Monday, 3 July 2017

Some Brief Thoughts on QUEEN ELIZABETH sailing.


If you are a follower of UK defence matters, then it seems to be traditional that you must be find a reason, any reason, to naysay and be downbeat about something good. The recent sailing of QUEEN ELIZABETH (QEC, and of course, not yet an HMS), is a good example of this. There were tweets and moans aplenty about an aircraft carrier supposedly without aircraft, about it being empty for years across a barren flight deck with tumbleweed and adrift deck hockey quoits the sole occupants, and of course that’s assuming a 17r old hacker hadn’t somehow taken charge of the ship using its SHOCK HORROR Windows XP system that’s not actually connected to the internet to somehow do something bad. This is without mentioning the near orgasmic levels of excitement the media wound themselves up into with the prospect of the vessel running into the side of the dockyard, or being stuck under the Forth Bridge.

In reality the opening days of the QE’s sea trials could not have gone better for the Royal Navy and the MOD. An outstandingly effective PR operation managed to secure a great deal of national media coverage of this event, and most of the main papers had photos of the ship at sea. Some highly astute programming ensured that a pair of Type 23 frigates and a pair of Merlin helicopters were immediately available to ostensibly provide cover, but arguably in reality provided the nation with several years of stock footage of British carrier groups at sea.  Within a couple of days the first landing was achieved, thus slaying the ‘but she’ll have no aircraft’ argument, and the internet is awash with glorious photos of the biggest warship ever built outside of the United State of America at sea. To top it all off, some sharply pointed jibes towards the Russians by the Secretary of State for Defence managed to elicit a strong reaction, suggesting the Bear is not as thick skinned as it wishes to portray itself to be.

What does this all say about the state of the RN today and what does it mean? In simple terms the sailing of QE was a very visible symbol of British commitment to global power projection, and a clear reminder of the willingness of the UK government to deploy force as required at great distance. In a time of Brexit and a supposed isolationist tendency, the existence of QE serves as a strong reminder of UK government intent to play a global role.

The deployment highlights the sheer capability of UK shipbuilding and engineering prowess – it is all too easy to mock the UK engineering sector, but to build a pair of 70,000 tonne carriers and then follow that up with an SSN programme and begin an SSBN programme – all three of which are arguably the most complex engineering projects on the planet, is a hugely positive sign of how capable UK industry is. Very few other countries can complete just one, let alone all three, of these complex engineering projects. It is also worth considering that CVF represents a triumph of shipbuilding techniques, proving the concept of modular builds and offering a real solution to support smaller shipyards around the UK to remain in the construction business.

It is also an immensely positive advert for the quality of the RN personnel embarked, who have shown over weeks of media focus their pride, their professionalism and delight at being part of the QE. Ignore the ill informed rubbish about supposedly large numbers of people putting their notice in on some papers, this experience has highlighted just how good UK sailors are and how lucky we are to have people of this calibre prepared to serve their country.

On a wider note, this is a useful reminder for the UK to the US that it is serious about playing its part in supporting US navy carrier deployments. The USN has been exceptionally good to the RN for many years in supporting the pathway to regenerating a carrier capability – the sheer number of RN personnel deployed as pilots, flight deck crew and other roles on US carriers is astounding. The departure of QE from port shows that we are much closer to the reality of her working alongside her US cousins and likely relieving a CVN on station. The photos of USS EISENHOWER and HMS OCEAN together in the Gulf will almost certainly be replicated in the next few years with QE somewhere else. At a time when bonds are being tested globally, this is a strong message to send of continued commitment to a common operational output. It is reasonable to say that many in the USN will be viewing the deployment of QE and POW as their 11th and 12th CVBGs to help take the strain on a very overstretched US navy.

More widely this visible sign of capability will be seen by many allied navies as a reminder that the RN remains one of the worlds most capable and competent forces. It is likely that there will be many nations keen to secure a visit by QE over the next few years - helping boost UK defence engagement and wider policy goals, and helping visibly show UK commitment to our friends and allies. 

Finally the departure serves as a stronger message that the Royal Navy is seeing its investment, its risks and its deep pain bear fruit. It has been nearly 20 years since CVF was first conceived, and much has been risked and lost to keep them on course. To finally see one at sea is an uplifting moment for all concerned. This is not the end of the story, but merely the opening chapter, but there is much to be optimistic about.

Much will be written about CVF over the coming months across a vast range of media outlets and blogs (likely including this one), but for now let us briefly rejoice at a moment of genuine good news, which when coupled with the ordering of Type 26, the rolling out of another A boat and progress on the RFA tankers, is a sign that for all the gloomy mist, there is often a patch of sunlight to be found out there.

James 3:4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go :-)




12 comments:

  1. I agree with this positive view, and as a Scot was disappointed that the SNP government in Edinburgh did not celebrate this feat of engineering for reasons only known to itself.

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  2. Thanks for an insightful glimpse of the good news that the RN brings to remind us what a resourceful bunch we are and can be if we are determined enough. We stand on the shoulders of Naval and military giants, let us stand strong.

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  3. When do we stop calling them CVF? As they're now here should they not just be CV?

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  4. Here,here. My only quibble with the thrust of the article is that it's actually the RN that has shown "...a clear reminder of the willingness {of the UK government} to deploy force as required at great distance" rather than the UK gov. - who wanted to scrap the carriers.

    And let us not forget there are many RAF personnel aboard even on these early voyages, so not just a navy show.

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    1. Good to have you back btw.

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  5. Good to see you back...and offering quiet good sense as always...

    GNB

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  6. Good to see you back. Your insightful commentary has been missed!

    HMS Queen Elizabeth is nothing short of a towering engineering triumph that the nation should be proud of. In no more than 6-8 years time we will hopefully be seeing an operational deployment with 24x F35B and 14x Merlin's lining the flight-deck, which is a level of capability no other country from the USA can hope to match.

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  7. Curious - no mention of the lack of cats & traps; the unsatisfactory state of the F-35 programme (still v much a work in progress that will never deliver the posted benefits / the F-35B could still conceivably be pulled, leaving UK with a very very expensive helicopter carrier); the fact that the F-35B's range is under 500 miles, whereas the latest Russian and Chinese missiles have a range in excess of 1,000 miles, so the carrier is vulnerable; that the mixed fleet of aircraft essential for AEW, COD, refuelling etc can not be carried. By way of example, the USN now expects shortly to be operating 3 MQ-25 Stingrays (CBARS) alongside every F-35C to give the latter the refuelled range to approach a contested environment - the design of Britain's new carrier precludes this capability.

    So forget the cheers - this ship will never be placed in harm's way.


    The excellent article below on A2/AD systems raises concerns about how to deal with the changed environment for carriers.
    http://breakingdefense.com/2017/06/electronic-warfare-growing-joint-airborne-ew-study-underway/

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    1. Thanks, but if you've come here looking for negativity underpinned by dubious reporting about 'vunder veapons' like Russian Missiles, then I'm afraid this isn't that sort of blog. The cat and trap debate when looked into deeply using open source material shows it was for many very good reasons, the right call. As for missile ranges, if you believe the ranges then you have to take the advertisers claims at face value and assume the opponents will sportingly not try to stop said missile via a variety of cunning ruses...

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  8. You really are out of touch, aren't you. And never ever describe facts as "negativity".

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  9. Thanks for that - like I said, this probably isnt the sort of place you will feel at home reading of you want to wallow about how we are all dooomed from wonder weapons.

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