RN Carriers:Keeping up with the Zhanges’
Russians to expand carrier fleet. Royal Navy strategic focus on carrier strike validated.
Chinese expansion into carrier area puts paid to Cold War arguments about Naval relevance.
While we support efforts to maintain the Fleet Air Arm, in the face of fierce attacks from a Royal Air Force struggling for precious defense dollars, we hope the Royal Navy can find a better excuse for naval air than “everyone else is doing it“. Remember also that before the World Wars of the last century most major navies and some not so major were undertaking breathless construction of giant dreadnought battleships until the submarine and aircraft carriers ended the madness. Earlier I used the same comparison the fruitless and dangerous battleship races of the past with the needless aircraft carrier race ongoing today:
This new rivalry between nations couldn’t come at a worse time, with ongoing wars in the Middle East and the rising asymmetrical threats at sea with piracy. Both of these more immediate concerns do not require large and intimidating new battleships, and these very costly to operate, maintain, and protect vessels are actually hurting the effort to bring about peace. Just as the dreadnoughts of the last century drained precious funds for the war effort in the First World War, so do the aircraft carriers drain scarce moneys for new equipment from the “boots on the Ground” in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One reason we might encourage both Russia and China to continue spending precious shipbuilding funds on a handful of very costly Big Ships, so that moneys will not be available to these peer rivals for more useful and proven dangerous weapons such as cruise missile armed submarines. Such an obsession with giant capital ships reminds us of Hitler’s own battleship program of the in the 1930s, that left the Kreigsmarine initially and perhaps fatally short of U-boats early in the war, with only 57. Fortunately for the survival of Britain, neither were there enough smaller escorts and transports to ensure a safe passage for the German Army in the proposed Nazi invasion dubbed Operation Sea Lion in 1940. Wikipedia explains this position:
It is arguable that, had more resources been put more into U-boats earlier, then Britain would not have been able to defend its convoys quickly enough to avoid defeat. In fact after a year of war, production of new ships had only kept up with losses.
It amazes us then that both the Royal Navy and the US Navy spend vast sums creating a top-heavy aircraft carrier fleet, when submarines are so much more deadlier than during the world wars. Meanwhile, smaller UAVs and long range cruise missiles which duplicate many functions of carriers, allowing smaller and less vulnerable craft to conduct the power projection/sea control mission, are altering warfare as we know it. Even more troubling is the fact that ASW assets (planes, ships) in both navies have dwindled far below Cold War standards, let alone the massed fleets needed to defeat German and Japan 70 years ago.
Aircraft carriers are still useful for the persistent peacekeeping mission the West conducts against poorly armed Third World powers. Yet in every major conflict at sea from the World Wars to the Falklands, submarines and escort type warships which can cruise close to shore, defend convoys, sink enemy merchant fleets, and protect friendly ports have proved the most essential and always in short supply.
An alternative proposal for the Royal Navy might be a compromise with the younger air service. The RAF could be allowed to manage the dwindling number of manned fighters left in the country as long as the Navy can have complete autonomy over her own UAV fleet. As we argued before, combat drones (UCAVs) can be deployed from small aviation corvettes, and also the Ocean class assault carriers. UAVs have been likened to reusable cruise missiles and we can only conclude them as force enhancers potentially useful on the sea as they have been on land.
Here in America, we wish to see a large and stronger Royal Navy as well, which for centuries has been Civilization’s first line of defense in European waters and elsewhere. It is unlikely though that budget draining, escort ship destroying supercarriers like HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales will ever allow the fleet to grow, and more likely hasten its demise. British blogger Mike Cunningham at “A Tangled Web” puts this in perspective:
We have half the promised destroyers, and these await missiles not yet built. Our submarine numbers decrease at every slice of the Budget… The aircraft carriers may well be built, but they might not have any aircraft to fly off their expensive decks!