Monday, October 26, 2009

Carry On Carriers

On page 18 of tonight's London Lite there's a very short story entitled "Navy can't buy jets for carrier". The story doesn't appear to have reached the BBC yet. The gist is that, although there were two Queen Elizabeth class (CVF) carriers ordered, there won't be sufficient budget to put JSF on both - so one may "become a commando craft".
This seems odd. For years, the government has allegedly been committed to "about 150" JSF - OK, the rising costs made that more like 120-130, but even so... A full complement for both carriers is 70-80, and the balance would be for the RAF and an attrition batch. If, as this story implies, the numbers are now being cut, where does the cut fall?

Two possibilities spring to mind:
  • There is a huge cut, down to 40-60 JSF, which will be flown only by the Fleet Air Arm and from a single carrier - saving £5-6bn?
  • There is a more modest cut, down to perhaps 80-100 JSF, and the RAF will still get theirs - as well as Typhoon - saving £2-4bn?
I can't think of any other options - though I'm happy to concede that they may exist. In either of those cases, however, something is badly wrong. The RAF has little need for a STOVL aircraft, and maintaining two separate parts/maintenance/munition supply chains is ridiculous. Or, the big-cut option... that makes more sense, but is it going to be sustainable? There are well-known integration problems for munitions onto the JSF - it basically won't fire anything we've got, so we have to either pay hundreds of millions in integration costs or buy AMRAAM/Sidewinder/etc.

Could this be the first step to the UK pulling out of JSF? It's expensive, it's pretty much the antithesis of sovereign capability - look how long it took Lord Drayson to get "guarantees" over source code access - and we've got basically nothing for sinking £1bn into R&D as a "tier 1 partner". Italy and Israel got better deals for far less...

Will CVF end up as a helicopter carrier?

Modern choppers don't suffer the old limitations - a Merlin has a 1400km range compared to 1600km for a STOVL JSF, provides tactical airlift which is sorely needed in both war and humanitarian operations, and is already in service allowing for whole-fleet management.

There's a lack of deep-strike and air-to-air capability, but can those be provided by other means? For fleet defence, we've already got the Type 45s and could, no doubt, fit Sea Viper to the carriers; for deep-strike, UAVs or Storm Shadow/TLAM perhaps? The only thing you're losing is the ability to park off the coast of Baddiestan and pick a dogfight in their airspace - that might well be a pragmatic choice, given that they can't attack us without running afoul of the fleet's air defences.

I wonder why the story was buried so deep in a free paper, though. Maybe nobody cares.

It doesn't bode well, though, if defence equipment spending is being cut back. If there is fat in the budget, it's the huge number of civil servants - a third of the Whitehall total according to one report - not the forces themselves.

- KoW

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home