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back to article Cameron: Carriers tomorrow, bombers today

Prime Minister David Cameron has at last announced the Coalition government's plan for sorting out the Ministry of Defence's finances. The RAF's deep-penetration bomber force will be preserved, and much of the Royal Navy's frigate and destroyer fleet: the cost of this is that there will be no jets able to fly from Royal Navy …

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Trident

Sure, there's increased operating/maintenance costs as the old clunkers reach the end of their life. But politically it's easier to postpone it.

For one thing, delaying until after the next general election is tactically useful. If things go badly for them at the next election, then the next crowd are stuck with this bloody great albatross round their necks. And if things go well then they're ready to jump in the chosen direction at a time that's as far from the following election as possible. It also pushes out a decision about major expenditure until after a time when everyone's hurting financially.

Financially, axing Trident completely is the best plan, of course. This would be extremely unpopular with NATO cold-warriors though (who are still obsessed with being able to nuke Moscow), and would likely cost the UK its top-table place. But letting the Trident subs slowly decay would be a neat move there. First one needs to be mothballed for safety reasons, then another, and the more this goes on the less they'll cost overall. And that way the UK hasn't made a definite commitment to axing its nuclear deterrent. They could also be crossing their fingers that the US (or specifically Obama, and hopefully his successor) getting real on nuclear disarmament will make it easier for them to properly axe (or at least majorly reduce) Trident over the next decade.

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Wrong. Again

Harriers in the Falklands had only Sidewinders. (Implication, no Radar like the GR9.).

This is incorrect. They had the Blue Fox radar system.

Further, scrapping Harriers is stupid. As stated, they offer some close support ability, and could have been used on carriers. And the larger carriers allows for a rolling landing - reducing the achillies heel of 'vertical take off/landing' and the issues of power/fuel/lift.

That being said, Harriers would not be viable in hitting, oh, I don't know - Iran. Thats Tornado territory.

All of this is because we have too low a GDP on defense.

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Flame

no, DS 1 you are wrong

"All of this is because we have too low a GDP on defense"

Er, no. You're wrong. Very wrong.

This country spends more on its armed forces in absolute and relative terms than just about anyone else. France, China, Russia and the USA spend more. We just don't get anything close to value for money and haven't done since at least WW1 or earlier.

The money we spend is mostly wasted on useless, overdue and absurdly expensive weapons designed for fighting the cold war. Which officially ended 20+ years ago but was over long before then. The MoD and service chiefs are disfunctional. Procurement has been seriously fucked up for decades. There's been no proper defence review and the latest news is no exception. It's a small step in the right direction though: cancelling the Nimrods and getting rid of 25,000 civvies in the MoD for instance. Why are we buying Typhoons and building billion-pound frigates? Why is half the army still in Germany? Who are they ever going to fight with tanks and artillery?

Even after the latest cuts the MoD's budget would be more than enough for a credible, well equipped military that met our defence and geo-political needs if it was spent wisely. But it wasn't and still won't be. Throwing more money at the MoD (I mean BAe), even if we could afford it, would be insane. Like buying crates of vintage champagne for a wino.

This nonsense and profligate waste can't go on. The new government has bottled it. The MoD is still in a hole and the government hasn't stopped digging. Yet.

BTW, what makes you think we should attack Iran when (a) we can't beat the Taliban in Afghanistan; (b) we couldn't win in Iraq either. It's high time we had armed forces that could do more than help the prime minister of the day crawl further up the US president's arse.

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Anonymous Coward

Thing is

You have to cover all bases.

Just in case.

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Stop

The problem is...

...We are not, as a nation, rich enough to cover all bases. We can cover them all half-arsed, or we can cover the most likely ones well, but we do not have the moolah to cover all bases in an effective way.

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Anonymous Coward

At least

Lewis didn't say "I told you so".

I guess we won't be seeing a lot of cost saving on the NImrod given the length of time spent in development, more savings in not having to buy fuel for it.

But what will be watching our seas if we don't have any?

Of course perhaps this is all part of a big show after which "concessions" will be won eg to keep the Harrier in use for a bit longer.

I'm certain though we can still blame most of our problems on the previous government.

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Gold badge
Unhappy

Those Nimrod savings in full

"guess we won't be seeing a lot of cost saving on the NImrod given the length of time spent in development, more savings in not having to buy fuel for it."

