The Future of British Armed Forces

This is the second part in a series of reports on the effects of Britain’s latest Strategic Defense and Security Review. The first entry focused on the announced changes in strategy. This article discusses the consequences for procurement.

The cuts on equipment and manpower outlined in the Strategic Defense and Security Review are now clear and months of speculation and worry have been replaced by mixed emotions amongst senior servicemen and their juniors. Depending on one’s position and service, or what one might think of as the key elements of British defense, the news is relieving, bad or terrible.

Cynics like myself didn’t foresee the RAF losing out so badly, and the Royal Navy still afloat. As mentioned, the Royal Navy will lose 5,000 personnel, according to the SDSR. Each service has taken a serious cut, with an overall defense budget reduction of 8 percent. The aims of the review seem to be at least somewhat in line with the last SDR, as far reshaping of services is concerned. Further steps have been taken to shed the Cold War role, although this is undoubtedly a Treasury, not strategy led review. The future, according to the document, will be a mixed bag of threats from cyber attack, terrorists and failed states.

The language of the review lacks the optimism of its predecessor, the 1997/1998 SDR. It is also more defensive and yet it maintains some of the ambitions of a global role and the desire to maintain applicable forces capable of international action. The cuts in capability, i.e., materiel of specific kinds for specific duties, may suggest otherwise however. There’s also a designed ruthlessness and relationship to efficiency in the words of the review which, although appealing to the pragmatist, may remain unfulfilled. Promises are made of rigorous tests within procurement and prioritization of what is needed and what is not and value for money in line with high standards and “best equipment for our troops.”

Much was made in the run-up to the review of a streamlining and modernization process, much in keeping with the kind of ideas expressed by General Sir David Richards. A move away from the “Cold War role” was desired and to some extent, one supposes, achieved. Armored vehicles and self propelled guns — the weapons of a conventional military — have been cut by 40 percent in the new review. This will see a reduction in the number of new, highly effective Challenger II Main Battle Tanks. A lighter role for the Army is predicted and prescribed, with a loss of 7-8,000 personnel. New Chinook helicopters (or perhaps the ones which are on the ground doing nothing) will be brought to play.

In keeping with the shift from a “Cold War” conventional role and the personnel reductions, the British Army will be withdrawn from Germany in entirety. The SDSR maintains that, in the future Britain will be able to perform one stabilizing mission of brigade level (up to 6,500 men) with maritime and air support as required. This is much smaller than the current commitment to Afghanistan (by approximately 3,000), a commitment which is comparatively minute compared to the American and even former British deployments. General Richards will certainly be pleased with the emphasis on rapidly reacting, lighter forces geared toward interventionist, dare one say, and counterinsurgency roles. Though, too, understandably bitter about the reduction in personnel his service has endured. Longer terms of service in operations, maybe even on the American style one year deployment, are a possibility.

Better protected land vehicles will replace the present soft skin fleet, presumably due to lessons learned in Afghanistan concerning IEDs. The Future Rapid Effect System (FRES) fleet of armored vehicles will, it seems, come online in the form of the “Scout” ASCOD AFV, Terrier engineer vehicle, and a utility vehicle.

Unmanned munitions delivery vehicles have been mentioned, along with precision missiles, as alternatives to the destructive capability of heavy armor. Within the Army, it is organization and doctrine which looks to get the best facelift. A restructuring into multirole brigades should increase the ability to act with the right forces, but, with the loss of a whole brigade, will reduce the manpower brought to bear. The likelihood is a slimmer force divided into more capable blocks instead of different brigades being better at different operations. It may not change Army organization as seen in the public eye; regiments and corps being split up or amalgamated is not the necessary repercussion, although never off the cards.

The review also mentions the repeated mantra of better C3 (command, communication, control ) and ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) but this has been an Army focus for years now.

The Royal Air Force is to lose the Harrier jump jet, a reliable if old airframe famed for its vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) capabilities. It is this which allowed the design of the small “scoop deck” carriers which formed the backbone of the fleet dispatched to the Falklands in the 1982 war. This is a loss of highly versatile air-to-ground capability in favor of keeping the ageing but not-so-versatile Tornado ground attack aircraft and the expansive fleet (300) of Eurofighter Typhoons. The latter aircraft, serving no other use than as an air-to-air interceptor fighter to protect the United Kingdom mainland, has been one of the great tragedies of British defense procurement.

