Monday, 30 April 2012

854 and 857 Squadron Update – with 857 Squadron with it airborne early warning SEA KING ASaC7 helicopters was of course active on the helicopter carrier OCEAN for much of 2011 during the Libyan campaign.    The extended sojourn in the Mediterranean meant that 857 Squadron was not available to relieve 854 Squadron in Afghanistan as planned at the end of 2011.   854 Squadron was duly replaced (by 857 Squadron in February 2012) after a fifteen month tour of duty during which time the three strong squadron clocked up 2,500 hours of flying hours, averaging 50 hours per month per helicopter.   These Fleet Air Arm SEA KING ASaC7 units have been in service in Afghanistan continuously since May 2009 and incredibly no replacements for these forty year old machines have been ordered!
Strategic Patrol Update – the recently refitted Strategic Submarine VIGILANT will complete post refit sea trials in June (2012) and will then pass to FOST (Flag Office Sea Training) and then rejoin the Strategic Patrol cycle with the previously refitted VANGUARD and VICTORIOUS.     The VENGEANCE now under refit at Devonport will complete refit and start sea trials in 2015 and complete the half life refuelling and refitting of the entire class.

MCM Fleet in the Gulf – The four strong Minecountermeasure Group (“HuntsMIDDLETON and QUORN, and “SandownsPEMBROKE and RAMSEY) operate in a wider context with a matching quartet of US Navy vessels.  The USN Minecountermeasure vessels (ARDENT, DEXTROUS, GLADIATOR and SCOUT) are in the area and supported by four (4) MH-53E Sea Dragon long range mine sweeping helicopters.    Now four (4) additional USN Minecountermeasure vessels (DEVASTATOR, PIONEER, SENTRY and WARRIOR) are set to join them.    Thus the mine threat to the Straits of Hormuz, and the Arabian Gulf area is to be countered.
Thames Waterborne Diamond Jubilee Procession - Among the 1,000 small ships which are expected on the Thames to mark the Diamond Jubilee of HM The Queen in early June (2012) will be a small contingent of Royal Navy/Royal Marine craft that will escort the Royal Barge – this small flotilla will be made up of:
Two (2)  P2000 Patrol Boats ex RN University Units
Two (2)  Naval Seaboats (Pacific 24 RIBs) ex HMS DIAMOND ex Portsmouth
Four (4) Offshore Raiding Craft ex 539 Assault Squadron, RM ex Turnchapel (Plymouth)
Two (2)  Picket Boats ex Britannia RN College (Dartmouth)

WILDCAT Sea Trials Complete – The prototype, small anti-submarine helicopter, WILDCAT, and successor to the LYNX has completed some 390 deck landing on the Type 23 Frigate IRON DUKE when the sea trials were completed in February this year (2012).   Night landings included in this total were some 148 and night vision goggles were used in 76 on these.   The WILDCAT is serving with 700W Squadron, based at Yeovilton and is the first of 28 new machines ordered for Fleet Air Arm use, and should enter service in 2015.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

CLYDE on Patrol – The Falkland Guardship CLYDE includes the territories of the Government of South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands in its routines and in March (2012) made one of many visits.    There is no permanent human population on South Georgia only two (2) Government Officers (and their spouses), up to twenty five (25) British Antarctic Survey personnel at two (2) research stations and up to four (4) Museum staff in the summer months.   Also aboard the CLYDE was a padre who held a well attended Sunday morning service during the visit in the church at Grytviken, the islands principle settlement.    The  CLYDE having been around the Island for a few days came alongside the Kep Jetty for a three (3) day visit bringing the South Georgia Desk Officer at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who was on a familiarisation visit and a three man Joint Services Explosive Ordnance Disposal team to deal with ordnance finds.

Visits were made (by harbour launch) to see the environmental problems caused by the reindeer at Sorling Valley, and see the fast retreating Neumayer Glacier, and examine the wrecks of the fishing vessels LYN and MORESKO  which went onto rocks at the entrance to Moraine Fjord on the same night in 2003.    In the week before the visit the LYN had been broken into three sections by large swells.    This opened up a freezer hold and a large amount of insulating foam was released into the water, much of it washing up on nearby beaches.   With extra hands available, boats and personnel from Kep and the CLYDE set to to clean the shoreline and some fifteen large bags of waste were recovered.    The Joint Services Explosive Ordnance Disposal team stayed ashore and dealt with multiple ordnance finds in the area and searched the lower slopes of Mount Hodges where a number of dangerous live rifle grenades have recently been found.