As far as I can see, Nimrod was never going to be completed, so you either cancel it or keep on paying the annual subsidy to the jokers responsible. If this reflects a hardening of procurement attitudes at the MoD, it is long (decades) overdue.

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Hope it is hardening of procurement standards

Also by not completing the order we standard less chance of overruns and extra costs and changes in the opertaional requirements.

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Carriers with no planes?

So... really expensive cruise ships then?

Maybe we just won't tell Johnny Foreigner. He doesn't take The Times, does he?

That spurs the thought - why not just scuttle the Trident boats in Scapa Flow, then claim that they're all out on patrol, all the time. And they've been upgraded to have antimatter bombs. That release hounds that spit bees from their mouth.

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lets take that idea further

lets just pretend that we do have a full and proper navy, and an upgraded trident. noone would ever know that we actually dont.

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Antimatter bombs

Oh crap, I'm being bombarded by vast quantities of harmless neutrinos! Whatever shall I do?

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Pint

So... really expensive cruise ships then?

The could hold Wimbledon on the decks.

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Anonymous Coward

Not entierly useless

Think mobile base with a couple of dozen of the army's Apache attack helicopters operating off it. That's still a fair bit of firepower. Also for disaster support operations a helipad is better.

Not idle I grant you, I’d rather see us being able to field two fully equipped carriers but this solution sounds better than having one gimped carrier today.

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viva las Malvinas

The argies must be rubbing there hands together - planning their next exped' to the Falklands with enthusiasm. With no aircraft carrier for years, and no planes to use it for years after that- it must be a no brainer?

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This is what i was thinking...

But we do have a handful of Eurofighters over there on permanent deployment...

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The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

There's a flight of Eurofighters permanently stationed on the Falklands now.

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Boffin

RE: viva las Malvinas

Apart from the fact there are now RAF fighters stationed on the Falklands now (and with plenty of warning from land-based radar to allow them to get up and knock any Argie-bargee out of the air), the Argentines have undergone a massive amount of political and economic upheaval, and don't have as much of a military muscle as they used to. In particular, they don't have a carrier anymore (they now fly their Etendards from a Brazilian carrier), scrapped their last tank landing ship, and with teh Belgrano gone they now pose much less of a naval threat.

As well as deep defence budget cuts (Argentina went from being Latin America's biggest defence spender as a proportion of GDP to now the smallest), the Argentinians have sent some of their best troops off on UN missions to Haiti and Cyprus. In fact, the Argentinians have embedded themselves in a number of UN and Latin American co-defence projects to the extent that a second invasion of the Falklands would cause considerable ill-will amongst partners like Brazil and Chile.

In short, the Argentinians would have to go through plenty of development and manouvering to assemble a force to invade again, and that would give the UK plenty of time to re-inforce the Falklands defences.

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Silver badge

Submarines!

You'll notice that one thing the UK isn't cutting is its submarine fleet. I'm sure that any warmongers in Argentina have taken note, and don't have an answer.

Personally, I'm not convinced that warships are viable in today's world. Too vulnerable to attack by missile from above, and by torpedo from below.

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Go

Carriers?

Its not as if you can't sink one with a supersonic anti shipping missle is it?

Oh cripes, I forgot we have no defence against that particular threat.

:-(

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Bronze badge
Unhappy

sad

disclaimer: I freely admit to being a Yank, but one with deep admiration and respect for the mother country - up to a point...

I do completely understand the desire of the "new" government trying to stanch the budgetary bleeding begun by predecessors. However, I do not understand the perceived short-sightedness in this decision. Granted, senior military staff are just like politicians in that they all have their pet projects and protected turf and will fight to hell and back to protect same. However, the larger and nobler goal of protecting British soil and foreign interests for the lowest overall cost seems to have been set aside.

On one hand, it appears that home defence was the chief goal of this decision. Well and good, however what about the lads and lasses "over there"? As has been pointed out by others, including the author of the article, naval air power is the most flexible of all military aviation. Yes, it's also the most expensive overall to operate, but said flexibility is nearly always worth it.