It is worth noting that the RAF has not shot down an enemy aircraft in combat since the Second World War and, with the situation as it is, is perhaps unlikely to do so again. The “logic” of the review, although renewing emphasis on interventionist low intensity operations does make strides to keep an all round defense; perhaps why these late, overpriced, single role pariahs are to be kept. The RAF stands to lose 5,000 personnel and the costly, outmoded Nimrod reconnaissance craft are to be scrapped. Their maritime role seemingly to be transferred to a derivative of the Lynx helicopter known as Wildcat.

Some endurances put upon the Royal Navy seem the most unusual. The nuclear deterrent, based on the Trident system, launched from Vanguard class submarines was included in the defense review, although only in by saying that real decisions about it will be delayed for six years. The class, however, will be reduced from four to three boats, with economies of service to be imposed. Deployed missiles and warheads are also to decrease.

Maritime reconnaissance, as mentioned, will move from fixed-wing to small rotor-wing, carrier-based aircraft and not the American Hawkeye like some of us dared to dream. Also in this department we come across some of the more unusual decisions within the SDSR.

The Royal Navy fleet is to be reduced by four frigates. Nineteen destroyers and frigates will remain consisting of the Type 45 Anti-Air Destroyer and the Type 23 Frigate, the latter to be replaced eventually by the Type 26, the design of which is still a mystery, although increasingly a smaller, T-45 looking modular vessel is likely. This all leaves a relatively small fleet for global operations which should still provide enough to support a small, relatively weak carrier battle group based on the new CVF Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier.

For many months, nay, years, the carrier project seemed to be under the sword of Damocles, and yet the SDSR has confirmed it will progress and that both vessels will launch. This fits the kind of strategy the SDSR paints as the future, and follows the facts that modern conflicts have relied on carriers (including Sierra Leone, the Falklands War, and Afghanistan, where over 90 percent of all airstrikes have been carrier-based). It is, however, still likely that the second carrier will be sold.

One carrier shall be kept in “extended readiness” however which means in store for emergency and not otherwise deployed. The issue of the carriers’ aircraft complement has been solved with robust efficiency. The F-35C, the STOVL version, has been dropped as the frame of choice in favor of the F-35B; the same model to be used by the US Navy. Given the advantages the F-35B has over the other craft, and the problems which have dogged the progress of the STOVL version, this can only be a sensible option. This had meant, however, a reconfiguration of the carrier’s deck to allow catapults and arrestor wires. Again, not a bad thing.

The only issue here lies in timing. With Harrier, the current at-sea aircraft of the British forces, to be immediately scrapped, there will be no British fast jets at sea until the F-35B enters service as the Joint Strike Fighter at some vague point in the near future. The carriers themselves will enter service in 2020 instead of 2016. The loss of Harrier is coupled with the loss of HMS Ark Royal, to be retired immediately, and the potential loss of HMS Illustrious to leave no power projection capability till 2020 at the earliest. The reconfiguration of the deck will also, it is specifically mentioned, allow interoperability with American and French navies, who will be the only allied people with fast jets anyway. Unmanned vehicles and helicopters are also mentioned as viable alternatives, to be based on Illustrious or Ocean and Invincible.

Amphibiosity is to be maintained minus one Bay class landing dock. Pending a review of efficiency, HMS Ocean might also be axed. She competes with HMS Illustrious for the role of helicopter carrier, which presumably will also be the fate of HMS Invincible due to the retirement of Harrier.

The upshot of all this is a general reduction in numbers while attempting to maintain capability (which will perhaps be the epitaph of the British armed forces), particularly the Army and Air Force. On the other hand the Navy has lost most of its capability almost overnight and this is an unusual thing for British defense reviews, which have followed the do the same with less policy since the withdrawal from east of Suez. For many years the Royal Navy, and thus Britain will lack any real ability to project power, even on the feeble basis they had in the post-Falklands navy. This has dire implications for British interests abroad which are usually protected by the Navy’s strike ability. The downscaling of the Army in favor of C3 ISTAR and a greater reliance on technology suggests an acceptance of fourth-generation warfare while still forgetting the necessity of troop numbers in counterinsurgency campaigns. That could be part of the plan though, with politicos and public alike unwilling to venture on such conflicts again.

