Small Carriers or No Carriers

It is USN focussed but Navy Matters has an interesting post on cost increases on the Ford Class and the potential of smaller carriers.

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Might be interesting to throw the QE design into the mix



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Aussie Johnno
Aussie Johnno
July 2, 2013 7:07 am

What is fascinating about this is`the US even having the discussion.
Really is sign of the times.

July 2, 2013 7:46 am

I think a CVF style PA2 type carrier would be ideal for US requirements. They could afford to operate a fleet of 30 of them on the current carrier budget.

USA defence procurement is a prime example of the budget never being enough even when its the same as the rest of the world combined. What’s needed is a little better thought from the military and moving away from gold plating everything. Maybe the $400 million dollar speed boats will be next for the chop :-)

Rocket Banana
July 2, 2013 8:05 am

If the USN can only afford six CVN then, six CVN it is… or not, maybe, just maybe, they think it’s important to have numbers so that they can sustain these things “on task”. What an interesting idea. Shame the Royal Navy didn’t think about that one ;-)

Anyway, six CVN, six America and six Wasp to go with their 6 MEUs and 9 CVWs doesn’t sound too bad. Why build 10-12 CNV if you don’t even have the aircraft to go on them?

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 2, 2013 10:33 am

The US have this exact discussion every 15-20 years or so. After a 3-4 year period of soul searching and studies, the answer tends to pop up again, CVN is the way to go.

What people are forgetting with the price tag is that it is the first “new” design in forty years and that a considerable amount of money is going into the R&D that supports it. Not least the significant reduction in crew numbers (over 2000 less bodies aboard?) which requires some serious thought about the ship systems.

There is also the inflation effect. If you assume that “defence” inflation (because it’s not subject to the price depression that Chinese imports have brought to the wider economy) is something like 5 or 6 percent, then CVN76 cost $4.5Bn, CVN77 cost $6.2 Bn six years later and CVN78 would cost ~$9Bn seven years after that. Except that it’s a new design and therefore you get risk and NRE everywhere – not least as it has a new reactor design as well. Our friends aren’t the most efficient shipbuilders either. You only have to look at the levels of outfit in QEC compared to that on their CVN to get a flavour of that. Hence $13Bn or whatever.

The question is whether it’s worth spending that amount to get your 200 sorties a day for three days or whether you buy smaller ships and accept less. The implicit assumption in that is that the smaller ship would be significantly cheaper and I suspect the answer is “not”. You’d still probably spend $2bn designing one from scratch with another $8Bn to build and you’d end up with a ship that was less capable, required more log support and would not be able to expand capability if required.

July 2, 2013 1:05 pm

Not A Boffin is correct that the USN has had this discussion periodically and the conclusion is always the same. What’s different this time is that cost effectiveness (and sortie rate, aircraft capacity, bunkerage, etc..) is no longer the main criteria. It’s now simple purchase price. A single carrier consumes essentially an entire year’s shipbuilding budget. The fleet is steadily declining in numbers because of this. Carriers have become too expensive to build. Also, the cost figures in the article are for procurement only – R&D is excluded. So these are actual construction costs. The USN hopes to build the follow on carriers of the class for less but they always hope that and it never happens. The USN had 15 carriers just a couple of decades ago and we’re down to 10 (9 operational) now. The Navy has announced that due to annual construction costs, the construction cycles will be stretched out to 7 years from the current 5 which, long term, puts the carrier force level at 7. So, you can see that carriers are quite literally pricing themselves out of existence!

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 2, 2013 3:00 pm

By R&D, I mean the first of class costs and similar NRE. That’s almost certainly in what you’re describing as construction costs. It won’t include things like EMALS/EARS development or the new radars.

It is true that the fleet is declining in numbers. However, that is actually due to your overall shipbuilding costs, rather than carriers per se (although they are the most visible example). It is unfortunately endemic to the way western militaries currently specify, design and build their ships – or more accurately how infrequently they do it. You need only look at LPD17, DDG1000 and the Flight III Burkes to see that something will have to change – it isn’t just carriers. The only USN programme that has run anywhere near a sensible budget is the Lewis & Clark, largely because NASSCO went and imported a lot of productivity techniques from Korea.

Interestingly, we have been here before. The whole CVV debate in the mid-70s was based on the premise that CVN were not affordable and would lead to a huge drop in carrier numbers post-Vietnam. That didn’t happen because the Reagan administration did some relatively sensible things like multi-year purchases, SLEPed the CV59s and kept a 3-4 year interval between deliveries, so the numbers kept up. That kept you with 13 carriers in 1980, building to 15 in 1990. Trouble was, the required Peace dividend let to a slow-down in order rate coupled with an increase in optempo that means ships are wearing out faster than they are replaced, which partly explains what you’re seeing now – a vicious circle, exactly like that of the late 70s. Funny old thing, that was at the @rse-end of a long drawn out asian land war as well. Back then we were slightly luckier in that there was a highly visible existential threat, which publicly stated as such.

Getting out of the current pickle is not going to be solved by building smaller ships, because you’ll find that you can’t afford to crew more of them to deliver the same effect, or you’ll end up paying 75% of the cost of a CVN to get 50% of the capability and losing out in overall capability. You are correct that stretching out the construction cycle won’t fix it though. What is needed is a very hard-headed look at where that money is actually going in the programme and working out how to reduce it. That applies equally to the other force elements. AB Flight III is going to be a lot more than $2.5Bn a copy, working on an existing hull and systems design (which incidentally should be a warning shot for those wanting various T26 and T45 variants!).

The problem with DoN (as with the UK MoD) is that they really have no idea where the money is going and how to control it. That’s the issue that needs addressing (not by GAO or similar, but by a real technical authority with a remit to dig deep) and soon.

Mike wheatley
Mike wheatley
July 2, 2013 4:50 pm

NaB: yes!
Now, how do I vote you in as Minister for Defence?

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 2, 2013 4:59 pm

You don’t. It’s Maximum Leader for Life that I’m after!

Chuck Hill
July 2, 2013 10:32 pm

In the US we have a situation where the inflation in the shipbuilding industry is higher than the cost to borrow money so it would be cheaper for the US to borrow the money now and start construction as soon as possible and pay it off over the long term ,

July 3, 2013 8:47 am

“Lewis & Clark”

Gosh yes please, 6 of, soon as. Ta.

Two things about US ship building. It shows that you can have problems even with an old design such as the AB’s. And it shows money just isn’t the answer if you don’t know the question, see the Little Crappy Ships.

I am going off to think of some names for my new class of L&C stores ships for the RFA. I thinking of a Spanish theme; San Carlos, Gibraltar………….

John Hartley
John Hartley
July 5, 2013 6:44 pm

Browsing through Flight International, there was an article saying the US Marines are looking at increasing the combat radius of the F-35B by using V-22s as tankers. The refuelling gear would be on a pallet slid in & out when needed. Ideal for the FAA, I would have thought. V-22 are expensive, but a few off-the-shelf that can do COD & air refuelling, would be useful.

July 5, 2013 7:33 pm

“Ideal for the FAA, I would have thought.” – Podded AEW would be nice too but what with the rising price of ministerial limos I can’t see it happening.

July 6, 2013 7:03 am

Some more rumours on the F35B SRVL trials and speculation on initial orders and basing:

Sounds probable though…

July 6, 2013 7:31 am

Not sure if this has been posted already, but a recent video on the CVF:

If you believe the Assembly Director the CVF can do 32kts (1:30 mins in) – probably empty.

July 6, 2013 9:27 am

Thanks everyone for all the carrier-related loveliness. I note it’s the marines and SF expressing an interest in aar Ospreys not the USN – have the latter even taken up their option yet?

In the CVF video Assembly Director Stuart Leonard stated the ship will do 32 knots. He is either mistaken or has since been shot for revealing classified information. As might I now. Perhaps he was getting ahead of himself and referring to batch two – Ark Royal.

The three initial F35s on CVF seems very improbable to me – they have only basic flight software; block 2 software requires hardware upgrades. I suspect these airframes are destined to become museum displays.

Rocket Banana
July 6, 2013 12:08 pm

If it still has only 80MW going to the props (4 x 20MW converteam drives) then I really don’t see 32 knots.

Apparently the same guy says 67,000 tonnes.

July 6, 2013 2:01 pm

I think people are missing the point.

The question was small carriers or no carriers.

Big carriers are £ for lb much cheaper than small ones. But if we /US can only afford small ones……

The unit cost of even elephants is much less than a Ford class. If Elephants are deplored as originally planned: – 30 odd F35 C, they can do 90% of the real job of a Ford then you can have 10-15 for the cost of operating the Fords. Even if you take in the manning issues. The bigger is best, leads to the 6-9 big carriers the us will end up with. If that’s enough fine.

In our case we have hugely overpaid for 12 fighters at sea on one carrier, (forget all the CGI bollocks of 2 UK carriers sailing in a united taskforce with 30 planes on each.) If we had started with that position we would have saved a lot of time and trouble: – And ‘walloping great loads of cash’……

So biggest is best. But what if you can’t afford biggest?

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 6, 2013 2:25 pm

He’ll be talking about trials speed at start of life, I suspect. Service speed will be less, depending on how heavy she gets.

July 6, 2013 4:13 pm

” If Elephants are deplored” – Dodgy spellchecker or a freudian slip? :-)

Rocket Banana
July 6, 2013 5:27 pm


Come on? No way is that ship going to do anything like 30 knots with only 4 x 20MW drives even if she starts out at 50,000 tonnes?

It takes 80MW to get a 27000t Cavour to 28-29 knots and 72MW to get a 20000t Vince to a similar speed. It also takes near on 200MW to get a Nimitz to 30-32 knots.

Unless someone is being very sneaky and putting 6 x 20MW drives in (which is what she really needs)?

I doubt you can “either confirm or deny this” ;-)

July 6, 2013 5:49 pm


Freudian ship :)

Chuck Hill
July 6, 2013 8:33 pm

Both the Iowa Class battleships and the Midway class Carriers required 212,000 HP (158MW) to reach 33 knots. Half that should be good for 29. Maybe they have managed to up the HP of the motors. There is, I believe, 150MW of generators on board.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 6, 2013 8:37 pm


Look up Mr Froude…….

I can confirm that there will not be six motors and she’ll be plenty north of 50k when she does trials. Whether she gets to 32 is debatable, but yer man there should have a reasonable idea.

Rocket Banana
July 6, 2013 9:01 pm


With all due respect (and I do mean that), I have read up on Mr Froude. His law is about the wave front that’s pushed before the ship, the propagation of which, turns out proportional to the square root of the hull length. But doesn’t the main drag come from the dynamic pressure (1/2 . roe . V2 . Swet) and skin friction which rise with the square of the velocity. The power is unfortunately proportional to the cube of the velocity. Unless physics changed recently.

