the RN back close to half that.

Really? No mention of Type 45’s or the huge overspend on the Astutes. The bottom line is does the UK want global reach or not? If we don’t want carriers then as a consequence the surface fleet shrinks anyway.

This idea protrayed in some quarters (not necessarily here) that we would maintain the number of Frigates, Destroyers & Subs we had a decade ago if it weren’t for the ‘CVF Monster’ is a nonsense.

No CVF would eventually mean a smaller fleet, even fewer amphibs and we could even give up the SSN game and get some cheap SSK’s for local patrol.

November 8, 2010 12:44 am

Think defence

No point in arguing with carrier junkies.

They have to have their “Hit” and damn the consiquences. They will rob and cheat and steal (from the rest of the RN), in order to get their “fix”.

We have a carrier.

Deployable maybe 175 days a year and no planes to fly off it for the next 10 years. That is not just unsustainable logically but it goes beyond pythonesque into the realms of the GOON Show, (I know sounds OTT but if I did not laugh I would cry); that does not phase the Carrier Junkie; the RN gets the key to 6th form common room:- because it has a carrier.

Next week we will announce the deployment of.

Challanger 3 the tank without an engine. Look we can deply them much cheaper that way and we will phase in engines starting in 2018.

New calibre of assault rifle Bullets to be issued by 2017 untill then troops trained to shout BANG with confidence, leading to huge savings in logistical costs transporting bullets.

A400 to be deployed by 2015 with the wings to be added on later, being fitted in rolling programme from 2020.

New Medium Air to Air missile (It is hoped we might be able to deploy 6 or 7 in total, once we have got the French to enter a joint warhead development so that they will actually go bang)

65,000 tons. I will repeat that 65,000 tons of steel, without adequate self defence, no strike capability, representing a huge defence investment, it’s country cannot afford to loose. If I was the chinese (or half a dozen other countries) navy I would be pi**ing myself with laughter. (My continental Navy contact says there has been much laughter in the Ward rooms).

The CVF situation has become beyond parody. And those contracts could have been re-negotiated to provide us with a fleet of usable ships we could afford.

November 8, 2010 1:34 am

It’s all politics gentlemen – there is nothing insidious or evil about the concept of naval aviation or carrier strike, if the UK Govt wanted it could have 3 carriers chock full of F18E/F/G (1 on ops, 1 on workup / carrier quals, 1 in maintenance). It’s all about choice, and as I have lamented many times, the mediocre politicians of all parties today do not have the smarts / guts to make some difficult choices.

Admin said: “The unmitigated disaster that is CVF has been chewed over by everyone but suffice it to say, it is a weapons grade cock up that puts the Chinook HC3’s, FRES or Nimrod AEW into the column marked, outstanding success”

Why ?

Chinook HC3 – technical disaster as it the software never met standards required / procurement procedural disaster

Nimrod AEW – not sure really, but political / procurement disaster I suppose, we could have decided earlier to bin national pride and join the E3 programme

FRES – Procurement / Army technical requirements disaster ? Years and years of dragging it out have wasted the money, when other approaches could have fielded capability sooner.

Why does CVF join these programmes ? Politics thats why. They have not been built yet, so we don’t know if (but I suspect they wont be) technical disasters, if the platform as built does not meet specs.

Is having 2 ships, with only 1 available pointless ? Possibly. However that is the failure of the SDSR, and of the government’s inability to make the choices. This is a doctrinal failure, and 4 x Cavour flying 8 x F35B would still be a doctrinal failure.

I don’t want to get into the “EuroNavy” arguments, but some might think having 1 carrier available, and having it at the core of a task group with French and Italian ASW frigates and Dutch, Spanish and Norwegian AAW destroyers is just fine and dandy ( I am not one such person by the way).

For all the articles’s waffle about host nation support being exactly the same in ten years time as it is now, the failure of CVF has nothing to do with its size, its expense (or relative lack of) its lack of Aster; it does not really mater if the flight deck has a ramp or catapults, whether the pilots are RAF or Navy (yes I actually said that) or whether they fly Dave, Super Bug or Rafale, the UK has lost the ability to do grand strategy, to define its own policies in support of its own national interests. Therefore we will the America’s lapdog, or Europes unwilling partner, and we don’t really need CVF to be either do we. So its strategy failure !

November 8, 2010 5:47 am

Very Interesting spin on the old arguments. However I must disagree with the statements on ambitions of the SDR 1998. I don’t feel that the aspiration of two carriers with a medium sized air group was overly ambitious. I feel maintaining the largest professional Army in Europe, 5th biggest air force in the world and second largest navy was where the ambitions hit the wall. We desperately need to choose one direction. If we favour a maritime approach then CVF will be easily affordable and extremely sensible.

While the funding for SDR 1998 was never realised and we ended up with the series of delays and over runs that have now killed the defence budget I think we can all agree that the defence budget must reflect the circumstances on the ground. No one envisaged or could have envisaged the chain of events following 9/11. To say that this should all have been funded form the treasury reserve fund I feel is wrong. If so why do we spend the money we do on defence.

Afghanistan is in its end stages one way or another. I feel that both the US and the UK will have re learnt the lessons they did in the 1960’s and 70’s. Long term ground deployments and nation building are unaffordable unless you hope to gain resources etc from that country once the war is over i.e having an empire. As this is no longer going to be the case we will never again for a generation or more conduct an operation like Afghanistan or Iraq. This will mean that the only operations we will consider getting involved in will be like Kosovo, Sierra Leone or Kuwait where we have a clear objective and can make use of our technological superiority. To me this means operating flexibly striking hard and fast and getting out quickly. All these things say carrier strike capability. I read a very interesting quote this weekend about the British Amry. “The British Army is big enough to get the United Kingdom into trouble but not big enough to get it out”. To me that statement says it all. If we can’t afford a huge army (which we can’t) Its better to concentrate on having a huge navy (which we can afford).

November 8, 2010 5:57 am

Hi Jed,
Summed it all up there. Its a lack of vision and the constant winging from all corners of the United Kingdom Society. The Foreign aid budget alone would pay for 4 CVF’s with aircraft and escorts. We have the type of outlook the dutch had in the 19th Century (we are not the world biggest empire so lets just give up). In a multi polar world of great powers we need strategy more than ever.

One of the most common quotes I have read on think defence is “its not about the size of your trousers” however we could only justify around 25% of the UK defence budget to cover the threats that the UK faces or is likley to face in the future. The rest is to project our influence abroad. So its exactly all about how big our trousers are. Two fully loaded CVF’s give us extremely big trousers in a world where no one other than the US can boast one.

November 8, 2010 6:00 am

Its not CVF or the RN’s fault that we wont have carrier aviation for a decade. If it had not been for the CVF program being so far along we would probably have lost carriers for ever. It’s the RAF who took the decision to get rid of Harrier and the bumbling government who let them do it.

The navy has paid three times over for CVF. Why? beacuse they know they need it.

November 8, 2010 7:40 am

I rather liked the Challenger 3 tank idea.

November 8, 2010 8:41 am

“Although 3 or even 4 Cavour type ships would be less capable when acting together than 2 CVF, the resilience and versatility arguments are compelling.”

If the alternative is one CTOL CVF then I am agreed, but i’ll withhold judgement until the fate of the second is made clear in 2015, post afghanistan.

“Despite the SDSR making great play of the uncertainty in the future it makes a bold prediction that in essence we don’t need a carrier strike capability for the next ten years but will after that.”

It is true. Carrier strike is wanted and needed, but the reality of keeping 10,000 men fighting a hot-war at the far ends of the earth for fourteen years means that even after the bulk depart in 2015 the army will require four years or more to recover. As you note, HNS for the Afghan mission is not a problem, and there isn’t a any spare capacity to deploy anywhere else anyway.

“The F35C is still likely to be the last of the trio in service which means the Italians and Spanish are likely to have a more capable maritime aviation component than the Royal Navy because the Royal Navy will have none.”

If admirals comparing their tackle with US counterparts is no justification for carriers, then neither is this.

On the matter of F35c I am agreed; we probably would have done better with “b”.

November 8, 2010 9:22 am

Overfly rights
Carrier Aircraft can fly equaly well from wither land or sea bases, (right?).
So can choose whichever is most convenient.
At worst, they will be as bad.

“You could also argue that for out of area operations, if the neighbouring countries are not sufficiently engaged with the operation to offer host nation support, we shouldn’t be there anyway.”
That implies UK foreign policy has been Co-opted for someone elses goals.

At the end of the day, unless we have an ally in region who maintains a Tier 1 airbase for us to surge to, any facilities are going to be pants until we build them.
I’ve always suspected the idea that Carriers were better than Airbases was pants, but its a hard thing to prove. At the end of the day, anything on a carrier can be built at a base, the reverse isnt true.

Both a land base and sea base are vulnerable against “high end” threats, but a carrier is not vulnerble to “low end” threats, only an airbase is.
You can mortar a Carrier, unless its Captain is very very stupid.

Its easy to call a CBG on self protection orders a self licking lolipop, but your kidding yourself if you then call the enemy in port a “fleet in being”.
All forces are constrained until forces that threaten them are identifed, located and nuetralised.

The most recent Taiwan Straits Crises ended when Two CBGs sailed through them looking for a fight.
But as I’ve said many times, this is a political problem, not a military one.
As the US fleet was sailing off the coast, Serbian Civillians were being raped, murdered and organ harvested. Allow yourself to be slaughtered by barbarians or we will bomb you isnt that sensible a position to hold.

The same (sort of) goes for Sadam, he was barely holding the south against an Iranian revolution as it was, US threats were intermittant and just that, threats, comparitivly mild ones in the grand scheme of things.