Britain Unveils New Defense Strategy

This is the first part in a series of reports on the effects of Britain’s latest Strategic Defense and Security Review. This part focuses on the announced changes in strategy. The second entry discusses the consequences for procurement.

Britain’s Strategic Defense and Security Review (SDSR) has now been published and, depending on whom you are, it’s either as bad or not quite so bad as you had feared. In fact the only people who may see benefit in changes planned in the SDSR are the Treasury, having managed to cut 8 percent of the budget for defense.

The headline grabbing details include a loss of 5,000 personnel for both the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. The Army will lose even more, 7,000 to bring the numbers of soldiers from all arms and services to 95,000. Defense projects will be scrapped, along with a number of fleets of vehicles, including the iconic Harrier jump jet of Falklands War fame. Against much expectation, the two CVF aircraft carriers will be built but one may be sold.

Each of the services is expected to suffer in terms of materiel and manpower, as is the Ministry of Defense, the political body which, in part, directs British strategy and security policy. However, procurement issues aren’t strategy; they are the visible results of changes within the system which mean either a reorganization based on strategic nuances or, in this case, economic weakness. In this article we hope to take a look at what the cuts are, what they mean for each service, and how they effect or are informed by strategic issues.

Firstly we must examine the parts of the SDSR which aren’t attracting headlines. The strategy parts. The SDSR is informed by the National Security Risk Assessment, among other documents. The former points to the following as the major concerns for the British state: terrorism; instability and conflict overseas; cyber security; givil emergencies; energy security; organized crime; border security; counterproliferation and arms control.

Energy security was hinted at during the SDR of 1997/1998, although cyber security is a new addition and has produced some alarmism in the media concerning “cyber terrorism” and also attacks of such a nature by other states. Cyber warfare, or rather, cyber methods within defense, have been used recently by both Russia and China and have caused some understandable concern within the administrations of the West. Operation Titan Rain, the Ukranian server crash, and some others have pointed out the vulnerability of states to these tools. The intention from this is to establish a counter cyberterrorism group.

The rest of the SDSR seems to be more of the same as last time, but with rather less emphasis on an ethical foreign policy lead strategy. The harsh economic times seemed to have instilled a pragmatism which was not evident last time in the SDR. Because of this, campaigns outside that of a purely British interest flourished in places like Sierra Leone, Kosovo and more.

The residual terrorist threat in Northern Ireland gets a mention, as do intelligence matters surrounding Islamic terrorism from both domestic and foreign sources. As expected.

Of particular interest are the chapters concerning alliances and partnerships. There has been much speculation on this matter. Some hypothesized that Britain and France would enter into a surprisingly close defense partnership, perhaps including the sharing of an aircraft carrier. In the SDSR we see the results of these, and other, concepts concerning Britain’s alliances of the day.

As has been the same since the 1950s, NATO forms a large part of British defense policy, as outlined in the SDSR, and is described as the bedrock, in fact. A continued close alliance with the United States is another continuing and unsurprising theme, though the reductions in spending and capability suggest an even greater asymmetry between the world’s preeminent military power and the United Kingdom. Interestingly there is a greater emphasis on European power features. An outward facing EU, willing to get to grips with global issues seems to be a desired element of British defense policy, much in keeping with the concept of working closely with the United States with the hope of directing American power in support of British aims, which has often worked in the past due to such close similarities in views. In the EU, where Britain has a greater say, the prospects of utilizing European power are even greater.

Working closer with France and the Americans seems the order of the day. In the hard world of practice, a greater need for multilateral action and alliance may develop and this is well catered for in the review, with emphasis on allied operations.

There are details concerning interoperability with the French, also, which include the development of Franco-British military doctrine and training programs. Greater logistical support based on the A400M airlift project is mentioned, suggesting the possibility of an amalgamated though not shared airlift fleet. The development of an integrated military industrial complex is also worth much attention. It certainly means a continuation in European based defense projects, with more jobs based in the United Kingdom and France for manufacture, and more homegrown capability. This is in keeping with much of the SDSR and the headlines which follow it.

