Sailing Flying


The aircraft carrier is possibly the most misunderstood modern warship, and a lot of nonsense has been written about them.

So, here are a couple of very important points that are not generally known (outside of specialists) or are often forgotten.


Aircraft carriers are difficult to detect.

Perhaps more importantly, they are difficult to identify. Regarding the difficulty of detection, the seas are very big and, in comparison, even the biggest of aircraft carriers are very small. Modern maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) have radars that have ranges of hundreds of nautical miles (nm) but oceans extend for thousands of nautical miles.

Moreover, radar impulses can be detected by electronic support measures (ESM) systems at significantly greater range than the radar can detect the platform (air or surface or even submarine) carrying the ESM. In wartime, an MPA using its radar gives itself away, opening the way to it either being intercepted and shot down before it can locate the carrier, or to the carrier simply altering course and avoiding the MPA.

Of course, MPAs also have ESM, but this works only if the carrier and its task group (Carrier Battle Group: CBG) are emitting electromagnetically.

But if the CBG has adopted strict electromagnetic silence (and it can do so & this is exercised), then there is nothing to detect. So the MPA is reduced to the Mark 1 eyeball as its only useful sensor.

And that is very short-ranged indeed. (Perhaps an MPA might try to deploy passive sonobuoys to hear CBG noise radiated under water: but this too, faces problems, to be discussed below.) Just because a carrier has airborne early warning & control (AEW&C) aircraft does not mean that these will be flown all the time or that their radars will always be turned on. So they cannot be relied on to give ESM data.

As for spy satellites, it is truly depressing the amount of well educated & intelligent people that take Hollywood film & TV nonsense about these assets seriously.

Spy satellites have very serious limitations (which is why the US invests so much in alternative strategic reconnaissance platforms).

Visible spectrum spy satellites can’t see through cloud (and there is a lot of cloud about . Infra-red & radar spy satellites can be confused, misled and jammed by the same technologies that counter their surface and airborne counterpart systems.

To achieve high resolution spy satellites must orbit at low altitudes.

Their swath width (the width of the Earth’s surface that their sensors cover) is consequently narrow. Each spy satellite has a fixed orbit, and the orbits of all spy satellites are known. Thus, naval, military and air commanders will know when a satellite will overfly their forces and so can initiate countermeasures and deception activities before the satellite rises over the horizon and cease them when it drops below the horizon. Satellite overflights of any particular part of the globe can be measured in minutes.

Conversations and interviews with personnel of the Space Operations division of the South African National Space Agency regarding the country’s low Earth orbit (LEO) Sumbandila Earth observation satellite, which orbited at an altitude of 500 km, indicate that an overflight (of mission control, at Hartebeesthoek, west of Pretoria) took about 15 to 20 minutes and happened once a day. And spy satellites must also use LEO. And once a spy satellite has obtained its images, it must downlink them. And they must then be analysed by specialist interpreters.

Of course, the more spy satellites you have, the more overflights you get.

But spy satellites are scarce.

Yes, there are submarines.

These can listen for carriers and CBGs with long-range passive sonars. However, there is a lot of background noise in the sea, much of it natural. As Admiral Sandy Woodward has pointed out (1992: ‘One Hundred Days’ Harper Collins, London, p. 47) sea creatures “can be a rackety lot” and described the background noise experienced by passive sonar as “cacophony”.

Jim Ring (2001: ‘We Come Unseen: The Untold Story of Britain’s Cold War Submarines’ John Murray, London, pp 136-137) related the story of how, in 1977, while on exercise, the RN SSK HMS Orpheus was trying to locate (& then attack) the USN CV (not CVN) USS John F Kennedy. The SSK found the CV because the sub’s ESM detected radar emissions from an aircraft radar being tested on the carrier.

It could not find the ‘JFK’ using sonar because, Ring reported, “[t]here were no sonar contacts, so if the carrier was there she was moving only slowly, thereby reducing her sound signature to avoid detection.” Of course, passive sonar performance (especially data processing) has improved hugely since 1977 but you can be certain that sound emission reduction from US (& other) carriers has also improved hugely as well. Moreover, sonar is a complicated thing: except at short ranges, sound does not move in straight lines under the sea. Passive sonar can detect a vessel 60 nm away but not one that is only 25 nm away.

(Figures very approximate: only for rough illustration purposes.)

And then there are the effects of salinity layers and thermoclines, which can also affect submarine sonars.

Carrier Captains and CBG Admirals have more options than generally realised. And strategic deception hasn’t been mentioned yet!

While strategic deception is central to the Chinese art of war, it is equally central to the British art of war. If anything, the British might be better at it. Deception is also important in Japanese military & naval history & the US has successfully used strategic deception as well. Tactical deception will be discussed below.

What is generally not grasped outside the major navies is how difficult it is to identify an aircraft carrier. Let us return to Admiral Woodward’s memoirs (pp 209-210).

“[T]he Royal Air Force …. had alerted us urgently to the Argentinian aircraft carrier which they pin-pointed for us, well out to sea. Fortunately, I knew perfectly well that it could not possibly have been the carrier, and in fact it turned out to be a large, harmless container ship, which can admittedly look very like a carrier to a Searchwater radar [carried by Nimrod MPAs] at times.” (I have long been fascinated by the failure of so many to grasp the significance of this passage.) Much more recently – in the Winter 2014 edition of the US Naval War College Review – retired Russian Navy and Coast Guard officer Lt-Cmdr (Captain III Rank in Russian terminology, I think) Maksim Tokarev wrote in his paper “Kamikazes – the Soviet Legacy” (p.77) that “knowing the position of the carrier task force is not the same as knowing the position of the carrier itself.

There were a least two cases when in the centre of the [USN CBG] formation there was, instead of the carrier, a large fleet oiler or replenishment vessel with an enhanced radar signature (making it look as large on the [Tupolev TU-22M] Backfires’ radar screens as a carrier) and a radiating tactical air navigation system. The carrier itself, contrary to routine procedures, was steaming completely alone, not even trailing the formation.” In short, carriers may look very different to other warships, but in radar cross-section terms, they look very like tankers, bulk carriers, car carriers and container ships. After all, they are all characterised by relatively small superstructures and long flat upper decks! There are only a few dozen aircraft and helicopter carriers in the world, but there are thousands of tankers, bulk carriers, etc.. Decoys will be plentiful and easy to arrange.

One final point in this section: again, a quote from Adm Woodward (also pp209-210).

The RAF “in mid-April [1982] … signalled that they had located a group of fishing vessels in the precise spot I knew the forward [HMS] ‘Brilliant’ group was sailing. They reported the ships as fishing vessels, I imagine, because they were fairly close together, milling around on different courses, going nowhere in particular.” Remember Tokarev’s report of carriers outside their CBGs, and it is clear that Western CBGs and other naval task forces no longer sail in neat symmetrical formations like they often did during the Second World War.

Rather, in crisis, confrontation and war, they adopt deceptive formations and manoeuvres making identification difficult and (in wartime) dangerous.

Horses for Courses

Different countries use aircraft carriers for different missions. History indicates that, for the Royal Navy, aircraft carriers have had three major and equally important strategic roles: (a) air defence of the fleet, (b) to search, locate, engage, disrupt & destroy the enemy’s maritime warfare assets, whether submarine, surface or air, at sea or in harbour or in the air or on the ground; naval, air force or merchant; including key support infrastructure, and (c) provide air cover for expeditionary operations whether amphibious or not, for British and/or allied ground forces (and air forces while they set up their forward base infrastructure).

(a) Air defence of the fleet is the obvious precondition for the successful operation of the RN’s surface ships anywhere in the world. Carrier fighters allow surface ships to go nearly anywhere desired (although not necessarily on a sustained basis!) and greatly hamper hostile reconnaissance and surveillance operations. (The tactical mission is the interception of specific enemy reconnaissance aircraft or air raids.) This role includes air defence of convoys.

(b) To search and locate the enemy was the original mission for British naval aviation (the then Royal Naval Air Service or RNAS during the First World War). The first enemy maritime assets attacked by the RNAS were not warships but Zeppelins and their bases (in a number of land-based and sea-based raids in 1914). Likewise, the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) did not restrict itself to enemy warships but attacked, when possible, all elements directly connected with enemy maritime operations. It is well known that the first major warship sunk by air attack was the German light cruiser ‘Königsberg’ by land-based FAA Blackburn Skuas, in Bergen harbour, Norway, in April 1940. What is often forgotten is that the FAA Skuas made a series of follow-up raids during April and May, hitting other warships, destroying a supply ship (the explosions from which significantly damaged a mole, warehouses and cranes) and almost completely destroying several oil depots around Bergen. Other examples could be given. Second World War ASW operations by Escort Carriers and Merchant Aircraft Carriers also fall into this category.

(c) Air support for expeditionary operations includes air defence, air superiority, close air support and interdiction. This started, of course, with air support for the British Expeditionary Force in 1914, and has continued right down to and including Harrier and, latterly, helicopter operations in Afghanistan.

I have seen nothing that suggests these priorities have changed. Indeed, the concept of the Tailored Air Group is a clear statement that the ‘Queen Elizabeth’ class carriers will not have  a single primary mission. Most navies with carriers use them in similar ways to the RN, although sometimes unable to match the full spectrum covered by the British.

There is, however, a big exception – the US Navy.

Up to the end of the Second World War, the missions of US Navy carriers were pretty much the same as those for RN carriers. But, post-1945, a new mission was developed: strategic bombing, using nuclear weapons. Of course, support of US expeditionary forces remained and remains an important mission. But the USN’s super carriers came into being to provide platforms big enough to effectively operate the large aircraft needed to carry the big and heavy atomic bombs of that period, far enough to threaten strategic (inland) Soviet targets.

These carriers and their bombers were part of the US national nuclear deterrent and massive retaliation force, long with the US Air Force’s Strategic Air Command.

This mission was subsequently transferred to the ballistic missile submarine force, but strategic bombing, albeit with conventional munitions, has remained the central focus of the US carrier force to this day. US carriers have been integrated into strategic bombing campaigns since at least Vietnam in the 1960s. A spin-off of this, as Captain Robert Rubel USN (Retd) has noted (“The Future of Aircraft Carriers” in the ‘Naval War College Review’ Autumn 2011, Vol. 64, No. 4), is that US administrations have come to use USN carriers as geopolitical chess pieces, “to demonstrate American concern, resolve or outright anger” (p.17). This is a striking development, because (if I remember correctly), in the time of their global dominance, the European powers almost never used their capital ships (ships of the line/ironclads/battleships) as such chess pieces. Rather, they used frigates/gunboats/cruisers (or even sloops) in such a role, even with other European powers. Capital ships were deployed either to show friendship or when war was expected imminently, and, in the latter case, an entire fleet would be deployed. As Rubel points out, the US “Navy and the nation are so used to operating carrier with impunity as airfields at sea that as new sea-denial threats emerge (as did the Soviet Navy) the potential for a role/risk disconnect is magnified” (pp17-18). In other words, using a carrier as a chess piece can put it in grave danger if the crisis turns into war (as the opponent-turned-enemy would know exactly where it was and could immediately attack it)

One of the consequences of these different mission sets for different navies is that aircraft carriers cannot be simplistically compared.

