#SDSR 2015 Talking Points – The Great Carrier Conundrum


I think we all agree that SDSR 2015 will be unlikely to change the fundamental strategic direction of SDSR 2010, despite the tumultuous 5 years in between the publication of the two.

Slight course changes, correcting errors in the post SDSR 2010 plans and ensuring what we have in a post Afghanistan world in terms of personnel, organisation and equipment is maximised will likely be the key themes.

One of the talking points in the run up will centre on the great carrier conundrum.

Should we bring both into full service, sell/scrap one or have the second operate in some ‘semi permanent’ state?

With one in full service any refit period or downtime due to accidents for example would leave the UK without that significant capability. That might be an acceptable risk, after all, the UK will have operated without fixed wing carrier aviation for many years by the time the first carrier comes into service,

A related issue is that of HMS Ocean, which we know will be out of service roughly co-terminus with the first carrier entering service.

Operating with just one ‘flat top’ means the flexible carrier enabled power projection concept would rest on a single platform. Bringing the second carrier into semi permanent service with a reduced crew and sailing time would at least provide some measure of resilience but would still leave the UK dependant on one hull for CEPP. Operating with both in full service would provide some resilience and operational flexibility but at what cost?

Can the Royal Navy man both vessels in full service, would compromises have to be made elsewhere and other questions need to be answered.

This would also beg many other questions, the decision cannot be taken in isolation

Final F35 numbers, RFA requirements, casualty receiving and aviation training roles and number of frigates, in addition to smaller issues around amphibious doctrine in the absence of landing craft or vehicle space on the QE ‘class’ for example

Many issues, many questions, but ultimately;

One carrier or two, perhaps with an alternative of one and a half carriers

Over to you…




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Paul Marsay

My first take on this is that we had it right with the Invincible class run 2 have 1in refit/reserve , 2TAG together with Ocean or eventually an Ocean replacement


There isn’t a carrier conundrum. In fact it seems rather obvious what will happen. That is that the model being used at the moment, one ship operational with another in refit/reserve/construction, will continue. Just after 2018 that operational ship will be a 74,000 ton vessel with an air wing that will be configured based on Merlins, Apaches, F-35Bs and lynxs. The ship will basically be a bigger version of the USN LHA concept with the addition of a relatively limited AEW capability.

Ocean will be gone in 2019 as is effetively announced here: http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/sn06770.pdf‎

That leaves two hulls, QE and PoW and the Ocean/Illustrious relationship post 2010 provides the most obvious and likely model for their usage after 2018 when QE becomes available- obviously replacing Ocean as the sole RN flat-top.


Bring both into service, work on the basis of 1 always either deployed or ready-to-deploy; the 2nd as a Ready Reserve, with the ability to surge both during “best effort” type situations.

Coordinate with the French, so that (at the very least) only one of our combined fleet of carriers is in extended maintenance at one time.

The RTFG already works the flattops with the LPDs as a single force, this will continue – which makes sense given overall fleet size (lack of escorts, etc).

Build 2 enlarged Bay Class ships, with hangers, (or something similar) to replace Argus.


The QEs are hugely expensive to buy and run. They can only be justified by strategic and tactical significance. If they are, it makes no sense to only have one; time in dock and the risk of losing it would limit its usefulness to the point where we’d have been better off spending the money on other things. Taking this argument further, the risks are still high with two, especially if they’re meant to get close enough in to airlift men and material ashore. If restricting one to stand-by frees up the money for an F35-enabled multi-purpose vessel (think Juan Carlos / Canberra) as an Ocean replacement, that would begin to give us the flexibility and strength-in-depth that should be a necessary prerequisite of even being in the game.


As for other decisions. The DD/FF force was relatively protected in 2010, it “only” lost the four T22s. By comparison the amphibious fleet was cut by a third:

Albion / Bulwark: One sent to extended readiness
Bay Class: One of Four ships sold to Australia
Point class: Two out of six ships quietly dropped from the MoD contract

That’s a fleet that consisted of twelve ships in 2010 that now consists of eight.

SDSR-15 for the navy will likely be almost entirely confirmatory.


I’m pretty sure the Marines could lose 2000 blokes to pay for a dedicated Ocean replacement. You do not require 7 – 8000 to man 3 Cdo Bde.

Stuart Crow

Three smaller ships and put one in reserve (or as an assault carrier) would have been a more manageable commitment. I think anything up to 40,000T could be dry-docked at Pompey or Plymouth as well as Rosyth, which would be plenty big enough and allow flexibility.

If we wanted to sell one of the QEs, would anyone buy a carrier that big that didn’t have cats & traps? We aren’t likely to end up with enough frigates and destroyers to allow us to run two carriers into contested space independently should the need arise.

Ocean could be kept in service much longer than currently planned while we figure out what to do with the QEs. It seems likely they will both come into service to start with (because Hammond is desperate to throw Pompey and the RN a bone after recent disasters) but with one with a cut down air group. In the long term we need a dedicated Ocean replacement, it could be done on a “cheapish and cheerful” basis again.

We have got into a position where we somehow run defence reviews in isolation from foreign policy. Indeed defence policy is run directly by the Treasury. The FCO don’t seem to have any view worth expressing and when DFID were offered the use of Illustrious for the Phillipines, they had to get on Google to find out what an aircraft carrier is.

“I’m pretty sure the Marines could lose 2000 blokes to pay for a dedicated Ocean replacement. You do not require 7 – 8000 to man 3 Cdo Bde.”

Harmony guidelines and manning balance?

QEC are going to be expensive to run. CHF is low on airframes. I see it becoming a nice to have subsidiary capability. I know everybody here thinks helicopters are the answer to everything unless compared to any fixed wing capability when suddenly helicopters aren’t worth the tin.

What is needed is more dock capacity in fast LPDs that can keep up with fleet not more helicopter capacity for a diminishing number of airframes.

Not going to go through all the reasoning again.


People need to get over the idea that there will be anything like a fixed notion of an “air group”. There will be no such thing. The UK will instead have a collection of assets from which it can produce a flat-top based aviation package based on specific needs.

There will be available:

2 x F-35B squadrons (1 RAF and 1 FAA badged but based on the JFH model- so under RAF control)
30 x Merlin HM2 of which some will be configured for AEW
25 x Merlin HC4/4a for lift (in two squadrons)

And whatever other JHC assets (Lynx and Apache) are deemed necessary for the mission.

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Admiral Harding has already laid out the likely force mix. So a Joint Air Mvre Package will see 24F35B 9HM2, 5 AEW airframes.
Given the cuts in us CV assets and the increased importance of LHA in providing fixed wing support for MEU ops I wonder if the USN/USMC may be interested in Crows Nest.
To answer the original question the current Government will delay the decision as long as possible and point out how we are running Ocean and QE.


A number of force packages have been considered, but there is no “the” force mix, that will depend on the requirements of any given time. The 24 number has been offered not as a standard package but as a surge capability- conveniently also the same size force that the UKs two planned F-35B squadrons will be able to generate.

Good overview here: http://www.aviationweek.com/Article.aspx?id=/article-xml/awx_09_11_2013_p0-615007.xml

On the subject of convenience, the 12 figure from the SDSR is the single FAA badged F-35B squadron, the surge capability obviously being the addition of the single RAF badged F-35B squadron.

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You are correct up to a point. Of course what we will have is always a TAG(Tailored Air Group) but in order to plan, berthing, stores, deck use, training etc etc it is not difficult for the experts to come up with Air Groups to fit mission profiles which is what Russ Harding has done.
The last thing you ever want to do is deploy operationally with a strange and untested TAG configuration.



Absolutely agree and that comment was not really aimed at your good self, I was also remiss in missing Chinook.



Harmony guidelines and manning balance?

But it’s the Brigade that rotates not the individual, you can use the orbats for Herrick to get an example. And at the moment we are only geared to provide an amphibious battle group at short notice, the same for the airborne element. We could realistically make 3 reaction brigades with an airborne, commando and light mechanised infantry battle group within each one, from units that exist already.

And the money saved in the Navy budget could buy you an Ocean replacement.



Correct, there will be a series of relatively standardised packages with different weightings between rotary lift, sea control, and strike based on hypothetical (but informed by history) scenarios. But there will be no such thing as a standard air wing in the form that the USN use or the RN used prior to the Falklands.

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IT really depends what you want the Carrier to be able to do, if you do not conduct enough fixed wing ops to remain current and operational then why have one at all?

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Just as we both know that what we will actually have to deal with is tomorrows story. :) The secret will be actually being prepared for once.

The Other Chris

I think preference for SDSR 2015 is all four “flat tops”:

– Ocean/Illustrious (or their replacements)

What I think everyone fears the most is:

– QE

(i.e. POW mothballed and Ocean/Illustrious scrapped).

The cheapest and most political move might be:


(i.e. bring POW in as the replacement for Ocean/Illustrious)

I’m hoping the stabilised budget that is now often reported for the MOD is enough to protect all four “flat top” hulls!


David Niven – “You do not require 7 – 8000 to man 3 Cdo Bde.”

Good thing that your figure 7 – 8000 men also includes 1 Assault Group and a bunch of other units then. Given that the Royal Marines are looking at 1.7 out of 3 deployment ratio, I think removing 2000-3000 booties would not go down too well.