The knock on effect of the cuts and cancelations on British jobs, especially those in BAE, have been noted in the media — although this particular reference to developing a shared industrial and technological base with France will mean at least a continued position for British war related industries. What the results will be may include more shared systems development, such as how Eurofighter was built in league with an alliance of EU member states. It will not be surprising, therefore, to see more systems developed in league with the French to replace existing independent ones. Vehicles of all variety, small arms and so on may be developed from this to be used by both French and British armed forces for both ease in cost and interoperability. However, the history of shared defense projects is one which does not inspire confidence.

This brings us neatly on to materiel. The impact on British jobs could be seen as a sign of progress. Traditionally British defense capability has been marred by the intense and unpragmatic desire to develop equipment within the British Isles, much of it of a questionable quality, invariably late and almost certainly costing considerably more than previously expected. Even equipment bought in from the United States is often modified to comply with MOD specifications, at great cost, or to fit EU regulations, again at cost — a prime example being the Boeing Chinook debacle. This mindset has led to such unfortunate incidents as the 1990s example of amphibious vessels wherein the construction of such assault ships was seen as an opportunity for social regeneration and an attempt was made to build vessels on the river Tyne, where ships have not been built in decades. This effort failed miserably due to the lack of skilled workforce. The idea of putting the construction of important weapons in the hands of provincial politicians so that they may garner favor through the provision of jobs only works when the people have the skills to do so and is one of the sad tales of British procurement.

Working closer with allies will also mean a smaller burden (depending on how you look at it, perhaps) on the British armed forces, though there are certainly issues around operational sovereignty. At current it seems unlikely that Britain could individually mount an operation similar to that in the 1982 Falklands War or even Sierra Leone. After the cuts this will certainly be the case for a few years and even then, with greater reliance on the French and/or Americans, such an operation may be even less likely as political and military action would be dependent on their support.

The Strainful Relationship: Where’s the Beginning and the End?

David Cameron, in The Wall Street Journal recently observed that the constant quibbling and worrying over the “special relationship” is a curious pastime among British observers, journalists and the man in the street. Cameron divides these worry merchants up into three camps which seem quite accurate and I admit to being, on occasion, guilty of all of them. However, as Sir Christopher Meyer, former ambassador to the United States, recently reminded viewers at the Royal United Services Insitute, the relationship with the United States is the biggest challenge that the British diplomatic service, and indeed, British policy faces.

Cameron, like his predecessors, has failed to say what this special relationship consists of apart from vague reference to a list of happy coincidences and events which seem to be now of questionable importance. Numbering among them are: a shared doctrine on trade (some of the time); somewhat frequent cooperation in international institutions and also outside of them. Apart from that it’s hard to think of anything meaningful or worth entertaining as anything other than a cultural token viz “standing shoulder to shoulder against fascism” and other well known extracts from your school history lessons. Common language and culture to a good degree also go a long way to make many see the United States as the natural closest friend that Britain’s got, and even vice versa. Read more “The Strainful Relationship: Where’s the Beginning and the End?”

A400M and the Politics of Aircraft Design

The International Air Tattoo at Farnborough in Gloucestershire is one of the largest and prestigious events in the aerospace world. It gives pilots a chance to show their abilities in the skies to an appreciative audience, but its major purpose is as a show for various companies to drum up support and interest for their latest projects.

At the Waddington Airshow a few months ago I myself got to wander around the hangers in which the UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) companies had set up and were giving away litriature and answering questions to journalists, members of the public and passing foreign dignitaries. GlobalHawk were even there who provide their GlobalHawk surveillance UAV to the Americans and the Germans. In the hanger, companies like BAE and Northrop Grumman present alongside smaller ones and even university departments whose young engineers were there showing their achievements in the field and no doubt looking for jobs.

