Sunday, 21 April 2013

Could the RN really operate a US Aircraft carrier?


Humphrey has been suffering from a nasty virus recently which has left him out of action and unable to write. While firmly recovering now, he has had time to catch up on various bits of reading, both articles and on the internet. One issue which caught his interest was a subject which seems to perennially come up in various forums, particularly on ARRSE, which is the question about why the UK (or presumably certain other close allies) have not gone down the road of leasing an American aircraft carrier for introduction to the RN, either to fill the gap between CVF entering service, or alternatively in place of CVF. It is a question which has often been asked, but Humphrey has never seen anywhere set out in depth why it hasn’t happened and what has stopped it occurring in the past. As such, the aim of this article is to try and set out the arguments underpinning why leasing/buying a US carrier is simply not feasible. This in turn forms the loose first part of a two part article on warship exporting in more general terms.

For the purposes of this article, one is considering the practicality of whether such a move could occur -on cost grounds alone such a move seems unlikely, but one needs to suspend disbelief to consider this proposition anyway! 

On paper it does seem to be an interesting proposition – the US has been constructing aircraft carriers on a near continuous basis for over 60 years, and has a wealth of knowledge about how they can be built, and the shipyard facilities to support this. The argument as usually put forward is that rather than build CVF, it would be just as efficient to either lease a ‘spare’ carrier (particularly in the post sequestration environment where they are spending more time alongside) or just pay for the US to build one.

The first challenge to this idea is a very simple problem. There is no military dockyard anywhere in the UK which can accommodate a US supercarrier alongside. Were the UK to acquire one, it would either have to create an entirely new facility at an existing commercial port (e.g. Southampton) or it would have to base the vessels in the US. The creation of a new facility would be a particular challenge, as any nuclear powered vessel would require discrete berthing with security procedures to take into account the presence of nuclear reactors. One only has to consider the security in place to support the SSN/SSBN fleet to realise what would be needed for the CVN. The creation of any extra facility at a point when the RN is trying to reduce its shore based footprint would cost a great deal.

So if we have nowhere to moor the vessel, we have yet to consider the problem of propulsion. The USN no longer has any active conventionally powered super carriers, the last decommissioning a few years ago. This means that any lease / build would need to be from a nuclear powered design. The UK has never operated any surface vessels with nuclear propulsion (standfast a few tentative designs in the 1960s) and would find it a challenge to bring such a capability into service – this is without even considering the likely challenge of finding a home port which would want to see a nuclear powered aircraft carrier based there. The most significant challenge of operating a nuclear carrier would be the lack of any suitably qualified personnel to run the reactors, and then over time the drain on manpower from the wider nuclear qualified fleet. Retaining suitably qualified and experienced nuclear watchkeeping personnel is a major challenge for the RN to keep its SSN and SSBN fleet at sea – indeed one reason why the RN is allowing women to sea in submarines is arguably to help increase the potential numbers of engineers who it can recruit. While Humphrey doesn’t have the exact numbers to hand, it would be a reasonable assumption that to man a single US CVN would require the greater part of the RNs current level of nuclear trained personnel, which would have a very challenging impact on the wider fleet.

Manpower more broadly is a major challenge – it is often forgotten that the future RN manpower plot isn’t actually that big. Of a headcount of some 30,000 people, by the time you’ve stripped out the Royal Marines, Fleet Air Arm and Submarine Service, you’re left with roughly 15000 people to do everything else. A single US carrier needs some 3200 personnel just to operate the ship – by the time you work on the 3:1 ratio (e.g. to keep one person at sea requires three people in the Service) then a single carrier would require well over 9000 people in the manning pool. This is before you even consider the size of the airwing. So, even if the RN acquired a carrier it would need to stop manning the majority of the surface fleet in order to put her to sea.

