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British Scratch One Flattop!

October 26, 2009
Photo from Nog Tow.

Photo from Nog Tow.

Updated with new links from the bottom.

Here is a follow up to yesterday’s story that the British Royal Navy will forgo the attack role for one of its large deck aircraft carriers of the Queen Elizabeth class. One of the 65,000 ton giants will be built only to carry helicopters, proving our point that the perceived need for Big Decks now supersede their only reason for existence, their fighter and bomber planes.

Let me also add, these recent cuts should in no way be detriment to the still very powerful and effective Royal Navy. Here is one of the few nations in the world along with the US Navy able to deploy the full spectrum of modern sea power, with naval airpower, surface power, amphibious expeditionary warfare, anti-submarine warfare, anti-mine, and nuclear attack submarine abilities. Compared to the globe spanning American fleet, it might seem wanting in some capabilities. Compared to the rest of the world, it is a force to be reckoned with and perhaps envied.

The ability to build and deploy nuclear attack submarines alone provides the RN with force projection that even carrier powers have to take into consideration. Recalling the Argentineans scampering for port after HMS Conquerer sank the cruiser Belgrano in 1982, we consider this not an insignificant new force at sea, and perhaps a preview of what a future global naval conflict might be like, but on a smaller scale. We would hope that Britain’s desperate attempt for a prestige carrier fleet might now be curtailed, and the potential and economy of the Tomahawk cruise missile, which her subs now carry, be taken into account as a major aerial tool in its own right.

*****

Here are some links from across the web concerning this breaking news story:

 

Royal Navy’s £5bn aircraft carrier can’t carry planes. (The Mirror)

 Royal Navy carrier plans: going, going . . .(Quotulatiousness)

Navy sacrifices fast-jet aircraft carrier amid £1bn budget overrun. (The Guardian)

Royal Navy could be forced to build aircraft carrier which doesn’t carry planes. (Daily Mail)

Royal Navy surrendering one of its aircraft carriers! (Above Top Secret)

Sinking the fleet. (Ephemeral Isle)

Dramatic cuts announced in U.K. F-35 program. (Eric Palmer at F-16.net)

Here is an intruguing quote from Defence Management, and I have heard no one else say this:

However, the carriers may never even materialise after questions were raised by experts, including Royal Navy head Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope and senior figures in the army who have seen the Afghanistan war focussed on ground troops involved in close combat with insurgents.

The fate of the carriers may be revealed in the forthcoming defence review green paper.

*****

Updated:

Ships, I See No Ships. (Ares blog)

1 CV, No Planes? (Information Dissemination)

Scratch one Royal Navy carrier — sort of. (Scoop Deck)

24 Comments leave one →
  1. Tarl permalink
    October 28, 2009 1:48 am

    Of course Reagan improved US strategic forces, but he also dramatically improved conventional forces across the board: Army (Abrams, Bradley, Apache, Blackhawk, etc.), Air Force (F-15, F-16, A-10), Navy (600 ships), with most of the dynamic thinking devoted to conventional warfare (AirLand Battle, Maritime Strategy). As you say, the majority of the defense money went to conventional forces, so it is difficult to argue that the principal focus was nuclear. In addition, the US spent a good deal of time and effort urging Europe and Japan to increase their defenses in the 1980s, and most of these countries had no nuclear weapons at all, so again, the military focus in the early 1980s was not only or even primarily nuclear.

    You mention “The Day After” – well, there were a large number of “conventional WWIII in Europe” alternate history / fiction / wargames produced in the 1980s as well as all the nuclear stuff. Red Storm Rising, Hackett’s second book (according to wiki, “Hackett had two objectives in mind—to demonstrate the necessity for Western Europe to have a strong and co-ordinated conventional military, and to suggest that it could be plausible that nuclear weapons may not be used in the next world war”), etc.

  2. Joe permalink
    October 27, 2009 9:56 pm

    Mmmmm, no, the US was revitalizing its conventional forces, the focus wasn’t entirely nuclear. Conventional war was regarded as much more likely.

    Well Tarl, FWIW I think Heretic hits the head on the nail with his statement.