I wouldnt say theres a need, either can be replaced by other platforms, but both are useful, and both can be replaced by other capabilities.
The Deep Strike role could be carried out by long range missiles and the interceptor role by the current AWACS and a fleet of commerical jets carrying massive stocks of BVRM’s

Decisions Past
The Cavour is a nice little ship, but its not a CVF apple.
It brings neither heavy weight fighter support, or heavey weight landing capability. Much as the Juan Carlos is a good little ship, neither does that.
They’re acceptable generalist ships, but they simply dont scale well with specialised ships.

Acting as Carriers, they arent cost effective when compared to a CVF. Acting as Assault Ships, they arent cost effective when compared to a Bay or an Albion.
They are the “little bit of everything” that makes a coalition useless.
You could argue that had the RN accepted 4 JC/C in 98 instead of 2 CVA, it would have them, but thats simply untrue.
The Government funneled money from procurement to operations, that would have happened no matter the procurement budget.

“This by the way is why the strategic raiding concept is deeply flawed but that’s for another discussion.”
Come now, lets not make cheap shots and then say, but you cant argue about this yet.

November 8, 2010 9:46 am

Mike W
“There is also the question of what would then carry the Chinooks, Merlins, Apaches, etc. in case an insertion of ground troops were needed in any given emergency.”
The Amphib Fleet?

Mike W
Extended readiness can mean a lot of things, including gutted for parts, it wont be sold to a ship breaker yet, but it wont be operational in any reasonable time frame either.

Its not the second world war. The idea of a Carrier escorting a cargo ship convoy is gone, there simply arent that many ships anymore.
Even if it was somehow done, you need lots of small escort carriers, not a few big fleet carriers.

The Hulks have cost £5bn to buy
The “Proper” Airgroups would cost another £5bn to buy and another £1.5bn a year to operate, 5% of the defence budget.
Purchase costs arent important, its running costs that matter.

If the Government chose to view a terrorist attack as a black swan, it should have issued a revised strategy.
Then it could fairly have dumped the expenses back on the MoD.
It didnt.

“To me this means operating flexibly striking hard and fast and getting out quickly.”

““The F35C is still likely to be the last of the trio in service which means the Italians and Spanish are likely to have a more capable maritime aviation component than the Royal Navy because the Royal Navy will have none.””
Which is why we’ll be leasing some Rafels in short order and then once we have a few pilots and mechanics trained, well, it makes sense to just keep operating them and we’ll buy a few, and then a few more.

November 8, 2010 10:04 am

“This by the way is why the strategic raiding concept is deeply flawed but that’s for another discussion.”

I missed that the first time around, but no, i don’t really see how some deficiencies in coercion invalidates SR in a way that puts it at a net disadvantage to any other non-SDR98 posture.

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
November 8, 2010 10:53 am

First post so please be gentle.

Also no forces background but interested in the subject matter both in a historical context and how things are shaping up for the future.

My first point, which relates to almost all the topics on this blog is the extended timelines of almost all the weapons systems being discussed. We live in a fast moving world with huge changes taking place in terms of economic strength and capacity. Consequently the normal military cadence of 10 years from concept generation to service introduction which turns out to be 20 years in reality is unwordly to the point of self parody. Add in the proposed 50/60 year life span and we are talking about the Vanguard Mk2 not the new Eagle.

Interesting side issue on the names being put forward, QE and PoW are not and never will be carrier names. They should be called Eagle / Hermes with Victorious / Malta … as alternatives for the second pair.

Next up is military / MOD economics, what we are getting for the money paid out is bordering on the ridiculous. A make work scheme for the middle class is the best way of looking at it, people with less sunny dispositions than myself would describe the situation in much darker terms.

However back to CVF’s and the aircraft to use them, I agree with the general gist of article, we really are in a mess and what happens next will probably please no one.

First thing to say is that building a large CVF is not that difficult, a lot of talk recently gives the impression that it is a lot of covering fire to allow the builder’s salesforce to enrich the spec and up the price.

Taking if the price, where are we actually at?
Was £3.9bill after some heavy thrifting.
Now after a slowdown and a re-design we look to be at £5.4bill?
The main thing is that all the numbers are nonsense in any world apart from one with military / MOD economics.

You have to ask, what would we do in extremis to produce a CVF is we really had to for national survival?

£300mill mild steel prototype based on a container ship hull, possible second hand would be in the water in 18 months, 9-12 months if the shooting had started, and would have a basic level of functionality in 6 / 12 months later using rented F/A 18’s plus Skyhawks / F4’s taken out of museums.

Production units would be £500mill a pop for a large, robust, basic ship with plenty of growth potential and a 20/25 year life. The main thing is that steel is cheap, air is free and big and simple is the way to go.

300m wl/330m oa x 42m/66m oa x 10-12m = 80 – 95K tons .
120K hp = 26kns
15K m2 = Deck space
4K m2 = Garage space
The hull is neatly chunked into 40′ and 80′ sections.
Plenty of space for fuel, stores and ammunition.
Armoured containers bolted together = A/Tor bulkheads.
Pre-fab structures slotted into the hull spaces.
Pre-fab hangar and deck sections stuck on top.

Catapult = Out a catalogue.
Arrestor stuff = Drawings out of a museum and then doubled.
Enough deck space for all this and a ski jump.

Get the basics right and everything falls into place.
Cheap so we can build 4.
Next up is build the “MARS” stuff to this spec.
They then can act as 1/2 carriers or targets when the going gets tough.

My final point is the complete and utter lack of originality or spark when it comes to recent RN ship design.

Everything we build seems to be backward looking and derivative, traditional LPD’s when everyone else is moving to the “Tarawa” style. T45’s that are £1bill a pop and very limited.

For £1bill a pop I would be looking for a 20K ton modern battle cruiser.

My understanding is that the expensive bit is the sensor fit and the battle management system, another VLS block, a couple of GK CIWS’s and some armour would be cheap by comparison. You have to wonder what the builder’s margin was on those ships?

Finally I fear that almost all MOD decision making is being hamstrung by a need to sort every little detail out before a plate can be cut. Great if you have the time and the basic processes in place but I fear it is back to first princilples at every turn.

You cannot run a navy around its projected pension costs. By all means play it tight with the money but please don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

I always thought that military success came from making the most of what you had rather than holding off until everything was perfect. Too much of what I read on here suggests that we continually search for the great no matter the cost in resouces and time instead of going with the good and working our way up to perfection through experience and increased understanding.

November 8, 2010 10:59 am

If we had these two carriers now, each carrying 35 very expensive American aircraft, what would we use them for?

November 8, 2010 11:16 am

nothing, we’re buried to the hilt in afghanistan.

paul g
November 8, 2010 11:21 am
November 8, 2010 12:06 pm

That the CVF program has a life span longer than most Humans had escaped me, but it does seem obscene.

A Carrier is fundamentaly not a container ship.
If nothing else, its floors need to be strong enough to hold a fully laden aircraft.
But theres lots else.
The Garage space isnt empty, it needs power points, and fuel points, and these need to be usable when the ship is at war and aircraft are being repaired, fueled, armed and launched.
All of this takes a lot of planning.
It also need to be able to survive enemy fire.
Its easy to say we can just buy a catapult, but we cant.
Its not like a Ford Fiesta.
These things have one production line is existance, and its order book is handled by US Congress decades out in advance.
If they give us a set, they dont get them till later.

Steel is cheap, but the Gas required to move it hundreds of thousands of miles at 30knts isnt cheap by a long shot.

The T45 Project cost £1bn a boat, but the actual unit cost is more like £650mn.
The Margin was whatever it was agreed, At the end of the day, PAAMS cost a **** load of money to design and get working, if you split that cost between 6 ships, its more than if you split it between 12.

“You cannot run a navy around its projected pension costs. By all means play it tight with the money but please don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. ”
Theres no other way to run it.
The Cost of operating Cats and Traps includes the additional pension costs of the additional staff.
Local Councils failed to take into pension costs, and most of them now pay 20% or more of their incomings back out as pensions.
Pension costs balloon, quickly.

Ironicaly, one of the reasons RN kit is so expensive is because its so manpower light in the long term.
Its well worth spending billions in capital to save an hours maintenance, repeated several hundred thousands times over.

November 8, 2010 12:11 pm

True, we arent team Britania, World Police, but sometimes we are blocked by neighbours stalling.

Compare the Rwanda Genocide reactions and Darfur Genocide reactions.
Sudan is protected by its neighbours and we are simply forced to accept that.
Whether we should be mediating in another conflict between nomands and farmers aside, we cant, because the locals wont let us.
With a Carrier, we could ignore the locals and go over there heads, literaly…

November 8, 2010 12:31 pm

Hello DominicJ

I can’t quite see the relevance of carriers in the Rwanda & Darfur situations. You would be on stronger ground if you had sited Sierra Leone. In Afghanistan they would have been useful in the early phase, as were the US carriers. As to their use in exercises and patrols – to what end?

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
November 8, 2010 12:48 pm


The SDSR reduced the RN numbers by 5K or 14/15%.
Did the SDSR reduce the wage bill by 14/15%?
Probably not, so the Indians got culled and the Chiefs got new desks and titles.

Regarding the numbers of crew I don’t understand your automation point, the ship that my alternative would be based on already has a high level of automation to deal with all the maritime systems.

Consequently engines, navigation, ship handling, cargo handling are all atuned to work with a very low crew level. For the other naval functions I would expect that we would be leveraging off the work put into the T45’s to cut back on the numbers.

That then leaves the new added aviation functions which do not appear to need much carrier specific work.

Munitions Storage = COTS industrial automation package split up to aid survivabilty. Big hull consequently no issue.
Munitions Handling = Automated transfer system / lift again COTS plus normal procedures once the stuff has reached the hangar deck.
Fuel Handling = Automated till it reaches the hangar deck then normal procedures from there until the tank.
Aircraft Handling = As before but with better tractors.
Arrestor Stuff = As before / automated reset.

