July 27, 2014

Floating HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

Three hours of careful work compressed into a short video:

July 4, 2014

The Queen formally names the new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:18

A break with tradition, as the ship was christened with a bottle of Bowmore whisky, rather than a bottle of champagne:

HMS Queen Elizabeth is pictured in Rosyth Dockyard where Queen Elizabeth II will formally name the Royal Navy’s biggest ever ship on July 4, 2014 in Fife, Scotland. With whisky replacing the more traditional champagne at the ceremony, Queen Elizabeth II will smash a bottle of Islay malt whisky against HMS Queen Elizabeth at the event at Rosyth Dockyard, where the 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier has been assembled and fitted out. (Photo by Andrew Milligan – WPA Pool /Getty Images)

A bottle of whisky was smashed on the hull of the 65,000-tonne HMS Queen Elizabeth — the first of two new Royal Navy aircraft carriers being built.

The Red Arrows flew over the dockyard before the ship was officially named.

First Sea Lord Admiral George Zambellas said the ship was “fit for a Queen”.

HMS Queen Elizabeth will be a national instrument of power and a national symbol of authority,” he said in a speech.

“That means she will be a national icon too, all the while keeping the great in Great Britain and the royal in Royal Navy.”

Addressing the audience, the Queen said the “innovative and first class” warship, the largest ever to be built in the UK, ushered in an “exciting new era”.

“In sponsoring this new aircraft carrier, I believe the Queen Elizabeth will be a source of inspiration and pride for us all,” she said.

“May God bless her and all who sail in her.”

And even the bloody BBC gets it wrong: the ship is named for Queen Elizabeth I, not the current monarch … when the Royal Navy names a ship for a monarch, like the battleship HMS King George V for example, it indicates which King George is being memorialized. HMS Queen Elizabeth is the third time the Royal Navy has named a ship for the Virgin Queen: the first being the lead ship of a class of super-dreadnoughts launched just before the outbreak of WW1, and the second being the lead ship of a class of never-built aircraft carriers in the 1960s (no, I don’t know why that counts: ask the RN about that).

Update 17 July: A few photos from Jeff Head’s Flickr stream show the contrast between the soon-to-be-retired HMS Illustrious and the soon-to-be-launched HMS Queen Elizabeth:

Queen Elizabeth ready for launch, next to HMS Illustrious (Photo by Jeff Head)

HMS Queen Elizabeth ready for launch, next to HMS Illustrious (Photo by Jeff Head)

HMS Queen Elizabeth ready for christening, with HMS Illustrious in the foreground. (Photo by Jeff Head)

HMS Queen Elizabeth ready for christening, with HMS Illustrious in the foreground. (Photo by Jeff Head)

April 20, 2014

When is a carrier not a carrier?

Filed under: Military, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:00

Robert Farley examines the claim that the US Navy has 10 aircraft carriers:

The U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6) returns to Huntington Ingalls Shipyard, Pascagoula, Mississippi (USA), after completing sea trials. During the trials, the ship's main propulsion, communications, steering, navigational and radar systems were tested for the first time at sea. America will be the first ship of its class, replacing the Tarawa-class of amphibious assault ships.

The U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6) returns to Huntington Ingalls Shipyard, Pascagoula, Mississippi (USA), after completing sea trials. During the trials, the ship’s main propulsion, communications, steering, navigational and radar systems were tested for the first time at sea. America will be the first ship of its class, replacing the Tarawa-class of amphibious assault ships.

Last week the U.S. Navy accepted USS America, first of the America-class amphibious assault ships, into service. Unlike most recent amphibious assault ships, USS America and her sister USS Tripoli lack well-decks, instead focusing on aviation facilities. When fully operational, America and Tripoli will operate as many as 20 F-35Bs, potentially playing a critical role in what the Navy projects as the future of air superiority.

