|HMS Eagle: A proper aircraft carrier.|
I need to get this out of the way. Ever since the debate on intervention in Syria, and now Ukraine is in turmoil, various dimwits have sought to make political gain from the recent defence cuts, drawing particular attention to our lack of an aircraft carrier. At the very pinnacle of such douche-dom is Con Coughlin at the Telegraph.
Mr Putin’s room for manoeuvre is more limited than many people think, because much of the Russian military is ill-equipped and poorly trained. But that is about to change, thanks to a £400 billion, 10-year modernisation programme. Meanwhile, cuts to our own defence budget mean that the Army will soon be nearly half the size of the Russian forces currently deployed along the Ukrainian border. As for the other Services, Philip Hammond’s overzealous application of spending controls at the MoD has seen the RAF’s frontline combat squadrons operating at a rumoured 50 per cent capacity, while the absence of a functioning aircraft carrier severely limits the Royal Navy’s ability to stand up to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, and others.Is he really suggesting that had we an aircraft carrier we would have positioned it to go toe-to-toe with the Black Sea fleet? Assuming that were a remotely plausible diplomatic avenue, can anyone enlighten me as to what use a clapped out cruiser with a dozen ancient Harrier jump-jets would accomplish? Leaving aside for a moment its limited range and loiter time, there's that small matter of it being utterly useless. In three leaked e-mails in 2006, Major James Loden, of 3 Para, said that the RAF, with particular reference to the Harrier, had been "utterly, utterly useless".
He has very unkind words for the RAF: "Controlling and directing air, arty and mors [artillery and mortars] is the best way to influence the battle. The RAF have been utterly, utterly useless. "Twice I have had Harriers in support when c/s on the ground have been in heavy contact, on one occasion trying to break clean. A female Harrier pilot 'couldn't identify the target', fired two phosphorous rockets that just missed our own compound so that we thought they were incoming RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades], and then strafed our perimeter, missing the enemy by 200 metres." In "contrast" to the RAF, the US air force had been "fantastic". He adds: "I would take an A10 over Eurofighter any day."But what about the Falklands? The Harrier was the victor of the hour wasn't it? Er... not quite. The few air-to-air victories needs to be measured against the fact we lost seven ships for lack of Airborne Early Warning aircraft, and fighters with adequate endurance and all-weather capability. Even for ground-attack missions, Britain was pressed into a last hurrah from the thoroughly useless Avro Vulcan, on a needlessly perilous mission, to mostly miss the target at Port Stanley. All for the lack of carrier based strike capability.
In this regard, Britain has not been a major world power with any real carrier capability since the Seventies. To lose seven ships to a vastly inferior enemy is not a great British victory. It was an embarrassing loss and should be remembered as such. But in the instance of Syria, if our thought-free, idle hacks could navigate a map, they might discover a small island by the name of Cyprus, which is home to RAF Akrotiri. What use then would a thirty year old rust-bucket Harrier carrier be? As to fighting Russia, who are they trying to kid?