Budget 2020: mothballing a British Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier?

Le HMS (Her majesty ship) Prince of Wales (2019?), aircraft carrier for Vertical or Short Takeoff and Landing Aircraft (ADAV/C) of the Queen Elizabeth class is expected to be admitted to service in December. Tim Shipman and Tim Ripley (The Times, November 24, 2019) believe they know that a tragic duel is taking place between the British Army and Royal Navy vis-à-vis a reduced military budget for the year 2020 with in the background the general elections of December 12, 2019 which should decide the fate of BREXIT (BRitain EXIT). According to their information, in the event of defeat of the Royal Navy in the budgetary game: one of the two Queen Elizabeths would be mothballed. It could just as easily be a maneuver by one of the protagonists to destabilize the opposing party. With a rigorous conditional, it is proposed to explore the hypothesis presented in their article.

Tim Shipman and Tim Ripley (The Times, November 24, 2019) claim to have knowledge of a fratricidal duel between General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, Chief of Staff of the British Army, and the First Sea Lord (chief of staff of the Royal Nayv), Admiral Tony Radakin. Both men are competing to replace General Sir Nicholas Patrick Carter (former Chief of Staff of the British Army) inasmuch as Chief of the Defense Staff. They are working hard to help the current government and the future to decide the following question: will it be a question of maintaining the format of the British Army, in men, in materials, or to reduce that of the Royal Navy by placing one of the two under mothballs Queen Elizabeth or by leasing it to an ally's navy?

The format of the British Army is 82 men. In the event of a decision against it, the staff of the British Army would drop to a level between 60 and 000 men, the smallest size of the British army since 65. The cascade of consequences would materialize by adjustments of targets of all the equipment programs intended to modernize the land force British more likely structural reductions in key capabilities such as aeromobility.

The central issue for the Royal Navy is the defense of the format of its carrier group but also the maintenance in operational condition of all of its combat vessels. The radical choice proposed is to be weighed between these two ends of the structure of the fleet of the Royal Navy. Some of the senior officers and generals of the British Navy do not support the arming of the two aircraft carriers of the class Queen Elizabeth which was done to the detriment of strengthening the other components of the Royal Navy (surface vessels, submarines, etc.).

These same officers would have preferred to keep only one aircraft carrier to recast it as an aircraft carrier catobar (Catapult Assisted Take-Off Barrier Arrested Recovery) equipped with catapults and arresting strands, as proposed by the Strategic Defense and Security Review 2010 (Gordon Brown government): the HMS Prince of Wales had to be recast catobar, HMS Queen Elizabeth resold. Philip Hammond (Cameron government) confirmed on May 10, 2012 the order for the British F-35B, as well as the completion of the two ADAV/C aircraft carriers with springboards (sky jump), according to a short-term financial arbitration and almost against the advice of its navy. A dish holder catobar indeed opened the way for in-depth cooperation with the French Navy and the US Navy, and made it possible to increase the operational range of the embarked air group, an option chosen by the US Navy in the face of the challenges A2 / AD.

Still according to the article published by The Times, the British Army proposes to place one of the two aircraft carriers of the class Queen Elizabeth under cocoon. The logical consequences of the decision would allow the elimination of the ship's crew (670 and 700 sailors), as well as an undetermined number of positions eliminated within the embarked air group (around 900 sailors). This will raise the question of maintaining the targets of the associated programs for the aircraft of the embarked air group. The 48 F-35B will be sufficient to arm an aircraft carrier with 24 to 36 machines on each of its sorties. Would the same be true for the 10 early air warning radar systems? Crowsnest having to punctually arm the 30 Merlin HM.2 of the Royal Navy?

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The F-35B entered active service in 2016. The United Kingdom, the only tier 1 partner in the Joint Strike Fighter program, currently has 18 F-35Bs, 3 of which currently serve from British soil, the other 15 remaining in the United States. United. 42 machines will have been delivered by 2023. For its first mission in the Indo-Pacific theater in 2021, the HMS Queen Elizabeth (2017) will take on board some of the British F-35Bs plus a certain number of machines from the US Marines Body.

