Friday, October 01, 2010

The carriers should be scrapped before they are built

Engineer's in NASA used to nickname the space shuttle "Rosemary's baby" after the horror film on the grounds that it is a Satanic miscreant which could one day destroy those who have nurtured it.

NASA took a bad wrong turn with the space shuttle which eat the majority of its budget just to fool around in low earth orbit.

The UK is lining up for a similar mistake with the new Carriers, conceived as a way of making Labour look tough on defence which putting lots of jobs into Labour Celtic heartland to make the point about how important the Union, and not voting SNP, are.

The problems are the new carriers are very expensive ( much more so as they are built in UK yards ), heavily manned, require whats left of the surface fleet to defend and support them, have the wrong fuel option ( politically correct choice of non-nuclear - hence need for vast and vulnerable supply methods ), and too expensive to build enough of them (3) to be credibly used in a shooting war against another half competent navy. ( Obviously its Argentina were talking about here ).

We can't afford the aircraft to fly of them, and anyway manned flight is on its way out. UAV's are changing the nature of warfare - why bust the defence budget on a pair of dinosaurs just at the moment that new military realities are emerging.

Add to this the emergence of the fruits of Russian efforts to defeat US carrier battle groups with its Sunburn missiles ( sold to N Korea and Iran ) which smash into the deck of the carrier at Mach 3 whilst flying in with a crazy evading flight pattern. ( The US Navy has said it won't build any more carriers until it sorts out how to defend against this . )

Yes command of the air is vital to naval power - but we are going to have to figure out how to do it on less money, with smaller ships and robots.

Building and operating the carriers will destroy the UK's defence capability. They should be scrapped.

See also: Not a Sheep

And this from SinoDefence - which show a weapons system against which we have no defence which could eliminate our one carrier in minutes.


concrete pump said...

Liked the link to the Sunburn missile story. A friend of mine who knows a couple of bods in the US military reckons the yanks are close to sorting out a massive 'metal storm' defence system.
Metal storm has been around for a while... this will knock the spots off Phalanx when sorted.

trevorsden said...

Correct - we currently see frantic activity from every man and his dog with a connection to a scottish seat trying to persuade us to subsidise shipworkers (and BAE) with these pointless ships.

we need smaller more versatile helicopters and / or harrier carrier type ships and versatile cruiser/ frigates.

Man in a Shed said...

And I should add that the Chinese have solved the mathematical problem of targeting ICBM's at moving targets. This, coupled with satellite surveillance means no ship is safe anywhere.

Also realise that every iPhone is a missile guidance system ( with a little adjustment ) and you can imagine swarms of hypersonic missiles descending on a carrier at a fraction of the cost of one ship's helicopter.

We really need a big rethink...

David Cotton said...

This is an interesting little rant, but one that is big on hot air and small on detail.

Firstly, "The problems are the new carriers are very expensive ( much more so as they are built in UK yards )". Do you have evidence of like-for-like comparisons? The French carrier Charles De Gaulle cost 3 billion Euros when it was constructed ten years ago, for a ship that was two-thirds the size of the Queen Elizabeth class. The two ships in the QE class, however, are expected to cost £3.9 billion. It makes the QE class look like good value at £2 billion each. So why do you think that they are more expensive as they are built in UK yards?

Secondly, you claim they are 'heavily manned'. Which is patent rubbish. The existing Invincible class carriers have a complement of over 700 souls, and we had, until recently, three ships. Both the new QE class will have around 600 souls each, which as anyone can see is a large reduction in terms of manpower. (note that I do not believe this includes the personnel involved in the air wing in either case)

Thirdly, although you rightly mention the threats posed by new missile systems (but not, strangely, by some new submarine developments), not doing something because there *might* be a threat seems rather silly. Threats have to be quantified and rated against the advantages.

Which brings me to my next point. Fourthly, you fail to mention any advantages of having the carriers, and they are not just a job-creation scheme for our Celtic brothers (besides, large parts are being built in Portsmouth and elsewhere). The RAF currently only have a relatively small 'reach' footprint (i.e. they cannot patrol much of the world from their fixed bases). We have no long-range bomber fleet. Therefore aircraft carriers can help us protect our interests (or project power) over much of the globe. Global-reach Combat UAVs are slow and exceptionally vulnerable. Do you want to do without that capability?

Fifthly, you claim, "... manned flight is on its way out. UAV's are changing the nature of warfare." Be very careful when making such claims, and look at the occasions when manned flight has been declared dead before - for instance in Duncan Sandy's 1957 defence white paper, where missiles were seen as reducing the need for manned aircraft. The US thought the same as well, which was why the beginnings of the Vietnam war was so painful for their pilots.

So, although aircraft carriers are expensive, they do fill a potential strategic requirement, and one that the RAF cannot fill. What you have to decide is whether those strategic requirements need to be met and, if so, how we fill them without aircraft carriers.

IMHO, a much better criticism of the QE class carriers is what we put on them. The air wing to fill the aircraft carriers - currently scheduled to be the F35 - will cost far more than the carriers themselves. I would be tempted to increase the cost of the carriers by making them CATOBAR-capable and buy cheaper (but capable, and tried-and-tested) fleets of F18's or Rafales over the F35s. The F35 project is in deep trouble already, and no-one knows the final cost of the airframes. Having CATOBAR would also give us the ability to have early-warning planes on board.

There are many arguments against building the QE class, especially in their current form. Unfortunately your post misses the target.

Anonymous said...

Can you provide a link to show North Korea has purchased the P-270 Moskit or Mosquito (the NATO designation SS-N-22 Sunburn is unhelpful as it refers to the Mosquito and Chelomei two different missile systems). Only the Su33 Flanker-D aircraft can launch the Mosquito, North Korea does not have Su33s so could only use ships as launch platforms – which evens up the odds.

Brian said...

Please can we accept that WWI bankrupted this country, the Great Depression further bankrupted it, WW2 bankrupted it again, the Cold War cost oodles and the banking Crash bankrupted us again. We are no longer a world power as we have given our former Empire independence (yet spend more now on it through international aid). Can we please concentrate on defending very, very well the British Isles and surrounding waters? By defending I include investing in high-tech industry. Let johnny and jack foreigner behave like foreigners as they will claim asylum here whether we intervene or not so why waste blood and gold for the egos of the FCO and MoD?.

Man in a Shed said...

@David Cotton:

Since the General De-Gaul is nuclear powered I'm guessing a direct cost comparison isn't going to be valid.

Will the current project come in on target ? No doubt the MOD has signed a tighter contact with this project - but we will see what happens if the money runs out and the contractor can't handle the losses.( The press today has an article over the need to bring in cheap workers from Poland to keep the project on target. )

Your point on manning is however good, though the air wing will be much larger - if the aircraft can be afforded.

But the underlying problem is the change of environment one - that robotic warfare and weapons technology make defending a carrier vastly harder. These sort of innovations often have a false dawn - but that doesn't stop the change coming.

The long and short continues to be that we won't be able to defend or risk using these carriers in a shooting war with a capable opponent. And those who aren't so capable can be dealt with a much lower cost with other means.