Friday, November 2, 2012

Philip Hammond, the carriers, the strategy

Philip Hammond has delivered a relevant speech at the RUSI Air Power conference yesterday, and delivered some reassuring observations. Mainly, he seems to have finally grasped the full relevance and strategic importance of the aircraft carriers, of their flexibility, of the indipendent action capability that they offer.

Relevantly, he promised that the aircraft carrier will routinely embark a full squadron of F35B jets whenever she sails "outside of home waters". On operations, it is assumed that the number would increase, potentially all the way up to 36.
Of course, he does not expand on the difficulties connected with trying to deploy a full 36-strong wing from a fleet that is now projected to number only 48 in total.
I can think of only one example of such an ambitious force generation, and that's the successful effort of the Fleet Air Arm for the Falklands War, when over 90% of the total Sea Harrier fleet was sent to the fight.
This (renewed) promise is significant, because it expands and precises the nature of the "routine": whenever the carrier goes outside home waters. Again, it is a relevant promise because the Royal Air Force is reportedly trying to secure a mostly land-based life for the F35 fleet (unsurprisingly), with leaked information that suggests the RAF tried to have the "routine" airgroup cut back all the way to just 6.
12 is already a small number, 6 would be just laughable, so it is comfortable that the minister's position goes in favor of logic and operational reasoning.

The RAF must not be allowed to bring the focus away from the need for restoring the capability to deploy serious airpower at and from the sea. That's why carriers are being built and why F35Bs are being acquired.
The fairy tale of the "Deep and Persistent Offensive Capability", in which stealth bombers will "always get through" and hit targets deep into enemy air space must be forgotten. It is a ridiculous dream, and spending money on F35 to pursue it won't stand up to an informed analysis. It is not a priority to have even more land-based jet squadrons. The F35B must be about naval operations first and foremost.
The theatre of jets taking off from Marham, refuelling in flight 5 or more times to go and throw, at huge cost, a tiny number of Storm Shadows against an enemy with nearly no chance at all of defending its air space is not, and never will be, a justification for more of the same.
To any logical mind, those raids make little to no operational sense.

The RAF would better focus its hunger for fast jets on the horribly expensive Typhoon fleet, abandoning the plan to throw to hell more than 50 still young airframes. A RAF with 7 Typhoon squadrons (2 for air defence, and the Tranche 1 is realistically more than enough for the task as of now: 5 Deployable swing-role squadrons for operations abroad) is all what is realistically needed for land-based operations. More importantly, it is an affordable and basically paid-for force. It only takes money to continue to run the Tranche 1s. And it can be done.  

A 159-strong, 7 squadrons Typhoon force can serve the country well. At Tornado GR4-standards, it can deliver 46 or more Force Elements at Readiness (FE@R), of which 16 or so would be for homeland air defence and 30 or so for speedy deployment to operations.
To this, the F35B fleet of 48 would add another 12 / 14, again reasoning at Tornado standards, and it is to be hoped that availability of the newer airplanes will be higher, once fully in service.
This is a realistic force, perhaps not as good as large 64 deployable elements at readiness which used to be the target in the early 2000s, but close enough.
It is estimated that a Brigade-sized operation can be covered with 32 deployed jets, so the force would fit into the Defence Planning Assumptions rather well.
This, i find, is the realistic and affordable target that should be pursued. 

Philip Hammond also strongly suggested that both aircraft carriers shall be put in service. He said that the additional cost would be around 70 million a year, and described it, very correctly in my opinion, as an extremely good deal.
Putting both in service gives the Navy the ability to have a carrier countinously available throughout the operational life of the class, and the possibility, in emergency time, to sail both to a warzone. He of course said, once more, that the firm decision is left for the SDSR 2015, but he clearly expressed his belief that operating both ships is the way to go.

I will add, personally, that operating one or both vessels does not only impact the capability to deploy air power at sea continuously, but it also impacts the Navy's amphibious capability. Operating a single CVF risks to be a death blow to the amphibious capabilities of the UK, since by 2022 at the latest, and probably much earlier, HMS Ocean will be gone, and with no replacement LPHs planned, the Queen Elizabeth class carriers are going to be simply crucial not so much as carriers, but as "Landing Helicopter - Aviation" ships.
With HMS Illustrious bowing out in 2014 and HMS Ocean possibly following in 2018, or anyway sometime before 2022, unless there is a dramatic rethink, the Queen Elizabeth class vessels will be the only big flat tops available to the navy, and they will have to be there to carry not just airplanes, but the Marines with their helicopters, in what has been called, ever since the publication of the SDSR 2010, "Carrier Enabled Power Projection".