Their effectiveness lies not in how they relate to each other in, say, size, but how effective they are in fulfilling their roles within their respective national strategies. Those commentators who mock China’s first aircraft carrier because it is much smaller than its US counterparts are making a grievous error.

Before one can say carrier A is less capable than carrier B you must first know what carrier A is actually meant to do

There is a rather striking historical example of this. In the early 1970s, the RN carrier force was headed by the 50 000 t HMS ‘Ark Royal’ (then Britain’s only fast jet carrier), with an air group of 30 fixed wing types (including Phantoms and Buccaneers) and six helicopters.

The US carrier force was headed by the amost 90 000 t USS ‘Enterprise’ with an air group of some 95 aircraft (the USS ‘Forrestal’ and its sisters where not much smaller, each with an air group of 85). The all-weather bomber on the US carriers was the Grumman A-6 Intruder. Norman Friedman notes (“Postwar Naval Aviation” in Philip Jarrett (ed) ‘The Modern War Machine:

Military Aviation Since 1945’, London: Putnam Aeronautical Books, 2000) that the “Buccaneer [was] designed to fly Intruder-style all-weather low-level strikes. To a much greater degree than the Intruder it was intended to attack enemy warships; the RN had to concede most land attacks to the RAF.” The Buccaneer was effectively a sea-skimming fast jet that would have given Russian warships very little time to respond and would have posed a very difficult target for their air defence systems. In contrast, the Intruder and other US carrier aircraft were not optimised for anti-ship missions.

Rubel (p 23) reports the consequence. “In the late 1970s, as [US] naval aviation developed aircraft-centric aniship tactics … it became clear that a single strike on a single formation of Soviet ships might cost a quarter of an air wing.” While the US supercarriers were far superior to the ‘Ark Royal’ as strategic bombing platforms, the UK carrier looks to have been far superior as a naval warfare platform.

To repeat: carriers must be judged in relation to the missions they are intended to perform.

In conclusion, as Rubel (p 22ff) points out, there is room for a legitimate debate in the US regarding the future roles of the USN’s carriers. Should the strategic coventional bombing mission be abandoned? (As with the RN, this mission could be fulfilled by nuclear attack submarines with Tomahawk land attack missiles.)

Alas, this is not happening. Instead, there are shallow arguments over carrier vulnerability and whether the US should have carriers at all. Without carriers, the USN surface fleet could not operate outside the range of shore based air power, the US could not honour any of its alliance treaties, it could not defend its small island possessions west of Hawaii. The US would be forced into political isolationism. For Britain and France, carriers are essential for the defence of overseas territories, the independent support of allies, and the maritime defence of the home country.

For Brazil, China, India, Italy, Russia and Spain carriers provide important naval strategic options otherwise unobtainable. In all cases, the great benefit of a fast jet carrier is that it allows a surface fleet to manoeuvre freely on the high seas in time of crisis or war. All other surface fleets would be confined to a zone quite close – say, about 200 nm – from shore, because they would be dependent on shore-based air power, and so be relatively easy to find.


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Great article, very interesting stuff, thanks. Nice to see some support for the much maligned carrier that i feel still has an important role in the future for the RN and USN. My main worry is that we might have skimped in some areas – escorts (particularly), missile/electronic defences and armour etc. In the QE i also worry if the aircraft will offer as good a solution as the Buccaneer/Phantom did in their day. Don’t get me wrong i think the JSF will be a great aircraft, but i worry about range and wish we could have had something loinger legged with it or a carrier based tanker… What are your thoughts on this? Would appreciate feedback. Thanks.


Superb, well written, thank you !


This article illustrates what I like so much on Think Defence:
people that know through profession and experience contributing articles and joining the comment threads to explain and to try and educate us “all we know about matters military is from reading blogs, books and wiki” enthusiasts.
Thanks to all of you!


Finally, someone speaks sense!


A rather tangential point but significant nonetheless from a historical perspective.

You have the greatness of the Buccaneer all wrong. It was originally designed as an anti-ship platform with the avionics originally specified as ASV.21 surface search radar and a much smaller radar scanner whilst the type was to be armed with a dedicated anti-ship missile (known as Green Cheese) with the intended target being the Soviet Sverdlov class destroyers.

However, this is NOT, how the aircraft was used. As it actually turned out Britain’s carriers were used far more for power-projection missions East of Suez, and when they were West of Suez they usually carried much fewer Buccaneers, requiring a focus on air-ground rather than anti-ship capability. Consequently the RN spent considerable time in the 1960s trying to develop an updated avionics package to provide the Buccaneer with a more credible A2G capability- such plans being killed by cost considerations in the desperate but inevitably fruitless scramble to save the carrier fleet. Ironically, the aircraft the British actually needed was probably closer to the A-6 Intruder. The A-6 was only ever a minority type in US carrier air wings, usually only one 12 aircraft squadron- briefly two 10 aircraft squadrons in the 80s, and served a very specialised long-range night/all-weather precision heavy attack role, the bulk of USN attack capability resided with the more numerous A-4 then A-7 aircraft (usually two 12 aircraft squadrons, briefly 2 ten aircraft squadrons in the 80s.

Finally, this logic can not be applied to the F-35C versus B debate as those two aircraft have identical avionics packages and weapons type integration. The only difference being that the C has a longer range and a larger internal weapons capability. The B is an inferior strike aircraft to the C, there is no getting away from that, and the British are adopting the B because of cost constraints.



The idea that Ark Royal was a “far superior naval warfare platform” compared to a 1970s USN CVN is almost too ridiculous to pass comment on. The Buccaneer may have had better niche anti-ship capability but a USN CVN had far superior air defence/superiority capability and ASW capability. Having an impressive capability in one niche does not a “far superior naval warfare platform” make.


Very interesting piece.

Now I am sure RT and the army bods will be along soon to tell us how we don’t need a carrier but a stocking great armoured divisions with lots of big green monsters in it and couple of cargo ships to fly the helicopters from.

Derek makes an interesting pint about the carriers actual use and as with the battleships before them they have always spent a lot more time hitting targets ashore than shooting at other ships.

I think the QE with is ability to transition between operating all fast jets or a mixture of FJ and Helicopters is the way to go. Yes the principal reason we are doing this is for budgetary reasons but it does not make the concept wrong and with the introduction of the America Class and the F35b and the laying up of CVN’s I don’t think the USN will be too far behind us in adopting the same approach.

Ships names America tend to give a good indication of where the USN is headed.

with the introduction of the the QE Class and the F35B the RN will have a better power projection capability than it has had since the 1960’s and while the escort numbers are smaller the quality is beyond anything I think we have ever had. The RN of the next decade will have the ability to project a level of power that only the USN can exceed.



“While the US supercarriers were far superior to the ‘Ark Royal’ as strategic bombing platforms, the UK carrier looks to have been far superior as a naval warfare platform.”

Agree in an overall context of Naval Warfare but I think the phrasing was in the context of naval warfare meaning ‘anti ship’ in which case he has a point



You seem to not have a clear understanding of what is going on in the US. The current situation is simply that if the the sequestration cuts continue to be imposed one (not plural) carrier (USS George Washington) will be decommissioned and de-fuelled early. However, as of right now the 11 carrier fleet stands (and is funded through FY15) and the George Washington’s future will be determined in the FY16 budget. “Carriers” are not being laid up. The America class are considered developmental dead-ends by the USN and only LHA-6 & 7 will be actual LHAs, LHA-8 will have a well-deck- thus being an LHD. The USN is nowhere near being in a situation where it has to combine the LPH and CVA roles as the RN now has to. Naming also tells you nothing, the USN has been giving LHDs former CV names for decades as it has transitioned the CVN fleet to Presidents names.


The Buccaneer, designed as an anti-ship platform, was a better anti-ship platform than the A-6 Intruder which was designed as a long range precision, all-weather, strike aircraft. That really is about as far as one can take that analysis. Especially given the authors preceding section.


Also, a major issue that far too many people seem to forget regarding the UK is that the FAA fast-jet fleet is not a standalone force in the same way the French and US equivalents are. Rather the one FAA fast jet squadron will be subordinated to the RAF and considered part of a pooled fast-jet capability, F-35B may make the most sense for an RN desperate to keep two flat-tops on its lists and forced to adopt a STOVL to ease the combining of the CVA and LPH roles but it makes considerably less sense for an RAF that wants a Tornado replacement in the deep strike role. Which is why the initial 2010 plan was to switch to the F-35C, prior to the realisation of how substantial the conversion cost for just one ship was going to be.


F**k me Derek you actually know what’s going on in the USN. I would love to know where you get your info as even the DOD does not know what its going to do or get in funding. As you say the carriers are funded for FY 15 so that’s just over a year. God only knows what will happen after that.

I don’t think you can write of the concept of the USN exploiting the LHD/LHA F35B concept unless you have mystic Meg’s crystal ball or a hotline to tea party HQ.


The RAF hasn’t been able to do Deep Strike, since the V-Bomber Force was retired. None of the Variants of the F-35 can do that job properly. If the RAF or more importantly HMG, seriously wanted to do Deep Strike. We should be look at either developing a very long range UCAV or getting on board the USAF’s next generation Bomber, the LRS-B. Only then will the RAF have a true Deep Strike Capability.

On US Defence cuts, we have to see who emerges over the next 12 months to be the Republican candidate for the 2016 Presidential election. Only twenty months to go! Hopefully we will see the same reversals in Defence that Reagan made when he came to power, if a Republican wins it, that is!

Elm Creek Smith

Although nothing says “power projection” like a United States Navy supercarrier and it’s attendant task force, I question whether in time of war the fleet carrier task forces will be available for the more mundane, yet critical, tasks such as convoy protection and ASW warfare. While fleet carrier task forces have superb ASW capabilities, although not as great as when they had dedicated fixed wing ASW aircraft such as the S-3 Viking available, those capabilities will be needed for self-defense and limited by the range and speed of the ASW helicopters embarked on the carrier and its escorts. Dependence on LRMPA for convoy protection will be limited by bases available, endurance, and weapons carrying capability.

