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Should we have started out on the Carrier programme in 1997?

uk 75

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Back in 1997 when the Government commissioned its Strategic Defence Review the world was a very different place from today. The MOD was still worried about the possibility of a resurgent Russia threatening the Baltic States or embarking on other adventures on the edges of Europe. Saddam Hussein's Iraq was policed by US and British airpower. The crisis in the former Yugoslavia appeared to demonstrate the need for vigorous interventionism and mobile UK military power.

In this climate the Royal Navy built a convincing case that its flattops had been a useful component of UK defence effort and needed replacing by similar but more capable ships. Subsequent studies and the development with the US of a supersonic successor to Harrier all fell into place and two capable large multi role platforms emerged. There was even the fallback option of using their angle decks and size for non-vstol planes.

In the sunlit world of the new Blair Government the two carriers would be the centreiece of a robust ethical foreign policy in support of the UN and NATO.

But, did any of this have anything to do with the real defence and security needs of the UK? Was it in fact another Blairite waste of public money and effort akin to the Dome or the Private Public finance inititiative. Could not all the money have been spent more wisely elsehwere?
 

JFC Fuller

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A truly fascinating question, and to be honest I do not have an answer. One way of looking at is this, Germany spends considerably less of its national wealth (only about 1.3%) on defence than the UK and it is getting on just fine. The flip side of the coin is that if the force structure and modernisation programmes announced in the 1998 SDR had been stuck to the UK would have had a far more impressive power-projection capability now, but then much of the cutting has been the product of cost growth within programmes and time delays, and nobody saw the 2008 crash and resulting 2010 cuts coming.


Ultimately it is a matter of national choice, how much influence and what sort of influence does the UK want in the world? Unfortunately the answer seems to change more than once in the time it takes the UK to build an aircraft carrier.


Then there is the Falklands issue, Argentina may be militarily weak at the moment, but the Islands must figure within UK defence planning as long as the UK maintains its commit to uphold the Islanders right to self-determination, is that worth it? I suppose it is also a matter of choice.
 

alertken

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A Labour Govt. chopped CVA-01(/2/3), 2/66, but: an Admiralty coup caused Attlee to fund the Strike carriers. He accepted a blue water/Trade Protection/East of Suez Task. UK still had manpower conscription, a hefty marine industry, and cataracts of money stimulated by Korea/Malaya and China evidently not satiated merely by Tibet. With none of the above, another Labour Govt. started CVS through-deck cruisers, 17/4/73, as Saclant resupply protection/NATO Flank debouchment platforms. With none of the above, a Labour Govt. initiated the 2 CVFs, 8/7/98: what a coup! What may have swayed the new Cabinet to do this? I suggest some factors, in no order of influence:

- BAe had joined the MDC team on JSF, 12/95, jumping with alacrity into the winning LMAC team, 8/6/97. UK finessed 10% involvement in what was planned to be >3,000 deliveries. UK would not need 300, but must be seen to be taking a decent run. NEAF gone, RAFG going...where to put them?

- Fissipation of Yugoslavia reminded all of us that land bases might not be readily available to the next UK Expedition.

- Energy security: peak oil/N.Sea loomed. Useful to reassure distant sources that UK would be a stable, near-but-not intrusive buddy. Paracels, Spratlys.

(My experience of public procurement dismisses the Chancellor weighing jobs in/near his constituency, in Rosyth Dockyard. The £billions could put jobs in other Ministers' backyards. Not a decisive factor).

I suggest that, Labour activists being hostile to Trident, dribbling early seeds into a 25-year non-nuclear project was a cheap (in any one year) way of handling the dilemma that Ministers never can tell what might happen next week. The tap could be turned off easily enough...but it just grew like Topsy. Today, UK would not initiate CVF/JSF.
 

zen

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But, did any of this have anything to do with the real defence and security needs of the UK?