Inevitably, the delivery of USS America rekindles the ongoing conversation over what, precisely, constitutes an aircraft carrier. In the United States, we endure the polite fiction that the USN’s 45,000 ton aircraft carriers are not aircraft carriers, but rather some other kind of creature. USS America is roughly the same size as the French Charles De Gaulle and the INS Vikramaditya, although a bit smaller than the RFS Admiral Kuzetsov or her Chinese sister, the Liaoning. America is considerably larger than recent aircraft-carrying ships constructed for the Korean, Japanese, and Australian navies.

As an educator, I can attest to some frustration in relating to students that the United States operates ten aircraft carriers, plus another nine ships that we would refer to as aircraft carriers if they served in any other navy. And while I appreciate the desire of analysts to differently categorize the capabilities of Wasp and Nimitz-class carriers, I wish that people had a firmer grasp on the abject silliness of claiming that a 45,000 ton flat-decked aircraft-carrying warship is not, in fact, an aircraft carrier. Think of the children.

Wikimedia offers this visual aid to understanding the relative sizes and carrying capacity of aircraft carriers from the US Navy and other navies:

World navy aircraft carrier size comparison

April 19, 2014

The Doolittle Raid, 18 April 1942

Filed under: History, Japan, Military, Pacific, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:35

I was busy with away-from-the-computer stuff yesterday, so I didn’t see this post until today:

Brig. Gen. James Doolittle poses beside an Air Corps recruiting poster that alludes to his bombing raid on Japan in April 1942. (c) 1943

Brig. Gen. James Doolittle poses beside an Air Corps recruiting poster that alludes to his bombing raid on Japan in April 1942. (c) 1943

Less than 19 weeks after the U.S. Navy was attacked at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the American military struck back. On April 18, 1942 – 72 years ago today – sixteen Army Air Force bombers launched from a Navy aircraft carrier to attack the enemy’s homeland.

Led by Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, the raid was launched from USS Hornet, commanded by Capt. Marc Mitscher and escorted by ships under the command of Vice Adm. “Bull” Halsey aboard his flagship, USS Enterprise.

The extraordinary joint Doolittle Raid showed Imperial Japan’s military leaders their vulnerability and America’s resolve.

The raid also demonstrated innovation, courage and resilience.

The five-man B-25 crews trained relentlessly prior to their mission, with specialized training led by Navy flight instructor Lt. Henry F. Miller. The Army Air Force made ingenious modifications so the bombers could have extra fuel but less weight.

Pilots, all volunteers, needed to be extremely fearless, taking off in their huge planes from a short flight deck. On rough seas they launched in bitter cold, 75-knot winds and foam-flecked spray, as Sailors aboard recalled.

Doolittle, as his team’s leader, took off first. His success inspired the other pilots just as their entire mission would inspire the nation – putting action to the nationwide words of resolve heard throughout the world: “Remember Pearl Harbor!”


An Army Air Force B-25B bomber takes off from USS Hornet (CV 8) at the start of the raid, April 18, 1942. Note men watching from the signal lamp platform at right. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives – Courtesy of the NHHC Photo archives)

An Army Air Force B-25B bomber takes off from USS Hornet (CV 8) at the start of the raid, April 18, 1942. Note men watching from the signal lamp platform at right. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives – Courtesy of the NHHC Photo archives)

Seven Doolittle Raiders were killed in the mission: Two drowned and a third was killed by the fall after bailing out; eight were captured by the Japanese. Three of the eight POWs were executed Oct. 15, 1942, and another died of malnutrition Dec. 1, 1943. The surviving four POWs were released in August 1945.

The Raiders who landed in China were assisted by American missionary Rev. John M. Birch, whose contacts within Japanese-occupied China helped the Raiders to escape. Afterward, Birch was commissioned a lieutenant in the Army Air Force, continuing his work as a missionary while gathering intelligence on the Japanese. He was killed Aug. 25, 1945, at the age of 27, during a confrontation with Chinese Communists. The John Birch Society honors Birch, a recipient of both the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Service Medal.