The CLYDE needed some important spare parts during the visit and a supply drop was arranged by the HERCULES from Mount Pleasant (Falkland Island), a thousand miles away (850 to be more precise), with the aircraft supported by a VC-10 tanker aircraft.    During the visit the Junior Rates Mess on the CLYDE hosted a talent contest on the aft deck of the vessel with an icy wind kept off by awnings and a barbeque.  The entertainment included a brave performance by the Captain of the CLYDE singing and accompanying himself on a ukulele.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Falkland Diplomatic War – Update – there are reports that British companies have been banned from selling equipment to Argentina's Armed Forces as Ministers grow increasingly concerned over a possible military blockade of the Falkland Islands.   Meanwhile on the Argentine side in the latest escalation it is reported that Argentina had written oil explorers (Falkland Oil & Gas, Borders & Southern, Rockhopper, Desire Petroleum and Argos Resources) to "notify them of their illicit actions and their consequences".    In case of failure to offer a response and once the deadline expires, administrative sanctions will be imposed to each company within the framework of an Energy Secretariat resolution which deems these activities illegal," it said. "The Argentine government will also press criminal and civil charges."
771 Squadron Shows Off – the Culdrose Search and Rescue unit 771 Squadron showed off one their SEA KING helicopters at the exhibition over Easter dedicated to lifesaving in the National Maritime Museum, at Falmouth.   Further ‘Meet the Aircrew’ events are planned for later this year.

RNUU Take to the Air – Several times each year students from the Royal Navy University Units take to the skies with 727 Squadron of the Fleet Air Arm at Yeovilton for a two week taster of the aviation business and just not a visit to the air traffic control tower.     727 Squadron is the principal Fleet Air Arm ‘flight grading’ unit assessing the ability of potential pilots as potential front line helicopter and fast jet pilots.   It is equipped with five (5) Grob 115E training aircraft, known in UK military service as the TUTOR T1.

The students experienced up to eight hours of instructed flying, as well as visits to local front line helicopter squadrons, as well being taught the basics of flight in a classroom, they were then given the chance to put it into practice with an aerobatics sortie in which students learned how to loop, barrel roll and do a stall turn.   A short air navigation exercise through the local airspace involving formation flying and tail chases was also carried out using three of the TUTOR T1 aircraft in close proximity.  Some Students tried the “Dunker” – Yeovilton’s helicopter crash-at-sea escape trainer.    Units visited were 815 Squadron (LYNX HMA8), 846 and 848 Squadrons (The Junglies) (SEA KING HC4), as well as the (Fixed Wing) Naval Flying Standards Flight operating the HAWK T1.

Bears At SeaPercy, Lt Rocky and Prince Bishop are now all at sea.  The use of mascots at sea is not new – but Percy was donated to the Type 45 destroyer DAUNTLESS by one of her affiliates: the Percy Hedley Foundation.   The “teddy” will looked after aboard and will be provide regular updates during her six months away for the foundation, which supports children and adults with communication and language difficulties in the Newcastle area – the Geordie bear hails from destroyer’s affiliated city, will be entered in the ship’s book… and earn official ship’s company status when a final name choice has been decided.     Percy’ is one of three teddies officially deployed presently on Royal Navy vessels with Lt Rocky is ‘helping’ the Fleet Submarine TRIUMPH on patrol in the Middle East, whilst Prince Bishop is aboard the Fleet Flagship, the Assault Ship BULWARK currently on Exercise Joint Warrior.
Lisbon Visit – the Type 45 Destroyer DAUNTLESS visited Lisbon (Portugal) on en route the South Atlantic and is planned to return to the UK in November (2012).    The tasking will provide maritime security to British interests throughout West Africa and all British overseas territories in the wider southern ocean.
Hydrographic and Meteorological Training Award - AB Sally Owen of the Survey Ship ECHO has been awarded a prestigious award for her excellence in hydrographic and meteorological training - the junior rating received the Royal Navy’s premier award for her achievements in hydrographic and meteorological training: the Hambone Trophy.    The trophy is a model sextant – often regarded as the symbol of the Royal Navy’s Hydrographic Survey Flotilla – and is said to resemble a ham bone (hence the name), and is presented to the Able Seaman who received the highest score in basic training at the Hydrographic and Meteorological Training School at HMS DRAKE in Devonport.   