Well the short answer is yes it did and nothing has really changed since. To remove all carrier capability means either becoming integrated into someone else's forces (with all that implies elsewhere) or else retreating into more a isolationist and pacifist stance. Either way it means relying on others more.

Was it in fact another Blairite waste of public money and effort akin to the Dome or the Private Public finance inititiative.
No I would say it was made more wasteful than it need to be though. There is an argument that we could have opted for a quicker to service pure STOVL vessel, but this would've come at higher risks in reliance on the F35-B and might well see increased costs in maintaining the Harrier fleet until then. That might even out costwise, but there was and is no guarantee. The adaptable designs are more expensive and actually shifting from STOVL to CATOBAR is expensive, but it mitigates risks and provides the capabilities desired.

Could not all the money have been spent more wisely elsehwere?

Not without other changes in defence posture and strategy for the UK.

The short answer is do we need some kind of aircraft carrier and the answer is yes. In the context of the UKs defence needs.
The next question is what sort of carrier and what sort of aircraft. That's where things got interesting.
 

uk 75

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Gentlemen

Your contributions are helpful and fascinating as usual.


Can I continue the discussion with some more questions/assertions for argument?


I think we agree that for this thread at least the issue is not whether to have carriers? (though I wonder how strong the argument is Post-Afghanistan?)

The decision to order two large carriers rather than perhaps three smaller ones seems reasonable given that a STOVL ship design would have left us entirely reliant on JSF F35B (Jump Dave). However, it does mean that only one ship is usually going to be available. Will this ship have enough airpower to make the cost/ effort worthwhile?

In 1997 the only realistic conventional aircraft available off the shelf were Rafale and F18 (though a Sea Typhoon might have been more acceptable politically). However in the years since 1997 progress with unmanned aircraft has been considerable and their use is much more common. Would it be worth looking at a UCAV type?

JSF in either form continues to have problems. Other threads have discussed their respective merits and failings. It looks as if the balance of risk has shifted back to Jump Dave, not least because this would allow both carriers to be used as built and avoid risky development of the electric catapult systems.

F18 looms over the project. If we had opted for this plane in 1997 and moved more quickly with development of a carrier we might still have been stymied by the electric catapult problem. Could we have gone the Russian route and used a ski jump with a CTOL aircraft? This would have meant reliance on a helicopter or tilt rotor AEW system.

Unlike the Type 82, the new Type 45s may prove to have enough air defence capability to protect a task group. Our SSNs are still more than capable of cracking any surface fleet targets. The carrier however is needed to project both offensive and defensive airpower over a hostile area.
Long range airpower, whether manned or unmanned, is still deficient in this respect as Libya again showed. However, the RAF has a lot of planes and the political pressure to let them look after the air and the Navy concentrate on the sea may grow?

Trident was a vital system during the Cold War as it ensured that any Soviet leader had to think twice about launching a conventional assault on Western Europe even if the US was being wet (unlikely in practice as even Carter was not willing to see Europe Red). Since the Cold War Russia and China have remained the main targets (The gorges Dams?). Looking down the list of other powers that might warrant a Trident launch one is left with the feeling that they may not be as easily deterred. Actually firing a Trident and destroying say Teheran or Paris would be poor compensation for the loss of London or even Manchester, Birmingham (insert your favourite here).
Moreover it is hard to imagine David Cameron or Ed Milliband giving such an order..

The Navy has never liked the deterrent being foisted on its budget (unlike the RAF's V force silent submarines are not good recruiting material either). Will the carriers be used to kill off the Deterrent?
 

shedofdread

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Just a few random thoughts that may or may not have any relevance -

Politicians of all colours acknowledge the need to maintain the deterent (and that, being realistic means subs+ballistic missiles) because that maintains our seat at the 'top table'.

The design office for Sea Grippen is in London.

Very recently, there was work ongoing related to landing Typhoon on.

Should someone in '97 have said "I say, that 1216thingy that was all the rage some years ago - do we still have the drawings for it?".
 
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