Please explain what your “Rapid Reaction Division” is actually going to do that we can’t do already, while retaining are expert command centres for Air Assault Operations and Amphibious Warfare.



Pure fantasy. Illustrious decommissioning in 2014 has already been announced: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/mod-sets-out-future-of-invincible-class-carriers

And everything is pointing towards Ocean, soon to be the only flat-top in the RN, disappearing in 2019.

dave haine

I think Spreadsheet Phil (A slightly unfair soubriquet IMO- he’s certainly brought some commonsense and some sound budgetry to the MOD) is on the money with his comment about there being no point in having one carrier parked up oozing money, rather than actually being used. And in making a comment like that, makes me think that he at least thinks there is some money to be had to do that.

So the question really becomes: Do we replace Argus or/ and Ocean?

Not replacing either saves money, and escorts, and enables the andrew to crew both carriers, without much of a manpower uplift. But at the cost of having the two carriers and crews run ragged fulfilling all the tasks that those vessels carried out, as well as their own.
Although, I dare say that whichever carrier was in home waters would be used for training anyway, and no amphibious landing would go ahead without a carrier being present anyway.

However, the Carriers are enormously expensive, and need to be conserved to a certain extent, to keep them for the longest period.

So, which one do we replace? Ocean? Amphibious ship, giving a useful air assault capability, but you would still need a carrier for any landing. Argus? Cheap aviation training, and primary casualty reception, but…..well, but, really.

I’m playing fantasy fleets here, but why not replace Albion, Bulwark, Ocean and Argus, with a couple of next generation light fleet carriers? with ski jumps and steel beaches, able to carry an commando as an embarked force, act as a C4 asset and support a limited offensive aviation component (maybe 6 jets+ support heli’s) bit like a crossbred Invincible and Ocean. Obviously a bit bigger, and with organic self-defense even if it’s containerised SeaCeptor. (And of course festooned with mexiflotes and LCU’s)

Oh, and call them Furious, Courageous, and Glorious….

And BTW, I’ve already assumed that illustrious will have retired.


Are we not guilty of jumping the gun with regards to numbers, availability, aircraft onboard etc, with an election in 2015? Who knows what each party will have with regards defence plans post 2015?

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I think it would take it a hugely brave party to make big changes in 2015, especially with the equipment budget agreed out to 2020.


I’m increasingly of the opinion that we’ll build and operate both carriers to maintain CEPP once Lusty and Ocean are gone to the knackers yard.

I then think that we will consider replacing Albion and Bulwark with a couple of Juan-Carlos type ships. Once done this allows us to sell one of the carriers as we’ll have three flat-tops to sustain a minor task or surge two LHDs (or the remaining CVF) for a larger task. This would be around 2030 – about the same time that CdG will need replacing…

Therefore I think there is a lot of mileage in retaining the ability to operate CTOL aircraft on PoW – with ourselves possibly joining the game further down the line. This leads only to a small procurement of F35B as a stop-gap.



I’m not so sure, I’m more confident as the economy is now starting to turn the corner but I still wouldn’t rule anything out. I know we shouldn’t look back, however the PM’s speech per the carrier contract and Nimrod getting chopped up post build lead me to think anything could happen. Although, thankfully, the chance of a big shock is reducing as the economy gets back on it’s feet, it’s not gone yet.



‘Please explain what your “Rapid Reaction Division” is actually going to do that we can’t do already, while retaining are expert command centres for Air Assault Operations and Amphibious Warfare.’

At the moment the spearhead battle groups are coming from either the Paras or Marines (I’m sure someone will put me right if I’m wrong) This means that at the moment if an emergency arose that required a parachute insertion when the Marines are on spearhead then the a Para battle group will need to be stood up pretty sharpish. A Foxhound mounted light infantry battle group would also be handy for a sudden peace enforcement mission that would not require an amphibious landing, they would be better mechanised (from a protection point of view ) for the role than the Cdo battle group, and with a vehicle that is just as strategically mobile.

Having a mix of 3 battle groups with differing specialisms allows a better tailored response to any given situation, the command centres you mentioned would not need to go per se, but the 3 HQ’s would have an amalgamation of Marines,Navy, Army and Airforce.

If a purely amphibious Bde was required you would then have a battle group trained and ready to go plus one that has just stood down so in all sense fully trained up, and one that is going through the motions of working up. This would apply to all the battle groups.

It’s not a cap badge bashing exercise, just an honest idea of what the reaction brigades could be geared towards, giving us 3 bde’s rather than the two we have now.

The Other Chris


Three “flat tops”, thank you for the correction, I was hasty in my typing. Long day! :D


Ooh a Carrier thread. Standby for 500 comments a week and at least 5 people throwing their toys out of the pram (including me probably).


The one asset here that has only been mentioned in the blog is Manpower\woman power(or whatever drivel its termed as now). The RN does not and will not have the bodies to man both at the same, thus leaving Albion/Bulwark in extended readiness, never mind manning the 3OPVs if the Rivers remain.
Everyone should stop fantasizing about running X,Y & Z the Rory Norman will be down to < 30K by about mid 2018. Maybe just as well that there will be all that space on 1 deck to constantly supply Crab air cabs space to rotate their hard done by staff out every six weeks.


The only thing i’m sure of right now is that scrapping POW and leaving the RN with just 1 (albeit huge) flat-top would be a major mistake and probably require a reappraisal of our ambitions/limitations, in essence what we want our navy to actually do.

I also don’t think it’s outside the realms of possibility to have Ocean around a bit longer if only to provide two flat-tops until POW gets fully commissioned.

We have been told that it would only be £70 million extra to keep the second carrier in service which seems perfectly affordable even in our cash strapped situation.

The big decider seems to be manpower. You here more and more about the ever tightening squeeze on the RN as a result of it’s contraction in personnel. If we assume that the crews from Illustrious and Ocean roughly provide for QE then after that the well is seriously dry. With no more room to budge, no more spare personnel to shuffle around how will POW be crewed even in a reserve state let alone as a fully worked up and deployed vessel? What would we be willing to sacrifice to keep her around? 2-3 T26 seems the most obvious choice, but even that’s assuming the RN doesn’t see even more cuts during the 2015 SDSR.

All in all i know what i want to see, but until we get the upcoming review behind us i don’t think we can really be sure of anything. It’s just too murky and multifaceted at the moment to make any solid calls.



Great post, it’s always good to see others trying to keep things grounded in reality.

The Other Chris


You’re always welcome to throw your toys out of the pram here!



Taking everything into consideration i think the best case scenario will be to keep both CVF in service with one worked up and operational with the other in some reserve state between high-readiness and mothballed, but that’s only assuming we can find the manpower from who know’s where and their is some kind of compromise when it comes to manning the second vessel between full compliment and nothing at all.

I agree what people having being saying about flexibility with the air-group, different situations require different assets. I’m adamant as well that instead of seeing these vessels as scaled down Nimitz’s we really need to accept and work with the fact that QE/POW will operate far more like LHA’s of the America class variety, which isn’t such a bad thing in my opinion. It’s far more to scale and in-keeping with our global ambitions and wider spectrum of capabilities.

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Reference manpower. Lusty to QE is core complement neutral. Ocean to POW is most definitely not but T23 to T26 would save about 60 per hull and 7 hulls would equal the difference between Ocean and POW. Now that is a vast over simplification, there are differences in specilisations required etc and we are always strapped for manpower but believe it or not there are actually people sitting in offices working out how to make Plan A or B or C work from a manpower perspective.
I do not see us running both however, short of a real crisis.



RE manpower:

Thanks for the info. It sounds like having one operational and one in reserve is hopefully more feasible than i originally believed. I doubt as well that we would see both together except in a serious crises but either way you still need two ships and two crews if you’re going to keep up a regular tempo of operations. France may have the De Gaulle but what use is their in having a solitary vessel that goes into dry dock for sometimes years at a time without relief.


I reckon both QEs will be kept with one in reserve. Probably long term. Standard window dressing tactic “we have two aircraft carriers” the fact we have not enough people to use all the toilets in the one kept at reserve makes no difference. Apparently!

What I would like to see is both manned manned and used most of the time (of course there is maintenance and refit) and maybe a couple of mistral replacing several facilities.

Don’t forget everyone, the crabs have got 60 odd chinooks. Everyone’s MEANT to work together!

Regarding manning, I thought the fact we went for two was for one to be available at all times, whilst the other goes through refit and maintenance? Or are you talking about the occasions when we would need both active?


I think both QE & POW coming into active service with the departure of Ocean, Illustrious and Argus is already a given. The value they give by their sheer size lends very well to the future multi-role / adaptive platform approach the UK is heading for. I think also we should call them “commando carriers” as ultimately I think this is how they will be used.

I do feel also that there is a very real chance of a dedicated but small FAA TAG on the designated active “commando carrier”. Something in the order of 12 F35bs plus a dozen Merlins of various configs.

For the RN, the real SDSR2015 question for me is what is the primary role for the RMs and how does this translate into troop numbers and supporting platforms.

I’m going to ponder on this question some more, but an example of how this is relevant is that based on the likely use of the LPDs, should these not be moved to the RFA to free up sailors to man both CVFs?