    In the early 80’s the Americans were in the process of pursuing the MX missile, the Russians had just stationed SS-20’s in Eastern Europe, to which we would eventually respond with Pershing II’s and nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, and the Ruskies were also quite proud of their fairly new SS-18 Satan missiles, which was the most destructive nuclear weapon built and in part helped motivate the thinking that ultimately led to Reagan’s SDI speech. And then there was the TV movie “The Day After”, the most-watched tv movie in history, which depicted total nuclear war between the Soviets and the US. I remember having a discussion session on it in Mrs. Ramsey’s Western Civ class the day after it aired.

    And the Democrats had kept telling everyone in the 1980 election cycle that Reagan would start WW III. Reagan’s arms buildup was much more heavily $$$-oriented on the conventional side, but it seems to me the fear-focus was VERY much on the nuclear side of things.

    This has not a flippin thing to do with British flattops, and I don’t mean to hijack the thread, so now back to our regularly scheduled disagreements…

  3. Tarl permalink
    October 27, 2009 8:53 pm

    Tarl, with SSNs and destroyers, you have your future battleships.

    What is this obsession with what’s a “battleship”? If the question is what’s going to be the most useful and cost-effective ship in the future, the answer is certainly not the SSN, which is much less useful and cost effective than the carrier. The SSN is even more overdesigned for high-end warfare against peer competitors at sea than is the carrier and is far less useful than the carrier against land targets. I for one would let the SSNs go long before the carriers.

    So you can free up funds to build up small escorts ships, the flotilla sadly neglected since the end of the Cold War. Frigates won’t do it because most now cost as almost as much as these battleships, the LCS being an example.

    If we can’t build an inexpensive frigate, then we can’t build an inexpensive “small escort ship” (whatever that is).

    We still need battleships,

    Why? Tell me what the mission is, and I’ll tell you what ship you need, and let’s not get hung up on what it’s called. What is the reason we need a “battleship” that is an SSN but is not a carrier?

    stealthy submarines, and missile ships are a good investment,

    If your goal is to put firepower ashore, then carriers are a better investment than either of these.

    In 1981, no one gave serious credence to the idea that the RN would be killing Argentine sailors, soldiers, pilots and marines the next year.

    If the British had known they were going to do that, they’d have wanted more and better carriers, not more SSNs.

    This remark was mainly directed at Mike, of course. :-)

    I’d also say that the kill count scored by the HMS Conqueror is better than any other SSN in the world, wouldn’t you say?

    I would say, since the discussion is the relative value of the SSN and the carrier, that since 1945, SSNs have sunk one surface ship (yaay!) and launched TLAMs against a few dozen land targets, while carriers have launched well over a million sorties against land targets just from USN carriers alone. Tell me again what was the better value for money and more useful weapons system?

    Note that the Falklands occurred at a time when everyone was gearing up for NUCLEAR war,

    Mmmmm, no, the US was revitalizing its conventional forces, the focus wasn’t entirely nuclear. Conventional war was regarded as much more likely.

    arguably, based on the evidence, HMS Conqueror, an SSN, proved rather decisive in “scaring” the Argentinian Navy back into port.

    Haw. If the British had decent carriers, the Argentine Navy wouldn’t have dared to come out of port in the first place. Indeed, if Britain had large-deck CVs in 1982, the war probably wouldn’t have happened at all, because the Argentines would have known that British large decks would come down and spank them and the Argentine Army would be powerless to hold the islands.

    And it only took sinking ONE SHIP to “defeat” the Argentine Navy.

    An airstrike from a large-deck CV would have sunk ALL the Argentine ships, not just one.

    Recently an American SSN got an award for operations in Latin America. They were quiet about what it did, but I suspect it was used to locate drug running semi-submersibles. Not very visible, but they run on diesels. Acoustics still work.

    Great… I bet there was no other way to do that but spend a bazillion dollars putting an SSN on station. Yaaay, silent service, clap… clap… clap…

    /sarc

  4. Chuck Hill permalink
    October 27, 2009 7:08 pm

    Tarl, “And SSNs help you against pirates and smugglers because…?”

    Recently an American SSN got an award for operations in Latin America. They were quiet about what it did, but I suspect it was used to locate drug running semi-submersibles. Not very visible, but they run on diesels. Acoustics still work.

  5. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 27, 2009 11:52 am

    They will go after our weakness, and overwhelm our shrinking but wonderful assets.

  6. Heretic permalink
    October 27, 2009 11:48 am

    Whose ships are they going to sink?

    In 1981, no one gave serious credence to the idea that the RN would be killing Argentine sailors, soldiers, pilots and marines the next year. I’d also say that the kill count scored by the HMS Conqueror is better than any other SSN in the world, wouldn’t you say?