These events are thus an important if not major process in securing contracts with the forces to which these companies provide. At Farnborough it is no different, but on a larger scale, with some of the most awaited projects making their debuts. This year it was the A400M which had the crowds craning their necks in anticipation. They’ve all seen F-16s and Super Hornets before, even the Harrier’s begining to lose its relative splendor. Read more “A400M and the Politics of Aircraft Design”

The Current Problem in the Falklands

In 1982 the Buenos Aires government under General Galtieri invaded the Falkland Islands off the south coast of Argentina with a force of several thousand soldiers, overwhelming the garrison of Royal Marines stationed on the island. On the same day the Royal Navy was ordered to assemble a task force to reclaim the Falklands by force. The history of the conflict can be found in many books but despite a British victory exacting over six hundred Argentine lives the causes of the war persist to this day, at least in Argentina.

The claim to the Falkland Islands (or Malvinas as they are known to Argentinians) is one of proximity and historical claim; i.e., that they are much nearer to the Argentina than they are to Britain. Secondly Argentina, after gaining independence from Spain, sent a ship to use the islands as a penal colony. This was never accomplished due to a mutiny aboard the vessel. In 1833 a British force arrived and claimed the desolate islands. They have since seen the establishment of settlements, from which grew the current population of Falkland islanders. In the minds of Argentinians however, the islands are “rightfully” theirs. Read more “The Current Problem in the Falklands”

The PLAN and the Rise of China

Just a couple of decades ago the naval forces of China (People’s Liberation Army Navy or PLAN) was a weakling, barely capable of defending the Chinese Coast. Hong-Kong, a British station until 1997, was almost considered secure by naval if not military means even with just a few British warships at the station. Since then the PLAN has received much investment in materiel and research. This makes much sense for the Chinese government which in recent years has presided over a growth of the country’s military and economic potential to new levels, including an expansion in global and regional trade interests. China’s main oil supply is maritime and it is hardly surprising that this resource is of key import to the burgeoning Chinese industry. Chinese political influence has been present in Africa and the Middle East since the Cold War but now it is becoming more concentrated and noticeable. Read more “The PLAN and the Rise of China”

Future Surface Combatant and Other Myths

This is the second part in a series of reports on the current state of the Royal Navy. The first entry focused on the expeditionary tool of the Royal Navy’s future force; the aircraft carrier. This article discusses the Future Surface Combatant and the effectiveness of modular versus “hardwired” vessels.

Earlier this week, the blog War is Boring reported on the development of the Royal Navy’s Future Surface Combatant while the Royal United Services Institute featured an article (PDF) about the very same subject in their February Defence Systems. In the short month since my last post new events have occurred within Procurement planning circles which directly influence the future of the Royal Navy and pose some interesting points to the wider community interested in naval and security affairs.

I had first heard of the Future Surface Combatant (FSC) in a lecture presented by a former Royal Navy officer on the current and future capability of the Royal Navy in October, so already had an inkling of what to expect in both the RUSI’s article and the basic but informative War is Boring entry. Not much. Both are scant in regards the nuts and bolts of a complex defense project. Read more “Future Surface Combatant and Other Myths”

HMS Queen Elizabeth and the Future of the Royal Navy

This is the first part in a series of reports on the current state of the Royal Navy. This part focuses on the expeditionary tool of the Royal Navy’s future force; the aircraft carrier. The second entry discusses the Future Surface Combatant and the effectiveness of modular versus “hardwired” vessels.

Earlier this year, public interest in the reforming of the Royal Navy was highlighted by the order for two aircraft carriers to be constructed by the “Carrier Alliances” of BAES/VT planned Joint Venture, Thales, Babcock and BAES. The news was controversial. Many wondered why aircraft carriers were needed at all, let alone two each displacing some 65,000 tons and approaching the size of the US Navy’s Nimitz class carriers. The carriers would be bigger than the current largest in European waters; the French Charles De Gaul and considerably larger and more capable than the RN’s current Invincible class carrier.

Arguments were abound; the money could be spent on civilian infrastructure or dealing with the financial crisis. Were carriers even needed now that the threat of the Soviet Union had disappeared and Russia was perceived as “no threat”? How could huge surface vessels help solve problems in places like Iraq and the landlocked Afghanistan? Now the intent of this article is not to defend the carrier par se, but I shall maintain that the decision for carrier capability (the ultimate modern expression of modern military power, and the finest expeditionary tool for foreign policy in the new security climate) was not only a good one but somewhat essential for both Britain and the Royal Navy.