How realisitic is keeping one carrier at minimum manning? Can they be kept in useful training and reasonable training state to deploy, or is it a case of all or nothing? I don’t so much mean numbers but all the training and competencies that needs to be done for any unit not just functioning, but operationally capable.

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Do you mean one only? So no Carrier running at all? Or a second carrier?


While I would like both carriers fully suited & booted for war, I think more realistically, one tooled up for violence against HM enemies, while the other pootles up the Solent with a minimum training crew, but able to load up with relief supplies/helicopters/vehicles for disaster relief, should it be needed. That leaves the main carrier for “fighty” roles without being diverted.



Sorry, i meant one at full manning on ops/exercises then the second at minimum manning.

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It would really depend upon the “days notice” you wanted to keep it at. You could tie her up alongside with enough manpower for a rotating duty watch system and contract cleaners.
You could do as above but with enough specialist personnel to carry out the occasional set of System Operator Checks” and a basin trial or 2. perhaps under her own power.
Not sure if anyone has ever thought of drawing up a Scheme of Compliment which would allow the unit to go to sea but as a ship not a warship. So no ops room manning, no weapons systems or military sensors. Simply enough personnel to run the engines, man the bridge and comms and fight any fires. (be a mare to keep clean)
Even from the 3rd option it would be weeks not days to regenerate.

Red Trousers

Has anyone come up with an operational use for even one of them, let alone two at once? Or are the boats now having to justify themselves in some kind of maritime willy waving manner?

There’s no point to carriers in the Med, there’s nothing worth bombing in either west or East Africa, we’re hardly going to threaten Russia’s northern flank with them, there’s nothing at all in the North Atlantic that can’t be better served by Keflavik, Gander or Lossiemouth, we haven’t got any interest in any Pacific fights, and chasing the dwindling band of Somali pirates is overkill for an F35. We wouldn’t put a capital asset into the Gulf if a shooting war with Iran was looming, plus there’s a dozen friendly airfields on the western flank. Apparently, the Falklands are safe enough. South Africa is friendly and the regional power.

Firing TLAM has worked for the last conflicts, has a longer range, does not risk a Kevin, puts more explosive on target, and can come from out of the blue without all of the previous media hype of a large white elephant sailing out of Portsmouth.

So, where in the world are they going to be actually useful, and why are we spending over £20 billion for the ridiculous “carrier strike” concept when it is clearly not justified?



Simple, without carriers we lose our independent expeditionary strike capability. Without carriers and the amphibious lift capability might as well get rid of most of the fleet and the bulk of the army.

If we can’t deploy independently what is the point if having any of it….so I return to my old answer when I see a green leaning type saying we don’t need carriers




Thanks, so doable but not ideal. Not doubt somethings will be taken ‘on risk’ ( god how many times have I heard that…)

Sir Humphrey

Don’t forget that each carrier is tying up not far off 4% of the surface fleets manpower (some 15000 personnel) to man. To keep a second active you need to find corresponding reductions in billets elsewhere. Do you want to lose three type 23 crews to put one carrier to sea?

As for Points, I believe only 4 were ever used and the two being released reflect declining toro requirements and reduction from bde sized landing to much smaller force.

Gloomy Northern Boy

Can’t remember who said it, but DfID would soon work out what a flap-top was if HMG told them they were replacing Ocean with a Canberra class vessel, and then paying for it in perpetuity – to reflect the value the RN brings to development/disaster relief/sea gendarme type activities year in year out, and have done for years. No RN, no such options available; it is used every year in some form but they make no contribution to the capital programme: it could be crewed by the RFA for normal jogging; it is much more reasonable to spend aid money on this than on regimes with space programmes, hostile intentions towards us, or bigger arms/oppression budgets than education or health ones; and is one of the ways our European Partners hold down defence cost (Italian. Spanish and French I think) :-)

Now going to bed with painkillers and ibuleve gel having exploded knee (a little) and ankle (a lot) skiing…



@RT – “There’s no point to carriers in the Med…” – Clearly the Americans/French/Spanish/Italians and occasionally the Russians didn’t get that memo :-)

BTW, apologies if I was putting words in your mouth re: RAF Regiment.

@GNB – No sympathy. Leave doing dangerous things unnecessarily to the paras. (As any sane man knows, the only right time to jump out of an aircraft is when it is irretrievably on fire). You should at least have gone to Sochi – one of the events appeared to consist of skiing and sniping.

@ Wise Ape,

“clearly the Americans/French/Spanish/Italians and occasionally the Russians didn’t get that memo :-)”

cheap shot there, given that 3 of those nations’ are in home waters and one more “carrier” (‘aircraft carrying destroyer’ :D ) is barely a carrier really… wait until it gets MiG-29K’s before actually considering it.

Of course, Gib means we must have a carrier there ;) and the Suez… in-case we fancied another go.

Of course I know what ya mean (re trade and possible threats), but the examples you gave… only the USN is doing the ‘world projection’ thing, the others are in home waters.


@Sir Humphrey: I assume the 15000 has a zero added. Given that we lack the frigates and destroyers to maintain much of a forward presence, I’d quite happily lose three T23’s since in the matter of defence strategy we are going to have to sally forth to fix what’s already broken rather than do preventative maintenance: and a CVF is a lot more useful than three T23’s in that regard.

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@Sir H
You cannot look at as just 1500 and then sub 3 T23. You have to look at the specilisations involved/required. The QE will have a ships company very similar to that of the Invincible class. So under 700. Now to get to 1500 you add on a large TAG but that assets for that TAG are either there or they are not there. They will always be FAA/RAF assets and whether we have 1 or 2 or 1 and 1 in extended readiness they will still be FAA/RAF manpower not involved in manning a T23.

Red Trousers

@ WiseApe,

I’ll explain why I think there’s little point in carriers in the Med, at least from a western / NATO viewpoint. The Russians have different drivers.

There are over 30 military airbases in NATO countries within easy reach of the Med, conveniently spread along its’ whole length. Flight time across the Med from most is less than 45 minutes in a fast jet, which is at least the sort of distance that carriers in open ocean would wish to keep themselves away from OPFOR. Refuelling and wide body ISTAR options are much greater than open ocean carrier operations.

The only reason that anyone uses carriers in the Med is more probably because they have carriers, so might as well do something with them. Not because carriers for fast jets in the Gulf give you something that the 30 friendly airbases on dry land cannot.

@ Fedaykin,

So your argument is that £20 billion on carrier strike buys us not having to rerun the Falklands. You could make the islands impregnable for a couple of £billion, so your’s is an expensive insurance policy, and IMO, not worth it. There is no single occasion since 1945, and I suspect even since 1900, when not having carriers actually stopped the UK from being able to do anything.

I’m delighted to see I have attracted (so far!) 4 down votes, but not a single counter-argument of merit. It is a simple question: what is the operational scenario that requires us to have this lunatically expensive carrier strike capability?

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I gave up trying to explain global reach, precision strike, layered air defence, flexibilty, presence,no need for basing rights, sovereign territory, manouverability etc etc etc a long time ago. I am not a school teacher. The simple fact is that the French value them, the US do, the Russians do, the Chinese do, we do, the Spanish do, the Brazilians do, the Italians do etc.
People who have reached much higher positions than you and forgotten more about Naval warfare than you ever learnt think they are important and not just from the Naval service but hey a retired cavalryman knows better.
You have an entrenched position based on your beliefs that you refuse to move from, no matter how far out of step and date with current world wide military thinking it is.
So actually most people just ignore your posts on carriers now.



I have been thinking how to respond to your question on why we need carriers (which i agree is worth asking).

The strongest point i can raise is that whilst their is nothing wrong with basing jets on a friendly strip in this region or that it can’t be guaranteed in every scenario 100% of the time, using a carrier either (depending on who you’re talking to) costs the same or is cheaper (it’s certainly not more expensive) plus can loiter and move pretty much anywhere it likes.

I agree their aren’t many situations where a carrier is needed, but i believe it’s a better way of deploying air-power most of the time.


“Can the Royal Navy man both vessels in full service, would compromises have to be made elsewhere and other questions need to be answered.”

Agreed, and they’d be worth it.

The Other Chris

Observation: Two new carriers would attract recruitment candidates.


@RT Same old isn’t it. Tanks are extinct… who needs fighter pilots anyway… as M&S would say everything we have is useless compared to a lovely big missile.

Everything needs to exist in a balance. You only know when you need the fighty things when your fighting. QE should not be going near Pirates, drug runners or even terrorists really. My image is a few mother ships doing all of this gun waving police stuff. Then the rest of your fighty ships should be training for a proper fight or doing just that. With the obligatory headline grab by popping into the med and sinking a wooden boat from time to time.

There are many things that seem to fill niche roles. Carriers are the only real flexibility of basing incase we are denied rights to fly from certain airfields or over fly. And we cannot rely on tankers (you know the fleet thats grounded) or really expect enduring ops from fighters on long missions. Libya was a few long range bombing missions with GR4. Who needs a carrier? Well for protection of landing forces for one and for any long range missions. Kevin requires a lot of tea before, during and after long mission like that. Someone has to pay for that!