Forces the size of the RN(aviation) and RAF would probably be better as a single force. But now we're back to stomping on the toes of military senior staff, eager to exercise their perks. As an outside observer, it seems obvious to me that folding the RAF into the RN or some other blending of the two into a unified force would be the most cost effective from SEVERAL angles. First of all, unity of platforms - fewer models of each type aircraft. Not only does that lower procurement cost, but also maintenance and training budgets as well. Second, for homeland defence, the size of land to be covered can easily be done by carrier-capable aircraft, regardless whether stationed on land or at sea.

Finally, and perhaps most important from the point of prestige, Britain has been a sea power for a long time and has seldom hesitated in the effective implementation of that power. Projecting naval power without air capability is a recipe for disaster. The RAF has a glorious, western-world-saving history as well, but budgetary reality is what it is. Instead of trying to mollify the generals and admirals, put the best gear in the hands of the boots on the ground, at sea, and in the air while doing so at the most effective cost to those footing the bill - British taxpayers. [/screed]

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Bronze badge

Separate or combined?

Many years ago General (or was he Field Marshal by then) Smuts headed the committe that decided it made sense to create a separate RAF from the aviation interests of the Army and the Navy.

At the point before merger, the RNAS was about the same size as the RFC. It had also operated fighter squadrons over the Western Front.

During the war, the RNAS had competed with the RFC for aircraft from the manufacturers.

One of Smuts reasons was the development of an independent bombing force that was not beholden to the Army or Navy.

Now perhaps with the near disappearance of the bombing element, all that is left for the RAF is to support either of the two other arm. But with separate FAA and AAC there could be a return to duuplication, competition and overlap.

Its a tricky one

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Silver badge

.... what about the lads and lasses "over there"?

Bring them back home, concentrate on home defence, and stop fighting wars we cannot win. That should save a small fortune every year, a percentage of which should be put into returning us to the same level of civil defence readiness we had before Thatcher's "efficiency" savings. Civil defence is good investment, because it is not just attack that we need to be ready for.

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Black Helicopters

social cuts tomorrow

are estimated at 84 billion?*

mil spend on trident 3.0 costs estimated at 100 billion by 2024?*

there must still be a few working exothermic things lying around UK, maybe www.secret-bases.co.uk could advise the condems so we don't have to buy them at Wal*Mart?

(*)facts from half remembered BBC shows over the w/e & russian wikipedia en.academic.ru/dic.nsf/enwiki/19136

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Good job Argentina is a mess

...or it'd be bye bye Falklands.

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Silver badge

"... bye bye Falklands"

... so what?

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Coat

Maybe buy some of those Russian inflatable planes?

You could park a bunch on the deck -- they'd look the part (from a distance).

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Less defence hardware pr0n

You would think from this website's coverage of the precise number and composition of planes and ships to be cut that the majority of UK IT contractors work in defence, or that it particularly matters.

How about giving proportionate attention to the likely evisceration of UK higher education? That's going to have a hell of a lot more impact to the nation's security all round than an 8 percent cut to one of the smaller departmental budgets.

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FAIL

Robert Peston...

...isn't really getting the economics behind knocking the Nimrod program on the head when its 90% complete.

But then again what does he know? He's only a business/economics wiz and doesn't peddle American kit ENDLESSLY on El Reg so he obviously knows NOTHING about the economics of the Defence industry.

That said though, I never liked the idea of "upgrading" ancient kit in the first place kind of like the Lynx Wildcat fiasco so I'm fully against the Nimrod upgrade but if its already more or less done they may as well use it or at least just sell it on....if someone would take it.

As for the Carriers, I'm going to say the MoD should have bought French Rafaeles just to p*ss Lewis "Made in America" Page off!!!!! Oh I'm such a naughty boy!!! :D

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Unhappy

10 year rule again

So suddenly catapults CAN be fitted to the carriers? Or rather one carrier at a time. This will obviously require a new Catapult Rapid Exchange System to be developed at vast cost to transfer the catapults between ships in a reasonable time. (Which will escalate to cost more than two sets of catapults, nachurally) And a specialised submarine to recover the catapults from the carrier sunk by the opposition submarine that we can no longer find using the Nimrods we won't have.

Catapults also mean sensible AEW aircraft. (Which will be developed by BAE at huge cost from some entirely unsuitable airframe.)

Carriers with no planes.. destroyers with no missiles.. maybe Trident subs with cardboard ICBMs is part of the plan. (Very expensive Milspec cardboard of course)

Or we could lease an air wing from the US Navy. Too sensible I suppose.

