DefenceSynergia Welcomes the New Secretary of State for Defence With a Caution

DS welcomes the new Secretary of State for Defence, The Right Honourable Gavin Williamson MP, and acknowledges his recent plaudits and support for Her Majesty’s Forces, and pride in the entry into service of the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier (QEC) and, at a later date, its associated new combat aircraft. However, DS would caution against the historic Ministry of Defence (MOD) exuberant use of grandiose statements that seek to hide reducing existing capability and lauding as yet unproven and highly complex new Capabilities.

If we take the Secretary of State for Defence’s recent QEC statements as an example: “When Russia sees this aircraft carrier – they have nothing like it in the world…This is the finest aircraft carrier in the world – it is leagues ahead of any other nation…We should take a great amount of pride in that, and we can use this to strike fear into the hearts of all our enemies and that is what it is designed to do, and I am sure that is what it will do…it is worth remembering that the enemy has a vote too, and they are not daft nor influenced by embellished public relations statements.

The Russian Defence Ministry spokesman, Major-General Konashenkov, recently said this of the QEC: “The British aircraft carrier is nothing more than just a huge easy naval target. The ecstatic statements of Michael Fallon about the exterior supremacy of the new aircraft carrier over Russia’s Admiral Kuznetsov warship demonstrate his absolute ignorance of the naval science.” Major-General Konashenkov went on to make a comparison with the ‘Admiral Kuznetsov’, pointing out the relatively poor weaponry and wider capabilities of the de facto QEC aircraft carrier and it needing a fleet to protect it and only having a few close-in short range gun defence weapons for self defence, compared to the Admiral Kuznetsov, which he describes as “an aircraft-carrying cruiser, being armed to the teeth with anti-submarine and anti-ship missiles.”

The Secretary of State would be well advised to be mindful that Russia, China and other potential adversarial nations continue to develop evermore effective anti-carrier and carrier-capability denial weapon systems and asymmetric tactics to counter the conventional balance that naval power aircraft carrier groups have traditionally projected. It is called in the jargon of the age ‘Anti-access (A2) Area Denial (AD) capability’.

So when the Secretary of State pronounces, “This is the finest aircraft carrier in the world – it is leagues ahead of any other nation.” he must be more realistic and acknowledge that the QECs are not configured as true aircraft carriers in the classic sense, but configured for ski-ramp launched and Vertical Short Take Off and Landing (VSTOL) recovery capability only. Therefore, unlike conventional carriers, QECs cannot launch nor recover long-range conventional fixed wing combat aircraft, they have no Air-to-Air Refuelling capability to extend F35-B endurance, as QECs have no catapult assisted take off or barrier arrested recovery system (CATOBAR). There is a slim possibility of retrofitting a future assisted CATOBAR option with a re-emerging US technology called ICCALS ‘Fire Cat’ if space on board and funds allow.

Abroad things are seen from a different perspective. The Americans, with their large nuclear powered and more powerful conventional-aircraft carriers, would disagree that a QEC is leagues ahead of their carriers. The USS Gerald R Ford is 100,000 tons and can deliver far more combat effect and enduring operational capability than both Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales carriers combined. The Chinese refurbished Russian Varyag aircraft carrier could be argued to be better armed and have greater range and capability, as indeed France and India might dispute that their carriers were inferior to a QEC, especially with regard to strike aircraft capability and self protection weapons. Only when a QEC is fully operational with a proven properly constituted Air Wing embarked, accompanied by fully manned supporting destroyers, frigates, submarines, and Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships would a potential enemy start to consider a UK Carrier Strike capability as a credible Maritime Strike threat.

For these reasons DS hopes the Secretary of State for Defence rejects the vacuous statements often peddled by the MOD propaganda machine.

DS is particularly supportive of his reported stance on stopping further defence Capability cuts to balance budget deficits. This speaks robustly and strongly to his Cabinet colleagues and the country on to the need for effective military output to be balanced by equal resource and funding input.

The Secretary of State for Defence’s focus and effort, we hope, will be on measured statements of fact rather than wishful propaganda aspiration, and concentrating on getting the right money, spent on the right things, for the right cost effective competitive price to provide coherent UK Armed Forces and Capabilities geared to achieving realistic and properly articulated Strategic aims.

Therefore, DS wishes the new Secretary of State for Defence, The Rt Hon Gavin Williamson MP, a fair wind and success in his nationally vital position and role. Top of his agenda must be the desperate need to redress decades of over statement and under investment in the necessary manpower, equipment and support capabilities provided to our selfless Service men and women who place themselves in harms way daily to keep UK and its global interests safe and secure in this ever more turbulent and uncertain global scenario.