Red Trousers


Go on then. Make a positive case for the things you cite, and try to link it to a credible operational scenario. And as you do so, recall that I very specifically state carrier strike, that subset of naval capability. Smaller LPD/LPH etc are not what I am having a go at.

It’s a simple, and honest question, and not one that I believe has ever been satisfactorily answered by the proponents of such. I’ll ignore your rather puerile ad hominem remarks: explain why both the Army and RAF at 3 star level, and the DSTL analysis failed to support the QEC IGBC not once but twice, that not a single SAG scenario required carrier strike, why carrier strike (purist sense, with FJ) has not been used by any nation since when?

Flat tops with helicopters and troops are an entirely different matter. I support those.


Further to my previous comments regarding the future of Royal Marines being the main focus for change for the RN in the SDSR2015. The fact is that with reductions in Army manpower, leaving the RMs as is doesn’t make much sense as the likelihood of a full on amphibious operation is pretty low, especially as the follow on Army force will not be there. I cannot see a tank bursting through a beachhead in anger any time soon.

I know people will say (and I agree) we should be able to mount another Falklands style operation, or make potential enemies believe we can. But this is a once in a lifetime event, and hence to achieve it all the rules of rotation etc go out of the window. Therefore, to scale to have this capability 100% available within a month’s notice, doesn’t seem a good spend of money.

Therefore, the focus should be what are the likely scenarios that the RMs will be needed for. In my view the following activities should be at core to the RM:
– Small scale, but high intensity, maritime based raids
– UK citizen evacuation from war zones
– Humanitarian assistance
– Intelligence gathering
– Anti terrorist / piracy / drug operations
– Extraction of downed pilots

Based on this and the fact that none of these would likely require more than a few hundred troops in a single operation, I would say that the number of RMs should be reduced (and definitely removing the Rifles) and current Cdos split into smaller (say 2-300 troops) but more numerous units (say 6 commandos). This would allow greater flexibility and increased ability to cover more locations.

If we went with this structure I would then go with the suggestion to “downgrade” both LPDs to RFA LSD status and removing one LSD over to get a force of 4. A mini Cdo would then be assigned to either a LSD or CVF. If a Falklands style operation was needed, these would be enforced by Army units and the ships run in overload mode.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same


Read my last post. I am fed up trying to explain to you and this will be the last time I respond on Carriers.

Everyone if I ever respond to RT on carriers again please feel free to fine me somehow.


@RT: Think of a CVF as a Commando Carrier with the ability to also perform a sea-control role.

Yes they are large, but is your gripe the size or the cost. The latter has a lot to do with politicians and delays due to money constraints as we fight land based wars – rather than the cost of steel.

“Based on this and the fact that none of these would likely require more than a few hundred troops in a single operation, I would say that the number of RMs should be reduced (and definitely removing the Rifles) and current Cdos split into smaller (say 2-300 troops) but more numerous units (say 6 commandos). This would allow greater flexibility and increased ability to cover more locations.”

Um. No. You need numbers and a commando (battalion) is about as small as you can go and still do stuff. Take a Libya-esque situation. Forget Commando 21 for a mo. A company to garrison the beach. A company for reserve. And two companies for the evacuation.

If anything we need to head towards MEU numbers and capabilities. (Especially engineering and a cavalry squadron…….)

No use covering locations if you can’t do anything……..


I think we should keep both ships! I think that manning in the royal navy is far to small and that any cuts in personnel would have adverse affects not only on the operation of the carriers but of the navy as a whole! As you well know it takes years to gain the skills associated with operating complex warships we need to invest in the future with more personnel not less! The future of this country depends on the SEA! Our very existence as a nation depends on the SEA! We are a MARITIME NATION ! We need a properly funded and well equipped navy with carriers at the core !

Red Trousers


I’m disappointed. Asking questions of carrier strike is perfectly legitimate. Not that in some hypothetical WW3 scenario it would not be a useful arrow in the quiver, but that in the real world of chances, risks and competing priorities the probability of needing carrier strike is vanishingly small, as DCDS(EC) was advised by a significant majority of the military judgement panels. Not once, but twice.

The third time the case succeeded, but not with any underlying change in threat assessments or of SAG scenarios, merely a different set of personnel some 2 years later. That and an optimistic early days set of assumptions on the development costs of F35 and QEC. Assumptions not borne out by reality. Don’t worry, I’ll not throw accusations of a Labour industrial strategy or non-knowledge of a future 2008 crash into the mix: no one on the MJP could foresee the latter, the former largely disproved.

It is the sheer cost of adding carrier strike onto the base costs of next gen LPH / LPD that gets me. I strongly believe that those extra costs will never have a return on investment. You seem to believe that I have it in for the RN entire. Not at all, I merely believe that (say) 4 Juan Carlos with a decent complement of helicopters and some improved amphibious capability would be rather better value for money, and more useful to the UK over an expected service life.

As I say, I’m disappointed. You are running from an argument that should have been had. I’m perfectly civil. The only point you have made that is strong is layered air defence, but it is not by itself compelling for the additional £10 billion acquisition costs of carrier strike over a more modest LPD/LPH capability.


The problem I think is when you argue the case along the lines of what RT has said it stands up more than some care to admit. There is also merit in apas position of denial of basing for strike jets/presence and the such like to make a case for using a carrier. Though exactly what operation would require f35 type capability at the scale envisaged of cvf without recourse to any supporting land based aircraft or allies is a difficult one.

I hate using the term “well we spent so much on them we better equip and use them” that seems the last refuse of a scoundrel. It doesn’t make it any less true. We spent north of 6b quid building them so we dam well better maximise that to the full. That in my mind means getting both in service if that means we need to remove the remaining Lpd or reduce the frigate fleet by half to do it or accept 70% solutions else were in the fleet then in my view so be it we’ve made our bed.

The should they be built argument was for me settled nearly a decade ago when we ordered them, the capability hopefully will be excellent and should now be our main offensive commitment to coalition operations. The price to get there is probably going to be high in reducing other capability but no longer is it a choice.


@RT – It’s -5 now and I haven’t even voted!

The Italians, who had the nearest airbases to Libya, nonetheless deployed their carrier operating Harriers. Faster sortie rate, shorter transit time, longer loiter time, able to react quicker to intelligence. Don’t think of a carrier as a “floaty little boat,” think of it as an airfield you can move around much of the earth’s surface. Why wouldn’t you want one (or three) of those?

Remember those F15 blokes shot down in Libya – how would they have been got out without the US LHD nearby?

@Ian – We gave up our maritime strategy when the British Army agreed with their French counterparts that they would pitch up for a scrap with the Germans in northern France or Belgium before WW1 kicked off. Ironically, if Germany, Europe’s pre-eminent land power, hadn’t decided to build their High Seas Fleet to challenge the RN there would probably never have been an entente with France and we would have kept out of it.


If you moved the RM into the Army their costs would reduce. No need to staff the CLR, BAS etc, just amortise those costs across the existing Army units just like you do with the RE etc

wf claims “If you moved the RM into the Army their costs would reduce.”

Um. No. They would stay the same or even dare I say increase.


‘They would stay the same or even dare I say increase.’

Considering their wages, terms and conditions and equipment scaling and billeting would remain the same I don’t see how the costs would increase.

Red Trousers

@ WiseApe,

Some advanced map and geo-political analysis reveals that for an enormously high (well plus of 90% of the time) there are existing friendly bases. Not me, DSTL. And that included a weighting factor that sometimes presumed friends will say no to using their airbase. Now that’s not 100% which would be nice, but we have to draw a line at some point.

Your other point about pulling downed F15 crews (land based) out of harm’s way by LPD-based helicopters rather makes my main point, that carrier strike costs need not be incurred by the UK when LPD/H is what we actually need. Thank you. ;)

Sir Humphrey

To run the extra carrier means finding some 700 billets – the rn is not going to get a manpower uplift to get this- growing the forces is just not going to happen. To run a second carrier you need to find these people inside. All manpower planning is not bring done on assumption of two carriers running. Therefore we have to gap billets elsewhere to crew the second ship.
Like I said, the rn surface fleet has eproughly 15000 billets, the submarines and FAA some 3000 each and the marines some 6000 ( this late and I don’t have a detailed breakdown at hand). As such you need to find these people from a small specialised pool and when you look at what you will need to run the ships, it gets very complex and gives manning people and harmony guidelines headaches. I’m personally betting that the rn will be required to sacrifice something to find the bodies for the z3 new opv’s if it wants to run them and the rivers on. God alone knows how bad running 2 cvfs is going to be!

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same

CSAR consists of quite a few components but part of the package is a dedicated FW escort. When we lost the ability to supply this from CDG or Garibaldi during the Libya op, the overall response time increased by 30 minutes.
Of interest on Carriers and Libya, at the end of the Op, the RAF requested a full breakdown of every mission flown from a maritime platform. Type of aircraft, mission, weapons carried, weapons released, duration etc. Caused total nause but nothing was ver heard about the results supplied :)

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same

In addition to my last, missed the edit to check on my toast and cheese, Kearsage of course provided her own AV8B cover for the F15 CSAR mission as part of the package.

Red Trousers


Perhaps an example of something being not only a self-licking lollipop, but something fantastically expensive to generate.

