Rebuilding the UK’s Carrier Fleet

As we mentioned they would last week, American Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and his British counterpart, Philip Hammond, signed an agreement last Thursday outlining how the U.S. Navy will help the Royal Navy rebuild its defunct carrier strike capability over the next decade.

From sister site DoDBuzz

Secretaries Panetta and Hammond signed a Statement of Intent on Carrier Cooperation and Maritime Power Projection that will serve as the framework for increased cooperation and interoperability on the use of aircraft carriers, as well as provide the basis for the U.S. to assist the UK Royal Navy in developing its next generation of aircraft carriers.  This cooperation is a cutting-edge example of close allies working together in a time of fiscal austerity to deliver a capability needed to maintain our global military edge.

The Royal Navy decommissioned its Harrier jump jets last year, leaving it without seaborne-fighter for the first time since before World War II. Now, Hammond himself expressed  concern about what effect the Pentagon’s slowdown of its F-35 buys will have on the UK’s F-35C purchases before he signed the agreement. However, InsideDefense is reporting that the F-35 program office  is gearing up to sell jets plenty to foreign JSF buyers despite the Pentagon’s slowed buys:

The F-35 joint program office is girding for a surge of international orders that would boost manufacturing rates for the seventh and eighth Joint Strike Fighter production runs by more than 40 percent above currently planned buys for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, according to Defense Department officials.

Ok, so maybe the Brits will get their jets in time to have at least limited carrier ops by 2020.

But wait, the UK is not only buying new F-35C Joint Strike Fighters to fly off its carriers, it’s fielding a brand new class of super carrier that uses electromagnetic catapults and arrestor wires. The Royal Navy hasn’t fielded one of these so called CATOBAR carrier since the 1970s, so it will be relearning how to operate this type of ship from the U.S. Ironic considering it was the British who invented the keystones of modern aircraft carrier design; an angled flight deck, the optical landing system and even the steam powered catapult that will be replaced by electromagnetic ones on the U.S. and British navies next aircraft carriers.


  • blight

    Hooray, more flat-tops for great justice.

  • Matt

    A little sad when America has to help out it’s “closest ally” like a rising 3rd world nation. Honestly, NATO doesn’t/shouldn’t stand for “get America to pay for our defense”. Look at Libya, it proved the EU can’t even over throw a 3rd world dictatorship. Seems like a waste of US tax dollars, England can afford it’s own defense. (Whether it wants to fund it or not)

  • QuiAudetAdipiscitur

    So will the US lend the Brits a carrier task force when the Argentines go for the Falklands/Maldives before 2020? Or will the Brits task the Charles de Gaulle, which can’t even operate far from home without failures, with retaking British territory? These two carriers can’t be built fast enough.

    • Pedro

      We have submarines… Argentines don’t leave port when there’s a shark in the water.
      They get cold, wet and dead if they do.

      • Nicky

        The Brits have Sub Skippers that would give any surface skipper nightmares,they are graduates of the world renowned Perisher Course and strike so much fear that the Argentines would never ever dare venture out unless they have a death wish.

    • rokuth

      I think you’re referring to the Islas Malvinas not the Maldive Islands…

  • Buzz

    In addition, I’m sure the US will be hosting a boatload of Royal Navy pilots and sailors on our carriers during the interim years to help maintain the experience base of Britian’s carrier career fields……….

    • Nadnerbus

      If the UK is footing the bill for the pilots, while they fly sorties for US naval air operations, I am fine with that.

  • Great news. But only if the tail hook problem with the F-35C can be solved. So far, that doesn’t look so good.

  • W D Southworth

    Why do we need F-35A? Can’t The USAF use the same F-35 as the USN. If it will launch & land on a CV, it can darn sure take off & land on Terra Firma!

    • TLAM Strike

      The USAF is still living down the humiliation of having to drive the Phantom. Their sensitive egos can’t handle yet another superior navy fighter in their ranks.

    • PolicyWonk

      The USAF happens to believe they are special. it might be cheaper to only build the navy version if purchased in bulk.

  • mhmm…

    Is anyone else curious about the picture?

  • fromage

    Considering the slobberfest everyone had over the LockMart “6th Gen Fighter” posted here last week, I feel more than okay letting my little heart flutter away over this particular photoshop job. Someone’s a Grumpy Gus.

  • stephen russell

    RN carriers made in UK-Scotland? & US, both or One host nation?
    Brits had carriers homemade in WW2.

    • joe

      The CVF carriers are being built in the UK. Mix of Scotland and Portsmouth, as far as I know.

    • darren moran

      the carriers are both assembled in scotland, with blocks made throughout the rest of the uk, your selling us the f-35c, therefore naturally your gonna help us learn to use them effectively.
      oh yeah i dont think we should be buying the f-35c, much better to buy the super hornet + growlers? (do i have that right) & still have money left over to buy a mpa, P-8 Poseidon, maybe.