We seem to be returning to the old Imperial defence plan. No Armyy,.no navy. and an air force just for intimidating the FuzzyWuzzy.

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FAIL

Price of being too greedy

The big carriers were always going to be more than we could afford... If the navy had gone for somthing nearer light fleet size, able totake a Harrier Air group plus a reasonable AEW capability they might have got something useful...

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fin
Paris Hilton

Some good, some bad

Trident being put off makes sence as by the time they are out of usefulness we may be looking at a very different world. Nimrod should have been cancelled years ago. Unmanned aircraft can already cover their role for most duties. By the time they would be operating likely more roles could've been covered by drones. Losing air bases is sad but rational. As is reducing sailors. T45 has a projected offensive capability orders above T42 and has a reduced crew. You just don't have to put as many sailors at risk so why do so? Our forces are not job creation schemes after all. About the carriers. Fitting for catapult and arrestors is great but why build it on a ship with no steam? They are still planned to be has turbines with electronic drive aren't they? F35c is a much better choice. Makes some sense to have two carriers one full complement of aircraft and one crew. Refit would be possible at a very leisurely and cheap rate if you only operated one at a time. Not sure about cutting armour and artillery. Everyone agrees we need more heavy and medium lift helicopters.

Fin

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Thumb Up

Electromagnetic catapults

Fin, the catapults will almost certainly be of the linear induction motor variety of the type that the Americans are fitting to the Gerald R. Ford

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electromagnetic_Aircraft_Launch_System

They are in fact much better than steam catapults, having faster cycle times, using less energy and putting less stress on airframes due to the linear acceleration. However only fitting one seems madness to me. By the time you have moved it across a few times you might as well have purchased two to being with.

The other thing nobody seems to have touched on, is that 10 years from now when the carriers actually come into service who knows what state the economy will be in, and we might even be able to afford enough F35c's to have both fully operational.

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Bronze badge

Catapult

Probably if the carrier needs a refit, then the catapult could do with a once over too.

In which case why not take the bits out of the carrier do the big maintenance on the dockside and put it into the other carrier when done.

Though it may be modular and with a large inventory of spares you might have nearly two catapults anyway.

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Anonymous Coward

Carriers, no planes.

Well, at least the navy will have plenty of frigates left to play with.

Say, how's those french missiles coming along?

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FAIL

Curious

The RAF have won this budget round ?

They will be operating Tornados - over 20 year old aircraft ? They lose thieir Nimrods...

The Navy get their carriers and somem F35 planes. I think, in terms of spend, the Navy have surely won.

I'm worried in the next decade about another Falklands type war, where we are on our own - I would have thought keeping the Harriers was good value.

Iran is completely out of the question - even Saddam, supplied with arms from the US, could not harm it much while they were in the midst of a revolution... yes, their airpower is even older than the RAFs but their location is challenging and Israel will be requested by the US to initiate an attack so no need for the RAF. We could send in the navy but they will be listening to their iPods and will surrender without a fight, accept gifts and go on TV in their nice new Iranian suits... makes me think we should have one Force run by the Army.

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Black Helicopters

almost good news

could have been worse. Axing the F35B is sad, because it was so cool, but if the F35C does the same job for cheaper, then brilliant. Any word on what type of catapult? Will it be EMALS?

I think the decision not to go nuclear for the carriers is incredibly stupid, but it was probably because of silly nuclear-free policies in places like New Zealand, which wouldn't allow them to dock there if they had nuclear power. We should just have said "nuts to that, while your queen chooses to live in London, not Wellington, we're the boss".

Dr Fox said most of the British Forces in Germany will be coming home, so there should be some saving in that.

Finally for now, the Comet had a good run. If anyone wants to keep one flying they can do what the Vulcan people did instead of milking us taxpayers with the Nimrod programme.

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Anonymous Coward

Not sure about that one...

I thought NZ refused access to ships with Nuclear weapons not Nuclear Power. And since we refuse to say if our Aircraft Carries have nuclear warheads on board the choice of power plant would be irrelevant. Nore likley that the short term cost outweighed the long term gains.

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Silver badge

One carrier or two?

My reading of Cameron's speech was that Carrier One would go into service for three years or so and then either be mothballed or sold abroad (presumably at a massive discount because the purchaser will know we want to be rid of the thing since we can't afford it), so we'd only really ever have one carrier.

