Wednesday 4 October 2023

Gordon Brown's aircraft carriers - looking sillier than ever

'Silly' is too light a term for Brown's costly pork-barrel folly.  He lumbered us with two ocean-going white elephants that wouldn't last 10 minutes against the Chinese.   ('Prince of Wales' !  What cynic came up with that? - as we've joked before.)

That prediction of fragility in combat might have been conjecture until very recently, albeit fairly universally endorsed.  But now ... well, now we've seen Ukraine defeat Russia's much vaunted Black Sea Fleet with little more than naval drones, aerial drones and some helpful, accurate intelligence from its friends.  Quite literally, that fleet is no longer a combatant: reduced to ignominious retreat to more distant ports.  Maybe - just maybe - US Carrier Groups have so much air-defensive firepower that they stand a chance of defending the mighty jewel at the centre of the protective ring.  But maybe not even them.  And certainly not the RN.  Asymmetric warfare at its apogee.  Like the advent of the torpedo, before destroyers were invented.  Think what anti-capital-ship effort even Iran could mount these days, let alone China.

Did I say a costly folly?  The expenditure alone - past and ongoing - on the UK's aircraft carriers is bad enough.  But the way that the very possession of the carriers drags UK defence policy into deep and distant waters will probably be more costly still.



jim said...

I harbour the dark suspicion that submarines are more vulnerable than we are told. Seems very unlikely that with modern-ish sensors and networks of fibre cables laid not only for telecoms purposes and plastic porpoises and rigged dolphins any competent state can have a pretty good idea where a tin fish is lurking.

But if I were in that line of business I would keep very quiet. The technology is probably not complete and a lot of money, jobs and reputations and gold braid on all sides depends on keeping the good story going. Let us hope we don't find out for sure, nuclear mines are cheap but give the game away.

In these cash strapped times we might remember that a fully-equipped duke may cost as much to keep up as two Dreadnoughts; but dukes are just as great a terror and they last longer. So no worries, the UK is well equipped with dukes, nothing bad can happen.

Wildgoose said...

I remember those carriers were signed up for in Brown's last year of Government - breaking the convention that major expenditure without cross-party support does not take place in the last year of Government.

Just to be certain of course, he also insisted that in the event of the project's cancellation the full costs would still apply - all money for Scottish shipyards neighbouring his constituency, and ultimately at the expense of English shipyards.

Typical Scottish Unionist. Scotland first. The only difference with Scottish Nationalists is that Scottish "Unionists" think the best thing for Scotland is to remain in "Union" with their more wealthy neighbour, while Scottish "Nationalists" think Scotland would be better off on their own.

Neither side gives a damn about the English though.

Anonymous said...

Jim: not as vulnerable at sea as in dry dock in Sevastopol, it seems!

Caeser Hēméra said...

Drones are really changing things, and the MoD should be scrabbling for ideas.

Smart minefields, modern torpedo planes, radiation triangulation (good luck to the radar station looking for the small fleet of explode-y cardboard heading their way)... Even anti-drone weapons can have their locations calculated from dropped out drones.

The next few years ought to be interesting, all the big ticket items can be dealt with with a lot of smaller ticket items. Quantity does have a quality all of it's own, doubly so when it's not made of meat.

Innovation, agility, flexibility and kitbashing are what will win the next wars.

Who fancies learning Mandarin?

Bill Quango MP said...

The real winner of the ‘which military weapon is indispensable’ in Ukraine, is artillery.
That has been battlefield king for a very long time.
Drones are mainly used for spotting.
They can drop small munitions.
They can be made kamikaze weapons.

The big loser in the Ukraine war, is the helicopter.
Russia’s very capable and large force of medium and heavy gunship platforms don’t function very well in a manpad environment.
Even though they were built for this exact terrain and warfare. And fighting, pretty much, the actual force equipment they were supposed too.

The Russian fixed wing airforce dare not fly over Ukraine.

