back to article Navy Carriers: We want two or no votes for you, Tories

Tomorrow, the new National Security Council meets to decide just what the future armed forces of the United Kingdom will have in terms of people and machines - how many regiments, tanks, guns, jets, choppers, ships and submarines, and of what type. As at most meetings where major issues will be decided in a short space of time …


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  1. lee harvey osmond

    "We want two or no votes for you"

    yeah, that's catchy -- almost as catchy as "we want eight and we won't wait".

  2. Pavlov's obedient mutt


    Whilst I absolutely love his articles and read them from first to last word, and thoroughly respect his knowledge and opinion, I do feel the bootnote at the end of Lewis' document should be modified like this:

    Lewis Page is a former Royal Navy officer, who left after 11 years' service in order to avoid wasting his time and the taxpayers' money aboard frigates and destroyers - and to avoid becoming bitter about fuckwits in government

  3. Bryce 2


    "For the past many decades, for reasons of history and jobs for the boys, the RN has actually maintained far more escorts than it needs to escort major units such as carriers and amphibious task groups."

    Does that make the Royal Navy an escort service?

    1. Ivan Slavkov

      More like eighteen... Or eighty...

      Let's face it, Britain is no longer a world naval power. Even India is on its way of overtaking it.

      So what do "aspiring powers" with no navy do for a navy? They do not build frigates. They do not build carriers. They build (or buy) gunboats. Rocket ones.

      These can do "drug patrol" and can do some very heavy duty "power projection" against other 5th world nations and even some "powers". They are also a very good export item in their own right so more than enough work for "local production capacity". The only problem is that Russia is pretty much having a monopoly on both boats and armament here and overtaking it will require some serious investment. I definitely do not see the UK arms industry in its currenf form being able to compete against them.

  4. Dom 3

    And in order not to waste *our* time...

    ... how about a '#include <standard_carrier_argument>"?

    (Subject line in reference to Lewis's mini-biog on this article, if anybody needs help).

  5. Jon of Monkeys
    Thumb Up

    Well said!

    What, I imagine, most of the public are thinking. But then, who in goverment listens to reason?

  6. Rogerborg

    Let's cut the minesweeper fleet

    All it seems to produce is beastly cads who boldly split infinitives.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    No cargo vessels anymore?

    So britain does not rely on any imports anymore? No merchants in convoys to protect against some KaLeu Prien guys in slow diesel subs with a few torpedoes to spend?

  8. LPF

    Nice Comment , but just one glaring problem ...

    The reason why we have 23 escorts currently ,

    !) BAE and the need to keep scottish shipbuilders in booze , means that we have paid over the odds for the ships we have otherwise the force would be a lot bigger.

    2) AND THE MOST IMPORTANT! No one reduces there fleet to 12 COMBAT SHIPS unless they are a comeplete and utter retard.

    All it takes is a lucky strike and your achive ethe equiverlent of hitting 3 ships! More ships mean that you can absorb losses, as we found out in the Falklands.

    Carriers are not invurable. I can't understand why we dont just build 3 40,000 convetional carriers in say the mid way class of size, that can take 4 squadrons of fighters. Why exactly are we trying to build the absolute best, we just need a ship good enough to transport those planes to the correct area.

    Jesus the old Ark Royal of the 70's could have been rebuilt with updated equipment and would probably cheaper and better.

    This is what happens when you allow accountants and lawyers and people who have never sereved to be involved in the desicion making

    1. IglooDude

      The interesting thing

      is that there almost certainly would have been considerably fewer losses to absorb in the Falklands in the first place, had there been a carrier with airborne early warning radar and conventional fighters available to engage the Argentinian Skyhawks and Entendards beyond the radar picket lines.

    2. Vehlin
      Thumb Down

      Size Matters

      When it comes to carriers the length of the ship dictates the available space for takeoff and landing. If we were to go with the older design we'd end up with ski-jumps and Harrier-alikes again.

      What we should have done is built two new nuclear carriers fitted with normal arrestor hook aircraft and then have steam catapults to get them off the ground. Not to mention that the carriers could then function as floating fuel tanks for their escorts.