The ECHO is on a two year deployment to the Indian Ocean and Middle East and AB Sally Owen works as a junior hydrographic surveyor assisting underwater surveys and providing security at sea.  The presentation was made during a short break from the survey mission to pay a formal visit to Mumbai (India), for a routine crew change and no doubt a full programme of other activities.   The ECHO will continue a high tempo operations until late summer (2012) when the vessel will hand over the survey baton to sister ship ENTERPRISE and return to the UK for an extended period of maintenance and regeneration.

TITANTIC in the Gulf of Adenthe Fleet Stores Ship RFA FORT VICTORIA conducted a ceremony to mark the loss of the TITANIC while working with the Combined Task Force in the Gulf of Aden.      At sunset a moment of silence was held to remember the 1,517 lives lost, which took place 100 years ago to the day.    The event was attended by the Commander of Combined Task Force 151, Rear Admiral Tanin Likitawong, Royal Thai Navy, and the multinational Staff of CTF 151.
Joint Warrior Participants - Of the 30 plus warships and auxiliaries participating in Exercise Joint Warrior this time fifteen (15) are British, with some 4,000 sailors from the Royal Navy and of course the Royal Marines of 45 Commando (UK’s Very High Readiness Group) and 3 Commando Brigade units, including the Commando Air Wing comprising around just short of half of the total forces involved.  The British warships taking part were:

TURBULENT                 Fleet Submarine
             Helicopter Carrier
BULWARK                     Assault Ship
RFA MOUNTS BAY       Landing Ship
DIAMOND                    Type 45 Destroyer
EDINBURGH                 Type 42 Destroyer
ST.ALBANS                  Type 23 Frigate
MONMOUTH                 Type 23 Frigate
ENTERPRISE                Survey Ship
and the
1st Fast Patrol Boat Squadron      BITER and CHARGER
Minecountersure vessels
1st MCM Squadron/Faslane          BLYTH, BANGOR, GRIMSBY and SHOREHAM,
2nd MCM Squadron/Portsmouth     ATHERSTONE and BROCKLESBY

The climax of Joint Warrior reached its climax at West Freugh, (just south of Stranraer),, but when it concludes the Helicopter Carrier ILLUSTRIOUS remained in the area to support Exercise Scottish Lion, which involved 45 Commando, RM.    RAF West Freugh is and has always been an armament training school, either for handling or deployment of ordnance.    
Joint Warrior PyrotechnicsExercise Joint Warrior provided the opportunity for much pyrotechnics off western Scotland (Outer Hebrides).  The Type 42 Destroyer EDINBURGH, probably the last time launched SEADART anti-aircraft missiles with no less than seven of the Mach 2 missiles aimed at target drone.      SEADART first say operational service in the Falklands conflict (1982), downing seven enemy aircraft – and, a decade later, in the Gulf War (1991) the Type 42 Destroyer GLOUCESTER shot down an Iraqi SILKWORM missile as it headed for the American battleship USS MISSOURI  – the first time a missile has shot down another missile.     SEADART has had a 40 year history with the Royal Navy and equipped the Type 82 Destroyer BRISTOL, the Type 42 Destroyers and the Invincible Class Aircraft Carriers.   Of the Type 42 Destroyers only the YORK and EDINBURGH remain in service but will soon disappear and SEADART will no longer be operational.

Meanwhile from the decks if the Helicopter Carrier ILLUSTRIOUS (without SEADART) two APACHE  helicopters from 656 Squadron Army Air Corps fired one HELLFIRE missile each at a training target positioned by the ILLUSTRIOUS in the sea off northern Scotland during the first of this year's two Joint Warrior war games.
NIMROD Replacements ? – the media (well the Daily Mail) has carried a story that months after axing of £4.1bn the nine (9) NIMROD MRA4 fleet in October 2010, and is doing created a 'culpability gap', that “Ministers” are ready to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on new aircraft quoting a senior RAF officer as a source, who revealed that the Ministry of Defence are looking at the ‘off-the shelf’ options of the Boeing RC-135 RIVET JOINT or the Boeing P-8 POSEIDON.  