Anonymous said...

Charles said.

Gordon Brown is a dreadful person. Everytime I learn something new it is usually entirely negative. Two essentially useless and cripplingly expensive ships which will no doubt distort defence spending for the next 40 years. Why not sell them to the Chinese? Cannot see a down side honestly.

Anonymous said...

@ Charles / Gordon Brown is a dreadful person. Hear hear! Tax policy, gold sales, bank (non-)supervision. And yet he keeps popping up with his weighty advice, on all channels. At least we rarely hear from J.Major.

E-K said...

Even if they worked... I have NO idea what they would be used for. Against Argentina, perhaps ?

To protect Ye Olde Empire ???

dearieme said...

A scrimmage in a Border Station-
A canter down some dark defile
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail.
The Crammer's boast, the Squadron's pride,
Shot like a rabbit in a ride!

No proposition Euclid wrote
No formulae the text-books know,
Will turn the bullet from your coat,
Or ward the tulwar's downward blow.
Strike hard who cares - shoot straight who can
The odds are on the cheaper man.

formertory said...

In my years of schooling I don't recall ever being introduced to Kipling's works; I discovered him with joy after hearing my father muttering about someone being "a better man than me, Gunga Din" and asking what on earth he was on about. The robust rhyme and rhythm and the no-compromise language was wonderful after the stuff studied in English lessons which broadly, left me cold.

I hadn't come across that poem before, dearieme - but how apposite. Thank you. More reading for a philistine to do.......

jim said...

The deeper question is 'when do we go nuclear'.

We do not have the industrial capacity to make bullets, shells, drones or missiles or aeroplanes in the quantities needed to sustain a war. The policymakers must be waving a hand and saying 'Oh, if it gets that serious old boy we'll go nuclear'.

Except they won't. Becaause no one will sent a nuke if there is any chance of getting one back.

So Mr Putin and Mr Xi present a problem. They do have the industrial capacity and if push came to shove they could afford the population loss. Particularly if the Americans decide to lay low - your problem buddy.

A two pipe problem Holmes.

Mind you, after the Tory conference the UK could do with a bit of creative destruction.

E-K said...

When do lasers become reality ? I heard from a good source (a very good one, in fact) that our efforts are going into their development.

jim said...

I once visited a physics prof on an EMC matter. He took me for a look in his lab - where stood an enormous pile of kit designed to shoot particle beams. Not totally a secret job - to do with Star Wars and Raygun Ronny.

I listened and asked 'do you think this will ever work?'. To which came the reply 'Of course not, but it does not stop us taking their money'. Nuff said.

As for lasers. The laws of nature require they shoot on a fairly narrow frequency (colour) band and it is pretty easy to make one's missile very reflective at the feasible frequencies. A sort of tuned Bacofoil. And not easy to make a high power frequency agile laser. Wait until the reentry phase when the Bacofoil burns off? - you will have to shoot through the plasma - bendy and tricky. Anyway, that is leaving it a bit late, very squeaky bum time.

The laws of science funding have not changed since the days of transmuting lead into gold. You start with a big chunk of gold and plan to do a runner.

Anonymous said...

If Mr. Putin dropped a nuke on London, perhaps it may spare the rest of the country from the incompetence of our political parties.

Caeser Hēméra said...

Yeah, as Jim says, lasers are problematic.

You can around the reflective issue as no reflective material is 100% effective, so you can just pump up the power levels to negate it. But that's generally a lot of power, and you need to keep on a moving target and hope nothing gets in-between.

Realistically you'd need some kind of remora device to attach itself, but if you've got one of those, why use a laser when regular explosives will do the trick cheaper, easier and more reliably?

They have their uses, but no one is going full Captain Kirk anytime soon.

I also can't see Russia or China going nuclear, their demographic issues are similar to ours, there's just no guarantee of success.

China's going through some interesting internal ructions anyway, it's quite possible the whole Taiwan argument will become moot as the CCP spend a bit of time ensuring their grip in the mainland is as tight as ever.