Consequently my in extremis example might be a bit rough and ready wih a need to add bodies to fill in small gaps but you should remember that the people involved would be at the lower end of the income range.

Therefore the level of automation needed to produce a good ship will be included in the £500mill capital cost of the ship.

Finally, what crew numbers are we talking about?

Bare bones maritime systems = 50 / Maersk “E’s” under 20?
Extra / more maritime systems = 50 max
Basic Naval Systems = 200 max
Extra Carrier naval systems = 200 max

Crew = 400’ish
That would be a significant reduction on the numbers needed for the Invincibles. The same amount of systems but more fresh air in the hull.

Flight Crew = 20 per aircraft including 2 pilots.
Numbers will include armourers / munitions folk.
Hotel staff to feed and water the flight crew = 2 per aircraft?
Are these figures reasonable?

The automation is out there, just no need to design from scratch in Navy blue.

If it isn’t then all the systems should be chunked / containerised / modularised so that it is just a case of finding the right place in a big boxy hull with maximum design re-use, little or no hull specific integration and no re-work.

It will work for automation and the same process should be used for all naval systems.

What is the issue with demographics?
Is the RN struggling to get people in?

November 8, 2010 1:32 pm

How could we intervene in Darfur without them?
We cant invade via EasyJet.

Automatic systems need maintaining, which is expensive.
Its cheaper to employ a few blokes to keep the munitions carts going than a few hundred to lug it by hand, but it still needs doing.
Designing an automated system that can pick up a 2000lb JDAM and move it several hundred metres through a very congested ship is also expensive, as is building it.

A Containership just opens a top lid (If that) and cranes at the dock unload it.

Container ships may have 20 crew, but if stuff breaks, the people required to fix it are helicoptered in, that doesnt work in a war zone.

The crew point was more, if you add Cats and Traps, you add 50 maintainers for those Cats and Traps.
Those extra 50 Men could still be costing the Navy Pensions Payments well in to the 2100’s.

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
November 8, 2010 1:33 pm

Dominic J

Soory to be new here but to disagree with you almost completely.
You write as an insider so I take it you are part of the military industrial complex?
Consequently a bit inward looking and not fully up to speed with the real world.

First point on the basic principles of ship design, a carrier is a containership, a bulk carrier, a ferry …

If you disagree ask Sir James Lithgow.
He had a few issues with the RN orthodox view.

Next up it is better and cheaper to build a big simple box than try and make it complex but smaller.

You mention automation and as I noted in a previous post, such attitudes are already out there and it is better to re-use their solutions than to ask an MOD contractor to find them for you and have them paint it navy blue. They will charge the normal MOD rate no matter the real world cost.

From what you and TD say it looks as if the “automation” issue and the savings it can magic out the air regarding running costs have been used quite successfully by the builder to justify the ridiculous cost estimates that have been bandied about.

Regarding the deck loadings both dynamic and static, we have been here before so nothing new to learn just a case of using the correct amount of steelwork and moving on. even with the block build of the QE we are building the deck and hangar in slices and fiiting them on top of the actual wet hull sections. Consequently no big change apart from looking at the cost structure of the existing plans.

On the subject of fuel costs, big issue, no question about that but Maersk have their ships travelling at 22-26kn all day every day so it is not a big issue.

On the issue of the cartapult I fear you are mistaken, USN is one new carrier every 4/5 years, the launch system will not take that long to construct and it should be on the critical path. Consequently it is not the issue you claim it to be. If however you are correct what is to stop us revisiting the Ark’s Phantom capable ststem of the 1960’s.

It is just a case of setting up the parameters and building what is required. How did the CdG get its system? And finally the Ford Fiesta involves a lot more detail design than a CVF and they have to produce a new one every 6 years.

Detail Design = Less parts but optimised for cost to the n’th degree. Comsequently more brain power needed than a CVF than should use many chunks already designed.

On the subject of the T45, I fear the detail you provide only increases my questions over the costs involved.

Missiles = existed.
Radars = existed.
VLS = existed.
Battle management = Not to sure the level of update.
Three country joint venture

You say that the UK share of the development costs was in the region of £2bill. Looks a bit high to me, has all the hallmarks of an MOD middle class make work scheme.

Next up would then be the marginal cost of the PAAMS system, at £650mill a pop for 7k tons of stretched patrol vessel seems that either we are paying over the odds for the system or we are paying over the odds for 7k tons of metal bashing

As always if I have got my figures wrong or you have more info then lets be having it as it is an interesting subject.

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
November 8, 2010 1:46 pm


Fair point on the need to be more self contained, that is more capability on hand but there is a limit to what you can do on a ship on the open sea.

Add in the fact that you builsd in resiliance / redundancy on top of an increased level of reliability of using components that are current rather than museem pieces and you are half way there.

Issue on catapults and arrestors, why do you need 50 people to look after them? Is it spanners to look after the systems / keep the show on the road or is it extra flight deck grunts to push things around / hook / unhook?

Moving around the flight deck – any difference between CATOBAR vs STOVL?

I will state again that the pension issue is red herring.
We have always had to pay out pensions.
Crews are getting smaller.
No issue.

You give the impression that it is a case of the great driving out the good but 10 years late and at 4 times the price.

The issue is the desk warriors on big wages with long titles who argue amongst themsleves and slow things down.

Steve Coltman
Steve Coltman
November 8, 2010 2:03 pm

“A smaller ambition and smaller scale would have been more appropriate”. Agreed, we need some sort of ship-based air power but emulating the US just seems unrealistic. How about this (too late now but never mind): We have 7 large amphibious ships, even the smallest of which (Bay class) is the size of a small carrier but only 1 has an aircraft hangar. LHDs like the Canberra class are by far the most versatile amphibious ships, with helicopters and landing craft. For what we have spent on the existing amphibious ships we could have has 3 x Canberras and maybe 3 x smaller landing ships. To replace the Invincibles we could have 3 x Cavour-type ships that, contrary to what has been said, have an air group of about 20 with 27 in overload configuration. 12 F35B and 8 Merlins are the expected typical air-group.
So, 6 ‘carriers’ of two different types, one of each deployed at any given moment, one of each in dock and one of each training/work-up etc. Seems a good choice to me. If money were tight or if there was an outbreak of peace, one of each could be put into reserve while still leaving a viable force. The choice of aircraft is a problem though. From the perspective of 1998, banking everything on the technical success of the F35B would be an unrealistic risk. Even now it seems fraught with technical problems, mainly about heat, and a New Generation Harrier made of modern lightweight composites would have been a less capable aircraft, but less of a risk.

paul g
November 8, 2010 3:11 pm

take a look at ocean built to commercial standards because it was cheaper, consequently lower in service life and it’s shagged now struggling to make that service life! the phrase “is it squaddie proof” springs to mind!!! (oh and welcome by the way, commenting becomes addictive you’ll find, oh and brush up on your container knowledge, it helps)!!!!

Mike W
November 8, 2010 3:20 pm


“Extended readiness can mean a lot of things, including gutted for parts, it won’t be sold to a ship breaker yet, but it won’t be operational in any reasonable time frame either.”

Yes, I take your point. I suppose that the carrier chosen for “extended” readiness could end up looking rather like “Invincible” in its latter days. However, if we only had two carriers left, rather than three, surely we might take a bit better care of the one in “extended readiness”.

“There is also the question of what would then carry the Chinooks, Merlins, Apaches, etc. in case an insertion of ground troops were needed in any given emergency.”
Your answer: “The Amphib Fleet?”

I’m not so sure about your point here, Dominic. What “Amphib” fleet would be left after “Ocean” goes? One LPD (“Albion” or “Bulwark”) and 3 Bays? And how many helicopter landing spots would they provide? Not much of an “Amphib Fleet”, as far as I can see.

November 8, 2010 3:22 pm

I don’t see Rafale ever happening for the RN. Firstly its crap, secondly its French, Thirdly it costs nearly the same as the F35 which is actually a British Aircraft (almost as much as a Typhoon if you factor in RR engines). The decision to move to CATS and TRAPS makes sense for the use of 6th Generation UCAV’s. I think that the F35 will only be produced in relativley small numbers as it will be over taken by 6th generation aircraft such as X47 or Taranus inside of the 10 years it will take to begin fielding it. The US navy is the least enthusiastic customer for F35 and it will have its version in place last. Its also the most enthusiastic service with UCAV’s. The X47 seems to be as close to production as the F35 C. I predict the C version is canceled and we end of with a mix of F18 F and Sea Taranus. Probably a much better force structure. At least we won’t have to worry about all those FAA pilots getting replaced.

Mike W
November 8, 2010 3:49 pm

I don’t think anyone has yet mentioned the article on the front page of the “Telegraph” today. It is entitled: “Carriers heading for disaster says the man building them,” and is by Andrew Gilligan.

It concerns how Lord Hesketh, the deputy chairman of Babcock, whose Rosyth yard is building the carriers, has said that the (carrier) programme is a “disaster” that will make Britain “a laughing stock”. He said that Britain could afford to run both ships – and put aircraft on them from the start – were it not for the “vested interest” of BAE Systems, the prime contractor. “We are paying twice as much as we should to get half the ability,” he said.

He went on to say that rather than going for the F35s (not ready till 2020) and the catapults to launch them (a new electric catapult would have to be developed to launch them), a far quicker and cheaper solution would be to adapt the RAF’s existing Typhoons for work at sea. However, he added that this would be far less remunerative for BAE than buying dozens of new F35s.

Apparently, a BAE spokesman said, “We do not recognise the view given by Lord Hesketh.”

I do not really see his (Lord Hesketh’s) point. Typhoons would also need catapults, wouldn’t they?

