"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.