Even though the Doolittle Raiders bombed Tokyo, it was the Chinese who suffered the most from the raid. Furious the Chinese nationalists were protecting the Americans, the Japanese retaliated against several coastal cities suspected of harboring the Americans, killing an estimated 250,000 Chinese citizens.

Doolittle was so convinced his mission had been a failure, he was convinced he would face a court-martial upon his return to the United States. Instead, he was promoted to general, skipping the rank of colonel. He and all of his Raiders were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Mitscher served in a variety of command leadership positions for the rest of World War II, earning the rank of admiral and title as Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet.

January 31, 2014

Paper Dragon?

Filed under: China, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:41

In The Diplomat, Ian Easton gives some anecdotal run-downs of People’s Liberation Army operations (and mishaps) over the last decade:

In April 2003, the Chinese Navy decided to put a large group of its best submarine talent on the same boat as part of an experiment to synergize its naval elite. The result? Within hours of leaving port, the Type 035 Ming III class submarine sank with all hands lost. Never having fully recovered from this maritime disaster, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is still the only permanent member of the United Nations Security Council never to have conducted an operational patrol with a nuclear missile submarine.

China is also the only member of the UN’s “Big Five” never to have built and operated an aircraft carrier. While it launched a refurbished Ukrainian built carrier amidst much fanfare in September 2012 – then-President Hu Jintao and all the top brass showed up – soon afterward the big ship had to return to the docks for extensive overhauls because of suspected engine failure; not the most auspicious of starts for China’s fledgling “blue water” navy, and not the least example of a modernizing military that has yet to master last century’s technology.

Indeed, today the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) still conducts long-distance maneuver training at speeds measured by how fast the next available cargo train can transport its tanks and guns forward. And if mobilizing and moving armies around on railway tracks sounds a bit antiquated in an era of global airlift, it should – that was how it was done in the First World War.


While recent years have witnessed a tremendous Chinese propaganda effort aimed at convincing the world that the PRC is a serious military player that is owed respect, outsiders often forget that China does not even have a professional military. The PLA, unlike the armed forces of the United States, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and other regional heavyweights, is by definition not a professional fighting force. Rather, it is a “party army,” the armed wing of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Indeed, all career officers in the PLA are members of the CCP and all units at the company level and above have political officers assigned to enforce party control. Likewise, all important decisions in the PLA are made by Communist Party committees that are dominated by political officers, not by operators. This system ensures that the interests of the party’s civilian and military leaders are merged, and for this reason new Chinese soldiers entering into the PLA swear their allegiance to the CCP, not to the PRC constitution or the people of China.

This may be one reason why China’s marines (or “naval infantry” in PLA parlance) and other amphibious warfare units train by landing on big white sandy beaches that look nothing like the west coast of Taiwan (or for that matter anyplace else they could conceivably be sent in the East China Sea or South China Sea). It could also be why PLA Air Force pilots still typically get less than ten hours of flight time a month (well below regional standards), and only in 2012 began to have the ability to submit their own flight plans (previously, overbearing staff officers assigned pilots their flight plans and would not even allow them to taxi and take-off on the runways by themselves).

And yet, despite the occasional comic opera situation, the PLA (especially the PLAN) seems to be more dangerous to neighbouring countries:

Yet none of this should be comforting to China’s potential military adversaries. It is precisely China’s military weakness that makes it so dangerous. Take the PLA’s lack of combat experience, for example. A few minor border scraps aside, the PLA hasn’t seen real combat since the Korean War. This appears to be a major factor leading it to act so brazenly in the East and South China Seas. Indeed, China’s navy now appears to be itching for a fight anywhere it can find one. Experienced combat veterans almost never act this way. Indeed, history shows that military commanders that have gone to war are significantly less hawkish than their inexperienced counterparts. Lacking the somber wisdom that comes from combat experience, today’s PLA is all hawk and no dove.

