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Breaking: Royal Navy Cuts Carrier Buy

October 24, 2009


Not so much a surprise is the news the Royal Navy will cut one of its 2 new Queen Elizabeth class supercarriers. Story from the Times Online:

The Royal Navy has agreed to sacrifice one of its two new aircraft carriers to save about £8.2 billion from the defence budget.

The admirals, who have battled for a decade to secure the two new 65,000-ton carriers, have been forced to back down because of the soaring cost of the American-produced Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft due to fly off them.

No doubt the planes are costly, but equally costly are the large deck aircraft carrier in modern times. As we often insist you don’t need smart platforms for smart weapons, we can only wonder if an upgraded Ocean class with a strengthened deck would have been less costly and less a burden to build during wartime. But I digress…

It is too late for the navy to renege on contracts to build the two carriers, the Queen Elizabeth, due to go into service in 2016, and the Prince of Wales, due to follow in 2018. Although the second carrier will be built, it will be used as an amphibious commando ship, with only helicopters on board instead of JSF aircraft.

Isn’t that sad, giving further meaning to a project “too big to fail”. These huge craft at 60,000 will be larger than even the America class amphibious assault ships at 45,000 tons.

At current prices, the (JSF) will cost close to £90m each, but this could rise to more than £100m.

I would like to submit this as further proof of the demise of such giant ships in naval service, which are so costly that navies can no longer afford adequate aircraft to fill their spacious decks. But even a few small carriers are an asset to Navy, a battle-proved fact the British seem to have forgotten.

Hat Tip to D. E. Reddick for the scoop!

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  28. Joe permalink
    October 27, 2009 12:18 pm

    The new Alex said: “Harrier? Nearly a 60 year old design, she’s had her day, should have been replaced in the 80s, all of the promising STOVL proposals in the world coming out of Warton and the MoD choose to develop an ageing and increasingly obsolete aircraft.”

    True enough. The Harrier is an OLD design and in one sense it made sense to sign up for the F-35 programme. But as Mike alluded to the other day, the F-14 was the best fleet defense jet the U.S. has had in recent memory and nothing we have stands up to it’s past capabilities today, especially the distance at which it could potentially intercept threats. He did not say that he favored a revival in that airframe, but (as I would say) “If you know what works and used to get the job done…”

    My behind-the-scenes thought is that in any nation, such as the U.K., that is experiencing (and was a decade ago as well) a much faster rate of growth in social spending than on the defence side, evolutionary designs are easier to accumulate large numbers of final product as opposed to revolutionary ones. That same thing can be presently said about the U.S., as the post 9/11 defense budget blow-up is DOA for the foreseeable future.

  29. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 27, 2009 2:36 am

    Alex, were it not for Iraq and Afghanistan, these ships would have been built with no questions asked. But isn’t that how revolutions in warfare always happen, when we least expect them out of left field? Today navies need be more cost effective because the real threats are on land, and we can’t ignore such low tech enemies any longer.

    Like the boots on the ground, we need more hulls in the water. Neither do they have to be the most expensive warships in all history, since the terrorists’ operating costs are practically nil. Smaller low tech vessels are also more powerful than ever, thanks to modern weapons, so we don’t have to fear any loss of capabilities.

    Certainly the larger ships have greater staying power, and vastly more firepower than anything afloat. Still they can’t magically reproduce or be in many places at once, and as we continually are reminded, presence is still a potent function of seapower. But you can’t do presence if you aren’t there, so you send the smaller ships with modern weapons. These will adequately perform the role of the giant ships, without busting your budget or gutting your fleet numbers.

    As someone else said, “It beats extinction”.

  30. - Alex (the new'un). permalink
    October 27, 2009 2:25 am

    It is indeed very easy with hindsight, with hindsight knowing that the cold war ends in 1991 and that the next generation of British carriers would be “full sized” EFA would have been CATOBAR from the start, maybe in that case the French wouldn’t have pulled out (although the other big reason was that France was demanding 50% workshare and project leadership despite only commiting to 25% of the aircraft), with hindsight knowing that Typhoon was 5 years overdue and massively overbudget because of project partners sodding around a go it alone project on P.110 would have been a better idea which would have had a much shorter development pipeline and the project would have started 6-7 years previous with 0 delays for international-political reasons, with hindsight NFR-90 and Horizon were a complete waste of time from a British perspective, with Hindsight HMS Eagle would have been kept alive until the mid 80s

    Hindsight is what we have now, something that was lacking in 2002/3 when design and spec were finalised.