After all, you never hear of a CSAR Mission being launched for the crew of a broken down recce wagon. No, you take your chances and don’t expect a rescue.

Ex DESERT RESCUE 2003 was an interesting experience. An annual event run by the US Naval Weapons School at Fallon Nevada (Top Gun), the USN use it to train up their squadrons before they embark on a deployed cruise on a carrier. The USN doctrine was for a pair of FJs (then, preferred was F14s as they had a RIO in the back) to race to the scene of the downed aircraft, the lead to act as the on scene mission commander to coordinate the CAAR itself. This meant a Kevin had to fly in small circles to get eyes on with the downed aircrew, coordinate authentication codes, vector in helicopters, fend off threats, etc. all while trying to fly and not run out of fuel. It was fantastically inefficient.

In 2003 the UK was asked to take part with the Joint UAV experimentation programme, which I commanded, to see if UAVs could improve things. We had a stock Hermes 450 and a GCS.

We reduced the time to identify, authenticate, confirm and vector the helicopters by 68%, while drinking coffee in the GCS. Not once, but the average over 28 missions in 3 weeks. Because we were not thinking old-think.

Lots of “but buts” in there, but the principle is interesting. You don’t need to do things the old way to get better results. And UAVs tend to have far longer loiter times than jets do, so the extra 30 minutes is a bit moot.

Anyway, rescuing some downed airmen (very infrequently, over the service life of a Nellie) is not a good enough reason to over-spend on required capability by £10 billion, not when most other types of serviceman are expected to get on with it should they be somehow left behind lines. It might sound heartless, but CSAR is only offered to a very few.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same

By 2011 doctrine is C2 by separate rotary wing asset from recovery bird, fixed wing response to deter and suppress OPFOR. It was decided that a couple of FJ at 100 feet deterred any OPFOR more than a possible high altitude drone, not that they do not have their uses in such a scenario but you want the bad guys to piss off before you unleash ordnance ivo the guy you are trying to rescue.
The other drone and range issue is that loiter time is fine but if you cannot launch till an incident happens or in a big country like Libya you would be in wrong place.

Not a Carrier specific response for everyone else. as it is as applicable inshore as coastal.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same

Anyway suede down time so I will leave with this thought on Carriers in general. It is not so much a matter of what could only be done by a Carrier can do but what could better be done with a Carrier than without and then you add on those times that only a Carrier will do combined with the multiple other tasks its flexibility allows it to conduct.


Its the lack of manpower in the navy which is the main problem! Retaining HMS Ocean after 2018 is unlikely unless we go to war again I think it will be sold to either Brazil or India rather than being scrapped! I think HMS Prince of Wales will be brought into service using the crew from Ocean.

Red Trousers

Who thinks a couple of FJ at 100 feet deters ground forces more than a loitering UAV that you can’t see? Presumably, someone not gifted with any intelligence.

We used to regularly get hunted by the Harrier Force on exercises. Really not very difficult to coordinate movement with the aircraft not pointing towards you: we had thermal viewers which make it child’s play to know where the aircraft was. Even easier when dismounted. It was very rare that a Harrier could call in a hit, and they were meant to be the RAF’s premier CAS solution.

Different matter when Apache came in, that could sit mast up behind a wood line. That was much more challenging, certainly in vehicles, less so on foot.

A couple of naval Kevins winging in without any ground briefing and with sensors optimised for a different form of warfare and target type would not be difficult to evade. Unless APATS has practical muddy knees experience, which I doubt, because it’s not really part of being a PWO or a trainer of Yemeni Coast Guard boats to be in the woods moving tactically and avoiding being seen.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same


Get into the 21st century, we were talking recovering downed airmen in Libya, we want the OPFOR to see the fixed wing assets are there and they did not have woods to hide in.
We do not care if they evade we just do not want them near our airmen which with a drone they cannot see they have no deterrence not to. Once they are there well hellfire etc becomes useless.
The use of a FJ flyby to deter actually came out of Afghanistan.
We are not on the German plains or in Bosnia anymore. No I have no experience of crawling through the mud but have Telic and Herrick ground tours.
We are very purple these days.

Charles Chapman

Did somebody die and decree that being a major sea-powerwould be low in cost and inconvenience?Does anything in your experience promise that such a state of affairs is possible?
If you judge that the RN is to have world-class capabilities-that Britain needs such a navy. Then what relevance is there in quibbling about crewing costs?Is there not a point a point at which nay saying becomes mere obstruction, and the job must be got on with-even if some clever fellow can come up with yet another reason to sit on one’s hands? If battleships were still the price of freedom and independence- a country which would be free and independent would find a way.If carriers are a necessary ingredient in sea power?Should you not get on with it-and let the chips fall where they may?

dave haine

So, like I said upthread, the question isn’t really how many carriers do we operate- but rather do we replace Ocean and/or Argus?-
If we don’t we can crew the second carrier to full operational status, but we lose amphibious capability- Ocean’s ramp meaning we can lump big sticks of troops onto a beach, because, lets face it, even with Wokka’s the limited size means that each heli wave will be an fully-equipped company of troops, at best.

As far as I’m aware, the QE’s will have 4 Wokka spots, although, they’re working on fitting more on, so maybe 6. That’s a lift of two companies of equipped troops.
So how big an embarked force can the QEs take?

And BTW, in the same post- I mentioned the problem of crewing the QE’s….

And, TBH, FJ’s are at more risk from determined ground troops hence the reason why SOP’s are one pass only


@x: “Um. No. You need numbers and a commando (battalion) is about as small as you can go and still do stuff. Take a Libya-esque situation. Forget Commando 21 for a mo. A company to garrison the beach. A company for reserve. And two companies for the evacuation.

If anything we need to head towards MEU numbers and capabilities. (Especially engineering and a cavalry squadron…….)

No use covering locations if you can’t do anything……..”

Should not have stressed the covering locations piece, as when needed then obviously having a RFTG with one or two LSDs would still give you the mass you need. Working on the assumption that you get approx. 1 month heightened awareness of a Libya type scenario and it happens every 2-3 years then I still feel this force structure would cover it.

The other type of operations I noted would not need a Battalion sized unit.


Honest and general question, people are worried about manning the 2 CVFs and 2 LPDs (1 in reserve), yet I see comments about having 4 LHDs or 1 CVF + 2 LHDs, would the latter actually fit the current RN manning restrictions any the more?

As I say my opinion is that the RN should just go for the 2 CVFs and let the RFA run 4 LSDs to support.


@RT: you are probably very right with regard to using UAV’s for CSAR. But when it comes to picking up stranded Kevins, you really don’t have a morale setting on your computer :-)


Is csar important yes do you need something the size and cost of cvf to allow you to do it no.

A ship the size of the Italian Cavour could do all that at much lower cost and crew requirements.

Cvf is the size with the capability it will bring for one purpose only carrier strike from the sea.

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All Politicians are the Same

@ Mark

I am in no way using CSAR to justify CVF, merely illustrating that a fixed wing capability embarked is very helpful. Interestingly Cavour has 2/3rds QE crew levels but you do not get 2/3rd capability. You still need the same number of the expensive manning positions.


@Mark: Approximately, the Cavour needs a core crew of 450 vs the CVF of 680 – this ignores the air group of course as they will be similar regardless of the size of ship. Are we seriously saying finding 230 additional crew per vessel is beyond a 60mn nation?

I’d argue that the size of the CVF vs Cavour allows you to do more. What makes you think it is the other way round?


From the comments so far the problem the Navy has is numbers of sailors to man both the carriers and an ocean replacement, and an ocean replacement is looking unlikely due to this very problem. So our carrier will be used as a very large America class, which it is not really optimised for use in the amphibious role hence the reason the later America classes are recieving well decks. I can then still see a reason for an ocean replacement being required as even with the carrier acting in an amphibious operation the only thing it brings is airlift which means only light infantry (unless you can store and bring up to the decks vehicles and light guns?). But we are where we are, so is a dedicated ocean replacement still required for amphibious operations? If it is , then how will the use of the carrier slow operations? And how would the Navy pay for the crewing costs of an ocean type vessel if it is still deemed necessary for amphibious operations? Is there a study to provide the same rear ramp and mexe float system for the new carriers as that found on ocean?

Personally I believe we are purchasing the wrong plane for the right ship or the right plane for the wrong ship.



I accept that it offers much less capability than cvf. But across 2 ships that’s 500+ less people required to operate them, ships of that size would also most likely have cost about 2b pound less to build which is you p8 capability. It would appear the extra crew is a problem repulse or there would be no discussion about parking one at the sea wall

We’ve never had the level of capability offered by cvf from the sea. It’s equivalent to the raf deciding that 3 sqns of b1bs is what we need going fwd.

But someone somewhere decided that future uk strike capability will come from these ships so maximising that is now a must.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same

@ Mark

Actually across 2 Ships it would be a lot closer to 450 than 500 plus. Also the extra personnel would be at the cheaper end of the scale. No requirement for extra Charge qualified Engineers, senior Officers etc.
Manning will be interesting but as i pointed out yesterday in a simplistic manner. Lusty and QE is core complement neutral. Then you have savings from T23 to T26 which will be about 50 per hull but Ocean to POW is about an extra 380-420. You then balance that against speciliasations because the argument I used against Cavour now works in reverse, the people you save from T26 to T23 are again the more junior bodies. People are looking at all the options.

