Apologies for lack of posting. Not sure what I’ve got but I have spent the last two weeks like an extra from a zombie movie, lurching around groaning and generally being an unthinking monster lacking the ability to speak never mind write. To give you an idea how bad I’ve been, I haven’t been able to handle more than a coffee or two a day!
Since the end of the last ice age when Doggerland went from low lying marsh to the bottom of the English Channel and Britain became an island the sea has been important to the inhabitants of this nation. From worrying about the Spanish armada to spreading across the waves fighting the French, the Spanish, the Dutch and anyone else who thought they had the right to take resources in foreign lands, to the British Empire when our navy really did rule the waves and was bigger than the next several fleets put together.
Then came the first world war and the second world war and the loss of Empire and with it the loss of wealth. The great naval strength of yesteryear was too expensive and mighty ships with long histories and military glory went to the breakers to be turned into car number plates.
Now the Royal navy consists of so few ships that we have one entire warship guarding the entirety of the British Isles and a handful more patrolling the world’s waterways.
In the 21st century many say the navy is obsolete, that it is air power that rules and the navy is an anachronism. Well sorry but they are wrong. Air power and sea power are two very different things and while our politicians may have their own ideas about what is what that doesn’t change reality.
Air power is strike aircraft and bombers, it is the ability to take off, fly to an area and deny it to an enemy by force then fly home. It is aggressive in nature and limited by gravity, whatever you want to fly there needs to get off the ground.
This places significant restrictions of air power, yes the air force can fly in emergency supplies or people but a few tons at a time in each aircraft. Air power cannot control an area, it cannot send troops to check a suspect location or to aid those in need unless there are intact or friendly air fields in range. It can deny use of an area by force but that’s it.
Naval power on the other hand while less destructive is far more long term and versatile. A ship can reach a coast with thousands of tonnes of emergency supplies, the equivalent of hundreds of aid flights and the ship needs no air field, just a flat beach for the landing craft or a flat field for the helicopters.
Naval ships in an area can control that area, they can respond at once, they don’t need to wait for someone to fly from the nearest friendly airbase. They can deal with the locals, conduct rescues, joint operations, diplomacy, fly the flag and much much more. Things that air power cannot achieve.
The reality is that naval power is far more effective than air power from every non military aspect and works ALL the time not just during fighting.
Which brings me to the point of this post and the question I was asked.
I was wondering: do you have an opinion on Trident & the two new super-carriers?
As it happens yes I have a few opinions on both subjects but I'll just cover the carriers in this article.
A carrier is an attempt to combine air power with the long term deployability of naval power, if it carries strike aircraft it is an attempt to create a floating air field and extend the range at which an enemy can be hit by air power, if it is a helicopter carrier it is a versatile way of bringing troops or support and help to anywhere within range of a coastline.
A carrier is a compromise, it gives up its ability to fight in order to carry aircraft or helicopters that greatly extend the range of its fleet. But carriers are big, high profile targets and anyone intending to engage in naval action against an enemy with carriers looks to take them out first. Which is why carriers form the center of carrier battle groups with rings of escorting warships around them.
While the UK is building two new carriers the Royal Navy isn't actually big enough to field both of them at the same time, which is why the second ship, the 'Prince of Wales' will either be mothballed or sold to someone else probably at a loss.
Simply sailing the carrier out of port is a major undertaking given the need for an escort group of both air defence and submarine defence ships. The royal navy is talking about a four ship escort plus logistics ships, a hopelessly inadequate force against any modern enemy and barely adequate against many second line powers.
But given the current state of the Navy it may not be possible to form even a four ship escort and the Bess may be left with just the 'Fleet' in the picture above.
Now the carriers have been done ‘On the cheap’ from their very inception and continue to do so despite the massive cost over runs. They were built without costly nuclear power which restricts their range and ties them to a support ship that can refuel them, they were built for harrier type short take off and landing aircraft which have less payload, they were unarmed, Yep, the largest ships ever built for the Royal navy and the architects didn't give them any weapons.
Adding defence weapons delayed the work and resulted in missile launchers being tucked into the odd corner without specifically designed magazines and support systems which reduces their defence effectiveness.