It is absolutely crucial to ensure that both carriers enter service, to restore airpower at sea and to ensure the long term viability of the british amphibious capability, which would be massively depleted otherwise, with a further, massive reduction in the number of deployable Marines and with the near nullification of the amphibious force's rotary wing capability, as the LPDs and LSDs all come without hangars and thus with a quite small helicopter capability overall.

It is intended that the Royal Navy Response Force Task Group will have extensive aviation capability and room for a good 1800 Marines with their vehicles and supporting helicopters.
The presence of the Carrier in the task group is vital to ensure the whole thing remains viable. Early in last October, rear admiral Cunningham briefed the audience of the Maritime Security Challenges 2012 conference, and in his slides it can be noted that the assumption is that the Carrier task group will be always at 5 days notice to move.
If this is the planning assumption, there is no alternative to having both in service.

The much publicized anglo-french expeditionary force will instead be at 30 days notice to move, and it is planned that at least one aircraft carrier will always be part of the force, notionally being provided by each country, rotationally for one year at a time.

It is very important that the investment made on the carriers is not wasted: these are incredibly useful and relevant vessels, and it essential to use them well.

Mr. Hammond was also brought, albeit briefly, on the theme of the Maritime Patrol Aircraft, and he exposed himself justifying the Nimrod decision with a very strong description of the MRA4, which he argues had very low probabilities to ever fly, and would only be a money sink.
Frankly, i think this is gross exaggeration, and so far, while it had emerged that the Nimrod MRA4 still had some issues to iron out when it was cancelled, no one ever dared trying to say that it could not be made to work. And this is being generous: i'm assuming Hammond intended "flying" as operationally serving the RAF exactly as planned, because the Nimrod MRA4 had been flying in the more general sense of the word for many years, actually, and it tackled succesfully many trials, including torpedo releases.

Hammond of course tried to minimize the extent of the problem, but to anyone listening, the MPA situation of the UK just cannot make sense.
Even more so as Hammond (rightfully, in my opinion) underlined the "ISTAR lesson" derived from the Libya experience and the need for Europe to stand up to the security challenges of the Mediterranean, north Africa and Middle East, as we'll see further ahead.

I make no mystery of my position, which is to give great priority to the Maritime Patrol Aircraft need as part of the next SDSR. Worth reporting is also the quite clear thought of the chief of staff of the french navy about the MPA problem:

"They don’t have a maritime patrol aircraft. I don’t know if they are desperate, but if you took my MPA away, I’d be in a desperate state."

I'm under no illusion: for the Royal Navy, it isn't any more desirable to be without MPA than for the french.

Regarding the "ISTAR lesson", Hammond notes, quoting an observation already made by US Defense Secretary R. Gates, that the most advanced fighter aircraft are little use if allies do not have the means to identify, process, and strike targets as part of an integrated campaign.
The insufficient ISTAR resources available to NATO, along with insufficient air-to-air refuelling capability were the two most evident issues over Libya, followed by issues of insuffient interoperability and even difficulties in communications between allied assets. 
The full extent of the problem is still struggling to come to light, but the issues are very serious, so much so that Denmark, which had earlier opted out of the NATO AGS drone system, now has re-joined the program, after having assessed first hand the difficulties in Unified Protector (Denmark has been a major contributor, flying a surprising number of sorties and expending the near totality of its precision-guided bomb stocks). In the UK, Libya has served to re-ignite interest in systems such as Sentinel and Sea King MK7 and Sentry, so much so that while uncertainties still remain over the future of Sentinel post-Afghanistan, there is now the expectation of seeing it confirmed as part of the future force.