What is needed are modern versions of the CVE equipped with light-weight self-defense fighters, ASW helicopters, and patrol aircraft with the range and loiter time to protect convoys from the long-range, ultra-quiet, diesel submarines that everybody seems to be developing. It could be very difficult to protect transports moving heavy forces that might be required in a future conflict if our opponent has a number of quiet SSKs without our forces having adequate convoy protection.

“Driver back up.”



The strategic missions to which you refer have actually actually not done by the RAF since Bomber Command stood down in 1968, deep strike operations (really theatre bombing) being what the Vulcan’s did (alongside Buccaneers) after Bomber Command stood down and prior to that role being taken over by Tornadoes. The point being, that with the Tornado on the way out the RAF really requires as much range and payload as it can get from its new type, which is why they wanted the F-35C.


Yes I do know and yes DoD does know. That is why I was able to explain that you were wrong by providing a narrative of what is happening and why your response to that was an uninformed rant.


Hell no Elm, carriers are way too valuable to be stuck in convoy protection duties. That job is more for the Perrys and the LCS (once they figure out that those make fairly good anti-sub escorts instead of the litoral whatever they are supposed to be doing, that is).

Elm Creek Smith

@Observer – I agree that the fleet carriers are too valuable for convoy escort, but with the pending retirement of some Ticonderoga-class cruisers I see an opportunity to convert them to 30 knot CVEs!


Why not just use the British system of STUFT (ships taken up from trade) and get a cargo carrier with a plated over deck like the Woolsworth carriers of WWII?



“The America class are considered developmental dead-ends by the USN and only LHA-6 & 7 will be actual LHAs, LHA-8 will have a well-deck- thus being an LHD”

The older Tarawa class were LHAs. Just because it’s going to have a well deck doesn’t seem to matter ;-)

Furthermore I’d wager the America class will end up being used quite a lot more for F35B. As soon as you put the well deck back in you’ll chew up space for aviation fuel which F35B and V22 guzzle by the tonne. It just seems to me that the America class have been built almost completely as Sea Control carriers to supplement the local air power needed over an assault. That leaves the CVN to operate from a differernt location and concentrate on strike rather than expensive projected CAP duties.

Lastly (and this is a genuine question) what assets do the USN/USMC allocate for ASW work? It always seems so lightly covered in relation to the RN carriers.



‘The point being, that with the Tornado on the way out the RAF really requires as much range and payload as it can get from its new type, which is why they wanted the F-35C’

Would Typhoon with larger fuel tanks, Storm Shadow and all the other bells and whistles we can fit not do a good enough job?

I completely understand the RAF’s desire for a thoroughbred long-range strike aircraft but i fail to see the pressing need. A combination of Typhoon, F35B and one day some UCAV is what they are going to get and what they will have to adapt and use as best as possible.



Tyhpoon T3 with external tanks, AESA and full weapons integration will go a long way to solving the problem, but there are two key, related, issues with it. It has no internal carriage with affects both RCS and range, and the airframe is nowhere near as RCS reduction orientated as F-35. I concur, the die is cast and the RAF is just going to have to live with it- that’s where FCAS comes in.


The America class were not conceived as nor are they “sea control ships”, they were conceived from a notion that amphibious ops should be more heavily weighted towards rotary lift rather than surface assault. That idea has now been reversed. LHD based F-35s will be primarily used to support Marine forces in the same way the Harrier is, they are not supplement to the CVN. The USN allocates SH-60Rs as the airborne ASW components within CVBGs whilst the escorts have their own ASW capability. .

Not a Boffin

Any F35B on the LHA will be tasked for dedicated CAS and interdiction roles. They won’t have any AEW, so will be largely unable to do effective air defence.

The USMC do not do ASW. Never have and never will.

The USN ASW effort is split between land-based P3/P8 and CV-based SH/MH60, usually with a squadron of about 8-10, some of which are HH60 configured for CSAR. They haven’t had S3 in an ASW role since the submarine threat was decreed to have gone away in the late 90s and they haven’t had S3 in any role for the best part of 8 years now.

Not entirely sure how you describe that as “lightly covered” in relation to the RN. Unless you are confusing the CVS (and its original role) with a real aircraft carrier. 814/820 currently run round with an AE of 6-8 cabs of which they tend to embark 6 (although only just in living memory). The latest exercise with the stated aim of getting back our ASW proficiency is a very welcome development.


I’m pretty sure it was one of you lot that first pointed me to this essay, and it seems germane now:



“…they were conceived from a notion that amphibious ops should be more heavily weighted towards rotary lift rather than surface assault. That idea has now been reversed.”

Really? Is that due to expense or effect? When did it reverse? Any links?

I was seriously under the impression that the whole rationale of the America class was to provide a greater degree of fast jet power rather than just more rotary capability. Can’t remember which Wasp demonstrated the mini-carrier concept in the Gulf War (22 Harriers springs to mind)?


They wouldn’t need AEW – that would come from Hawkeye from the CVN. It’s already up their painting a 400km radius picture.
Thanks for the details on the ASW. Yes, I was talking about CVS with 9 Sea Kings along with a whole load more littered around the escorts and RFAs.
Can I assume the lack of current ASW is not due to Merlin being significantly more effective with greater endurance and serviceability?



It was based on thinking surrounding the Osprey, amongst other considerations. The switch came about a few years ago as a result of various studies. The mini-CVA capability has always been an option and such a package has been considered for the F-35B.

Elm Creek Smith

@Observer – Conversion of civilian freighters/tankers would work, but they are getting as big or bigger than aircraft carriers and don’t have the speed to keep up with our rapid deployment USNS ships. Turning into the wind with a 30 knot CVE versus turning into wind with a 19 knot CVE would make a huge difference in payload (fuel/weaponry) to the CVE’s embarked aircraft, even with an EMALS. (I’m not advocating STOVL aircraft for the CVE air wing.)


@All – WARNING! – It turns out that “Poland escorts” is not a link to a frigate site.

@Keith Campbell – Well researched and informative article. You speak well of the Buccaneer and for that alone I have hit the “like” button many times. Only the first hit registers of course, but it’s the thought that counts.

Gareth Jones

Excellent article Keith. Can only echo idea of modern versions of the CVE for more mundane roles/support to the Fleet carriers.

RE: USN and the America class. I believe CAS/transport are their intended role, the extra storage/space for the extra fuel and V-22’s. However, their (and the F-35B) flexibility has not gone unnoticed.

Red Trousers

@ Martin, 1210 PM,

Now I am sure RT and the army bods will be along soon to tell us how we don’t need a carrier but a stocking great armoured divisions with lots of big green monsters in it…“.

I am truly shocked. No one is a greater supporter than me of the Andrew having carriers as big as the Isle of Wight if need be, with as many jets as possible flown by a happily mixed purple bunch of Andrews, Kevins and Army Air Club Corporals as is possible to imagine. Just as soon as we’ve funded and acquired all of the more important capabilities.

I am also deeply relaxed about in service dates of next decade, because the next war is going to take place inland on the banks of a Russian river that itself cannot be reached without transiting 2 choke points and into an internal sea which is 50% surrounded by OPFOR, and which no amount of Gin ‘n Pinks will persuade the Andrew to venture into, even if the Isle of Wight sized carriers could fit through the choke points.

I am further shocked that you feel that I am attached to the idea of armoured leviathans. The whole purpose of my service was to try to get the British Cavalry back into something small, sexy and fast, preferably with no armour at all. I am on record on TD for saying so.


@ Polish Escort, even though your interesting offer of womanly Pomeranian delights will get thrown out by TD when he next has a look, you need to make sure the girls have been regularly scrubbed, disinfected, taught to keep their hands of the customer’s wallet, and can speak German at least. Otherwise it would be too like a miserable evening in a Poznan brothel. Not that I have any experience at all of that.


Elm Creek Smith

@WiseApe – Thanks ever so much for the warning. I didn’t think the Polish Navy would have a special site for their two Oliver Hazard Perry-class ships. :D


“The whole purpose of my service was to try to get the British Cavalry back into something small, sexy and fast, preferably with no armour at all.”

Got it covered:,-Shield-and-Spears-q75-500×429.jpg

Red Trousers


I was rather thinking of something like Boudikka herself, rather than a wooden wheel barrow. Every Self-respecting Cavalryman should have someone Minxy, fast and sexy pretty much on tap wherever he goes, otherwise he’s not much of a Cavalryman and should sod off to the RTR.

I am however this week feeling indulgent, having read of the plans of a lovely looking Welsh grandmother-to-be (aged 39… How TF does that happen?) to be the First Lady to circumnavigate the world on a motorbike. She looks remarkably foxy, and her chosen steed is a 250cc trials bike that she calls Rhonda the Honda. My sort of girl. ;)


Its always nice to see new authors and those that have made considerable time to write a post such as this so thank you.

However the unsinkable ship went dwn with titanic and while the ocean is large there is only a limited number of places a carrier can be for it to hit the targets it has to hit so assuming the likes of Russia or china will struggle to find it, is I’m afraid about as likely as boeing developing a stealthy radar evading 777…. The escort they sail with in high tension areas is proof where it needed that it maybe easier than you make out.

This comment was strange “For Britain and France, carriers are essential for the defence of overseas territories, the independent support of allies, and the maritime defence of the home country.” Useful but not essential, there is a argument they are irrelevant for the defence of any of those things, there value is in offensive operations where they offer flexibility in the use of tactical aircraft when there is no friendly support but like with f35 its what your asked to give up to get them and if that is a price worth paying.

Elm Creek Smith
Red Trousers


Ha! I see your Boneheads and raise you a proper recce Regiment:


And yes that is my Squadron, cutting the Basra Highway on 28th February 1991. Mrs RT doesn’t like the fact that I’ve got copy number 9 of 50 mounted 35 inches wide in the downstairs bog along with a dozen photos of RT doing various equestrian, rackets, real tennis and public duties stuff, and one in Sarajevo toting the most ridiculously large sniper rifle. But it is my room.

Red Trousers

… And ECS, I have a very warm spot for the US 7th Cavalry, both on a personal level, as a Scots antecedent of mine was a member (pre-Custer), on a Regimental level (as the 5th Irish Lancers on temporary disbandment trooped almost entire to New York from Cork and joined the US A to form the initial cadre of the 7th Cav, bringing with them our shared March of Garryowen), and personally, as I took a half Squadron on exchange, and we had a blast.


As an avowed supporter of naval air and all things floaty, it was with some dismay that the arguments contained within this following report gained a degree of traction.