We’ve never had the level of capability offered by cvf from the sea. It’s equivalent to the raf deciding that 3 sqns of b1bs is what we need going fwd.”

Well if the RAF had not moved australia and then did not even get F111 in the end :(


@ Cassandra . I think you have raised the nub of the issue. Both the RN and RAF are undermanned, so they will have to get an increase in man power. That can only come from a reduction in army man power, the axing of the RAF regiment or an increase in defence expenditure. The later is unlikely unless there is a change of heart, the former (ie reductions to army manpower ) is the most likely. The experiences of Afghanistan and Iraq have left the army in a far weaker place politically than the other two services. I would rather see defence spending increase to 2.5% of GDP which would solve the man power and euipment problems without robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Engineer Tom

If you subscribe to the argument that we don’t need carrier strike as we have made do without it or that we haven’t used it, why do we have UK air defence, a nuclear deterrent or ASW assets? We have them as they would be needed in a worst case scenario!


One of the major mistakes being made by some in this thread is assuming that the QE class are about carrier strike. That is just one of the capabilities that these platforms will provide. They will also be taking the amphibious lift role, and operate as maritime control platforms. These are aviation platforms that will be used to provide whatever aviation services the fleet needs. Any comparison with real CVs/CVAs such as CVA01 is tenuous at best.


Good christ Bob and I agree on something.

The Invincibles started out as a through desk ASW cruiser which then got a point A2A defence capability and which turned into a light carrier (a pretty crap one). Now we have a strike carrier that is morphing slowly into something like a multi-role aviation platform which is very useful.

My opinion on this is still that a strike orientated CVF is of little utility at the moment. In fact I agree with RT it’s of next to no utility. But, as has been pointed out her last Captain is still shitting his nappy and the future could easily throw up a scenario where a CVF strike capability becomes critical again. It’s an expensive insurance policy but seeing as it will be used for a wide variety of aviation roles it’s not a white elephant.


@Derek: well, CVF is similar to CVA01. But it’s certainly not all about carrier strike. Personally, I think mass strategic bombing has had it’s day, even amongst airpower advocates. When you can create massive effects with a few TLAM’s or smart bombs, the idea of systematically wiping out industry and the like seems a bit of diversion of effort away from more effective uses for the effort. And if you are invading as well, you just have to rebuild the stuff. Instead, do enough to keep things down for weeks, and maneuver on land and sea to change the realities on the ground.

What CVF will do is allow a task force to control the environment around it, far more effectively than land based airpower, largely by dint of it’s sortie rate. All those ships full of Commando’s won’t get far without a robust way of defending them.

I noted earlier that @RT wasn’t very impressed with the 1982 reference. You hear the same now about Iraq and Afghanistan, on how it “will never happen again”. Should I quote Sir Winston about being condemned to repetition?

Not a Boffin

“It’s a simple, and honest question, and not one that I believe has ever been satisfactorily answered by the proponents of such. I’ll ignore your rather puerile ad hominem remarks: explain why both the Army and RAF at 3 star level, and the DSTL analysis failed to support the QEC IGBC not once but twice, that not a single SAG scenario required carrier strike, why carrier strike (purist sense, with FJ) has not been used by any nation since when?”

Just as a slight point of order, I’d be interested to know the basis of the above statement. To the best of my knowledge (having been in town in 1999), Dstl did not exist and there was no IGBC, because the approval for Assessment Phase (in early 99) predated the whole IG, MG malarkey. As far as SAG scenarios go, there were a number of them, done under the old MQ series I25/26 by what was DOAC at West Drayton, IIRC. In point of fact, Dstl (post formation in 2001) were heavily involved in developing the scenarios that justfified the sortie gen rate for the ships.

This reminds me a little of the debate we had some time ago about Juan Carlos being an option considered as an alternative to QEC. In point of fact it never was, outside some staff options course at RCDS. Sounds a little bit like myth and legend from a Tarquin and Rupert perspective to me…….


Can we please condem the terms CVF and Strike Carrier from all of our vocabularies please when talking about the RN. Can we find a term closer to reality such as Commando Carrier when talking about our new shiney lumps of floating real estate.

Also we can all talk about what could have been, but the fact is they are being built. Unless anyone seriously thinks that a better alternative would be to scrap them without replacement then we should really move on.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same


CVF was used because it was a future project. Perhaps we should reintroduce the designation CVU. As it will be a utility Carrier?



The similarities between CVF and CVA01, in the formers current conception, is that they both have/had large flat decks and carried aircraft. That’s where it ends.

The QE class won’t just provide are control it will also provide the rotary lift base for those commandos.


I think its quite well known now about the RAF moving Australia. Even with doing so you are horribly overstretched.

Heres a hypothetical situation for you RT. The args have taken the Falklands completely overwhelming our defences. Just about possible I suppose but it hardly matters cause this is hypothetical :D Now we have FJ in the UK all we have to do is get them over the FIs. We are going to assume we have Tankers (which we cureently don’t but oh well!). So Voyager can trail typhoon or F35 down to ascension. Oh but whats that you say… voyager hasn’t got a probe fitted. Oh dear now the only way we can get that far south is send a voyager and a load of FJs on a suicide mission! Eevn if you had a probe you aref lying very long range missions again. You can’t really allow for combat over the islands so you couldn’t support any ground troops or fend off enemy aircraft.

The Falklands now they have been mentioned PROVED the need for carriers and LPD/H and assualt ships and the commando. It also pointed at the necessity of 2 carriers. If you lose your one and only carrier you have no air assets left and everything that was up goes into the sea.

The navy is said to be “at critical mass”. Currently we don’t have 2 QE class either. So I think we either send less fighty ships to the RFA or we increase staffing. There is no point having a Navy if you haven’t got people to man it. More window dressing.

@RT Carriers are like tanks, they operate in a niche role. Like attack helicopter. Like Fighter jets. Like Trident. Like T45. Like T23. Like essentialy everything other than men/women. No you don’t need them, but would you rather have them?


The Falklands now they have been mentioned PROVED the need for carriers and LPD/H and assualt ships and the commando.

It PROVED the need to have a proper garrison for a bog that a third world country covets. We now have a garrison on that bog.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same


It actually proved both. One to make it more difficult to take and the other to get it back if you are careless enough to lose it :)


Be fair Phil, he’s right in that the top brass do need to plan for worst case scenarios. Personally, I think the argies have a slightly better chance than “snowball in hell”, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Besides, that is a moot point considering that carriers also have other usages and other locations that they can influence so it’s not just a case of being bought just for FI round 2.


Oh dear Oh dear…

TD Trolls his own blog again by starting up the carrier flame war…

I am shocked! Shocked! I tell you about the strongly held views on both sides, I feel a properly considered calm appreciation………………. Nope its no good ‘I cant hold it cap’n its gonna blow’!..


Look at the above comments; all truly held beliefs, many by ‘people in the know’ but does this not show how Nellie and Dumbo are going to be THE defence issue for the UK for he next 10 years??

We have people saying this that or the other should be cut to feed the beasts and clean out their cages.

We have people in effect re writing the whole initial justification for buying the things in the first place to justify the continuation of the program.

Its not like even the RN isnt going to be cut to pay for them eventually.

I christened them Elephants- perhaps should have given them names like P24374XZY3 cahotec or whatever cosmologists call super massive black holes…….


@Phil yes fair enough but as I said it is very unlikely that we will be in the same situation.



Oh no not the RAF moved Australia myth again…

How many times does that get rolled out!

It is a myth and there is zero evidence that the RAF did it, the only source for this myth is the Biography of Ray Lygo. Ray Lygo was on the design team for CVA01 and later head of BAe, he is the soul source of this myth which changes from 200 to 1000 miles depending on who tells it. The National archives have been checked more then once and there is no sign of this special RAF map with Australia in a different location.

Sick of hearing people swear it is gospel truth based upon the unverifiable writings of one man.


Not read all comments yet.

I don’t think the selling option for PoW has been seriously considered for a quite a while, it was always idiocy anyway.
Any politician with half a brain would realize they would not get anywhere near the build cost back, so why be crucified in the press and make the country a laughing stock, much better to have both in service, one as the ‘on call’ carrier and the other in refit/reserve. No one would buy the QEs anyway, France has given up on a second carrier and the QE’s are STOVL anyway, they are too large for Brazil and it would not be wise to sell such a capable platform to a potential ally of Argentina’s, and India is already building two carriers, and the refitted Kuznetsov class has just entered service.
Still replacing two 20,000 t LPHs with two 70,000t strike carriers/LHAs is not a bad result for the RN, and it is obviously a huge step up in capability, even prestige.
I personally don’t think Ocean will be replaced, and the MoD will prob wait until Albion and Bulwark are due to be decommissioned, then order two Mistral sized LHDs.
One thing that does puzzle me, is why the RN still say the QEs are only 65,000t when RINA says they are 70,000t ?

It is interesting to note though that RAF require over 1000 bods to operate 4 FJ, 1/2 helicopters, a C130, and a few RADAR from an airfield that can’t move at cost of over £75 million per year which is a lot more than CVF’s projected yearly costs for less personnel, operating more aircraft, plus paying maintenance and fuel for a platform that can go elsewhere.

