Friday, 4 July 2008

Super Carrier

So the contract for the two new aircraft carriers is signed. Much to the relief of the workforces in the shipbuilding industry.
Leaving aside the fact that these contracts are very lucrative and secure work for UK companies for a good while and ensure shipbuilding remains a part of the countries industry, are they in fact, value for money.

The carriers will cost 4 billion pounds
At least £4 billion as defence procurements have a history of overspend.

The USA Nimitz class carriers cost around $4.5 billion each. They are nuclear powered and carry 85 aircraft that use steam catapults to launch them.
The UK ones will not be nuclear powered, and will carry UP TO 40 aircraft.
Not being nuclear is apparently a cost issue. But it means that there can be no steam powered catapults as these require massive amounts of power. Instead there is the Ski-jump takeoff.
That severely restricts the type of aircraft that they can carry. One report is that the carriers can only use the F-35B Lockheed Martin built in the USA. This is a kind of new generation Harrier part of the joint strike fighter program. But there is a superior F-35C model already under design that won't be able to be used unless modifications to the aircraft carriers are made, despite it having superior capabilities.

The Nimitz class CV's are now some 30 years old and are still a match for most counties entire air forces. These new generation UK carriers as I understand it would have difficulty going head to head against the USS Nimitz or its sisters and coming out ahead.

I just hope that once again the armed forces do not end up with an expensive piece of kit that is always going to be, at best, just about good enough due to some 'cost saving' decisions in the planning.
We have already had helicopters that don't fly, small arms that required a certain amount of 'assistance' to fire, the Eurofighter that is great for air-to-air, but probably only a little better than what it replaces in air-to- ground.. and so on.

This is a very expensive project it is important to get it right.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for that information C@W which I have not yet come across in the MSM though BBC Radio 1 says they are fantastic because their decks are " the size of three football pitches !" so they must be good, right ?

Anonymous said...

Jobs for the boys in Gordon's and Alistair's constituencies? Or am I being a teensy weensy bit cynical? I also hear we do not currently have a dockyard big enough to put the ships to bed in. There is something a little bit maladorous about all this.

Anonymous said...

The Keynesians will be out in force soon as nulab fight a losing battle against the coming slowdown. Would we rather they waste our taxes on outreach co-ordinators and yoof workers, or on the shipyards?

If I had to choose one, it would certainly be the latter.

Bill Quango MP said...

GG. I believe that there is no 'Dry dock' to put them in. Hope they aren't damaged in any way.
Also to defend the ships the navy has had the type-45 destroyer [8, now possibly being reduced to 6]and the astute attack nuclear submarines. Thats an awful lot of shipbuilding.
Plus the new, and very late, Nimrod anti-sub plane is needed to defend them too.

SEB: BBC was a little gushing yesterday. I think that they were bowled over by the 'artists impression' CGI.
However they have now started asking a few 'will this impact on other defence plans' questions.
But the story went out [again] with lots of favourable, largely unchallenged, publicity.. just as intended.

I think not making them nuclear may prove to have been a false economy. Nuclear powered carrier technology is 35 years old. Not having it is bit like building a modern day airport and deciding air-conditioning is still a bit of a luxury.
It was a luxury in the UK 35+ years ago. Today its a standard.

Exactly what planes they will use, the real cost of the future proofing, the cost to the navy of an extra 2,000 - 4,000 sail

Letters From A Tory said...

You can see the disaster years ahead of it happening. Costs overrunning, poorly written contracts, slow production, possibly a bit of union strife, not functioning properly...

Nick Drew said...

as a former soldier I am quite in favour of defence expenditure

but big aircraft carriers ? a Blairite 'world leadership' jerk-off: there are several better uses those £££ could be put to.

BTW, the old Ark Royal & Eagle had steam catapults - you'd never have launched an F-4 otherwise - so I am deeply skeptical about the inability of a non-nuc to support them: it's only hydraulics !

so - as a former soldier - bollocks to that !

hatfield girl said...

