Friday, October 8, 2010

Finally a little common sense from SDSR

Don't they make you feel proud?
  If news paper reports are anything to go by then it sounds like the national security council have come to a compromise. Build both Queen Elizabeth Class carriers activate one and keep the other moth balled for a while until we can find the budget to operate it. Many may criticise this decision but to me it makes infinite common sense.

Firstly the very notion that we are once again going to have even one large deck carrier is amazing. If I told you in 1991 that the UK would be actually building not one but two carriers with almost the size and capability of a Nimitz you would have laughft me out of the room. Indeed if we had not had a prime minister (Blair) who was so obsessed with his position on the world stage and a Chancellor who just happened to have a naval dock yard in his own constituency then we would never have gotten even this far. Once we have the carriers built we can worry about finding budgets for aircraft and even escorts in the future. If the carriers were not built we would never again be able to consider building them again.

Secondly the current budget crisis won't last for ever. These carriers will last for 50 years. Does it really matter if one is mothballed for 3 or 4 years, not really. Will any one in the year 2050 really care that the glorious Queen Elizabeth had to use harrier GR9's for two years as the awesome and renowned F35 lightnings were not yet complete. No all they will remember are the numerous battle honours these vessels and their aircraft  have picked up over 50 years in one of the most dangerous times in human history.

These carriers are cheap to run. The Only cost £44 million a year. This compares to the £60 - £70 million that the little invincible cost to run. We can easily afford them in the long run.

Thirdly politicians are fical. They have short term needs and requirements. They like strutting around on the world statge and nothing lets you do that like a Carrier Battle Group. If I am PM and the admirals come to me and ask me for a budget for an aircraft carrier what would I think. Well it will take a decade to design and build, another 5 years to get the planes and enter service,cost quite allot of money and create a fire storm at some point when the economy enters recession and I have to cut back on defence.

If I am the PM who gets to deploy these vessels I might think it's worth the pain. However I realise my chances of being in office when they are ready are slim and if I put my own political capital behind them they are even slimmer. My answer would obviously be no.

Now imagine you are PM. The admirals come to you and say. Mr Prime Minister we have an aircraft carrier sitting in the dock. It's ready to serve but we need £ 5 billion over the next 2 years to buy extra aircraft and get her into service. She and her sister ship will both be ready for you to call on with in 3 years at which point you will be able to send a massive fleet with 2 carriers 8 destroyers and a host of supporting vessels to any where in the world you desire. What  would be your answer.

If we get the vessels eventually we will be able to get the budget to operate them and do all of the other things. Politicians don't make long term decisions. Don't blame them its not their fault. The have short term electorate issues that they are forced to deal with, even at the expense of the countries long term needs. However in a crisis they will move heaven and earth to get the military what it needs, even if it only to save their own political necks. How much would Margaret Thatcher have paid for an Aircraft carrier in 1982. If it could be ready and sailing in a couple of months. The answer would be what ever it cost and then some.

Carriers are cheap, Until recently I did not realise how cheap. In total to have QE and POW both armed with 36 stealth bombers we are looking at a cost of £20 billion over 10 years. The current budget is some where in the region of £500 billion a year. That will be £5 Trillion over 10 years. The carrier's represent around 0.4% of government spending. Which is very little given their capability and the way they will transfer our position on the world stage for 50 years.

Allot of criticism is heaped on Blair and Brown for their defence spending plans. However don't forget they were the first politicians with the balls to even attempt to build aircraft carriers since the Second World War. Aircraft carriers are perhaps the most controversial military issue in UK politics. Almost every one agrees for the need for Trident. However aircraft carriers make a much bigger statement. They state our intent to be militarily involved in foreign affairs. A number of journalists in the liberal media hate this assumption. They see it as a return to the days of empire. Unfortunately these journalists find too much support. Especially from people who should no better like the RAF and the Army who all to often try to trump the Navy using the same arguments. However once we have even one of these carriers operating public opinion and politicians opinion will change. We will likely become addicted to the power and capability they offer. Then it will be remarkably easy for the Navy to procure the extra funds it needs to activate the second. This seems to be the Navy's strategy. It is a very clever one in my eyes. Nelson and Fisher I feel would be very proud of the way the navy is handling it self today given the pressure it is under from the media, politicians and other services.

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