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Thanks for the summary. Looking forward, if needed, couldn’t the RN provide carrier support ahead of May 2021? Illustrious was rushed into service even before she was formally commissioned. Can’t we say the carrier gap is already over?


In the mind the gap section: “Their recently-modernised Harrier GR9s” Who’s the they, Ark, Illustrious or the RAF? Maybe some mention of the Sea Harrier would have been in order, if only in passing.


Typo – F35B not F35C equipped LHDs, an interesting article that Max Hastings should read.

Gavin Gordon

What would be the point of Mad Max reading this, Levi? He, of all people, personally experienced the protection aircraft carriers afforded when he was granted what in most folks minds was likely his ‘finest (reporting) hour’ in 1982.
As blind as DomCum, evidently, whose only possible excuse for his anti-carrier lambast last Spring was that he may: of course, have been terribly, terribly drunk at the time.

Fat Dave

The last time the UK actually needed an aircraft carrier was in 1982. The other events after 1982 were “nice to have” but definitely not critical. To argue otherwise is disingenuous.

In other words, the time between 1982 and now is 38 years. That’s the same time gap separating 1982 from 1944. And we haven’t actually needed aircraft carriers since the Falklands War. And the latter could have been avoided had the British government had a coherent foreign policy.

Things have moved on. Aircraft carriers for a nation like the UK are an expensive luxury, given they are approaching obsolescence.

Not only that but it has denied the UK the most capable F-35 variant.

The carriers must be sold to protect the RN….channel the funds back into more frigates, which are actually needed.


Your analysis seems to depend on others like the USA and France doing the heavy lifting.

Steve Taylor

You can ignore France.

But the USN already does the heavy lifting. The USN is facing an escort and an SSN gap. What they are not short of is large aviation ships.

The trouble with sites like this is that the majority of commenters want to re-fight WW2.

Steve Taylor

The ignorance of this site is breath taking.

Meirion X

@Troll S Taylor
Your Ignorance is Breath Taking¡


There is a good article by Gabriele-san on vulnerability of CV compared to land-based airbase.

I agree the latter is more vulnerable = not moving sitting target with limited AAW assets. Any threat to CV (like hypersonic ASM) can hit any hangar or run-way of land-based airbase (precision attack), much more easier than hitting a CV. For example, in view of guidance, 10m CEP (~300m2) on “not-moving target” will be an order of magnitude easier than hitting a moving 280x70m target.


So how do you know that a carrier will not be needed in the future rather than a “nice to have”? Also please explain how the Falkland conflict could have been avoided short of handing those islands to the then military dictatorship in Argentina?

Dave G

As I understand it, there were indications of the invasion before hand… Deploying HMS Conquerer For eg and having her surface somewhere near the Islands to show a presence would probably have delayed or cancelled the whole thing. Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing. 😉


More frigates? We’ll have two sites building frigates throughout most of the next decade. Extra Type 31s (which we might get anyway) wouldn’t start to become operational until 2030. If you wanted more Type 26s, you’d have to wait until around 2038. So you are saying sell the carriers now for pie-in-the-sky promises that may never happen.


“Aircraft carriers are for a nation like the U.K. an expensive luxury”?!?!

Did you type that with a straight face or really not have any concept of UK expenditure?
The carrier programme cost £6billion, and would have been less if construction hadn’t been deliberately slowed for penny-wise pound-foolish budgeting by the Treasury.

£6 billion for 2 carriers with a 50 year life.

Now compare that to;
• £50 billion spent EVERY year servicing the national debt
• £18 billion for Crossrail
• £100 billion for HS2
• etc

In the grand scheme of the UK’s budget, £6billion is peanuts.


I agree more with your analysis day by day. We live in an unstable world and 2% on defence is the bare minimum to spend on safeguarding our interests. Unfortunately there are some in the body politic that seem ignorant of the need for insurance or any other legitimate form of adequate self defence.
IMHO we should be spending 2.5% just to tread water.

Charles Ball

Question single ship frigates on Ops or frigates without air cover are more or less vulnerable than a carrier battle group?


“For a nation like the UK”. Interesting choice of phrase, let’s look at that. A nation like the UK:
-island nation
-5th biggest economy
-world leader in soft power
-trade interests, territories, and allies around the globe
-all foreign nations that we’re currently in disputes with are thousands of miles away
So bearing all that in mind, what does a nation like the UK need? It needs a way of projecting influence abroad in areas that it has limited or no access to. It needs a big symbol of military strength that can play a role in deterring hostile action against us and our allies.

Despite your claims to the contrary, aircraft carriers aren’t approaching obsolescence. They’re being forced to adapt to more hostile environments, but that’s the great thing about carriers: they’re the most adaptable platforms at sea. A carrier offers more ASW capability than any frigate, more air defence than any destroyer, more situational awareness than any shipborne radar system.

I’m never going to argue that the RN doesn’t need more frigates, but flogging £6bn worth of new carriers would quite possibly be the dumbest defence decision EVER witnessed.