No-one would be in favour of losing ship building skills at every and any level. So what has building aircraft carriers that are too big to be built in one yard and have to be towed around the coast being knitted together here and there (five bits so far - front, back, two sleeves, and the collar come to mind), distributing the largesse but no-one has ever knitted five bits of an air craft carrier together before, to do with maintaining ship building`? We could have bought them ready to go from the US for half this expenditure. It was supposed to be a joint undertaking with the French, all tied in with European navies and stuff, only cowardly Brown wanted not to say that and to buy votes in his back yard too.

There is an army rotting at Basra airport and an army fighting and being blown to bits in unarmoured vehicles in Afghanistan. And Brown spends on votes, and business support, and false patriotism.

Bill Quango MP said...

ND: indeed the old carriers did use steam catapults.

I think the problem of power arises from the use of Integrated Full Electric Propulsion (IFEP) as the powerplant with gas turbine generators.
Apparantly this means that they are only compatible with electric launch catapults.These are not yet available. They are being incorporated into the new USN carriers being built from 2008.
Its a manpower / space saving/ cheaper option.

Anonymous said...

Aircraft carriers are nothing more than the big swinging dicks of the defence world. I can't see why we would need them. It presupposes that the UK itself is under sea-bourne attack (hardly likely, given our own nukes) or that overseas operations are conveniently close to open sea. t also presupposes that the carriers can be adequately defended, and not merely be a liability. A far better equipped and paid army and aircraft for the RAF that might actually see service one day and the UK armed forces could perhaps carry out the tasks that have been alloted to it. Research into the kind of weaponry and defences that might help the army carry out the duties it is undertaking in places like Afghanistan would also be a good idea. The navy still seem to be fighting WWII.....

Unsworth said...

Yes, but what of the aircraft that will be required? The existing machines are almost all obsolete and/or unsuitable.

So how much more is that going to cost?

CityUnslicker said...

JSF's - -o oh very sexy birds those planes. Bit costly mind but there will be some great CGI to sort them out.

I am with everyone in general. Carriers are useless in Afghanistan - not much better in Basra really.

Maybe the navy are thinking ahead to the next war - perhaps when sea levels are 10 metres higher???

Maybe George Monbiot has a hand in our defence policy....

Unsworth said...

And the JSF is yet another American led and dominated venture...

Remember the Chinook shambles?

rwendland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rwendland said...

Lewis Page, ex-naval officer and critical journo, makes the case for an aircraft carrier being more damn useful than the excessive pile of frigates the Royal Navy has - and much better value than the £1 billion a pop new Type 45 destroyer. Seems a reasonable case:

Lewis Page is keen on nuclear power for the carrier, in part to generate the steam for a launch catapult. Not so sure about that. The French nuclear carrier Charles de Gaulle has been so much trouble, the French Navy don't want a second of the same design. I can see we'd easily be in the same mess with a one-off nuclear power plant for an aircraft carrier.

Bill Quango MP said...

RW: the trouble is having two carriers really means at least eight type 45 destroyers and further smaller ships to defend them.
Anti-sub defence, anti air defence. Remember the Falklands, all those radar picket ships.
Further reading of the specifications hasn't left me much wiser as to which AEW aircraft / helicopter can carry.
I guess the seaking AEW will be used.

The real problem as I see it is that there are a LOT of trade offs already.
F35-B vs the much more capable F35-C. Airbourne radar/ powerplant/ size etc.

These ships will be in service for probably 4-5 decades. If you are going to have them , which we probably should, then make them as good as possible now, because funding for upgrades is always going to be a problem.
Changing to conventional take off will add some 100 - 200 extra personnel that require extra, more specialised training.

The cost of the F35-B looks pretty staggering at $95 million each. The F35-C about the same, maybe $40 million.

I would expect that the Navy themselves have decided on the specifications to have once the budget has been agreed.
I would suggest if you are going to spend £xBillions with ongoing costs that will add x% to the defence budget then make sure that it can do whatever, wherever you want it.