So, is there something very, very clever going on with the antifoul you put on these new ships?

Or… is there something seriously draggy at low speeds that goes away at higher speeds?

I’ve been concerned about this for a while now because CVF is the only ship that I’ve ever come across that does not fit the mould. I didn’t study ship science (that chap who lived opposite me did though and we shared a lot of lectures). I see no mention of Froude in this MAN Diesel and Turbo – Basic Principles of Ship Propulsion. I do however see an interesting “Admiralty coefficient” which seems more in keeping with my understanding of drag and energy conservation.

I studied fluid dynamics for a few years and get irritated by these things – most notibly my own memory ;-)

July 6, 2013 10:06 pm

Chuck, did the Iowa or Midways have a bulbous hull form?

Chuck Hill
July 6, 2013 10:18 pm

“Observer July 6, 2013 at 10:06 pm, Chuck, did the Iowa or Midways have a bulbous hull form?”

No, but my understanding is that the gains of a different hull form are important over the life of the ship, but relatively small in absolute terms.

The other part of my comment was that the ship has enough hoursepower to make 32 knots, it is only the drive motors that are a limitation and this is an area that is advancing rapidly so perhaps they will actually be able to deliver more than 20MW each.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 6, 2013 11:13 pm

The relative importance of frictional resistance decreases above a certain Froude number, after which, it’s all about residuary resistance (principal component digging a large hole in the oggin and towing it behind you).

I know what she’s supposed to do at end of life, deep and dirty. Given the displacement growth margin in the ship, I can see how she might get above 30 on trials at start of life.

Iowa and Midway had a Taylor bulb, which is nothing like the bulb on QEC.

July 7, 2013 8:48 pm

Speaking of small carriers, as I’m sure we were at some point, there’s not much margin for error here:

– I see what you did there, very good.

Sgt Pep
Sgt Pep
July 9, 2013 8:12 am

What are the military plans for Britain’s two aircraft carriers currently under construction?
Will both of them be operational? And how many fighter aircraft are they expected to have on board?

If there will be only one carrier with 12 F35 then does this justify spending billions building and maintaining these ships and their aircraft?

Will the aircraft carrier be useful for anything other than bombing defenceless 3rd world countries? And even then the number of sorties per day will be extremely low.
Wouldn’t the estimated £10 billion plus budget be better spent in other capabilities such as increasing the Astute submarine fleet and properly equiping them with long range cruise missiles?

In a war against a major power this carrier will be a sitting duck which will be sunk within a few days. I doubt it would even be deployed in such a scenario.

July 9, 2013 9:35 am

Sgt pep

Stop it. If you’re going to come to this site. Asking reasonable questions and stating the blindingly obvious to those of us who can count…

The square jawed sons of Nelson and the carrier junkies will get you…

The carriers arn’t for fighting wars. They are for sailing arround in, shouting to ‘lesser nations’ ‘look at the size of my flight deck’…

July 9, 2013 9:40 am

@Sgt Pep: present plans are to buy 48 F35B. That would allow 12 to go to sea on whatever carrier is deployed, given that 2 carriers won’t sustain one up front all the time. It will also allow for emergencies the ability to deploy both carriers and say 30 F35B for something like the Falklands, since for those just one carrier would carry large risks.

The aircraft would be maintained whether the carriers exist or not, so their costs are largely irrelevant to the debate. The carrier manning ex the airwing is 750, which is about a quarter of the same requirement for the Nimitz, and so the running costs are low.

Submarines can destroy and deter, but cannot escort or power project. We cannot go up against China directly, but we would never assume we could. We need the capability to protect a suface task group at sea more than a couple of hundred miles from an airbase, and be able to move a battalion sized marine unit in one lift. For those requirements, a couple of CVF are just fine and dandy, and would have come in on budget if the government didn’t keep changing the requirements or extending the schedule :-(

July 9, 2013 9:56 am

@sgt pep – some scenarios for you

+ Peacetime/Low intensity Ops – 1 Carrier +12 F-35Bs + supporting helos
+ Low-level intervention ala Serria Leone – 1 Carrier + 12 F-35Bs + Apaches + Wildcat + Merlin/Chinook
+ Coalition Op ala Libya – 1 Carrier + 30 F-35Bs (from the UK and possibly other nations) + supporting helos
+ Major War Scenario ala Falklands or Gulf War – 2 Carriers, 1 in Carrier mode, 1 in LPH mode

2 Carriers allow to maintain one at a deployed or ready to be deployed state.

Have they cost more than they should of done – yes. But at this stage its a choice between them or nothing.

July 9, 2013 10:32 am

Ref: 48 F-35B Order

I was under the impression that this is just the initial order? Once the initial Squadron’s are established, then we should see, small orders being placed regularly over the coming years.

Better to do that, than placing a one off huge order that you can’t get out of. At least this way you could easily increase orders if their was a cause to do so.

July 9, 2013 11:25 am

General consensus is thst the UK will order between 70 and 100 F35Bs eventually. Enough to equip a 3rd CVF also :)

July 9, 2013 12:20 pm


If we got 3 (with all the supporting infrastructure, underway support ships. air and sea protection), then I would love to have 3 with 24 + fighter bombers on each (which is about the max 100 fighters could achieve). But we aren’t, nor anything like it so they’re white Elephants.

‘Have they cost more than they should of done – yes. But at this stage its a choice between them or nothing.’

Never a truer word spoken on these pages unfortunately.

July 9, 2013 1:18 pm

Considering there were only 12 or so Tornado (ramp space a limitation but they weren’t there for the fun of it) in Afghanistan and FJ numbers on Op Ellamy ran to 24-ish deployed to Italy then CVF setting off to sea with 12 doesn’t seem so bad. And if all goes to plan there will be 24 if needed. And even more perhaps in the future not just ours but probably USMC aircraft too. Let’s not forget 36 odd FJ is more than most nations can field anyway. And if they can field that many they won’t be state of the art aircraft like F35b.

And this phrase “supporting helicopters” infers to me a secondary role. Believe me there is nothing secondary about a Merlin ASW. It’s biggest flaw at the moment is no AShM. The Italians have equipped theirs with Marte/Sea Killer. (There is a picture on the web somewhere.) So equipped Merlin would be a good match against most smaller navies’ ships; in numbers it would be a battle winner.

What you all have to do is stop thinking in terms of mini-CVN and carrier strike. For a site that bangs on about naval modules I find it odd that the most modular of all ships is being dismissed as a waste.

EDIT: The reason why CVF is being procured is because the Navy found the Invincibles to be useful. More of the same will just multiply that usefulness and allows us to be better ally to the US.

EDIT: Of course saying that more ships of all kinds are needed to…….. :)

All Politicians are The same
All Politicians are The same
July 9, 2013 1:37 pm

Simon if it takes 200MW to get a Nimitz to 30-32 what does she use for the next 6-8kts. Max speed is a weird combo to so with hull, length form etc. Better paint and a trick transom saw T23 got from 28 to 32 kts, yet have served at sea on an older one that could not top 24kts just before her refit.

All Politicians are The same
All Politicians are The same
July 9, 2013 1:50 pm

Sgt Pep/Ixion

The fact is that a 65k tonne floating piece of territory is useful and flexible, deployable and supplyable over its life time of many years. This is a platform that could sail in 2022 as a single unit with 12 F35B and a couple of SAR Cabs but in 2040 after a period of building tensions sail in 2040 as a pair or 2 CBGs with a mixed bag of F35B and maybe even UCAVs and Merlin ASW replacements.
You are paying for that flexibility. As for sitting duck in a major conflict, who exactly are we going to fight on our own and if you do not think even a single CVF with 24 F35B and a squadron of Merlin onboard along with state of the art T26 and T45 escorts is a serious addition to a force even for the USN then i give up.

July 9, 2013 2:04 pm

x – re ‘supporting helos’ – a convenient (but inaccurate) shorthand for those a/c on the CVF that aren’t pointy war planes.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 9, 2013 2:30 pm

“with all the supporting infrastructure, underway support ships. air and sea protection), then I would love to have 3 with 24 + fighter bombers on each (which is about the max 100 fighters could achieve). But we aren’t, nor anything like it so they’re white Elephants.”

Which bits are missing then?

Infrastructure? Portsmouth dredged and NB power grid enhanced to cope with both ships. Happening.

Underway support ships? MARS tankers on contract, Solid Stores ships in service, new ones currently with NDP and projected ISD mid-20s.

Air & Sea protection? T45 in-service, Astute in service. Merlin CSP in progress, Crowsnest in Core programme – FOC2023, T26 in Core. 48 F35B expected to be ordered this year. More to come.

There are a number of things that we’d all like to be improved. More ships in total, a more capable AEW platform, T26 to be definite rather than pre-MG and most of all, no more nonsense about F35A. They’re not going to happen right now, but so what?

However, by 2025, the RN will be able to put a carrier group together that has 4-6 high-end escorts with very good ASMD and ASW capabilities, a direct support SSN, an UNREP group for both POL & solids, ASW dippers, an AEW cab and somewhere north of 24 f/w.

If we buy more F35B as opposed to going down the A/C route, then by the end of that decade, we’d be able to field two groups like that sequentially, or even as a short duration one-off. Quite frankly, that’s the only major risk and it’s absolutely nothing to do with the ships. That one lies squarely in the hands of the Defence Board and if they are daft enough to go with the A, then we deserve everything we get. One thing is for certain, smaller ships would have cost broadly the same, but would never have the potential to be further developed if needed.

July 9, 2013 3:20 pm

@ Tom

Well save your fingers and drop the word supporting…………. :)

July 9, 2013 3:55 pm


We have (roughly) at the moment and planned, the ability to support One carrier on a long term deployment with a full air/ asw protection and maybe just 30 aircraft, at a maximum effort Falklands type situation. for say 6- 8 weeks.

As far as 2 concerned we would strain every rivet of every ship we had to get both to sea, with perhaps one as LPH.

In order to send one in harms way. and keep it there for more than a few weeks we need 3; and triple of everything that goes with them.

AND Mars
AND the crews
AND the fuel
AND the ammo filling their silos, (we can’t even fill the silos on the ones we have) ,
AND the spares,
AND AND AND ……etc etc.

I see no sign of a logistical/ support/ defence tail that size. And I mean really that size, not floating ‘on paper’. Not ‘proposed’ not ‘fitted for not with’, not ‘we could have for a bit more money in due course’ etc.

To use the 2 elephants as anything else than Invincibles’ on steroids. (In effect powerful ASW , but limited self protection, limited strike capable platforms, (perfectly ok idea:- useful in itself, but boy did we over speck the things and get screwed on the price for that)); is to court disaster, and would be outside of the scope of our logistical/defence capability.