However, the construction of the vessels themselves brought forth new problems. The main weapon of the carrier is the air flight. The aircraft. Since the Battle of Midway in the Second World War, the carrier has been the supreme naval instrument. Its air flight can obtain air superiority over land and sea, deciding large conflicts, but also they can protect a fleet on the move, project force inland over vast ranges, and assist in all manner of operations short of war. However, for the “Lilly-bet” class this was a problem from the start. The scandalous conduct of the Royal Air Force/Farce in procuring the splendid Eurofighter Typhoon jet fighter has caused some consternation. The plane cannot be converted to be capable of carrier-born operations and since the Fleet Air Arm lost its proper fighter capability to the RAF, it is the only fighter plane the RAF wants to fly. The unholy trinity of Royal Air Force, Ministry of Defense and British Aerospace have successfully grafted the Eurofighter to British defense. Very well, it is an exceptional air superiority fighter, but it cannot be put on board a carrier. This means it cannot fill the now long-empty boots of the RN’s old warhorse the Sea Harrier or for that matter the RAF Harrier (Which weren’t fighters anyway). The F-35 Lightning II was chosen to be the aircraft of choice for the air flights. However the road was far from clear.

The Eurofighter was ordered on an allied project with three other European nations sometime back before your correspondent went to school. Due to various problems with working with a host of other companies and BAE’s usual problems, it only arrived in service in 2004, officially. It has been so long in development that its questionably if it can stand up to the test of modern combat. Due to its expected deployment the Sea Harrier (the only British aircraft to shoot anything down in living memory) was pulled from service, and along with it the capable but aging Jaguar “bomber” jet which was a fine ground attack vehicle. The Eurofighter propaganda says that it’s a multirole fighter capable of ground-attack but the software apparently doesn’t allow it. The F-35 was designed and built in a sensible amount of time for a professional air-force (we’ll say nothing of the “Air National Guard”), it is a highly capable and deadly system perhaps the best in air-to-air operations (though it must be said that the Eurofighter has given it a run for its money) and it can hit things on the ground as a superb ground-attack vehicle.

So, the F-35 was decided as the fighter of choice to chuck off the carriers but this decision has been gone forward and back on since the beginning and its getting to the point where the MOD are even turning on their chums the RAF and BAE. Further foolishness is apparent when one considers even how this brilliant craft was going to be “adapted” for British use. There are three variants of the F-35 planned/in production/service: The US Air Force version which is a highly capable air superiority platform in its own right and will keep Ivan at bay; the American carrier version, which takes off using a catapult and a straight runway from American craft, a very sensible design of deck configuration; and the third version, machinated perhaps by BAE’s presence on the project, which is somewhat tailored to small carrier requirements.

However, after previous projects “altered” for British use, the Americans are reluctant to hand over anything to Rolls Royce as they’re one of the only British defense companies who know what they’re doing and can stick an RR engine in an F-35 which would put even the American versions to shame and could then be mass produced and sold to anyone who wants a carrier-born aircraft but hasn’t got a big enough ship. This is due to the design of the carrier’s deck; a ski-jump system with no catapult or arrestor wires like on an American ship. This means that the British version of the F-35 would require something of a STOVL (short takeoff Vertical Landing) capability, not a big deal, as there’s three variants in at design level. The aircraft would take off from a short ski-jump runway and then would be able to “hover” down onto the deck much like the famous Harrier. This decision is very much an inheritance from the days of Harrier. Despite the size of the Queen Elizabeth class allowing a straight runway to be built, some slack jobsworths couldn’t decide at the time what plane was likely to be put on it so they stuck with what they knew and fortunately for them, it seems BAE has chummed up to the American industry to be a principle partner on the subject. If BAE can use their position to get the RR engines into the STOVL F-35B — the only engines which will work on this version it must be pointed out — then perhaps some loose ends can be roughly tied up.

