Richard Beedall's 'Navy Matters' view of the SDSR results...

A Pyrrhic Victory

"Since 1998 the Royal Navy has made extraordinary sacrifices to ensure (just) the survival of the Future Aircraft Carrier Project (CVF). It now seems certain that they will indeed be built, but this has been a victory achieved at a terrible cost to the rest of Royal Navy.

I've long been concerned about the logic of building large and expensive aircraft carriers without a clear provision and funding for their air group, and SDSR is a hugely disappointing vindication of this. The RAF managed to kill the RN's Sea Harrier force and it has now succeeded in disbanding Joint Force Harrier - leaving no fixed wing aircraft able to operate from RN carriers, hence the loss of Ark Royal and probably Illustrious. The RAF's change of preference from the vertical landing F-35B version of the Joint Strike Fighter to the longer range but carrier capable F-35C seems to be totally dictated by its vision of the later replacing the Tornado aircraft in the manned strike role. It is likely that only 40-50 F-35C's will procured by the UK, and their appearance on the deck of HMS Prince of Wales will probably be as rare as UK operated Harrier's have been on the decks of HMS Illustrious and Ark Royal in recent years.

Another very serious problem is that HMS Ark Royal will decommission "immediately", but it will be at least nine years before HMS Prince of Wales conducts her first deck landing of a F-35C. The capability 'holiday gap' is enormous - effectively a generation of RN sailors - and will mean the relearning of carrier operations by the RN.

Will we ever again see an aircraft carrier proudly flying the White Ensign whilst operating fixed wing manned jet aircraft? - I'm not sure.

I suspect that a sales brochure for HMS Queen Elizabeth is already being prepared in the quiet hope that an ambitious foreign country might buy her 'off the stocks' at a heavily discounted price; for example if fitted with arresting gear she would be an excellent fit for the Indian Navy. As for Prince of Wales, it will be another ten years before she may just possibly enter service in a 'cat and trap' configuration. Just provide a context of how much things may have changed by then - ten years ago the RN had three aircraft carriers (to be replaced two large new carriers in 2012 and 2015), three squadron's of Sea Harriers (to be replaced by four much larger RAF and RN JSF equipped squadrons from 2012) , 12 SSN's (ten to be replaced by Astute's and a new class of SSN's) and 32 frigates and destroyers (12 of which would be replaced by Type 45 destroyers, and the other 20 by advanced multi-hull future surface combatants)

A final point is the lengthy loss of a major national military capability (i.e. aircraft carriers) by a permanent member of the UN Security Council. I'm sure that want-to-be members India and Brazil will be quietly pointing out behind closed doors that they have aircraft carriers with aircraft. I know that China doesn't currently have an operational aircraft carrier, but they are working hard on remedying that."

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