Not even the most smacked up carrier junky on this sight has suggested we could support more than 2 short time maximum effort.. If you are suggesting for just a bit more cash etc we could….

That is a big statement. and at first sight fully in the fantasy fleet category.

BTW spot on about f35a buying, that would be a stupid decision. but its the RAF so hey ho.

July 9, 2013 4:13 pm


In effect Elephants are for beating up people who are not ‘too hard’ and for hiding behind the skits of a CVN when it comes to real fight. In effect then Invincibles on steroids… In which case the hulls are massively overspec’ed.

All Politicians are The same
All Politicians are The same
July 9, 2013 4:49 pm


I stopped taking you seriously when you suggested you needed 3 SSN to support a single CVF deployment, oh and 3 crews for more than a few weeks for every vessel you listed. i have done a few 7 and 8 month deployments, you? You do realise that tankers and ships do not obtain stores from the “motherland” and ship them out anymore. The simple fact is that by the mid 20s we will be able to deploy a CVF with a 5th generation fighter world class escorts, a good AEW and slogs facility. Giving us an incredible asset. If the political situation changed we could by spending more money make it even better.

You love to make a list of worse case requirements and then pretend if it was really worst case we would not actually commit those requirements. A CVF with 24-30 F35B 4-6 AEW cabs 2 SAR cabs escorted by 2-3 T45 and 4 -5T26 is a massive effort especially when supported by 2 Astute 2 MARS and 1 solid stores ship but it is also a massively powerful strike group in its own right. Not hiding behind anyones skirts simply dividing enemy strike power!

July 9, 2013 4:53 pm


Has been said lots of times now the expensive bits in CVF would still cost the same if we had bought something Cavour size. The point is CVF gives us space. Have you seen the size of Merlin? SHAR was a tiny plane and the Invincibles were small carriers; I wouldn’t attempt to land on. The UK made good use of the Invincibles and all that is happening is we are building on that success. It isn’t new. It is unproven. It is fulfilling a defence need we already have. The money problems are due to politicians. Any problems with the F35b force structure will be purely down to the need to keep lots of light blue uniforms (outside pilots which are a different matter) involved in expeditionary warfare; we are all purple don’y you know?

I can’t remember have you have drawn up a general UK orbat for us?

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 9, 2013 5:01 pm

I don’t think anyone has ever suggested that QEC was aimed at sustaining a carrier group on ops 24/7/365. We can’t (nor do we plan to) do that with a Bde sized land deployment or an equivalent EAW, so why should we plan to do that with a carrier group? So the “rule of 3” can go in the bin – works fine for permanent tasks, but not for “contingent tasking” which is what the carriers are actually for.

What we are getting is the ability to put a carrier on a long-term deployment – there’s no reason why that couldn’t be north of three months, with a recovery period on return – and do so relatively frequently, as in at least once per year per ship on average. That ship will be able to do far more than a CVS simply because it is large enough to do so from the off. Something that no-one else can actually do other than the USN. That buys real presence and also real influence with the US, NATO, the EU, the UN and others.

I’d be interested to know which bits of it you think are “over-specced” and how that contributed to the actual cost. Remembering of course that one of the reasons that the flightdeck is so large is to allow it to conduct air ops with a significantly reduced number of chockheads. The principles are lifted straight from what the USN is doing with their new ships and will give real savings in op costs.

July 9, 2013 5:50 pm

CVF may be a good starting point, but I do agree with IXION about the over-specc’ed part.

– All-electric propulsion (adds lots of $, volume & weight)
– Design (over?) emphasis on maintenance & survivability leads to lots of unusable volumes (3 meter high decks, side galleries, large underwater protective boxes…)
– Margins for future growth (e.g. CTOL) that turned out to be a waste of time & money
– Modular construction (for political reasons) which led to increased size & cost

End result: lots of added structural weight and a very large and rather expensive hull, with a poor payload-to-displacement ratio compared to the 1970s CVV or the French PA2 Romeo designs. Not sure the lower operating costs (if they actually pan out) will make up for all the extra upfront investment (steel may be cheap, but design & fit-out costs for all those extra tons do add up).

July 9, 2013 5:52 pm

“Has been said lots of times now the expensive bits in CVF would still cost the same if we had bought something Cavour size.” – Must admit it took me awhile to get my head around that. For a time I would drift off to sleep mumbling:”Steel is cheap…refits are expensive…” Sank in eventually; but then I have a mind which is open, you see.

– “I was under the impression that this is just the initial order?” – That is indeed the impression that HMG wanted everyone to get. ;-)

July 9, 2013 6:08 pm

BTW, these Joint Strike Fighters which are going to be operated jointly by a joint force – what will their livery look like? I imagine a Tommy Cooper-like paint job, RAF down one side, FAA down the other.

July 9, 2013 6:10 pm

H_K said “All-electric propulsion (adds lots of $, volume & weight)”

How so? Once you start to move 10,000t through the ogin weight and volume for various the propulsion systems come in about the same. Just it is distributed through the hull differently.

July 9, 2013 6:11 pm

Edit: Er, perhaps not just like that!

All Politicians are The same
All Politicians are The same
July 9, 2013 6:19 pm


It is actually an IEP system.

Care to demonstrate by offering a viable alternative how it either takes up more space or weight than an alternative?

CTOL conversion costs were considered long before a viable non steam/nuclear system was available so actually added little to construction costs but massively added to any future conversion costs.
where would you have built it in 1 place and (ignoring the cost increase caused by a delay which had nothing to do with modular construction) carried over from T45, how much would you have saved.
Bearing in mind the delayed construction in 1 site would have far larger impact on the local economy.
As for lower operating costs.

1. IEP is extremely fuel efficient.
2. SOC has been approved so manning saves massively.
3. 3M high passageways and extra space, flight deck space add flexibility. Look at the size difference in modern aircraft. space is worth a fortune in a ship with a 40 year life design. Ever been in the 2087 suite or computer room on a T23 and imagined what they looked like when first built?

July 9, 2013 6:38 pm

Now your being obtuse and I suspect deliberately so. No I am not suggesting 3ssn etc nor anything like it!

If you need say 2 T45 and 2 t26 and 1SSN and 1-2 MARS and stores for a single carrier group: – Then for 3 you need the same again twice! Because if your Elephant is in dock /refit/ leave /training etc; then so is its ‘covering force’. Ok the supply ships may stay on station a lot longer.

‘A CVF with 24-30 F35B 4-6 AEW cabs 2 SAR cabs escorted by 2-3 T45 and 4 -5T26 is a massive effort especially when supported by 2 Astute 2 MARS and 1 solid stores ship but it is also a massively powerful strike group in its own right’.

I wouldn’t disagree with the ‘effort’ point. As for ‘massively powerful’, certainly a big handful for most first rank powers and dominate any 2nd rank so job done… But …..

‘You love to make a list of worse case requirements and then pretend if it was really worst case we would not actually commit those requirements’.

Actually what really gets me going is the Amazing Wampom like nature, (look up Flanders and Swann), of the Elephants according to their proponents.

You for example challenge me because I propose Maximum effort scenarios, but when I point out that in effect we are getting 12 F35b on a super Invincible, out goes the cry:- ‘But we’re getting so much more than that’. I refer to posts on this very topic about how were going to get 3 with 30 planes etc……..

When I attack the pie in the sky ideas of that, up goes the cry

‘Well that’s a crock we won’t be manning and ‘planeing’ them at that level’.

Its a bit like when I rubbished the idea of using them against China and in the Indian Ocean:-

‘Your setting up your own straw men’ went the cry.

Followed by post after post by carrier junkies inc, about how we needed CVF to ‘take up the white mans burden’ of doing our bit against china’. AND then the carrier junkies pointing out that it would be as part of a ‘coalition’:- that is hiding behind CVNs then isn’t it.

AND then we get into the whole are the whole ‘fur coat and no knickers’ nature of not putting Sonars on all our frigates and missiles in all out T45’s because even the proposed single, super invincible stretches our real resources. So where is the money for all these extra fighters for the 2 elephants ???

I know it will all come when the British people come to love defence spending and we will order x squillion F35b…


If we had started out wanting a super invincible 12- 18 f35 b type then we could have had it for a lot less and poss 3 of them.

It was our ‘little boy in a sweet shop, who wants everything’ Navy and MOD. who had start talking about Catapults, F35c, 30 odd planes etc . (And All the published stuff about the Elephants when they were proposed talked about 30 odd planes etc etc). And then we get into the buggering about with the spec that went on afterwards.

I would love to see the ‘Orbat’ for some of the proposed uses of Elephants.


First things first ‘Over specced’.

The angled flight deck totally unnecessary for 12 to 18 vertical take off jets. Operating that number of jets off the nameless isles,plus helicopters of the Invincibles we wrote the book on STOVL operations with limited crews.

45,000 – 50,000 tons would have done: – say America size. (Yes I Know the Americas are very expensive, but the principle is sound). Hell if we were not to fussy we might have got it onto a common Hull with a MARS!

The catapult cock ups.

A lot of money was wasted on designing in and then out Armour etc . Despite the Invincibles experience that CIWS were all that was necessary.

All of that came from trying to get MinI Nimitz capability.

So you are quite happy to have pretty much the entire ‘capital ship’ program of the RN Built around the ability to occasionally deploy an Elephant?

Personally I am waiting for the next ‘leaps tall buildings at a single bound’ post about the Elephants. Followed by the post about how ‘we wont want it to leap tall buildings’………….

All Politicians are The same
All Politicians are The same
July 9, 2013 7:22 pm


Firstly as NAB pointed out the QE class is not designed to operate a 365/24/7 presence and ships refit programmes vary not all at once as you suggest? Unless you have been a Fleet planner and I have missed multiple refits over the last 20 years?

You do not make another point beyond some sort of Guardian readers opinion in the rest of your post.

No back ups, no costings, no examples, not experience!

“I would love to see the ‘Orbat’ for some of the proposed uses of Elephants”

You hopefully mean the TAG/BG? I am not in charge but can probably write them for you.

“The angled flight deck totally unnecessary for 12 to 18 vertical take off jets. Operating that number of jets off the nameless isles,plus helicopters of the Invincibles we wrote the book on STOVL operations with limited crew”

Well consider we are going to be able to operate 2 to 3 times as many much bigger more capable jets.

“45,000 – 50,000 tons would have done: – say America size. (Yes I Know the Americas are very expensive, but the principle is sound). Hell if we were not to fussy we might have got it onto a common Hull with a MAR”

So we should buy more expensive less capable hulls because you agree with the principle?