    Something that hasn’t been brought up yet is that a much smaller purchase of lightnings for the British Forces will result in absolutely no funding of clearing British weapons for internal storage; whats the point in having Low observable kit if everything but paveways are hanging off of it on rails.

    Harrier? Nearly a 60 year old design, she’s had her day, should have been replaced in the 80s, all of the promising STOVL proposals in the world coming out of Warton and the MoD choose to develop an ageing and increasingly obsolete aircraft.

    – Alex.

  31. Joe permalink
    October 26, 2009 7:39 pm

    It’s so easy to suggest – given the Brits had a lot of experience with Harriers, why not a blended force of upgraded Harrier variants combined with Super Hornets??

    (assuming that they would have never for a second considered attempting to navalize the Eurofighter if never buying stock in the F-35 program)/i>

  32. Matt S permalink
    October 26, 2009 7:07 pm

    “I am now reading in some of the blogs and forums, that the second ship will not be a helicopter carrier, but the two will trade off fighters as needed. Likely there will only be one ship in commission at a time, as they currently do with the Invincibles (with 3 and they keep 2 in commission at a time).”

    So they are paying for 2 carriers to get 1. Also, is 50 F-35’s even enough for 36 aircraft aboard the carrier. It seems with aircraft in training, reserve and test that they will be lucky to get 24 onboard at once. I would say they will go to sea with 20-24 F-35s.

  33. David Sinclair permalink
    October 26, 2009 5:48 pm

    My only response is… How long before the entire British Military Service is cut back completely? The main problem I see is that the MoD is run by far too many civilian contractors, surely this is costing more money as apposed to using their own personnel who are trained in the same areas! We are in a world where a terrorist attack could happen anytime, they way things are going, we will never be able to defend ourselves.

  34. Chuck Hill permalink
    October 26, 2009 4:38 pm

    During and before WWII the Brits had a long tradition of sending carriers to sea with far few planes than they were capable of carrying.

  35. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 26, 2009 3:00 pm

    I am now reading in some of the blogs and forums, that the second ship will not be a helicopter carrier, but the two will trade off fighters as needed. Likely there will only be one ship in commission at a time, as they currently do with the Invincibles (with 3 and they keep 2 in commission at a time).

    They are really scraping the bottom of the barrel to keep this terrible and expensive strategy alive.

  36. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 26, 2009 1:45 pm

    I can’t remember that far back to comment, Heretic! Decades to get a new weapons system into service that we’ve no idea works. Shame.

  37. Heretic permalink
    October 26, 2009 12:35 pm

    Yet more proof (as if we needed it) that it was a mistake to pick the X-35 (and LockMart) to develop the production JSF. Should have picked the X-32 (and the F136 engine) instead.

    I honestly believe that if the JSF decision had gone to the X-32, we’d have had flight testing more on track, fewer engine problems, a cheaper aircraft and a healthier program at this point … and the RN would have been able to afford buying enough JSF mark Bs to fill its (future) decks.

    But no … the JSF program office had to pick the biggest and heaviest and most complex and most compromised (and compromising) design possible … the X-35.

  38. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 26, 2009 11:22 am

    These days it is often more about what weapons a plane carries than any superior abilities of its own. The AIM 9L is often credited with saving the British Task force in the Falklands in 1982, added to the superb training of the Harrier pilots.

    Also, since the West has stopped trying to match these Third World air forces in maneuverability, and finally gotten their missile technology perfected, they have become unbeatable.

    Of course, the East has good missiles of their own.

  39. dalyhistory permalink
    October 26, 2009 11:11 am

    more here –

  40. Joe permalink
    October 26, 2009 11:01 am

    Defiant: “You simply cannot built a jet fighter able to compete against the other jets out there for less than ~100M. Much less a carrier capable one.”

    DesScorp: Funny, Boeing just offerend the Navy a batch of new, AESA-equipped Super Hornets for $50 million apiece, guaranteed.


    DesScorp, have you heard what the cost might be if ANG purchases are factored in? I read an article last week that referenced the $50 million price tag re: the proposed naval purchase, but also said if you factored in the short-fall in the ANG and a substantial buy there, the price offered was even lower…but of course it didn’t define “lower”.

  41. Jed permalink
    October 26, 2009 9:29 am

    Ref: “The Royal Navy painted themselves into a corner by insisting on such large vessels that are clearly overkill and were always going to be vulnerable to cuts.”

    Not entirely accurate – the SDR was a Govt. / MOD ‘strategy’ and it was based on a forward, maritime defensive posture and expeditionary warfare. The size of the ships made some sense at the time, as did the making the JSF the prime candidate for the JCA. However, you have to ask why the RN / MOD / British Govt. thought it needed a gold plated “stealthed” strike fighter designed to fulfill USN requirements for “First day of the war” strike missions against sophisticated integrated air defence systems. Ask someone already asked, who did we think we would be attacking with these planes ? Iran ? China ?