It'd be quicker, cheaper and make about as much military sense to paint the Calais car ferry grey and call it a carrier. The Navy could then help fund its own operating costs by running booze cruises.

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Anonymous Coward

Four years yet

By the time they are built the current round of cuts will be over and we will have options.

If things are going really well we could splash out on an extra catapult and use both, or if the economy has totally collapsed sell them and use to money to pay of some debt.

Given the time scales I don't think we are commited anthing other than building them and makeing them slightly more flexible than they were origionally planned to be.

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Biased again Lewis

Yet again Lewis shows that his biased views against the RAF can wash away any semblance of some good decision making by the new government. As a serving member of the junior service -as you navy boys always put it ( I am ex Harriers and have had the misfortune of working along side the Fleet Air Arm), I can honestly say you are talking a load of crap when you say 'Corporately, the RAF don't like aircraft that work for the other services'. How deluded are you? I myself agree we don't need the Nimrod, and we could have scrapped some Tornado's aswell! Just because I work for the RAF, I can still see sense.

I would dearly like to see some none biased articles from you in the future, but I expect to be disappointed.

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Anonymous Coward

have to disagree

The raf want to control everything in the air

recalls lots of times being stuck somewhere whilst a boy in blue finaly pulled himself away fromt he bar

At least the boys in green would be on time.

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Silver badge

Carriers with no planes

Is this a reference to the expected arrival date of the F35C? If it is then it shouldn't be an issue as, if they are to be fitted with a catapult system then we could easily stop-gap fill them with a few F18s or French Fafaeles etc if required. Not huge numbers but enough to be "a bit handy" and these things are available off the shelf with no strengthening BAe-pork-work to be done.

There's also the potential for unmanned attack craft to be available by then.

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"The Operational Carrier" (singular)

Agree with Mike Richards, the Strategic Defence and Security Review does NOT imply one continuously operating carrier strike capabilities. The relevant text is at Para 2.A.4. (p21) of the SDSR document. It reads: "carrier-strike based around a single new operational carrier with the second planned to be kept at extended readiness."

The maintenance of "continuous UK carrier-strike capability" is only (one of several) "options". To quote (SRSR p23):

"To provide further insurance against unpredictable changes in that strategic environment, our current plan is to hold one of the two new carriers at extended readiness. That leaves open options to rotate them, to ensure a continuous UK carrier-strike capability; or to re-generate more quickly a two-carrier strike capability. Alternatively, we might sell one of the carriers, relying on cooperation with a close ally to provide continuous carrier-strike capability. The next strategic defence and security review in 2015 will provide an opportunity to review these options as the future strategic environment develops. Retaining this flexibility of choice is at the core of the Government’s adaptable approach."

So. One catapult system, fitted to one operational carrier. The other up for sale to the highest (but presumably not Iranian or Argentinian) bidder - just watch all the other 'options' evaporate when somebody puts the cash on the table.

Where does that leave us. There is one very good point. The deck-melting, can't land without dumping weapons, VSTOL version of the F35 is replaced with the more capable and cheaper cat-launched version.

But that's as far as the good news goes. The problem is no longer the planes, but the lack of a carrier to fly them off for large chunks of the next half century.

The "single operational carrier" will need maintenance and refit for n% of its 50 year life (the design life stated in SDSR). There will therefore be an aggregate total period of several years over the next sixty-or-so when then UK will not have the independent force projection capability that the carrier is supposed to provide (the post-Harrier/pre-F35C decade + all the carrier downtime in the following decades).

And during these periods of impotence what does the 'strategic' review suggest that we do? Basically, 'ask the French really politely if they would mind awfully if we shared their carrier for a while?'

Why not push the logic a bit? If we're renting deck space, why not ask the Brazilians too if we can use their carrier as well. At least that way, we'd be able to keep a very close eye on the Argentinian naval air force, because we'd be on the same ship. Perhaps we could even let their tyres down in the night to stop them taking off. Or hacksaw through their tailhooks so they'd embarrass themselves on landing...

It is only through the contemplation of absurdity that the truth is perceived. And the truth of this sort-of-half-pretend-that-we-still-matter carrier fudge is that it is, at heart, absurd.

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Silver badge

"fitted to the operational carrier"

How is this going to work? I'm sure that removing and refitting will require both carriers to be out of service at the same time!