The carriers being now (and to the end of the current generation) I think will be the last (at least in current form). If ships will in future be used as power projection and influence makers, then 3 America’s are better than 1 Ford.

Which is also strange why the UKRN decided to up its carrier size, when maybe building 4-5 new-Invincibles would have given better value for money. Then again, in a 2-task force navy, why have 4-5 carrier flat tops?

@ Repulse.

Easy cut for the new Italian PM isn’t it? What about them getting shot of F35 completely, and dining out on ageing US Marine Corp STOVL cast-offs for the next 15-20 years and then calling it a day?

Gloomy Northern Boy

@RT – Pomeranian escorts? Pomeranian Grenadiers, surely…but then the Light Cavalry have always been a notoriously louche lot…more seriously, I have just seen the NT production of Warhorse transmitted live at a local cinema…If you haven’t seen it already I think you might rather enjoy it…and there must be bonus points in organising a family outing including Lady RT and the Trouserettes…

@ Elm Creek Smith…be advised that playing Cavalry Top Trumps with @RT might well prove to be a life’s work, although possibly quite a worthwhile one…



@ Derek
“Yes I do know and yes DoD does know.”
What do you know Derek? Can you tell me what the USN of 2017 will look like? How about 2020? With no idea of the budget all you can do is guess at force structures.


I thought the Italians were already down to 15 F35B? I can guess if their are further cuts that it will be the B force that gets canned and the AV8’s will soldier on.

Its not bad news for us. If every other JSF partner cuts its orders such as Canada, Turkey and Italy then it makes our order for 48 look better and means we have a better chance of preserving our work share.


That’s true Martin, but the corollary to that is that if orders fall below a certain level, even your workshare may make a loss as no one is buying.

The F-35 is guaranteed for a certain amount of orders though, so it is a fairly safe investment long term. If it can survive to program maturity.

It’s really a shoe-in for our F-16 replacements. In the future. Right now, the F-16 with SLEP is still good for a decade or so. The really critical point is our F-5s. Those are really old. Ironically, the F-35 seems to be a good replacement not for the interceptors but for the recon fighters. Stealthy, all round sensor fusion, doesn’t that sound like an ideal recon craft? They will get F-35s in the end, but my guessimate is that they will get an initial batch of 4 or so and use them as recon craft and test beds to get used to the capabilities and quirks of the plane before expanding into more energetic uses.

If the like for like replacement programs go through though, that is about 100-120 orders spread out over about 20-30 years, maybe more. Indonesia is planning a 160 aircraft fleet. Combined with Malaysia, that is about 220 aircraft and it’s an unspoken policy to try and keep parity with the 2 of them combined. Just in case someone gets the bright idea for another Yom Kippur, so at minimum 100 orders, at maximum about 180 +/-, depending on how successful the Indonesians are in scraping up the funds for their expansion.

….now where the hell are we going to put them all?… our long lasting strategy may need a rethink if this happens. We simply got no space for them. :(

dave haine



“Lady RT and the Trouserettes”…… 60’s pop?


@ Observer

“now where the hell are we going to put them all?… our long lasting strategy may need a rethink if this happens. We simply got no space for them.”

If Singapore opts for the F35B which I think they will then their is always the Tracy island strategy. I think atleast half a squadron could be kept under the pool at Lee Quan Yews place and maybe some more in the green house at Gardens By the Bay :-)

Seen an interesting note of Singapore thinking of procuring an LHD last week

Seriously though I am not too concerned about F35 orders. Eventually all the F16’s, F5’s and F4’s in the world will need replacing and F35 is pretty much the only game in town. I think even the UK will eventually reach or surpass its 138 order when the A version is bought to replace the Typhoon.

I think more nations in SE Asia will opt for the F35B as well. South Korea springs to mind straight away as does Japan and i dare say even the Aussies may opt for a few.



You claimed that the USN was laying up carriers, I simply proved that you were wrong, stop obfuscating.


Observer – did I read correctly somewhere that stated that the RSAF was planning in reducing the number of bases?

I find it difficult to believe that Malaysia and Indonesia will manage to buy and maintain the numbers of fighters talked about, but I suppose at some point their combined mass is going to outweigh Singapore, albeit that Singapore is likely to maintain a qualitative edge for a good while yet.

Perhaps the RSN should invest in some Cruise missiles to launch from their subs? Give them the ability to kick the OPFOR in the arse if they tried to attack.


Tom, yes, one base in the middle of the bloody island. Did not make sense to limit the growth of the middle of the country so they were moving it.

Which just intensifies the problem. Unless they did a little… creative shuffling. After all, the air base that they were shifting to is linked to the commercial airport… :) Can’t tell if they would do that shuffling or not. Most likely not. It would set a bad precedent. Which does not make solving the space problem any easier.

As for sub launched Tomahawks, it’s also another bad precedent and a moot point as none of our subs are TLAM capable. They are designed to be rather role specific.


martin, I always thought of that LHA/light carrier as a red herring and wishful fantasy. Carriers are expensive. Not only in cost but also in support, support vessels (+escorts), manpower and diplomatic credit. Thailand’s carrier may have been the first, but be honest, there is a massive difference between a showpiece and any that Singapore would field. The diplomatic uproar would be extremely problematic and seriously not worth it. Any extra planes will probably be US based as what is happening currently.

As for the F-35B… maybe. I have my doubts though. It’s a bit of an irrelevant unimportant secret, but we actually looked into getting Harriers in the 80s. Once upon a time territory, but the end conclusion of the study was that Harriers would add to our maintenance problems for little gain in an air defence role (the Harrier’s A2A capabilities were modest compared to dedicated air superiority craft, Falklands being a very notable exception). I can’t see how the same can’t be said for F-35A vs F-35B. All the talk on runway denial usage if you noticed have all come from outsiders using their own pre-conceived notions of the vulnerabilities of a small country. Runway repair capabilities and alternate runways are robust enough continuity plans that I can safely say that we have no doubt that the planes can be kept flying.

As an example, the Eastern air base is linked to the commercial airport and can use their runways in times of emergencies. That is 4 runways (3+1 planned). There are 2 more runways for the Western air base, I know of 2 convertible road/runways that are a bit of an open secret and another runway on one of the offshore islands. That’s 9 in total. If the counter arty boys or armour can’t keep enemy artillery away from any of the 9 runways, they need to get their thumbs out of their arses.

Not to say the F-35B will not be a buy, but I have to say that it is a low probability one.

I wonder if a group of motorised floating bridges can be joined together in a reservoir or barrage to form a floating landing pad for the F-35B though. Would be an interesting backup.

Red Trousers

@ DH, re Flickr

Too much armour. The 4 wheels appear to have some track wrapped around them, it is too high and in short it is not a Chenowth Light Strike Vehicle. It even looks noisy.

Re Cpl Geordie Brown, 5’5″ of barely suppressed northern fury with a healthy attitude to armourers. We can work with him. Once he understands that gas plug 3 is a short cut to stoppages and that the beaten zone is grossly sub-optimal, he will know why he is right. But his initial views on the feel of the weapon and not giving 2 hoots for your shoulder are in the right place.


Tom, more background

Our version of the State of the Union address. Small excerpt, the long version, like all political talks, can put you to sleep.


….now where the hell are we going to put them all?… our long lasting strategy may need a rethink if this happens. We simply got no space for them

Buy HMS Prince of Wales and park it off Changi as a permanent floating airbase?

The name might have to change, of course. Unhappy resonances over in S’pore.


Observer – At work with filters at the mo so will check out the video later.

Have you ever thought of writing a piece on here that gives a Singaporeans view of Singapore’s Defence situation and needs?


@ Observer

You have me thinking. A bit of a conspiracy theory here but maybe the new MCE Highway is actually a secret underground air strip for the RSAF.

It must be this because as a road compared to the ECP it is a disaster. My commute is at least 10 minutes longer since it opened :-)


Related, any thoughts on what’s going to happen to those two Mistrals the French were building for Putin?


I am not concerned at the RN carriers being equipped with the 35B for start up. However I would like to see them be equipped with cats and traps when they refit and a move to 35C’s for at least some of the a/c fleet. The option of have both types of F35 are considerable especially because of the flexibility it provides.
I will leave the eventual configuration of the flightdecks to others!

I also think a navalised AWACS lite a/c with crowsnet package is a real possibility.



Currently they are still going to be delivered, despite all the noise its unlikely that the French will withdraw from the contract at this stage.


Further to your article you first have to find the cariers but then you have to get past their fighters and escrots and beat their counter measures.

If they do withdraw I know a very friendly country of theirs looking to replace 3 boats with 2.

Gareth Jones

@Observer – always liked STOVL aircraft due to their basing flexiblity. However, realise they have come as well as pros… so I was thinking: what about the Grippen? Designed for a colder climate but also dispersed operations/damaged runways?


martin, my sis has a boss who cycles to work. Bypasses all the gridlock and traffic lights as well. Light is green for pedestrians, cycle on the pedestrian path. Light is green for vehicles? Cycle on the road. Cars gridlocked? Cycle in the breakdown lane.

Late for work? Pedal harder. :P

On a more serious note, why not test it out on the weekend, who knows, you might actually be faster than your car.

One of the road/runways is the expressway just past the Benjamin Sheares bridge. If you looked, you’ll find that the middle of the expressway has a road divider made mainly of potted plants without a permanent railing and the lampposts along that stretch are just bolted on to the pavement without cement foundations.

Tom, I’ll work on it.

a, it’s a double whammy. The old Prince of Wales went to the bottom, yes, but having a new ship with the acronyms P.O.W isn’t exactly inspiring to the people on board. We’ll name the next carrier we get after than “Non-uniformed Combatant”. :)

Keith really did a good job on this one, especially on the part that carriers allow allied surface ships to move freely at sea without fear of harassment or tracking by air units.

Still bloody expensive though.



Problem with a refit-to-CATOBAR or a Gripen purchase in lieu of 35B is that both require a fixed pool of pilots to be maintained with an arrested landing skillset. This pool having to be sized appropriately to allow for the generation of at least one -and-a-bit fastjet airgroups to allow for some rotation, attrition and continuation of training.

If we consider that a full strike configuration will put 32 or more cabs on the duty carrier you will see that your deck qualified pilot pool is going to have to be close to 50 strong to meet the need. Realistically this means perhaps high 20’s permanently rated and another 20 or so held at a level where they could recover a deck rating with a couple of weeks in the sim and with a few training cycles.