    Hang some external tanks or ordanance on an F35 to make it useful and stealth capability is thrown out of the window, so we could have just evolved the sub-sonic Harrier II+ family with AESA and European Meteor long range AAM for air-defence and maybe Harpoons or son-of-Sea Skua for anti-ship ‘sea control’, plus all the usual load outs for close air support of the Royal Marines.

    Hind sight is a wonderful thing, but you dont need it to figure out that if you buy into the “global war on terror” and commit troops to fighting on two fronts, then you put the country on a war footing and finance the armed forces properly – if the populate does not like cuts in the health and education budgets then they vote you out of power at the next election and the new governement gets to withdraw from the ‘war’ – time for a military coup in the UK, ahhh no, forget that the Admirals, Generals and Air Marshals are all to busy fighting each other :-)

  42. Anonymous permalink
    October 26, 2009 9:05 am

    “something that the RN has been able to enjoy for the past few years is 4 flat-tops”

    No I would say 1.75 at best……………

  43. dalyhistory permalink
    October 26, 2009 5:03 am

    The Royal Navy painted themselves into a corner by insisting on such large vessels that are clearly overkill and were always going to be vulnerable to cuts.

    If instead they had set their stall out for 3 smaller vessels of say 30-40,000 tons the case would have been easier to justify. The number of hulls is important. In the current economic climate something has to give, and it should hsve been the size of the vessels rather than the number of them.

    Not only will we be left with one large carrier, which is inflexible and leaves us vulnerable whenever it is in refit, but successive FSL’s have accepted cuts in the number of Frigates and Destroyers in order to get the Carriers.

    I cannot help but feel that the Admiralty should have managed this project a lot better. I’m looking forward to the usual soundbites about our new 60,000 ton Helicopter Carrier.

  44. Hudson permalink
    October 26, 2009 1:42 am


    Well, your hybrid sub/cat would be the first nuclear powered catamaran, and the most expensive. I don’t think the submariners aboard would be happy, as they could not dive or maneuver properly to launch their weapons. I don’t know if the hull-down position would give you stealth or not. Recently, the Coast Guard caught a semi-submersible drug runner in open water. If the cutter got it with radar sweeps, then you can throw stealth out the window. Certainly, such a vessel could not hide from airborne radar. Sensors are a subject seldom discussed on this board.

    The advantage of vessels like Sea Fighter pictured above (with quite a high freeboard), are its speed and relatively low cost interior volume and flat deck. This makes it a good materials and troop transport. With VL tubes and a few low-profile gun mounts, and a helo or two, you would have a formidable warship, something like an arsenal ship.

    Let the subs do what they do best: run silent, run deep.

  45. Tarl permalink
    October 26, 2009 1:33 am

    “You simply cannot built a jet fighter able to compete against the other jets out there for less than ~100M. Much less a carrier capable one.”

    I am sure Russia would supply the Su-33 for a very reasonable $50mill apiece – these are highly capable, and suitable for ski-jump takeoff to boot. =)

    AV-8Bs at ~$30m apiece doesn’t seem like a bad deal compared to F-35s at over $100m. Who do the British think they’re going to fight, and what will the F-35 do for them in that fight? F-35 is too much plane for the likes of Afghanistan, and not enough plane for the likes of China. For most scenarios, the AV-8B would probably do.

  46. Matt S permalink
    October 26, 2009 1:05 am

    This is and has been a debacle. Descorp raised good points regarding the fact these are indeed super carriers and yet they had a ski ramp and are slated to carry F-35b’s! This whole thing is ridiculous. Its too late for any other solution. Even 50 JSF is probably not enough to fill out the full amount of 36 aircraft aboard the carrier. There will need to be a training aircraft and other aircraft held in reserve.

  47. - Alex (the new'un). permalink
    October 26, 2009 12:33 am

    Haha, this is a non story, RN gets both carriers as planned, PoW will still have her ski-ramp, what actually happened is JFL just got a pint sized order (Maybe)

    something to consider, Merlins cost an arm and a leg, alot of money on JCA has already been spent, the only thing that’s being saved is the raw production cost which will be on the order of half the quoted figure. cutting the order of JCA will mean that more helicopters are required, you’re not going to get any change out of £35-40m for a Merlin. this doesn’t even save £1bn and cuts naval power nearly in half.

