I feel sorry for the ship's company of HMS Illustrious. They're shortly going to be feeling very embarrassed to be serving on an aircraft carrier that doesn't have any, err, aircraft. I remember my time fondly on HMS Invincible, the now decommissioned sister ship to HMS Illustrious, but I also remember feeling a slight inferiority complex whenever we were on NATO operations with the US Navy or even with the French carrier Charles de Gaulle.
The US Navy didn't even consider our carriers proper Aircraft Carriers. The Invincible-class Aircraft Carriers being a similar size to the carriers that the US Marines use, but call Amphibious Assault Ships.
The new Queen Elizabeth class Aircraft Carriers will be three times larger and much more capable, and will no doubt be the pride of the Royal Navy. But in the meantime, with the announcement of the immediate scrapping of the Harrier fleet there will be no Carrier-based jets up until the new ships arrive in 2020, if indeed they arrive on time (which would be a surprise given the history of defence procurement).
I understand that 'difficult decisions have to be made' as David Cameron keeps saying, but it seems a major risk to me. If another Falklands type scenario popped up in 2018 I really don't see how the UK would be able to mount a successful operation.
Not only that but the 2nd of the Queen Elizabeth class Aircraft Carriers will now be kept moth-balled on 'Operational Readiness'. Operational Readiness basically means that it may be ready in 6 months, touch wood. The Falklands conflict lasted what, 74 days?
I'm not saying the Falklands conflict as such will happen again. After all, Argentina is now a democratic state (ironically as a result of the Falklands war) and wars do not usually happen between democratic states. But what about other tin-pot dictatorships around the world that would like to take a pot-shot at British dependancies? Surely an independent conventional armed force is as important as an independent nuclear deterrent?
The day I joined HMS Invincible I arrived by Sea King helicopter in the middle of the night to the ship at sea in the Adriatic. It was Operation Deny Flight - enforcing the no-fly zone over Bosnia and Herzegovina. Later we would be in the Persian Gulf enforcing the no-fly zone over Iraq.
They key thing is, on these lengthy deployments we either took over from, or were relieved by HMS Illustrious, so that the RN could maintain a continuous carrier group within the area. That's no longer possible. Not without the help of allies anyway. Britain will be more dependant on the US Navy than ever before. The US never supported the Falklands campaign if I remember right?
I noticed the number of surface ships are also being reduced to 29.
Britannia rules the waves, I think not.