Nick Drew said...

A Chinese scholar (working in the USA) has recently suggested that much of the bellicose foreign policy coming out of Beijing is for internal consumption anyway.

But I still reckon Xi wants Taiwan back - on his watch.

dearieme said...

"wants Taiwan back"

The Dutch ruled Taiwan before Imperial China did, so shouldn't we return it to The Kingdom of the Netherlands?

Though you could argue that it was the Dutch who began the settlement of Chinese in Taiwan so that The Kingdom of the Netherlands owes reparations to the indigenous people who were there before the Dutch pitched up.

On the other hand perhaps the "indigenous people" owe reparations to the people that they in turn displaced. (Ate 'em, for all I know.)

All of which provokes the thought: let us pay reparations to the Caribbean blacks by giving them these two useless aircraft carriers. What say you?

Anonymous said...

Doesn't only one of our carriers work? And we have no planes to put on them?

I must say it's almost looking as if the USA is going to try and take on Russia, China, Syria and Iran simultaneously - not all militarily but apart from NS2 destruction we've very recently had

Italy withdrawing from Belt and Road, presumably under US pressure - "far-right" Meloni proving as soft and squishy as her namesake melon.

Armenia losing Nagorno Karabakh, next Azeri target is the part of Armenia bordering Iran.

100 people killed by "unknown drones" at a passing out parade for Syrian military grads in Homs.

rwendland said...

Seems harsh to blame Brown for this one. He was only enabling what the MOD establishment told him was the sensible thing to do. Looking at the 1998 SDR, the MOD "blob" wastes no time - on page 2 we have:

"In the post Cold War world, we must be prepared to go to the crisis, rather than have the crisis come to us. So we plan to buy two new larger aircraft carriers to project power more flexibly around the world"

ie now we won the Cold War, we want to chuck our weight around out there in the big world (aka "power projection"), and MOD thinks 2 big aircraft carriers are just the job. (Actually Defence Sec, future NATO SecGen, wee George Robertson puts his name under that, but it will have been written for him by the MOD.)

I bet this aspiration is in plenty of pre-1997 MOD docs as well.

Jeremy Poynton said...

Brown - add to the above,

endless debt
Ushering in the collapse of the NHS, by doubling doctor's salaries and telling them they didn't have to work weekends.

Everything Brown touched turned to shit.

E-K said...

"Doesn't only one of our carriers work ?" I think part of the problem is that they couldn't find TWO carrier's worth of crew diverse enough to hit targets, Anon @ 8.58 ... and I'm not talking *enemy* targets here... or maybe I am !

Rum, bum and concertina (vice the lash)

Anonymous said...

tbf to Brown one of the problems in NHS is really has nothing to do with him, unless letting it go by default was culpable.

Med school has gone in 60 years from 85-90% male to 40% male (and a fair chunk of those are from minority communities).

In Elder Days Before The Fall doctoring was something you did til 65 or 70. My family GP was a woman, married to the job, who home visited me as a sick child and 40+ years later home visited my dying mother.

But most female docs are part time. Quite a few drop out altogether if hubby has a decent job and they're raising kids.

Has HMG ever put forward (verbally or in print) the idea that there's a trade-off (aka inverse relationship) between number of female med school grads and number of available front line doctors? That med schools will need more places because a female will only put half the hours in* over a working life?

*Hopefully they'll be doing other important things like raising bright babies.

Anonymous said...

Forgot to say - my ex-GP, a very competent woman, retired at 50-odd a year or so back and is a volunteer at a local charity.

Bill Quango MP said...

I knew a cream member of one the Aircraft Carriers.
And, as it happens, a lesbian.

She was injured whilst in port and received a compulsory disability discharge, which she did not want. It was her hip. That did eventually heal.

I believe there were plenty of applications to fill the fill the ships. Which was something we said would be a problem back when Gordo was stuffing the pork into the barrel.