    QE class was NOT over ambitious or too big bulky and expensive, the problem is the continuious defence cuts since the CVF studies were commissioned and still would have been sustainable without Iraq and Afghan and pilled ontop of those is the current economic climate which is enough to tip the balance.

    The big picture has been overlooked though, something that the RN has been able to enjoy for the past few years is 4 flat-tops, this is really something that they cannot afford to lose(although they will) given the current strategy. Replacing Vincy class with 2 QEs would then mean that the RN would press for 2 LPHs (and probably bigger than Ocean at that.) which isn’t financially justifyable even at the time of the SDR.

    Rewind to 2001

    RN is deciding on CVF design, there is really only 2 viable options open (ignoring the fact that it would later become obvious that neither is affordable) sticking with the 4 flat top scheme.

    the first is 2 QE sized carriers + 2 LPH (for arguments sake lets say they are Canberra/Juan carlos type ships without the well dock and vehicle decks)

    Large QE:
    36 (3 squadrons) JCA
    4 ASaC/AEW A/C
    + 6 Merlins in surge

    25~30 Helicopters
    could operate ~ STOVL A/C in an emergency

    The second option would be to have 4 identicle hulls, 3 kitted out as Aircraft carriers, 1 kitted out as an LPH

    18 JCA
    3 ASaC Rotaries
    4-6 Merlins
    (x3) £1.6bn

    less than 35 rotaries
    can operate STOVL Aircraft
    ~£650m (cheaper costs over multiple hulls)

    note: this is all speculative and I’m fabricating examples and all costs are made from an educated guess and I appreciate that LPHs of this size could likely transport on the order of 2,000 soldiers (not something that bothers the RN, IIRC they were enquiring about procuring 2 Tarawas a few years ago)

    The 2nd option while working out in procurement costs as roughly the same would be considerably more expensive to maintain, man and/or operate and lacks the flexibility of being able to operate CATOBAR A/C

    well done to anyone that managed to read it

    – Alex.

  48. DesScorp permalink
    October 25, 2009 10:18 pm


    You simply cannot built a jet fighter able to compete against the other jets out there for less than ~100M. Much less a carrier capable one.

    Funny, Boeing just offerend the Navy a batch of new, AESA-equipped Super Hornets for $50 million apiece, guaranteed.


    Half-way a supercarrier, half-way a light carrier. No wonder it failed to pan out.

    At almost 69K tons displacement, it basically was going to be a supercarrier, if you accept the definition of a super as being 70K displacement. The problem wasn’t any kind of “tweener” size, it was cost. And the really idiotic thing is that it would have been cheaper, both up front and in the long run, to put cats on them and use Super Hornets or the F-35C. The whole reason for buying STOVL birds for a Navy is that you don’t have carriers big enough for cats or trap lines. So the Royal Navy’s thinking on this was really perplexing from the start. If the B version didn’t pan out (still a very real possibility), then the RN was committing itself to building the world’s largest helicopter carrier.


    Why should they be economical planes? The Pentagon is doing it’s best to close down every other production line in sight so they’ll have no competition in the U.S. market

    If you believe some journalists, the Pentagon has desired a single military aircraft suppliers since the start of the Clinton Administration. We’ve heard stories for years that if the Pentagon had it’s way, there’d be one company making military planes. I have no idea why someone would think that’s a good thing, but there it is.

    Basically, I think this is the end of Naval Aviation for the Royal Navy. They’ll still have ASW choppers, but I think the new flatop program gets canceled completely, and that the RAF is given everything with fixed wings. Kiss Royal Naval Aviation goodbye. The RAF already gets the long-range ASW mission, and looked how they mucked up the Nimrod upgrade. From a 21 unit buy to what, 8? Look for USAF to be in similar straits.

  49. October 25, 2009 5:54 pm


    Contemplate this alternative idea.

    Take two older and less capable Los Angeles class SSNs. Remove the sails and all berthing and related crew spaces. Refurbish the nuclear propulsion systems. Basically, reduce the two hulls to the status of nuclear-powered propulsor units. Perhaps keep the bow sonar in one unit and the towed sonar in the other unit. And maybe keep the torpedo tubes in both (as defensive weapons). Convert the emptied spaces into ammunition storage spaces and even aviation fuel storage.

    Then, make them the propulsion units for a light to medium-sized catamaran aircraft carrier (as I described above). Again, keeping some aspect of the buoyancy control mechanisms of the original submarine hulls could allow for the lowering of the carrier hull and flight deck so as to enhance its survivability when it is functioning in a stealth mode of approach and ambush. The carrier would be armed with several close-in weapons systems: several CIWS cannon mounts (30 mm GoalKeepers or 57 mm BAE / Bofors, perhaps); at least two 21-round RAM SAM launchers; and a distributed VLS system for lots of ESSM SAMs, plus maybe some ASROC, along with whatever else you might want to stuff into the numerous available VLS cells that you could install along the ‘gunwhales’ of a large catamaran hull.