(Don’t really care about the argument, just looking at pouring more fuel on the fire……..)

“One thing that does puzzle me, is why the RN still say the QEs are only 65,000t when RINA says they are 70,000t ?”

The RN haven’t had the memo yet. Once they have had the memo they will update their figures.

Nothing happens until they have the memo.

@ TD

True. The ships run on Windows. But you can bet all the YouTube stuff is produced on Apple kit.


I will be amazed if PoW ever comes into service.
We should never forget all that SDSR talk about “we’d scrap them if we could”/ Plan B of mothballing QE once CTOL PoW was ready. By saying these things they’ve given a free pass to any future defence sec when it comes to handling PoW.
Expect a huge fanfare for QE, lots of press about her capabilities alongside Astute/ T26/ Successor.
Then PoW will be quietly put into extended readiness and Ocean scrapped.
I don’t see a future defence sec cutting more frigates to pay for a second carrier ( too many “we’re smaller then Belgium’s navy!” headlines). I do see them being persuaded that “The French do once carrier so why not us?”
When quizzed on PoW they’ll roll out some bull about it being combat ready in x time period.
Two QEs, while not ideally suited to the jobs they’d wind up doing, would be a decent capability that we really shouldn’t moan about – considering what we’ll likely get. I just don’t see any politician coming out to bat for PoW when costs of projects like Successor will be spiralling out of control.



“I merely believe that (say) 4 Juan Carlos with a decent complement of helicopters and some improved amphibious capability would be rather better value for money, and more useful to the UK over an expected service life.”

What about a handful of F35B on them?

Are you actually against naval fast jets or the flat-top carrier?

Your example of Apache being less conspicious just makes be think that if an Apache (from a carrier) can see you then the jet (from a carrier) can drop 2000lb of cluster munitions all over your scran.

Add to that the ability for friendly jets to see off enemey jets trying to do the same to the “goodies”.

As for the size of CVF well…

I can make the case for 4 x JC quite easily now, unfortunately I wouldn’t have been able to 10 years ago when F35B was just a clutch-overheating, lift-fan-vane-sticking, slugish, pipedream ;-)


Well at least when the first QE enters service the media will stop describing Ocean as the RN’s “largest ship”.
They could always trot out this fun fact though instead, with the addition of the two QEs & 4 Tide class tankers the RN and RFA will have a combined displacement of over one million tonnes.


Waylander, it can vary depending on how you calculate weight. By mass? By displacement? Empty weight? 75% loading? Maximum? etc etc.

As for the QE carriers, quit whining, the project is too far advanced to fail now, you’ll get the carriers anyhow, so best thing to do is to figure out the most efficient and useful way of getting the most possible work and value out of them.

And if you really can’t get the books to balance, selling one to China and one to Australia sounds about right. :) Or Korea?

Brian Black

” so I return to my old answer when I see a green leaning type saying we don’t need carriers

1982 1982 1982 1982 1982″

I missed the press release in which it was announced that the new ships could travel back in time, but now I know they can, they seem much more worthwhile and cost-effective.

But how will the Navy get HMS Queen Elizabeth up to the 76.4699 knots required?


@ Jay

POW will probably come into service when QE goes into refit and visa versa. if we have to pay for the ship and keep it in readiness then why not.

as for the embarrassment of over turning the SDS2010 decision is important to note that the defence review highlighted the need for the carriers and made no firm decision on having one or two. also odds are still in favour that the Tory’s won’t be calling the shots in 2015 so we can expect some politician point scoring on just how bad SDSR 2010 was.

I suppose one thing that is in favour if getting the two carriers is the shear prestige factor. Hard for any PM to turn down having such a beast as a QE class carrier when he already has them built, has the planes and helicopters to fly of them and just needs £70 million a year found to run an extra one.

I take sir h’s point about extra crew having to be found but is this not included in the £70 million cost. If its is and we can find the extra £70 million out of the £700 billion HMG spends every year then we Could always take the drastic step of recruiting more sailors. I know taking on an extra few hundred people on top of our 5 million civil servants sounds like fantasy fleets but one can always dream.

Hammond has already indicated the possibility and desire to have both operational and he is not a man given to flights of fancy where the MOD budget is concerned. so I am guessing the extra money is possible without sacrificing extra frigates etc.



Maybe but it does not change the fact that you would be hopelessly overstretched. RAF seem to convieniently forget that too.

I suspect you could find the desired evidence quite quickly if nessecary!

Elm Creek Smith

@RT – Hmm. Plenty of airfields around the Med? Well, if your “allies” allow you to use them. There was a little incident where US F-111s operating from your charming island weren’t allowed to overfly our “allies” territory. But, of course, that could never happen to you chaps, could it?

I believe I’ve said before that you folks need to decide if you are going to be a nation that can project power worldwide (if only to protect the Falkland Islanders) or if you are going to be content to tootle around in the North Sea, the nearest part of the North Atlantic, and “der Kanal.”

Don’t be fooled that an aircraft carrier is only about warfighting or “showing the flag.” The ability to provide effective disaster relief when “unsinkable aircraft carriers” have lost their capabilities, including providing hot meals, clean water, power, medical care, and lift capability to get all those where they are most needed are one of the things that symbolize the United States to people around the world. The victims of earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, and hurricanes have all been aided by the timely arrival of US Navy supercarriers.

If the UK doesn’t want to play a role in the world’s seven seas, you may as well plan on putting F-35B Lightning IIs on barges playing “floaties” on the Thames.


I think when I went to bed last night (GMT) the comments counter had just crept into the sixties. Now stands at 130, so alot of catching up to do. Or I could just say “Build more carriers” and have done with it. :-)


I believe I’ve said before that you folks need to decide if you are going to be a nation that can project power worldwide (if only to protect the Falkland Islanders) or if you are going to be content to tootle around in the North Sea, the nearest part of the North Atlantic, and “der Kanal.”

Loads of people say it all the time. And it’s a question that has long been answered. 2x CVF, an amphibious fleet, a marine brigade as well as an army and an RAF geared to expeditionary warfare and power projection gives a very solid answer to that. As well as the global network of bases, global network of diplomatic posts and buildings and being globally engaged through DfID. Not to mention exercises being held in all four corners of the globe and a defence strategy now being based around upstream engagement.

There is no question. It was answered long ago and gets re-affirmed everyday.

Gloomy Northern Boy

@ Elm Creek Smith – beautifully put – all arguments boil down to the idea that to have any defence capacity at all beyond a few fast jets, a patrol ship navy and a crown militia makes the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island a sad old man who has spent his redundancy settlement on a big red sports car – OR that if we hadn’t decided to build QE/PoW we would have had enough money either to take an armoured corps to play out with the Cousins next time we get involved in a serious war alongside them, or have an RAF capable of re-fighting the bombing campaign against Germany on a global scale.

Yes, in retrospect it might have been better to have built a larger number of smaller vessels more akin to the Americas Class/and developed “New Harrier” to go on them along with the RM and their helicopters/and used more “New Harrier” alongside the marvellous and as mad as a box of frogs sky hook idea on slightly bigger T45/and provided more TLAM for our sleek black submarines and big grey warships…BUT WE DIDN’T DO IT, and in the absence of a time machine CAN’T GO BACK AND DO IT DIFFRERENTLY!

So, unless you are in the “Doing serious expeditionary activity makes the UK a sad old man wasting money on a big red sports car” camp…perhaps you could devote all your great intelligences to the business of painting our elephants a lovely shade of purple…along with all our other assets…

A rather grumpy Gloomy

dave haine

It isn’t so much that we will have two carriers, that concerns me- as a couple of people have said, they’re coming, and we need to use them or they become big white elephants, it’s the hollowing out that is likely to happen so we can operate them.

…..And to be honest, the absolute joy some of the dark blue are showing at the prospect of the other services, taking the hit so we can have the QE’s…..:(

As a civvie, I find it really worrying that the Navy, apparently, seem to spend their time trying to work out ways of shafting the other services, rather than the more sensible option of working with them to get either more for our money, or more money. The overall objective being the defence and security of this nation, surely each service should take a wider view, and do what is best for the nation not just for it’s own service.



“….surely each service should take a wider view, and do what is best for the nation not just for it’s own service” – Repeating myself, but amen to that. We need a defence sec with the government behind him to knock a few heads together. Fire a few old dinosaurs if need be. It’s nothing new though, this inter service obllocks has been going on since Lloyd George was a nipper, at least.


@dave haine: well, I don’t think any service can declare itself beyond reproach on that one :-)

The RAF offering up JFH rather than retiring Tornado might be considered to be somewhat selfish, for example!


Think we’ve been told by learned commenters on this site that the reason cvf is the size it is was because it was required to meet a sortie rate to support carrier strike that sized the flight deck to allow the aircraft movement, fuelling and arming and the magazines were sized to support that requirement. So if that strike requirements is less ambitious or tend to commando carrier things become smaller. So I can’t see why that’s something to shy away from now just because the rest of the force structure would have great difficulty supporting it. It should probably be the defining reason for them

Oh we still very much support the idea of strategic bombing In fact nearly everyone on this site does, it’s carried in 4 large submarines now instead of 1000 bomber raids but for there day both were to achieve the same effect.