The ISTAR lesson seem to have surprised many in Europe, but i want to hope that the military planners, if not the politicians, only faked ignorance because "forced" to abandon investments in these areas by governments calling for cuts.
Because the ISTAR lesson should not have been a surprise. To me, it certainly was. I've been arguing for strategic enablers in forever, and ISTAR platforms featured prominently in all my calls. I'm not a genius at all, yet i had easily seen where the real problems were. I'd like to think that military professionists can see things better than i do, sincerely. 

I deem it absolutely fundamental that proper attention is paid to the unique Strategic Enablers, those capabilities that the UK can bring to the table that no other country in Europe can, with the exception of France for some of these.
So i'm thinking about Sentinel, a good-sized fleet of drones (Reaper and Watchkeeper, then Scavenger replacing Reaper), Airseeker, AWACS, the large fleet of Voyager air tankers, the carriers with their embarked aviation and AEW/ISTAR platforms, the amphibious force, the RFA (alone, it makes up 34% of the strategic at sea logistics capability available in Europe!) and Maritime Patrol Aircrafts too, a capability that has been gapped, but that should be restored as quickly as possible. And also, of course, the strategic mobility offered by an unmatched fleet of 6 Point class RoRo and 8 C17s, something that no one else in Europe has.

The "ISTAR lesson" is closely connected to the topic of multinational collaboration, and to the "new role" for a more mature, more active Europe, which far from meaning unified armed forces is anyway the only possible path to follow to achieve political and military relevance in the future.

Hammond notes:

But in the case of Libya it shone a bright light on relative military and political capabilities in terms of who "could but wouldn't"; and who "would but couldn't".

With the United States reflecting, in its strategic posture, the growing importance of the developing strategic challenge in the Pacific, the nations of Europe must find the political will to take on more responsibility for our own back yard, and fund the capabilities to allow that.

Certainly that means, shouldering the major burden in the Balkans and the Mediterranean.

But also being prepared, if necessary, to take a bigger role in relation to North Africa and the Middle East.

The bottom line is that Europe, as a whole, needs to do more, at a time when the reality is that, across the continent, aggregate defence expenditure is certain to fall in the short term and, at best, recover slowly in the medium term.

So the challenge is stark: if we can't spend more, we must do things differently;
Maximising the capability we can collectively squeeze out of the resources we have;
Increasing interoperability, closing capability gaps through joint working and greater specialisation.

For example, the UK is overhauling its ISTAR, strategic lift and combat air capabilities as part of the transition to Future Force 2020 with the new Atlas and Voyager fleets operating alongside the C17, Sentry, Sentinel, and Airseeker as well as a range of remotely piloted air systems.

These forces will allow us to offer capacity to share with our international partners in new, innovative and mutually beneficial ways.

And, for the time being at least, we will depend on others for support with maritime patrol aircraft, when we need them.
It is not so much the number of Tornado jets that matters. What the UK can and should bring to the table to really matter, is a series of unique capabilities that are pretty much without equal in Europe and that can form the skeleton sustaining a multinational force with little to no US involvment.
That buys power for the UK in three ways:

First, by making the UK more "indipendent", because more realistically capable to mount an operation on its own, with complete, full-spectrum capability, albeit on a small to medium scale.

Second, by making the UK less tied to the specific help of the US and more relevant to other allies, allowing the country to pursue and craft other strategic relationships. The UK cannot hope to win appreciation abroad and be seen as a good ally because of the number of jets or frigates, but can still be seen as an useful partner for its political weight and for the range of specialized, precious capabilities it can field.

Third, by gaining more US support, because such a United Kingdom strategic posture, as "leader of the Willing Europe" can be a driving force for the european side of NATO, making Europe capable to shoulder more of the tasks connected to the Mediterranean and Middle East, allowing the US forces to concentrate more on the Pacific.
In the coming years, a CVF task group deployed to the Gulf to replace a US CVBG that can so go to the Pacific is going to be very, very appreciated. The French have already understood this, and Charles De Gaulle has been visiting the Indian Ocean a lot to deliver air support to troops in Afghanistan and help the US navy keep up force levels all over the map.
The UK did it in the far past already, when the US carrier groups were tied to Vietnam operations and the british carriers filled the holes elsewhere.

After what Hammond said, i can proudly observe that professor Lindley-French and, to a lesser but important degree, I, were right in our analysis of the situation. Read this (long) but highly recommended old article of mine about giving a grand strategy to the UK to see what i mean.