If we were to assume that the manpower could, somehow, be found, then we still have the major issue of training and spare parts. US and RN warships are very different beasts, with each reflecting national design preferences. There is relatively little commonality of systems, structures or methods of operation and in taking on a USN vessel the RN would have to spend a very significant amount of time training staff to use it to best effect. There would be a large bill attached to this (e.g. creation of courses, establishment of training pipelines, refresher training and the like) which would be required just to support a single ship. Similarly, the US has a very different set of parts and technical systems in service – any carrier acquisition would require the RN to adopt an entirely new and very separate supply chain at great expense. One challenge of buying from the US is that you would be entirely reliant of the largesse of the US system to allow the sale of spare parts – the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) system is a classic example whereby the US sells a lot of basic equipment cheaply, but ties the buyer into long term supply contracts to provide its equipment, and its support to the customer. It is likely that the RN would find itself tied into very expensive US support contracts which would do wonders for the US economy but not support UK national preferences. Our ability to modify the carrier to suit our own purposes would also be reduced – in other words, buying the Carrier would probably mean buying into the US support system too. This is fine for a technologically less mature military which perhaps lacks the industrial and technological support base to run vessels, but it does mean that the RN would find itself hamstrung. By contrast CVF gives the UK total freedom of manoeuvre to change / modify or update the vessel and her systems in any manner that we see fit.

Finally one has to consider the issue of the airwing – the value of a supercarrier is being able to put up to 90 airframes to sea and position them where the US Government sees fit. The problem for the RN is that the funding does not exist to buy such an airwing, nor does the manpower exist to do so. Sending a single CVN airwing to sea would take up the majority of the Fleet Air Arms current manpower, to the detriment of most other tasks.

So, we find ourselves in a situation where to consider buying an supercarrier for the RN requires us to realise that there is nowhere to house it, not enough crew to man it, not enough aircraft to fly from it and the costs of training and supplying a single ship would be astronomical. This is to not even consider the wider damage to the UK shipbuilding capability that would result from a distortion of budget funds away from home grown construction in favour of supporting US industry.

This last point is perhaps key – we live in an era where many nations find themselves in possession of a military ship design and building capability, but where ever fewer nations seem able to secure export orders. One only has to look around the world to realise that the market for complex warships is diminishing, and where the loss of design skills probably means the end of a national capability to build complex vessels. Just look at the case of the MARS tankers, where even though they are being built in Korea, the key requirement was the protection of the UK design capability which was vital.

Increasingly warship construction is as much about economic security (e.g. protection of national assets like shipyards) as it is about physical security. The loss of an order may mean the end of a national capability to build warships. Buying from the US would mean the UK quite probably losing the ability to construct high end vessels, and as Canada is finding out now, the cost of re-establishing a shipbuilding industry is huge (see the excellent 3D’s blog by Mark Collins for more detail on the ongoing saga of Canadian shipbuilding). All those advocating the acquisition of US carriers for the Royal Navy should perhaps consider that it would not only be entirely unfeasible to support, train or operate one, but to do so may end our independent capability to build complex warships at all.

 As a follow up, the author wants to consider whether there is a market for warship exporting at all in future, and what it may look like. Time willing, the loose part two to this article will follow in the next week or so.

38 comments:

  1. a great and informative article! there are many advocates of us buying "off the shelf". but as you put it this option isn't always the best or cheapest with wider ramifications to national industry.
    strange these same people also complain about lack of manufacturing in this country.

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  2. Valid points, but.

    The US Carriers have 3000 crew, but the Burkes have a crew of 300 (45's 200), so we can conceivably push for 2000 or less on our carriers.
    Nuclear engineers is a problem, but isnt one of those problems that being on a submarine is shit, and they would like a change?

    Would basing be a problem?
    The UK is awash with dilapidated port towns.
    Knock out of town protestors on the head and you would have dozens of offers, who wouldnt want ten thousand new jobs plus secondaries?
    Have to build a big arse wharf of course.

    Having the aircraft to fill it is an issue, but, a combined coptor/jet force solves that problem, as does just having more space for bombs and shit.

    D&T is an issue, but only in certain places.
    http://theragingtory.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/made-in-uk.html
    "
    Little (No?) equipment is "Made in the UK" in any real sense.
    Take the Challenger 2.
    Made in Newcastle right?
    Wrong.
    Assembled in Newcastle.

    The fire control computer was made by a Canadian company, now owned by General Dynamics.
    The commanders sight is French, made by Sagem.
    The gunners sight is made by Thales, also French.
    The Engine was American, CAT via Perkins
    The Gearbox was American, Textron via David Brown.
    Both are now German, MTU and MAN (Renk)"

    Same for the T45, "Made in the UK", but PAAMS, the expensive bit, is french.


    Design it in the UK
    Let the Koreans weld the steel
    Tug the Hulk to the UK and fit it out.