Also they were designed to be fitted with steam catapults for launching aircraft but without a nuclear power plant they couldn't generate the steam, so the catapults were dropped. Then the US came up with electromagnetic catapults, but they are too expensive. So Bess is restricted to using Short Take Off and Landing aircraft. Except that we don't own any, we sold off the harriers and the US F-35B which is the intended replacement, doesn't currently work!
They have a crew of 700 plus another 900 or so for the air group. Compared to the 3000+ that a similar sized US ship has that seems very stream lined. Till you begin to consider the cost of that reduced crew once they are working longer hours with less time off compared to the US carriers.
Also as soon as the carriers end up in combat and take damage they will very quickly find themselves in a death spiral as limited crew numbers mean every sailor taken for damage control is one less running the ship and every casualty is noticed in decrease effectiveness. The ships automation doesn't seem to be anywhere near advanced enough to handle combat without sufficient crew numbers.
Meaning we have a carrier we can't protect, with no aircraft, with too few crew because we can't afford that many naval personnel, and which cannot use the aircraft fielded by any of our carrier equipped allies
So why build her?
Yes I know it was decided in 2010 it would be more expensive to not build her, the cost has increased massively since then and the cost to actually put her to sea is also growing steadily. There comes a time when you stop digging the hole before its too deep to escape from.
Next problem. Do we dare risk the Queen Bess anywhere there is a threat she may be damaged or destroyed?
In terms of actually using her in military action there is a huge consideration behind any deployment. A purely British carrier battle group is a tiny and flimsy thing when compared to the might of its US big sister and yet the US are fully aware just how vulnerable carriers are in the second decade of the 21st century. The entire British navy would be hard pressed to form a single carrier group the size of the ones routinely fielded by the US navy, simply maintaining such a fleet would take ships and support from most of Europe's navies.
Would the admiralty dare to send her into harms way, given how unlikely it currently is that the Prince of Wales will ever be commissioned, do we as a nation dare risk our ONLY carrier. If the answer is no then her military function is null and void for a warship that can never be risked in combat is the naval version of a chocolate tea pot.
Which means that she is relegated to being the small consort of a US carrier, tucked into a US carrier group for safety, hardly a Stirling demonstration of British naval power given she needs the Americans to protect her from danger.
So apart from acting as a floating airfield to launch air strikes against insurgences and terror groups hiding in caves her ability to actually go to war against any first or second world power is nil.
So again why build her?
Given that Queen Bess can be in one place at a time and we don't seem likely to actually send her anywhere near danger would it not make more sense to have built three smaller but just as capable ships which would allow us as a nation to respond to three situations in widely divergence locations.
A common adage is training and equipping to fight the last war not the next one. The big carriers and carrier battle groups are refugees from the cold war, in a world of over the horizon missiles, stealth systems and drones a carrier is an asset with a huge bullseye painted on it. Massive effort goes into protecting a carrier so that it can survive long enough to launch its air group against the enemy.
But in the case of Britain we don't have a strike group and probably never will, a single squadron of STOL aircraft cannot compare to the catapult launched power of a US or even French carrier. Nor can we keep our carrier safe when speed boats packed with explosives have become a weapon or when torpedoes and drones can come from over the horizon at speeds too high to be avoided.
Aircraft ranges steadily increase, cruise missiles can launch attacks from thousands of miles away, drones can be launched from a dirt track and controlled by pilots safe at home. As a weapon of war the super carrier is ready to fight the last war, the one against the Warsaw pact. They are less and less suitable for fighting a modern war except against third line enemies and insurgents or terorists, which means they have purpose more for political reasons now than military ones.
So why not build a fleet of more numerous but just as capable smaller ships and helicopter carriers rather than an old fashioned and militarily obsolete super carrier that cannot be used in war.
That would be because its a prestige product, a demonstration that the UK is still a naval power and still important in the world. Sadly to anyone that looks closely its exactly the opposite. It is the sign of a fading power trying to recapture old glory with a ship that looks impressive but sadly isn't.
Six billion on the ship, three or more billion on the fighters (if they ever get them to work), another billion plus on the support ships. Ten billion is a bit expensive for what amounts to a fairly capable emergency response ship and mobile diplomatic station that cannot fight.
If you are spending that much money then small, capable and versatile ships that can cover many areas and situation at once seem to my mind to be a much better idea. Several helicopter carriers and more destroyers and frigates would allow the navy to cover more area and extend British power wider and more effectively.
But then I'm not trying to compensate for a certain lack of size by waving a super carrier around.