The actual problem was not so much the aircraft carrier crews, which is where the sailors want to be. But the gaps created in the other ships

Anonymous said...

"member of one the Aircraft Carriers. Female. And, as it happens, a lesbian"

I'm shocked, shocked.

OT but the destruction of German industry continues apace. Latest PMI figures, Russia top, Germany bottom (39.1).

And a sad and tragic WaPo piece

“A hard choice lies ahead in Ukraine, but only Ukrainians can make it”

The fat lady may not be singing, but she's clearing her throat and sipping a glass of water.

The conflict is bleeding the country out. Ukrainians I spoke with during a four-day visit know they can’t keep fighting forever seeking what might be an unachievable victory. But they won’t stop, either.

“If you stop, nothing makes sense,” says Mariia Mezentseva, a member of parliament from Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine, near the Russian border. “We attended so many funerals in the last 18 months. At every one, I say with tears in my eyes: I will not stop until we reach our goal” of expelling Russians from all occupied territory."

Sunk cost fallacy. X people have died, so we must keep going until X+Y people have died! She'll still be attending funerals as she evacuates from Kharkov!

Ukrainian politicians are like the Black Knight in Monty Python. We shouldn't be encouraging them to commit suicide.

Jeremy Poynton said...

"formertory said...
In my years of schooling I don't recall ever being introduced to Kipling's works; I discovered him with joy after hearing my father muttering about someone being "a better man than me, Gunga Din" and asking what on earth he was on about. The robust rhyme and rhythm and the no-compromise language was wonderful after the stuff studied in English lessons which broadly, left me cold.

I hadn't come across that poem before, dearieme - but how apposite. Thank you. More reading for a philistine to do.......

7:26 am"

Lucky enough to be of a generation that still valued Kipling. If you come across it, do read the volume of letters to his children, which will move anyone, parent or not. "O Beloved Kids" it is entitled. One of whom, John, was later to die at the Battle of Loos.

And if you have young children, and have not read to them the Just So stories, shame on you!

Elby the Beserk said...

"Blogger E-K said...
"Doesn't only one of our carriers work ?" I think part of the problem is that they couldn't find TWO carrier's worth of crew diverse enough to hit targets, Anon @ 8.58 ... and I'm not talking *enemy* targets here... or maybe I am !

Rum, bum and concertina (vice the lash)

10:06 am"

Rum, Bum & Concertina" being the title of George Melly's wonderful autobiography. 🤣🤣

old git carlisle said...

Whilst working with some Turks I gave them a copy of Kipling's poems and suggested the watched Dads Army to help understand us lot.

Also said that they should regard me as unclean as I had stopped of on way to Newcastle to have bacon and black pudding .

They were also surprised that I said that Atta Turk ?spelling was excellent commander and cost us dear.

dearieme said...

Favourite ancient joke of my father's:

"I say, do you like Kipling?"

"I don't know, I've never kippled."

electro-kevin said...

Thanks Elby !!! I've been trying to find the source of one of my favourite sayings for a while. George Melly of Man,Woman, Bulldog !!! Fame.

BQ - It's not the dead in Ukraine... it's the dismembered and still living that are going to bleed them dry for decades to come, and the mass immigration required to replace their menfolk.

And there's still the possibility of Whoops Apocalypse !!! (That didn't exist last year.)

Way to go Biden, Nuland, Pyatt... I did tell you so.

Anonymous said...

Ukraine seems old news, there's a new war in town - where do we all stand on today's Hamas / Israel conflict/war?

dearieme said...

@Anon: I make no comments about that part of the world. I made one such a comment years ago and a rabid American woman - or someone purporting to be such - screamed "anti-semite" and worse at me, which was a first for this philosemite.

I learnt my lesson.

I suppose I could have asked why British Jews are generally conspicuously better people than American Jews but I don't suppose that would have done anything but pour petrol on the fire. Tempting, mind.