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Britain’s New Aircraft Carriers: The Pride of Airstrip One

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Written by Martin Sieff; Originally appeared at strategic-culture.org

Why are the British government and media so passionate about their new aircraft carriers Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales? The ships are being celebrated as an icon and manifest expression of the renewal of British resolve and glory that started 40 years ago with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. But in reality they embody the opposite. They are an expression of how vulnerable, weak, ineffectual and just plain ridiculous Britain has become in the 21st century.

Britain’s New Aircraft Carriers: The Pride of Airstrip One

When Gavin Williamson, Prime Minister Theresa May’s ludicrous little boy-toy secretary of defense recently visited Washington he pathetically displayed his military and strategic illiteracy by boasting at public events on how the Queen Elizabeth, at 65,000 tons (50 percent heavier than the Titanic) by far the largest warship ever built for the Royal Navy alongside its sister vessel the Prince of Wales, would enable Britain to project power around the world, second only to the US Navy.

Williamson gloried in how this capability would make both the new British aircraft carriers worthy partners for the US Navy, keeping Britain as America’s trusted partner in running the world.

Or, as a senior political adviser to Prime Minister Thatcher memorably once boasted to me: Britain’s enduring role in the world is being the loyal sidekick to the hero in a Western movie or TV series, being the Native American partner Tonto to America acting as the world’s global policeman, or “Lone Ranger.”

The reality could not be more different: Far from Britain once again boldly strutting across the world stage as America’s partner, it is trotting along as America’s poodle, her little pet dog.

Like every British prime minister in the past 80 years starting with the revered Winston Churchill, Mrs. May has eagerly accepted Britain’s role as Airstrip One to America’s globe-strutting Oceania in George Orwell’s darkly prophetic classic novel “1984”. (I suggest future editions, at least within Britain, be called “2024” in tribute to the ever increasing power of the British as well as US Deep States and the unending passion of British leaders for stirring up unnecessary wars around the world).

Even as a floating, mobile accessory to Airstrip One, the Queen Elizabeth and the Prince of Wales, as Russian and American naval experts recognize (but are usually too polite to say publicly) are ludicrous jokes.

For while Britain busted its defense budgets for most of a decade to build the two carriers at 3.1 billion pounds ($4.6 billion) for each ship, it could not afford a penny more to build the aircraft they are designed to carry or the screening task forces they desperately need to survive in any full-scale war.

The Queen Elizabeth has at last finally carried out operational flight trials off the East Coast of the United States. But the US Marine Corps had to give the Royal Navy a squadron of its own ultra-expensive, problem-plagued and far too few US-built F-35B VTOL Lightning II Joint Strike Aircraft to operate. They had absolutely no aircraft of their own left that could do the job.

Also, if it came to any war against a significant power, the Royal Navy cannot afford to project around the world long range anti-submarine warfare (ASW) forces adequate to protect its new carriers from the fleets of lethal, fast and difficult to detect (and also cheap to build and buy) diesel submarines that powers from India to Israel now operate.

And against an opponent like Iran, the British carriers would have to operate from well over 1,000 miles, or around 1,700 kilometers offshore to be safe from land-based anti-ship missiles that could destroy them.

How then, can Britain safely and effectively operate these enormous obsolete white elephants? There is only one way: They will have to be integrated into US carrier task forces to augment their striking power and it is highly debatable if the US admirals will even want them.

For US super-aircraft carriers are nuclear powered and they do not need to be constantly refueled as the old-fashioned oil-turbine powered new British carriers do.

Far from augmenting Anglo-American ties, the new British carriers look certain to erode them by repeatedly displaying to the US Navy how much smaller and more obsolete the British vessels are. Ironically, they will revive experiences of “Special Relationship” naval cooperation – and lack of it – 74 years ago.

In the closing days of World War II, the British Pacific Fleet was unable to keep up with the far more numerous, more powerful and far bigger and faster US Essex –class aircraft carriers and their battle groups in the later naval operations against Japan, generating operational difficulties that endlessly outraged US Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Ernest King.

Mrs. May and Defense Secretary Williamson (who eerily echoes US Senator Marco Rubio in his “boy toy” characteristics and utter ignorance of serious military affairs) remain oblivious to all such issues. The victims of their pride and incompetence will likely be the 3,200 Royal Navy personnel that crew the two leviathans.

Like the vote for Brexit – for Britain to leave the European Union – the building of the two new aircraft carriers was a decision by the British to embrace ancient dreams over sober contemporary realities.

The British Empire is dead. The 100- mile-long line of warships off Spithead that honored Queen Victoria at her Diamond Jubilee in 1897 has been scrap iron for more than a century. It is time for Airstrip One to wake up and recognize its real place in a very different world.

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  • Miroslav Beran

    It is not exactly true, that these aircraft carriers without aircrafts are worthless.