      1. Ivan Slavkov

        You are missing the point

        Next battle will be in the Arctic or Antarctic. That is what the planners plan for. No steam there. Does not work I am afraid.

        Otherwise you are right. For the amount of money wasted on the non-conventional fighter wing the navy can buy two nuclear aircraft carriers as well as a couple of armed nuclear icebreakers for good measure.

    3. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      Diesel-electric subs

      cannot keep up with most modern cargo vessels. Besides, one could argue that a single escort carrier in WW-II did more to protect a convoy than a flotilla of destroyers, augmented with sloops and corvettes.

    4. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: No cargo vessels anymore?

      Er, no. Did you have a particular conflict in mind? Since WW2, Britain hasn't been in a conflict where sinking cargo vessels (bound for the UK) was part of the enemy strategy. And if WW3 comes along, it probably won't last long enough for any cargo vessels to care.

      Perhaps if you'd read Lewis' article(s) you'd have noted that he tends to base his opinions on realistic 21st century conflict scenarios, rather than replays of the black and white films he grew up with.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I read it, but I don't buy it.

        The more modern non nuclear subs are pretty capable and they might be equipped with some nasty surprises in their torpedo tubes.

        And it is debatable it a merchant can outrun them, at least not their weapons.

        Yes, I know, with enough carriers Lewis has his dippers and towed sonars anywhere and can smell a sub through 10 layers of more or less salty water of different temperatures, but some lonesome crew might outwit him and leave his birds with no place to land on.

  9. IglooDude

    It will come as no surprise...

    but as a former USN surface line officer I'm pretty much in agreement with Mr. Page, to the extent that I'm familiar with RN strategic requirements (a fair bit) and MoD "issues" (less so, but not into the completely clueless range).

  10. JaitcH

    Maybe the Irish Channel but nothing larger

    Rule Britannia!

    Britannia rule (the) some waves.

    Brittons never, never, never shall be slaves (except to limitations of liberty imposed by UK pols)

    The Pirates of Penzance are equally applicable.

  11. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Build them where?

    If the point of the Navy is to keep shipyards busy and their workers voting for you.

    Where exactly was a tory government planning to build them /

    The Clyde - probably not worth wasting billions trying to buy votes in Scotland !

    Ditto Tyneside. You might get a few Ulster unionist votes by building them in Belfast - but they are going to vote for your anyway.

    Unless you are planning to fit out Portsmouth to build massive carriers to keep the LibDems happy or you are planning a new shipbuilding industry somewhere in the M25 - you might as well keep the money for tax cuts (or BAe) and forget the carriers.

  12. hammarbtyp Silver badge

    Small mishtake...

    Presumably you meant the SS-N-27. Since the SS-27 is a ballistic inter-continental missile and therefore very difficult for even the navy's air force to shoot down

    1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge


      Several large parts of the carriers are supposed to be built in Portsmouth, then floated up north somewhere to be welded together(quite possibly upside down knowing them northern folks), then once the carriers are finished then they will be sailed back down here and promptly mothballed for 5 years before being flogged off to India/China/Chile/Al-Queda(depending who will pay the most).

      The real killer in all defence projects is the MoD and the f**kwits in charge of it (you could say that of virtually any government dept nowadays) who say "We want 2 carriers" and offer a sackful of cash to BAE, then the f**kwits leave/retire/get shifted to another ministry and the new f**kwits say "lets change the spec so we have catapults" and BAE delays the project to design/fit them while charging the MoD another sackful of cash, then the new set of f**kwits leave/retire/get minced and another set of f**kwits take over and change the spec again, and delaying the project while costing even more cash..... then an election happens.... and... well you guessed it.... even more f**kwits appear... this time with consultants to tell them why the project is 4 years late and cost 5 times what the original price was.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Money in my pocket

    Lot of optimistic whatif's here...Journalistic licence I suppose. However, I seriously doubt those with the purse strings will be convinced.

    On a personal front - lets see which affects me more...2.5% on VAT, loss of child benefit, or an aircraft carrier. Do I need an aircraft carrier more than I need money in *my* pocket? Nah...

    If the tories vote to dump them, and also dump some future tax increases because of it, I'm sorry I have to disagree with the author - they'll get my vote. Thought I won't suprised if they do both anyway.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    kids and water

    Do we even need a navy? We only fight non-swimmers thousand's of miles from the nearest drop of water anyway.

    Mind you sometimes Top Gear drive a car off the end of a carrier so we need at least one for that.

  15. Al2000

    Does anyone listen?

    Makes sense to me but does anyone in the Government read articles from Lewis? Lewis - have you emailed this to Liam Fox?

    1. MeRp

      For once...

      I think the standard Page 'outsource to America' line is 100% in order - Top Gear can drive their car off the end of an American carrier!

      1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

        and preferably

        an American car

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Big Brother

      I hate titles.

      I hate this argument.... Less armed forces = more money for hospitals/schools/me.

      Except not really - Less armed forces = your kids having to learn a foreign language.

      1. Volker Hett

        Not so sure.

        If I understand these articles, weapons are mostly needed to shoot people in far away countries.

        I don't think any taliban will invade britain in the near future.

        IMHO it would be much cheaper to provide those with enough weapons and wait until they finish them up themselves.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        Who on earth is going to want to invade us? Is it for our vast natural resources? Strong economy? Massive industrial base? I am honestly struggling here.

    3. John Hughes

      Top gear?

      Carriers are for launching pianos.

      Everyone knows that.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    Close the base in Germany

    Why on earth does the UK still need a base in Germany ?

    Removing this commit will more than cover the cost of the carriers.

  17. Dibbles
    Thumb Down


    Normally I find Lewis's articles interesting and informative, and a certain degree of opinion does lend some colour to the discussion. But he's perhaps turning into a parody of Lewis Page - leaving even-handed discussion at the door in favour of banging the same drum about carriers and suchlike.

    The problem (from a layman's pov) is that carriers have much more baggage - you can't just buy the carrier and missiles and be done, as it also leads to very tricky questions about catapults, which variant of the F35 to buy, and so on. 2 carriers with no planes would be a bit of a white elephant, really.

    In addition, it's perhaps leaving a few leaps of reasoning to overlook the fact that carriers may not be that useful in future conflicts. Are they much help in 'counter-insurgency'/ killing the locals in Iraq, for example? Can 2 carriers really provide sufficient strength for both an Afghanistan and a low-level pirate-watching or Yemen-tracking activity in the Gulf of Aden?

    There's an interesting analogy (perhaps) with alternative models of air travel - fewer big planes (a la Airbus) or more smaller planes going to many smaller destinations. While one couldn't picture 1 frigate being sent to each of 12 different conflicts, the idea of having essentially 2 main nodes of the RN - ie carriers plus sundry hangers-on - is perhaps not the best in the modern world in which Britain really is a second-division military power.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      in the case

      In the case of Pirates and the like, it's been pointed out time and again that a boat with marines and helicopters is the very best solution. Pirates normaly get a whiff of a warship and leg it back to safe waters where as by the time they've noticed the high speed intercept vessels it's rather too late. Sure probably not much use against an enemy with sophisticated weapon systems and a large navy, but then you'd use your carrier groups in that situation, but great against unsophisticated enemies and controlling large areas with minimum £ per square mile protected.

      The boats would cost a fraction of the cost of most modern ships and for the saving made in scrapping conventional warships you could easily deploy a larger number of these cheap troop deployment vessels. Of course I say cheap, I mean cheap until the UK arms industry start planning the thing with their titanium encased man pods, and platinum encrusted sea dongles, not enough room for normal helicopters (meaning you need to design new useless helecopters) and all the beds are a foot too short, probably with some kind of bespoke rocket powered boarding ships that need special deployment rigs that mean there isn't enough room for troops and fuel.

      1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

        Another comparison I'd like to see...

        ... is a comparative analysis of the usefulness of our our spanking new Type 45 destroyers and the USN's spanking new Littoral Combat Ships such as LCS-2, USS Independence.

        From what Lewis says, an LCS or two is exactly what's needed to deal with pirates and, even after a 300%+ cost inflation they are cheaper than a Type 45 - and equally well armed. On top of that the design allows for modular equipment bays so an LCS can fulfill several roles without having to drag round all the stuff for all the roles all the time. Better yet, if they were fitted with non-functional French missiles, they could just dump that module on the quayside and drop in a replacement fitted with off-the-shelf Russian or US missiles. If nothing else, this mix and match ability should give a much-needed shakeup to Bae, EADS etc. Since the kit would no longer be built into the ship the suppliers would no longer have the Navy by the goolies and able to extort more money when some piece of kit failed to perform. Instead the boot would be on the other foot for a change.

        So, I'd really like somebody who knows naval stuff to make a comparison of what a Type 45 can do that an LCS couldn't and vice versa.

        Besides, if our shipyards can make Type 45s and carriers, surely they could make LCS knock-offs too - just more of them for the same price.

    2. Alfred

      Preparation prevents requirement

      One of the reasons we can worry about piddly little pirate skiffs (or more accurately, worry about our energy supply) rather than bigger ships is because we've got our own big, big ships.

      "Britain really is a second-division military power." There are (in my opinion) three nations in the world capable of serious sustained power-projection anywhere in the world. The USA, France, and the UK. If we're second division, it's a division of two with a first-division of one, and the rest of the world making up third division and beyond.

      1. Pantera

        not realy

        only the us has the toys to project real power, the russians might with a lot of time and ducttape but france/uk or europe don't could not do it in bosnia which is close

        you need carriers, a large air transport force (big ones nog those small airbus ones) and de c3 incl satelites

        1. Alfred

          Not have invaded Bosnia is not proof that we don't have an army

          "but france/uk or europe don't could not do it in bosnia which is close"

          That power we've projected in Afghanistan for the last several years doesn't count as power projection, then? Likewise Iraq. We are able to send and resupply a standing force with suitable air-cover, proper grown-up ship and submarines as necessary and all the other bits anywhere in the world for essentially an indefinite period. Obviously if the local are rougher and tougher that capability will be broken down, but you can list on the fingers of one hand the nations able to do so. Russia isn't one of them. Neither is China.

  18. Mike Richards Silver badge


    Isn't a real problem that we don't have enough forces to do anything far away from home? It's not much good having our carrier troll around the globe and sit there 'dominating' when we've got nothing to send ashore to do the actual fighting.

    IIRC our amphibious landing ships are antiques and there's been discussion of cutting back on the Marines to pay for more high tech toys. Wouldn't a fleet of HMS Ocean-alikes be a better use of money and give us some real clout?

    As for the shipyards, they're in their current mess because they're only kept alive by government contracts rather than competing in a genuine market. Our commercial shipbuilding industry has vanished because it was too short-sighted to see the market for bulk carriers, roll-on roll-off ferries and liners. The Finnish, Korean and Italian yards don't need constant propping up with government money, they produce a product customers actually want and their ships actually work. I don't see why the taxpayer should keep BAE slipways occupied any more than it should have kept Rover building crappy cars.

    If we're happy to buy our telephone networks from the Chinese and our power plants from the French I don't see why we can't go shopping abroad for warships. Let other countries take the risk of developing new deathtech, we're no bloody good at it.

    1. Alfred

      Your memory fails you

      "IIRC our amphibious landing ships are antiques"

      You recall incorrectly. HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark are both less than a decade old and are serious bits of marine deploying kit.

    2. Bill B

      Research needed

      "The .. Korean ...yards don't need constant propping up with government money"

      Really? Massive debts written off by State owned banks?. Ships sold at less than the cost of production? You should do your research before making a statement like that.

  19. ChrisC

    Not quite that long ago...

    "Every time a British fighter has shot down an enemy aircraft since 1945, it took off from a ship to do so."