January 11, 2014

Spain downsizes their navy under economic pressure

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:11

Spain has decommissioned 18 ships over the past six years, including the aircraft carrier Príncipe de Asturias:

Despite increased budgets and investment in certain weapon developments, the Spanish Ministry of Defence states that their overall budget has depleted by 32% since the start of the financial crisis, with 8.4 billion in the kitty in 2008, dropping to a mere 5.75 billion planned for 2014.

As a result, the Ministry says that it has no choice but to reduce costs, thus resulting in a significant reduction in high profile military elements, like the decommissioning of 18 naval ships in the past 6 years.

One of the most iconic ships to be withdrawn last year was the aircraft carrier Príncipe de Asturias, decommissioned after 25 years of service, considered a somewhat tragic sight when she arrived at the Arsenal Militar de Ferrol for final discharge from service. But as the last Captain of the vessel, Alfredo Rodríguez Fariñas, explained, modernization and maintenance of the ‘Prince of Asturias’ cost the MoD a hundred million per year.

Part of the strategy is the withdrawal of these costly and purpose built ships, in favour of more modern craft that meets the needs to the Navy’s international mission, such as the activities in the Indian Ocean where the frigate Álvaro de Bazán and maritime action ship Tornado are currently patrolling, and the ship Cantabria, currently in the sea off the Australian coast.

Spanish navy's Juan Carlos and Principe de Asturias

Spanish navy's Juan Carlos and Príncipe de Asturias

November 5, 2013

Lake Michigan’s carrier fleet

Filed under: History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:21

I’d never heard of the US Navy’s carrier training ships that operated on Lake Michigan from 1942-45, so this link to a thread at Warbird Information Exchange from Roger Henry was of great interest:

This thread may give you a nice idea of what that exercise was all about. Many interesting images to study here and quite possibly of interest to those who are involved with the restoration of aircraft that have been recovered from the Lakes. I have also included a page from my dad’s logbook showing his 1st thru 8th carrier landings on the USS Wolverine in July 1944. Sources are the NMNA archives, Library of Congress photo archives, LIFE image archives.

This will be a large photo thread in a few parts so we’ll start with the two principal ships.

WIKI: USS Sable (IX-81) was a training ship of the United States Navy during World War II. Originally built as the Greater Buffalo, a sidewheel excursion steamer, she was converted in 1942 to a freshwater aircraft carrier to be used on the Great Lakes. She was used for advanced training for naval aviators in carrier takeoffs and landings. One aviator that trained upon the Sable was future president George H. W. Bush. Following World War II, Sable was decommissioned on 7 November 1945. She was sold for scrapping on 7 July 1948 to the H.H. Buncher Company.

The steamship 'Greater Buffalo' before it was converted to the 'USS Sable' (IX-81).

The steamship Greater Buffalo before it was converted to the USS Sable (IX-81).

Overhead view of the training aircraft carrier 'Sable' (IX 81) underway on Lake Michigan with an FM Wildcat making a deck launch from the flattop 1945

Overhead view of the training aircraft carrier Sable (IX 81) underway on Lake Michigan with an FM Wildcat making a deck launch from the flattop 1945

I was initially surprised that both training carriers were converted side-paddle steamers … I’d have thought the extra costs in converting to propeller drive would make them less-than ideal conversion subjects — you can clearly see in the second image that they left the side-paddles in place, so the main cost of conversion was the construction of the flight deck and repositioning the smokestacks to the starboard side (no hangar deck, elevators, or catapults in evidence):

WIKI: USS Wolverine (IX-64) a side-wheel excursion steamer built in 1913—was originally named Seeandbee, a name based upon her owners’ company name, the Cleveland and Buffalo Transit Co.[4] She was constructed by the American Ship Building Company of Wyandotte, Michigan. The Navy acquired the sidewheeler on 12 March 1942 and designated her an unclassified miscellaneous auxiliary, IX-64. She was purchased by the Navy in March 1942 and conversion to a training aircraft carrier began on 6 May 1942.[5] The name Wolverine was approved on 2 August 1942 with the ship being commissioned on 12 August 1942.[5][6] Intended to operate on Lake Michigan, IX-64 received its name because the state of Michigan is known as the Wolverine State.