The new enduring relationship-I will avoid the "special relationship" phrase-is ultimately, in Washington’s mind, with both Republicans and Democrats, built on our ability to leverage other partners, primarily Europeans but also Commonwealth members. If we lose that ability because of a profound perception of our decision not to be a major second-rank power, our influence in Washington will decline further. There will be very clear strategic, practical implications.

The specific impact will be on NATO, because what is generating and becoming very clear in Washington is that the Americans are increasingly becoming an Asia-Pacific power. What they will look for - in a sense, Libya is increasingly the test case - is Europeans under Anglo-French leadership to look after our bit of the world, which is a pretty rough neighbourhood, while an overstretched America deals with the epicentre of change in south and east Asia. If we cannot step up to that leadership role, and we are choosing not to adopt it, the fundamental assumption in the NSS that the Americans will always ultimately be there for our security and our defence is being undermined.

The question then becomes: what level of capability does Britain require to ensure that the Americans feel that they can invest in our future security defence because it is part of the overall whole? I was at a meeting in Tallinn a couple of weeks ago, and a German MP seriously said that Germany would not modernise its deployable armed forces, and that it would not even conceive of modernising nuclear forces, but that it might allow the Americans to pay for and put in place a missile defence system that protects Germany in Europe. The inference is that if we are moving inadvertently into that camp - the Dutch are certainly going into that camp - our loss of influence in Washington and, I would suggest, elsewhere, will be profound. The French, frankly, have a lot more traction than we do these days because they talk a better show than we do.
The tragedy, for me, for London is that after all the sacrifices of the past 10 years of our armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are almost snatching contempt from the jaws of respect, on the Hill in particular. I am not overstating this; that is the consequence of these two documents on the American political mind that considers these issues.”

I fully recognise that there are a lot of European countries-mainly because of the German position, I have to say-that have been in retreat for a long time, aided and abetted by poor American leadership. I have made that point in the US several times-that the Americans have a responsibility to lead well, not just lead. Our interest is to renovate a strategic concept in Europe that ensures that there is a genuine European pillar of the alliance stabilising this turbulent world. That is our mission; and we are not stepping up to that plate. Any chance of bringing Europe back on strategic line, if you like, is, I fear, in danger of being lost.” 

A very, very senior person told me on Friday that the trajectory of these two documents [National Security Strategy and SDSR] could mean that the United Kingdom loses D-SACEUR-to the French, on current trajectory-because we are perceived as an unreliable ally, which is unfair but how it is being perceived. [D-SACEUR: Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, Europe – the SACEUR is a US officer]

The Americans will not go on funding this bill, and there is going to be a row over missile defence. Congress has not woken up to the fact yet that the missile defence system currently proposed is one that the Americans will pay for that can protect Europe but cannot protect the United States. Already, a high-level congressional delegation last week at NATO asked the specific question, "Are there any US enablers being used for operations over Libya?" The US MilRep jumped in and said, "No." That is not the correct answer, and Congress will soon learn that. There are all sorts of implications. Whereas for the US, alliances are extremely useful but not critical, for the UK our influence in functioning alliances and international organisations is absolutely critical“.
“I think they [USA] would abandon Europe [If the UK and France stop being useful partners]. They would say, reasonably, "Look, Europe, you’re a strategic backwater right now. If you are not prepared to work with us to stabilise the world and our grand strategic mission, you can look after your own neighbourhood." The logical consequence of that is that this neighbourhood is rough. We would end up spending more, or we would take a much higher level of risk-probably the highest level of risk we have taken since the 1930s. That is the choice that we face.”
Professor Lindley-French, speaking to the Parliamentary Defence Committee

More importantly, in the words of Hammond i see signs of one fact: at least someone in government seems to be waking up to reality, in a way or another.
I can only hope that the concept will have been more widely grasped before it is time to write the next SDSR.
Because what defence desperately needs, is a review that comes up with a strategy and a coherent way forwards to stick to it. The first and greatest task of whatever government will be in charge at the time of the next SDSR is to write a Review that is not just a list of cuts, but a genuine assessment of the direction that should be followed.

Otherwise, rebuilding the trust between the soldiers and who leads them will be impossible.