    Again, just another crazy idea… ;-)

  50. Defiant permalink
    October 25, 2009 5:48 pm

    You simply cannot built a jet fighter able to compete against the other jets out there for less than ~100M. Much less a carrier capable one. Nowadays you need speed, endurance (both profit from lighter built => composite materials, lots of engineering => cost high), radar (needed to guide the guided missiles => new aesa’s are not cheap either), Sigint, rcs reduced fuselage, a few million lines of code and so on. The only good method to reduce cost is to mass produce.
    The Aircraft didn’t really kill the carrier project, the cost for those would have easily been available 10 years ago.
    It’s simply a planning failure. Using calculators in the MoD which display all results multiplied by 1.5 would solve most of the planning problems.

  51. October 25, 2009 5:22 pm

    Here’s another report on the loss of the air group for the projected HMS Prince of Wales:

    Royal Navy could be forced to build aircraft carrier which doesn’t carry planes

    The original announcement and thread which drew my attention to this issue is continuing and is informative to our discussions here at New Wars:

    Royal Navy surrenders one new aircraft carrier in budget battle

    Please note that the discussions over at aren’t always as civil and polite as we folks here at New Wars… ;-)

  52. Hudson permalink
    October 25, 2009 4:54 pm

    D.E.R.: After several readings of your original post, I think I get the idea–and not a crack-brained one at all. You think and write clearly. The first question is whether or not the sub/carrier would gain any stealth or other functionality in the hull-down position. Any air activity would blow your stealth cover. Therefore, would it make any sense to convert an Ohio class hull for such a project? I tend to doubt it. They are more useful as true submersibles with all the kinds of configurations possible under existing treaties.

    One could, however, design a large cat with hull-up and hull-down properties, if that was deemed desirable for seakeeping or other duties/situations. The semi-submersibles that Iran and N. Korea and drug smugglers employ are rather small, though that could change.

  53. DrRansom permalink
    October 25, 2009 4:29 pm

    This decision was because of fiscal realities, the UK cannot afford anything, right now, so the military has to be slashed.

    But, in the grand scheme of things, a strong navy is much more in Britain’s interest than a strong army. Britain is still an Island country, it needs to keep its sea lanes open far more than it needs to be able to invade some country or another.

    As to the Carrier versus Helicopter carrier debate, this decision still goes with the carrier side. They’re slashing the aircraft, not the ship itself. Aircraft can always be purchased later, not the hull itself.

    Carriers are necessary for supporting land operations, in spite of your numerous assertions to the contrary, the invasion of the Falklands was only possible because the Royal Navy had aircraft carriers. Furthermore, the invasion would have been much easier, much less expensive in men and material, if the Royal Navy could fly more advanced aircraft from those flight decks. The Exocet attacks would have been much more difficult, if the RN had airborn warning and fighters capable of intercepting the missile aircraft.

    In the long run, the second carrier will probably also be cut, because of budget issues. Its not that smaller carriers would be superior, its that the RN has no money for anything, at all. The RN wouldn’t buy 3 smaller carriers for its 2 larger ones, it would buy 2 smaller carriers, and still not be able to afford anything else.

  54. Chuck Hill permalink
    October 25, 2009 3:09 pm

    At one time, back when they has substantial ASW capabilities, I thought that the best escort for a CVN was another CVN. Come out of nowhere, hit ’em hard, hit ’em fast and withdraw but things change. guided munitions, asymmetric warfare–persistence has become more important than a preponderance of force, which has become a given.

    Things will change again.

  55. Joe permalink
    October 25, 2009 2:59 pm

    DesScorp said: I’ll guarantee that the A version will be at least that much, and that the B and C versions will be much, much more.

    Why should they be economical planes? The Pentagon is doing it’s best to close down every other production line in sight so they’ll have no competition in the U.S. market…just at the time virtually all of our other fighters are ready for Social Security.

    As to the carriers, I think the idea of Britain committing to two large carriers when they’re axing so many other vessels or cutting back on other new vessel production was sheer insanity. Going with a force of smaller HMS Ocean-style carriers with upgraded Harrier variants. It would beat subsidizing the insanity at LockMart.

