Saturday, June 4, 2011

Britain and France to Share Aircraft Carriers

I think every American should read Tom Clancy's, Carrier: A Guided Tour of an Aircraft Carrier. The ships are the sine qua non of global power projection, and a key indicator of great power status. CSM just reported last month on the increasing prestige of carriers among nations, amid heightened international security demands requiring that kind of operational mobility. See, "Aircraft Carriers Gain Naval Clout." At the clip below is the USS Abraham Lincoln, which I visited in 1999. It's a Nimitz-class carrier. The last carrier from the group is the USS George H.W. Bush, commissioned in 2009. The Navy is moving to the Gerald R. Ford class carrier program, with the first two ships expected to be commissioned in 2015 and 2019. Ten carriers from that groups are expected to be deployed, guaranteeing a global U.S. ocean-going preponderance throughout most of the 21st-century.

I mention this just as news reports indicate that Britain and France are set to share aircraft carriers. See Telegraph UK, "We should share aircraft carrier, say French." I wasn't quite sure what to think of this, so checking around I found this at Reuters, "INTERVIEW-French navy boss sees Libyan military humanitarian aid":

One area earmarked for cooperation is the use of aircraft carriers. In a sweeping review last year, Britain cut its defence budget of 36.9 billion pounds by 8 percent in real terms up to 2015, scrapping its only aircraft carrier.

While the short distance between coalition bases and Libya means an aircraft carrier is not essential, Forissier said a British carrier would have been useful to reduce air time, boost attacks and relieve the Charles de Gaulle.

Forissier would like the French flagship to return to base to replace older Super Etendard jet fighters with the latest Rafales. If it were forced to continue its operations "it would only begin to have serious problems in the autumn," he said.

A new British carrier, the Queen Elizabeth, due by 2020 will be designed so each country could fly its planes off the other's ship. The aim is to have one carrier at sea at all times.

British crew will learn on the Charles de Gaulle so that the Queen Elizabeth can enter operation once finished. One British watch officer is currently operating on the French vessel.

While similar foreign policy aims made a Franco-British alliance inevitable, national sovereignty remained, he said.

"France needs its aircraft carrier and Britain needs one to carry out its sovereignty as it wishes, but what is important is to make the planes inter-operable so that we can train on either one in periods of maintenance."

Forissier believes the two governments should consider building together a cheaper carrier to be used for training.

"If we both want to have a permanent operating presence then we'll both need two aircraft carriers and I don't think given the financial situation our governments have the means."

While Paris has hardly touched its military budget, Forissier said he was "stunned" by the Royal Navy cuts, at a time when it has had costly operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"The Royal Navy, which was always an example for us, is in a tough situation," he said. "It makes me wonder whether we'll also have to go through this in the future."

Part of avoiding that has been the closer cooperation.

"I know in Great Britain you pay tribute to Nelson and here we pay tribute to Napoleon, but really we have good reasons to work together," he said, looking at a painting celebrating a French naval victory over the Royal Navy in 1781.
Now, go check out James Fallows, who suggests we not belittle China's efforts to deploy an aircraft carrier fleet, "Please Read This Article About the Chinese Navy." And whether one agrees with Fallows or not, the key to remember is that at one point Britain's navy was the unrivaled master of the seas. Today the U.S. fills that role. Britain and France are now both struggling to maintain a single operational aircraft carrier, while in the U.S. our outgoing secretary of defense has recommended military downsizing. It all relates in the rise and fall of nations. Quite an interesting set of interrelated developments.


Clausewitz said...

Time to put A T Mahan's, "The Importance o Seapower in World History" back into print. It's becoming more relevent on a daily basis.

Clausewitz said...

Oops got it slightly wrong, It's "The Influence of Sea Power upon History".

Tom the Redhunter said...

"...guaranteeing a global U.S. ocean-going preponderance throughout most of the 21st-century."

Only if they have top-notch aircraft on them, as I'm sure you know. Once they're off the deck, it's aircraft v aircraft, and they may as well have taken off from land bases.

So... unless we get the F-35 Lightning II operational and out to the fleet in sufficient numbers, we're facing a very real window of vulnerability.

The F-18C always did have short legs, and is getting quite old. No one seeks the E/F Super Hornet as anything but a stopgap. The C is gen 4, and the E/F gen 4.5, kind of like the Rafale. We need a true gen 5 aircraft, like the F-35, to keep our dominance of the air.

Unknown said...

on quality carrier aircraft, that is a good point, but the F-35
1) is costing more and more, reducing the number you can buy
2) is a very new, unproven and especially untested aircraft, with a lot of potential problems
3) the question remains how long the F-35 will be valid. LMT has declared it won't be able to face the S-400 SAM system until 2020, when its ECM is ready, but by that time the S-500 will be in service
4) how well will the F-35 do against other aircraft? the T-50 and potentially the J-20 are not unlikely to be a match for it, both in combat as in cost
5) the mentioned short range of the F-18 isn't improved that much with the F-35, certainly against long range anti-ship missiles this is a serious problem

which is why I'm all for the introduction of the UCAV on carriers. the USN is the world leader in this area, the USAF not going beyond recon aircraft, and it'll give the Navy the edge it needs in future conflicts, combining superior range and stealth with low cost

as far as carrier capability in general goes, that depends. cruise missiles are an interesting alternative, certainly when you consider the cost of losing a few aircraft. or UAVs are now proving their worth against opponents with a serious military but with reduced air defences