Edit - 18 August 2012. Also edited in 2014 (see points 15 and 16).
Since the decision in May 2012 that we would purchase F35B as originally planned, and that future CVF operations would be STOVL ones, the issues of retaining STOVL skillsets amongst both aircrew and ships' personnel are more relevant than ever. The issue of whether of not the UK needs a fixed wing carrier capability in the next few years is brought into focus by talk of possible conflicts which may involve UK forces, for example possible hostilities in the Gulf or international action over Syria.
Potentially all of these things could be sorted out. We have STOVL capable ships, STOVL trained pilots and carrier crews, have a STOVL future to prepare for, and STOVL aircraft do exist. The politicians could make this into a success.
The comments and suggestions below apply even more now.
A few points:
. At the time of the retirement of the Sea Harrier, we were assured (and I doubt the Admirals would have accepted it otherwise) that the Harrier GR9 would keep carrier flying going. The GR9 can perform a limited (fleet) air defence role - it is supposedly more agile than SHAR, has Sidewinders, and would hopefully be supported by Sea King ASACS. The support of an AEW/ISTAR asset would mitigate against the lack of radar. See later posts - including those on page 15
It was also argued that we were more likely to need strike aircraft - ie the GR9. Now we rely totally on Host Nation Support and hoping that range, logistics, and security issues are not too tricky. What was that about Canada being denied use of a UAE airfield recently?
. How will we maintain the skills of flight deck crews, planners, met types, FC and ATC types, and so on? What about the teamwork needed throughout the ship, from the bridge to the Operations Room to the Ship Control Centre? Before you ask, I have been aboard a carrier doing flying work ups. I also witnessed the GR9s doing an air defence exercise.
See this later post that talks about the skills needed by the carrier crew
I think this review was rushed, and bodged. Would anyone with experience of these things really think that you can have a TEN year gap then pick up the baton and carry on? Were any people with carrier experience consulted?
Before the review, everyones' favourite General, Sir Richard Dannatt, was on the TV saying that certain capabilities can be put in extended readiness and then brought out of the cupboard when needed? Is this what he meant?
. Will the next decade be like the last one (largely asymmetric enemies without navies. air forces, or anything like that) or the previous one - with nation state or pseudo nation (eg the Bosnian Serbs) enemies with air forces, navies, etc? Fortunately, the Prime Minister can see into the future, as he said in his statement when he said everything will be counter insurgency.
. Supposedly HM Treasury has claimed that as there may be a post Harrier gap (assuming a 2018 OSD), then a ten year gap doesn't increase the risk. You can't argue with that sort of reasoning.
. Why is Lord West not allowed to speak up? Because he is ex RN? Or because he (unwisely in my opinion) took up a post as a minister under the last Government?
. Despite everything supposedly being COIN in the future, we are keeping the bulk of heavy armour and artillery? Are we expecting the third shock army to break through the West German boarder? Yes, scrapping it would be short sighted, but surely if we're just looking as Afghanistan.... You don't mean the report wasn't totally balanced?
. There is a petition: Saving the Harrier
. You could also think about writing to your MP, or even contacting the Prime Minister
. Of particular interest are points 1, 2, and 9. Following the sale of the GR9 fleet to the United States, point 11 (below) should be of interest.
. The RN has paid a price of ships, aircraft, personnel, and capabilities under this review. If the predication of no wars for ten years is wong, then the consequences will involve blood and fire.
. For a practical
suggestion of how this issue might be resolved, carrier related skills retained for the future, a carrier strike capability retained for use in Libya and other places this decade, and the issue of the retired GR9s dealt with, see this post from later on
It occurs to me that if we could supply a number (most of them?) of our now stored Harrier GR9s to the US, and continue to offer the USMC a chance to carry out embarkations of a dozen or so Harriers, we may be able to purchase or lease a number of AV8B (AV8B+ if we're lucky) aircraft in a quid pro quo type arrangement. Hopefully any such deal would include some sort of MOU in order to prevent the UK to incur major support costs, but would offer the following advantages:
1. The UK would still be able to respond to crises in which carrier aviation is useful.
2. The RN would maintain the skills needed to run a carrier with jets on deck, and would maintain a cadre of both Pilots and Engineers to work with these aircraft, avoiding the need to start from scratch later on this decade.
3. If we could get AV8B+s then it would give the Navy a capability that it lost when the Sea Harrier was retired in 2006. We would therefore be in a far better position to provide air defence for a maritime task group, or to participate in policing a no fly zone.
4. We would no longer have to pay for storing retired aircraft, and the Government would be justified in portraying this as a step forward.
5. Our potential adversaries would have something to think about - prevention (deterrence) being better than cure.
6. The defence relationship with the US would be strengthened, as would the defence relationship with France as Illustrious would be able to relieve Charles De Gaulle in x months time. Or indeed, Illustrious or Queen Elizabeth could rotate with CDG in other operations this decade.
The use of Ocean as a platform for Apaches operating in a strike role seems to show that a maritime strike capability is needed for what the Government wants the Armed Forces to be capable of doing. Now there is talk of Illustrious relieving Ocean - for which her post refit work up will need to be rushed, with Apaches embarking and learning to operate from her deck. Note the use of the word STRIKE.
. Alternatively, there was the "out of the box" RNR/Harrier proposal discussed here
. Here is another "out of the box" proposal that I made after the decision was made to sell the entire GR9 fleet to the United States.
This one would make use of existing (Sea Harrier) assets that are still mostly in MOD (or at least UK) hands. Regenerate a pair of Sea Harriers (and maybe a T8N trainer) and attach them NFSF(FW), for operation by UK based RN fixed wing jocks and/or RNR WAFUs, and regenerate a larger number if needed for an operational deployment. UK based RN fixed wing types would have something to fly, and we would have something to embark at sea.
. On a similar (and more straightforward) note, why can we not attach just a few (a couple?) borrowed AV8Bs
to Naval Flying Standards Flight (Fixed Wing), or a similar small organisation, to give something for UK based RN fixed wing pilots to fly, and to provide a jet to embark aboard the carrier pre F35B?
After all, ETPS safely and economically operate small numbers of aircraft (including the Grippen and the Alpha Jet) not in normal UK service. Why can the RN not do the same with leased/borrowed jets?
. HMS Illustrious
is in a good condition, and could easily remain in service post 2014, to 2016/7 when HMS Queen Elizabeth
will be ready to put to sea. Or beyond.
. There is still the issue of building up the cadre of RN fixed wing pilots for the future, but there seems to be a problem (discussed here
) in that there is no suitable jet for them to fly in the UK (when not on exchange Stateside). Edit - 30 August 2014: It appears that this issue has been largely resolved with the reformation of 736 NAS as somewhere RN jocks can go.
. Preparing future deck crews and air engineers remains a challenge, as mentioned here
. Measures beyond the exchanges with the US Navy and the Marine Nationale
(France) may not be needed. Can enough personnel be sent? How will they practice skills upon return? How do they practice working as a team - a whole flight deck party or ship's company?
. HMS Ocean was designed and built with a secondary role of transporting Sea Harriers/Harriers
in an emergency, but would be unable to support them for any length of time due to limited fuel and weapon stowages. However, she would be able to embark a small number of Harriers for a limited period
, if it was felt desirable to give UK based RN Pilots experience of landing a V/STOL aircraft (borrowed/leased Harriers) aboard a ship and doing short take offs at sea. This would also provide continuation training for chockheads/air engineers not on exchange or returned from exchange, and training for future Queen Elizabeth/Prince Of Wales
Officers Of the Watch et al
, as would embarking US/Italian/Spanish Harriers.
It would also address whole ship aspects.