    Imagine some defenseless small country, for example Grenada. If you decide to take it and murder a few boys, mothers and children, such aircraft carrier even without aircrafts is worth such task.

    You may parading such hardware at capital harbour of such target victim and here only force – 15 policemen swiftly surrender.

    Bombing beaches, helo landing force etc. is mostly theatre for FNN staff and cameras.

    Mission accomplished. Glory achieved.

  • Peter Moy

    Interesting article clarifying the current state of British (or lack of) sea power and delusion. The large vessel in the picture, the former HMS Ocean, was sold to Brazil last year for the approximate price of TWO F-35 fighter aircraft and is now their amphibious warfare ship PHM Atlantico. I say HMS Big Lizzie, and she is big, should just be used as the new royal family vacation yacht with a few helicopters. Spending billions of pounds for extremely overpriced, limited capability toys for the boys would be a real waste. That poseur Mr. Williamson really needs to dummy up!

    • FlorianGeyer

      The English/British have had many victories ,and also many defeats and blunders throughout their history. Dunkirk was in fact the result of the rout of the Regular British Army at the beginning of WW2. This defeat was and still is ,propagandised as a victory in the the British press as the Brits heroically boarded boats to flee back to England. After destroying ALL of the armies equipment first though :)

      http://listverse.com/2014/03/04/10-of-the-most-embarrassing-british-military-blunders/

      The many billions of pounds currently wasted on building these white elephants, and the billions to be wasted in the future in crewing, supplying and maintaining these outdated carriers , would solve the social problems of housing and indeed jobs in the UK for decades to come. Building houses is a labour intensive operation that involves products of many kinds and where all IQ groups are able to find work.

  • Brother Thomas

    If one considers the objective is fighting and winning a war for Britain, then these aircraft carriers are ridiculous. However if one considers the objective is transfer of wealth from ordinary taxpayers’ into the pockets of rich military contractors, then “mission accomplished”!

    • John Whitehot

      carriers are a ridiculous concept in itself, at least in their current common conception.

      they are among the most expensive systems to produce and maintain, yet their primary raison d’etre is one of neo-colonialism and regime changing agenda.

  • Dick Von Dast’Ard

    Well they just about allow the UK to do another Falklands again, against an Argentine level of present times military power.
    Beside that there best role (in the present times global game) would be as over sized ASW/LHA’s with fleet air defensive capabilities operating in the GIUK North Atlantic area.
    UK really has to forget about deploying them into the Indian or Pacific Ocean.

  • Joe Kerr

    Perhaps useful for another false flag job… sink it and blame Iran.

  • Murf

    Jealous much.
    Russians were talking big just before Old Smokey began his death march to the Med. now tha tit will take a miracle to get it in working order again, carriers are now outdated.
    funny how that works.

  • Barba_Papa

    >>In the closing days of World War II, the British Pacific Fleet was unable to keep up with the far more numerous, more powerful and far bigger and faster US Essex –class aircraft carriers and their battle
    groups in the later naval operations against Japan, generating operational difficulties that endlessly outraged US Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Ernest King.<<

    Actually, while the British Pacific Fleet carriers carried a lot less aircraft per carrier then their US counterparts, and thus packed less of a punch, they were also less vulnerable to kamikaze attacks like the ones that crippled the USS Bunker Hill, thanks to their armored decks and hangars. Lots of US carriers got hit by kamikazes which meant that for a while they were out of the fight as they repaired themselves, US carriers were very good at damage control, the Brits could resume flight operations within hours of being hit. Just clear off debris and Bob's your uncle.

    The problem for the Royal Navy is that there is really no budget op build, outfit, operate and maintain these two behemoths. Like all other European countries the elites LOVE to play the role of trusty side kick to the big American Lone Ranger, but they are loath to spend any money on their militaries. That would take away money from things that European voters actually care about. Like good infrastructure, welfare and healthcare. It's not for nothing that in Europe, any politician who has any ambition desires to head the state department, the treasury, healthcare, or the interior above all. The defense department? That's for nobodies.

    So no priority from the treasury, political lightweights as leaders, no wonder that in order to afford some new toys European armies had to sacrifice something else instead. Or even sell military kit in order to fund military operations in places like Afghanistan. In the case of the UK like 25% of the budget goes to the nuclear deterrent. Which serves no real purpose to defend the UK, except to give it international bragging rights so it can claim to be a nuclear power. I still think a land based ICBM system would be more cost effective for the UK then the nuclear armed ballistic missile submarines. It takes a lot less manpower and resources to man and maintain an ICBM base then a Trident submarine. And the Royal Navy could operate a hell of a lot more useful ships like frigates and destroyers that can actually patrol the oceans then these two useless carriers.

    Oh no, what if another Falklands war were to happen, their defenders would say. Yeah, like Argentina could invade anything like a wet paper towel these days. And its not like being obsessed with fighting the last war all over again worked so well for the UK in the past. *cough* Battle of France in 1940 *cough*