  56. October 25, 2009 2:31 pm

    Sorry gents but we’re all forgetting that this is a two part story. The Brits are the first partner nation to officially limit the scale of their F-35 purchase. Now we have the beginnings of the death spiral. Projected buys by the partner nations PLUS anticipated buys by other nations are what was to keep the airplane affordable. This is a serious blow to two programs….the carriers for the UK and the F-35 for everyone else in the program.

  57. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 25, 2009 2:08 pm

    Wharf Rat said “smaller harrier capable carriers, that also means limited endurance, limited strike package, limited aircraft.”

    But you also give up capabilities building giant aircraft carriers, as we see the Brits having to shelve much of their aircraft order, 8 billion pounds worth, plus numerous destroyers frigates, and submarines, needed to escort these giant monstrosities. Can carriers fight without planes, or defend themselves without escorts? Apparently the UK and US think they can.

    But thanks to modern technology I see where the surface combatants and subs can do without the flattops on many occasions. If we can get the admirals from being distracted by land threats and back to defending the sealanes, we might get somewhere.

  58. Matt S permalink
    October 25, 2009 2:03 pm

    That was a weird article. I think the Brits were too ambitious in the first place with these huge carriers. Spain, Italy and Australia all seem to have the right idea with their combo carrier/amphibious ships. The major savings of course is in cutting the F-35 buy. Some people on here and elsewhere seem hopeful that more will be purchased later but I think that is highly doubtful. Once something is cut, more than likely there will be no more buys. I wonder if they are going to try to skip out on the defensive armament too. British ships are notoriously light on defensive armament. Will the ships still have the Aster-15 missiles?

  59. Anonymous permalink
    October 25, 2009 1:46 pm

    Let’s get one thing straight I am not nuts just bonkers. :)

    You have to be careful not to fall into the trap of believing two x 60,000 tons = 3 x 40,000 tons carriers. The steel is the cheap bit. An extra carrier means extra sensors, extra engines, extra stabilisers. The truth is we Brits haven’t had the capability to field more than two carriers (turn and turn about) for years. Just because we had three hull people seemed to assume they were in a normal refit/work-up/deployed rolement. And they weren’t.

  60. Wharf Rat permalink
    October 25, 2009 1:11 pm

    Hey – I think you’re all nuts. Just having some fun here:))).

    While I agree that there are plenty of smaller harrier capable carriers, that also means limited endurance, limited strike package, limited aircraft. You lose one, you lose significance.

    No one convinces me that super carriers won’t be necessary. They will be – permanently.

    Balance is what is needed. And yesterday in San Diego I saw balance.

    I attended commissioning ceremony of USS Makin Island LHD 8. Right behind was USS Ronald Reagan CVN 76.

    The Brits should know above all what it means to go to war with limited strike packages. One supercarrier would have saved lives in the Falklands, and ships. I don’t think this decision is balance because the plan is to have one (potentially) in refit so I doubt they’ll be available to deploy if the need arises.

    The problem with defense spending in UK is domestic spending. Same thing in the US. Always will be.

  61. Anonymous permalink
    October 25, 2009 12:37 pm

    The mistake was going with the STOVL even though the hull was more than big enough to be CTOL capable. We should have bought FA18 or (eek!) Rafael…….

  62. Tarl permalink
    October 25, 2009 11:26 am

    I would like to submit this as further proof of the demise of such giant ships in naval service, which are so costly that navies can no longer afford adequate aircraft to fill their spacious decks.

    What is “too costly” is the stupid JSF, which not only is an inherently costly aircraft but drove the design decisions making these British ships larger and more expensive. If an affordable Harrier replacement had been in the pipeline, the story of these ships would be completely different.

    We should note that there are LOTS of Harrier-capable small carriers in world navies, and very few of these navies could afford the JSF even if the US let them buy these aircraft. Whoever builds an affordable (unmanned?) Harrier replacement is really going to clean up.

  63. Anonymous permalink
    October 25, 2009 10:32 am

    “Half-way a supercarrier, half-way a light carrier. No wonder it failed to pan out.”

    The design isn’t unstable. This is purely to do with finance.

  64. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 25, 2009 7:11 am

    D.E. some forward-thinking navy is going to build something like this one day! I am thinking China.

    Hudson-HMS Boudicca. Good one!

    I am thinking one destroyer or submarine with precision missiles as the new capital ship, and you don’t need to launch entire fleets plus planes and many logistics ship to deploy.

    Sure, nothing says power and presence like a carrier group, but do you need such over-kill for all functions or even most roles of naval warfare? It is unnecessary with new technology available, and as we see with the RN having to gut their surface fleet and still can’t pay the bills, it is unaffordable.

    Cost will do what the cruise and ballistic missile threat has failed to do, sink the carriers.