The steamship 'Seeandbee' before it was converted to the 'USS Wolverine' (IX-64)

The steamship Seeandbee before it was converted to the USS Wolverine (IX-64)

A view of the USS Wolverine (IX-64) while underway in Lake Michigan 1942

A view of the USS Wolverine (IX-64) while underway in Lake Michigan 1942

And given that almost all the pilots were still learning their trade — these were training ships, after all — there were more than a few mishaps:

USS Sable (IX 81) showing a TBF hanging over the side after crashing during carrier qualifications on Lake Michigan.

USS Sable (IX 81) showing a TBF hanging over the side after crashing during carrier qualifications on Lake Michigan.

FM-2 Wildcat after crash onboard USS Sable

FM-2 Wildcat after crash onboard USS Sable

October 29, 2013

Even selling the USS Forrestal for $1 was a win for the US Navy

Filed under: Economics, Environment, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:21

Several people have commented about the headlines proclaiming that the very first supercarrier had been sold for a princely sum of $1, but Strategy Page explains why even that token dollar was better than all the other options:

The U.S. Navy recently sold a decommissioned (in 1993) aircraft carrier (USS Forrestal) for scrap. The ship yard that will take the Forrestal apart (All Star Metals of Texas) paid the navy one cent ($.01) for the ship. That’s because this was the best deal the navy could get. That’s because it will cost many millions to take the ship apart in a legal fashion (being careful to avoid releasing any real or imagined harmful substances into the environment). The other alternative was to sink the Forrestal at sea. But this requires partial disassembly (to remove anything that could or might pollute the ocean), that would be even more expensive.


Since the 1990s, sending warships to the scrap yard has not been considered a viable alternative. It’s all about pollution, bad press, and cost. That was because of the experience with the largest warship to be scrapped to date, the 45,000 ton carrier USS Coral Sea. This ship took until 2000 (seven years) to be broken up. Thus, the new ecologically correct process was not only expensive but it took a long time. Then the navy discovered that the cost of scrapping a nuclear powered carrier like the USS Enterprise would be close to a billion dollars. This was largely the result of a lot more environmental and safety regulations. With so many navy ships (especially nuclear subs) being broken up in the 1990s, and all these new regulations arriving, the cost of disposing of these ships skyrocketed. This was especially true with carriers.

So for over a decade the navy just tied up retired ships and waited for some better solution to appear. That never happened. In fact, the situation has gotten worse. The navy only has one ship scrapping facility (Brownsville, Texas), so only one carrier at a time can be dismantled. Using official estimates of the time required to dismantle each of the biggest ships, it’ll take seven decades to get rid of the surviving conventionally powered carriers. Note also that the conventional carrier in the absolute worst shape, the USS John F Kennedy, is the one being officially retained in category B reserve (but only until Congress forgets all about her, of course). Name recognition really does count.

It gets worse. With the really vast number of single hull tankers being scrapped and large numbers of old, smaller-capacity container ships laid up and likely to be offered for scrap fairly soon, the market for difficult-to-scrap naval ships is going to shrivel and the price for scrap steel will drop. Efforts to get the navy to include the costs of disposal in the budget for lifetime costs has never caught on and now it’s obvious why not. The real nightmare begins with the first nuclear powered carrier (the 93,000 ton USS Enterprise), which began the decommissioning process in late 2012 (with the lengthy removal of all classified or reusable equipment). The cost of dismantling this ship (and disposing of radioactive components) may be close to $2 billion.