    We keep the added value without overpaying for simple labour.


    To be fair though, its a naff idea. The CVFs are what we are getting, or nothing.

    Although I do think we should have fitted a nuke to the CVFs.
    Not fully nuclear perhaps, but an astute reactor would provide a lot of the "baseline" power

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    1. TRT
      Were the UK to look at a US design, then to put the changes you suggest ref crew, we'd be looking at an entirely new design. The whole point is that UK and US ships are designed to very different philosophies, and that actually adopting the US version would mean very expensive changes which would save nothing and make things more challenging.

      The issue of submariners is that when you have 11 nuclear submarines, you would need probably more engineers than the RN has now to man a single carriers nuclear propulsion system. You also grossly underestimate the sense of pride that many in the submarine service have in their role.

      Your argument about where kit is made is disingenous - all nations face challenges about sourcing kit. The challenge is not only ensuring that you can design it to be used, but also that it can be integrated with all the other systems you want to see used, and that you can ensure the end result works as intended.

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    2. "Your argument about where kit is made is disingenous - all nations face challenges about sourcing kit. The challenge is not only ensuring that you can design it to be used, but also that it can be integrated with all the other systems you want to see used, and that you can ensure the end result works as intended."

      I'm sorry but I dont accept there is any great skill in buying an engine and transmission from a foreign supplier and "integrating it" in to a hull.

      As I said, I dont believe the UK should operate a Nimitz, but because we might lose the skills required to plug in French missile modules isnt a reason.

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    3. Operating a SSN nuclear reactor is vastly different form Operating a CVN reactor or even a US Aegis Cruiser conventional reactor. US and UK systems as noted, are highly different in design and operational procedures.

      Yes manpower is an issue. I'm not sure that even the RN can fill the full complement for 1 CVF, let alone 2 (though highly unlikely to have both CVFs operating simultaneously unless the UK want to burst its defence spending like the US).

      The saving grace is that the RN was the creator of the angeled deck/optical landing system concept. But that would be requiring planes that have tailhooks, something the UK has never had for years. That means either loaning a few squadrons of US or French naval planes. No way the US would allow the French to operate from a leased carrier for long term. No way the US will allow its F/A-18s to be ordered around by RN personnel.

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    4. Would basing be a problem?
      The UK is awash with dilapidated port towns.
      Knock out of town protestors on the head and you would have dozens of offers, who wouldnt want ten thousand new jobs plus secondaries?
      Have to build a big arse wharf of course.
      --Armchair thinking. You think its so simple to base warships that size and maintain them?

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    5. Jeneral
      So dont operate a US Reactor, operate a UK reactor....
      Who said it was simple to base a warship?
      But Portsmouth isnt ****ing magic.

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    6. Idealistic views TrT. Go live in fairytale land.

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    7. Trt, you offer a very simplistic overview of the modern arms industry - a number of the components which you claim are 'French' because they are made by Thales are actually made by Thales UK – Thales’s largest defence subsidiary, which is UK based and operates in multiple sites acrosss the country. Having worked with them, the vast majority of their staff (over 90%) are British nationals and their primary customer is the MoD. Just because you buy from a French owned company, does not mean you are not directly supporting an indigenous British defence industry.

      In the same way BAE Systems’s North American division builds a number of critical systems solely for the US military - the fact that its workforce is predominantly made up of US citizens and its sites are located in the States means it is therefore is considered part of the US’s defence-industrial infrastructure.

      - Edmund

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  3. Truth is, buy MOTS, like a junkie the first hit is cheap and they might let you cook some of the rocks.

    When your ability to grow your own is gone? Suppliers charge what they like.

    Nation like UK opts out of the game? Even JVs like Typhoon are preferrable... stop supplying and start using?

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  4. War story - a long time ago - The Americans were pulling out of Vietnam - They said to the British and the Australians send a carrier up to us and you can have as many Hueys as you wish, otherwise we will just dump them in the sea.
    We, and the Australians didn't, so the helicopters were dumped.

    How do I know - cos I was on a carrier and I watched it happen.
    When I queried this with the "powers to be" I was told that we couldn't afford to run these items so we said "thanks, but no thanks"
    So.... nothing has changed over the years - horses for courses.

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  5. ....................not to mention the little problem of operating something built in feet and inches by Brit Kids bought up in centimetres.
    'Missile is four miles away, Capn.'
    'How far's that in English?'

