On 22nd July HMS Illustrious entered Portsmouth for the final time flying her paying off pennant and formally decommissions on 28th August after 32 years service. The passing of this ship marks a significant moment for the RN. It is always sad when a warship that has served the nation for so long is retired but it also marks the start of a ‘rock bottom’ period. 2014 – 2020 will see the RN in a deep trough of major ‘capability gaps’ mainly stemming from the decisions of the 2010 defence review.
Confusingly the majority of official naval and government PR and promotion of the project has been focused on the carriers size, the engineering achievement and the industrial and employment benefits. The carriers certainly are amazing products of British design and manufacturing and are keeping thousands employed across the country. However the whole purpose of aircraft carriers and their actual benefits to the UK have been very underplayed.
Current air operations in Afghanistan, emphasising the under-resourcing of helicopters, obscures the continuing dependency of the UK on the sea and sea-based airpower. The historic and future dependence of the UK’s economy on the maritime environment drives the long-term requirement for the UK to have a flexible and proportionate global reach. This is not currently receiving the attention it deserves. More