As soon as anyone questions the utility or cost of CVF and JCA it is as if that person has just bludgeoned to death three dozen baby seals, shit in the Queens slippers and suggested that Dijon mustard would be a tasty accompaniment to roast beef.
In an ideal world the Royal Navy would have 3, each with a large compliment of escorts and logistics vessels.
The problem though, is we don’t live in an ideal world.
The grown ups in the Royal Navy have presided over its significant reduction whilst clinging to the promise of CVF, I assume the logic is to ‘get the boats in the water’ and everything else will follow, short term pain for long term gain.
The thinking is there is no way any government will countenance the embarrassment of having a pair of large aircraft carriers with only a handful of aircraft or tiny numbers of escorts, so once they are launched the governments hand will be forced and funding will follow, either new money or at the expense of the other services. Hope is not a good strategy but seems the prevailing one.
Other capabilities and equipments have been allowed to wither on the vine, sacrificed on the altar of CVF. To say that CVF is hovering up both financial and intellectual capital is an understatement.
CVF is a logical outcome of the 1998 Strategic Defence Review but with the world being a very different place the link to the SDR of 2010 must be examined. It is not too late to change course, if that is the outcome.
But, costs have risen and budgets have fallen.
What of the arguments…
Too Late to Cancel
Contracts have been placed, steel cut, equipment designed and delivered so many say that the CVF is simply too far advanced to stop. This doesn’t take into account that the main contractor (BAe/BVT/Carrier Alliance) more or less has 1 customer i.e. the MoD (unless you count a couple of patrol boats)
The MoD would need to grow a pair and give a lesson on who the customer actually is, after all the carriers actually represent a small fraction of the future build work for the Type 23 replacement, Ocean replacement and maybe even a part in the RFA replacements. Deal making needs to be the order of the day, sacrificing the CVF in return for a long term commitment to a steady drumbeat of other orders.
Money Already Spent
There has already been a great deal of money spent that would simply be lost should CVF be cancelled but this pails into insignificance compared to the through life and capital costs of the project.
We are an Island
The ‘we are an island’ argument is often used to justify a strong navy and by extension the CVF but they are not the same and it is often overplayed anyway.
The UK does rely on the sea for much of its wealth and food/fuel imports but examination will show that much of this is between mainland Europe and Eire. The same could also be said for other island nations without the means of mounting sea based expeditionary operations. Even mainland nations rely on the sea to a great extent, Rotterdam or Hamburg are testimony to this. I have yet to see any sensible arguments why an expeditionary first day strike capability is capable of defending our see borne trade, a strong surface fleet yes, a capable mines countermeasures force, even more so but not an expeditionary strike force.
We explicitly recognise that medium scale and up operations will be carried out in conjunction with partners in a coalition and generally, this means the US, NATO or at a push the EU. CVF would seem to be more about supporting others rather than providing the UK with an independent capability because that independent capability is somewhat hollowed out.
If we are involved in operations that need a full, multi layered air defence then this operation will almost certainly be in a coalition where the outer layer could be provided by others.
Carrier Capabilities and UK Carrier Capabilities
Despite the talk of secondary capabilities the main purpose of CVF is for expeditionary deep strike.
Host nation support cannot be guaranteed and the flexibility that a carrier brings is not in doubt but it is not as self contained as proponents would argue, any carrier air battle group will need land based aviation support, the two are complimentary not exclusive.
However, many of the arguments for the CVF seem to skip over the difference between carrier capabilities (as defined by the US Navy) the carrier capabilities that will be available to the UK. CVF is a sensible design with a sensible aircraft choice but in order to get the ships in the water the RN has had to sacrifice so much in other areas that they will in reality, have relatively little utility against all but the most weak opposition. Against a credible threat and directly because we will only have a small number of capable air defence destroyers available the proportion of the 36 JCA air wing that will have to be devoted to outer layer air defence would be high, leaving a less than stellar strike capability.
If you can’t afford to do something well, it should not be done at all.
Probably one of the more ludicrous justifications for the CVF is the notion of being able to retake the Falkland Islands should Argentina decide to reinvade; the Falklands Conflict was not a triumph for naval aviation but the lunacy of not spending a small amount on deterrence and a reasonable military capability in the area.
Argentina, the UK armed forces and the world is a very different place to 1982 and it is far more economical, both in blood and treasure, to stop any invasion in the first place. The Typhoon flight at MPA, the FI garrison and the threat of a Tomahawk armed SSN in the area should deter Argentina. Argentina has a much more stable political system, could not countenance ‘failing militarily’ again and the state of its armed forces is parlous to say the least.
Even if they still have designs on the islands the amount of time needed to muster anything like a credible force would be signposted well in advance, a couple of C17 flights worth of troops and additional Typhoons could be deployed in pretty short order.
That said, complacency should be avoided at all costs, the Falkland Islands have enormous potential but CVF is not the answer to protecting this potential.
There are other British dependencies but look at a map of where they are and try to predict possible threats and you come up with a very poor justification for the CVF
CVF will provide a large set of both unique AND complimentary capabilities across the board but do these capabilities justify the huge slice of the cake it will consume .
Fundamentally the decision comes down to cost and two aspects of cost.
The first is that I believe there are better value for money options within the maritime domain, options that provide greater security and utility.
Secondly, we are stretching to get CVF, a bit like buying a BMW but being unable to afford a decent sound system or alloy wheels. Yes, we might end up with a naval aviation capability but it will be a hollow capability with every single system pared down to the bare minimum on the basis of cost. The CVF will only ever be able to deploy a minimum air group comprising an aircraft that will have a minimum set of weapon integrations, the CVF will not have many more or less essential systems and it will be vulnerable against anything other than third rate opposition because in order to get it, we have gutted the escort and logistics capabilities.
Many people seem to think that saving the Royal Navy means getting CVF, I think the RN needs to be saved from itself and CVF/JCA cancelled.
Happy New Year by the way!