“The catapult cock ups”

See my previous post ref no suitable non steam system at design time. NAB knows more about it than me.

“A lot of money was wasted on designing in and then out Armour etc . Despite the Invincibles experience that CIWS were all that was necessary2

the loss of armour and missile systems was hotly debated but we should have just asked you, because on one hand they are sitting ducks but on the other CIWS is all that is required.

“All of that came from trying to get MinI Nimitz capability.

So you are quite happy to have pretty much the entire ‘capital ship’ program of the RN Built around the ability to occasionally deploy an Elephant?”

Define occasional and what other capital ship programmes outside SSBNS do we have?

“Personally I am waiting for the next ‘leaps tall buildings at a single bound’ post about the Elephants. Followed by the post about how ‘we wont want it to leap tall buildings”

Or what you mean is a post by someone who actually understands threats, capabilities, deployment cycles, is cleared for intel, has written manning requirements and doesn’t think we should be Belgium? Any time mate.

Rocket Banana
July 9, 2013 8:49 pm


“Simon if it takes 200MW to get a Nimitz to 30-32 what does she use for the next 6-8kts. Max speed is a weird combo to so with hull, length form etc. Better paint and a trick transom saw T23 got from 28 to 32 kts, yet have served at sea on an older one that could not top 24kts just before her refit.”

According to my references Nimitz is designed for 31.5. Enterprise did 33.6 but then she’s lighter and has more power. However, I think I’ll have to add Enterprise into my bucket of ships that don’t fit the mould either ;-)

I get your point regarding the hull state. Interested in the “trick transom”?


Does a ship sort of get pushed along if it’s Froude number is below 1? In other words, does the ship actually want to get to a “critical” flow? Is it a lowest energy state situation – assuming there’s enough power to accelerate in a reasonable time frame?

July 9, 2013 8:59 pm



I recant. The Elephants are brilliant example of procurement, wisely purchased by our efficient MOD on advice by RN professionals, in simple program of ……….. Sorry can’t keep it up. ‘still it turns’ old boy ‘still it turns’….

We are stuck with two huge ships designed to carry 30 odd aircraft we now can’t afford, one of which we can only use occasionally, which started off with a luxury spec, and has been cut back and cut back to 1 ship with 12 aircraft… After much mind changing it is costing many times what it they could/ would have cost if we had been less ambitious in the first place. Those are facts and playing the ‘I’m a professional don’t yer know old boy’ card cuts zero ice and draws less water, with me.

If you want to compare professional qualifications/ experience…. I have been listening to con men, crooks, otherwise decent people who really did not think through their actions, and dishonest coppers, trying to ex poste facto justify the unjustifiable, for decades.

I know Bullshit (or indeed elephant shit) when I hear it,and I have been hearing it for the last 5 years from the carrier junkies.

BTW the Chinese are very honest about their carrier program. World powers have carriers, we are a world power therefore we will have carriers.

As for your imperious dismissal of my arguments, we ain’t going to see eye to eye its all been gone thru before, in the carrier flame wars.

To me we are Belgium (personally I would rather use Germany as a model).


July 9, 2013 9:22 pm


Iron Duke had a transom flap fitted.

They basically all look similar to this,

Sometimes they are on hydraulic rams so they can be raised and lowered.

John Hartley
John Hartley
July 9, 2013 9:53 pm

According to Purnell’s Warships of the Second World War, the Japanese carrier Shokaku, launched in 1939, had a bulbous bow & could do 34 knots.

July 9, 2013 10:16 pm

Ixion, lovely we are back to WASAWPYK, you have just lost the argument. Just accept it and move on…

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 9, 2013 10:31 pm


Your metric Froude number is speed ( in m/s)/ sqrt(length x g). Now, tell me how many ships you think operate anywhere near a Fn of 1. You’re missing the point re “residuary resistance” and what that means.


I’d love to know where QE’s armour was designed in and then designed out again, or how Invincible operated 18 jets plus helos on Corporate. However, the requirement for QEC as designed was to run a flypro pushing 100 sorties per day, which is actually why the deck looks as it does. Nothing to do with 12-18 cabs, which is a recent planning assumption rather than holy writ, so speaking of “facts” is somewhat disingenuous, methinks. Your professional experience appears to be in a court room and reminds me of one or two other people on here who pronounce with authority, but when asked whether they’ve ever set foot aboard HMs grey War Canoes, change the subject rapidly. In a courtroom, whose evidence carries more weight – the expert witness or the bloke who read about something in the press?


APATS has asked the right questions, fire away with your answers. I’m also pretty sure that your 3m deck heights apply only in a couple of places and for very specific reasons. Side galleries and underwater protective boxes would also bear some further explanation please.

July 9, 2013 10:32 pm

I am fascinated by many of these discussions but still disappointed that ‘opinionated ignorance’, even downright bigotry, remains rife despite the best efforts of some excellent subject matter experts.

“The carriers arn’t for fighting wars. They are for sailing arround in, shouting to ‘lesser nations’ ‘look at the size of my flight deck’…”

– Well, they do say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure so don’t knock it. The most our air stations routinely contribute towards the sustained, flexible projection of global hard/soft power is the weekday deployment of low flying jets – including some not painted red – to impress the natives of Wales and Scotland. ;-)

– Rail as much as you like but land-based aircraft have an appalling record of failing to protect our maritime forces in remote hotspots or suddenly developing scenarios, even assuming the availability of host nation support/overflight. Unlike their carrier-borne counterparts, they can’t poise indefinitely off some distant coast, watching and listening while immediately available to deter and, if necessary, counter natural and man-made threats to our national interests until (a) the situation is resolved, (b) escalates beyond their capabilities (whereupon the cavalry – including the much maligned RAF – can be called out) or (c) abates of its own accord (whereupon the carrier group can slip away quietly without necessarily resorting to overt military intervention or political embarrassment).

– The QEs and their carrier air groups of 12 gusting 36 or more F-35Bs plus UAVs, helos, etc., should be around to fulfil such ‘nip in the bud’ missions for the next 40+ years. Are you sure these irritating elephants you keep mentioning aren’t pink?

July 9, 2013 11:32 pm


Well said TD! I think most of the more rational participants on here would agree that the concept and desirability of CVF isn’t the real argument, it’s the broader price that will have to be paid to get the full package of capabilities up and running.

And that’s the problem isn’t it. We can argue from here until eternity about the relative merits and disadvantages, successes and failings of the CVF project to date, but the fact is we are where we are. Hence why I believe the worst thing that could be done now would be to end up with only one carrier in service and not enough escorts, auxiliaries and aircraft to make it a workable concept.

Real investment needs to continue. It’s a direct choice between underfunding which results in all of the effort and cost to date being essentially pointless or making sure we get a workable and useful capability out of what we have already put in.

Their is no perfect solution here I’m afraid. Spend more to get a ‘good enough’ end product or give up and accept the even greater waste in time, money and effort that goes with it.

Chuck Hill
July 9, 2013 11:37 pm

Hartley July 9, 2013 at 9:53 p. “According to Purnell’s Warships of the Second World War, the Japanese carrier Shokaku, launched in 1939, had a bulbous bow & could do 34 knots.”

Yes but she still required 160,000 SHP (about 120MW) and had only an 85’4″ beam.

Essex class (bigger) made 32.7 on 150,000 SHP

Eagle (much bigger) made 32 knots with 152,000 SHP

the bulbous bow makes a difference but not that much.

July 10, 2013 6:48 am

Just to be clear if we got 2 with 30 odd planes. And all the necessaery support i would be a reluctant supporter. But echo both TD’s point about all fur coat and no knickers.

As I said we went over all this over thr last couple of years.

I do not accept I have lost any ‘arguments’. Coz I have not seen any consistancy from the carrier junkies about what they are for.

BTW someone got bent out of shape by thst term. I just used it coz real junkies. Will talk of their desperate necessity of getting their fix; will use any justification for any action; will sell off all their posessions and steal ftom others to pay for it. Which is really TDs point. And mine.

I am a fan of carrier aviation. But the Elephants are ridiculously expensive for what they are. And distort the RN into a 1 trick pony.


WASAWPYK is not an insult or intended as such. It is an acronym of others (who hold views like yours) own words quoted at me in the carrier flame wars. It simply describes your position.


Hear hear.

Are stuck with these things. We have to use them for something. But can we please stop pretending we got here thru some masterplan.

July 10, 2013 7:50 am

@ Admin – “I have never been a great fan of cvf etc not because the concept is wrong but because of its potential to knock us out of shape and pull funding from other less prestige projects.”

As far as I am concerned this was inevitable since at least ~2005 when we chose to ignore the warnings of a Defence think tank telling us that spending would have to rise by 40% to fund the capabilities we said we wanted in SDSR98:

That of broad-spectrum sovereign and strategic power projection. A mini-US if you will.

We failed to go down that route, and since that point we have only had two choices:

1. broad-spectrum non-sovereign and non-strategic power projection. Salami slicing to the max.
2. narrow-spectrum mostly-sovereign and mostly-strategic power projection. Specialisation.

There were at least two suggested routes to specialisation; focusing on the army or focusing on the navy.

We chose the latter. Specialisation to retain real effect within a constrained budget will inevitably lead to a distorted budget, you just have to accept that…

Or, forgo real effect.

Rocket Banana
July 10, 2013 8:31 am

I’m very pro carrier, but the more I learn and the more I think, the more I come to the conclusion that we should have either 1 or 3 of the things.

Based simply on the fact that 2 cannot sustain a presence and therefore means in the time that they can remain on station we need to win (or build) an airfield.

This then comes to logistics and S2S.

We seem to have 2 so that we can guarantee that we can “kick the doors in” 365 days a year rather than 250 (or whatever it would be with one). If you look at the relative value the second hull gives us it’s very, very poor.

So TD, there will likely be some heated debate nearer the end of your S2S series ;-)

July 10, 2013 8:48 am

@TD: “Tell you what does make me smile though, have spent s huge amount of time on the ship to shore logistics series and although it is early days it has not garnered anywhere near this level of debate, educated or professional and yet we do tend to hear a lot about the army being a projectile fired by the navy”

I’m still waiting for some feedback on my hair brained idea I commented on the second S2S post :)

John Hartley
John Hartley
July 10, 2013 8:53 am

Too late now, but the original decision should have been between 3 Super Invincible 30,000-35,000 ton STOVL carriers or 2 CTOL 65,000 ton carriers. Two 65,000 ton STOVL carriers are neither fish nor fowl, to my mind. However, we are where we are & I am cheered up by the news that the USMC may air refuel theirs F-35B using V-22. If it happens & if the RN buys it off the shelf, then QE/PoW may gain the reach they need.