    Believe me. I once ran an Italian Tanker in 1959. Mistakes do happen. Lovely ship. mind. Marble toilets and stuff, but couldn't do a week's steaming without breaking something metric, but our UK spares were in Imperial.

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  6. A large Nimitz-style CVN is clearly out of the question for the RN, but there have been a few commentators who have suggested that a pair of LHAs based on the US "America" class would have made a better choice than CVF. Based upon some very superficial research, I don't think there would have been any significant savings to be made from this option. It would seem to be a much more realistic idea than a large CVN, but would this have been a workable or beneficial solution in practice?

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  7. "... One only has to look around the world to realise that the market for complex warships is diminishing ..."

    Really? Just look at the Open Source Naval Intelligence Blog, there are articles on there several times most weeks about this country or that requiring new warships. I suppose you could argue that frigates and SSK's aren't complex warships but I am not sure many would agree. What I have never seen is news of BAE bidding for any of these jobs; the French do, as do other nations, but we don't. BAE seem, at least with shipbuilding, content to suck at the UK taxpayer tit. Maybe that arm of their operation should be nationalised.

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    1. Informative article as always, thank you Sir H.

      I'd like to pick up on HL last point. If BAE's shipbuilding arm is solely dependent on orders from the MOD and MOD won't order any warships (standfast MARS tankers and that seemed to be only because BAE couldn't fulfil) from anyone else would it not be more efficient to nationalise it?

      EU rules don't forbid it (as per Commission written answer to MEP last year question re possible nationalisation of ArcelorMittal’s Liège production site "In accordance with article 345 of the Treaty of operation of European Union (TFUE) [the Lisbon Treaty], the treaties do not prejudge of anything the mode property in the Member States. Consequently, there does not exist any Community provision prohibiting the principle of the nationalisation (or regionalisation) of a company.")

      Thoughts?

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    2. Probably because when BAES have built export warships in the UK, three out of the last three have experienced major problems.

      Brunei corvettes? Three ships rejected by Brunei allegedly on performance grounds and currently laid up in Barrow docks for over six years, although they may be off to Algeria.

      Trinidad & Tobago Coastguard vessels? Contract for three ships terminated by customer due to alleged deficiency in performance. Subsequently bought by Brazil after significant rectification work.

      Omani corvettes? Suffering significant problems in build and incurring (allegedly £600M - yes, £600M) loss on a £300M contract.

      Where BAE have been able to export, it has been to export designs to be built in Malaysia and Thailand.

      BAE have been looking at getting out of UK shipbuilding for several years - from a shareholders perspective you can understand why! Trouble is, it is actually very difficult to sustain a design capability without building some of it.

      Unfortunately, nationalising it (shipbuilding) would do nothing other than increase the median age of workforce and the corporate inability to make decisions. What is in evidence here is the impact of years of consolidation in the shipbuilding industry, where the industry constantly sheds people in the 30-40 age bracket, who are not replaced by people with equivalent experience. Result - you have people in charge who have never exeecuted a design and build project in their lives in senior positions, responsible for technical control and review of projects, with fewer and fewer greybeards left to catches the mistakes in time.

      The good news is, that the scars should improve the future, although it appears that the project management side of things on T26 has yet to learn its own lessons......

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    3. NaB - thanks for the info re the Brunei and the Omani project. I had read about the T&T issues (having wondered who the Ships were for after spotting them in the dockyard), but thought that was mainly due to a change of need brought about by a change in government in T&T. I thought it was a shame we didn't attempt to pick these vessels up for a song (noting that they don't appear to be that dissimilar to the Tyne class) as the Brazilians appear to have done.

      It does make one wonder whether we (the RN / MOD) are more forgiving of BAE's "errors" than foreign buyers. Would you think that a correct supposition?

      As for nationalisation NaB, you say that that would increase the median age of the work force, but go on to say that the current state of affairs does not allow for the accrual of experience; wouldn't a more stable nationalised industry allow for that?

      As for BAE's shipbuilding export market well (a) from what you say, they are not exactly covering themselves in glory at the moment and (b) there would be nothing to prevent a nationalised industry from getting involved in the export market.

      If we are going to treat BAE as a private company and view our relationship with them in the same way - i.e. they fail to deliver, we don't use them for the next job - then the current arrangement can continue, but if not, then something must change surely.