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
November 8, 2010 4:10 pm


The consensus view from the experts is that it is not possible to Marinise Typhoon. It is too fragile to undertake deck ops. The US are building LHD 8 Makin Island for £1.2BN. Would these have been a better option. 40,000 tonnes, rotary wing group, LCU and LCAC capable. 8 F35B able to surge to 20 in a pure carrier role and we could have had 4 for the price of 2 CVF.

paul g
November 8, 2010 4:12 pm

hesketh has fallen on his sword, news has just said he has resigned from his position as say fallen, maybe pushed!

November 8, 2010 4:29 pm


F35 has all the halllmarks of a project that isn’t going to happen.

F35B not flying as apparantly over weight and keeps breaking *(and baking everything under it).
F35 C not out of woods.
F 35 A ok but years behind schedule

Cost – Through the roof there is speculation that F22 type unit cost are not out of the question.

There is allready talk in US circles of further development of F18 instead.

Don’t hold your breath for F35, of any hue entering service anytime soon (next decade.

Like I said last post a bit ‘get it off my chest’ but I stand by it.

paul g
November 8, 2010 4:45 pm

well duty rumour/leaks say BAe have “possibily” won the indian contract worth $11+billion should ease the pain if the 35 goes t1ts up. So if it does what would the astute commenters on here put on the carriers? Do we extend our agreement with the french with rafalé although it seems to be losing out in competitions all over, super hornet, or the outsider, saab gripen which is getting good reviews for the NG version and unit price is cheap. I like the vids where it’s landing on the public roads, nails!!!

November 8, 2010 5:17 pm

Mike W
Each of those ships can handle 2-4 Merlins.
Worst Case thats 8, so landing an over strength company a time.
Ocean can only land 8 cant it?
Not ideal, but what is?

I repeat this often, so have probably already shouted it at you, but a pilot costs 15-20 million pounds a year to keep trained.
Get rid of that cost and you can increase your airforce 5x for no extra cost.

Interesting about the C being furthest away, maybe the USN is planning to dump it and instead double the carrier fleet but run UCAV’s.

Mike W
Seaphoons would need Cats/Traps, and couldnt be converted Typhoons, rebuilt ones maybe.

Paul G
I still think a Harrier Three should be considered.

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
November 8, 2010 5:18 pm

Paul G

Fair point on Ocean.
Knew about “problems” but not the specific issues.

Any news on what has failed, is failing, will fail soon? Any thoughts on why and when did the issues first start? What about the Bay class, are they not semi commercial?

The experience to take forward is an understanding of why certain COTS components failed and what can be done to improve things in the future.

Squaddie proof is a bit of a double edged sword.
If the components can survive in a normal commercial environment then if the fail in RN use you have to question the competence and professionalism of the people using and maintaining them.

If the repair philosophy is if at first you don’t succeed get a bigger hammer then such a organisation will always be under pressure when it comes up against a subtle and involved opposition.

Would raising the entry age to 25 make any difference?
I ask this based on the way I see teenagers driving their cars.

On the subject of the Taranis, very interesting but the usual warning flags are starting to be raised.

Public launch involved dry ice and a stage show that would have shamed the X factor.
Four years in it is over one year behind schedule.
The price / budget has gone up.
It involves BAe Systems

November 8, 2010 6:21 pm

I disagree with a number of points you make here, leaving aside, for the moment, the operational Carrier v land based issues:

F35B remains vulnerable to cancellation in the US.
F35B would not have been able to land on a Type 45, or other ships, in an emergency, unless the Type 45 wanted its deck melted, which strikes me as highly unlikely.

I don’t know any supporter of RN Carriers who thinks ten years without UK Carriers is okay. The Government (and RAF) chopping Harrier was a huge error. Without dedicated Carrier air -in the UK’s case the Fleet Air Arm- UK will not get viable aircraft carriers.

If you reakly want to save money on the Queen Elizabeth class Aircraft Carriers the way to do it is to buy Super Hornet, which is much less expensive to buy than F35C -and even cheaper to lease- and would cost considerably less to operate.
UK could still buy F35 for the RAF -and perhaps even the FAA- at a much later date when F35 unit costs might, hopefully, have come down with increased production.

On the operational issues of land based v Carrier based aircraft I recommend this

November 8, 2010 6:23 pm

@ Fat Bloke on Tour: ‘Fat Bloke on Tour’ sounds self-deprecating. You want to try something like ‘The Curvy Fox’ ;o)

I myself toyed with using ‘Clint’ for a few weeks ;o) (That and ‘Fat bloke sat at computer avoiding work’, but it took too long to type.)

@ X – I’m thinking 65,000 tons is too big to risk losing, not that it’s many times easier to hit. One or two lucky shots in a magazine, some poor damage control, and kablooey. Half our naval budget sunk.

@ Ixion – couldn’t agree more about your comments about ‘carrier junkies’ doing anything for a hit. I’ve just heard on the news about the head of Babcock, Lord Hesketh, resigning, calling the CVF project that Babcock manage a ‘catastrophe’ caused by BAE Systems (what a surprise), giving the UK ‘half the capability’ for ‘twice the price’ and making the UK look a ‘laughing stock’. If anyone knows, he does.

In my book, BAE Systems are as big a shower as investment bankers.

November 8, 2010 6:25 pm

Just an idea, but we could always burn BAE’s board as witches. I’m just saying.

November 8, 2010 6:35 pm

@ Mat

I think its swings and roundabouts with survivability. You could argue spreading the tonnage and weapons around in X of hulls is better. Or you argue concentrating everything into fewer precious eggs is better.

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
November 8, 2010 7:00 pm


You tart up one of the MARS replenishment ships (if they are ever built) to look like a CVF. Consequently any incoming missile would have a choice of what big bundle of chaff to attack.

The fact that said MARS boat would have a rough and ready flight deck and hangar would be all the better.

Survivability is a biggy.
The bomber / ex Russian hypersonic cruise missile will always get through.

However an 8″ armourd belt plus a heavily sub divided hull and lots of voids would see you through.

One question on the CVF’s any idea the installed cost of the GT prime movers? How much per MW? How does this compare with medium speed diesel?

November 8, 2010 7:10 pm

As usual I have just about skim read everything here so take my comment as you see fit.
Are we all in danger of thinking inside the UK box? My thoughts are increasingly turning to European NATO nations taking more responsibility for the Atlantic region from the yanks. Do the yanks still want to be STRKFLTLANT, or whatever it may be titled these days. Is it right to consider UK, or even Anglo French alone? If we look at the increase in ‘upmarket’ Fleet capabilities in Norway, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and the new out of area profile of the Swedish navy, it seems to me that the French and UK (strike) carriers form a centre for a very powerful European component of the NATO Fleet. Never mind national raiding. Has this been pre-planned?
We may argue the toss about UK capabilities and what will fly or wont but my guess is that there is a much greater strategic plan.
In no way do I offer this as a conspiracy theory but it has to be said that long term planning is c. 15 years with a 10 and 5 year update.

November 8, 2010 7:55 pm

Regarding the potential for a cock-up in the developement stages of the aircraft element of the equation(i.e.: F35B)
Would it not have been prudent to factor in some insurance to the tune of being able to operate an alternative aircraft from the outset?

November 8, 2010 8:10 pm

@ Alan

Space for cats and traps was included in the CVF design from the get go. One of the advantages of a bigger hull is more space for mod’s.

Somewhat Removed
November 8, 2010 8:43 pm

Far too much rumour here for my liking.

Said it before and will say it again. There is no easy solution. I hesitate to say we’re stuck with the carriers, but we are sort-of stuck with them, and I’m glad. If we lose the carriers, any justification for overseas power projection ops goes with them. Ergo retire the Type 45’s early as there is no viable expeditionary force to defend, unless we scale our ambitions to meet the Dutch and deploy one or two amphibs. Political leverage? What do the Dutch actually achieve by themselves with their 2 large amphibs and near-T45 capable DZP’s?

The discussion above remains overwhelmingly biased towards independent UK operations overseas. This hasn’t been realistic for many years, arguably since way before 1982 (we got away with that one despite the conniving French supporting the other side). We thunder on about independent this and UK battle groups that. Really?

There is much to suggest that European interests on the global stage are maturing towards a point where Anglo-European cooperation is both more likely and more desirable. Eurpoean remains a significant, if fractured economic power. The USA is already looking towards the Far East for its next supplier of raw materials and (correctly) is sizing up the competition. If Europe doesn’t get off it’s backside and start to shown an interest too, backed up by credible military power, then the US will discard us like a used Bic Mac wrapper and leave us to fight over the crumbs.

Is there anything fundamentally wrong with a vision that the CVF might just form a centrepiece of a true European battle group, which could go for a bit of an exercise in, oh I don’t know, the Malacca Straits? A bit of jointery with the Aussies? Hell, even some serious defence diplomacy with the Indians? The US will leave us behind as soon as it is in their best interests to do so. We’d better be ready.

Somewhat Removed
November 8, 2010 8:45 pm

And sincere apologies for the rather dreadful spelling in that post – I am suitably ashamed.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
November 8, 2010 9:01 pm

@SR Both Margaret Thatcher and John Knott would disagree with your portrayal of the French during the Falklands Conflict.
Sir John Nott, who was Secretary of State for Defence during the conflict, has acknowledged in his memoirs that “in so many ways Mitterrand and the French were our greatest allies”

Margaret Thatcher says of Mitterrand that “I never forgot the debt we owed him for his personal support…throughout the Falklands Crisis

Perhaps half the reason Europe does not interact more effectively is due to comments such as yours, especially when they are not justified.

November 8, 2010 9:21 pm

The debate over how UK maintains its claim of being a “world” power while gutting its military for reasons of social funding concerns is amusing to a Yank. I’m a US Navy veteran retired and always respected my Royal Navy brothers, but there is a point where the amazing shrinking Navy finally disappears as a major blue water player. I think you are there. Maybe you could hire the French to guard your coasts; or perhaps the Swedes.

