Aircraft carriers without aircraft?

The Financial Times today reports that the MOD has agreed, in the Spending Review, to keep Tornado aircraft but go ahead and scrap the Harriers.  This means there will be some time before the two new aircraft carriers will have planes to fly from them.  The Joint Strike Fighter will not be ready until 2018 and one carrier will act as a helicopter platform (a sort of large HMS Ocean I guess).

This does seem somewhat bizarre.  The point of aircraft carriers is to be able to project force - the new Type 45 destroyers in turn will defend them from air attack.  It seems very odd and unwise for the UK to be unable to launch air operations from the sea for some years, relying perhaps on other nations to defend its interests and territory.  A key test is, can we respond effectively to a Falklands-style attack?

A cold reality of course is that our current aircraft carriers are often touring the world without planes (though with helicopters) and only receiving occasional visits from the joint strike force of Harriers.  At least we have retained aircraft carrier capability to date.  Yet, though there are severe budget pressures this government has made them worse for ideological reasons.  That will have great social implications.  It may also lead to a dereliction of a prime government duty which cannot be quickly reversed - national security.

Stephen Beer, 16/10/2010

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