John Hartley
John Hartley
July 10, 2013 9:02 am

Chuck , Shokaku was 844ft long on a 85 ft beam. Invincible was 677 ft long on a 90 ft beam. Gives a clue to what a Super Invincible could have been, say 844 ft long on whatever beam still gets through the Panama Canal locks (93-97 ft?).

July 10, 2013 9:22 am

@ Think Defence

Oh yes the cost. How much of a saving is there operating CVF than keeping a good chunk of the Army and RAF in Germany 20 years after Ivan went home? And deduct the cost of the Invincibles? Putting aside who flies what from where for the moment the next time fast air is needed it may not be needed in Europe. Or we need trooping helicopters in large numbers. Or sea control assets. Equipment and troops are expensive but having a a large moving base to look after those assets and facilitate their deployment thus rendering value from them expensive is it? We apparently live in an information age but having a facility that can move worldwide and process large amounts of data is expensive is it? We are shifting to a multipolar would where the influence of main ally is waning slightly and the influence of others gaining strength. In less sophisticated times we had bases worldwide and could afford to give local command latitude in lazy wars controlled from Whitehall by telegram and despatch. Now we have bases and the world is a lot quicker paced. The information world may be traversed at light speed by photons and electrons of negligible mass but unfortunately man lives at a larger scale and has to move thousands of tons to wage war. The most efficient way to that is by sea. This is no longer our main defence concern,

this is,

I am beginning to see where the brake on UK defence thinking is really. It isn’t the sailors who cover vast oceans or the aeronauts who ply the vast skies in their jets and their argument over capital. It is the soldier caught in some time warp between 1914 and 1945 sitting in Europe looking no further than the range of his biggest gun. Isn’t it they who really have held sway in Establishment defence thinking for most of the modern era? Yes it isn’t us pro-Navy bods who are sentimental living in bygone age but the “Army”. Even though concentrated industrial force was supplanted by the nuclear bomb and rocket even before the guns fell silent in WW2. “There will always be bases (as there were back in the days of Empire)!” “We don’t need the sea (as long as you can delivered our beans, bullets, and bandages)!” It may sound romantic and exciting to think that the bayonet charge is the answer to all our security problems, but really what keep us safe and what the Empire was built was trade, diplomacy, and sea power.

PS: :) ;)

Sgt Pep
Sgt Pep
July 10, 2013 10:22 am

@ x
Sorry but even nuclear powers with the mightiest navies must have credible armies that can be deployed in a variety of scenarios that cannot be met by a nuclear response or by navies.

July 10, 2013 10:24 am


I actually agree with much of what you said in your last post!!!!!!!:) (Remember I am in favor of proper carrier aviation).

But don’t let your dreams blind you to reality

‘ but having a facility that can move worldwide and process large amounts of data is expensive is it?

Can it move world wide? I thought it was not going to operate ‘East of Suez’ in a hot war.

Is it mobile as opposed to a satellite? is it cheap in relation to a satellite!

To the elephants multiple shape shifting talents we have to add ‘mobile computer server farm’ :)

July 10, 2013 10:28 am

I am waiting for someone to point out that if you put a piece of wood between the doc and the ship it can be used to knock nails in, as another reason to buy it.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
July 10, 2013 10:29 am

@x – A touch hyperbolic, but there are some serious questions in there for the more army/less navy tendency, especially in respect of long-term strategy in the light of the US “Pivot to the Pacific”…ask yourselves seriously what you would choose if two out of three of the Armed Forces had to be abolished? For me the answer is very obviously the Royal Navy…which with the FAA and the Royals can do anything that we alone might need to do, and could add serious global muscle to those ample numbers of European tanks and infantry… you might make an argument for the RAF (if you subscribe to Aviation Weekly),,,but the only argument for the Army alone is a strong and active desire to actually become the 51st State or the (Fifteenth Century) Swiss of a largely demilitarised Europe…

That said I recognise the genuine distress of Soldiers or ex-Soldiers who have seen the Army committed to campaign after campaign in insufficient numbers and not adequately equipped and fear -rightly – more of the same; but the answer is for our politicians to stop doing it, not to organise our Defence Budget around the need to participate more effectively in US wars.

In the end I would prefer a balanced force – which in my view would include Carriers with full Air Wings – but if expenditure is now so low that the overall force has to be unbalanced I can see no reason why a small Island with no immediate land threat needs it’s Army more than it needs an effective expeditionary Navy, including the FAA and Marines.


PS @ Sergeant Pep – You need a large Army if you have a lot of territory to defend – like the US, Russia or China – we don’t…we could maintain our territorial integrity on the basis of a Crown Militia with very few regular troops, and do anything we actually needed to do on land (FI, Sierra Leone) with a Division as opposed to a Brigade of Marines

July 10, 2013 10:40 am

@Sgt Pep

“… even nuclear powers with the mightiest navies must have credible armies that can be deployed in a variety of scenarios that cannot be met by a nuclear response or by navies.”

Sir Humphrey has a rather good piece over on his site ( ) in which he cogently argues that the current plans for the UK army will actually produce an army that is credible, affordable and matches the foreseeable needs of this country. I do recommend reading it.

He makes the point in passing that perhaps the toughest argument when considering the army plan is justifying it should be as large as 82,000 troops, which is interesting. The more In think about the plan for the reserves the more I think that the powers that be do not expect it to work and have thought it up to keep the Mail and Telegraph reading public quiet, As has been mentioned elsewhere here the additional funding announced for the army reserves will be quietly whittled away over time and the reserve combat units gently allowed to wither on the vine.

Sgt Pep
Sgt Pep
July 10, 2013 10:47 am

Quote “Too late now, but the original decision should have been between 3 Super Invincible 30,000-35,000 ton STOVL carriers or 2 CTOL 65,000 ton carriers.” Unquote

The UK cannot afford 2 CTOL 65,000 ton carriers and their aircraft without further compromising the rest of the Navy i.e. further reduce numbers of air defence frigates, subs, etc.
At the rate the costs of the F35 are going who knows how many you will end up with, maybe even less than 48.

A Juan Carlos/WASP type LHD capable of carrying STOVL F35 B’s and/or attack/transport/ASW helicopters would have cost somewhere between £ 500M and £ 1B. For the cost of ONE QE aircraft carrier (£ 3.5B plus) you could have bought a whole fleet of 3 or 4 highly capable LHD’s which would give way more flexibility in terms of availability and deployment. Instead of building the 2nd QE aircraft carrier (£ 3.5B plus) you could have increased the number of air defence frigates or subs which would give you a more balanced force.

Rocket Banana
July 10, 2013 11:12 am

I got shot down for saying this last time but I still believe that it is true…

We could not bank on the viability of F35B when CVF was designed, therefore we had to build something that could ultimately be a CTOL/CATOBAR carrier if necessary.

Either that or stick to helicopter carrying assault ships and a reliance on others to provide our own organic air defence. In which case we may as well simply pay the USN for carrier insurance.

Sgt Pep
Sgt Pep
July 10, 2013 11:30 am

I’m not making any comment on the planned structure of the British army and whether or not it is credible. Nor am I advocating the need for the UK to maintain a large standing army. Just saying that at the end of the day nuclear weapons cannot replace boots on the ground, for obvious reasons.

The UK is part of NATO and therefore committed to the defence and territorial integrity of the 28 member states. That’s a whole lot of territory. As an important member of the alliance it needs at a minimum to be able to send a full spectrum Division sized force.

July 10, 2013 11:33 am

Hartley and Sgt Pep

3x super Invincible’s or a fleet of Juan Carlos type ships would have been good solutions to the carrier question, but unfortunately we are where we are and have to make the best of the situation as it stands. That means having both CVF in service so that most of the time 1 is available, with at least 12 F35 and a whole host of helicopters providing a tailored and balanced air-group, and enough frigates, destroyers and auxiliaries to furnish a workable and effective task-group (current force levels or more, certainly not less).


Sir H’s article on the Army makes some good points about it’s future. I agree with him that the current plan is a sensible one and it may even be hard hard to justify those force levels. It’s long overdue, the Army has been too large and heavy ever since the Cold War and needs to catch up with the reality of the 21st century and Britain’s place in the world.


I also think your wording was a touch hyperbolic, but I broadly agree with what you are saying. The RN can provide the ability to loiter, be flexible, gather intelligence and offer that mix of soft and hard power on sea, land and air that makes it best suited to be the focus of Britain’s future defence posture.

The Army and RAF most certainly have a place in a naval-centric structure, but the Army in particularly was way overdue a reduction in size and overhaul of force structure. Lets hope it works!

July 10, 2013 11:42 am

Still not seeing how making the ship shorter makes F-35 cheaper.

July 10, 2013 12:22 pm

“The UK is part of NATO and therefore committed to the defence and territorial integrity of the 28 member states.”

Very true. It is, of course, a nonsense. The UK , let alone some of the other members, is not going to go to war, and certainly not a ground war, to protect, say, Poland or Bulgaria from, say, a Russian invasion. However, on the letter of the treaties we might be called on to do just that. Discussion on this issue just shows how hollow NATO now is.

“it [the UK] needs at a minimum to be able to send a full spectrum Division sized force.”

Nope, that is a personal judgement and not a requirement. We could send a full armoured corps or a platoon’s worth of pioneers or indeed no one at all and still comply with Article 5. The idea that we need to be able to send a division, which, by the way, the current plans say we could post 2020, is an opinion not a verifiable planning assumption.

The UK does not need a large or, indeed, larger army to meet its international, let alone state defence, obligations.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 10, 2013 12:43 pm

Those 28 countries (excluding the US, UK and Canada) nominally maintain standing armies totalling 1.2 million men. Add UKUSCAN into the mix and you’re over 2 million.

Why does the UK have to send a full spectrum division again? Now who’s willy-waving?

Somewhat astonishingly, the Boxheads have receded to just shy of 70000 troops. We can start taking NATO commitments to land forces seriously again, when the principal land power on the continent does. Lots and lots of “someone else will do it” going on here.

July 10, 2013 12:46 pm

The UK does not need a large or, indeed, larger navy to meet its international, let alone state defence, obligations. One could also say.

The raf are always critisied for no interest in anything out side fastjets particularly from the internet naval supporters. Yet whenever navy matters raise there head we end up at cvf and why it’s a crime to have a few or no fastjet on them almost everything else naval should be sideline to make it so. It would also be nice to hear the naval guys complete the arguments with something other than its all the airforce and army’s fault (as that suggests to me the argument is lost and no rational exists) as soon as there challenged. Also we seem to have operated at significant scale in Europe, Africa, med, Mid East, near east, Far East and south Atlantic these past 20 odd years without much if any uk naval fast air from ships and granted use of it was an requirement in Falklands but funnily enough we went and build a massive airbase down there to cover that area unless building these ships means we can scrap all the assets down there. Perhaps future anti access threat and how the ships may help there in a realistic uk operation maybe a better place to go for justification.