  1. Gaby

    “Philip Hammond also strongly suggested that both aircraft carriers shall be put in service . . . . . . Putting both in service gives the Navy the ability to have a carrier continously available throughout the operational life of the class, and the possibility, in emergency time, to sail both to a warzone.”

    I’m sorry but I still haven’t got my head around how exactly air power will be combined with amphibious capability on the new carriers. In earlier replies to me you seemed to think that making one of the CVFs a specialist strike carrier and the other a commando carrier was the wrong way to look at it.

    However, just imagine if a sudden contingency were to arise that would need both carriers to sail to the warzone (say, another Falklands). What would happen? Would each carrier carry its air group, say 12 F35Bs and a full complement of Royal Marines, together with their landing craft, or would one of the two simply become the Landing Helicopter – Aviation ship? And would both ships always carry davits and all the other paraphernalia of amphibious work? I simply don’t think that both ships can be amalgams or crossbreeds but I am probably wrong.

    1. I think even when sailing both together to a war, the airgroup and Marines would still be split on the two hulls, for safety reasons. But it would be possible to have one carrying the full complement of jets and related stores, while the other would carry only helos and Marines.
      In that particular case, with both hulls available, safety and operational considerations would be behind the decision.

      Routinely, the aircraft carrier will carry the 12 F35Bs plus the helicopters and Marines, as there will be only one available.
      The navy is working to plan out how helicopter and jet operations will happen together on the deck. It is far from impossible.

      Davits, instead, might not be there. It has not yet been cleared how the boat spaces on CVF are arranged. I covered the little info available in the past: as of now, it is not known if the carriers will be able to carry LCVPs or not.
      They might not have this capability. Then again, HMS Illustrious does not have it either: it is not a show stopper, even though i'd like it more to have them aboard.

      The reduction in vehicle carriage space (again, there is a reduction only comparing to Ocean, because Illustrious does not have a vehicle deck or ramp either) is not very significant. The loss of the LCVPs would also be overall acceptable.

      But i like to think that CVF will be LCVP capable. I remember HMS Hermes, with her own LCVPs aboard, when she sailed to the Falklands.
      I hope such a capability exists on CVF too. But as i said, i've no answers to this particular question: i tried asking the ACA, but got no answer.

      It was confirmed, instead, that CVF has a rear boat boarding area in the stern. Not enclosed, but it'll allow Marines to board landing crafts and boats as necessary.

    2. Gaby

      Thanks very much for the reply. Very comprehensive.

      So "H.M.S. Ocean" will probably be retired from service between 2018 and 2022. Will the two LPDs serve on, do you think? What makes them longer-lasting than "Ocean"? The three vessels are more or less of the same age, aren't they? What will replace them? More LPDs?

    3. The LPDs are a bit younger, and in better conditions. They will live into the 2030s.
      HMS Ocean was never expected to age too well with the commercial standards she was built to. She possibly could be made to serve on longer, but issues of budget and manpower will probably mean her end.

      The little i heard about the RN feelings for the replacement of the Albions is about large LHDs. But it's too early still to really say.

    4. Was wondering if a shorter term strategy to help support the LPDs would be to order an additional RFA Argus style ship. IMHO, could it be that as future beach assault is over the horizon that all dedicated (non carrier) amphibious ships will be RFA perhaps based around a JSS model.

    5. Gabriele and others,

      An MP asked the questions about amphib capabilities of the CVF(s)

    6. Some more interesting parliamentary written Q and A:

      Wanted to tweet this to Gab, but my Twitter is locked for personal use lest you follow me.

    7. The problem that I see with the CVF carrying LCVP is that would you really want to put a CVF close enough to shore for them to be used?

      If HMS Ocean has to get close to shore then it would be considered a acceptable risk. However would it really be acceptable to have the CVF that close?

      Of course it could still be used as a pure LPH and be further out, but would you want to use a ~20-25kt top speed LCVP from tens of kilometers or more from shore? If it was sat 40km off shore then it would take over 2 hours for the LCVPs to land some marines and return to the ship for the next wave. Using the LCACs would cut the time down a bit.