November 8, 2010 9:28 pm

With carriers even simple things such as food have to be transferred at sea, a land based air base can simply buy locally.

How’s that coming on in Kandahar?

November 8, 2010 9:32 pm

Reddog said “Maybe you could hire the French to guard your coasts; or perhaps the Swedes.”

Perhaps the French could go into bat for you south of the border down Mexico way?

Phil Darley
November 8, 2010 9:35 pm

Mat et al the F35b does have serious issues as does the the other versions. The biggest problem is the exhaust nozzle generates sooooo much heat and pressure that it can only land on specially reinforced and heat resistant concrete!!!

That alone makes it a complete non starter. I truly believe it would make more sense to build an updated harrier

Phil Darley
November 8, 2010 9:39 pm

With regard to bad spelling. Can I apollogise for the bad spelling on all my posts!!! I am using my iPhone for most if the posts but it is mainly my poor typing skills

November 8, 2010 10:25 pm


Now there’s an idea.

I’ve always had the impression that the Navy really didn’t think much of the Harrier. Wonder how much it would cost to build a bigger version with better range, able to carry a better radar with 4 or 6 missiles?

As much as we’ve spent on the F-35 project & the projected cost of design & installation of cats an traps for the CV?

November 8, 2010 10:29 pm

@ TD.

I can’t really fault your arguments & the reasoning behind it.
The way you break it down, the decisions almost make themselves.

So my question is, can’t you get a job at MoD(N) & stop them from making us looking so effin daft? Please?

November 8, 2010 10:56 pm


My recent comment when telephoned by BT Business broadband: –

“I would like to thank BT for proving the existance of god. Its activities are proof positive of the existence of satan and his interfearence in the world of man, and thus of the existence of god. I would like to add that burning satans addeherents at the stake is a criminal justice policy that has perhaps, (given my recent experiences of my your service level), been unfairly dropped from the lists of approved sentences over the last 200 years.

So yes we can Burn BAE’s board as witches.


November 9, 2010 12:32 am


I’m glad to see you’re back on form with the analysis above.

As you say “we are where we are and CVF was the chosen option”. “Should haves” and “might have beens” are as much use as crying over spilt milk. In my view we would be better employed in examining ways in which to make the best of where we are.

We are building 2x CVF but intend to operate only 1.
We have agreed a Defence co-operation Treaty with France.


We try to forge an agreement with France whereby they buy our second CVF. This would be built to its current specification, with any changes required by the French, in British yards as currently planned.

In return we would buy from the French 2 ships of their Mistral class which would be built to their existing specifications, with any changes required by the RN, in French yards.

This approach would have the benefit of the ship construction being carried out in the most efficient manner and would have political advantages for both parties. As 1 x CVF would be valued at more than 2 x Mistral the difference would have to be made up in cash (or however governments pay one another) unless other suitable offsets could be identified. (Suggestions from this board?)

The acquisition of 2 x Mistral for the RN would enable Ocean/Illustrious, a second Bay (or even Albion/Bulwark) plus Argus to be de-commissioned. As an added bonus the RN could specify an ECMAT system to be fitted to the Mistrals to support UAV operations.

How does that sound?

(As an aside why all this sniping at BAe Systems? They are the largest engineering employer in the UK, the largest defence contractor in Europe and are able to compete with the American giants. Would people prefer that our taxes were spent providing high tech jobs in California instead?)

November 9, 2010 8:20 am

@ x

I appreciate that, I was referring to the media cries of increased costs due to the necessary redesign. I’m afraid I can’t remember which newspaper I read this in.

I suppose this is an example of the media latching on to one aspect of a story at the expence of the rest.

As always, thanks for putting me straight on that.

November 9, 2010 8:37 am

Actually this topic brings to mind a conversation I had with my (ex FAA) dad quite recently.
I put forward the opinion that the purchase of relatively large carriers makes the statement that the fleet is the prefered military platform.
Not so says he and proceeds to tell me that in his day (the 50’s & 60’s) the idea was that the RN would operate the carriers with the RAF operating the air wing.
According to him inter service willy waving and stroppiness got in the way, and it didn’t really get off the ground (pardon the pun.)

So I suppose that it’s not just the politicos who are at fault.

Sorry about the rambling nature of the above, I’m not great in the morning.

Phil Darley
November 9, 2010 8:52 am

Michael, the Harrier has two main problems:

1. It is very exhausting to fly

2. It’s a bastard to change the engine

The first has already been solved by tge F35 flight controls (actually tested on a Harrier).

That would leave a modest redesign of tge airframe to overcome the need to remove the wing to change the engine!!! At the sane time you could incorporate other enhancements like:

Extra fuel
Internal cannon
Increased weapons load

And how about operating from mistral LPHs???

Richard W
Richard W
November 9, 2010 9:28 am

It was reported somewhere that the MoD had spent £650,000 on a technology demonstration of an electric catapult. This was some months ago, so I have a suspicion that the MoD was moving away from the B version of the F35 even before the current government arrived on the scene. Weight problems has resulted in all the versions of the F35 not achieving their original weapon load expectations and version B, because of the lift fan, was always a heavier and more complicated aircraft.

A fleet of four Cavour platforms is an interesting idea but I do not believe that they come any cheaper than two CVF’s. Possibly a slightly cheaper upfront cost but in operations it would be four crews vs two, four sets of aircraft facilities vs two, and four sets of escorts vs two.

Interestingly a scenario of three or four Cavours combined with F35B isn’t a million miles different from Harriers onboard Illustrious/Ark Royal/Invincible. Did we have it right all along and whatever it was that made us wish for bigger ships is all a mistake?

But I think we are confusing the current financial difficulties with design considerations. If this week we were building four Cavour platforms someone from Treasury would be asking why the heck we needed four of them and they’d be cut back to two or one, or any number of them put into ‘extended readiness’. In short, no better a procurement programme than what we are getting.

November 9, 2010 9:42 am

Alan said “As always, thanks for putting me straight on that.”

I think we have all read so much and thought so much about all this that we are all slowly turning a bit silly. Ok in my case very silly. I am still convinced that T23 had space for a CIWS designed in………

November 9, 2010 12:41 pm

@ Admin – a very interesting speech given by general houghton in DC on the threat scenarios the SDSR was tested against:

well worth a read.

p.s. my own humble thoughts on the entente:

November 9, 2010 1:15 pm

just another thought ,instead of t26 could we not look at the dutch holland class OPV’S it looks the part 3750 tonnes’s some being built in romania (super structure) then floated to the netherlands to be kitted out , or what about the river class for anti-piracy/carribean patrol im afraid to say that we might have to look abroad to cut cost’s

Somewhat Removed
November 9, 2010 1:47 pm


Not sure the Holland class could replace the requirement for the T26 – although it’s a heavyweight OPV at almost 4000t it’s still just that, an OPV. T26 needs to have a greater range and more flexibility – I think the Holland is just a little too tight to allow it to conduct global operations on a sustainable basis. If the designers are clever about it the T26 will be much bigger but that space will give her the flexibility to adapt for different missions – installation of towed array sonars, space for cruise missiles or SSM’s, troop accommodation, relief supplies, bigger hangar for UAV’s, etc. Steel is cheap, air is free so if you can, build bigger than you need.

However, Type 26 seems to be the preferred way ahead for the Future Surface Combatant Type A and Type B requirement, but a vessel somewhere between the Holland and the River would be a good bet for the Type C requirement. I like the more utilitarian design of the River, but the Holland has some nice touches like the integrated mast and punchy 76mm gun on the front. The flight deck is necessary but the hangar isn’t – we don’t have the resources to deploy aircraft on something this small. We will need a decent working deck for the mine hunting equipment that will eventually provide our front line MCM capability, and possibly for the survey equipment that is envisaged for this class (though I’m not convinced FSC(C) is well suited for the survey role; surely better to have dedicated survey ships such as SCOTT, ECHO and ENTERPRISE with their advanced multibeam sonars).

The UK future requirement is for 2 designs; larger, globally capable escort and smaller utility hull. The Holland is a nice compromise between the two, but it’s not what we need.

November 9, 2010 2:02 pm

Percontator, now that is joined up thinking.

Would the RN get all huffy if they had to man a ship built overseas?

Phil, yes, something along those lines. Give the designers the money, the spec’s & then leave them alone!

However there is just too much pork barrel politics involved with defence procurement. Far too many favours have to be traded to get things done.

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
November 9, 2010 3:10 pm

SR @ 1.47

Given the projected size of our ocean going patrol fleet, 23 was bad enough but 19 is just about treasonable, we will need to pack the batting with something a bit tasty at the OPV level.

Consequently the Holland class to my mind would be a bit to small, keep it simple and as mentioned by TD previously leverage off the mountain of knowledge out there for a vessel based on the hull of an oil field supply vessel.

Looking at a fairly chunky vessel which woukld be cheap to procure and low running costs due to a small base crew that can be augmented as required to do specific missions.

125m wl x 22m x 4-5m = 5-6K tons
12MW = 22 knots
20MW = 25/26 knots
Medium speed diesel
6″ gun system at the pointy end / 2nd hand army if required.
GK CIWS providing point defence.
Basic sensor fit as standard, everything chunked / containerised.
Hangar and big flight deck, very basic facilities.
Pre drilled to take containerised VLS.
Tall mast with space to upgrade sensor suite.
Couple of small guns
Full fire fighting fit out.
Space in the hull to fit a mid market sonar.
Space in the back to fit a top of the range towed array.

Basic boat painted grey = £50mill.
That is a colonial sloop for the 21st century.
Stripper spec to fly the flag.
Sensor suite sparse with a second hand gun.
Ex Tribal class if need be.

That would get the boat onto the water, the next step is to try and make it useful, self sufficient.