    Note that the Falklands occurred at a time when everyone was gearing up for NUCLEAR war, and little conventional brushfire wars were “not that important” from a military planning standpoint … and yet, it happened. And arguably, based on the evidence, HMS Conqueror, an SSN, proved rather decisive in “scaring” the Argentinian Navy back into port. And it only took sinking ONE SHIP to “defeat” the Argentine Navy.

    The naval forces of any plausible enemy of Britain are puny, and most don’t have a navy at all.

    Hence, why Piracy exists …

  7. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 27, 2009 9:34 am

    Tarl, with SSNs and destroyers, you have your future battleships. So you can free up funds to build up small escorts ships, the flotilla sadly neglected since the end of the Cold War. Frigates won’t do it because most now cost as almost as much as these battleships, the LCS being an example.

    We still need battleships, but every ship in your fleet doesn’t have to be one, as we see currently the USN configured toward (I call them the 5 battleships of supercarriers, cruisers, destroyers, attack submarines, and amphibious ships, all exceeding $1 billion each), and these navies dream of becoming like the American fleet. Its a road to bankruptcy, but stealthy submarines, and missile ships are a good investment, keeping a few carriers for sure but only a handful is required, and we certainly have enough of these. Too much considering we can’t afford the planes to fill their spacious decks.

  8. Tarl permalink
    October 27, 2009 7:08 am

    fighting pirates and smugglers with the world’s most powerful warships is just absurd.

    And SSNs help you against pirates and smugglers because…?

  9. Tarl permalink
    October 27, 2009 7:06 am

    the RN doesn’t have to feel inferior with such a capability already in her possession.

    So the RN should keep very expensive SSNs simply to maintain its prestige?

    But if you think the primary purpose of a navy is to sink other ships, and not just land attack, then here is your warship of choice; the submarine with an unmatched record of ship-sinking’s in all history.

    Whose ships are they going to sink? The naval forces of any plausible enemy of Britain are puny, and most don’t have a navy at all. If you argue that the main purpose of the RN is to sink ships then you are basically arguing that Britain shouldn’t have a Navy, because there is nothing for the RN to sink.

    On the other hand, if you think the purpose of the RN is to exploit command of the sea – which is why you want to sink enemy ships if the enemy has any – then the RN most certainly needs carriers, and needs them much more than it needs SSNs.

  10. October 27, 2009 4:57 am

    More about two islands: “In order to maximise flight deck area, Thales and BMT opted for a radical innovative design using two separate islands, this minimises the island footprint on the deck while providing enhanced operational survivability by physical separation of key ship and flight control functions, and furthermore according to Peter Robertson, “positioning the flying control centre on the aft island improves operational control and flight-deck safety.” He adds that wind-tunnel testing and CFD analyses of the twin-island configuration has dispelled concerns over airflow anomalies. The second island allows the ship to have a flight-control centre that principally looks aft, rather than forward, as the most critical ‘evolution’ is when the aircraft are landing. The two smaller islands also give much more ‘parking space’ for aircraft on deck.” http://navy-matters.beedall.com/cvf1-24.htm

  11. October 27, 2009 4:53 am

    Distiller, wading through some ‘eye-watering techo stuff’ here is what ‘beedall’ pages say: “The optimum location for the position of the main propulsion system was carefully examined in early CVF studies, with the need to maximize the hangar space below decks a major consideration. The gas turbine generator units could be mounted in the superstructure, this would require a large island and reduce the flight deck area, but by avoiding volumous air intake/venting trunking to low machinery spaces will enable a larger and wider hanger. The comparative advantages of the two layouts was extensively debated within the DPA and the two competing industrial teams, but operational analysis and aviation generation studies demonstrated that the extra flight deck space associated with a small island(s) would be more valuable than the extra hanger space, so traditional main hull located engine rooms were selected. In the chosen Thales design, the two engine room units are widely separated, each one directly below an island to minimise the length of air downtakes and exhaust uptakes while offering good damage control.” http://frn.beedall.com/cvf6.htm

  12. Distiller permalink
    October 27, 2009 3:35 am

    Re two islands: Don’t forget CVF is gas turbine powered. Meaning one big hole to suck air, another one for the exhaust. Easier when separated.

  13. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 27, 2009 1:54 am

    Tarl said “SSNs are even less useful to the RN than carriers.”