Clearly this is quite different from the current concept of operations where a core cadre of naval pilots in the NSW will be augmented by RAF lads as the need arises. It would, of course, be difficult (unrealistic) to expect the RAF to commit to keeping a dozen or two of its pilots in a near-deck-rated condition just in case a scenario blows up where we need to rapidly consititute a 32 cab airgroup and deploy.

Its hard, in my view, to see how we could realistically go Gripen/STOBAR or F35C/CATOBAR without a full time 3 fastjet squadron Fleet Air Arm. Raising that force with associated basing and support costs is something that the RN will balk at for the forseeable future I’d expect.

Gareth Jones

@ Jonesy – Sorry, I was off on a “Defend Singapore” tangent and wasn’t suggesting Grippen for Carriers. Ideally we could have a two tier force with F-35C and B like the US but don’t see it happening… in which case I’d go with the B due to its basing flexibility.

However, I believe Wiseape(?) did recently post a link where the Swedes have suggested a Sea Grippen for Brazil.


Jonesey reiterates a key point that too many people here refuse to grasp.

The UK is not developing a dedicated carrier based fast-jet arm in the way that India, the US, Russia and France (and China is currently developing) maintain. Rather there will be two RAF STOVL squadrons, one badged FAA, that will be carrier based as required.

The Marine Nationale maintains three fast-jet squadrons for a dedicated carrierborne fast-jet capability. The UK will have two F-35B squadrons which will also be key components of the RAFs land based capability. Remember there only 7 UK fast jet squadrons so introducing yet another type or dedicating squadrons to carriers would add severe constraints.


Ahh…apologies Trunks the Sea Gripen has been the source of some speculation of late, not least as SAAB were supposedly firming it up in the UK, I assumed your comment was in that vein…my mistake.

Great article. Very interesting. Thank you.

Most people here, including Khaki ground pounder types like me fully support the need for the Royal Navy to have carriers. That said, I agree with Overseas’s comments above, who says we could have had four or five Invincible-size multi-role carriers for the price of our two larger carriers.

I think most people don’t have an issue with the size and capabilities of the UK’s CVF carriers per se, it is that given the size and cost, we only get two. Larger carriers are all very well until you lose one. Why put all your eggs in one basket? I would rather divide our F-35Bs between four or five smaller ships instead of risking them in just two or possibly only one vessel.

I think Italy got it right with the Cavour Carrier at 30,000 tonnes.

(BTW, Italy has to buy the F-35B, otherwise it won’t be able to use its carriers to fly aircraft at all!)

A 30,000-40,000 tonne carrier designed along the same lines as the Cavour would have givens at least four reconfigurable vessels for the same cost. These would be suitable for aircraft ops, commando ops, ASW helicopter ops, RORO, logistics, hospital ship role and and so on. They could also fulfil peacetime roles such as humanitarian aid delivery. Based on the Cavour, they would cost around £900 million each.

When the UK’s CVFs are ready each one will represent around £5 billion of total cost, whereas as a Cavour-Class carrier would only be £1.5-£2 billion including 12 F-35Bs.. Losing a £5 billion asset in one action is something we cannot afford.

In the Falkands Campaign, the Argentine Air Force didn’t have much of a problem finding four or five different ships which they sunk. Can you imagine a re-match against Argentina and losing the QE2? We’d have to nuke Buenos Aires.

Engineer Tom

Regards the 7 fast jet squadrons, yes I understand this is the plan. But we are discussing having a CATOBAR carrier, and currently the plan is for a STOVL carrier, so in essence we are discussing changing the plan, so what is to say if we went CATOBAR we couldn’t also add on an extra squadron or two. It is all speculation and hypothetical, so why can some plans change but others can’t.

As many people in my office say; the plan has changed by the time you write it down.


Engineer Tom,

Yeah, because its that easy, just get a couple more squadrons, sure it will be easy to increase the combat air budget by 30%- why not.


One of the interesting implications of this article is that helicopter AEW is a non-starter.

Helicopters don’t have the speed/legs to operate a couple hundred miles from the carrier, i.e. close enough to be of some use but far enough to send the enemy looking in the wrong direction. Seems like a big argument in favor of buying V-22s. (see what I did there… trying to move away from another STOVL vs. CATOBAR argument!)


Hi KC and thanks for the great post.

One point I would like to raise: there are only really a handful of aircraft carriers in the world. Each one regularly making public appearances in port. Surely, for a determined enemy, all that one has to do is to track – and continue to track the ship in question for the three months or so that it is not in a port. Be this via subs, permanent sonar buoys, aircraft, spy satellites (i said it!), SBS style tracker device attached whilst in port or even a couple of civ. looking ships keeping observations on where the carrier is (rotate them (etc) so as not to arouse suspicion).

On a second point does ANYONE have any updates on what AEW system the QE will carry. And please correct me if i am mistaken, but what is the point on spending so much money on a very capable ship and complement if you do not have an outstanding AEW?

The above might seen idiotic, I have no true naval experience, so you have my apologies.

Gareth Jones

RE: Osprey and RN

Some interesting ideas being put forward in US about essentially the osprey becoming the de facto Common Support Aircraft:

However, I can’t see us getting a new type of expensive aircraft with out it replacing something else.



The AW101 a very good option if you can’t go fixed wing, with a full passive Asw load it’s time on station is 210 minutes at 100nm or 90 minutes at 200 nm. I would imagine these figures would be matched in AEW role. Ceiling is not bad at 15000 feet. I’m not sure a v-22 would give you much more, but would have a significant cost


@ Dr H

the QE will carry CROWSNEST for AEW which will be some form of pod system carriers on a Merlin.

The ship itself will have the Artisan 3D radar carried by the T23 as well as the s1850M long range radar carried by the T45.

it may also carry sea ceptor missiles for AAW defence.


Slightly off subject, but still on naval aviation. What are the French going to do with the two Mistrals being built/on sea trails for the Russians ? As it now looks like the EU is considering third level sanctions they are going to need a buyer with a more friendly attitude to western democratic values.

The Other Chris

Official Line: Deal still going ahead for now.

In practice they have a little bit of time before they have to hand over the first vessel. They’ll be considering their options and, as evidenced with the Baltic Air Patrol announcement yesterday, will certainly be discussing these options with the rest of their allies.


An article summarizing the situation .

“Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has today ruled that France would hurt his reputation as a ” reliable partner” if it decided to forego the sale to Russia of French Mistral warships .

The head of the French diplomacy Laurent Fabius said last night that France ” may consider ” to cancel the sale of two Mistral ships to Russia ” if Putin continues what he is doing ” in Ukraine. “France starts to betray the trust we place in it as a reliable supplier ,” Rogozin wrote on his Twitter account , calling its “European colleagues not to inflame the situation.”

“Our colleague did he not know how many jobs were created in France through our partnership? ” Also asked the senior Russian official , targeted by sanctions imposed yesterday by the United States. Today, unions STX in Saint- Nazaire ( West) that makes the Mistral warned the French government against the “consequences” that the possible cancellation of the contract could be ” on the employment of employees ” .

According to Fabius, the possible cancellation of the contract Mistral ” is part of the third level of sanctions .” ” For now we are on the second level,” he said , while stressing that the cancellation of the Mistral would also ” negative for France .”

In 2011, France signed with Moscow the sale of two ships of projection and command (BPC) Mistral type for more than a billion dollars. The European Union and the United States have sanctioned Monday 21 senior Ukrainian and Russian officials, including Dmitry Rogozin , to retaliate after the unprecedented decision of the Crimea to jump into the arms of Russia. Such sanctions are new in the history of EU-Russia relations since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.”

Think Defence

If the UK purchased them it would send all sorts of messages

Not saying it is a good idea mind!

Was contemplating the question yesterday of whether the RN ought to put in for these vessels if they come on the market. APATS has stated that the existing French Mistrals are super pieces of kit and he would trade the Albions for them in a flash. But that doesn’t necessarily mean its the right thing to do for UK Defence.

Such a trade would not be cost free. Even if the list price is marked down its still a capital investment and the cash would have to be found. Plus an intangible but real soft cost for creating ‘first in class’ operating procedures with unfamiliar systems not designed to RN specs. Logistically the ships would be a problem to support too. Again lots on non standard equipments I expect. Or if you opt to strip out the sub systems and replace with RN standard kit then expet a big refit bill before we even start.

Now all this might be worth doing. We all agree that a pair of medium sized LHD would make a suitable long term replacment for the Albions. But the business case is difficult. For me all of T26, Crowsnest and ASW-MPA come higher up the whiteboard, and the cost of getting the remaining Astutes built and into service, and Successor all loom large. And our 48 F35B still have to be paid for. I wouldn’t cut a penny from any of those programmes to fund the Mistrals.

The Albions have plenty of life left in them and we’d effectively be writing them off, either a fire sale or just parking them up with no crews and no upkeep. And the extra aviation capacity of the two Mistrals has to be seen in the context of the two massive new multi-role floating airfields that we are already committed to buy.

So if we are still working on the basis of SDSR10 and current MoD budgets then sorry guys its thanks but no thanks. Canada or Brazil can have the Mistrals. We will bide our time, and around 2030 look at a RN specified design, built wherever is cheapest, with common propulsion and subsystems to the rest of the fleet. It might still be a license build Mistral. But thats a whole other debate.

The only thing that changes that is if SDSR15 (or an emergency one sooner) gives a substantial uplift in funding and manpower specifically to counter the emergent threat. I don’t think thats going to happen. But if it did then these 2 Mistrals could begin to look like a bargain. Operated alongside the Albions, the QEC, the Bays, 19 Escorts, 7 SSN and 4 SSBN, with a full set of MARS Tankers and SSS, they would restore the potent ability to project a Commando Brigade. But the governemnt would have to change the rules for that to happen. And sadly I don’t expect it.


@Monty Hopefully you wont be putting the 2 ‘super’ carriers in harms way leaving it to fly in CAP, AEW and ASW aicraft.

@H_K Helicopter AEW is not pointless at all. Very few ships have Radar masts at FL150 and ships have to emit their RADAR which means that they can be detected easier. You don’t need to fly to far in advance of the taskforce you could fly about 200nm before you start searching with the RADAR. Thats fine, you cant say its a non starter as we have been doing it since 1982 and with great sucess.


I am sure we will sell our Mistral to Russia, anyway Crimea is Russian now, we can do nothing, just see and make diplomatic gesticulations, we have done nothing against Russia during the Cold War, it is not now that we will act.

Gareth Jones

I heard a rumour the Mistrals were based on a car transporter design – could we buy them at discount/cost and then lease them out as car and container (flight deck) transport?