Upmarket big gun.
GK CIWS although a 2nd hand Phalanx Block 1B would be OK
Integrated mast sensor suite.
Basic value for money sonar, again second hand if required.
Couple of 20mm / 30 mm guns.
RM detachment bring on-board their hand held weapons.
A/A missile and A/T missile to be fired from a platform above the bridge.

Competition between a company with a £30mill budget and a £50mill budget, winner takes all.

Base crew would be 30’ish
Basic mission crew would be 50-60.
Upmarket crew would be 80-100.
And that would include helicopter support.

The main thing is value for money.
Big and simple = Cheap to build and operate.
Main thing is that there needs to be a step change in RN value for money standards.

November 9, 2010 3:45 pm

i am agreed with percontator here, a fleet escort needs not only to survive in a high threat zone but also to protect the survival of high-value-assets in its care.

an OPV cannot do this.

sure we need a hi-lo fleet including more OPV’s, but they cannot replace the T26 in the role they will play.

for the long answer look here:

Somewhat Removed
November 9, 2010 3:52 pm


I can’t actually decide if you’ve just repeated what I suggested or countered it, and I think you need to brush up on the differences between FSC A, B and C. I would also tentatively suggest that your ideas for ship design are way too simplistic, with one possible exception.

TD – my apologies, we’re way off track here so I’ll move my post over to the original discussion page. FBOT, see you on the other side –

November 9, 2010 4:43 pm


The Mistral idea etc, is in my humble opinion the most practical way out of the mess we are in I have heard in the last few months! But it would probaly mean buying Rafeal which is not frankly that bad an idea.


May I point out to your critics a some published works I have lying arround somwhere(just went to look in the library can’t find them for full reference)

VStol the key to survival
Warship Construction
Future british surface fleet.

All published late 80’s early 90’s I believe

From them and some other sources it seems the idea of using large commercial hulls for CONVENTIONAL un-assisted by either cats or traps was looked at by UK designers, and thought to be perfectly practical in the early mid 70’s.

Figures like 35 000 tons 300 metres long Single, angled fightdeck, using swedish (Then Viggen) style flaired landings, squadron of 12, plus helicopters on each hull. Were being banded about. On simple container style hulls.

I have heard dark mutterings, that as we would have had to use Vigens or the then revolutionary F16, and it would stymie the Through deck cruiser, which looked so dashing compaired to overgrown cargo ship. The whole thing was not only not pursued from above from MOD who did not want carriers, but was activly rubbished by navy because it wanted “Propper warships, and the RAF for usual reasons.

IF we want to provide a presence to protect trade / keep our end up in anti piracy and carry out Siera Leone / Lebenon style Protecting/ evacuation of UK citizens etc. Big Simple and Cheap is exactly what we want.

The ‘propper warship mafia’ will always try to turn them into top notch warfighters, ready to face the Red Banner fleet when it sallies forth, (and they live in fervent hope that one day it will).

The idea that if you want to send a ship 12000 miles to take part in anti piracy opperations, it might be able to get there, sustain small boat and helicopter opperations for 1 month and get back again without needing to be refueled every week,seems revolutionary and would require ships of 15- 20000 tons.

But is the idea of a class of big Bay class sized ‘cruisers’ for want of a better term based on, (say) the Point class hull, so revolutionary?

I would bet the mortgage money they would rapidly become the hardest working ships in the Navy and would be cheap as chips to build and (with commercial deisels) to run.

Somewhat Removed
November 9, 2010 4:55 pm

Richard W,

Regarding EMCAT, was this the article?

Believe they’re successfully catapulted UAV’s as well, will try and find that article.

Somewhat Removed
November 9, 2010 5:01 pm
November 9, 2010 5:16 pm

DomJ said “A Carrier is fundamentaly not a container ship.
If nothing else, its floors need to be strong enough to hold a fully laden aircraft.”

Containers ships have to be immensely strong as their structure has to cope with the random loading of thousands of containers that can weigh up to 30tonnes. In many ways they are ideally suited for conversion to “other uses.” A Maersk E-class cost about $200million. Hull, engine, and hotel services cost 40% of a surface warship’s cost. HMS Ocean (built to commercial standards) on these numbers doesn’t look to good of a buy.

November 9, 2010 5:18 pm

@ Fat Bloke

What is “striper spec'” ? I am intrigued. :)

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
November 9, 2010 5:28 pm

X @ 5.18

Stripper spec is the spec associated with the base version in a car range.

Does the job, not flash and has little or no profit margin.
The job of marketing is to entice the customer upwards to higher priced models by offering all sorts of goodies for particular price points.

In the CVF debate I rthin automation has been used to get the customer interested in more up market versions of the basic CVF concept.

When it comes to value for money, if it involves actuaries, death rates and pension s 50 years in the future then the game is up.

If it doesn’t pay back in 3 or possibly 5 years then it is not worth it period.

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
November 9, 2010 5:35 pm

Ixion @ 4.43

Take a bow my man.
Size is the new black when it comes to warship design.

2 more T45’s no thanks.

Good = Go for T46’s at 12.5K tons and a second VLS pack.

Great = Go for the new proper QE / Warspite or Nelson / Rodney at 22.5K tons a second VLS pack, 2 x 6″ guns at the pointy end and tomorrows big idea an 8″ belt and 4″ armoured deck.

British Steel 1 – BAE Systems 0.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
November 9, 2010 5:39 pm

I beleive the whole pension costs of maintainer/operators for CVF is a red herring. We are talking a couple of hundred people max contained within the numbers already agreed in SDSR. The Navy is not going to grow by 200 people because we go cats and traps. The majority of them will be chalkheads from Squadrons being disbanded and greater numbers will go from elsewhere to make room for them. We would be paying the wages and pension to a warm body anyway.

November 9, 2010 7:19 pm

x said: “Containers ships have to be immensely strong as their structure has to cope with the random loading of thousands of containers that can weigh up to 30tonnes.”

Well I hate to tell you, but there is nothing “random” about how, or where containers are loaded onto a vessel, there is considerable thought that goes into it !

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
November 9, 2010 7:44 pm

TD Through life manning costs are looked at yes. My point is that if the manning can be absorbed within current force structure numbers and do not alter manning levels then should they be as big a factor? The 200 people will be getting paid regardless of whether they are strapping down SKASACs on Lusty or operating Cats and Traps on POW. Was the RN meant to lose 5,000 people plus the extra number required for a conventional carrier mod. If not the overall pay and pension liabilities of RN inc are not affected.

November 9, 2010 7:49 pm

Jed said “Well I hate to tell you, but there is nothing “random” about how, or where containers are loaded onto a vessel, there is considerable thought that goes into it !”

Now come on now. Do you think that I do not know this? I will explain. Container ships don’t run “full.” The heights of the stacks will vary from port to port depending on what is being moved where. Therefore the loading, the force and weight on the ship’s structure, is random. I am sorry I was using the term in an engineering sense.

Somewhat Removed
November 9, 2010 8:26 pm


The loading requirement is based on far more than just what’s coming off at the next stop. Weight distribution and lading are massively complex operations now and are almost exclusively computer controlled. It’s not random; it has to fit within specified loading and distribution parameters. Besides, isn’t at least some of the structural rigidity at least partially derived from the interlocking containers?

November 9, 2010 8:44 pm

FFS. Yes I know this too. Would you like me to define terms like hogging and sagging? Do you understand that a ship doesn’t have continual buoyancy? And no structurally rigidity isn’t entirely derived from the interlocking of containers. If you actually think that you obviously no clue about naval architecture.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
November 9, 2010 9:00 pm

Anyone having difficulty sleeping and wanting to further their knowledge of containership stress and loading should look at this excellent document.…/inhalt.pdf

Though sounds like X has his head in BR45

November 9, 2010 9:29 pm

OK OK Enough about container ships already!

They are big they are strong they are very very long (cue puppy).

Emma Mearsk could take a lot of aircraft ( I know the internal structure would have to be open but some ocean liners are open in the middle like a carrier and make the Nimitz class look medium sized at best)

But that would give us 150,000 ton ships with ranges of 12,000 miles +, at 22- 26 Knots, and space to take a fighter wing with thousands of tons of fuel and stores

No reason at all why it could not be done for 1 – 1.5 billion or so, (plus cost of Aircraft). (And price that includes the millitary kit, Radars self defence misiles etc.

Of course it would be built in one hit in europe or far east with Prime mover diesel.

That would not do at all would it?

Just playing fantasy fleet.

Phil Darley
November 9, 2010 10:20 pm

Admin, an excellent article as always. Politics killed CVF. It was meant to be 3 very large CTOL carriers. What followed was nothing short of politicos getting cold feet and inflicting a series of crazy short sighted cost cutting measures that over time diluted the original designs to the point
Where we have the current bastardised / compromised design. We ard now left with vessels that are so compromised (hull and bulkhead armour, missile defence. Command and control systems) and due to delays and last minute changes in design now cost twice as much as they should and deliver half or less than they should.

F35B is nothing short of a fcuking disaster. Thevdaft thing is that in the scheme of things the CVF is not that expensive but with all the other cock-ups the MoD have made means that money is now really short, which clowds the whole issue.

The political ping pong that we have in this country just destroys sensible long term / strategic planning and we get a series of short sighted decisions that make the whole thing farsical!!!

We really need

A: a true strategic review of what capability we want

B:a commitment to then fund that capability

If we don’t we get the cock up we have now, which us dubious capability at a very high cost.

The wost of all worlds

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
November 10, 2010 1:03 am


All modern container ships have a continuous lateral transverse bulkhead every 45′ from the double bottom up to the main deck level. Mostly it is a lattice structure but would not be difficult to plate it up.

This strength this set-up imparts into the main structure is one of the reasons the thickness / depth of the ship’s sides have been reduced even though the ships are getting longer.

Add slices of the deck / hangar structure on top and you have a pretty solid structure even before you start to add extra stiffening and armour.