July 10, 2013 1:12 pm

Chally said “I also think your wording was a touch hyperbolic”

hence the PS.

All this bleating from Green persons here about needing an RN battle fleet for the Army to do its work completely and utterly misses what is meant the term SEA POWER. It all gets a bit boring after a bit. Rather like that ball-ache of debate about ships for presence vds ships for fighting debate that stumbles on here. We can only afford a few ships, a ship unlike an infantry battalion is more or less self-deploying, and if there is need for it to be off Murmansk next week it can stop playing coastguard in the Windies and go to Murmansk. Global power delivered at gobal distances. Hasn’t Iraq and Afghanistan taught them nothing? It is useful to have some guys with sharp bayonets. But unless you are the size of Cold War Red Army they aren’t going to win you much. They are the brittle point of a very big machine. Isn’t it said the idea isn’t to die for your country but to make the other fellow die for his? Better we let other scrabble in the dirt. Let’s fight smart and persevere our brightest and best. Fighting from the sea and air is smart. Fighting and dieing in some dust foreign shit hole ifor ill defined reasons isn’t smart. It is stupid. And fundamentally that is what this debates about. Fighting when we need to fight for real reasons of security not political ideals or to curry favour so post government some grinning trickster can build a fortune. To fight smart you need platforms like CVF to carry and act as enablers for modern FJ, modern helicopters, and emergent tech’ like UAVS. If CASD is what underpins our seat on UNSC CVF is the conduit through which that influence will be wielded.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 10, 2013 1:21 pm

Actually, that’s not the criticism at all, Mark. The criticism tends to be that the RAF do not see a need for maritime air and refuse to even countenance the idea that land basing may be vulnerable to attack, vulnerable to political denial or subject to logistical limits – all criticisms cast at carriers. Nor do the RAF seem to believe that fast jets of any stripe should be based aboard ships.

Neither will you find the navy arguing that “almost everything else naval should be sideline to make it so”. The only reason that FCBA became JCA is because the navy sacrified “its” budget line to ensure that the fleet remained balanced. That the RAF have subsequently begun a campaign to ensure that later tranches of JCA are F35A because they’ve spunked their budget on Typhoon and Tonka GR4 upgrades only demonstrates why there is so little trust in the light blue. If JCA is supposed to cover DPOC, perhaps someone could explain why DPOC cannot be delivered from ships and therefore should not be F35B? Quoting range differentials is unlikely to be a satisfactory argument, nor are “training requirements”. The USN prove daily that carrier based tacair is every bit as capable as land based tacair.

The criticism (or question if you like) is this. Why is the inherent flexibility of being able to operate from a ship or shore base so readily dismissed by the proponents of land-basing only?

July 10, 2013 1:23 pm

Spiffing post Mr. X, a truly spiffing post.

“Better we let other scrabble in the dirt. Let’s fight smart and persevere our brightest and best.”

Ought to be nailed up in big letters on the wall in front of every seniors’ desk at the MoD and the PM’s desk.

July 10, 2013 1:24 pm

Yes a massive airbase with 1100 bods to service what 8 aircraft? 1100 bods but no RAF Regiment. An airbase stuck in one place. The 4 principle aircraft of which have had for most of the time negligible surface attack capability, that is the capability which is really needed, but luckily an overmatching air-to-air capability to meet a really non-existent air-to-air threat, and all the time the big security threat to the FI is fish poaching that costs them millions. And lets not forget that without SEAPOWER the islands wouldn’t have been won back. It is was the threatened removal of an RN asset that gave the Argentines the signal to invade not we might send a flapping slow Vulcan to drop a few bombs at the cost of a few million pounds of AVTURD. Lastly let’s not forget it was organic naval FJ that underpinned the whole operation. The RAF couldn’t tow Australia close to prove top cover. It shouldn’t be called RAF Mount Pleasant but RAF Thank-God-some-else-has-done-all-the-fighting.

EDIT: Tell me do ACME sell inflatable instant air bases? Or did all the concrete, steel, bricks, and generators just appear there by magic?

Sgt Pep
Sgt Pep
July 10, 2013 1:33 pm

“Why does the UK have to send a full spectrum division again?”
Next time your Prime Minister wants to stand tall next to the POTUS in some ill advised foreign adventure a la Iraq.

If Britain has no international commitments and is to be just one giant Switzerland focused solely on its own defence than
– why do you need two 65,000t aircraft carriers and 12/20 F35 B’s at a cost of over £ 10 BILLION which are only usefull for bombing ‘insurgents’ or dictators hiding in some African craphole not too far way from shore, and absolutely useless at anything else?!
when with this money you could increase your fleet of subs and frigates and actually equip them with weapons(fitted for but not with anyone?) which can actually protect your shores and shipping from potential adversaries and act as a deterrent?

July 10, 2013 1:37 pm

If a fellow NATO member were attacked which invoked article 5 I think in most situations their will be far more useful things the UK can contribute to a coalition action than a conventional division.

Yes the SDSR and FAS 2020 will still enable us to deploy a division (albeit after several months of build up) and that’s a good thing to retain, but in all likelihood the most valuable assets the UK could contribute to NATO or most other coalition actions for that matter are going to be the high-end stuff that other countries can’t bring to the table. Be it carrier air-power, amphibious shipping and marines, heavy transport aircraft, special forces and ISTAR/MPA platforms (if we ever rejuvenate the latter).

As NaB said the rest of NATO can field millions of troops and the majority of them are continental land powers that most suit and require such forces, so it should be up-to them to provide the bulk of the land forces in any joint action, leaving us to provide the support ‘enablers’ that will be desperately needed and in short supply.

Also X is quite right that unless you want/can field an army of Cold War Red Army, or at least current Chinese and American proportions (all clearly out of reach of the UK without us sacrificing all other capabilities and still presumably bankrupting ourselves in the process) then having a larger Army than the UK currently plans is pointless.

It’s not like every extra thousand or ten thousand bodies is going to make much of a difference, You would still only have enough personnel to do a Herrick all over again, and look how well that has gone! You really need hundreds of thousands of extra bodies to really make any kind of difference, and even then look how the American’s have struggled.

July 10, 2013 1:41 pm

“The UK does not need a large or, indeed, larger navy to meet its international, let alone state defence, obligations. One could also say.”

As regards international obligations, you are spot on, as regards the defence of the UK definitely not. Our maritime security is equivalent to a virgin sans knickers lying legs akimbo in front of a serial r@pist and depending on his honour for hers.

July 10, 2013 1:41 pm

@ Hurst Llama

I like to have the occasional tongue in cheek rant. :)

Over the last ten years I think I have seen too many coffins coming back from sandy places for no good reason. We have all seen too many coffins coming back. Bright young lads like Phil who put their backsides on the line should only be asked to do so if there is a genuine need. We need to get our land forces in and out as quickly as possible. And make sure that before going and while on the ground they are backed up by not only huge amounts of firepower but also the less glamorous but just as essential logistical and medical services. CVF sitting at the centre of a task group allows us to do those things. Possessing a high end naval capability is a lever. It allows us to operate sophisticated aircraft. It allows us to take up ships from trade in an emergency because it will protect them and bring CCC. The wars we should be planning to fight should extend to being in the field for a few weeks at most. soldiers knowing there is something carrying a PGM not far away, and at the end a square, a shower, and a pit. Not wars that mean young lads sitting in mud brick shit holes for six months controlling the ground out to the range of 5.56.

July 10, 2013 1:45 pm

Queen’s grandson multiple tours in Afghanistan.

Kids from British council estates, multiple tours in Afghanistan.

The son of the guy who takes us to war runs away to Washington.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 10, 2013 1:51 pm

Sgt Pep

“The UK is part of NATO and therefore committed to the defence and territorial integrity of the 28 member states. That’s a whole lot of territory. As an important member of the alliance it needs at a minimum to be able to send a full spectrum Division sized force.”

“Why does the UK have to send a full spectrum division again? – Next time your Prime Minister wants to stand tall next to the POTUS in some ill advised foreign adventure a la Iraq. ”

Both direct quotes mate. Please make your mind up, which is it?

in your own time.

July 10, 2013 1:55 pm

@ Sgt Pep

Because the majority of our energy and food comes across the sea. And just because there is no threat now it doesn’t mean there won’t be one in the future.

There is a saying in the US pro-gun community, an armed society is a polite society. And if the anarchy international community is take responsibility for the seas, which are a Global Common, it is needs a navies to do so. It needs to be armed. Lots of frigates would be nice. But you mustn’t underestimate prestige or the flexibility which a carrier brings to such mundane operations as trade protection. The synergy of ship and helicopter is powerful. This isn’t just about fast jets and dropping bombs on Third Worlders. Plus there is a lot valuable real estate in the world that is under water. And so on.

Sgt Pep
Sgt Pep
July 10, 2013 2:00 pm

Not a Boffin ,

What does the Second Gulf War or Iraq war whatever you want to call it have anything to do with NATO commitments and the territorial integrity of its member states?!

I think Britain should retain the capability to generate a full sized armoured division as part of a NATO/EU coalition but to be used in wars of necessity which we cannot afford to lose, not ill advised foreign adventures which have cost unspeakable amounts in both treasure and blood.

July 10, 2013 2:07 pm

As X is saying it’s that leverage, the flexibility and balance of having a a strong navy as the centrepiece of a military stance that’s what the UK needs.

A decent mix of soft and hard power, all at arms length as opposed to men sitting and dying in some dusty, muddy crap-hole that no one really cares about.

Carrot….humanitarian aid and disaster relief, cooperative training, intelligence networks, patrolling and presence where needed.

Stick…. persistent drone and carrier aviation patrols/strikes, clandestine special forces operations, coastal control with the ability to project power inland through missile strikes and strategic raiding.

And when the sh*t really hits the fan the ability to deploy anything from a battle-group to a brigade or (given a big enough threat and a bit of a build up) a division into a high intensity scenario for several months, being supplied and supported from both sea and air.

I can’t see how anyone wouldn’t want to adopt the above kind of arms length, light footprint style of operations as opposed to what we have seen over the last 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nor can I see any service other than the RN being as best place and capable of leading such a framework and future stance.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 10, 2013 2:12 pm

Your initial statement implied that defence of NATO territorial integrity somehow required the UK to field a “full-spectrum” armoured division. Then you changed that to supporting the US in ill-advised foreign adventures. Now it’s some sort of war of necessity that we can’t afford to lose.