Does he think that it's like a child seat in a car, unstrap, move, and strap? If he does, I think he should go on board a carrier when a catapult is operating, and feel how much the ship is affected when a heavy jet is launched. It takes time to make the necessary heavy-duty attachments to keep a plane-flinger safe and no risk to the ship, aircraft and people.

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not so bad.

"In summary, we here on the Reg defence desk see it as overall a huge victory for the RAF, with worrying times ahead for the Royal Navy"

Re the RAF - the defence review said that the RAF will retain "some" of the Tornado fleet.

Re the RN - Been watching the SDSR in commons today, and it turned out much as i'd hoped.

5x Mutlirole Brigades 1x Air Assault Brigade 1x Marine Brigade

1x CVF (second only in extended readiness) 1x LPH (if only we had two) 1x LPD (second only in extended readiness) 3x LSD (real shame they are decommissioning a Bay)

19x Destroyer/Frigates (could have been a lot worse) XXx C3 (no, i don’t believe the program has disappeared)

They chopped just enough out the amphib fleet to prevent brigade ops, so now presumably the idea is that 16AAB and Marines each supply a battlegroup at any one time, rather than swap as the ready brigade. They never had enough airlift for 16AAB anyway.

-------------------------

This could have been a whole lot worse!

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Black Helicopters

Who's in the market for the old carriers?

Surely they can be sold to someone instead of scrapped? The Harriers can go to the same buyer in a package deal.

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WTF?

Am I missing something?

I know I'm not as clever as those slimeball politicians (and I mean ALL political parties), but I'm struggling with the logic here.

Apparently we really need to have aircraft carriers, so much so that we are building two but unfortunately they won't be ready for a few years. In the meantime we are scrapping the one true carrier we have got. This is because we need carriers...

If we can manage without a carrier between now and when the new ones are ready, do we really need them?

If we DO really need them, then how can we manage without one until the new ones enter service?

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Silver badge

Binding contracts.

Britain has no choice. They're getting two carriers whether they like them or not. It would cost them more to scrap them than to finish them because of contractual obligations. So it's not a case of whether or not they need two carriers; it's a case of they're getting them regardless.

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Anonymous Coward

The carriers

Would be more expensive to cancel than to build. That is the unfortunate truth - some really, really stupid job bribing contracts signed by the last government on the whims of the Royal Navy to get back to the "good old days" of teh Empire and all aided and abetted by the defence companies who must have known exactly what was going on but still chose to [delete as appropriate] honour their obligations to shareholders and maximise profits / screw everyone for everything they could.

Personally I think Cameron and Osbourne should re-negotiate the contracts down to a single catapult enabled carrier on the basis that if the companies involved refuse to play ball then they will never be elegible for UK government work again. However I do appreciate there may be issues related to weakening the government's position if it is seen to deal with legal contracts in such a manner.

As to teh carriers having no aircraft - is also very likely that by time teh carriers are commisioned there will be aircraft available. Ideally F35s but Rafaelles or F/A18s or even second hand Harriers from the USMC at a push. The idea that these ships will cruise up to a foreign troublemaker's coastal cities and have nothing more effective than a couple of thousand sailors on deck all pointing their fingers and shouting "pew pew" is just silly. At the very least they will give the tar's a couple of days shore leave without any MPs going with them and let them destroy the place without expending any expensive munitions.

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FAIL

This is Dark Blue Reporting - Propoganda for the Deluded.

Of the 3 services, it is the RN that has clearly won this fight - how on earth can you think otherwise? They lose a couple of boats, but are promised design budgets for new ships, and get to keep their carriers - which will in turn take jets away from the RAF.

Even the Tonka guys will be pretty surprised to have survived this.

MRA4 is the biggest shock. Yes, it is expensive, but clearly very few people really understand what the roles this aircraft has. The ASW part is the headline, which is such a shame - it makes it easy to knock in a post-cold war world. It also provides long-range search and rescue cover, fisheries protection, drugs patrols, constant maritime intelligence gathering... and guards the one, narrow lane into the home base of the nuclear deterrent.

Little reported yesterday is that some of the latest technology, genuinely newest aircraft are to be scrapped at the end of Afghanistan: Sentinal (in service for less than 2 years so far), as well as some of the UAVs.

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