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)

    • blight

      The problem is such thinking means that these nations might even totally throw out their defense forces. The modern trend with the demise of the Soviets is to go borderline pacifist, and our European allies will someday only be able to provide motorized, light infantry, mountain troops and special forces; forfeiting a long-range airforce and a multi-ocean navy in the process.

      Europe used to be a military powerhouse from the wealth of its colonies. Without them, what was Europe?

    • Tim UK

      Your not paying the bill we are , the UK is just seeking help in getting up to speed on big carrier logistics and operations and I bet US jets will probably flying off these flat beds as well . Its called being allies , and before you reply I have a bunch of friends who have fought along side your guys in Helmand all for the debacle that is US foreign policy . Show some respect for the UK .

    • English

      Youre shouting to the cheap seats – this co-op is simply about learning to use this type of ship and launch system again. In simple terms the USA is likley to be letting some UK naval aviators train and deploy in advance of us getting the ships. Probably some exchange of officers too. Hardly the USA paying for our defence.

      Check your facts on Libya, UK and France were dealing with this, US involvement lent a little political credibility to the process and some useful military assets, but thats the idea behind a partnership. It wasnt the USA doing what the UK/FR couldnt do….

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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…

    • Mastro

      “a mini-carrier that was built to off the shelf commercial standards (rather than hyperexpensive defence procurement standards) for around £150 million.”

      Those “hyperexpensive ” standards are the difference between your ship burning to the hull after one bomb hit- like numerous Japanese CV’s- or taking a beating and fighting another day- like the Yorktown, Enterprise, etc.

      • elizzar

        the british carriers and warships in ww2, when they finally made it to the pacific theatre and fought the japanese, tended to resist damage (esp kamikazes) better than the usa ships as they were armoured all over, rather than in just protected areas. the experience of the falklands was that even a powerful modern warship could, if not sunk, be taken out of action for a conflict with a single missile or bomb hit. the argument for the large super-carriers isn’t they can take more hits per se, but that they are far more efficient in operating their large air-wings. i think lightbringer’s point is that having lots of small drone carriers gives you more overall resistance to this kind of knock-out blow. plus for the uk with 1 or at most 2 carriers, we can be in 1 or 2 places at once, unlike the us with its 10/11 carrier groups. having 4 smaller carriers in this sense gives more flexibility etc (assuming you have the escorts and aircraft of course!)

        • rokuth

          Both Japanese carriers & US carriers were built with wooden flight decks in WW2. There were several US carriers that had to be pulled out of the frontline when they were hit by Kamekazi attacks. The Brits were the only ones in the Pacific that had carriers with armored decks. To paraphrase one US Naval Officer: ” When they get hit by a Kamekazi all the have to do is man their brooms and they’re back in service in a matter of hours…” American carriers were only built with armored flight decks after WW2.

    • Tim UK

      I agree we should have upped the number of astute class subs and Daring Class and bought a few more oceans and let drones and Apache’s work off them. I’m sure the US in any conflict would rather us turn up with those forces than another carrier and when are we realistically going to be using a carrier on our won ?

      The Astutes rammed with cruise and Oceans with Apache give us way more bang for buck.

      • Fluoro Ninja

        You can buy 10 pistols for the cost of one assault rifle too, but you wouldn’t go arming your infantry with pistols because it gives you more ‘bang for the buck”.

        Just as pistols are pistols and rifles are rifles, helicopters are helicopters and fighters are fighters.

        Just because an attack helicopter can, in some limited way, perform the task of aerial strike, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to rely on this as an ongoing tactic.

  • 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.

    • Belesari

      __BTW with a projected total program cost of 388 BILLION DOLLARS JUST TO 2010 i’d say 50mil fucking dollars is a fart in the wind.__We havnt destroyed our allies industries they did.

      • pandaa


    • Skipper

      Interesting point, your correct, the once mighty British navy is no more, all of Europe is behind, the euro fighter for example is 30 years old now, as already said the couldn’t even fight Libya with out the us leading the charge then selling them ordinance when they ran out, after only about 6 weeks of on and off bombing, they really need to start pulling some of their own weight, especially now that we are going to be focusing on Asia now.

  • 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.

  • 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…….

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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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