    • Waylander

      The blocks for the carriers are being bulit at 6 or 7 shipyards around the UK, including Appledore Devon & Portsmouth in England, and Govan & Rosyth in Scotland, then both carriers will be assembled at Rosyth. The first blocks of QE are already being joined, she will be finished be next summer, though not fitted out, then in the water by 2014.
      No part of the carriers is being built in the US, except the F-35s.
      Worth mentioning that the only nations building supercarriers are UK & US, the French have given up on second carrier, and the rest are building much smaller vessels or refitting old Soviet rust buckets, so it would be nice if some Americans would take note of this and give the UK credit where it’s due, rather than carping about Britain all the time.

  • BILL

    I remember reading on I think it was the Australian Defence site that the Australian military was willing to take British sailors and pilots who are being taken out of the service due to defence cuts into their service to help man their aircraft, ships,. and submarines.Maybe the US ought to give them one of our recently retired carriers that can be back in service in 2 to 3 yrs. to help shore up the defenses of both countries.Australia already flies the F18 E-F so it’s not like they would need extensive training-just send some UK and Australian pilots to train in the US and off American carriers while the ship is brought to readiness.

    • TH1

      great idea

    • Nadnerbus

      I don’t think even our best allies have the dough to keep a super-carrier operating for extended periods of time. Operating a US-style carrier battle group and air wing costs big money, money that I don’t think the Aussies have any intention of spending right now.

      Let China keep rattling its sabers in regards to territorial claims, and they might change their mind at some point though.

      • I’ve always been a fan of carrier aviation & was very disappointed when we retired the “HMAS Melbourne”.

        I’d love to see us back in the game, but the problem is lack of man power, if there was a small, conventionally powered CATOBAR carrier (something like the old French Clemenceau class) with all the crew minimization systems available today installed, we just might get 1 (or even 2), but the BIG carriers are just out of our league & the new French CdG class is nuclear powered which wouldn’t be acceptable to the tree-huggers down south, our best bet for “carrier aviation” is F-35B’s on the new LHD’s sometime in the future.

    • JRL

      “help shore up the defenses” against who? Do you really think that the inscrutable Chicoms are so hard up for mutton that they need to invade Oz? Or that the frenchified Normans across the Channel are planning a sequel to 1066?

      Shrill Chicken Littlesque squawkings to the contrary, neither nation is at any military risk whatsoever. Now, or in the forseeable future.

  • Lance

    Way things are going in Europe Britain wont have a life raft left little lone a carrier. Im still disappointed they dumped the Sea Harrier and scrapped they sky-jump carriers year before the US F-35 even took off. They way things are going I doubt Britain will get anything. If you wanted the F-35s faster then they can pay for it.

  • William C.

    While American, I for one would welcome a proper Royal Navy again.

    Yet I rather doubt any of us will see one.

  • blackavenger

    America has excess carriers and aircraft gathering rust, give em to the Brits if they still have the abillity to operate them.

    • blight

      Probably not, and I doubt the UK wants the trouble of manning old supercarriers, especially if the refuelling cost is just over the horizon. Why buy a carrier and then get it benched for five years for a brutually expensive refuelling? And it’s not like we will give them a freshly refuelled CVN…

      • BILL

        The Kitty Hawk is conventionally powered and could probably be brought back into service in 2-3 yrs.T he Ranger is for all purposes dead ,and I agree that a nuclear carrier is cost prohibitive at 4bil. to refuel and refurbish.With the possibility of Austrailian military binging in ex Royal Navy sailors and pilots I still think it could work.Between the UK and Austrailia they could combine surface ships for a formidable Carrier Battle Group,I think one problem might be that the UK would have to supply the subs.

    • blight

      OTOH, all of our CVNs are in use. The old CVs are probably no longer in battle-worthy shape or are already scrapped.

      • Riceball

        Or serving as museums and probably incapable of steaming under their power, let alone conduct flight ops.

  • PolicyWonk

    The Brits are in the process of selling one of their baby carriers, that just underwent a complete overhaul. However, since they just retired their Harriers, they haven’t got anything to fly off of them (though, presumably, helicopters could still be used, with a reduced scope of capabilities for the ship, etc.

    • andrew

      That’s what we did in Libya, flew Apaches from HMS Ocean

  • Lightbringer

    A friend of mine travelled in HMS Ocean the other week from Gibralter back to the UK(his brother’s a Royal Marine.) It’s a genuinely excellent ship, a mini-carrier that was built to off the shelf commercial standards (rather than hyperexpensive defence procurement standards) for around £150 million. The Royal Navy could have built 100 HMS Oceans for the cost of these supercarrier white elephants. OK, we’d have nothing to fly off them, but we’ve nothing to fly off the supercarriers either! Personally, I think there’s a strong argument for more numerous and smaller carriers operating drones rather than a single gigantic supercarrier…

  • Bob

    That is how it works guys with our “allies” (Don’t get to hung up on that word: US Allies actually means vassals doing what they are told to)

    We first destroy their military industry by making them purchase the F-35.
    Then we give them nothing of the tech and source code they contributed to finance.
    And finally when we are totally over budget, over schedule and they have given up all their own capabilities THEN we sell them a way to build their industry again.

