A letter submitted to The Herald is being wildly shared as evidence that the new aircraft carriers are nothing more than a ‘vanity project’, but does the letter have any truth to it?
In our view, no. Below is our response to this letter. Referring to claims the vessels are a waste of money, Iain AD Mann writes:
“I COULDN’T agree more with Dave McEwan Hill’s letter (August 18) about the waste of many billions of much-needed public money on the two massive aircraft carriers.
These ships have very little relevance to defending our own waters or our interests around the world, and they are little more than a floating status symbol of the long-gone days when Britannia ruled the waves.”
They’re designed to project air power at range, not intercept trawlers.
“It will be several years before these hugely-expensive naval vessels even have any planes to carry, and of course the UK no longer has an aircraft industry capable of designing and building such sophisticated planes.”
Next year is in fact not several years. HMS Queen Elizabeth will begin aviation trials with F-35 jets in 2018. As for the claim the UK has no aircraft industry capable of designing and building these jets? Well, it did and is.
As the only Level 1 partner, the United Kingdom has garnered tremendous economic benefits from the F-35. British industry will build 15% of each of the more than 3,000 planned F-35s, in addition to a large volume of British developed aircraft systems including the electronic warfare suite.
The programme at peak will generate significant export revenue and GDP growth. The programme is projected to create and support more than 25,000 jobs across every region of the United Kingdom.
Hundreds of British software engineers with BAE have played a leading role in creating software for the F-35 aircraft that will be operational with the US Air Force later this year.
The software team at the BAE site in Samlesbury, Lancashire, has worked alongside Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor on the F-35 programme, to deliver the latest update known as ‘Block 3i’. There are more than eight million lines of code required for full operational capability. Block 3i equips the aircraft with 89% of the software code required.
“So we must wait until the mid-2020s before the United States produces (and sells us at vast cost) the specially designed planes the ships need.”
We already have 11 of the jets with more being delivered. When the jet reaches peak production, the programme will be worth some £1 billion to UK industry alone, according to research by KPMG the accounting firm. An estimated 25,000 UK jobs will be sustained across more than 500 companies in the supply chain.
“Of course the years of construction of the carriers brought much-needed employment to the Clyde shipyards and Rosyth Dockyard, which was very welcome, and that is in fact the main reason why the former Labour government awarded the contracts in the first place.
It had very little to do with international defence or naval warfare, in which it is unlikely we would wish to become involved unless the Americans told us to.”
Nope. The origins of the massive and sometimes controversial Queen Elizabeth class carrier programme lie in the 1998 Strategic Defence Review.
The review re-evaluated every weapon system (active or in procurement) with the exception of the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines.
The report identified that aircraft carriers offered the following:
- Ability to operate offensive aircraft abroad when foreign basing may be denied.
- All required space and infrastructure; where foreign bases are available they are not always available early in a conflict and infrastructure is often lacking.
- A coercive and deterrent effect when deployed to a trouble spot.
The report concluded:
“The emphasis is now on increased offensive air power, and an ability to operate the largest possible range of aircraft in the widest possible range of roles.
When the current carrier force reaches the end of its planned life, we plan to replace it with two larger vessels.”
In November 2004, while giving evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Alan West explained that the sortie rate and interoperability with the United States Navy were factors in deciding on the size of the carriers and the composition of the carriers’ air-wings:
“The reason that we have arrived at what we have arrived at is because to do the initial strike package, that deep strike package, we have done really quite detailed calculations and we have come out with the figure of 36 joint strike fighters, and that is what has driven the size of it, and that is to be able to deliver the weight of effort that you need for these operations that we are planning in the future.”
The UK is committed to both the F-35 and the Queen Elizabeth Carrier programmes, both of which are on track to enter initial maritime operating capability in December 2020 as planned.
“A much more sensible use of public money would have been to build a large number of small specialised warships to defend our own coastal waters, and especially the vast stretches of sea around our northern and eastern coasts.
These specially-designed aircraft for many years patrolled the these areas, where the naval vessels and submarines of Russia and other countries wander about freely and mostly undetected.”
The second of a fleet of five new offshore patrol vessels, HMS Medway, has been revealed by BAE Systems and is ready to be launched in Glasgow. The vessel will be moved onto the barge and then lowered into the River Clyde in the coming days.
“These no longer have the protection of the RAF planes which operated from the now-abandoned RAF Kinloss.”
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon has revealed the identity of the two new P-8 Poseidon squadrons.
120 Squadron will form in April 2018 and 201 Squadron will form in 2021.
“They will be based in RAF Lossiemouth in Morayshire and their names will be 120 Squadron recalling the RAF’s highest scoring anti-submarine unit in World War II. And 201 Squadron named after one of the RAFs oldest formations.
Our nine new Poseidon aircraft are part of our plan to monitor and deal with increased threats to our country. They can operate at long range without refuelling and have the endurance to carry out high and low-level airborne maritime and overland surveillance for extended periods, helping keep us safe.
The P-8A aircraft will allow us to work more closely with our allies, improve our surveillance coverage and will provide value for taxpayers’ money.”
The first two P-8 Poseidon aircraft for the United Kingdom were ordered recently under a $2.2bn contract.
“But as usual the faceless ones at the Ministry of Defence got their priorities completely wrong. It never ceases to amaze me that UK governments can spend vast amounts of what is our money, not theirs, on vanity projects with little practical value.”
There’s no truth in any claim that the MoD haven’t made serious errors across many projects but the issues highlighted in this letter either don’t exist or are now being addressed.
The Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers will be the largest surface warships ever constructed for the Royal Navy and will represent a significant increase in capability. The vessels will be utilised by all three branches of the UK Armed Forces and will provide eight acres of sovereign territory. Both ships will be versatile enough to be used for operations ranging from high intensity conflict to providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief.