Re: Sad state of affairs
One problem is that Labour got a bit creative with the sums. From memory we had a program of hardware orders of something like twice the next ten years hardware budget. Partly because lots of stuff was being renewed for Afghanistan and Iraq, but the budget wasn't even going up with inflation. Then of course Labour got stuck with the Typhoon program, which was massively over budget, and not really what we needed - but was what we needed when we ordered it in the 1980s - and considered too expensive to cancel by the time the Cold War ended.
To be fair they have renewed almost the entire fleet of armoured vehicles (except the tanks which were done 10-15 years ago but aren't being used much), most of the helicopters over the last ten years, bought some new planes (Typhoons) and ordered loads more (Typhoons and F35s), new subs, destroyers, fleet auxillaries and a few frigates. Plus 2 aircraft carriers - which order got botched.
One problem with military purchasing is that we always seem to try to save money at an early stage in ways that end up costing more later. A prime example being not making the carriers nuclear, with the option for catapults. But another is time. The Eurofighter contract was signed in the mid 80s - when the Cold War was still looking dangerous. We had a need for a pure air-superiority fighter. We probably don't now, a good multi-role aircraft would be better. But it's very hard to junk many years of R&D and a building programme, particularly an international one, when you still don't know what you're going to need in 15 years time.
As this trip with the US Marines shows, everything takes time. Even when you buy a so-called "off the shelf" weapons system, you'll always have specific modifications required, and then you've actually got to bring it into operational service. The more complex and capable the system, the more operational and support staff you're going to need to train to use it. As well as ironing out the bugs in the hardware, software and your procedures.
With an aircraft carrier you've got amazing complication. You've got a massively complex ship itself - which you have to build, test, repair, test, debug, maintain etc. Then you've got support ships, repiar dockyards, your defensive screen of destroyers and frigates, helicopters, planes, airborne early warning, electronic warfare... You've got to be able to use all of this separately, and then you've to integrate the whole lot.
In that light, training with the US Marines, who've had the kit longer, makes lots of sense.
I'd also add that we may be doing this in order to rebuild some NATO capacity. With the increased threat from Russia, it wouldn't surprise me if the US/UK Marines are getting back their old NATO role. One of NATO's plans in the 1980s was that the US and UK marines would quickly re-inforce Norway. One of the things you can do in a crisis, without ramping up the tension too much, is to get the marines onto ships - and position them close to an ally - those ships need aircraft for defence, hence the US marines having mini aircraft carriers - it wouldn't surprise me if that isn't the plan for rapid reinforcement of the Baltic States. Or at least one of the possible plans. Another is to pre-position US heavy equipment, and then fly the troops in during a crisis - but so far NATO don't want to permanently position bases in Eastern Europe, and make the Russians even more difficult to deal with.