Such a decision to place under mothballs would also mean the end of discussions regarding an increase in length in the future. carrier strike groups British by the order of MV-22 Osprey which can be rigged as an onboard aerial refueling tanker.

A mothballed placement with the prospect of rental to an allied navy reflects the previous choice (2010 – 2012) because the hypothesis testifies to the desire to regain full possession of the building upon an improvement in economic and financial conditions. It should be noted that the announced operational availability of the two Queen Elizabeths (around 80%), the distant prospect of a major technical shutdown and the possible agreements with theUS Navy for the embarkation of British aircraft on board amphibious assault aircraft carriers make it possible to envisage (5 to 10 years) quasi-naval aviation permanence with a single vessel. Furthermore, this hypothesis seems to prohibit a resurrection of the overhaul project catobar of the aircraft carrier maintained in service.

However, candidates for the rental of one of the two British aircraft carriers could probably come forward. The United States is presented as a lead. L'US Navy does not feel the need to strengthen its amphibious format. Admission to active service of a building that does not fit the mold of its operational structures would require the installation of specific structures.

Australia would be an ideal candidate. Canberra continues to maintain the debate regarding the development of the capabilities of the two amphibious assault helicopter carriers of the class Adelaide. The rental does not require an advance of a financial sum of around 3000 to 4000 million euros. This would require the acquisition of F-35B or a conversion of the 44 remaining units to be delivered out of the 58 ordered or to confirm the anticipated order of 28 additional machines.

Japan will receive its F-35B between 2024 and 2026. Tokyo would have some interests in committing to such a rental with regard to China's rise in naval aviation power. But what would be the point of adding such a vessel to the fleet inventory when the two aircraft carriers of the class Izumo will be overhauled (2019 – 2023) to operate its future 40 F-35B ? Unless there is an additional and substantial order from F-35B, the Japanese navy would have overcapacity for aircraft carriers and a deficit for aircraft.

What about India? New Delhi is making a long-term commitment to the CATOBAR sector through the launch of the recently announced twin-engine carrier-based fighter program, and the program Multi-Role Carrier Borne Fighters (MRCBF) opposing F/A 18 E/F Super Hornet and Rafale, with a view to laying down a CATOBAR aircraft carrier during the second half of the 2020 decade: theIndigenous Aircraft Carrier 2 (IAC-2) or INS Vishaal. Renting a Queen Elizabeth brings the problem of choosing the fixed-wing aircraft on board which can only be the F-35B.

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First in-flight refueling of a Royal Air Force F-35B by a Voyager KC. Mk 2. The additional reactor for vertical lift at the rear of the F-35B cockpit reduces its fuel capacities by a fifth compared to the F-35A and C. Only a CATOBAR redesign or the acquisition of aircraft of On-board aerial refueling would reduce the gap.

The option of a purchase, on the other hand, would make sense to justify two significant financial efforts: the acquisition of F-35B would become productive with the docking in India of a third Queen Elizabeth. London made this proposal forIAC-2, which implies the abandonment of the new twin-engine carrier-based fighter program launched by the DRDO to replace the Tejas Mk II, because it would find itself without an aircraft carrier to equip. The other option would be a CATOBAR overhaul of the Queen Elizabeth purchased by India but New Delhi may fear the risks of the operation after the acquisition of the former Soviet aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov (1987 – 1996) of project 1143.4 (kyiv class). The acquisition with renovation of the building by Russia saw its costs increase from 654,07 (2004) to 1707,97 million euros (2013). A Queen Elizabeth could only be recast with electromagnetic catapults and the operation would present a cost of several hundred million euros in addition to that of the building: 3000, 4000 million euros?

This dispute, if proven, would result in a British decline unfavorable to France, Europe and the Atlantic Alliance. Reducing the size of the Royal Navy implies a reduction in European naval aeronautical capabilities: no longer two but only one aircraft carrier of the class Queen Elizabeth in addition to the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. Reducing the size of the British Army would not be a small loss because it is the only European land armed force, alongside the French Army, to have the capabilities to be able to engage in an external operation across the entire spectrum of operations. These two bad directions will increase pressure on European duplication in terms of arms programs, including the fratricidal competition between the FCAS and Tempest.

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