    8. That is an issue, but it would still be useful to have the LCVPs available aboard.

      Reality is that the Royal Navy must accept compromises. Considering the sluggish speed of the LCU Mk10, the amphibious assault ships must go close to the shore in any case. You could keep the carriers further back, and you might have good reasons to, but spreading the ships might causes issues of its own, and force the relatively few escorts to spread out even further.

      Anyway, you are right on noticing the issue: it's one of the reasons why the possible lack of LCVPs on CVF won't reduce anyone to tears.

    9. Regarding the linked questions and answers, the minister does not give away much info, but it is well known that CVF is sized and kitted to deliver over 100 sorties per day on a surge, with 36 F35s aboard.
      Up to 140 would be possible on the first day, apparently, dropping with time to 72 per day, then 40-some, then 36 per day for the following month(s).

      As for the RFA crewing amphibious ships, i read that it was investigated recently. The RN would like to have the LPDs partly RFA crewed, apparently.
      But since the RFA had its own cut of 400 men in the SDSR, it's not like they have men to spare.

    10. RFA ships need more helicopter space to prove amphibious worthwhile.

      Thanks for the sorties info. Does that match Charles De Gaulle?

    11. Assuming the carriers are both loaded up with full air wing, yes. It should, indeed, best the Charles De Gaulle's performances by a good margin due to the slightly higher number of airplanes carried, larger deck and mechanized ordnance handling system.

      The CdG, however, being nuclear does not need to carry fuel for herself, and thus carries more fuel for the embarked jets than CVF.

      Anyway, in terms of ship design for air operations, overall CVF wins.

    12. MikeW,

      I would say a full complement of RMs is debatable depending on the size. Would it be two out of the three main RM battalions plus support elements? Or just one?

  2. I pitched the idea of 24-12: QE to be the aircraft strike carrier and PoW to be the mega LPH with some F35Bs--you can't have a second carrier without aircraft. Given that 2 are in service and two may have to be deployed at the same time, that super stretches the Type 45s role since CVFs have no AA capability.

    If one operates with up to 36(not possible in the short term), then at least 2 or more Type 45s need to escort it.

    So Air Defence of a CVF or both is very challenging. ASW too: how to protect a mega carrier (even non Gerald Ford type) from subs) from ASW attack?

    1. We all know that more escorts would be desirable, but i don't see such a suddenly increased need for Type 45s. It is very much dependent on the operation and on the enemy at hand, first of all.

      And the carrier is protected from ASW attacks by the SSN assigned to the task group, the Type 23 and then 26 frigates and by the Merlin HM2 helicopters.

      It won't be easy to get to her.

    2. I say ASW defence is lacking, even for American carriers.

      Ok, given the fixed number of Type 45s, is one enough to defend the CVF battle group?

    3. Why one? For a war, more would go along.

    4. I was meaning not a war much for normal martime operations. Given that Type 45s are suppose to be independent and there are only six, how many would you envision sailing with each CVF everytime the carrier sails?

    5. Then yes, there will be one.

    6. While it seems unlikely that the carriers will have any AAW defence beyond phalanx and maybe in a emergency some StarStreak missiles carried on board, as far as I know it still hasn't been ruled out that they will be fitted with Sea ceptor.

      The three year research program that is looking into maritime local air defence is meant to finish early next year and that is meant to include looking into how much it would cost to fit FLAADS/Sea Ceptor to the CVFs.

      So while I don't think it is likely that the carries will have Sea Ceptor fitted before they enter service, I think it is quite possible that they will have it fitted at a later date.

      If a modular version of Sea Ceptor is created, and from puplic data it seems that it should be relativity straight forward to do so, then I think we could also see it added to a number of other ships, like the LPDs and RFA ships.

    7. Integration of Sea Ceptor should be really easy with how small the missile cells are, and thanks to the cold launch feature.
      The CVF will also have the same Type 997 / Artisan 3D radar that is planned for the Type 23 and 26, so there should be zero show stoppers.

      Still, i don't think it will be fitted, unfortunately.

      I am pretty sure that it would be quickly added in for war operations in dangerous areas, however. Having the study done should make it even easier.

  3. An informed post, thank you. Personally, I find the comments on CVF & RAF intent etc a tad subjective, but as I'm ex-RAF many would accuse me of being biased... Much of the naval criticism of the RAF banded around is misplaced and sometimes approaches paranoia; the RN has been largely responsible for its own demise and should face up to that unpalatable situation. For example, a glance at the history of the FAA clearly illustrates the lack of priority maritime Air has enjoyed among the Admiralty for over generations.