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    4. It's not the stability that's at issue re demographics. A nationalised industry would be even less likely to refresh it's workforce over time, which would exacerbate the problem.

      What we've had over the last fifteen years is a declining number of people in the overall industry. What has happened is that as the industry has contracted, it has held onto the older more experienced folk until they retired, paying off the generation below that (it's cheaper and people tend to walk if they see a declining future). This has resulted in a situation where you have a relatively few very senior people who have been there and done that and a lot of people at the levels below that who had not (they'd just been juniors prior to that and had no practical experience in the intermediate level posts) which is why mistakes have been made. Essentially there was a very small pool of experienced people stretched too thin, with a pool of inexperienced people in the middle making decisions and the usual bunch of juniors below.

      Now - the T45 and QEC programmes will have fixed some of that (though not all) so we should be in a better position in future. BUT a nationalised industry by definition tends towards inertia which means it's unlikely to recruit the fresh blood it needs and work it through the system (at least not at an acceptable cost).

      The problem with the UK shipbuilding industry is actually that neither BAE or the government really know what to do with it, other than indulge in a continuing version of NAPNOC negotiations. It probably needs a restructuring to a standalone entity concentrating on design and build of warships, rather than as a division of a wider corporate whole.

      Even then the future needs to be one with a wider vision than just surviving off the MoD naval programme, whether T26 becomes an export success (and I'm not holding my breath) or not. the Norwegian model is interesting, but they are outside the EU and don't have to play by the competition commission rules.....

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  8. An infeasable idea indeed.

    However, on the subject of docking facilities, wasn't Gibralatar capable of docking USN Supercarrier during the cold war?

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    1. Yes, though quite what status of disrepair/disuse it is in is open for discussion.

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    2. Errr. No. Unless by "super carrier" you mean USS Midway.

      http://www.gibdock.com/yard-dock-dimensions.html

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    3. Sorry, I was using the colloquial "docking", technically I should have used "berthing".

      As for dry docks, we've got the biggest in the world at Belfast, with the extra security issue that that entails.

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  9. Thanks Sir Humphrey, but what about buying two America class? With the F35 order shrinking every day (maybe there will be 12 x F35 at sea one day), it looks like the Queen Elizabeth class is only ever going to be a glorified helicopter carrier in any case.

    So would it not have been more honest to admit that fact from the start and buy an assault carrier from the off? Multi-role, can get lots of marines ashore, expeditionary operations, all that stuff? The Invincible and Ocean replacement all rolled into one. Then perhaps we could have had three.

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    1. Politically not possible, given the need for Congressional approval and also that the America Class is being reduced in numbers.Besides, that ship cannot serve UK Amphib operations very well--no welled deck.

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    2. I don't think that these would have worked out significantly cheaper than the QE class, particularly in terms of through-life costs. A more workable solution would have been a UK version of the Juan Carlos/Canberra class. Smaller and cheaper than the America class so getting three of these might have been possible.

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    3. Neither of which would have met the requirement. The procurement cost of QEC is largely a product of MoD indecision and political infighting - specifically the charge of they're much bigger than CVS therefore they must be both "too expensive" and "too big".

      Your suppositions on LHA / LHD of either persuasion are I'm afraid, misinformed.

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    4. Sorry, you are wrong. The procurement cost of the QEC was always going to be ~£6 billion but was deliberately underestimated in order to get the project approved. Lord West admitted as much in a R4 interview.

      Initial studies had already been conducted by the previous government in the mid-1990s and the most likely replacement for the Invincibles was identified as 2 or 3 similar but larger ships of ~30-40,000 tons. The smaller carriers option was also considered during the 1997/98 SDR but the larger ships were thought to offer better value for money. Three smaller ships would have met the requirement and there was in fact a significant body of opinion within the Navy which was in favour of this option.

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  10. Having had access to the costs and their derivation at various stages in the project from 1995 onwards, I'll take that with the pinch of salt it deserves.

    There was a significant (~3 yrs) delay between around 2001 and 2004 because the LTC only contained £2.8Bn for the pair when the primes (later Alliance) were prepared to contract against £3.4bn. The MoD spend the bets part of three years redesigning the ship trying to square that circle, with the entirely predictable result that the cost grew. Subsequent escalation to their current level has largely been caused by prevarication or plain stupidity - the most public example being the decision to slip the ISD by 18 months in 2008/9 while maintaining the start date, which added the best part of £1bn straight off. All to avoid an in-year overspend in the overall MoD CDEL line.