In March 2010 the Ministry of Defence announced that it had reached agreement with the US Government to purchase three (3) RC-135W RIVET JOINT aircraft along with associated ground systems to replace the NIMROD R1 aircraft of 51 Squadron engaged in Signals Intelligence.  The NIMROD R1 was retired in June 2011, and the replacements are scheduled to be delivered between 2014 and 2018.   The RIVET JOINT is an old airframe (essentially a Boeing 707) and has no history of being used in the maritime reconnaissance role whilst the POSEIDON (essentially a Boeing 737 airframe) first flew in 2009 and has been ordered in quantity by the US Navy and India and Australia have ordered the type.    Air Vice-Marshal Mark Green, Director of the Ministry of Defence  joint and air capability transformation” was reported as saying to the House of Commons Defence Committee that :  The underlying view of the MoD is that an aircraft is likely over the medium term to be the solution that actually fills the gap that was created when we took the Nimrod out of service.’

Monday, 23 April 2012

Submarine Enterprise Performance Programme - The Ministry of Defence is looking at radical changes to a deal that includes the next £15 bn wave of TRIDENT nuclear warhead carrying submarines as part of cost saving plans. Under this programme, listed defence groups BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and Babcock International work in collaboration with the MoD to ensure £900m of cost savings to build and maintain submarines - they are the UK's biggest suppliers for the vessels, which include the seven ASTUTEs which are TOMAHAWK missile carriers and will include the four replacement TRIDENT submarines that are not expected until 2028. The MoD, as reported by the Independent, that the deal requires a commercial partner with no existing contractual ties to keep those savings on track.    The MoD claims this report is incorrect and certainly one half of the coalition any such move would seem to prejudge the decision to actually build TRIDENT replacements!

Thus the Submarine Enterprise Performance Programme could end up with a similar structure to the London 2012 Olympics, where a private sector team has successfully worked with the Olympic Delivery Authority to keep the Games within the revised construction budget.

Argentine Special Forces – the Sunday Express reported that to combat the threat posed by the Argentine Special Forces the Ministry of Defence is calling for trained dog handlers to be deployed in the Falkland Islands to detect secret night time incursions by Argentines.   It is feared that a small cadre of Argentine Special Forces may target a section of the islands' immense craggy coastlines and plant an Argentine flag in a propaganda coup.     Senior officers of the RAF Police Dog Section, based at Mount Pleasant, have pleaded for dog handlers whose dogs have special “windscenting detection” training, to volunteer for six to eight week postings.     Recent intelligence briefings in London have determined that any Argentine threat would most likely take the form of a small incursion, possibly using civilian craft, landing on a remote part of the coastline.
DRAGON On Parade – The Type 45 Destroyer DRAGON has become the Royal Navy's latest warship having commissioned in a traditional ceremony at Portsmouth Naval Base.   The ship is the fourth ship of six ordered from BAE Systems in Glasgow and will be affiliated to the Welsh capital Cardiff.    We are near the end of the Type 45 programme with only the DEFENDER set to arrive in Portsmouth this summer and DUNCAN next year.

Yeovilton Air Day (HMS  HERON) – Saturday 23rd June 2012 – This event returns this year and with little in the way of naval aviation it is not surprising that to mark the 30th anniversary of the Falkland War the event will be spearheaded by the last Avro VULCAN B2 – a genuine veteran on the 1982 conflict, making its third appearance at the show.    All Yeovilton based Naval Air Squadron participated in the original conflict with some 126 aircraft and more than 1,400 personnel.

This June the Naval Air Squadron participation include anti-submarine MERLIN HM1 helicopters from RNAS Culdrose, the Black Cats LYNX display team from Yeovilton itself.     The Fleet Air Arm veteran contingent will be made up of the worlds only airworthy De Havilland SEA VIXEN and a Douglas SKYRIDER (albeit having been repainted in a new US Navy scheme).   The RAF will dominate the flying display with the Red Arrows (of course) with a TORNADO GR4 putting in an appearance as well as the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’.    Other contributors will be (702 Squadron) an Army Air with a rare LYNX AH9 solo display.     The “Saudi Hawks” –the Middle East’s equivalent of the Red Arrows, will be making only their second ever UK appearance at this year’s air day.   The climax of the show will be the closing event with a commando assault with explosions, and helicopters flying in armoured vehicles and troops with the “Junglies” of the Yeovilton’s Commando Air Wing (845, 846, 847 and 848 squadrons) very much in evidence.