  • Belesari

    Bob,__Its generaly far cheaper to let the US Invest the money and political capital to do things militarily than the rest of the world.
    The Europeans have gone pacifist (never mind pacifist are usually the first slaughtered or inslaved there is ALWAYS someone drumming for it) and even before that during the cold war they let the US spend all the money on the interceptors and such and especially transport aircraft because they were mainly determined to defend the ground around places like the fulda gap.
    That is why the europeans could build their enormous welfare states for so long. Over time its become more and more expensive and that surplus from emasculated defense budgets isnt there anymore.__OH and by the way our “allies” routinly commit industrial espionage against US and other countries companies. For instance right after the US companies spend something like 13 billion in R&D to design a better drug the same drug is then purchased, reverse engineered then mass produced in places like canada, china ,france, and elsewhere. Then the US company only has a set number of months it can keep a patent of that drug then it goes out to whatever.

  • Anlushac11

    Once upon a time plans existed for a supersonic “Super Harrier”. Maybe its time to dust those plans off.

    I also agree with the idea of “loaning” to the UK a ex-USN fleet carrier.

    • rokuth

      Hmm… isn’t the F-35B a supersonic “Super Harrier?” No. That’s right. It’s an Americanized design of the Russian YAK-141…

  • peter leonard

    i guess Argentina will try to tack back their irland .what will we have to fight them with .we could sell them the gear to do the job…….

    • elizzar

      i suggest checking out some of the articles on for a good discussion of why this is unlikely. basically, argentina is in even worse straits than the uk, military and economy wise. talk of taking the falkland islands is merely political rhetoric to try and distract the voters from domestic woes. the seeming south american show of support is mainly to keep argentina quiet rather than form a multi-national force or anything – it just isn’t worth the hassles.
      personally i’d much rather we (the uk + falklands government) worked with the argentinians and south americans, for instance landing fishing hauls in nearby ports for sale and possibly paying a small additional tax etc, or if oil etc. is found, once again having that transported / processed to south america continent so that all sides gain some economic benefit and political stability in the longer run. wishful thinking?

  • Jimmy

    Britian is the second biggest military in Europe, extrodinarily sad.

  • nraddin

    They want to put a full sized carrier to sea? Awesome we should sell them one of our mid life carriers. How about two of them and we can replace the lost two with a new carrier. It would be really nice if we could count on Britain to have carrier power available and as much as it cost to build a ship, operating it is far more expensive. If we get promises to run those ships, it’s a win/win.

  • Chris

    The UK and the US are the strongest of allies. At the very least, The US should lend / lease to the UK two WASP class amphibious assault ships – they are mini-carriers each capable of carrying 20 AV-8B Harriers.

    • bill

      We would have to give back some of those 70 Harriers we just got from you but that would be fine if it would help you guys stay in the game until your new carrier is finished.

  • Robert Fritts

    With our current economy and proposed civilian and military cutbacks there is no problem. Nimitz(UK), Vinson(Austrailia) and Roosovelt(France) should be availible within 90 days of a Obama re-election for free. We can thrown in their Airwings, weapons, spare parts, a training package and a Nuke recharge for free. Bring them up to speed with a buddy crew of 50/50 Yanks/Blokes/Diggers/Froggies. They can have the newly discharged USN folks for slightly more than EU minimum wage(22% higher than USA), since they will have no jobs to go home to. Problem solved, money saved all around. When the Gerald Ford comes on line the next oldest Nimitz class(Truman?) Goes to India.

  • USN-Fan

    With the US currently holding the 4 carriers of the Kitty Hawk class in reserve or donation-hold, that is a ready supply of carriers that can be supplied to allies that are in need of them right now. All four would need three year refits and overhauls/machinery updates to replace their old engine rooms and running gear with more modern and fuel efficient setups, but, given their size, relatively advanced design, and general suitability to the task, would be excellent for any navy’s purposes. Two could go to Britain, one to France, and one to India. India could remove the forward catapults and add on a ski-jump, as could Britain. If France doesn’t want one of the Kitty Hawks, the Enterprise is nuclear (Which fits with their docterine) and could use a refit to their more modern reactor designs. All can refit to the evolved sea-sparrow and maintain the RAM or Phalanx systems that the carriers have.

    This lets Britain slow down on their own custom carriers to do them right, solves France’s problem right now, and gives India a platform for their new fighters (though, I may never get used to seeing migs flying off a Kitty-Hawk, or Rafale’s off the Big E.

    • Restore Palestine

      pipe dream

  • Filipe

    To those arguing that the US should lend the british a few old carriers, just remember that they still have at least one of their old light carriers. One was converted to a helicopter carrier, but It can be easily reverted to a fixed wing aircraft carrier, if necessity arises. They have carriers if they want to, the problem are the budget cuts. The Royal Navy has not enough funds to manage a fixed wing aircraft carrier until 2020.

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