    As for the earlier studies, I still have most of them in my desk drawer. The most comprehensive output from the Concept phase was the paper presented by two MoD naval archs in 1997 at the RINA Warship conference in London. The designs at that stage ranged from a slightly larger (26000te STOVL CVS) to 40000te STOVL or CTOL designs. The requirement was to deliver significant effect in a range of scenarios which the larger ships were able to do far more efficiently and cost-effectively than the smaller vessels. There was also the element of risk, in that the smaller ships would have little margin to operate what was then the STOVL Strike Fighter (SSF). The designs were conducted with little idea of the flying programme to meet the scenario requirements, which when it became clear that all the designs would have been too small and most importantly would have required sigificant deck movements (and therefore more personnel to achieve them). It was also round this point that de-risking studies to determine whether CTOL was prohibitively expensive were conducted by three companies. All designs meeting the sortie gen requirement were found to be significantly above the 40000te mark, hence the upwards revision in size. the smaller ships would have been even less able to meet the requirement. LHD-type ships as you proposed would have been wholly unable to meet the requirement, particularly as they could not be optimised for air operations.

    Much of the "opinion" you mention is actually people buying into the myth that QEC is distorting the defence budget (patently untrue - you only have to compare "it" and the associated in-year spend to a range of projects, by looking at the NAO reports) and therefore reaching for something that seems "familiar" and therefore must be cheap.

    The purpose of QEC was (and is) to provide Fleet Air Defence, air defence over amphibious operating areas and to troops ashore and to provide strike ashore and at sea - all against a moderate threat capability. That requirement has not gone away. Conflating it with the LPH requirement and expecting the resulting ship to be able to provide AD, strike and amphibious offload does not mean that an LHD would provide a satisfactory answer.

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  11. All very interesting, but:

    1) The simple fact remains that all options were on the table during SDR 1997/98 and the original cost estimate for the QEC was grossly wide of the mark. Projected costs are as accurate/transparent as those making them choose to reveal. A recent example is the Albion LPDs where, upon interrogation of the figures, there was found to be a significant discrepancy between estimated and actual build costs (this time in the contractors favour). As far as the carriers are concerned I am not convinced that any of the options were ever realistically costed.
    2) I seem to remember that the slippage in the ISD made in 2008/9 was made to allow the MoD to balance the books given the over-committed defence budget and also to bring the ISD in line with progress on the F35B project. Unfortunate but probably unavoidable given the need to prioritise on-going operations.
    3) It is widely accepted that ships of less than 40,000 tons are not suitable for CTOL operations. The choice was always going to be between 40,000+ tons for CTOL or a smaller design for STOVL. The fact that STOVL was chosen reflects UK vested interests in the F35B programme rather than considerations of operational effectiveness.
    4) The QEC as it stands will not fulfil its primary role of fleet air defence any more effectively than three smaller ships. One carrier with a small complement of F35Bs of relatively modest ability will not be able to simultaneously provide effective air defence and a viable strike capability against a capable opponent. We are never going to see more than 18-20 F35Bs embarked on a QEC and this represents an absolute minimum capability.
    5) What we essentially have with the QEC is an oversized "force projection" ship rather than a fleet carrier. Ocean will not be replaced so the QEC will effectively have to fulfil this role as well. So we have a ship that is ineffective as a fleet carrier and too large/valuable to be used in the amphibious role. In other words, a ship that while undoubtedly useful to have is not actually optimised for anything.
    6) Three smaller ships, in contrast, would have offered a lot more flexibility. For example, the ability to simultaneously operate one ship as a dedicated fleet air defence carrier and the second as an amphibious carrier with a mix of helicopters and F35Bs. There is no reason why a stern landing dock needs to be included as we already have two relatively new LPDs. My preferred option would actually have been along the lines of the Cavour but with displacement increased to around ~35,000 tons.

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  12. Believe what you want old son, particularly with respect to Albion. I don't know what "figures" you're thinking of (and your suggestion that the cost fell in favour of VSEL flies in the face of the known issues with the build of that ship), but hey-ho, obviously you know best. Quite how you can state that the original cost estimate in 98 was "grossly wide of the mark" when the shipbuilders were ready to contract at £3.4Bn for larger ships back in 2001 is beyond me. Obviously you are privy to information others are not - and apparently the same factors could not possibly have applied to smaller ships......