A really bad example there. Uk has two sovereign air bases in the med that it can do what it likes from and those f111 flew from land bases for the operation us carrier provided support.

An interesting one on the bbc about uk defence with a trip to queen elizabeth at about 20 min

Brian Black

While pondering the Navy’s manpower, APATS forgot to include the headcount from the lost Trident boat. Makes numbers that bit easier.

This idea of sortie rates keeps cropping up to justify the size of the carriers; those calculations are irrelevant to the fact that the scenarios they’re based on are entirely subjective and, outside of the Falklands War, they don’t really feature in our defence experience. And the Falklands ended some years ago, and defensively measures have already been put in place.

You could randomly stick a pin in an atlas, do some calculations, and conclude that we need three armoured divisions to defeat country X. But that doesn’t mean we need three armoured divisions, and similarly, those sortie rate calculations are irrelevant to the next Sierra Leone type op that we’re much more likely to do.

As for our ability to carry out independent operations, where are we going where we need our one Marine battlegroup supported by two aircraft carriers with a couple dozen stealth fighters apiece?

@ dave haine

Your thoughts on the RN going ‘all or nothing’ for the carriers is shared even with my dark blue colleagues here in London Town.

Lets be honest here, the RN is going to benefit hugely from massive equipment plans, which should see it set (in some areas) for a good while, but the way the head-shed of the RN has placed a lot of its future on the carriers, with less on support and amphibious needs, is a little worrying. The RN has sacrificed a lot of its own resources/assets for the Carriers, let alone ‘fighting’ the other services.

Lets hope it pays off… as I can envision two carriers, but the lack of support to get them very far…

Red Trousers

@ Simon, re my view of carriers,

Contrary to what most assume, I am not against carriers at all, I am merely against the concept of carrier strike, specifically to acquire it is on the one hand fantastically expensive ( and so imbalances the entire defence capability as other things are either not bought or delayed), and on the other hand I am completely unconvinced that any nation will ever again use a full blown carrier strike capability, nor that one ever has since the Second War. Even US carrier strike operations in Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf Wars could have been achieved from land based planes: they used the carriers merely because they had them.

Time for some visualisation. A graph of cost on the horizontal axis, capability on the vertical, with carrier strike plotted top right corner. Alternative uses for carriers are legion (LPH, LPD, troop carrier, HADR, etc), and all have their needs for size and embarked platforms. You can plot them all on the same graph, producing a set of points that quickly becomes a diagonal line back towards the origin.

Now do the same, but this time plotting cost against frequency of use. Carrier strike is hardly ever required.

In layman’s terms, we could have spent say £2 billion on HADR, £5 billion on LPH, £7 billion on LPD, £10 billion on LPD/H like JC, with in each case new buys of helicopters, landing craft or whatever. Instead we are spending north of £20 billion on carrier strike, against no clearly defined threat or SAG scenario that requires carrier strike. That extra £10 billion is nothing more than a vanity project by the RN.

And as a result, the rest of defence has £10 billion less spent on it.

So that is why I am against carrier strike as a capability, not carriers or aircraft by themselves. Made worse by the remarkably snotty attitude of some who should have been taught some manners as a midshipman, and some rounded thinking as their career progressed.

Elm Creek Smith

@GNB – Was there anything wrong with the “Old Harriers” that the RAF grounded? I’m sure you could have worked out a deal with the USMC to pick up some of their lower time AV-8Bs (if such a thing exists) and spare parts when they start getting the F-35B.

The whole point is that you have one big carrier ’bout done and another one cooking with a bunch of high-dollar whizbangs coming to put on them. It’s a bit late to be whining about it. You better figure out how you’re going to make it work.

Now, I REA-A-A-A-ALY hate to say this, but until we get an administration in the White House that can tell its @$$ from a hole in the ground, you shouldn’t count on help from the United States. Hell, they couldn’t figure out a way to help our people in Benghazi. (We didn’t have a carrier or LPH/LPD in the neighborhood, but there were F-16s in Aviano and AC-130s in Sigonella.)

Maybe someone should figure out if you can land a Tucano on your new carriers without arresting gear and take off again without a cat shot.


I think the point of the ‘2 Carriers’ idea is that in a Best Effort scenario in which we were fighting a peer enemy without any of our allies along for the ride we would need both a FJ Carrier with 3 squadrons aboard AND a Commando carrier full of Chinooks, Apaches and Merlins.

The key thing we wouldn’t then have to bring would be a converted merchantman with no Comabt Systems, Defensive Aids or Damage Control. So this time our Chinooks might just get the battlefield where they’re needed. Although we would need plenty of other hired ships to carry our ‘with notice; deployable Division of troops. But they would be well protected by layered 3D defences from all those jets and helos.

Now you’re right in any normal scenario we would either (a) Go with one carrier, fewer cabs and a battle group+ of troops or (b) Go with friends who coud supply either a CV or an LHD.

But I personally am glad we will retain the emergency option of a best effort sovereign capability appproximately equal to 1982. Even though it would screw the readiness cycles of the whole armed forces for months afterwards. But that’s readiness cycls are for, aren’t they?

We have lost a Trident boat? Where? When? Surely once the curling had finished the BBC would have said something on the news before the skateboarding pet story at the end of the news?


Who’s shafting who here? Every time we’ve been without carriers its been the RAF saying “its fine we don’t need them anyway.” The RAF moving Australia (allegedly!) is a pretty good example. @wf mentions harrier (exactly). Again meaning we don’t currently have illustrious with a bunch of SHar 2s on!

@Elm If Tucano werent quite close to being retired. Having said that Super sea tucano anyone? Might be better for Brazil!

dave haine

@ WF

Never said any service was above reproach…however, the Navy seem to have a history of this from refusing to allow the RAF to have an ensign when they first formed, until the King intervened, to changing ranks in the Falklands conflict.

As for the Harrier Fleet, if it was so important why didn’t the FAA take it on? After all, the Spanish and Italian navies both operate just a rough dozen each.

Besides they aren’t even comparable. Harrier was a close support aircraft, whilst Tornado is a strike aircraft, able to carry-out long range recce and precision strike using a wide variety of munitions.

So…really, the RAF should have retired a potent, long-range strike asset just so the navy could maintain a fixed wing component, despite the carriers being retired anyway?

You’ve just proved my point- you’ve effectively said that the Andrews desire to maintain a fixed wing element trumps the need for the nation to have a long-range strike capability.


All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same

“While pondering the Navy’s manpower, APATS forgot to include the headcount from the lost Trident boat. Makes numbers that bit easier”

Unfortunately 1 boat already operates with only an extended “gold” crew and since Vanguard entered refit in 2002 and until Vengeance leaves refit mid 2015 we have only ever had to fully man and operate 3 boats and have done so with just under 6 crews.

Yes it would be a max effort but a more likely scenario( would be one carrier as a carrier and another as a huge LPH, especially if we do not replace Ocean. The LPDs are fine but they do not have a hangar, hey presto the carrier has a huge hangar and each LPD can 2 spot Merlin or single spot Lynx operate. Until you have seen it done it is quite scary just how quickly booties get off that flight deck when you have assets queued to take them.


At the same time the RAF could have course have sped up weapon integration on Typhoon and the overall defence capability of the country would have benefited. The RN had a rough time post WW2 in terms of inter service Politics so it went away about 20 years ago and decided to get smarter.


“the same time the RAF could have course have sped up weapon integration on Typhoon ”

That was not within the rafs or indeed the uks gift at the time. The diversion of assets to Saudi didn’t help but budgets needed balanced.

“The RN had a rough time post WW2 in terms of inter service Politics so it went away about 20 years ago and decided to get smarter.”

That’s a courageous statement to make with the windup merchants on this blog.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same

@ Mark

No mate it was not within the RAFs ability to give but it could have been within the UKs if we had the will to have made it so.

Senior RN figures will be the first to admit we were pretty rubbish at inter service Politics for a long time.



I think the politics on typhoon for that decision would of been very very difficult. I think it a shame that you have to be gd at inter service politics at all but tensions exist within all organisations I guess.

Standing back and thinking about it my concern with the carrier debate is it has a tendency to follow the nimrod debate of the last sdsr. By that I mean the angle shown to the media was that of long range sar when in fact its true role was very different. We seem to be doing the same thing with the carriers lets just use one and highlight its softer feely things, instead of taking courage in our conviction and saying these carriers and there 30 f35s and will be our principle strike offering to coalition or uk operations because “insert cast iron case here with historical examples of recent conflicts and the benefits” supported by these uk assets “insert here” and that’s why there must be two commissioned and used. Someone made this case when they were ordered it needs to expressed clearly in plain language in sdsr15 because its far to muddled at the minute I think.


‘The RN had a rough time post WW2 in terms of inter service Politics so it went away about 20 years ago and decided to get smarter.’

Oh well 10 out of 10 for effort I suppose. The RAF still run rings around them ;-) then again I suppose if you didn’t dress your personnel in a child’s hat and flares and the officers in 1980’s waiters jackets then they might get more sex, and then not grow to be so bitter and twisted ;-)