    If I may, I would caution about the number of FE@R. There is a vast difference between an ORBAT on paper and what is realistically deployable. Operators (J3) come up with grandiose plans but Logs & C3 (J4/J6) bring them back to earth!

    1. The RN has its own responsibilities, but frankly i do not exactly see when they neclected aviation that much. Many quote the pre-Second World War years, but forget that the Royal Navy had to politically battle the RAF to regain control of the Fleet Air Arm and only got it back in 1939, a bit late to reverse the situation. So it is hard to blame the Navy for the obsolete Skua, Roc, Swordfish.

      In other periods, while there were no doubt mistakes (one, the most recent and unfortunately the most deadly was that of going ahead with the Sea Harrier FA2 instead of trying to obtain the fully multi-mission capable AV8B+) i do not exactly see the Navy treating the Fleet Air Arm badly. The airplanes used to be very good, with the apex reached with Buccaneer, Phantoms and Gannets.
      It is definitely not the navy that caused the demented "East of Suez" carrier slaughter.
      I do not quite recognize the "lack of priority", sincerely.

      As to the FE@R number, yes, i know it is not THAT simple. But the above figures were the most accurate indicative figures i could find.

    2. Hi,

      for 90 years the Admiralty has had four major (poss 5 if we treat MCM separately) pulls on the Fleet: surface combatants, Subs, RMs & the FAA. If we consider the relative priority given to each with regard to investment, career progression, equipment etc over those years it's not difficult to see that the tension within the Senior Service has been as responsible as the interference of the RAF in shaping the RN. Yes, there have been periods of competition with the RAF where the RN has suffered but the emphasis given to the RAF bogeyman by many ex-sailors is disingenuous and belies the way that Defence (now the MoD) has been managed in the UK. The Navy has suffered institutionally from a paucity of 'thinkers'. The weak letter written to the press in 2010(?) by senior pro-RN experts bemoaning the loss of Harrier is a manifest example of that problem. A sad situation for the RN that it can hopefully address.

    3. It could hardly have been any different, it is obvious that the Navy has many souls, and cannot just care about the FAA.
      But it is most evidently not the navy the one which destroyed the fleet air arm, and i cannot agree on your vision of an historical lack of thinkers within the navy.

      The Admiralty "invented" the strategic bomber (and the strategic bombing practice itself) for the Uk in first world war.
      The Royal Navy was the first in the world to land a full jet on an aircraft carrier, invented the angled deck, the landing lights. It was right there with 162 landings against the US's own 166 when the first helicopters were jointly tried on ships from 1943 onwards.

      It innovated and it kept the FAA quite efficient and as modern as it could be with the money available, right until it could.
      The Navy has been, actually, historically quite active on the exploitation of the air.

      But when it got told in 1965 that the existing carriers would be gone, and that CVA-01 and CVA-02 would not be, well, that was quite a death blow.
      Everything that followed was quite a display of thinking on the Navy's part, actually. The Invincibles, the Sea Harriers, were quite imaginative solutions to maintain a tiny little flame alive. And there were attempts to snuff even that.

      No, i just cannot agree with you. Ever since the RAF was born and the Royal Naval Air Service suddenly was torn off the control of the Admiralty, the navy has had quite good reasons to look at the RAF with suspect. The dement decisions of successful governments have only made it worse.

    4. Great history of the FAA and RN!

    5. No, you don't see the wider picture; The FAA has only been centered on assets to protect and support the fleet (its reason of existence, is how senior RN see's it)- aircraft directly involved with ships. The FAA has little experience with the wider and larger roles, as covered by the junior service.

      If you look at it now, today, the FAA has been rather poorly served by the admiralty; quite rightly I'd argue, as the Navy's focus should always be on the fleet; and aviation that is directly connected with the fleet.
      Who is it that controls the FAA budget? Its laughable that people seem to believe its the RAF!

      This is where this Italian fellow's blog falls, he sometimes sees through a narrow letterbox point of view, without taking in the wider picture, or the 'purple' picture.