The dumbest defence decision ever witnessed was building them in the first place, closely followed by the purchase of the F35.

All of the UK’s recent invasions of other countries have not “projected influence”. By fighting losing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya etc. the UK’s influence has (sadly) greatly weakened rather than strengthened.


I strongly disagree with your post. How would allowing Al Qaeda to take over Afghanistan, Iran to take over Kuwait, have strengthened the UK’s influence? We did nothing to stop Islamic State from taking over huge chunks of Syria and Iraq amid scenes of grotesque barbarity and in allowing it we lost face, self respect and influence. When we had let them establish themselves we had to turn to and intervene and help turn back the tide. We were just lucky we hadn’t abandoned our responsibilities entirely and still had the Sovereign bases on Cyprus.
Sorry; but If I can avoid it; I don’t want to live in the alternative universe you propose, where anything goes.


Islamic state wasn’t in Iraq prior to the invasion in 2003. It is partly a creation of very poor US and UK policy. After invading the country, they sacked the entire Iraqi army while allowing these people to keep their weapons. Such a large number of unemployed people with guns was always going to destabilise the country. Islamic state is also funded by the UK’s “allies” in the region ie. the Gulf state monarchies (dictatorships).

Al Qaeda is stronger now than prior to both invasions and Iran never invaded Kuwait. I think you mean Iraq – Saddam Hussain being provided with weapons by the west including chemical weapons to attack Iran, some of wich were later used against Kuwait.

Meirion X

So You would have kept brutal Saddam in Place for Good!! So to carry on Gassing the Kurds?? I Do agree it was a huge mistake to have supplied arms to the Hussain regime
in the first place!


The UK and US have simply replaced Saddam Hussain with an Iranian-backed government controlling around two thirds of the country and much of the remainder by Sunni islamic fundamentalists. I struggle to see how this can be considered to be an achievement for the investment in lives and taxpayers money that could have been invested in other things.


Good analysis, although even looking at the Falklands War, really this was a bizarre conflict that had more of a place in the 19th century than 1982. Aircraft carriers are no longer a sensible use of limited resources.


Carriers need protection. The RN has,what, 15 operational frigates/destroyers.Each carrier needs two ‘guard ships’ and with modern weapons being developed by the Chinese & Russians these would be as much use as chocolate fire guards. We need more fast reliable surface ships. And, of course, the invisible ones, subs. The latter being the peace makers.


Thank you Royal Navy from a ?? ‘Pongo’ ✅

Phillip Johnson

As to ‘Mind the Gap’ the USS Kearsarge (Wasp Class) is 41,000T.
If that was adequate for a sustained presence then was going for the 65,000T QE class a flight of fantasy given the damage wrought elsewhere in the RN
Question no one wants to face up to.
The UK is only ever going to provide a ‘presence’ in the bigger scheme of things.


“Steel is cheap, and air is free” as your former First Sea Lord put it.
The QE class are probably quite cost effective to operate and maintain, in part due to their sheer size.

Phillip Johnson

Steel is only cheap when it is lying in a steel yard. From that point on the cost rises, it costs to build, it costs to man, it costs to move, it costs to maintain. Size is most definitely not free.
With each of the recent projects T45, the Carriers, the A class SSN, the RN has shot for the sky and fallen in the mud. It is about time the cost and impacts were acknowledged or you will keep doing it until the RN vanishes.


Actually, I agree to Phillip-san. Even though “steel is cheap and air is free”, we eventually see in many cases, the cost of a ship is largely proportional to its size (if built to similar standard/weapon density). There were 14 T42 and 16 T23 because they were compact. If it was T82 and equivalent large ASW frigates, surely the number would have been dramatically reduced.

In many case, development and initial building cost (= inefficiency due to not learning) amounts to 3 unit cost (see French official report on FREMM). In other words, 9 FREMM needs money equivalent to 9+3=12 unit cost. If you build a ship with 1.5 times the unit cost of FREMM, the eventual number you see will be only 5 hulls (=12/1.5-3).

John Clark

The Wasp class is an amphibious Carrier, designed to put a Marine combat group ashore and support them.

The QE class are completely different, chalk and cheese really….

The slash and burn of the RN was absolutely nothing to do with the QE class, it was Whitehall bullshit
explained away as ‘all wars will be against terrorism from now on’ so we will modernise accordingly….

The real reason to gut the Navy was to simply divert funds for maintaining 10,000 personnel in the sandbox for years, defence spending was relatively static, year after year, so funding was stripped from the Navy and to a lesser extent, the RAF and funnelled into the pointless war in Afghanistan.

Jonathan Potts

HMS Ocean was also deployed to Sierra Leone in 2000.

Joseph Mendest

What a pile of bollocks.