    With respect to the 2008/9 slippage, it is unlikely it had anything to do with Herrick as it was a CDEL profiling issue. You dismiss an avoidable £1Bn cost escalation (20% of the project budget at that time) somewhat lightly I think.

    Your assertion re size for STOVL vs CTOL is generally correct up to a point. However, beyond providing enough length and area for a catapult and angled recovery deck, deck park becomes the driving factor, which was the principal reason for growth beyond 40000te, particularly when coupled with a low manning requirement. So the choice was not actually between small STOVL ships and a big ship for CTOL, rather between three small ships which would not be able to meet the requirement singly and were hostage to risk in the aircraft programme, or two larger ships, which if the availability requirement could be achieved would be more cost effective, less prone to risk in the aircraft programme and cheaper to operate to boot.

    "We are never going to see more than 18-20 F35 embarked" is a rather brave statement, as is the assertion that Ocean will not be replaced. Both are assumptions based on near-term thinking. Last time I looked, the ships had a 50 year life (and I know what the margins are). If the ship is big enough, you can order more aircraft in relatively short order, the reverse is not true. As for Ocean , she is being SLEPPED till at least 2022, if not 2028. It's only seven years since there was an LPH(RC) in the programme. Things change and can change again.

    I don't know if you are a professional naval architect. I am - and while a Cavour style ship on 35000te would be possible, it would not be risk-proof, have a limited deck park and hence sortie generation capability (particularly with low manning) and would certainly struggle to meet survivability requirements. Most importantly, it would not be able to provide the level of cumulative air requirement (Fleet AD, Strike etc) against the actual threat as opposed to various people's assumptions as to what that is based on the present.

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  13. With a 50 year projected life span for the new carriers, does the industrial base needed to build the next one not die off anyway? Will there be a continuous stream of business building high end destroyers for the next 50 years?

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  14. It won't be easy, that is certain. However, between service entry of QEC and the need to start construction of any successor (late 2050s), there will be a T26 programme (start late teens), an amphibious ship replacement programme (late 20s, early 30s) and then a T45 replacement programme (late 30s early 40s) and that doesn't include MHPC if it ever happens.

    To construct a ship like QEC you essentially need a significant design team with experience in naval ships, a large facility (preferably two) to build heavily outfitted blocks with skilled steel and outfit trades and most importantly the ops control to plan and co-ordinate activities, plus various other sub-contract facilities to build additional less outfiited blocks as required and an assembly facility. In the current programme those are : Build - Pompey and Govan, Assembly - Rosyth, Sub-contract - Appledore, Cammell Laird, A&P.

    The T26/Amphib /T45(R) programme ought to sustain one of Pompey or Govan.

    Both Cammell Laird and the A&P facility have a significant commerical revenue stream and have managed to remain or reopen without MoD. In fact I have been in the A&P sheds when they were 6 inches deep in pigeon sh1t many years ago. If you look at them now it demonstrates what can be done if you think wider than MoD/BAE.

    Rosyth is in an interesting position as the submarine dismantling project it is about to undertake will result in regaining a nuclear licence (if not for refuelling). The facilities at Rosyth for surface ship refits are now better than those in Devonport (the frigate refit complex is too small for modern large DD/FF), which means if there is no refuelling work to sustain Devonport post Vanguard LOP(R), things might get a bit tasty. Devonport becomes a much smaller operating base, with Rosyth gaining the large refit work. At that point, politics (marginal Devon seats, Wee Eck and his gang) may severely complicate things. Nevertheless, there are a number of ways forward from there that do not result in the extinction of the industrial base.

    It is however worth saying that I do not personally believe that configuring the industry to be 100% reliant on MoD will lead to a sustainable future. Something else (and it isn't necessarily export warships) needs to be developed as a revenue stream.

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    Replies
    1. No annoucement yet on new amphibious ship programme. It's likely that HMS PoW will be used as a super-LPH platform, while possibly also keeping Ocean and the two Albion ships. Or maybe scrapping one of them since they have PoW. It's silly but given the decreasing RN size, they don't have enough escort ships. So HMS PoW as a LPH (which a small flight of F-35s or none) may materialise.

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