      The fact is the FAA is primarily rotary based, with a niche core of Fast Jet for operations at sea in support of the fleet and fleet activities (such as amphibious ops).
      This is how its been because the RN see's it fit with the funds and political will it has, not from some grand conspiracy or control of others.
      I see nothing wrong in that, its worked for the RN since 1939 and will remain so, no matter how much angry noises comes from civvies like Mr Gabs or ex-mariners.

      The sense in RAF participation in F35 is that with the crabs, there is a bigger - dedicated to aviation - budget would be available, meaning more airframes and pilots and support... you can call on inter-service BS as much as you like but as the Falklands showed; the surge capacity of having the crabs on-board was what beefed up the SHAR (and later, Gr3) component. (Read David Morgans book 'hostile skies'). I would rather have a meaningful amount of airframes available with sufficient training, personnel and pilots, than let the F-35 increase the FAA's budget and therefore reduce the fleet's budget. But of course, most people don't think about this, all they care about is the name painted on the side of the thing.

      Alas, its a shame, his vitriol on the junior service and others, detracts from his other good work.

    6. I totally disagree on what you say. It was not a decision of the navy seeing the FAA reduced to an helicopters-only force, and it is laughable that you try to sell this story.

  4. Another great post!

    Agree that the RAF needs to make the most of Typhoon with F35 at least initially with only 48 airframes being FAA focused.

    I found it very encouraging to hear what Mr Hammond said on routinely operating 12 jets and the possibility of 2 carriers in service, he seems to have his head screwed on when it comes to a lot of these issues. I'm also glad to hear him admitting that European nations should accept more responsibility for regional security, it's about time we started shouldering more of the burden instead of relying on the Americans.

    Finally I strongly agree with you that the UK should be focusing it's military priorities on stuff others can't bring to the table, airlift, tankers, ISTAR, amphibians, special forces etc. Forming, as you say the framework on which coalitions can build a force, whilst at the same time plugging the gaps left by the Americans is the way forwards and keeps us as an important and relevant 21st power.


  5. Anothe Q for you Gabby, you said there's not enough money to put CAMM on the CVFs on your twitter. But don't you think it's exceptionally weird to have a carrier without SAMs? Will Phalanx suffice?

    1. It would be better to have the missiles on her, but i do not find it excessively weird not to have them on.

      Something has gone quite dramatically wrong if the carrier is firing missiles in anger to take down incoming enemies or missiles.
      They should be intercepted well away from the carrier.

    2. CdG, US Carriers, even the Russians all have SAMs along side CIWS on their carriers.

  6. @Anonymous 12.05 pm

    "The problem that I see with the CVF carrying LCVP is that would you really want to put a CVF close enough to shore for them to be used? ......However would it really be acceptable to have the CVF that close?"

    Sorry, I have only just seen this. Strikes me as one of the most important points made so far. You really would not want to bring such expensive ships close to the shore. Look at how far Admiral Woodward kept his carriers away from the Falklands during that campaign.

    It just shows that we need to get some "over-the-horizon" amphibious kit in as soon as finances allow. Fast landing craft and possibly V-22 Osprey but I am probably indulging in fantasy here!

    1. In the reality of budgets and worst case, that is how I see PoW being used. QE as the main F35B.strike platform. In such a case, the amphibious assault CVF would then need more escort ships, as I argued in earlier comments.

  7. Good, well thought out article again Gaby. The point about LCVP 'capability' ... as that is how I see it ... is just one part of the overall package so far as these carriers are concerned. Perhaps the davits would handle the 'British" version of the CB90. The publicised tri-service multi tasking use of these platforms is very much the factor to concentrate on. It seems that the embarked capability will very much depend on and be tailored to the tasking and expected 'opposition' which in itself will dictate the operating box or area and its distance offshore. I have recently read articles that raise the topic of terrorist or non-state actors perhaps acquiring anti-ship missiles .... the range/capability of any such opposition would dictate distance offshore. I don't see us going anywhere in the future without knowing what tools we need to put in the box and LCVP'S or CB90 may well be just a couple of the tools in these 65000 tonne boxes.

    1. That's correct: large davits capable to take the LCVP add flexibility, and can take the CB90 or anyway the planned force protection craft.
      That's why i hope that carriers will have them.


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