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Here's how the missile-free Royal Navy can sink enemy ships after 2018

It's tried, tested and proven in all-out war – and we've already got it, unlike the F-35

Fairey Swordfish Mk.2 LS326 of the Royal Navy Historic Flight. Crown copyright
This is the future of British carrier air power. Crown copyright

The solution to the Royal Navy’s post-2018 problem of having no anti-ship weapons is already in service and can even equip the UK’s new aircraft carriers.

The Fairey Swordfish (pictured above) is a versatile, rugged torpedo bomber first introduced into service in the 1930s. Having outlived everything introduced to replace it during the WWII, two flying examples remain in service with the RN Historic Flight.

These two aircraft could each be assigned to HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, the 70,000-ton aircraft carriers due to enter naval service in the near future.

Although neither carrier has catapults (or, indeed, aircraft until the year 2021), the Swordfish is capable of taking off within 540ft at full power* with the ship steaming into a 20kt wind – which compares very favourably with the QE-class’s 920ft flight deck.

The Swordfish has a noble and proud history of delivering the Navy’s ship-sinking capability, most notably over the Italian fleet at Taranto in 1940 and crippling the battleship Bismarck later in WWII. It is a proven war-winning platform with a straightforward wood-and-canvas construction that means spares and logistic trains will cost infinitely less than the heart-stoppingly expensive F-35B fighter jet (at around $130m per aircraft, according to some estimates) which will not be able to fly from the British carriers until 2021 at the earliest.

Moreover, the skills to maintain the Swordfish already exist, meaning there is no need to send personnel to the US for training as is needed with the F-35. Pilot conversion training can be covered by the RNHF’s Chipmunk training aircraft rather than the costly BAE Hawks used at present. These could be sold off as the Fleet Air Arm switches to Swordfish, generating large cost savings for the Ministry of Defence.

Naysayers and critics will doubtless point to the Swordfish’s lack of stealth and low speed compared to the F-35 but in fact its cruising speed of 100kts is a great advantage over the F-35’s top speed of 500kts. German anti-aircraft gunners aboard the battleship Tirpitz were reportedly unable to hit attacking Swordfish because they flew so slowly the gunners, used to fast modern aircraft, kept missing in front of them.

Moreover, the F-35B is unable to carry torpedoes, which the Swordfish was designed to do from the outset. Putting a Swordfish aboard a QE carrier instantly gives the RN the much-needed anti-surface ship capability that it will lack between 2018 and 2020.

You know it makes perfect sense. Ditch the F-35 white elephant, put the Swordfish on the carriers and let’s make the high seas British again. Rule Britannia! ®

Bootnote

The fully loaded takeoff performance at full boost is as recorded in Ray Sturtivant's book The Swordfish Story and quoted here.

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