The planned decommissioning of the Royal Navy’s helicopter carrier HMS Ocean in 2018 without replacement is a nonsensical step and puts accountancy and politics above our nation’s security and our national interests.
Article by Oliver B. Steward, a Doctoral Candidate in International Security at the University of East Anglia. This article is the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of the UK Defence Journal.
It will leave a hole in our amphibious warfare and carrier based capabilities of our Royal Navy which will limit our operational range and effectiveness.
For a maritime nation is makes perfect sense that we invest and maintain our current force levels, if not to supplement it with newer ships, while refitting older ones. It is vital that our national and military interests are served by having amphibious warfare capability to enable the UK to launch far ranging geographical operations overseas.
Historically during 2014, HMS Ocean underwent a £65 million refit. The Defence Minister at the time Philip Dunne said
“I am delighted that this contract will not only ensure that HMS Ocean remains a significant, highly flexible and capable warship for years to come.”
Sadly this has become a testament to the all well known fact that rhetoric by many politicians do not match with practice.
While the MOD report it would maintain a “significant amphibious capability” including the new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers – but even those large ships will not fully enter service until 2020 leaving a capability deficit (this means they will not have functional fighting aircraft and will not be on active deployment until that time).
It is worth noting that HMS Ocean as a ship has served our nation in an exemplary fashion, and all the crews that served on her. Her actions include those in Kosovan crisis, to the 2003 Iraq War, providing logistical and tactical support for the London 2012 Olympics as well as participating with NATO exercises in the Mediterranean.
My hope is that we will witness a reversal of this decision in the context of growing international security challenged and the government looks into possibility refitting this ship to assume a more multirole function with the possibility of accommodating F35 planes. This will enable this carrier to be kept it in service until the 2020s and beyond.
The Queen Elizabeth class ships are a tremendous asset to our Royal Navy, but I sincerely believe that the evidence points to a continued carrier capability during the building and testing of the HMS Queen Elizabeth.
If a conflict breaks out in 2018, the UK will not have a current carrier with training adequate to deploy aircraft to a conflict zone. HMS Ocean should be kept operational for at least the interim if not the long term period.