October 10, 2013

Periscope view of HMS Illustrious, courtesy HMCS Corner Brook

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:55

Submariners love other ships … as potential targets:

In 2007 HMCS Corner Brook, a diesel-electric submarine of the Canadian navy, sneaked up on Illustrious during an exercise in the Atlantic.

HMS Illustrious in HMCS Corner Brook's periscopeTo prove they could have sunk the carrier, Corner Brook’s crew snapped a photo through the periscope — and the Canadian navy helpfully published it. “The picture represents hard evidence that the submarine was well within attack parameters and would have been successful in an attack,” boasted Cmdr. Luc Cassivi, commander of the Canadian submarine division.

Corner Brook, a former British submarine displacing only 2,400 tons, is no more capable than Dallas — and probably much less so once crew training is taken into account. American submariners spend far more time at sea than their Canadian counterparts.

Dallas and Corner Brook scored their simulated carrier kills against allied warships in the context of a scripted exercise. But many other close encounters between subs and flattops have occurred between rival nations deep at sea, in a usually bloodless duel that is nevertheless deadly serious.

September 29, 2013

Royal Navy carrier operations without carriers

Filed under: Britain, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:01

Strategy Page on the Royal Navy’s need to keep their carrier operation knowledge up while they wait for the first of the two new aircraft carriers to come into service:

These two decisions [switching to catapult operation, then reversing the switch] cost the Royal Navy about $115 million in additional expenses, which is a small part of the cost growth of the two carriers (from $5.8 billion in 2007 to over $8 billion now). The size of the ships has also grown, from 40,000 tons in the first plan (late 1990s), to 58,000 tons when construction started, to 70,000 tons now. There won’t be much more weight increases because the first ship has had its hull largely completed and will leave dry dock next year. Sea trials are planned for 2017 and initial flight operations in 2018. Commissioning is to occur by 2020. Construction on the second carrier (the Prince of Wales) began in 2011. These are the largest warships ever built in Britain and require the efforts of some 10,000 people in 90 companies and 6 shipyards (for building sections of the ships as well as other components).

There are some other problems that required more innovative solutions. For example, in 2011, the Royal Navy retired all its Harrier aircraft and the last aircraft carrier that the Harriers operated from. That presented a problem, as the first of two new carriers won’t enter service until the end of the decade. The admirals knew that once the new carrier (Queen Elizabeth) entered service a new generation of pilots would have to be trained to take off and land on a carrier. While the Harriers could land and take off like a helicopter, they often took off (via a “ski jump” flight deck) so they could carry more weight (especially bombs) into action. To deal with this Britain will have four of its naval aviators serve on American aircraft carriers over the next decade, to maintain Royal Navy knowledge of how pilots operate jet aircraft off carriers. The British naval officers will learn to fly F-18s in order to do this. While Britain and the U.S. regularly exchange fighter pilots, this is a special case. The British know from experience that it’s easier to train new pilots with experienced Royal Navy carrier pilots. Thus the need to maintain that experience by having British aviators flying F-18s off American carriers until the new British carriers arrive.

September 9, 2013

When politicians meddle in defence matters

Filed under: Britain, Military, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

An interesting report in Herald Scotland by Kate Devlin illustrates some of the problems created when politicians make decisions without adequately consulting with the civil service:

The man in charge of equipment at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has warned officials offer “opinion” not fact on defence programmes, including the aircraft carriers being built on the Clyde, because of pressure from ministers.

In recent years the department has become notorious for overspends and procurement problems. But Bernard Gray said that civil servants in his department had “their arms put up behind their backs” to produce hasty costings for projects.

Earlier this week Mr Gray revealed that in 2010, when Tory MP Liam Fox was Defence Secretary, officials were given just hours to estimate the cost of changing the planes to fly from the carriers.

Mistakes in that process led to a humiliating U-turn by Mr Fox’s replacement Philip Hammond last year and have cost the taxpayer at least £74million.