Falkland Campaign 2012 - A campaign of deliberate delays by Argentine stevedores against UK registered ships has now spread to other flag states.   The measures were introduced in February (2012) by the local stevedoring union (SOMU) and largely involved tug operations.     P&I club Gard (a Norwegian insurer) says the action has now spread to ships flying a number of other flags some of which are former British colonies, such as Bahamas, Bermuda, Gibraltar, Greece, Hong Kong, the Cayman Islands, the Isle of Man, the Marshall Islands, Malta, Panama and Singapore.    Gard says “The consequences of the measures taken are delays due to restrictions placed on tug services” with “A delay of six hours on entry and six hours on departure can be expected for vessels calling at Argentine ports,” it adds.     The flag states involved are said represent more than 50% of the total number of ships carrying Argentinean goods overseas.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Dutch Frigate Performs RAS with RFA FORT VICTORIA – The Dutch Frigate HNLMS VAN AMSTEL – a EU NAFVOR unit working alongside Coalition Task Force 151 – successfully performing a “RAS” (replenishment at sea) with the RFA FORT VICTORIA.    The RFA FORT VICTORIA is part of the British commitment to Coalition Task Force 151 serving East of Suez.

The EU NAVFOR Operation Atalanta was launched in December 2008 and is conducted in accordance with United Nations Security Council resolutions which have been extended by the European Council until December 2014.   The EU NAVFOR Operational Headquarters is at Northwood (Middlesex) and the commander is a British Rear Admiral!    The objectives of Operation Atalanta are:-
·         Protect vessels of the World Food Programme, humanitarian aid and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) shipping
·         Help deter, prevent and repress acts of piracy and armed robbery and protect vulnerable shipping
·         Monitor fishing activities off the coast of Somalia
To date the following countries have contributed to EU NAVFOR Operation Atalanta :
Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom,  Lithuania, Latvia as well as non-EU countries such as Croatia, Montenegro, Norway, Switzerland, Serbia and Ukraine.

PROTECTOR - Further South Than Ever – The Ice Patrol Ship PROTECTOR sailed further south than ever before as the ship delivered vital supplies to polar scientists to the Rothera Station, a research base – 800 miles south of Cape Horn – the largest of the British Antarctic Survey’s establishments and the centre of its research effort on the frozen continent.   Rothera is also the British Antarctic Survey’s air base in the Antarctic.      PROTECTOR was able to deliver aviation fuel – always a potentially hazardous task - the ship had to pump 168 cubic metres of fuel ashore at a rate of 15 cubic metres an hour – that’s 15,000 litres / 3,300 gallons every 60 minutes – all done in temperatures of -15˚C.  The PROTECTOR was rolling heavily during the fuel transfer whilst alongside the jetty in the heavy swell.    The swell on the ocean was so heavy that the ship rolled seven degrees to port and starboard – enough to keep the ship’s company in watches in case there was an emergency.

The opportunity was taken for two dozen of the crew of the PROTECTOR took part in a ‘winter Olympics’ with a British Antarctic Survey team – and promptly beat the scientists and support staff on their own ‘turf’.    The event, the highlight of which was the cross country ski race, was played out against the stunning backdrop of the Adelaide mountains.     Royal Marines Commandos embarked were able to explore the stunning natural beauty of Adelaide Island (twelve times the size of the Isle of Wight) using their BV206 all terrain tracked vehicles which were craned ashore.   Next stop for the PROTECTOR will be the American Palmer Station at Arthur Harbour.  The patrol continues.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

TOMAHAWK Count - the TOMAHAWK missile is a primary attack missile from the Fleet Submarines in Royal Navy service and there are four or five of them on active service.    They are in all six remaining TRAGALGAR Class submarines (each with a weapon fit of 30) plus the ASTUTE (38) making a possible 188 weapons being required is these vessels were all to be fully armed, with no allowances for “reloads”.    The other weapon carried of these submarines is the SPEARFISH heavy torpedo which entered production in 1988 with deliveries completed in 2003.

In 1995, the first order for TOMAHAWK was announced with some 65 missiles purchased and a further 48 were ordered in 1997 which gave a fleet total of 113 units – 20 of which were fired 20 against targets in Serbia in early 1999 and replaced by a “buy” of 17 new units in 1998 – fleet total thus 110.     More missiles fired against Afghanistan in 2001 and presumably the 20 units that year were replacements for those expended.   Further missiles were launched against Iraq in 2003 and again the 22 purchased that year were replacements.    So far so good and the figure of 110 units held, though there must have been some attrition due to test firings if nothing else.  Assuming this was set at 10% a fleet total of 100 units can be arrived at.