Chopper AEW is clearly a poor neighbour to fixed wing and….more importantly….to full ISTAR capability as opposed to ‘simple’ AEW. That said its not without a couple of advantages that make, especially, non-fixed installations like the Vigilance podded solution really quite interesting.

The principle one of these is deployability. Rotary AEW, as we’ve seen with the ASaC7’s, isnt tied to a carrier deck much less a ‘honking great’ CATOBAR one. Any platform capable of lilly-padding a Merlin sized chopper can therefore deploy AEW. So, if you arent limited by the same factors that constrain a Hawkeye, why limit yourself to using rotary like Hawkeye?!. Even 80-90m OPV’s are able to support chopper deployments of the necessary size. STUFT ships have proven extremely capable of operating choppers with the necessary, temporary, mods. There are many ships in and around a naval formation that can be dozens of miles offset from the carrier that could suddenly be utilised to deploy the AEW capability in a distributed fashion. This clearly serving to dilute the ‘eggs in one basket’ risk of having all AEW in one place and freeing the carrier to embark more ASW or strike capability.

Operational flexibility is enhanced also. Specifically with a non-fixed installation an up-threat picket T45, for example, may be able to deploy Merlin HM2 and keep a few pods embarked without losing anything of its ASW potential. With a few extra airframes on the carrier you could even cycle through the picket ship to keep a chopper on station continuously at standoff range up-threat. If someone chooses to play EW games and track back the chopper to its point of origin for a little airstrike action they stand the risk of flying straight into the teeth of a fully alerted Sea Viper system!.

Deviating from the point slightly to progress down that line of thought, with Vigilance’s APG heritage, I’d be curious about the ability of the system to provide MCG to the Aster30 missile. Certainly, were this achievable, the concept of prosecuting SeaViper engagements OTH and with a ‘cold’ Sampson set could make for a very handy little capability enhancement for T45.

No contention that rotary AEW is superior than the more conventional platform….just that it may offer some novel and different features that mitigate its shortcomings a little.


@PE – well argued and agree. The future option I am sure is some sort of LHD – I possibly favour 3 smaller ones, e.g. like the Algerian one. If there is one area that doesn’t need any more funding for the immediate future its amphib fleet. Even if we were faced with a maximum effort operation the size of FI, the amphib fleet is still much more potent than 1982. For aviation we have Ocean for the immediate future then as you say CVF. I’d just like to explore the possibility of some sort of semi permanent hanger options for the Albions (and the bays, although they already have them I think) to give them greater utility in ‘peace time’ for independent tasking. Possibly CAMM in due course also

If we get a funding uplift then for me it would be 2 more Astute, a handful of SSKs for UK waters and getting T26 up and running asap.


There is a vast difference in capability between something like Crowsnest and E-2D, but if you can’t afford E-2D then Crowsnest is better than nothing. Be thankful it has been brought forward.

Buying the Mistrals, even if they were to come on to the market (which is unlikely), would be very silly. The current (much reduced*) amphib fleet has an OSD in the 2030s- there is no room in the capital budget to got out buying new amphibs just because something interesting has appeared on the market.

*One of Bulwark or Albion now kept in extended readiness (Albion until 2016), one Bay class sold to Australia and 2 of the 6 ro-ro vessels removed from the contract by the MoD


I would quite happily pay a billion for those two Mistrals just to wipe the smug grin of Putins face.

The guy has just invaded and annexed another country for no reason other than they would not do what he said and we are quibbling on weather or not we should freeze a couple of bank accounts and can the French afford not to seek him weapons.

we really need to get angry and start doing something. Putin is not going to take an off ramp as the American suggest. arguably a strong show of force last week might have stopped him annexing Crimea. Now we have zero credibility what will stop him going further. Looks like Moldova is next.

we really need to take a long hard look at ourselves as a country in the mirror. Yes our politicians are week willed and not very capable but I think they are a symptom rather than a cause of a wider problem.

Its not just us obviously it’s the entire western world but I can’t help but see this as the beginning of something worse. China is watching this very carefully and Taiwan and the South China Sea are close to being annexed. If they west won’t step up to the plate against a week country like Russia when it invades a sovereign nation then what chance do others have when they are already partially recognised as a break away state like Taiwan or uninhibited islands like the Parcels.


The Italian JSF split buy always seemed a strange mix anyway eg 60 As & 15 Bs for the air force and just 15 Bs for the navy. The difference between the UK FAA & RAF split buy is that the Italian Air Force Bs will not fly from Cavour or Garibaldi, so the Italian navy will have no surge capability.
With just 15 Bs, they would probably only have about 8 operational aircraft.
If they don’t half the order, then a split buy 60/30 As & Bs for the air force and navy would be a better option, or even 60/20 cutting 10 aircraft.

I thought this navynews link was worth posting – One last major deployment for HMS Illustrious, exercise Deep Blue, which will apparently be the RN’s largest ASW exercise since the Cold War.
Illustrious will have an air group of 9 ASW Merlins (8 new Mk2s & 1 Mk1)


So I’ll try to sell you the BPC :)

Length: 199 meters

Width: 32 meters

Displacement: 22,000 tons

Crew: 180 people

BPC can implement 2 EDA- R .

Payload capacity of 2,650 m² of warehouses for vehicles and cargo and 450 soldiers equipped according to standards of comfort and livability allowing long stays . This ability to transport soldiers can be worn up to 700 in the most basic housing conditions .
Strike welcoming 4 barges transporting materials (CTM) , or 2 heavy hydrofoils American type ” Landing Craft Air Cushion ” or 2 ” fast amphibious landing machinery ” ( EDA- R) , for the delivery of any type of material rolling .

Flight Deck 6 spots ( 5,200 m²) , 1 super -heavy helicopter CH- 53 Super Stallion U.S.
Helicopter carrying capacity : up to 16 Tiger helicopters or NH-90
Payload vehicles in 50 armored vehicles, 13 Leclerc tanks

2 lifting platforms for optimal management of the operational flow of a dedicated helicopter to shed 1,800 m² equipped workshops sized for any type of maintenance.

With the arrival of BPC , the health department of the Naval Action Force has for the first time at sea, with a capacity of treatment and hospitalization of casualties can be likened to that of a hospital multidisciplinary campaign. It is the application of the concept of “sea basing ” .

Hospital facilities spread over 750 m²:

Two operating rooms , a radiology room , a dental office , a latest generation scanner , a complete technical platform with , among others, 69 hospital beds and telemedicine facilities .

Means the hospital can be significantly increased by the addition of modular shelters and offer a true health support like a hospital in a city of 30,000 inhabitants . These hospital capacity , specifically designed to support amphibious operations , can also be put at the service of humanitarian France.


I would quite happily pay a billion for those two Mistrals just to wipe the smug grin of Putins face.

We could maybe club together with the French? What would we call them… well, we could keep one of them as Sevastopol.

And to keep the theme going, we could call the other one Archangel.

Sonofa gunner

Are two Mistrals worth one ‘Prince de Galles’


@PE: I’d rather go for an auxiliary carrier than buying two LHDs. At best we will be able to have enough escorts for 3 RFTGs, and based on the fact that we need to get a reinforced RM Cdo ashore think we can do this from the helo capacity already available with the carriers, plus OOH landing craft from the LSDs + future SSSs.


Yes it is better an aircraft carrier than an helicopter carrier, BPC has need to a escorts because it has virtually no protection system, even if the BPC is versatile.


@Observer: “Then again, in a 2-task force navy, why have 4-5 carrier flat tops?”


Elm Creek Smith

In WW2 TF 38 had 9 CVs and 8 CVLs. Task Forces can have as many ships and of whatever type in them as are needed.

Elm Creek Smith

Then again, if we could still deploy task forces with 9 CVs and 8 CVLs people might think twice about screwing with us…

Elm Creek Smith

Proposed CVE air wing – 12 F/A-45 Goshawk* (navalized Hawk 200); 12 AT-6 Texan II* (navalized); 4± SH/MH-60 SeaHawk. Goshawks can provide CAP, anti-shipping strike, and CAS (if needed). Texan IIs can provide ISR scout/patrol out to 500nm from the CVE, light attack, ASW weapons support for the helicopters, etc. The helicopters, of course, handle ASW/SAR/plane guard duties. A land-based AEW/STARS aircraft could provide support if no CVE-specific a/c is developed (perhaps an OV-10X variant?)

A CVE could also provide the F-35B a place to go in an emergency.

*(Since BAE provides the wings for the T-45 Goshawks, it shouldn’t be an issue to fit those wings out with all the Hawk 200 hardpoints, including wingtip rails for AIM-9 Sidewinders.)

**(The AT-6 might be able to land and takeoff from the CVE without using EMALS or arresting gear, just like the OV-10. However, if they are loaded “heavy,” EMALS would be a safer alternative, An EMA arresting gear system could be programmed to handle different weight a/c, too. I picked the AT-6 over the OV-10X primarily because it is smaller and I think folding wings, etc., are unnecessary (too expensive and too heavy) for CVE-based a/c.)


Alternately just fit an EMKIT-type light EM cat and lightweight arresting gear and embark 9 Sea Avenger UAVs and the same number of ASW rotaries on an axial deck Hyuga or Austrias sized hull. Will provide a modest ‘bubble’ of controlled sea-space with a lot smaller crew complement!.

The UAV’s do force protection/SURCAP, light strike, ISTAR/radar picket, comms relay and the choppers do everything else. Forget about fleet air defence…if you want an outer air engagement zone buy a full sized carrier….you’re certainly not going to catch a 350knt MPA with a 450knt Hawk if he turns 100nm away from your carrier after getting a radar hit!.

Cant imagine anyone actually having a requirement that would be met by such a vessel though?!.


A weakness of the French fleet is sealift, despite the MN having three Mistral class LHDs, the RN still has a greater sealift capability (even after the cuts) eg

3 Mistrals – 21,300t
each able to carry around 59 vehicles including 13 Leclerc MBTs, in a 28,500 sq ft vehicle hangar.
So a total of around 180 vehicles, including 40 MBTs.
The Mistrals can also each transport 450 troops (long duration) or 900 (short duration).
The French fleet’s last LPD Foudre is due to be decommissioned and sold (possibly to Chile) without replacement.
The MN also lease 3 small sealift ships, each 12.000t (compared to the 23,000t Points).

The RN/RFA’s amphibious/sealift capacity

Ocean & Lusty LPHs (obviously to be replaced by QE class strike carriers/LHAS)

2 Albion class LPDs – each able to carry 60 vehicles & 300-700 troops.
3 Bay Class LSDs – each able to carry 150 vehicles or 25 MBTS & 360-500 troops.
4 Point class sealift/RoRo ships – each able to carry 8,000 tonnes of vehicles on three hangar decks, so round 220 vehicles in total. A typical mix would probably be 25 MBTs, 24 Warrior IFVs, several howitzers & loads of light vehicles.
I assume if needs be the other two points could also be rechartered.