All you need to do is arrange all the ships vitals / systems into 40′ long x 65′ wide x 60′ deep slices and away you go. The narrowness of the slices means that the voids either side can be filled with re-inforced containers to provide a basic torpedo bulkhead.

My tip for a second hand vessel to serve as a mild steel prototype would be the Maersk Brownsville, built in 2006 and has a centre engine room. Only issue is that its beam is only 32.2m at the water.

However her payload is 42K tons and she has been known to do 32 knots with 29 knots given as her maximum service speed.

nick the greek
nick the greek
November 10, 2010 5:04 am

The Argentinians are waiting. They really are – the calculation is that at some point in the next ten years there will be a time, however brief, of no significant operationally available British naval air forces. They know exactly what not to do with an occupation of the Falklands and now, how to garrison themselves for the very long, long term. If you appear weak, you are weak – even if it happens for a short period of time. This is precisely what inferior forces wait for – and they are waiting. It will only require a small window of time. Tread very carefully my British friends. Trying to pay for, and fix, the economic damage of the worst banking crisis of the past 100 years in a short amount of time is very ambitiousby the new govt. If it works people will say good job. Methinks one slip up will be very costly to undo. Don’t cut too deep. Selling one of your carriers to France will be looked at as the single biggest mistake of the British military in the 21st century.

November 10, 2010 8:16 am

“Selling one of your carriers to France will be looked at as the single biggest mistake of the British military in the 21st century.”

I would agree.

Fortunately the French are loath to purchase warships built abroad, and have already spent £100m buying access the CVF designs.

They would be daft to buy one of our QE class!

November 10, 2010 8:38 am

In 1982, the UK lacked the capability to attack the mainland.
In 1991, the UK liberated Kuwait by by destroying 94% of Iraqi electricity production.
In 2014, the UK will have the capability to attack the mainland and could destroy 94% of Argentine Electricity production in a single night.

There is no military weakness.
Its questionable if there will be the political will

November 10, 2010 10:54 am

I wonder what has happened to the Argentine military since 1982. Have they rebuilt and re-armed? Improved their amphib capability? I suspect not but no one ever points that out.

What we need is a coherent plan to bring the twin-carrier project to a successful completion. We should start from the position that we are stuck with them.

Michael (ex-DIS)
Michael (ex-DIS)
November 10, 2010 10:55 am

I have just noticed there are now two Michaels posting here. I have changed my signature block.

November 10, 2010 11:13 am

“I wonder what has happened to the Argentine military since 1982. Have they rebuilt and re-armed? Improved their amphib capability? I suspect not but no one ever points that out.”

Apparently 90% of their budget goes on wages, so effectively it is nothing more that an armed pension fund.

Phil Darley
November 10, 2010 12:00 pm

Just seen the news report on the article in the times by retired RN/RM top brass who were criticising the retirement of the Harriers snd Ark Royal. Their main argument seems to be that this leaves tge Falklands vulnerable.

This raises so many concerns in my mind:

There are many reasons to keep the Harriers going. Defending the Falllands is not really high on the list.

This analysis worries me, if this is all they can come up with, then I seriously question their judgement!!! As a result I can now see why the MoD makes stupid decisions. It’s given stupid advice from people who should know better. If that was not worrying enough, the thought that
abandoning carrier fast jets for ten years or more
is not considered a serious risk but that some bright spark in the future will not say hey… We’ve not needed carriers for over a decade why the fcuk do we need then now, let’s save 10 squillion and ditch the carriers and the over priced over hyped aircraft.

Phil Darley
November 10, 2010 12:44 pm

Yep that’s what I was eluding to. It does make you think that nobody in the military hierachy seems to know what they are doing.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
November 10, 2010 2:43 pm

I do not beleive they are doing more harm than good. The posters on this website are good at talking about the difference between missile and gun CIWS, direct electric v gas turbine propulsion and modular vs conventional construction this however is pure Politics. What the retired Admirals are doing is introducing into the Public domain the worst case scenarios and extreme views. Once these are out there they are out there. The current incumbents can distance themselves from these comments, “cant beleive Westy said that, did you read McAnallys bit?”
Inevitably no matter how outageous the claims the process prepares the ground at a Political level and when it is time for the Admirakty to make their views heard the reception is. ” A lot more sensible than those retired guys” “look how reasonable these new guys are”. it is a classical Political game that has been used for decades.

El Sid
El Sid
November 10, 2010 2:47 pm

Darley (12:00 pm)
I think I’d give them a bit more credit, I suspect this is as much about the mass media latching on to a soundbite about the Falklands rather than a detailed explanation of LNG tanker operations around the Arabian peninsula or the security of the Gulf of Guinea. That’s just the way of the meeja these days – and the quality of public discourse is the loser.

To be fair, the main thrust of their arguments is specifically about Harrier vs Tornado – if you can bear to read Lewis Page, he has a large chunk of the original letter to the Times at

It’s very much about fighting today’s war, it doesn’t really talk about future threats, nor about the good points of Tornado like its bomb load, range and ability to use sexy toys like Storm Shadow, dual-mode Brimstone and RAPTOR.

Also it’s interesting to note this
“Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what estimate he has made of the cost to the public purse of each flight hour of the (a) Tornado GR4, (b) Typhoon F2, (c) Harrier GR7, (d) Tornado F3 and (e) Harrier GR9. [13568]

Peter Luff: The estimated average full cost per funded flying hour is provided in the following table:

Aircraft Cost, financial year 2010-11 (£/hour)
£35,000 Tornado GR4
£37,000 Harrier GR7/GR9
£43,000 Tornado F3
£70,000 Typhoon FGR4 (previously known as F2)

These figures include forward and depth servicing, fuel costs, crew costs, training costs, cost of capital charge, depreciation and amortisation. The Typhoon cost per flying hour reflects the build up of the fleet with smaller numbers of aircraft currently in service; this cost is expected to reduce significantly over the in-service life of the aircraft.”

(I’ve rearranged the table a bit to make it more readable)

The big argument seems to be over this £1.4bn re-engining of the Tornados in ?2013, a one-off cost which seems to be what tips the generals in favour of the Harriers – comments anyone?

El Sid
El Sid
November 10, 2010 3:44 pm

@TD (12:21 pm)
That Guardian article is a load of tosh. From what I can tell, it seems to be saying nothing more than 4 years of Trident patrols in 2024-8 will cost £1.4bn. £350m/year for strategic deterrence seems pretty cheap to me, a lot cheaper than the cost of the alternative, sending out Vanguard-II’s. As an accompanying blog post points out :
“They say that overall the government is reducing the costs of Trident by £3.2bn. This involves £1.2bn savings in the next ten years and deferring £2bn until after 2020, figures that include the £1.4bn costs identified yesterday by Fox.”

Meant to say on the Falklands – Argentina is in a far worse position than us, they couldn’t invade Buenos Aires let alone the Falklands at the moment. They were going to buy the Ouragan & Orage, the French equivalent of Fearless and Intrepid “for humanitarian relief” a few years ago, but that fell through, ostensibly on asbestos grounds. More recently they’ve offered the Argies the Foudre LPD, but apparently they would rather use French help to build something locally :

At the moment the only credible threat to the Falklands would be some kind of pan-American cooperation using the Brazilian Navy and Venezuelan troops, but that ain’t going to happen soon.

Michael (Civ.)
Michael (Civ.)
November 10, 2010 5:43 pm

Gents, have you seen the latest from Babcock?

The changes required to enable F-35C to operate from the ships will cost an *estimated* £600-£800 Million for each ship.

I bet that the *estimate* is, in reality, over optimistic and the real cost will be a lot more.

At the start of this i think the estimate was £3.9 Billion for the whole project. The new estimate is around £7 Billion, so they only have another £1 Billion to go.

So i guess the rule still holds, if you want a real idea of what the cost of a given military project will be, just DOUBLE the original estimate.

All the talk of the ships being designed to be convertable is just that, talk. Also why would you buy a cheaper aircraft to save money & then spend that “saved” money on the ships themselves?

My god, every other Gov., Aerospace Company & Navy must be pissing themselves laughing at all this. Imagine the framed newspaper stories in offices & wardrooms all over the world.

I was actualy coming around to the view that the whole carrier project was just dragons teeth (along with a lot of other stuff), sowed by New Labour, however the decisions made by the Coalition Gov. seem even more insane.

@ Michael (Ex-Dis), i’ve added (Civ.) to my name so people know how to take what i say :)

Somewhat Removed
November 10, 2010 5:59 pm

Might I ask a more basic question of our esteemed posters?

Given the current situation, what, in your opinions, would have to change over the next 5 years that would either:

a) Lead the Government to believe that carrier-borne air power is no longer necessary given the UK’s place on the global stage (and thus make it politically acceptable to mothball or sell both hulls), or

b) Lead the Government to believe that the decision made by the SDSR to place the second carrier in Extended Readiness was in error, and that both vessels need to remain in active service.

These are of course the extremes left and right of the current intention, but knowing politicians they will likely lean towards the former where possible UNLESS something changes. The question is, what?

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
November 10, 2010 7:04 pm


Am I correct in surmising that you are afraid that their WONT be a deterioration of UK relations in the ME or a new emergent strategic threat?

To answer SR questions.

A) I doubt it would be Politically acceptable but if we decide to withdraw from Afghanistan. We either detach ourselves from US intervenionist policies or the US changes policy track. At this point the Government could decide that we would no longer want the capability to intervene into a theater that required any sort of opposed entry. Beef up the Falkland garrison using a rotating Battalion of troops returning from Germany, supported by a squadron of tanks and artillery company. Upgrade the 4 Typhoons to an entire squadron and you kill the idea of any Argentinian invasion stone dead, robbing the retired admirals of a public stick to beat you with.