    Graham-Politics? Yuck!

    Simon, the strategy for 2 carriers was sound, but their price-tag was always a hindrance just as Britain was going to war in the Middle East. No nation can fight with one arm tied behind its back, worrying about future threats and the present.

    A way to go would be to combine the naval attack and the amphibious assault role into a single cost-effective package. This is what they did for the Invincibles in the 1970’s very successfully and should have been repeated.

  65. October 25, 2009 6:54 am

    Simon Murray has an old ‘Hairier’ Pilot (not me) agreeing, his comments: “A strange story. 2 carriers will be built, one for CVF and one for amphib. No difference to basic design or equipment. Big change to the number of JSF to be purchased. It sounds like RAF will lose Harrier/F35 and buy more Typhoon. 50 F35 will suit the Navy needs just fine. After the 2 carriers and 50 F35s are in service, a refit will bring the number of CVF up to speed, and a later tranche of F35s will be okay for a follow-on purchase. No doors slammed, no early cancellation of anything, just a common sense cost saving in the short to medium term!”

  66. Distiller permalink
    October 25, 2009 4:57 am

    Good, I say. Now start working on a Joint European Navy.

  67. Simon Murray permalink
    October 25, 2009 4:39 am

    The whole point of building two is to have redundancy when one goes into refit. It makes perfect sence then to only buy enough aircraft for one and operate the other in the LPH role just as Illustrious and Ark Royal have been doing the past couple of years. The flight deck and associated compartments have been built large enough to take CATOBAR equipment / aircraft if required so the F35-B isn’t that important if it goes belly up. This sounds like great Whitehall smoke and mirrors the convince the government / public we are going to save lots of money but in the end we will still have two aircraft carriers!

  68. October 25, 2009 2:26 am


    I didn’t suggest a submersible aircraft carrier. For that you need to check out Chapter 17, “Sub Aquae Ad Astra” (pp. 175-184) of Layman’s and McLaughlin’s book “The Hybrid Warship.”

    Rather, I suggested building an aircraft carrier atop a semi-submersible hull derived from a large SSBN type. An extremely different type of marine beast, in the evaluation of my perhaps fevered mind.

    And that is a truly BIG DIFFERENCE, if you go back and read what I wrote during a feverish condition of imagining the -very- difficult to imagine…

  69. Graham Strouse permalink
    October 25, 2009 1:53 am


    This is, again, apropos of nothing, but I just wanted to say that you run one of the most decent & polite forums. I am, on most matters domestic, left-moderate to radid-progressive. I’m a bit more engaged then most progressives on matters of national defense, however & am extremely aggressive when it comes to protection of national interests.

    The crowd here concerns itself with defense issues & doesn’t veer into divisive politics.

    This is a good thing, Mike & you do a good job.

    “Stay on target…”

  70. Graham Strouse permalink
    October 25, 2009 1:45 am

    Mr. Reddick, It appears I’m not the only one waiting with baited breath for the Japanese release of “Space Battleship Yamato.” ;)

    I’m only half-kiding, really. Those Ohio hulls have a LOT of potential. Not just as TLAM platforms. The Japanese lead the world in robotics. A MANNED subamarine carrier is not feasible. But an unmanned heavy submersible with torpedos, missiles, Hell-fire armed UAVs & Special Forces deployment abilities…not so absurd by my mind.


    I agree. The Brits & French bought a carrier BC. What a deal! There’s no point If NATO continues to exist it makes sense that some countries should focus on certain specialties & if Japan wants to build a killer helo-carrie/ASW/command ship I say more power to them.

    I said earlier that I’d like to see the DDH class with a gun. Honestly. a few banks of heavy Raphael-built gun/light missile RWS stations would be fine for dealing with surface threats. The Hyuga is an excellent, purpose-built ship.

    You want Littoral deterrence? The newest iteration of 212-based AIP Dolphin class subs should make any power think twice.

    The Swedes & Koreans & Germans (among others) build excellent light coastal ships.

    If we want real competition here, we need to let out Senators and Congressman know that they won’t get pork for Maine for Tennessee if we can buy QUALITY from these countries, and others. Hell, buy from Russia. Every Sub-Burn Destroyer/Corvetter Putin doesn’t have is a plus. And he just wants to get laid by Russian gymnasts. More money to Vladimir to get laid & we remove SSM capability. It’s win-win.

  71. DesScorp permalink
    October 25, 2009 1:11 am

    At current prices, the (JSF) will cost close to £90m each, but this could rise to more than £100m.

    I’ll guarantee that the A version will be at least that much, and that the B and C versions will be much, much more.

