Brown’s super-carriers are the wrong choice

Gordon Brown's commitment to the construction of new aircraft carriers is good news for defence sector jobs. But it is bad news for the defence budget and strategy.

The Prime Minister’s commitment yesterday to the construction of two new aircraft carriers is good news for defence sector jobs but bad news for both Britain’s defence budget and Britain’s defence strategy.

The Government is now in danger of eschewing the warnings of its own senior budgetary and strategic advisors. Defence economist Malcolm Chalmers’ recent RUSI report has warned of the grave dangers that await front line troops in terms of cuts if the government refused to take tough choices on big ticket items like the aircraft carriers or the joint strike fighter project. Similarly, the new Chief of the General Staff, General Sir David Richards, has likewise urged the government to make long-term choices between major procurement projects and front line resourcing.

The potential for a strategic redefining of Britain’s interests and consequent resource allocation was outlined in the recent ippr report ‘Opportunities in an age of austerity‘, in which former Defence Chief Lord Guthrie and noted security expert Andy Hull argued that:

“In concrete terms this will have to mean, above all, not developing new weapons to fight old wars. The new 65,000 tonne aircraft carriers, the planes to fly off them and the destroyers to protect them must be firmly in the frame for cuts. The super-carriers are currently costing £5bn (already more than £1bn more than originally predicted).”

This approach meets with favour even from military historian Max Hasting who recently observed:

“Opponents of draconian cuts in navy and RAF strengths cite the importance of a balanced strategy, which addresses potential future threats as well as current commitments, dominated by Afghanistan. The problem with this approach, admirably sensible in theory, is that it threatens to leave Britain’s forces balanced only in inadequacy.”

With the Conservative Party in disarray over its own cuts programme now is not the time for the Labour Government to prioritise defence contractor-pleasing procurement projects over a genuine strategic opportunity to set British defence on a firm and lasting footing.

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8 Responses to “Brown’s super-carriers are the wrong choice”

  1. Left Foot Forward

    Gordon Brown's super-carriers are the wrong choice for British defence

  2. Mark

    “good news for defence sector jobs”
    …funny how these are in Brown’s backyard and in Labour/SNP marginals, eh?

  3. Rob

    This one of the first articles on left foot forward that i have totally agread with. Dito on the comment about the Labour snp marginals refernce.

  4. John

    How are these aircraft carriers going to help fight Terrrorism?

    Most terrorists don’t have boats (only Somalian pirates do) – and I can’t think who we’re getting geared up to fight next.

    It’s clear to anyone who knows about the Navy that aircraft carriers need protection – and without it any battle will be a re-run of the Battle off Samar.

  5. Meandering Mammal

    I’d agree that it’s unwise to commit to expenditures without an underlying strategy, but I’d disagree that replacement carriers aren’t a key component of placing British Defence on a ”firm and lasting footing”.

    The key issue is how we see our forces operating in future, what do we expect the operations to look like? Do we want to retain an expeditionary capability or not? If we do want to retain an expeditionary capability where do we anticipate operating, bearing in mind that current operations are taking place in one of very few completely landlocked countries. Do we really see a near future with no ”state-actor” threats, can we rely on host nation support. Do we really see no requirement to advance from the littoral? Amphibiousity without the ability to provide air cover is suicidal.

    If we’re convinced that none of these things are what we want to be then it certainly reduces our requirement to invest in either the Army or the RAF.

    Ship to objective manoeuvre isn’t really required at this stage in the Afghan campaign, but I can see a lot of circumstances when it may have been used early on.

  6. Does the Navy Suffer From Budget Blindness? « New Wars

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  7. Alexander Mitchell

    @Rob, the reason for the construction of these carriers in Rosyth is due to the fact that the docks there are currently the main port of call for refits to the Navy’s current air craft carrier force and has a high level of expertise in operation carriers. However, the term ‘building’ or ‘constructing’ these ships is a misleading point, Rosyth, the major dockyard on the forth near Brown’s constituency, is a mere assembly point. The 2 vessels are built in sections and then moved to Rosyth for final assembly. Parts are being built on the Clyde at BAE’s Govan and Scotstoun yards whilst other sections are to built in North Devon at Appledore, Portsmouth and at Cammell and Lairds yard in Birkenhead. The division of the labour force ensures jobs are being protected across the UK and ensures a fair distribution of the work load. Although the division also shows how hard it is for the UK to construct a vessel of this scale anymore, both for military and commercial purposes, which only highlights the decline in our ship building capacity. Which for an island nation is a rather peculiar thing, when compared to the likes of Japan.

    The Carriers are a good use of Defence money, no matter how tight the budget. The nation was proved wrong on the matter of having no naval air capacity in the early 1980s over the Falklands, and after that war, no matter your opinion on it, the government of the day ordered 2 extra Invincible class carriers. Carriers are an adaptable, multi-mission asset which can do more than give a nation mere prestige. Carriers give the military a power projection capacity unlike any other, as they can combine ground troops, naval strength and air superiority in one component. And due to this multi-role capacity, from dominating sea lanes for miles around due to air capacity to amphibious operations, they are good for all arms of the forces, not just the Navy but the army and air force too. And if recent UK adventures abroad show, both recent and historic, power projection will remain a key component of the armed forces regardless of the operation they are sent on.

    They can provide a humanitarian role as well. When natural disasters struck in Haiti and after the Indonesian tsunami the vessel dispatched to help out in search and rescue and humanitarian assistance were carriers, as they could carry men, supplies and aid in such large numbers and deploy it by small craft and air effectively that they prove invaluable.

    Their longevity, at the moment predicted to be 40 to 50 years after construction is complete, will make them an invaluable tool in an ever changing world for the foreseeable future. Their multi-mission capabilities make them almost indispensable also as for a nation that plays such an actiuve role in all forms of world events like the UK will always need ships capable of projecting power and assistance where ever it is needed. Due to this they are a much required part of a modern conventional nation who plays a very active role in the world.
    Trimming the defence budget for a war which may be over in a matter of years may prove disastrous and any move to cutting long term projects could be fatal in future scenarios where we could be found lacking. Value for money is key in defence, especially at the moment, and I for one would rather see us go for the french alternative to the JSF and cut back on our nuclear deterrent to create a much more powerful and capable conventional force than waste money on what are clearly political weapons. No nuclear weapons, more conventional forces should be the SDR’s motto.

  8. Phil

    Still remember the tory’s trying to get shut of the carriers before the falklands anyone ?.

    Short on air bases perchance in the middle east ?, no Saudi Arabia as an aircraft carrier now. Thousands of troops locked up guarding restricted amounts of apron space abroad ?.

    The tory SDR will simply be cuts with the same lack of foresight as the 1980’s, when they laughably claimed to be the party of defense.

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