    1948 actually, if you ignore the handful of unconfirmed kill rumours from later decades.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Ships of the desert?

      errm, so all the RAF bods who've been based in Air Force bases in Saudi, Oman and more recently northern Kuwait have been imagining things?

  20. VeganVegan

    Air cover

    Remember the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse".

    Suppose you need to deal with some two-bit dictator. Unfortunately, he does have a handful of relatively modern fighter-bombers and short range missiles (100-200km range). The threat of land-based attack means that whatever fleet you send has to stand so far off the coast that they are essentially useless. You can get close enough only if protected by air cover, and if you somehow manage to neutralize the opposing air / missile attacks (Asters?).

  21. Anonymous Coward


    Please, just take one of our carriers from the US of A... why on earth we need 11 super carriers and their corresponding 100+ escorts is beyond me.

  22. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    @Why on earth does the UK still need a base in Germany?

    Same reason we need a radar station in North Yorkshire to protect us from the North Koreans.

    Of course if you believe the BBC we might need a radar base in North Korea to protect us from N. Yorks (

  23. Y98

    What about the Home Waters?

    With only 10 escorts and looking at historic availability of surface units that would mean we would have perhaps 4 ships available at one time for deployment, so with this model the RN would be confined to deploying only 1 task group with 4 escorts and 1 carrier (though we are being some what optimistic in thinking that only 2 carriers will provide us with one ship always available), perhaps an SSN and associated support vessels at any one time.

    This would be far too small a force to deploy into any contested area, 2 Destroyers and 2 Frigates would simply be unable to screen the carrier. Whilst the SSN would give pause for thought it might not be enough of a deterrent, especially if the opfor had SSNs also. If the organic air from the carrier was tasked to principally defending the component then there would be few aircraft for which to conduct strikes against land, which is the prime purpose of the carriers? The carriers are only designed to generate a limited number of sorties per day.

    The aircraft for the carrier is also vastly expensive, the JSF is going to end up costing £100 million a piece all in and we will end up with 75 if we are lucky. 75 JSF will mean perhaps only 30 available at any one time - and will the RAF task all of them to the RN? The JSF also has a very short range, something like 1000km radius on internal fuel (to maintain stealth like features) and we will have no refueling at sea. They also have a very limited load, in stealth they will carry 2 AMRAAMS and 2 JDAMS, i.e. only 2 offensive weapons.

    Besides that there would then be no other vessels for any other taskings, including defence of the home waters as all the escorts would be tied up with carrier.

    I agree that the Type 45 is vastly expensive, we would have been much better building Arleigh Burke copies. The Type 26 is also likely to be more expensive than needs be.

    Complete one of the carriers as a commando carrier to replace Ocean and build 20 new escorts (5,000 tonnes, 1 57mm gun, MK41 VLS for Tomohawk and CAAM and a single helicopter) to replace the Type 23 and Type 22 and return some flexibility to the RN. Or are we going to relegate the defence of the UK to OPVs?

  24. KiwiUK

    We want two: escort numbers don;t add up

    Here's some basic mathematics. If you wish to have an escort always available, you need three vessels (one on station, one being refitted/repaired and one in transit to and from a patrrol area). If you wish to guarantee one vessel's permanent availability - you actually need four.

    While I agree the front line escorts can be reduced, the anti-drug, anti-piracy patrols are essential and let me put it this way, have you ever been to the Carribean? While it may sound exotic, it's actually pretty grim.

    I also noted that he missed the best submarine-killers of all - another submarine.

    I firmly beleive the UK needs two carriers, 6 type 45 anti-air destroyers (the aster 15/30 missile system has been successfully tested this week), 8-10 anti-submarine frigates, 8 hunter-killer submarines but around 24 corvettes so the Royal Navy can have global reach (built at a much lower cost to augment the other surface escorts). It is a role the old Leander class provided, although the corvettes would be 'general pupose'.

    This would add up to a carrier strike force of one carrier, at least one to two type-45 destroyers, two frigates, one submarine and six corvettes. The balance of the fleet would be engaged for other deployments.

