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Navy Carriers: We want two or no votes for you, Tories

No frigate on Caribbean drugs patrol? Imagine my concern

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We want two, and we don't care what the frigate mafia says

Long term, these sort of send-a-gunboat tasks might call for new, specialised auxiliaries or warships, probably optimised to carry troops and choppers either way. Pressed into major maritime combat, with the right aircraft aboard - perhaps backed by some containerised Tomahawk cruise missiles - they would easily vanquish single-helicopter enemy escorts or minor warships, and also submarines of the ordinary non-nuclear type. For now, though, our existing auxiliaries would do fine. Whenever a frigate or destroyer goes anywhere, it usually has to be accompanied by an auxiliary anyway (gas-turbine warship engines are not very fuel efficient), so the ships already exist.

Actually, then, there's no real downside here at all for the taxpayers and citizens of old Blighty. And there's a big upside, not just for them but for the UK's soldiers and marines too. A carrier on call doesn't just dominate the sea, but the land nearby and the sky above it - and it does this without any need for huge shoreside air bases with vast perimeters to guard and vulnerable road supply convoys etc. If there's a genuine need for planes to move to a base ashore, carrier planes can do so easily - landplanes can't move to sea.

It hasn't been often that British troops have needed fighter cover since World War II, but when they've needed it they've really, really needed it. Just ask the Welsh Guards, chopped to pieces by Argentine jets at Bluff Cove. When there has actually been any fighter cover for British troops in combat since World War II, it has come from the navy, not the RAF. Every time a British fighter has shot down an enemy aircraft since 1945, it took off from a ship to do so. Even back during WWII, lack of carrier air killed a lot of sailors and soldiers - and the presence of it saved many more.

So no downsides at all for this plan, really?

Actually there is a major one, for the thousands of Royal Naval officers who depend on the escort fleet for promotion. The Service is already wildly top-heavy, with more than 15 commanders (equivalent to Army lieutenant-colonels) for every seagoing commander's job - most of those job slots are as captain of an escort. There's no promotion for surface-fleet officers, the mainstream naval community, in carriers. These plans would mean a jobs bloodbath among the already ridiculously overmanned naval officer corps.

Again: Imagine my concern.

Come on Cameron, come on Fox and Osborne. Do the right thing tomorrow and make the Royal Navy what it should be, not what it would like to be. ®

Bootnote

*The much-feared SS-27 "Klub" is very difficult to shoot down on its final run in as it goes to rocket propulsion and accelerates to supersonic speed for the last 60km of its flight. During the rest of its possible 300km journey from launcher to target, it operates as a normal subsonic jet aeroplane flying along dumbly in a straight line, and is thus extremely simple to deal with.

The Type 45 might be able to cope with a supersonic Klub, but nobody knows: the Sea Viper system (controlling the Aster missiles) has not been tested against a supersonic target, and there aren't any plans to do so. What is certain is that any modern jet fighter could pick off a Klub in its cruise phase without breaking a sweat. It would probably have at least as good a chance of doing so as a Type 45 during the final supersonic approach, in fact.

It's worth noting that the Klub must also have a good idea of its target's location before being launched. This is hard to obtain for enemies whose aircraft have been driven off by fighters and who do not possess radar-ocean-reconnaissance satellites.

Lewis Page is a former Royal Navy officer, who left after 11 years' service in order to avoid wasting his time and the taxpayers' money aboard frigates and destroyers.

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