Tuesday, 19 October 2010

That "no aircraft" carrier timetable in full

The MoD were all over us last night to give us the details of how Britain will have no jets flying off its aircraft carriers for the next ten years - despite spending £5.2bn on two new supercarriers being built at four naval yards.

The idea of briefing the media before the defence review today was probably twofold, to put out some more chaff ahead of the cuts in spending and to hope that some of the blame would fall on the last government for ordering the carriers in the first place.

Osborne seemed clear on the weekend that he would rather not have had to carry on with HMS Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales which will be assembled at Rosyth at a cost of £5.2bn. But the cost of getting out of the contracts meant it was cheaper to build both rather than one.

The Ark Royal, the Royal Navy flagship and the fleet of 80 Harrier vertical landing jets will be decommissioned with immediate effect. I'm sure that the wily Dr Fox will find a way of retaining some Harriers to fill the gap while we wait for the new, cheaper, joint strike fighter that can land in carrier catapult and trap system.

Anyway, the timetable for the Royal Navy’s "no aircraft" carriers looks like this:

2010 - The current aircraft carrier, HMS Ark Royal, taken out of service with immediate effect.
HMS Illustrious, although a carrier, operates as a helicopter platform until 2014, then scrapped.
HMS Invincible is already in "extended readiness", or mothballed.

2014 - HMS Illustrious crew go to the new Rosyth-built HMS Queen Elizabeth for two years of sea trials.
HMS Ocean, another helicopter platform, currently in "extended readiness" comes back into service to fill the gap.

2016 - HMS Queen Elizabeth enters service, operating as a helicopter platform until 2019

2017 - HMS Ocean crew transfer to HMS Prince of Wales, the second new supercarrier, for sea trials. HMS Ocean retired or will carry on as helicopter platform if HMS Elizabeth is converted

2019 - HMS Prince of Wales enters service, equipped with catapult and traps that enable the new joint strike fighter to fly off its deck. But, operates as a helicopter platform for a year while flight crews are trained up

2020 - HMS Prince of Wales becomes a fully-operating strike carrier capable of facilitating US and French aircraft as well as British JSF aircraft.
One of the carriers , probably HMS Elizabeth, is put into extended readiness, effectively mothballed, after four years of service without an aircraft ever flying from its decks.

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