The expenses mount though as one considers that all that would be required is a reconfiguration of the Queen Elizabeth class deck (a provision already well catered for) and the adoption of the American carrier variant capable of using catapult and arrestor wires. Whilst the F-35B and current deck configuration will do, it seems to be a lot of horsing around making new problems when there was simple solution: Copy the yanks, it’d be cheaper.

Things worsened. In October the Times reported that the second carrier was to be converted to a rotary-wing carrier, a sort of assault ship similar to the current HMS Ocean. The paper said that this was due to the cost of maintaining two wings of F-35 fighters, one for each carrier. HMS Ocean needs replacement urgently. There have been times when this civilian-quality half-measure was flooded with fuel in the engine rooms. However, does this mean that the second carrier would be converted to replace the Ocean or provide something like it? It’s unlikely. The necessary alterations would rack up an astronomical bill. Corridors would need to be widened, dockits for assault boats put in place, perhaps even larger docks, command and control facilities for over four separate commands, larger aircraft lifts for troop transport helicopters, and this is just the beginning. The costs to convert the vessel would end up more than building and running the original. What is more, the plan was to have two ships. One to be in refit while the other was on service with the one air-flight. This rules out conversion based on the cost of two wings. What’s more likely is that in an emergency the second carrier deploying from refit in the emergency, would field a force of F-35s either on loan or “spares” for the first carrier. Worrying, but better than the expected alternative. What is more, reliable sources inform your correspondent that it would be too expensive to cancel the second ship anyway, even now, before her hull has been laid.

Just last month The Guardian reported that India is expressing an interest in purchasing the second ship which may be sold off under government sale.

Either selling it off or converting it still leaves the Royal Navy with one carrier and what is worse President Sarkozy of France offered the prime minister the option of working with the French navy to maintain a ship at sea between the two states. In other words, the French carrier would be in refit while the Queen Elizabeth would be at sea, and vice versa so that the other could be “borrowed” in an emergency.

The move will leave the navy without a carrier when the Queen Elizabeth goes into refit, leaving open the possibility that it might have to borrow one from the French navy. In a meeting with Brown last year, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, had suggested that refits of French and British aircraft carriers should be coordinate.

While it’s a bit depressing and yet comical that the Royal Navy and French Navy, perhaps the world’s oldest service enemies, would have to coordinate their carrier options, it also makes little sense. The Guardian article above said that the French did not want to purchase any more carriers, which seems strange as they had ordered a third carrier of the Queen Elizabeth class. This would leave them with just the Charles De Gaul, which is nuclear powered and a danger to be on. British crews would have to have a lot of retraining to use the propulsion system and features on board the French carrier and likewise for the French who would not be used to the large fuel turbines on the Queen Elizabeth.

The upcoming Strategic Defense Review, will give us some clearer understanding of what the future has in store for the troubled project. What is certain is that a Conservative government would be under the same constraints as a Labour one and from where the Navy must be standing the rock and hard place analogy is applicable concerning the two parties. Controversy continues around public spending, particularly on defense with the tired refrain of “helicopters and body armour” is still echoed in the broadsheets and the tabloids on the Afghan campaign.

Sino-American Naval Conflict of 2015

A recent post on The Best Defense grabbed my attention. It gives a quick review of an issue of Orbis magazine’s article by Commander James Kraska, a professor at the United States Naval War College, who sets out a hypothetical conflict in which China sinks the USS George Washington.

The writer has this to say about it:

I usually like this sort of article that attempts to look back from a possible future event and explain how we got there. But I didn’t find this article … particularly persuasive.

Commander Kraska points to current counterinsurgency operations as a weakness for the United States Navy and says that they are taking their “eye off the ball” and not focusing on the Navy’s primary role: protecting the United States from blue-water threats and safeguarding American interests abroad. Read more “Sino-American Naval Conflict of 2015”

The Potential of European Might

War, said Clausewitz is nothing but a continuation of political intercourse, with the mixture of other means. If your politics or those of some other propel you to military action, then that is what must be done.

The recent appointment (not election) of a European president unifies the European Union, politically more than has been seen before, with the addition of a “High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy” providing the bloc with a mouthpiece on strategic affairs which one presumes will include out of area operations of a military nature and a unified approach to the strategic defense of the EU as a whole. Read more “The Potential of European Might”