In the UK two aircraft carriers are being manufactured by British industry in various places around Britain, mainly being assembled in Scotland. Since the Tories have been in power both the carriers (HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales) are under threat due to heavy cuts being made by the current government in power. The questions that are being raised are whether or not these carriers should be built and for what purpose do they serve that a cheaper option could also do. With the project costing an estimated £5 billion, the project is not cheap, already contracts have been signed worth £1.25 billion. – Already a huge amount in the pot already spent on these carriers. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is already under heat to cut its annual budget by 20% from £36.9 billion. The crucial thing here to discuss is whether or not these carriers will serve any purpose for example that our current navy isn’t doing. Will they perform in anyway further to what the Invincible class carriers can do. I understand and respect that these carriers might be able to do more in a war situation, however how likely is there to be a war where it involves the UK seeing as NATO would also likely have to be involved. – Being the US has the largest carrier fleet in the world would also be involved. In the current climax of wars in Afghanistan for example, carriers cannot be used effectively as there are land based airbases which are much cheaper to maintain. However the argument is that for the defence industry especially naval technology, to survive and to keep technologically updated in building carriers this project needs to go ahead; otherwise this may affect the UK in the long run.
Now what is really scary is the pricing of the aircraft going on these carriers. The aircraft is called the Join Strike Fighter (JSF) or F-35 Lightning II. The navy would be ordering 8o of these aircraft at an astounding cost of £10 billion which is enough to purchase 2 more aircraft carriers giving a total of 4 Queen Elizabeth class carriers. Though then again aircraft carriers are only useful to the navy and military due to the air wing they carry. However this shows the huge cost of this program, the bulk of it is going to the United States (Mostly to Lockheed Martin, the giant defence contractor) where jobs are being created in the UK for the creation of the aircraft carriers themselves. So the question is, can we save money on these carriers? Perhaps cutting the JSF and going for a cheaper set of aircraft? Or perhaps keeping the harrier jump-jets as an option with the inclusion of JSF as well could also cut costs for this program. However if we were to look at totally new aircraft such as the F/A-18 Super hornet the carrier would have to be redesigned at greater cost, though I do recall of plans/designs already drawn up for a catapult version of the carrier which the US and French conventional carriers currently have; though the long run cost of steam-catapults excels the cost overall in up keeping the carrier.
There is also the issue of jobs in the UK, especially speciality jobs such as naval building yard jobs which are specialised to the extent that you need to keep this type of business going as the defence industry is a huge market earner in the UK and takes a huge percent of GDP. If this defence project was axed, it would likely demolish the lives of 10,000 people who are dependant on this project as well as the wasted £1.25 billion that has already been spent on this project. The UK doesn’t have the second largest defence industry for nothing and to upkeep this record you need to pump money into spending on new technologies as that is the only way you’ll get other countries interested in purchasing from you; just like everything else. To further alleviate any financial pressure you could sell the carrier technology and design to other countries. Apparently Prime Minister David Cameron is trying to cosy up to India who are interested in a modern carrier, to which the Russian’s have been sucking money from with the restoration of a carrier for India with constant updates and problems with that project. This might be considered a problem to some NATO allies however India isn’t much of a threat, but we do need to sell our naval warships in order to actually to pay for them instead of this huge deficit looming over the defence industry that is not bringing enough back.
It is still hopeful that HMS Queen Elizabeth will be launched in 2016 and HMS Prince of Wales in 2018.