The French fleet also only has 4 replenishment vessels, compared to the RFA’s 8 (rising to 9 as 4 Tide class tankers will replace 3 Rover/Orange class).
The SSS ships will also be much more capable than the Fort classes.
Not sure if the MN has a hospital ship like Argus or a forward repair vessel like Diligence either.

Just my opinion, but LHDs are only worthwhile if they are large vessels, at least 30,000 – 40,000t, otherwise they are jack of all trades master of none eg small air group & limited number of troops & vehicles.


Whats the opinion of the experts here on the accelerating capabilities of shore based anti-ship weapons ?

Could a country with multiples of ten overwhelm our proposed carriers a 100 miles out ?

Rand report

Elm Creek Smith

@jonesy – A CVE would be useful for convoy protection, providing air/ASW cover for an MEU afloat and ashore. (The Marines don’t do AEW/ASW.) An AEW a/c or a tethered (to an escort vessel) AEW aerostat would give plenty of warning of an MPA beyond 100nm.

Conversion of a retired Ticonderoga-class CG would give you an approximately 30 knot ship with a small escort group that can respond to search for missing airliners, cover merchant convoys, remain closer inshore to support troops ashore (special forces?), all without wasting a fleet carrier and its attendant task force. It would give a smaller navy a greater, more modern capability than someone else’s cast off antique CV/CVL.

(Imagine the problems the RN would have had if the Armada de la República Argentina would have had a fast modern carrier of this sort from which to launch A-4 Skyhawks instead of the Veinticinco de Mayo.)

If you just optimized it for STOVL and rotary wing a/c, I suppose you could just put 20 F-35Bs and 10 choppers on it and still have a useful ship (at much higher cost).


I give you a short summary of the french situation.

Surface ships benefit from a renewed arms significantly strengthening their capabilities, both in terms of anti-aircraft (Aster missiles under the PAAMS program for Horizon frigates and SAAM for multi-mission frigates ) , anti-ship combat ( evolution of the Exocet ) , anti- submarine warfare ( MU90 torpedo ) , that action from sea to land with delivery for FREMM , starting in 2014 , the naval cruise missile .

Delivery of the first of six nuclear submarine attack ( SNA ) of the Barracuda class, Suffren, in 2017 . Deliveries have been a six-month lag and should be spread over twelve years from 2017 .

 Barracuda will be equipped with future heavyweight torpedo Artemis and naval cruise missile , which will give them a new ability action from land to sea

 In 2011 the program MU90 lightweight torpedoes , designed for frigates, helicopters and maritime patrol aircraft ATL2 was completed . For future heavyweight torpedoes Artemis intended to SSBN and Barracuda ANS , delivery will start in 2015.

FREMM intended to form the backbone of the surface fleet and replace most types of frigates in service. New class Aquitaine , which will replace the nine anti -submarine type Tourville and Georges Leygues frigates and two frigates dedicated to the area air defense , to replace in 2020 Cassard and Jean Bart which the combat systems are old design .

The first FREMM Aquitaine, was delivered in 2012 and the second in 2014, other buildings being delivered at the rate of one every 10 to 12 months .

It is in 2023 that will be achieved format 18 frigates first, with two Horizon frigates , eleven FREMM frigates and five La Fayette.

The combat capabilities of the FREMM will be very superior to those of existing buildings , with the arrival of efficient systems in progress : naval cruise missile , anti-ship missile Exocet MM 40B3 , MU90 lightweight torpedo , NH90 in the version control anti -submarine , air defense missiles Aster.

The acquisition target has been reduced from 250 to 200 missiles missiles , 150 for the multi-mission frigates and 50 submarines nuclear attack , the latter involving the realization of a device change of environment to be from below the surface.

The postponement of almost 5 years of funding Offshore Patrol Vessels creates a temporary reduction in capacity between 2016 and 2024. It will be managed by converting 9 sloops A69 patrol missions redirecting existing resources and assuming greater versatility newly acquired units.

With regard to aviation and maritime surveillance operation, the succession financing has also been shifted by almost 5 years. To compensate for the capability gap over the next decade , four Falcon 50 of the government fleet will be converted into maritime surveillance aircraft . In addition, four maritime patrol aircraft Atlantique 2 will have their limited use for surveillance missions . Finally , it may be called , if necessary, leased or outsourced resources.


A question for the people in the know. If the base planning assumption was an amphibious assault based on a Falklands style scenario. How important would be LCUs vs LCVPs & Helicopters to get troops ashore? I understand the need for LCUs and Mexeflotes for supplies but it just feels with the Albions we are equipped for yesterday’s wars.

Elm Creek Smith

Nicely done, but you ignore the unconventional methods of tracking and spotting ships. It would be interesting to read your thoughts on that.

Otherwise a nicely done article.


@Elm: Like it, but what happens when you get the wrong beach?

Elm Creek Smith

@ Repulse – “[Brigadier General Theodore] Roosevelt was one of the first soldiers, along with Captain Leonard T. Schroeder Jr., off his landing craft as he led the U.S. 4th Infantry Division’s 8th Infantry Regiment and 70th Tank Battalion landing at Utah Beach. Roosevelt was soon informed that the landing craft had drifted more than a mile south of their objective, and the first wave of men was a mile off course. Walking with the aid of a cane and carrying a pistol, he personally made a reconnaissance of the area immediately to the rear of the beach to locate the causeways that were to be used for the advance inland. He returned to the point of landing and contacted the commanders of the two battalions, Lieutenant Colonels Conrad C. Simmons and Carlton O. MacNeely, and coordinated the attack on the enemy positions confronting them. Roosevelt’s famous words in these circumstances were, ‘We’ll start the war from right here!’.[16]”

Elm Creek Smith

@Repulse – “We’ll start the war from right here!”. – Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, 4th Infantry Division, when informed that the first wave (8th Infantry Regiment and 70th Tank Battalion) landed a mile from their assigned beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. General Roosevelt, the son of President Teddy Roosevelt, was the oldest man (56 years) and only man landing with his son (Captain Quentin Roosevelt II with the 29th Infantry Division on Omaha Beach) on D-Day.



‘It is in 2023 that will be achieved format 18 frigates first, with two Horizon frigates , eleven FREMM frigates and five La Fayette’

Haven’t only 8 FREMM been confirmed so far, with the other 3 still in doubt? Also the La Fayette class are light frigates which will have a sonar bolted on to make them ‘first rank’


Are the MN getting all 11 FREMMs?
I thought there was a possibility that three ships would be sold, or perhaps leased to another fleet?
As the white paper said the number of major surface combatants was being reduced to 15 eg 2 Horizon, 8 FREMM & 5 upgraded La Fayettes?

@Elm Creek Smith and the seaman ship demonstrated by the now defunct ferry video post.
My earlier post tongue in cheek regarding Mediterranean operations i.e. North Africa and the eastern half and using local ships and crews ,you still have doubts? Even if a one way trip beaching the ships at high tide (or what passes for high tide in the Mediterranean) would deposit sufficient assault forces on a beach in addition to more conventional forces would add provide the additional first contact level of support to overwhelm local defences.
P.S. an escort to such a fleet would have been less a contingent of Somalian pirate skiffs with AK47 and RP3s but more a screen of T45/26’s hopefully stopping them joining Davy Jones Locker before the land their assault force .

Gloomy Northern Boy

@Elm Creek Smith/Monkey…One of my part written airport novels starts with a clapped-out car ferry not unlike that one running aground on one of the Dodecanese just before dawn and disgorging a task force of Jihadis aboard a fleet of tooled-up technicals…set sometime between now and 2020. Not sure if I should work on that one, or the Western starring a grizzled veteran of the CSA Marines called “Elm Creek Smith”… :-)

Elm Creek Smith

@GNB – Elm Creek Smith served in the 1st Texas Cavalry (US) in the internal unpleasantness known inaccurately as the Civil War. At least that’s the story. He didn’t qualify for the Marines because he knew who his father was.

Elm Creek Smith

@Monkey – My bad. You da man!

Gloomy Northern Boy

@Elm Creek Smith…Going to have to change the bit when he steals a Mississippi Stern Wheeler then…



Ian Williams March 19, 2014 at 1:40 pm

@Observer: “Then again, in a 2-task force navy, why have 4-5 carrier flat tops?”


That wasn’t me. :)


Interesting execution of how to beach a ship. Pity they forgot that the ship was side-loaded. :P

Another interesting thought I got was when I saw the other 2 derelicts beside it. That would be an interesting way to prep a beach and protect your landing ship, though it would block side arcs of fire, especially against sea skimming missiles from the side. With them so close together, the radar picture must be terrible.

Seems like a lot of people like the idea of a LST writ large. Have to admit, bringing the ship to shore does help a lot on the logistics, even if it is just a short company level move with a super old RPL. Pre-pack your loads on 3-tonners (5-tonners these days), drive on, drive off. KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid).



Yes, I’m sure of my sources, they are from the DGA, there will be eleven FREMM, the White Paper provides numbers for the period 2014-2019, while the last FREMM will be commissioned in 2023.

About the La Fayette class, the ship can carry a heavy helicopter which allows it to expand significantly the scope of its sensors, the NH90 and the Panther can ensure missions anti-submarine warfare or against ships surface. The La Fayette class is a furtive recce ship. It is a small frigate but it is still equipped with 8 missiles Exocet MM 40 Block. 24 Crotale naval missile system, one 100 mm gun, two 20 mm guns and slot for SAAM missile system.



All of the public information I’ve seen on FREMM and the recent French defence review has stated that a decision on the final 3 ships will be taken in 2016 with the planning assumptions being for 15 1st rank frigates. Do you know something we don’t?

Fair play on the La Fayette, as light frigates go it looks and sounds pretty capable, although if they are going to be used as 1st rank frigates and potentially put into harms way then i personally think they should have some kind of SAM capability in addition to the Crotale CIWS.


Sorry Challenger, I find nothing in English, except the article on wikipedia in English which contradicts wikipedia in French. It’s strange.


Just a quick point about copter based AEW…

You can operate them from your strike carrier 200km away from the action and provide early warning for attacks on both the carrier and amphibious group.


You can operate them from your amphibs and project their capability 200km into enemy territory and 200km back over the carrier.

The net effect is 400+km of visibility on the main vector and double cover for both carrier and amphib groups. I don’t thing V22 changes the game enough to warrant it’s purchase and logistics tail.