Ryan and CU: If you are an island,and want to play world power, you need aircraft carriers.
The advantage is that they can be used as helicopter platforms for humanitarian aid / airbases when you are in unfriendly territory and don't fancy being on the ground / hostile regions etc.

Do we need them?
do we need them now?
Not when there is a lot of equipment that needs to come first,and they will need to find 5000 personnel to man them?
but they won't be ready before 2020 if they don't start now.

rwendland said...

BQ: I agree the staggering price of F35s is big issue, on which I have no suggestions. When UAVs are a large part of the future, spending a fortune on F35s does seem dumb.

But I've never understood why we need 8+ type 45 destroyers to defend the aircraft carriers in the post Soviet Union era. What threat do we realistically expect now? Acquisition cost of 8 type 45s is twice that of the 2 aircraft carriers (without aircraft). We need some balance, and type 45s are single function anti-aircraft destroyers so don't have much other use.

The French and Italians arm carriers with anti-aircraft missiles, reducing escort needs - in a low-threat env they can operate without escort - not militarily the gold-standard solution but a good cost-benefit compromise. Why don't we do that and save on expensive escorts?

Looking at most Navy/RAF capital spending you'd think the Soviets are still out and about with state of the art equipment:

* Eurofighter - anti-aircraft (costs secret)
* Type 45 destroyer - anti-aircraft (£6.4 billion)

* Nimrod MRA4 - primarily anti-submarine (£3.5 billion)
* Astute nuclear subs - primarily anti-submarine (£3.8 billion)

We do need to decide what the likely adversery might be, and if they might have state-of-the art planes and subs. To me more, less expensive, equipment is the way to go.

Anonymous said...

Ryan hits it on the head.
"It also presupposes that the carriers can be adequately defended, and not merely be a liability".

Unable to defend our own carriers, this will be the ideal way of introducing Euro-Nav. How could we complain if units of the French, German or Spanish Navies were appointed to do so ( under some Vice Admiral Supremo from, say, Luxembourg )?

Nick Drew said...

agree with RW, less expensive is better, HMS Ocean proves you can load up Harriers and helos on a simple platform if you want to project a bit of air power, military or humanitarian

& what happened to the old Polaris / Trident argument that you need a minimum of 4 in order to be sure you've got one available at all times? you could see how 3 might work, but 2??? someone would be able to work this out but I'm guessing there's a VERY high probability with only 2 that neither are available at a given juncture

so - let's have 4 cheap & cheerfuls instead, with a proper inventory of suitable aircraft

let's face it, the rather diminutive Invincible (together with the outmoded Hermes) projected power rather convincingly in 1982 - against some reasonably capable opposition ... (so far as non major-power countries go)

rwendland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rwendland said...

ND: Yes, HMS Ocean, with its merchant ship build standards, seems to have worked well. Does show that the new carriers are quite good value; Ocean cost a bit more than a frigate at the time, and the double+ size new carrier costs less to build than two Type 45 destroyers now.

I think the 4 vs 2 thing is because a Trident sub has to be on-station all the time, but with aircraft carriers one in harbour but near ready to sail will do.

I'm not sure looking back to the Falklands is that useful these days, as hi-tech gets more accessible. Imagine the future with real-time satellite imagery and cheap one-way UAVs to take sophisticated missiles to within 100km of a ship, coupled with cheap decoy UAVs so your enemy cannot afford to shoot everything down with its super-expensive missiles. Plus cheap but slow Autonomous underwater vehicles. That could make sophisticated home-water defence cheap and effective - and a matter of military economics over "the best".

Power projection using a surface Navy is going to become very tough - I do wonder if the UK should give up on the game now.

Anonymous said...

CU: "Maybe the navy are thinking ahead to the next war - perhaps when sea levels are 10 metres higher???"

That made me laugh!

BQ:"If you are an island,and want to play world power, you need aircraft carriers."