None of the above necessarily require a UK division – you just think they do. But you need to explain why the major land powers in NATO or the EU (many of who have minimal naval capability) should not be higher on the list for providing that ground capability than the UK.

Not that I disagree with the idea of a full division, which is actually part of FF2020. I’m just at a loss to understand how QEC and F35 are somehow responsible for threatening that capability.

July 10, 2013 2:34 pm

Yep a couple of post there that illustrate perfectly what I was saying.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 10, 2013 2:43 pm

No answers to the questions raised though eh, Mark?

July 10, 2013 2:46 pm

@x bit harsh on the lad. For the sins of the father?

July 10, 2013 2:48 pm

Sgt Pep, one man’s “war of necessity” may be another man’s “ill-advised foreign adventure”. The difference can be very slight, and the 2 may sometimes even be the same!

Carriers for trade protection? Isn’t that a bit of costly overkill? The F/A-18 runs at about 3,000 dollars per hour of flight. That is 144,000 USD for 24 hour coverage by a single wingpair. Now run it for a month. How much is that? My maths says 4.3 million and some lose change. And that is for the planes only, not the carrier itself or the support staff.

On a more sympathatic note, the QE carriers really came in at a bad time, the economic crisis took many people by surprise and caused a lot of cascade problems, not to mention the F-35B is still a bit of an unknown quality. If I had a say in the matter, I would have recommended a delay at least until the aircraft became more of a known entity before making a decision. If it doesn’t work out, you can at least copy the US and use the F-18E/F +CATOBAR. As it is, you are taking on faith the F-35B will work as planned. Or to be precise, work as “advertised”. Hope it does or there is going to be one hell of a headache.

July 10, 2013 2:48 pm

Sick and tired of the same load off nonsense that gets trouted out to even bother.

July 10, 2013 2:51 pm

@ Topman

I thought everybody had realized by now as well as making some very important and valid point I was taking the pee out of the debate and also myself………? :)

Sgt Pep
Sgt Pep
July 10, 2013 2:53 pm

Quote “Not that I disagree with the idea of a full division, which is actually part of FF2020. I’m just at a loss to understand how QEC and F35 are somehow responsible for threatening that capability.” Unquote

When did I ever make such a statement?

If your maximum budgetary capacity is to field some 12/20 F35 B’s plus helo’s please explain to me why there is a need for two 65,000t aircraft carriers at a cost of £ 3.5 billion+ EACH, which will be ‘too big to lose’ in any real shooting war with a competent opponent, one of which will be put at ‘extended readiness’ read at port most of the time, when for a fraction of the cost you could actually have a whole fleet of smaller JC type carriers that would be way more useful than the two expensive and over budget beasts currently being built?

Are there any reasons other than “prestige”? !

At the moment you have the most modern and advanced air defence frigates who do not even carry anti-ship missiles! Out of approx. 112 Tomahawk missiles used in Libya the Royal Navy fired a grand total of 3! and Uk/France had to call in the Americans to bail them out.
How many T26 frigates will there be? Wouldn’t be surprised if you ended up with half of what is envisioned now. How many other naval capabilities have been cut to the bone to pay for QE?

July 10, 2013 3:11 pm

@ TD

We need a lot more more than 80,000 that is a certainty. :)

The debate is always framed by most here in terms of a choice between the 3 services. It is always Trident costs so much, the carriers cost so much, and the inference is that the money should be spent elsewhere not on energy or aid, but on one or both of the other services. As I said about your attempts to broaden the strategy debate beyond fighty stuff it won’t work here in this format. Security Studies at uni’ is already a farce because in many institutions they try to encompass everything from nuclear bombs to gender issues. So here if somebody proposed not spending on the RN I automatically assume they mean spending the money on the Army or RAF or occasion an LNG tank.

Rocket Banana
July 10, 2013 3:15 pm

Sgt Pep,

The point in two 65,000t carriers is so that we can provide air cover/support for 3Cdo to “kick the doors in” prior to an army division turning up on cruise liners and the RAF flying in “on mass” to a won or built airstrip ;-)

In my mind there were two reasonable options: 2 x 65,000 tonne carriers or 3 x 30-40,000 tonners.

I doubt one option is cheaper than the other and one of them can deal with a non-F35B/non-Harrier world.

July 10, 2013 3:39 pm

@ Simon

No. Despite there being 3 Invincible class hulls for a long while in reality the UK has only operated 2 carriers. I don’t mean the one in refit, one in working up/returned/ deployed cycle I mean turn and turnabout. Don’t forget the need to crew them.

The expensive bits in carriers the sensors and combat systems, engines etc for three ships would outweigh the cost of procuring buying 2 large carriers. The big clue to what an aircraft carrier does is in the name. It is the wrong way to approach this is to say we can only afford 12 FJ so we build a ship can only carry 12 FJ. Invincibles are very small for what we asked of them in the latter stages of their career. Remember those ships started as ASW screening assets for the North Atlantic that the RN got more out of them points to the flexibility of the ship. Bigger ships are more economical and flexibility.

Rocket Banana
July 10, 2013 3:48 pm


I tried to cover that on my “Sea Control” and “CVF or LHD” post.

The problem I came up with was that you’d need 3 x Cavour (eg) + 3 x Rotterdam (eg) because you simply don’t have enough space on a smaller carrier to do the heli assault/support ops.

So in that case you end up with 6 aviation ships.

Might as well have 4 x Wasp. 2 available, 1 for sea control, 1 for assault. Dock down tanks in former used for extra AVCAT. Vehicle deck in former used as magasine. etc, etc, etc.

Someone would have to have guaranteed that F35B was going to be a go-er for it to be pursued though.

Rocket Banana
July 10, 2013 3:53 pm


If CVF had cost the initial £2b each then I’d accept what you are saying :-(

Vince was designed for Sea Harrier and Sea King, not Harrier II and Merlin. So the 2.5 tonnes per sortie drifted up to about 3.5 and the space taken on deck increased too. Harrier II barely fitted alongside the superstructure which totally changes the way you can use the deck. Yet another reason why we should still</i> be operating SHAR.

Also, it's worth pointing out we never really used our fleet in anger when we only had Vince/Ocean. It was capable of a lot more. Basically not much less than the fleet we are proposing with CVF now except now all our eggs in the one CVF basket with a nice load of rotors vying for space rather than being on totally separate decks.

July 10, 2013 3:54 pm

Sgt Pep

We had all the arguments before over carriers.

I stand on the side of people like TD* Chris B and others who think that the whole thing was fucked up from the start.

From my perspective by desire for ‘prestige’ (Freudian slip by one of the CJs); by an RN who still envisage
‘A BRITISH CARRIER BATTLEGROUP……’ headlines and see themselves on the bridge of a mighty ship surveying ranks of 5th gen fighters, in formation with a Nimitz class smiting HM’s enemies.

And you only have to look at the early published material to see that is what exactly was planned. BTW the last CGI I saw was exactly in that vein. And you know what, if we could have had that EVER. I would be there rooting for it. Perhaps I am a ‘recovering’ Carrier junky??? I never saw even in the ‘boom years’ how we were going to pay for that, AND all the support.

In reality,we haven’t got that or anything like it. I have said this before, but rather like Homer Simpson:-

Carrier junkies hear the words ‘Carrier Aviation’ and a little thought bubble appears next to their heads. In it, mighty multi ship British carrier battle groups sweep the seas whilst swarms of f35 stream over head.

The reality is of 12 F35 in a ship deployable only 200 odd days of the year, which will only have available 2-3 t45 and 2-3 t26 at best, and can’t be deployed east of Suez in shooting war. But that’s not what the Carrier junky sees.

Somehow or other this is supposed to protect mythical ‘British’ trade roots, and our foreign interests, keeping ‘the British end up’. Never had it explained why or how.

What first drew me to this blog was the day TD Came out as a ‘naval aviation atheist’. I was staggered that a ‘Defence site’ operator could hold a view against carriers. It truly is THINK defence rather than Knee jerk reaction against (what was the insult hurled at me above ), ‘Guardian readers’ Defence crap like PPT.

I know TD and I do not agree about many things, or even the exact reasons why we should shoot Nellie and Dumbo and sell of the Ivory, but us ‘Carrier aviation atheists’, are few in number, not united, openly derided…but right.

‘If everyone is thinking the same thing then no one is thinking’

George Patton

Rocket Banana
July 10, 2013 3:54 pm

Sorry about the italics.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 10, 2013 4:19 pm

Sgt P

No statement, just constant implication.

As for the rest –

Latest Major Project Report (2012) puts forecast costs of QEC programme at £5.4Bn, so unsure where your £3.5bn each comes from. Much of that is attributable to indecision and delay by MoD/HMG, not least influenced by constant carping that “they’re too big” without any justification to back that up, except that their predecessors were smallish helicopter carriers that managed to deliver a limited f/w capability.

The 12-20 F35 figure is a (current) planning assumption, not the requirement. The requirement is what the ships were designed to deliver, which is part of the reason they are so big. The other reasons were that larger ships did not significantly add to the design and build cost but offered risk proofing against the STOVL aircraft being canned and more importantly allowed the adoption of pit-stop aircraft operations to reduce the manpower.

Your “fraction of the cost” is somewhat misleading as you’re not comparing like with like. The CAG on Juan Carlos is 172 bodies. That’s right 172, to support lets say 6-8 helos and half a dozen harriers. That ship will be utterly incapable of generating anything like the sorties required for the RN requirement on a daily, let alone sustained basis. The crew (at 240-odd) is also unlikely to be able to provide the onboard engineering and logistics to sustain that ship on operations for long. It also means that damage control capability is likely to be inferior to QE, so your “competent opponent” gets a better chance.

The America LHA is obviously much bigger, but will still only manage 20 f/w and maybe a couple of r/w and nowhere near the sortie rate. For which she requires a crew of 1000 just for the ship. In US standard accommodation. Which would need to be changed to meet the RN standard. Which would mean space and money beyond the $3.4Bn dollars she already costs. More to the point she would cost a fortune to operate for less capability. Multiple JC or Americas look superficially attractive, but either don’t deliver the requirement or would cost just as much to build and more to operate.

So yes, there are plenty of reasons that are nothing to do with “prestige” and all to do with the requirement. A requirement which does not say take a handful of jets to sea and operate largely like a CVS. It says take a significant number of jets to sea and provide a meaningful contribution to joint and combined operations for a sustained period.

That is what people fundamentally struggle to grasp – the requirement (which was approved by a joint committee by the way) is for much more than do what we did with CVS.

Now speaking of requirements, the reason why T45 doesn’t have an SSGW is that the Capability managers have not suggested that there is a requirement, or if there is, it can be met with Lynx and Sea Skua, or in a group situation T23 and Harpoon. Don’t agree with that myself, but the point is that until the capability managers decide there is a requirement (and they have to prove that in a joint / civilian environment) there is no reason to fit the kit to the ships. It has nothing to do with QEC per se.