B) The second question is a far more difficult one. We have been very poor at forecasting strategic shocks over the last twenty years. I suppose that Putin coming back as President in Russia and increasing tensions over Georgia/Oil/Gas combined with a Russian military build up and increased incursions would focus their minds. Increased Argentinian posturing in the South Atlantic but my solution at point A would be a cheaper way of combatting that. TDs point about the Middle East is valid. I obviously do not read enough techno thrillers.

Michael (ex-DIS)
Michael (ex-DIS)
November 10, 2010 7:06 pm

The admirals who wrote to the Times are, as usual, fighting the last war. In 1982, no one was looking at Argentina (and that includes the USA), so no one saw what they were getting up to. The only country in the Americas on the FO list was British Honduras. I would hope things are different today.

November 10, 2010 9:17 pm


a) nothing short of a full federal europe which would thus guarantee ‘sovereign’ access to the network of islands of previous colonial nations.

b) having afghan lifted from our back in a more benign financial climate.

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
November 10, 2010 11:49 pm

M – Civ

There is an element of reverse engineering in the cost increases being floated by the builders.

The have looked at the potential savings to be made by moving from the B version to the C version and then priced accordingly any changes they will have to make to allow this new aircraft to use the carriers.

You ahve to ask what we are getting for our £600 – 800mill per ship increase in costs?

The fact that they are asking for so much suggests that they feel they have the whip hand and the MOD is in dissaray over this late change.

£600mill – 4 x 25% split:

2,500 man years of white collar labour.
4-5’00) man years of blue collar labour
£150mill for new kit
125K tons approx of steel or steel equivalent.

Those figures are absurd.
Please do not tell me we are getting stung for the pension costs of contractor labour?
Are these companies still on final schemes or have they moved to money purchase?

As noted before you could build a complete commercially based CVF for that money. The lunatics really have taken over the asylum.

November 11, 2010 12:25 am

@Michael (ex-DIS)

With the rise of Brazil as a major economic power i am sure GCHQ and prob NSA have got a few SIGNIT listening stations on the Falklands just hoovering up any Radio Chatter, so we will know pretty quickly whats happening but the FO will stick their head in the sand (as usual) until its too late

November 11, 2010 12:48 am

It’s allmost done, the -B is dead so no more regrets about going cat and strap!!!

El Sid
El Sid
November 11, 2010 1:37 am

The Fiscal Commission in the US have no powers to do anything, but they’re influential – and in paras 46-47 they propose eliminating the F-35B and halving the buy of the other F-35’s ($133m/unit) in favour of more F-16’s ($40m) and F/A-18E/F’s ($80m) to save $9.5bn over 2011-2015.

Also note :

“Discussing the future role of the Marines in August, Navy Undersecretary Robert Work noted that the wider use of weapons such as guided rockets and mortars—projected to spread to low-end threats—could end the forward operations performed by Marine AV-8B Harriers, because of the vulnerability of forward arming and refueling points and other improvised bases.

In an amphibious operation, that could confine F-35Bs to the LHA amphibious warfare ships that support Harriers. But Work raised another issue: the increasing pressure on the space and weight capacity of the LHAs, as F-35Bs and V-22s replace aircraft half their weight. Even the new LHA-6/7 America-class ships, being built without a well deck to accommodate more aircraft and fuel, will be able to carry only 6-10 JSFs in a standard air combat element.

Subsequent ships are expected to revert to a well-deck design. In that case, the Marines’ goal for the JSF—that 420 of the Navy’s 680-aircaft order should be B-models, replacing AV-8Bs and Harriers—could be ill-matched to the deck spots available. ”

So, how’s that Cavour option looking without F-35b?
(incidentally, puts the cost of a Cavour at €1.5bn, so about £1.3bn over the last 10 years. I’d guess you’d be looking at £1.8-2.0bn adjusting for inflation? That’s without running costs or an airwing.)

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
November 11, 2010 11:45 am

El Cid

The marine utility carriers are hamstrung by the need to go through the Panama canal.

Strange given all the work ongoing to build a new set of locks.

Remove that and the vessel becomes much more capable, with a bigger flightdeck, greater hull volume and a larger aircraft capacity for little or no extra cost.

Again the issue of a commercial hull comes to the fore and a more economic medium speed diesel propulsion system for its 24kn top speed.

As it is now constituted the vessel is a fat n’ slow Essex class carrier. Consequently 70 years out of date and designed below what could be possible to make the CVN fleet look good.

Any idea on the hangar size?
Would 3500m2 be close to the mark?
How much extra space did the deletion of the stern dock free up?

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
November 11, 2010 4:24 pm

El Sid

Interesting stuff on the Cavour.

Eur 900mill for the basic ship
Eur 600mill for the electronics split into 2 different tranches.

Early 2000’s with a weak Euro, so looking towards £400mill / $1bill for the basic ship including its 4 GT’s.

Consequently it provides an interesting comparison with the CVFs. We could be looking a situation where that ship was put in the water for the cost of the re-design to put cats and arrestors on to the QE.

As always MOD economics gone mad.

Michael (Civ.)
Michael (Civ.)
November 11, 2010 6:32 pm

I’ve been wondering if the reason that they have decided to go for the F-35C is due to the future strength of the $ and the projected up front cost of that variant over the STOVL version.

I think i read on the bbc website a while ago that we (HMG), have a lot of US Treasury Bonds.
As in we have quite a lot of Dollars.
If the $ falls in relative value to the £ then it may make sense to go for the cheaper option of the C model, even though, when we actualy come to pay for them the cost will seem astronomical. Due to inflation in the US.

If this is the case, not sure if my reasoning is right, but if it is, then the decision to pay Babcock to convert the CVF’s means that the Gov. or MoD can pay Babcok in pounds instead of having foreign reserves flow out of the country.

Could this be a consequence of the start of what some people are calling the “Currency Wars” ?

Hopefully people will get what i mean even if my reasoning is incorrect, or backwards. :)

Michael (Civ.)
Michael (Civ.)
November 11, 2010 6:42 pm

Maybe i could put it this way instead.

We only hold so many $ as foreign reserve.

The cost of the F-35C will be lots & lots of Dollars when we come to buy them. Even though we will get some of the work, i think for things like this we have to pay in $’s.

Therefore if the Dollar falls in relative value to the Pound, we will need more Dollars to pay for the “cheaper” F-35 version.

Getting Babcock to convert the design means that we can pay them in pounds, keeping all those Dollars free for spending on the jets.

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
November 11, 2010 9:16 pm


We don’t pay for things out of the currency reserves.
We simply take GBP’s to a bank and they convert them into the currency we need at the going rate at the time.

If we are feeling a bit brave we can hedge the currency before hand if we think that the current rate is good / GBP is strong but is likely to weaken in the short to medium term.

The delta between the B and C versions of the JSF, although big to MOD and consequently big to the re-design costs the builders are trying to chisel out of the RN budget are small in the big scheme of things and will not affect the GBP – USD rate.

Somewhat Removed
November 12, 2010 7:43 am

El Cid,

Thanks for finding those articles – useful reading. Safe to say I think we jumped the F35B ship at just the right time – it’s a nice concept but technically unworkable, and no matter how many cooling fans they replace or tweaks they make, it’s still going to melt the decks when it lands. Harrier, I believe, carries a significant quantity of water ballast used to cool the exhaust when it lands vertically, and I seriously doubt the F35B has any spare weight capacity at all.

Losing the F35B does raise interesting questions for the Spanish, Italians and possibly the Australians. Without the prospect of a workable replacement for their Harriers, what are they going to do in 15-20 years time when the old bird finally gives up the ghost?

Somewhat Removed
November 12, 2010 8:04 am

Before anyone shoots me down, I meant the Aussie consideration to deploying the F35B off their Canberras in future. I know they haven’t got the Harrier!

Michael (Civ.)
Michael (Civ.)
November 12, 2010 2:42 pm


Thanks for setting me straight, i just thought there might have been an economic angle to it, not just technical issues.


The way Governments work, i bet that they are counting on someone else designing a replacement. As in, kicking that particular can down the road.

Mike W
November 22, 2010 7:07 pm

An interesting piece of news, which I came across today on “Defense News”. Apparently Lockheed Martin has received a contract to manufacture 31 F-35 aircraft for the U.S. and U.K. That number will include 16 STOVL F-35B Lightning aircraft for the Marine Corps, four F-35C carrier variants for the (U.S.) Navy, 10 F-35A conventional landing jets for the (U.S.) Air Force and one STOVL aircraft for the British Royal Navy. The Pentagon made the announcement on 19th November.

What intrigues me is why there is an order of one(!)STOVL aircraft for the Royal Navy. I thought we had already received the three ordered for trials. It’s probably of little or no significance but could there be a secret, fiendish plan to form a pocket-size ‘B’ version force to succeed Harrier? Some hopes! What could be the possible explanation for this, though, after the “B” version has been renounced by us?

December 15, 2010 9:35 am

This is the last of three F-35B already ordered. They have asked for it to be changed to a ‘C’ model and LM is considering this. On another point what now is the UK going to do with two or three F-35B’S ?

December 15, 2010 9:48 am

Hi Jimsw,

RE “what now is the UK going to do with two or three F-35B’S ”
– sell them on to Italy who haven’t given up on the navy aviation equipment plan
– that said, I think the ‘B’ will be cancelled and a lot of rethinking around the world will be needed (incl. the USMC)

December 15, 2010 10:14 am

Sell them cheap no doubt. I did consider that they could be used as part of an OCU presuming there basic controls were similar to the F-35C version.

December 15, 2010 10:44 am

Hi Jimsw,

I had a similar thought, but more like trialling from how small platforms could one deploy such aircraft, prior to foreward basing on shore.
– that would be for the next-gen, of course

As there is no two-seater and vertical manoeuvres are the trickiest, an OCU would be a sure way to crash them. (The Indian Navy Harrier fleet has been depleted to half of its original strength.)