To Explain The MoD’s Cock Up With The Carriers

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It’s entirely true that the Ministry of Defence has been known to waste money. There’s a certain inbuilt reason for this too, what happens if you prepare for a war and no one turns up? You’ve rather achieved the purpose of the spending but it looks rather like you’ve not.

No, this is an important point. Imagine, for a moment, that you had a girt great gun which would blow up anyone who tried to send an Armada across the Channel. No one sends an Armada, they get on Eurostar in dribs and drabs and attack from behind as a Fifth Column instead.

Have you wasted your money on the gun? Or have you forced the enemy to adopt a different, less effective and less damaging to us tactic?

Hmm.

And yet those carriers, yep, very badly done:

Cummings, it is reported, has described as a “farce” the MoD’s handling of the aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, the two largest ships in the navy’s history, which have now both been commissioned into the fleet. Their cost has risen from an initial estimate of £3.9bn to more than £6bn.

That does not include the cost of the US F-35 Lightning II jets, the world’s most expensive warplanes, which the navy wants to fly from the carriers. The F-35 has been beset by so many technical problems, and its costs have risen so high, that an already hard-pressed navy faces the prospect of having two large aircraft carriers short of both aircraft and crew.

Originally, the MoD had intended to order aircraft carriers with catapults and arrester gear, known as “cats and traps”. But it abandoned that plan on grounds of cost, even though that would have made them compatible with French and US carriers.

So, why?

Because Gordon Brown wanted to buy some shipbuilding votes. Bugger whether the boats actually work, that wasn’t the point at all.

As it happens, if the two had been built the right way, with the correct catapults etc, they would be a significant military asset. They might even still be yet.

But the problem with them didn’t start in the MoD.

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Mr Yan
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Mr Yan

The pork barrel politics stink but Gordon didn’t screw up the catapult side of things. The carriers are electric drive so don’t have steam for conventional catapults. Only when it became apparent the costs of VTOL aircraft was prohibitive did they look at trying to fit catapults. The carriers were supposed to have been adaptable to allow them to be retrofitted but they weren’t. So back to VTOL planes at great expenses. The contract was the fault (as usual) of the MOD.

As an aside, why does a navy with ~ 75 ships need 34 admirals?

Bloke in Germany
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Bloke in Germany

For the same reason a third or more of employees at master of the universe companies have to be called managing directors, vice presidents, or partners.

Gavin Longmuir
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Gavin Longmuir

I once met an Air Vice Marshall in Britain’s Royal Air Force. The man was a dentist. Perhaps some of those 34 Admirals are dentists too? Or, considering the British Navy these days, gynecologists?

Steve Fleischer
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Steve Fleischer

Plus VTOL planes are more expensive, have lower performance due to extra weight), and have significantly reduced payloads over planes launched by catapult (see the (sole) Russian carrier as an example of what not to do).

Pcar
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Pcar

@Mr Yan
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Cat n Trap was to be USN electro-magnetic as on Nimitz replacement Ford class carriers
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USN offered to supply it for Free, but Brown’s “capable” didn’t say “designed in and leave space for it”. Your car is “capable” of being fitted with a 27litre Merlin, but…

Mr Yan
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Mr Yan

Well, it was capable with around £4bn of extra costs. In other words, rebuild large parts of the carriers.

Bloke in North Dorset
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Bloke in North Dorset

There’s lots of posts that need staffing by Admirals and their equivalents in the junior services eg: Nato, big embassies, MoD, staff colleges.

Although I’m sure there’s more than a few sinecures in there.

Mr Yan
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Mr Yan

Maybe that explains why the is 1 MOD person for roughly every 3 persons in the armed services also.

David Moore
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David Moore

There was a very large steam vessel designed into the vessel to allow for cats. At some point it was ‘removed’ from the design and the space filled for other services.

David Moore
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David Moore

I spent time in the design team. I generally believed that the only reason that the cats and traps were removed was because BAE was the main contractor, and is also a major contractor for the F-35B. From a defense point of view, there removal was madness.

Boganboy
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Boganboy

Reminds me of the Australian submarine programme.

David Moore
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David Moore

And the British submarine programme, and the British Nimrod MR4A programme and……

On one hand, large, complex defense projects are very hard and the other is that Governments are very bad at running large complex projects. The actual goals will often get lost in the need for political mileage.

Pcar
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Pcar

Great White Shark beside a Killer Whale
HMS Ark Royal (1970s proper cross deck cat n trap) parked up next to an American “Nimitz” carrier in Norfolk Naval Base

Info: wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Ark_Royal_%28R09%29

Phoenix44
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Phoenix44

It’s all a lot more complex than that, and always has been. Pre-War, the Air Ministry decided what the threat was going to be and issued its specifications for new aircraft based on that – but with input from the senior ranks of the RAF who loved biplanes and thought they were more maneuverable. Because that’s what they had flown. Or who believed that the bomber would always get through. And that any population would quickly crack under mass bombing. Every assumption was wrong. Thankfully, despite the Ministry choosing a biplane with fixed undercarriage in 1931, both Hawker and Supermarine… Read more »

David Moore
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David Moore

There are no experts who are very good at predicting the future, never trust one who does. That innovation does tend to be better outside a ridge military/government system should not be a surprise to anyone here either! Just on the tanks, there is a simple truth that Britain needed tanks and all the tanks they could get. They simply did not have the time to develop the best tank in time for it to be useful. Don’t forget that Britain end the war with Centurion entering service. That was the best tank in the world and stayed so for… Read more »

Pcar
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Pcar

Brown who pork-barreled QE class carriers be built at Rosyth – no capable dry-dock or cranes. QE class design was compromised to ensure they had shallow draught and low height to sail under Forth Bridges: two islands (with expensive, failure prone retractable masts) wastes deck space, no cross deck landing, no cat&trap. One UK shipyard with no height or draught issues and two more than large enough dry docks & cranes already existed – rejected, not located in Scotland. Ship ready, but Brown’s pork barrel politics to assemble the QE RN carriers at Rosyth bites again: Must wait for high… Read more »