Your TLAM example is interesting. In a force structure where UK TLAM is exclusively submarine-based and with an extremely limited stockpile – largely because “other” assets, some light blue, some coalition are supposed to provide the rest of that capability – the use of that weapon ought to be at “strategic” (not in the nuclear sense) targets. Other sources suggest the RN fired more than three (say a dozen in total) but it matters not.

What is important is that instead of Ellamy being a no-fly zone enforced by f/w CAP and therefore able to be selective about what to engage, lack of ability to provide a sustained CAP over Benghazi meant that the coalition had to go for a fully kinetic OCA/SEAD campaign with TLAM, Storm Shadow and all the bells and whistles. This entailed flattening large chunks of Libyan infrastructure along the entire coastline and into the hinterland – almost guaranteeing wider involvement (which may or may not have been the intention anyway). Point being that a carrier (which the US were unable/unwilling to provide) ought to have been able to supply CAP over Benghazi and meet the original objective. Charles de Gaulle only had ten f/w aboard (analogous to a CVS or your LHD), which was not enough to provide that sort of capability (which points to the logic behind the QEC requirement).

Not saying the Ellamy approach was wrong, just that a less invasive option might have been handy and that’s what big deck carriers with useful numbers of aircraft / sorties per day can provide.

Rocket Banana
July 10, 2013 4:48 pm


What are the requirements?

I tried to short-cut that debate in my post and suggested sustained sea-control and sustained battalion or “surged” brigade level aviation support was required.

Without a specific set of requirements it’s very difficult to analyse.

One could suggest we need no more than 12 jets. One could suggest we can get away with just 8. If we only want reactive CAS then probably 6.

One could suggest we need no more than a half-dozen utility Merlin to service a Commando.

Perhaps covertly inserted SAS from Astute, with TLAM for SEAD, and 200 x Aster30 linked to an ASaC platform along with half-a-dozen Apache escorting some LCU/LCVP/LCAC?

Someone needs to set a “size” or “capability” requirement.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 10, 2013 4:52 pm

I suspect the requirements weren’t wrong. Contrary to myth and legend, they were set in both joint and combined environments against credible threats and in scenarios that are still very relevant.

What we didn’t plan on, was fighting two sustained land wars, vastly beyond the assumptions around which the forces were funded in both scope and duration, without the Treasury making up the full difference.

It’s at this point that two of your points become extremely relevant, specifically :

“short term MoD budget balancing v long term cost increases” and “Brown ale budgets” (my capitals).

There are some spectacular bloopers on the MoD side – Astute, Nimrod MRA4 and Bowman are probably the most prominent on the project side. The botched implementation of RAB being another on the general organisation piece. However, I’d bet good money that had cost growth not been incurred consistently for ten years by reshuffling budgets to keep within Gordon’s (non-warfighting) spending profiles, then the Black Hole would not have been anything like as painful.

The truth is we can and could afford the SDR98 requirement. That someone wasted the money elsewhere is the reason people feel the pain today.

July 10, 2013 5:03 pm

If trade protection is such a critical concern can someone tell me why the carriers, nuclear subs, frigates, destroyers and amphibious assault ships have not been flogged off in favour of AIP subs and a fleet of smaller vessels, ranging from the fast missile boat to the offshore patrol/corvette size? I say this because – as TD pointed out – the bulk of our critical trade (food and fuel) travels no further by sea than the width of the North Sea. A sqaudron in the middle east and maybe one out of Gibraltar would complete the coverage for probably 99% of the vital elements.

As for letting the rest of Europe provide the land power on our behalf, why not follow the logic of that argument and let the US and Europe provide the naval and air power for us as well? They have plenty of planes and ships. They’re invested in a lot of the same areas we are, so why do we need two carriers when the US has ten? We could scrap the bulk of the navy and the air force, turn the army into a home guard, right? No? Why? Because… because… because… because… because… because………. because that line of argument is complete bollocks, that’s why.

Onto this idea of dodging ground wars, do you really think that idiot Blair went into Afghanistan and Iraq with the thinking that they would descend into a counter-insurgency war? All this talk of sitting offshore and not getting involved smells strongly of wishful thinking. Yet somehow people think playing pat-a-cake on the sidelines is going to convert into a magic well of “influence”. We’ve been spending blood and treasure like nobodys business over the last few years, and we can’t even get Barmy Barry and his administration to back us openly over “those Islands”. Why? Because in geopolitics, money talks, as does keeping your backyard sweet. Carriers? Tanks? Planes? Find me a world leader who could really give a f**k and is influenced about such “prestige” things and I’ll show you a man who is leading his country down the garden path. Clue; there aren’t many of them.

If you want carriers, tanks, planes etc, then fine buy them. But do it for the right reasons, not because you think the King of Jordan is going to pat you on the back and shout “good form” in Arabic. Because chances are he’ll be more interested in your suit and your car.

July 10, 2013 5:20 pm

@NaB: Hear hear!

Hindsight is a great thing, but actually the more time moves on the more I think the current CVF design is spot on for our needs. It will provide the core of the RN’s multi-functional task force for the next 50 years and will pay back numerous times over when compared to a limited (and misguided in my view) LHD design.

July 10, 2013 5:23 pm

@x I always thought the Genuine knocking of his career choice was about out of order. I felt a bit sorry for him.

July 10, 2013 5:26 pm

” chances are he’ll be more interested in your suit and your car.”

Not if you don’t drive a Porche or Mercedes :P

TD, I think “wrong” isn’t the right term for the requirements, the requirements are pretty much well a trodden over path. What might be a better description would be an “overreach of objectives or purpose that the budget could not support”. Honestly, If the QE-class was filled to capacity with 3 squadrons, it would provide a fairly decent force. The problem was not with the 3 squadron capacity, it was with the fact that the 3 squadrons were cut down to one because of money issues.

Look on the bright side, at least the economic crisis came before the carriers were constructed. If it had come after, the MoD might have been forced to sell one to reduce maintenance costs, which would have been a waste. Same thing happened to Thailand, they got a carrier, then the Asian 1997 Financial Crisis hit. On a normal budget they could have operated it, but once they went into recession, it became a white elephant.

Rocket Banana
July 10, 2013 5:43 pm

We’re ordering 48 F35B and reading betwen the lines in the cost forcast that was posted recently it equated to exactly another 24 down the road.

CVF can still operate 36 jets with ASW offdecked to escorts and tankers.

July 10, 2013 5:55 pm

Simon, I know they can operate 3 squadrons. My point was that the other 2 squadrons might be late or never in coming, which makes the entire system not ready for immediate use unless you can scrape up another 24 F-35Bs from somewhere.

And you don’t need to offdeck, think there is enough space for an ASW component with the 36+4 FJs too.

Way I see it, there are 2 possible bottlenecks for a serious, rapid deployment.

1) Cost of the F-35Bs. An immediate bulk buy of F-35s would give the Treasury fits. The UOR to end all UORs :)

2) Production rate of F-35Bs. Even if by some miracle, the Treasury decided to throw money at the problem, there may not even be planes to buy, considering that the F-35 is not in mass production yet.

Oh well. Time will sort it out I suppose. Or bin it in the trashcan of history. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

July 10, 2013 5:57 pm

@ Topman

Oh. I didn’t see it in that way. I trotted out the Falklands stuff because it is all the stuff that pro-dark blue nutjobs like me supposedly trot out are always supposed to trot out. As I said I was being extreme for the sake of it.

I will say though as somebody who doesn’t have a professional axe to grind that I do find as unbiased observer that land launched air power bods to tend present it as a panacea and sort of sweep all the necessary logistics and other factors like the sovereignty of airspace under the mat.

July 10, 2013 6:21 pm

@x most people have got a rider in this race. I wasn’t too concerned about your comments r the fi. It is interesting the last part of your post. Options are to me what it’s about. i’m sure there’s plenty that would change a few words of your statement and point the finger. Funny isn’t it, type one thing and people read it in another way.

Swimming Trunks
Swimming Trunks
July 10, 2013 6:22 pm

@ TD – “What do people think about a possible alternative history type approach, more but smaller carriers (say, an enlarged Invincible class, still aviation focussed x3) plus instead of the LPD/LHA/LHD(A) combo we went for a single class of ship that were less specialised but benefited from a high degree of commonality with the son of Invincible , i.e. an Invincible/Ocean combo with a well dock??”

Often thought similar; the very early drawings released of the CVF resembled a Hermes sized Invincible. Three modern Hermes plus ? number of well decked half sisters sounds good…

@ X – RE: Security Studies:

Perhaps the problem, and partial cause of the arguments above, is the lack of a Grand Strategy and a clear idea what our armed forces are for?

July 10, 2013 6:28 pm

TD said “Dont forget Chris, carrier can poise indefinately, menacing those on shore and forcing them to stop being naughty boys :)”

Let’s not forget Op Ellamy required 8,500 tons of stores to be moved to airfields in a host nation supposedly a major NATO that was a bit dithery of taking any action. Let’s not forget that moving those 8,500 tons of stores, let’s face in ship cargo terms not much, was banged on about like the RAF had completed a task of Hercules. How far is Italy about two day’s careful driving. There are HGV drivers who similar and longer runs every week. Let’s not forget how awesome the initial raids from Norfolk were. 8 pilots who are trained to the tune of millions sat in planes there are trained to fly filled with all the latest navigation in equipment, fly through air space that belonged to the conflict’s other major combatants and so safe, backed up by more expensive aeroplanes just to refuel them on trip just to the other side of the continent, expensive aeroplanes whose replacements under PFI are going to cost enough to buy one ship tanker each year for 27 years and cover it’s life time’s operating costs, an operation that probably needed upwards of 750 bods probably to complete, and all to 16 missiles from 250nm out that missiles of similar to could have been carried in a VLS of frigate, crewed by a crew of 160, whose cost would be less than 12 F35a, that could do other things, and do those things of the coast of South America or in the Gulf in about week if there was a need. But we don’t have the latter capability because the MoD is too concerned with perpetuating Cold War and even WW2 fiefdoms instead of going for value for money for the UK taxpayer.

Rocket Banana
July 10, 2013 6:28 pm


So the problem is with F35 ;-)

July 10, 2013 6:33 pm

@ Simon,

Correction. The “plan” is to order 48 jets. The end result could yet prove different.

July 10, 2013 6:33 pm

Amidst all the sound and fury of fighting over what decisions the MoD should have made in 1998 I note that the Septics have today made the first autonomous landing of a UAV on an under-way carrier. The future of carrier aviation just changed, folks.

Not a Boffin