    That is what is called a balanced fleet and is something the Royal Navy needs.

  25. Banjoman

    My twopenith

    I think the new carriers should be made and with catapults. Navalise the RAF's Eurofighters* (I remember some talk about EF2000 having a navalised version). By the time the carriers have arrived most, if no all, could have been converted; heck they are already converting them to be more modern and useful. So no loss of short term capacity.

    Restock the RAF with F35Cs and some F35Bs. No F35As because for the little extra performance it would require us to have a "local" friendly airfield and; being able to launch from a carrier would be no bad thing for the RAF.

    Keep the old carriers and fit them with MH-6 Little Bird helicopters and some quick launch speedboats like RNLI Mersey or FCB2: militarised of course. Reclassify them as "Pirate-Sweepers" and send them to patrol the namesake hotspots, alone.

    In their spare time they can do all the flag flying and "send-a-gunboat" duties. If gun is the operable word; strap some artillery pieces to the deck.

    Cut the escorts (frigates and destroyers) to a sensible number; for the sole use for escorting the new carriers. Their resale value would be very helpful to the treasury.

    No Idea about the ships, subs and boats. They are probably well balanced and organised.

    I presume the F35s and carriers have been already financed. So we COULD buy them; the question is SHOULD we buy them.

    *I can't see stealth technology being of much use when launched from a 65ktons Radar blip. Also the interceptor aspect of Eurofighter would be a great pro.

    1. GeorgeTuk

      You must be new here...

      ...there will not be Navalised Typhoons.

      There was an investigation but in the end it was not feasible.

  26. Craig Vaughton
    Thumb Up

    Fit for Purpose

    I have to side with Mr Page, an aircraft carrier is much more than just another boat, even with his cut down escort units around it and if they build them with a catapult, steam or mag, better still. The Harrier did a sterling job, the STOVL F35 might be better, but for something with decent range and warload plus be able to launch a proper AEW bird and heavy COD, you need catapults. Plus its a good bet the Labour govt signed such a watertight contract, it would cost more to cancel than it would to build, even if we flog them to the Indians.

    Those who suggested closing the German bases have to be right. There's little point in housing thousands of troops, expensive to maintain tanks and other AFVs in Central Europe, whilst paying out LOA (or has that already been axed?) just to have them primed to flood the Fulda Gap in one last heroic charge (before they got fried with a couple of TAC nukes). when the enemy they were set to fight headed East 20 years ago. They've already lost permanently based RAF air support and the Harrier squadrons stopped playing in the woods years ago.

    Nimrod MR4 hasn't been mentioned? Come on, why are we still trying to extend the life of a hand built 1950s civvie jet? Apart from to prop up BAe. Is it too late to save anything by stopping this particular gravy train?

    Axe the Tornado squadrons? I hope BA and the rest need some pilots, because this has been on the cards for a while. Buy ground launched Tomahawks for the long range work and some decent drones for the shorter range precision stuff, no huge bases to man or protect, stop recruitment of techies for a while (another money saver) and re-assign the GR4 ground crews to whatever jobs they've not already outsourced to the civvies. They won't get much for real estate that houses the tonka toys though, Lossie is miles from, err, anything and Marham isn't much better, just not as cold and wet.

    As for the last time the RAF shot down any sort of plane air to air, I suspect that would be May 1982 when a 92 Sqn Phantom splashed a 14 Sqn Jaguar. Jag pilot got his MB tie and ended up with a second one some months later when he banged out over Scotland.

  27. O
    Thumb Up

    Scrap them please

    If we must have killy things, we might as well share a smaller (and cheaper) number with the Frogs, which would also constrain both nations from taking part in megalomaniacal military operations somewhat.

    While they're at it, they can scrap Trident and its replacement and make swingeing cuts to the NHS (has there ever been a more wasteful unfit-for-purpose public service?) and the ridiculous IT contracts signed by the previous government.

    Don't be a Luddite, Lewis. Times are changing.


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