Appearing before a separate committee of MPs, Mr Gray said officials should have been given six months, not a day, to complete the work. He said what was eventually provided was “opinion”.

“People (within the MoD) come under pressure, with people saying, ‘Everybody wants to know, we have to have an answer today,’” he said.

September 6, 2013

Construction report on HMS Queen Elizabeth

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:11

BBC News had a report on the aircraft that are supposed to be available for HMS Queen Elizabeth when she is brought into Royal Navy service later this decade. They also included an older video on the state of the ship’s construction, which happily had been posted to YouTube (most BBC videos at their site are non-embeddable):

Published on 10 May 2013

Work on the first of the Royal Navy’s two new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers is well under way at a dockyard in Rosyth.

The structure is almost complete in what is now the largest engineering project in the UK.

A government U-turn over fighter jets for the carriers cost taxpayers £74m, according to a new report by the National Audit Office.

The BBC’s Defence Correspondent Jonathan Beale saw the progress being made on the ship.

The Press Association also had a video from June:

September 4, 2013

More on Britain’s aircraft carrier program

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

The always informative Sir Humphrey responds to yesterday’s Daily Mail and other media reports on the CVF program:

The first thing that struck the author on reading it was that it highlighted the challenges posed in bringing any large piece of equipment into service. There was a lot of comments about the risk posed to the UK by not having the so-called ‘Crowsnest’ AEW capability in service until 2022 which left the platform at risk. It is very easy to focus on the idea that a carrier is late, and that is a relatively simple piece of kit, so why should it take so long to bring into service? In reality the introduction into service of CVF is a watershed moment for the Royal Navy — it will represent a step change in capability, and merge together several very different capabilities which the RN has either not operated for a while, or which it has not operated at all. At its heart the RN is having to simultaneously introduce a brand new class of ship into service, with all the technical risk that this entails. This is then backed up by the near simultaneous introduction into service of the most technically advanced jet the UK has ever operated, and also bring the UK back into the world of fixed wing carrier operations, a skill which even with the mitigation measures in place will still be a challenge to regain. Its also about bringing a new AEW platform into service, after a near 6 year gap in cover, and again with all the very considerable technical risk posed by this. Finally its about bringing the whole package together and working with the rest of the RN to ensure that what exists isn’t just a collection of equipment of very levels of operational utility and capability, but is in fact a fully worked up and integrated system which has an effect far beyond the sum of its parts.


One thing that reads through very clearly in the evidence is the clear emphasis that CVF is seen as a joint asset for Coalition operations. While obviously it provides a national capability in extremis, it is clear that provision of a CVF hull and airwing is seen as a major means of the UK working with coalition partners. This is an important part of the reality of future naval operations — while we like to fondly imagine that CVF provides the UK with the ability to work in isolation, in reality its an asset that will provide great influence in coalition work. The evidence is clear that in future the UK sees provision of CVF on operations as being part of a wider multi-national force, and particularly early in its life, there is an expectation that capability gaps such as AEW would be met either by working with partner nations, or by wider UK assets (e.g. AEW Sentry).

This is important as it highlights the gradual shift in UK thinking away from funding the provision of an entire wholesale package of capabilities into assuming that risks can be taken in some areas. When one reads the evidence though, it is suddenly clear how far fetched the scenarios sound — for instance it was only under heavy questioning, when the line of assumptions reached ‘fighting an enemy with French and US cover in high seas away from landbased cover’ did we discover that the RN may struggle a wee bit without CROWSNEST. One would hope that between 2020 and 2022 the RN is not going to be re-enacting scenes from a Tom Clancy novel?

September 3, 2013

Britain’s new aircraft carriers in the news again

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:16

It’s from the Daily Mail, so a certain level of de-hystericization is called for…along with salt to taste. First, the discovery that the two carriers will initially be without radar for early warning of incoming planes and missiles:

The Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers could set sail without a crucial radar which warns commanders of incoming enemy warplanes and missiles.