  72. Hudson permalink
    October 24, 2009 11:36 pm

    “A new British warship was seen steaming off Scapa Flow on Tuesday morning, according to naval observers. A spokesman for Fleet Command is quoted as saying that ‘the new vessel is HMS Boudicca, similar in size and purpose to helicopter carrier HMS Ocean.’ However, a reporter for the Daily Mirror claims that the ship bears a striking resemblance to the recently retired French carrier Jeanne d’ Arc, apparently as a stop gap measure in the wake of the cancellation of one of the two new 65,000 ton carriers because of cost overruns. The Boudicca would come into play when HMS Queen Elizabeth goes into refit. ‘Bosh,’ says Second Sea Lord Admiral Jon Cleeze. ‘HMS Boudicca is wholly a British design, built in secret to test pre fab production methods under wartime conditions. Besides, nothing the French produce could possible interest us.’”

  73. October 24, 2009 10:06 pm


    I have an absolutely, completely, and totally crazy idea for a semi- or quasi-light carrier. I -think- that I am really trying for something innovative and novel in the following:

    1) Take one of the the big boomer hull designs (SSBN type);

    2) Remove all of the SLBMs and associated equipment (from the design) and simply lessen its submersible characteristics to those of a semi-submersible vessel, while retaining its nuclear power train, intrinsic hull size, and hull volume;

    3) Meld a catamaran hull form to either flank of the ‘lessened’ / lightened boomer hull;

    4) In the above-surface hull spaces between the two vertical flanking catamaran hulls build up a hanger deck along with other spaces appropriate to the utilization of an air group;

    5) Overhanging the forward and aft aspects of the submerged ‘SSBN’ hull create a flight deck covering most of the space created between the catamaran hull forms, while utilizing sponsons hanging off of the catamaran hull (as necessary) to make everything fit and work together;

    6) Create a lessened or more stealthy starboard superstructure for the aircraft carrier – one which is typical in functionality yet atypical in its reduced detectability;

    7) Mount an adequate defensive mix of whichever best CIWS cannon system is thought suitable along with trainable RAM and VLS-based ESSM SAM launchers;

    8) Keep the SSBN’s SONAR systems for defensive purposes;

    9) Keep the SSBN’s torpedo systems for defensive (or, other) purposes;

    10) Utilize the emptied SLBM spaces for munitions and aviation fuel stores separate from what would typically be stored in a light carrier. Ergo, have only ready munitions and aviation fuel storage anywhere above the waterline;

    11) Maintain the ability of the SSBN hull to adjust depth with its floodable buoyancy system. This would allow such a “SSCVLN” to lower its height to a minimal characteristic in calm seas and so aid in maintaining its best stealthy characteristics. When sea state becomes an issue then raise the surface catamaran hull. When aviation operations are involved in anything other than calm sea states then raise the hull;

    12) Add an air group of whatever composition is desired and can be fit into whatever the above-surface hullform and flightdeck allows.

    I know that it’s a crazy idea. Perhaps I’m running a fever. Please, someone shoot it down by pointing out just how untenable an idea it truly is. Or, is there anything useful in any portion of this apparent fever dream?

  74. October 24, 2009 9:26 pm

    Second question. Why did they go with a carrier that is so much larger than the America class? It was designed from the keel up to carry the F-35B. What explains their carrier being so much larger if it was designed to operate the same class airplanes?????

  75. October 24, 2009 9:24 pm

    One thought. The JSF is now officially in trouble. It could absorb the darts by the critics but this is a serious body blow. Harrier 3? or an all F/A-18 force for the Navy/Marines? I don’t know if there is a plan B for mission failure here. Everyone had the spotlight on the USAF but they were never the critical member of the coalition. It has always been the British. The UK and the Marines were the principle buyers of the B model. If the B model goes away then the whole program begins to make less sense to me. WOW! And I was so enjoying LSU thrashing Auburn…my beer buzz is wearing off big time now.

  76. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 24, 2009 9:11 pm

    Half-way a supercarrier, half-way a light carrier. No wonder it failed to pan out.

  77. Graham Strouse permalink
    October 24, 2009 9:08 pm

    The big carriers make even less sense for the UK then the US. First of all, the QE class can only carry about 40 fighters. Second, the UK has even less need when ti comes to power projection then the US–what, are they going to pick another fight with Germany? The UK needs more small/medium ships w/ some legs. Sure, an ASW-type light carrier/command ship might have some value: something along the lines of Japan’s DDH Hyuga-class. England just doesn’t need big carriers. At all.


  1. British Scratch One Flattop! « New Wars

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