At the Thin Pinstriped Line, “Sir Humphrey” looks at Spain’s all-but-certain exit from the ranks of carrier-equipped navies:
In Spain for instance the veteran carrier Principe De Asturias (PDA) has finally been paid off after some 25 years service as part of budget cuts. It is perhaps ironic to consider that she was originally conceived in the early 1980s as a cheap ‘Sea Control Ship’ solution originally looked at by the US Navy to provide cheaper carriers. Intended to put ASW helicopters to sea as a replacement for the Delado, she represented the closest any nation has perhaps come to a truly ‘austere’ carrier, with minimal support facilities for the airwing. Optimised in the first for ASW, with a very limited fixed wing capability using the Harrier (although never to the same level of development as the UK with the mixed FA2 / GR7 airwing), the PDA was an example in the 1980s of how smaller ‘harrier carriers’ could be built for emerging middle tier navies, providing them with airpower at relatively small cost. In reality she remained the sole of her class built around the world, with the closest other example being a Thai vessel optimised for EEZ protection and to act as a Royal Yacht.
Although the Spanish have built a large LPH, with carrier facilities (the Juan Carlos) as a second platform relatively recently, she is not an aircraft carrier in the conventional sense, and with the Spanish economic crisis deepening, it seems likely that PDA will not be directly replaced by another ‘proper’ aircraft carrier.
Similarly, with the emphasis on Juan Carlos as an assault ship, it seems likely that the small fleet of Spanish harriers (less than 15 airframes) will be increasingly vulnerable to defence cuts in an economy which is desperately struggling. The chances of seeing a credible Spanish fixed wing aviation capability beyond the next few years seem slim, and at a time when they are struggling to afford sustaining a relatively small buy of Eurofighters, it seems hard to envisage introduction of the JSF too.
So, Spain is perhaps the first carrier casualty of the economic crisis, although Italy is also looking increasingly vulnerable. The Guissepe Garibaldi is now nearly 30 years old, and again is unlikely to be directly replaced. Mindful of the recent cuts to the Italian Navy which will see a near 20% cull in manpower, and significant loss of hulls across the fleet, it again seems less and less likely that a credible carrier aviation capability can be sustained in a single hull (the Cavour). Having seen both these nations enter the ‘Carrier Club’ in the 1980s, one cannot help but wonder if they will be leaving it as full time members in the not too distant future?
Update: BBC News is reporting that the US Navy is planning a new class of UAV carriers:
The new project has been dubbed Tern (Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node) after a sea-bird known for its endurance.
Darpa programme manager Daniel Patt, said: “Enabling small ships to launch and retrieve long-endurance UAVs on demand would greatly expand our situational awareness and our ability to quickly and flexibly engage in hotspots over land or water.”
He added: “It is like having a falcon return to the arm of any person equipped to receive it, instead of to the same static perch every time.”