Lord Hesketh, deputy chairman of Babcock, who’s Rosyth shipyard will build the UK’s two aircraft carriers, says the UK can in fact afford to run two fully loaded carriers if it modified the RAF’s current state-of-the-art Typhoon jets, rather than buy BAE’s grossly over-budget F35.
However, the F35 is being created jointly by BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin, and BAE Systems is also the prime contractor for the carrier project. Lord Hesketh says that BAE Systems have a “vested interest” in filling the carriers with F35’s, even though the UK is very unlikely to be able to afford them.
“We are paying twice as much as we should, to get half the capability,” he told the Daily Telegraph’s Andrew Gilligan yesterday.
Lord Hesketh described the £5.2m project as a “Loony Tunes” operation “about to turn into a classic British disaster”, that will make us “a laughing stock”.
The actual plan is indeed laughable: one carrier to operate for three years without aircraft – presumably as a floating soccer pitch or something similar. If the second does carry any aircraft, this will not be before 2020, and then only after expensive electric catapults have been added to the carrier(s), because the F35’s jump-jet (STOVL) version has already been canceled.
The Fleet Air Arm’s still useful and potent Harrier jump-jet, complete with newly refurbished avionics (£200m), are to be sold on Ebay after the Indian air force dismissed them as ‘Iffy”, in order to achieve at least some defence-cut savings from this whole charade.
The MoD told Andrew Gilligan that the plans still “provide our Armed Forces with the ability to project power across the globe”. I’m not sure how that will be achieved between next year when the Harriers are scrapped, until “at least 2020”, when possibly the already long-delayed F35 project might lead to aircraft being available (if we can afford them). With its refurbishment, Harrier could have remained in service until 2025.
Unless Typhoons are modified for use on the first carrier (I understand this is possible by by strengthening its under-carriage), the Royal Navy will be unable even to put its carrier to sea, as even if it were carrying helicopters, in potentially hostile areas, as the Falklands proved, Harriers are vital to guarantee air superiority over the fleet.
Last word to BAE Systems, who understandably reassure us that they remain “absolutely committed” to the project. We can see why.