Thursday, July 03, 2008

New Carriers Are An Expensive Folly

Going ahead with the building of two new aircraft carriers costing more than £3 billion keeps people in work and tries to keep voters in the shipbuilding constituencies happy but it's a hugely expensive folly. 

The true cost will be much higher and comes at a time when the Army is over-stretched and under-resourced.

Even in peacetime, aircraft carriers cannot set to sea without a flotilla of ships for protection and supply. At times of war and in hostile waters, they are sitting ducks without the frigates, destroyers and submarines to protect the vulnerable mother ship. 

Contracts were finally signed today by the MoD for The Queen Elizabeth and the Prince of Wales. But they're not due to come into service for 10 years. 

Aircraft carriers were fine when we went sailing around the word as a maritime superpower, protecting the Empire. But the war we're fighting now is in Afghanistan. Maybe the MoD hasn't looked at a map recently. That country is landlocked. There's no ocean for thousands of miles. Proper equipment for the Army yes, but aircraft carriers are the last thing you need. 

And aircraft carriers need, well aircraft, otherwise even the name sounds silly. And not just any old aircraft - but very costly aircraft with short take off and landing (TOL). And what have we got ? Well at the moment any old aircraft. The ageing Harrier jump jets were fantastic in their day but are now getting a bit long in the tooth. 

So we'll have to wait for the new pan-US/European Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, which won't be ready in time for the carriers.

That £3-4 billion was just for building the carriers. Who knows what the true cost would be to get them to sea with protection and support vessels and the new aircraft to go on them. 

In ten years time we'll have two new aircraft carriers to fly the flag. But will we? 

By then, they'll be at the beck and call of the president of the new EU, as part of the new EU defence force. So which flag will they fly?

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