Exactly my point, they are simply for playing power games we can't afford to play anymore. Our corrupt politicians put our young men in the front line so they can hang out with the big swinging dicks like Bush and Putin. Just goes to show what a mendacious bunch they are. Meanwhile, we can hardly use the carriers as "power projection" whilst our own army is getting bogged down for years by a bunch of bearded zealots. Finding a solution to that latter problem becomes imperative - since otherwise every war we might indulge in will simply resort immediately to guerilla tactics where our defeat is assured in the longer term. I really don't see aircraft carriers playing a part in that. Sure, they look impressive, but the rest of the UK military is rapidly showing its weaknesses. If we don't find new ways to repair our weaknesses then our strengths become irrelevant. Look at it from our enemy's POV - if they can choose the manner in which the war is fought, why would they take on our navy? The way to destroy us is now obvious.

BQ: "The advantage is that they can be used as helicopter platforms for humanitarian aid"

Well yes, putting it together with CUs comment I can see that they would come in handy whwen Bangladesh is underwater. We can pick up a small city on their decks and ship them straight to Tower Hamlets.

Bill Quango MP said...

You are not wrong. Carriers are for big ops.
But they are also the best means of protecting sea lanes.
The Navy's job has always been to ferry the army in / out of warzones.
To do it you should really have air superiority. Its very very dangerous not to.
We could rely on the USA to do it for us all the time, but they might no be interested in say 'The Falklands'

Your argument about the rest of the services is sound.
Aircraft Carriers fall into the one every 4 decades spend, as does submarines, Trident etc.

The MOD proudly boasts about how much spending has risen and how we spend a little more than France or Germany..The real problem being if you are going to actually fight wars you can't have a peace time defence budget of 2.5% GDP.
It HAS to rise.
Blair thought it would all be over by now and Brown hasn't the money.
I think that we really do need the aircraft carriers but am a bit concerned that they won't be good enough.
As for the point about we should be spending more on the Army.. you can't argue against this.So, sort the army first, then buy your carriers.

if you haven't already check the link on rwendland's post.

rwendland said...

BQ: Submarines are anything but a "once every 4 decades spend".

The Defence Industrial Strategy says we must build a nuclear submarine every 22 months, otherwise we can no longer do it economically and risk another Astute subs fiasco, when we had to hire the yanks to show us how to design a sub using CAD & how to build them sensibly (vertically in sections, not the obvious way).

Very fortunately, for some convenient reason, our nuclear subs seem to wear out after 25 years (the yank subs seem to last near 40 years). So if you build one every 22 months and they last 25 years, you need a fleet of 13 nuclear subs to keep the builders (BAE now) happy. Strangely enough the Navy thought they needed 4 Trident subs and about 8 hunter-killers (Fleet subs), so things work out near perfect! Call me cynical if you like.

But I don't think we have money for 8 Astute subs, so this joyful balance will go awry.

I don't understand why we need 8 hunter-killers subs at nearly a billion a throw each anyway, BAE aside, now the Soviets are no more.

From what I gather the super-silent non-nuclear air-independent propulsion subs, like the German Type 212 (and cheaper export Type 214 sister), are very good for defence - small and very silent they are much harder to find than big nuc subs with those noisy pumps in the reactor. And they can be exported, so you can maintain the volumes for a viable sub industry. Plus the useful spin-off of developing top-notch hydrogen fuel cell technology, which looks like a useful industry to be in.

I suspect we've taken a wrong turn for a country of our size by sticking with nuclear subs. We need to jointly develop with the French - what chance?

Nick Drew said...

(blimey, we have a lot of defence correspondents!)

Anonymous said...

"Call me cynical if you like."

Why would I do that? We have a whole industry that is paid by the government to produce fantastically complex radar systems that can't be blocked by the enemy, then the same companies sell the government fantastically complicated radar blocking systems designed to block precisely the type of radar that they have just developed - and so it goes on.

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