In 2006 a second major purchase was made with 64 acquired (at a reported average cost of in the region of £600,000) of the new block IV type though whether these replaced the original units is not clear, but doubtful - making a fleet total of 164.     These new units entered service in 2008.   There were further missiles expended in Libya in 2011 and ASTUTE has just fired four units on sea trials for which replacements (if any) have yet to be ordered.    So that may mean we are now at a fleet total of say 150 TOMAHAWK units.   With AMBUSH on sea trials the need to maintain our TOMAHAWK fleet numbers is clear, and further orders can this be anticipated ?      It can thus be speculated that the attack outfit of these missiles would be along the lines of:
ASTUTE                                                           24
TRAFALGARs (Fully Armed) (3)                    60
TRAFALGAR   (Other)         (2)                      24
Storage/Overhaul/Maintenance/Reserves  42  (28%)

To put this into some context the US Cruise Missile Submarine FLORIDA (one of four) has the capacity to carry 154 TOMAHAWK cruise missiles, and during the Libyan campaign fired 90 missiles!!

Libya Saves Carrier Strike – in the absence of any statement from the Secretary of State on the choice of aircraft for our aircraft carriers, despite the being promised before the Easter recess of parliament it is instructive to reproduce an editorial from the admirable  Navy Matters website from last August (2011).
In October 2010 the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) shocked the Royal Navy by announcing the immediate scrapping of the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and Joint Force Harrier. It also said that one of the two 65,000 tonnes Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers under construction would be sold or placed in to extended readiness (reserve).    The only ray of light in the gloom was the intention to regenerate a carrier strike capability by 2020, this consisting of one QE class carrier converted from a Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) configuration to a Catapult Assisted Take Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) ‘cat and trap’ configuration and routinely embarking 12 F-35C Joint Strike Fighters. However, despite all the cuts made in SDSR, it was soon clear that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) still had serious budget problems and that more cuts were inevitable. By early 2011 the outlook for the £10 billion ‘Carrier Strike’ programme seemed very bleak, and the RAF was coveting the use of the planned F-35C’s in order to meet its ‘Deep and Persistent Offensive Capability” requirement, i.e. a manned replacement for the Tornado GR.4 strike aircraft.

The Royal Navy then got one of the few pieces of luck that it has had in recent years. Ark Royal was decommissioned on 11 March 2011 after completing her de-storing (or rather gutting for spares). That was just eight days before the government committed the United Kingdom’s armed forces to a military intervention in Libya - Operation Ellamy (also designated Operation Unified Protector after NATO took control on 27 March).     If Ark Royal had still been available, or could have been quickly restored to an operational condition, there is little doubt that she and a scratch air group including temporarily reprieved Harrier GR.9 jets would have been assigned to Ellamy. There is also little doubt that she would have distinguished herself, and the ship would have made a triumphant return to HMNB Portsmouth around the end of August having flown hundreds of highly effective combat sorties.

However, it is also certain that the many long standing and influential critics of RN aircraft carriers would have discounted this success, claiming that the same effect could have been achieved more cheaply by the RAF from land bases in the UK and Italy – thus again proving that expensive aircraft carriers were not needed. They would then have continued to argue that new aircraft carriers were unnecessary and unaffordable by the country in the current economic climate, and that the best way to solve the MOD’s budget woes was to find a way to cancel them and scrap or sell the half built ships.   But thankfully Ark Royal was not available. As a result the government and the MOD became uncomfortably aware of just how big a loss she was, and (contrary to the view expressed in SDSR) just how useful even a small aircraft carrier with short range jump jets can be for military operations outside land-locked Afghanistan. Italy then proved the point by making very effective use of the eight AV-8B Harrier II’s based upon the ITS Giuseppe Garibaldi - an aircraft carrier even smaller than the 20,000 tonnes Ark Royal.

Despite the strenuous and unexpectedly costly (£3-5 million a day, including £40,000 a day for hotel rooms in Italy) efforts of the RAF, it could not fully plug the carrier gap and UK officials became increasingly defensive about the scale of the country’s contribution to an air campaign that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and other Ministers had so strongly advocated. Perhaps the most telling statistic is that according to NATO figures, French aircraft were flying about 33% of all strike sorties (33%) whilst the British aircraft were flying just 10% (700 out of 7,223 total sorties by August 15). Even Denmark managed more than the UK (11%), and Italy flew about as many sorties as the UK despite not starting to participate in NATO operations until April 27. Possibly the RAF’s strike sorties were more effective than allies, but on the other hand if support sorties are included in totals then its percentage of missions flown becomes even lower.