    In combination with other surface ships and long range planes, a network of forces, I think Britain can easily do without her supercarriers. But that wasn’t my point, which was to say the RN doesn’t have to feel inferior with such a capability already in her possession. The loss of the supercarriers in no way means the demise of the Royal Navy.

    But if you think the primary purpose of a navy is to sink other ships, and not just land attack, then here is your warship of choice; the submarine with an unmatched record of ship-sinking’s in all history.

  14. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 27, 2009 1:38 am

    Yes, thanks SpazSinbad. I was going to have to research it because I forgot the purpose of the two islands.

    Edna, thank you.

    Johnathan, its a very strange business, that we can build ships for another war, another era and try to fit them in these low tech conflicts of today. I understand the the navy is the most conservative, but fighting pirates and smugglers with the world’s most powerful warships is just absurd. It doesn’t look like the LCS will address the problem, because it is too complicated and costly for buying in large numbers or risking in the shallow seas.

    Sure it can run, but can it fight?

  15. October 26, 2009 10:37 pm

    SpazSinbad…
    hey thanks for the answer and the link.

  16. October 26, 2009 9:54 pm

    Solomon, two islands on CVFs AFAIK (probably beedall pages say more about it) are front one for the sailors to have a better view whilst the birdies get a better eyeful aft with the aft island. With one island there are compromises fore and aft ‘viewwise’ for various ship/air control:
    http://navy-matters.beedall.com/cvf1-01.htm

  17. Tarl permalink
    October 26, 2009 9:31 pm

    The ability to build and deploy nuclear attack submarines alone provides the RN with force projection that even carrier powers have to take into consideration.

    SSNs are even less useful to the RN than carriers. Whose surface fleet is the RN going to threaten with its submarines? China? That raises certain obvious basing problems, the nearest British base being Gibraltar. If they’re not for China, then the SSNs provide a really expensive way to conduct very limited strikes on land targets. When all is taken with all, the carriers seem like a better deal, provided they can be equipped with sensible planes (i.e. not the F-35).

  18. October 26, 2009 7:35 pm

    Mike,
    On the Queen Elizabeth class their are two islands. Do you know why that is? Additionally on the Tarawa Class the Island is massive…taking up deck space. Why did they go with those designs and why are they continuing with the America class?

  19. B.Smitty permalink
    October 26, 2009 6:02 pm

    Maybe we’ll see some joint USMC/RN deployments with USMC F-35Bs flying off of an RN carrier.

  20. October 26, 2009 4:56 pm

    Mike,

    Perhaps some fine old Fairey Swordfish could be recovered and refurbished (for new service) from the sunken HMS Ark Royal (pictured above with a list prior to her sinking).

  21. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 26, 2009 4:52 pm

    “seeing as how hard it is to get any helicopters from The Island Nation to anywhere *important* ”

    Very good point Heretic. First we asked where will the fighters come from, now where will they get the helos to fill these spacious decks?

    The world’s most expensive ferry boats.

  22. Heretic permalink
    October 26, 2009 4:25 pm

    The reporting around this is angled wrong.

    The SHIP is not being cancelled (yet) … just the fixed wing aircraft (for it).

    Of course, seeing as how hard it is to get any helicopters from The Island Nation to anywhere *important* (such as Operation Useless Dirt 1) … one has to wonder if the RN/RAF will even have enough “whirlies” for a super-chopper-carrier with a really big deck like the Prince will have.

  23. Anonymous permalink
    October 26, 2009 3:17 pm

    “The Royal Navy is struggling to maintain itself as a sea power. ”

    If you spend any time around the “Fleet” you soon realise what a depressing thread bare service it has become. Considering the UK has one of the highest defence spends in the world you begin to ask where all the money goes.

    Then again our European friends like to buy equipment and forget to spend money on training, or deploying the services to anywhere hot…..

  24. Matthew S permalink
    October 26, 2009 2:55 pm

    The Royal Navy is struggling to maintain itself as a sea power. 1 future carrier, 6 Type 45 destroyers rather than 12, a frigate program that not has not been funded, reduction in submarines down to 7 possibly, reduction of F-35s down to 50, 22 total escorts (13 Type 23, 4 Type 22, 5 Type 42) etc.

    The only part of the RN that has fared well is the amphibious fleet. Plus they are getting a huge 65,000 helicopter carrier!

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