A damning report by MPs reveals the Crowsnest early warning system will not be ready until six years after the first of the £5.5billion Queen Elizabeth-class warships enters service in 2016.

Delays in fitting the ‘eyes in the sky’ system to military helicopters until 2022 were a ‘concern’, the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee (PAC) says today.

And the costs incurred by changing the planned acquisition of F-35 aircraft to equip the carriers is rather eye-watering:

The bill for the two new warships, given the green light in 2008, is almost twice the original £3.6billion — and there are ‘huge risks’ it will increase further, says the report.

MPs heap criticism on the Coalition for wasting money after a U-turn over the type of warplanes to fly from the aircraft carriers.

In 2010 ministers controversially decided to scrap the last Labour government’s plans to buy a fleet of jump jets, which take off and land vertically.

Instead, Prime Minister David Cameron ordered conventional versions of the US-built F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that would need catapults and arrester gear to take off from and land on the vessels.

But this was based on ‘deeply flawed information’, say the committee. When the cost of fitting the ships with ‘cats and traps’ more than doubled to £2billion, Mr Cameron flip-flopped and returned to buying the jump jet.

The move cost a staggering £74million in squandered in lost man hours, administrative costs and needless planning.

Labour MP Margaret Hodge, the PAC’s chairman, said: ‘The Committee is still not convinced that the MOD has this programme under control. It remains subject to huge technical and commercial risks, with the potential for further uncontrolled growth in costs.’

Queen Elizabeth class side and overhead views

Queen Elizabeth class side and overhead views

The switch back to the jump jet was made last year. Back in 2010, I was rather pessimistic that the carriers would even be built and I suggested that India would likely take them off the Royal Navy’s hands once they were complete.

August 29, 2013

The US Navy’s overstretch

Filed under: Middle East, Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Sir Humphrey points out that the Syrian situation actually shows how thin the US Navy’s resources have become:

This crisis has been dominated by impressive images of US warships firing cruise missiles, and maps showing large warships steaming menacingly in the Eastern Med. Publicly we know that four USN escorts are currently in the region, each armed with a significant quantity of missiles. What is so striking though is how this illustrates just how thinly stretched the USN is these days. Until the end of the Cold War, the Med was practically a British, then US lake. Dominated by naval bases, and home to large numbers of carriers, escorts and other vessels, any crisis would quickly have seen an almost overwhelming concentration of US firepower.

Today, the 6th Fleet has no permanently assigned escorts, and is instead reliant on other vessels transiting the area. At present it seems that three US vessels were in the area (although it is unclear I they were taken off other tasks) and one more has joined them. This is the totality of the US escort fleet in the Med (and quite possibly Europe as a whole). It is telling that there is no carrier deployed in the AOR, and that the next nearest escorts and Carrier are deployed in the Gulf. Although they could move, this would leave the Arabian Gulf without a carrier, and it is questionable whether any commander would be willing to see a CVN conduct a Suez transit right now, particularly if strikes against Syria are occurring. Partly this is a result of fewer ships, and also an impact of sequestration, where planned deployments were cancelled. The harsh reality though is that US naval power has been heavily emasculated — claims of the Med being a US lake are simply no longer true.

The worry is that this problem is only going to get worse with time; the USN faces a major challenge in keeping hull numbers up, and more importantly maintained to a reasonable level. The challenge of handling major budget cuts is that this sort of presence will inevitably be reduced. So, perhaps closer attention should be paid to how the US is meeting the response, as this is likely to be the sort of thing we’ll see in future — not overwhelming numbers of ships and aircraft, but a small number of escorts, taken off other tasks in order to do the job. One lesson is clear — the USN remains an immensely potent navy, but its ability to project the sort of power that the world is used to is perhaps far less than many realise.

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