The Admiral of a fleet (task force as they tend to be called these days), lives in the best cabin of the best ship under his command, but in theory does not meddle with the running of that ship. So why is Admiral Cameron interfering in such an unhelpful way in the decision of which aircraft to put into the UK’s new aircraft carrier?
The answer must be that he doesn’t trust the Secretary of State for Defence and that the decision to go for ‘proper aircraft’ as opposed to the F-35C jump-jets which have shorter ranges and payloads in order that they can land like helicopters, was wrong.
The Americans and even the French (who never gave up aircraft carriers) have ‘proper aircraft’ – which means that although Fleet Air Arm aircraft will be able to land onto their ships, the British carriers will be of no reciprocal use in a multinational operation. This hugely reduces the strategic value of the UK having a carrier, as well as degrading he UK’s world position as a military ally and power.
But proper aircraft require complex catapaults to get airborne, and a inverse cable capture system to stop them ending up in the sea on landing – “cats and traps”. This will increase the cost of the carriers by half their original cost.
But the carriers have already gone up by very more than that anyway. So why not just bite the bullet, pay the money and get what works – as opposed to something with considerable disadvantages. There would be plenty of political room for blaming the shipyards and contractors for the extra cost.
The aircraft are always the most expensive part of acquiring an aircraft carrier. But if you don’t buy the best, then the money’s pretty much wasted. The older the aircraft, the sooner it all becomes obsolete – and too dangerous to operate. So Admiral Cameron should either succumb to the home economists and take the cheapest option – the latest F-18’s off the shelf from the USA, or ‘proper’ F-35Bs, building ‘proper’ carriers to fly either.
I remain baffled at the Admiral’s interference. It was he who rightly over-ruled Labour’s original penny-pinching order for F-35C jumpjets, in the 2010 Defence Review. Over £250m has been spent “converting” the carriers (which don’t actually exist) to have cats and traps, and it will cost far more in addition to “re-convert’.
The MoD seems mesmerized way beyond any residue of common sense by the need to save money. This apparent remit commits them to whatever policy saves the most – except they’re wasting not saving. The Prime Minister’s role here is to over-rule MoD’s wasteful short-term thinking, in the interests of Britain’s security and his strategic vision.
A lot of times in life you just gotta take a deep breath and pay up. Leadership is about deciding then motivating everybody to get on with it. As every good admiral knows.