You can’t have aircraft carriers without a proper navy to keep them safe.
A US Navy carrier strike group typically consists of the carrier fully loaded with aircraft – an air wing of 85 to 90 fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft; a guided missile cruiser, two guided missile primarily anti-air destroyers, at least one attack submarine and at least one oiler carrying fuel, ammunition and other supplies. For specific missions, other ships will be added. The carriers’ aircraft are a mix of fighters, bombers, electronic warfare aircraft and AWAC early warning radar carriers. They protect everyone as well as everyone else protecting the carrier.
Carriers are very vulnerable; large, slow and easy to bomb; the Japanese lost four out of eight on Day One of their attack on Midway in 1942. A carriers’ own weapons are short-range, defensive and of last resort. They are the ideal ‘Goliath-type’ target for terrorists…. Imagine the kudos?
Labour’s otherwise surprising commitment to buying two carriers was motivated by the need to protect the shipyard jobs of its supporters – in effect a futile attempt at buying votes. But particularly after these latest cuts, how can the Royal Navy actually use its carrier, even if it can find enough aircraft to operate from it? This is all rather dreadful. The Fleet Air Arm should never have been relegated to flying just Harriers from ski-jump pseudo-carriers, but nevertheless is uniquely effective, as we Falkland veterans will always affirm.
And as a former army officer, I know that the Army does not have the experience or capability required for amphibious operations. If the Royal Navy also lose their amphibious ships and responsibility for the Royal Marines (and so 3 Commando Brigade), the UK will indeed start looking more like Belgium in the world league table of effective military nations.