The key differentiator for France was its aircraft carrier, FNS Charles de Gaulle. Positioned off the Libyan shore, the 18 fixed wing aircraft (10 Rafale, 6 Super Etendard and 2 E-2C Hawkeye) in her hard worked air group flew 1,350 sorties (most but not all being strike sorties) during 120 days of air operations. On an average day she was flying about twice as many strike missions as the RAF could manage! Additionally, aircraft from Charles de Gaulle could react to targets of opportunity in as little as 20 minutes, by contrast it would take six hours before RAF jets based in the UK could hit a target, or 90 minutes if flying from Italian bases.

An indication of how desperate the government was becoming – and just how little military capability was left on the shelf – was the deployment of the amphibious ship HMS Ocean as a makeshift “Helicopter Carrier, Attack”, with four and later five Army Air Corps Apache WAH-64 helicopters embarked. Thereafter, she was frequently referred to as an aircraft carrier in news reports!    As a result of the Libyan conflict – and the increasing recognition of the utility of aircraft carriers - leaks and media articles negative to the QE’s and the Carrier Strike programme have noticeably reduced. The promise of “the largest warships ever built for the Royal navy” has become an essential ‘fig leaf’ for ministers and officials answering criticism from all sides on the disastrous effect of the premature demise of Ark Royal and the Harrier jet.   The hope that the RN might actually get both QE’s rather than just one also advanced slightly when on 27 May the Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, said “I will continue to press the UK Government to ensure not only that they are both constructed but that they enter into operational use." He certainly say that both Queen Elizabeth and her sister ship Prince of Wales (likely to be renamed Ark Royal) will be fitted with the catapults, arrestor gear and other equipment necessary to operate the F-35C CV variant of the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, but the possibility was being hinted at. Another step forward came on 18 July when it was announced that the MOD’s equipment and support budget would increase slightly from 2015 in order to provide for the conversion of one QE class (probably Prince of Wales) to cat and trap at cost of about £1 billion. It's far from clear that this was actually additional money being added to the overall defence budget, but the priority being accorded to rebuilding a carrier strike capability was confirmed.

Then on 22 August, Gerald Howarth, Minister for International Security Strategy, told the Portsmouth News that he hoped that the next defence review, planned for 2015 will decide to keep both carriers:
"The SDSR concluded we needed one carrier but clearly that has its own limitations in availability and clearly the 2015 defence review gives us an opportunity to look again in the prevailing economic conditions and see where we go from there. Clearly, all of us would like two aircraft carriers because that gives us the continuous at-sea capability. We've had to take some pretty tough decisions but we're hoping to be in a position to recover that one in 2015."

Thanks to Libya and the pre-mature loss of Ark Royal, some of the serious mistakes made in SDSR have become impossible to ignore – even by the politician’s involved in the decisions. Compared to last Autumn, those politicians are now more aware of the geopolitical realities facing a country that is a member of the UN Security Council, and hopefully less inclined to make snap decisions that seriously affect both national security and national prestige (often one and the same thing).     The Royal Navy’s case for Carrier Strike has been immensely strengthened, and the service can look forward with significantly increased confidence to the decisions expected over the next year regarding the implementation of Carrier Strike. The best case possibility is that HMS Queen Elizabeth will be completed in a STOVL configuration in 2016, to then conduct extensive first of class trails and crew training exercises, including with allied Harriers and F-35B’s. Prince of Wales will then be delivered in 2019 in a cat and trap configuration, becoming operational the next year with 6 and later 12 F-35C's. Queen Elizabeth can then be refitted and converted to a similar standard in a c.2020-22 time frame, allowing the RN to guarantee the availability of a UK strike carrier 100% rather than 60% of the time.

Even the RAF seems to have reconciled itself to the fact that Carrier Strike will happen, and has agreed that the manning of the F-35C squadrons will be shared 60:40 with the Fleet Air Arm. The problem now is to buy enough F-35C’s to form the three front line squadrons of 12 aircraft that are needed to fill the decks of a QE in a crisis, and for once the RN and RAF will present a unified front!
We shall see