However, this is yet another reason why we need more copters operating from close in (amphibious ops). Pointing to an LHD replacing our LPD. I’d buy the Mistrales in a heartbeat, even if I just layed them up in dry-dock until the Albions got a bit long in the tooth.


Frenchie, on the La Fayette, 8 anti-ship missiles isn’t the limit, you can actually squeeze up to 24 into the weapons bay.

Challenger, they were designed for a SAM, just that cost got in the way again. A fully outfitted La Fayette would be closer to their export versions than their home defence version.



In my view making the La Fayette class 1st rank in more than name only requires money to be spent on stuff like a decent SAM system in addition to stuff like sonar, but then i’m coming from a RN point of view with all high-end escorts being capable of defending themselves when put in harms way post 1982.


We call a wide variety of ships “frigate”, but sometimes it corresponds to your destroyer, we have air defense frigates, recce frigates, anti submarine frigates, surveillance frigates. This did not correspond to your criteria.

Engineer Tom

Is it just me but the French seem to have the kit to fight wars, they just haven’t thought about moving it to where it is needed and then supporting it.


No, we will have a real military power in 2020, as you, yet our Army is close to the breaking capability.
Our navy has an aircraft carrier capable of deploying 40 aircraft, three brand new helicopter carrier capable of moving 50 Tigre helicopters but also 150 armored vehicles and 40 Leclerc tanks with EDA-R that can make a quick landing of armored vehicles.
We are able to make an amphibious landing, but our armored vehicles are obsolete, except VBCIs and Leclerc.
We have frigates of all kinds, but not always very modern, only the Horizon class and La Fayette class are modern, and now we have only one FREMM able to do everything.
We have withdrew the second aircraft carrier to fund eleven FREMM, but after 2023 it is possible.
Our submarines are old and don’t have SCALP naval.
Our air force is not bad.
You are almost right.


Challenger, look up the La Fayette export versions to see how a fully kitted up La Fayette would look like. The French ones can be said to be fitted “for but not with”.

Frenchie, old does not mean useless, some of your old kit is rather decent like the AMX-10. Think one of those can take on a current day IFV and still come out on top. Not many IFVs come with a 90 or 105mm cannon.


VBCI is our IFV, it has a 25 mm gun.
But I am worried about the Scorpion program, recce vehicles will have a 40 mm gun, while we have the AMX-10 RC, a tank killer with a 105 mm gun.
There will be anti-tank missiles on the turret, but it does not replace a 105 mm gun, I’m worried that our new vehicles will not have sufficient firepower.


A long term problem for the MN is they will only have one ageing carrier available half the time (she will be in refit from 2015-2019), with not much prospect of a replacement, never mind increasing to a two carrier fleet. There may also be a problem with refuelling CdeG in the future.
The UK will have spent nearly $10 billion on QE & PoW by the time they are completed, but at least the UK has bit the bullet and is building two large 70,000t carriers that will be in service for 40-50 years. The French Gov said they cancelled PA2 to fund the “more exportable FREMMs” but they have cut back their order to just 11 (maybe even 8), and they have so far only sold one ship to Morocco, and that was only ordered because the French were pissed off over the Moroccan’s buying US fighters instead of Rafales. Anyway the UK managed to fund the construction of two carriers, and is still going ahead with the T26/GCS, which will have a similar capability to the FREMM, so it should not have been an either or decision.
Also the MN only got the third Mistral because it was ordered with Government economic stimulus money.
The French Fleet’s best chance of new carrier was to have built a third QE class,
now it seems unlikely that France will ever build another large strike carrier, for several reaons: the huge cost, the problems with CdeG, and other programs that will need funding in the future eg replacement SSBNs & a 5th Gen fighter (unless France wants to buy F-35s!).


You are right, it will be difficult to replace the CdG in time, because all credits from 2020 will be eaten by SSBN 3G, the first hull will be livery in 2030.
 So the CdG will have to last a long time, its withdrawal is not expected before 2041. This leaves a small budgetary window to 2035-2040, but not before.

And we don’t will buy F-35, the operational career of Typhoon and Gripen comes to the end in the same time than the Rafale. It would be an opportunity for players in the European aerospace industry to pool their efforts for develop an aircraft of 5th or 6th generation in common.
But you don’t will part of this because you will buy no doubt the F-35B for all your air forces.



“…you will buy no doubt the F-35B for all your air forces”

I hope not.

I prefer your idea of an EU Typhoon/Rafale/Tornado replacement. However, to be honest, it has usually been you French chaps that have scuppered true economies of scale within European jet procurement. Partly because of the success of Dassult and partly because of a slightly different view and set of requirements.


We don’t have much money , Dassault will be forced to cooperate with other industrials.


@ Frenchie

Hmm, BPC. Have I seen you in Molden Heath somewhere?



I don’t think so :)

Keith Campbell

Once more, thanks everyone for your comments. They are much appreciated. And the spin-off debates have been fascinating.

Some responses:

@Dr H: During the Cold War, the Soviets did try & track all Western aircraft carriers all the time, using spy trawlers in particular. Today, no one has the assets to do this, least of all the Russians.

@Derek @mickp. Sorry, I should have made myself clear: I meant fleet vs fleet combat. The ability to engage and defeat an enemy naval force is the absolutely fundamental role, upon which everything else depends. Of course, such fleet combat is incredibly rare, but if aircraft carriers cannot actively participate in winning & defending command of the sea, they are not worth the money spent on them.

As a number of US commentators have rightly noted, the USN today is in the position of the RN in the High Victorian era: it has command of the seas and has faced no challenge at all for two decades. Consequently, like the RN in the late 19th century, the USN today may very well be focused on the wrong things. Captain Rubel is right: a debate on how the US uses its carriers is urgent.

I reiterate what Rubel wrote: “In the late 1970s … it became clear that a single strike on a single formation of Soviet ships might cost a quarter of an air wing.” At that time, the Soviet Navy had just two Kiev-class carriers in commission, each normally embarking about 13 Yak-36 fighters. To me, Rubel’s report betokened an alarmingly unimpressive capability in the fleet battle scenario by the then US carrier air wings & thus the carriers. Things subsequently changed for the better!

But have things since regressed? When was the last time the USN exercised a major battle against an enemy fleet? I ask because I have no idea. It could have been last week, for all I know. But I fear that it has not happened in a long time. Can anyone let us know? The Chinese Navy has to be taken seriously, despite its still significant weaknesses & despite the fact that no one wants bad relations (let alone confrontation) with Beijing.

Deep strike: for the UK, this role is vested in Trident (for nuclear) and Tomahawk (non-nuclear). I would like to see the RN have larger numbers of Tomahawks, & for the RAF to get air launched versions as well. Stealth UCAVs will come. I don’t really see a need for a manned RAF deep strike aircraft, especially as the vast majority of the world’s population, economic centres & strategic targets lie within 200 to 300 miles of the world’s coasts.

The fundamental strategic role of an air force is the air defence of the home country. That makes every other war operation possible. Again, this is a rare scenario but again it is the foundation for everything else. As the continental US has never come under sustained air attack, the US Air Force seems to think that the maintenance of a conventional manned deep strike capability is essential to justifying its existence. But that doesn’t apply to the RAF (Battle of Britain) or most other air forces.

Once more, thanks very much, and I hope the debate continues. I have been delighted with it so far.

PS I do like the Buccaneer. I also have a soft spot for the Sea Vixen. And for the seemingly immortal A-4 Skyhawk. But my favourite was the Wessex: my father worked on them, in ASW squadrons. A lot of my childhood involved Wessexes! (Wessexs? Oh, what the heck: the Wessex).


Ok just testing


Hello, am I on?
Build more carriers! That usually works.

How about the smiley face though…. :-)

Gareth Jones

Every ship should be a carrier….

Ohhh – deep thought for my first disqus comment…

Steve Jones

You are Lewis Page and I claim my £5 :).

Hmmm now posting with my real name as opposed to ‘Jonesy’

Gareth Jones

“The new combatants would actually be “carriers,” but rather than carrying aircraft, they would carry an array of unmanned systems. A balanced Fleet would have a mix of small, medium, and large unmanned carrier combatants to cover the range of Fleet functions.”

Yeah I had to edit my profile before posting to save my secret identity…

Still say trouser themed nom de plums for everyone would be fun….

Nom de pantalon?

Gareth Jones

My reply disappeared…

Testing testing


What we really need are aircraft carrier carriers.

Gareth Jones

I was thinking more along the lines of carriers of aircraft AND other things…

” new combatants would actually be “carriers,” but rather than carrying aircraft, they would carry an array of unmanned systems. A balanced Fleet would have a mix of small, medium, and large unmanned carrier combatants to cover the range of Fleet functions.”


Yeah build them and then just watch them rot :D

USMC AV-8B+ Harrier is still a very capable multi-role aircraft battle tested in the Balkans , GW1+2 and the 10 years of the COIN in Afghanistan. Although no fighter on fighter engagements occurred since the Falklands (20 for 0 ) with the much earlier Sea Harrier it is been often discussed on this site that it is the weapons you carry and your tactics not the plane that give you the edge over an enemy. At $113m per engineless F35B (expensive gate guardian) with as an engine as an optional extra @ $38m it an expensive replacement . Why don’t we scrap(postpone) our order for the 45 planes and buy 45 ex USMC AV-8B+ Harrier’s? At say $30m each that would leave $121m the new Typhoons cost for the RAF. According to Pierre Sprey the F35 is going to be a piece of c**p come a dog fight – he designed the F16 by the way. I can imagine the language coming from the cockpit by a ex-Typhoon pilot making the crossover into the F35B as he realizes he has now to cope with a slower, less agile , reduced range , less well armed aircraft ( “where did I leave that application for BA?”)


Nice Article, seemed to cut to the chase, and critical points mentioned.
Pondering the DETECTION aspect. I wondered what everyone’s thoughts were on the stealth aspect.
It seems to be virtually ignored that we are producing the world first stealth carrier.
T45, massive though they are, are reputed to give a radar return in the region of a fishing vessel.
Important in a world full of fishing vessels !
The QEC is quite frankly Bizzar ( thought extremely cool ) in appearance, It seems MASSIVE effort ( and probably cost ) has been put into the stealth aspects, and we must assume lessons have been clearly from the Daring and that QEC is probably better per tonne.
Apart from the obvious ( it’s hard to find 300 miles out at sea @ 30 knots ), do we think this is likely to represent enable a shift in tactics, particularly in view of its assault capabilities ?

Kent Horton

You could call one “The Light Brigade” and the other “The Heavy Brigade.”