Doubtless there will be those in Whitehall that wish to slash & burn the RN in SDSR 2020. It looks like the standoff between the USA & Iran will put a stop to that. The RN will need to make the most of its new carriers (a small number of V-22, with AAR capability, Spice 1000 for F-35B, 6x F-35B Sqns) + the T26/31 to go ahead without cuts. I would also fit the 16 cell vertical launcher to the 6x T45 (8x TLAM, 8x LRASM). Please can we hire a competent Intercooler engineer to sort out the engine cut out problem. Plus buy a couple of extra P-8 for the RAF. Of course this will cost money, but it is peanuts in comparison to the promises Boris made at the election. Does he want his government sidetracked by an attack on British shipping in the Gulf? Or a hostage situation a reduced British military cannot respond to?


Better to get the Valor and the unmanned Vigilant which are under development instead of the V22.

Simon m

It depends osprey is more capable… work is being done to bring operating costs down, if a reasonable FMS could be done with the US, it would be the better option.

If none of the above happens v280 is a good option, but there’s a way to go before it’s in service.

For AEW aw609 would be IMO the best option perhaps with v22 or Valor buy as a follow on. At least this would increase Merlin available for ASW and other duties it’s suitable for.


I know the osprey isn’t pressurised, but is the valour as it would allow greater altitude and thus great coverage??


AW609 proposed by “Simon m” has a pressurized cabin. I also agree with him in thinking that the AW609 is the best AWACs vehicle for the QE class carriers. It will be cheaper than the V22 Osprey and probably also Cheaper to maintain. It will certainly be able to carry the Merlin’s Crowsnest system. The AW609 is lighter and smaller than V22 and so more can be fitted on the carriers the comes. Finally the AW609 comes from Leonardo the manufacturer of the Merlin Helicopters on board the UK carriers and therefore there should be some synergies in areas of equipment support from the same OEM.


There are a number of issues with your proposal:
1. Leonardo and Bell have signed memorandum of understanding whereby the AW609 will not be used militarily.
2. The AW609 does not have a folding wing or prop-rotors. This will take up valuable deck or hangar space.
3. Crowsnest is not very powerful, so if it was fitted an aircraft that could fly higher, its range would not be greatly improved.

There are two options for replacing a Merlin equipped with Crowsnest. The V22 would be a good option, as it could be re-roled as a tanker etc and is already designed for salt water operations.
The best option in my opinion is the Bell V247 Vigilant unmanned tilt rotor. This is being developed by the USMC for use on their Aphibs. This aircraft will be significantly cheaper than the V22. It has more endurance with up to 15 hours on Station. It doesn’t need to be pressurised as there’s no crew. It can also fly nearly twice as fast and high as the Merlin. It has a folding wing and prop-rotors, giving it the footprint of a Wildcat. It will also be developed for in-flight refuelling (receiving), (Bell haven’t said if it can be used as a tanker – yet!). But perhaps more importantly, the USMC want it to be fitted with a development of the F35’s APG81 radar. The F35’s radar is a step change in capability even over the F22’s APG77 radar. This combination would even give the E2D Hawkeye a run for its money. The US Navy have also said they want the aircraft to operate from their Ticondera cruisers for over the horizon targeting as perhaps the answer to a swarm attack.

Meirion X

It be better to rearrange the hanger area of a T45 to fit a rear silo of about 30 VLS cells.


That is true but to be able to defend itself the British carriers need more than 3 Phalanxs.

For the record, the 8 AV8 Harriers in Giuseppe Garibaldi against Libya dropped 160 missiles/bombs with 1221 flight hours. So i would says at 7.1 flying hours per bomb dropped i tend to agree they spend a sizable time on station.

Simon m

To me a few launchers similar to the Army Sky Sabre should be added as surely could be done at minimal cost & trialled on PoW whilst QE working up & 1st deployment. There is space below the flight deck and soft launch unlikely to produce much debris


Those missiles are SeaCeptor by another name. The only think I would use the army version for in RN service would be to investigate the feasibility of installing launch tubes at an angle on the QE class such that they are below the level of the flight deck. So that any debris from a launch would not be carried onto the flight deck.

Mike Jones

The examples given, show the limited role the RAF (and dedicated airforces) have with their fixed bases. This can be clearly seen with the USAF vs. the US Navy. Perhaps, it is time to reorganise our armed forces on the role they play not their “mode”. In particular, with the importance today of aircraft in all types of warfare and conflict, a dedicated airforce is in many ways anachronistic. Perhaps instead there could just be two “Services”, one for Offence the other Defence (to use American Football parlance). The Offence would be based round the Royal Navy, with its out of area logistical capabilities, but also include Rapid Deployment Army units. It would be trained to react and deploy to unexpected military circumstances at short notice. The Defence, on the other hand, would be for longer commitments, including air and maritime patrols of the U.K., but also peacekeeping and some humanitarian missions. Beyond the air defence of the U.K., the training would be more intelligence gathering and diplomacy rather than aggressive military action. Both new “Services” would have substantial air support assets as required, on a largely self sufficient basis, but clearly there would be any cases where cooperation would be the game. A potentially explosive peacekeeping mission? Anyway, no independent Air Force…

Simon m

An interesting idea, and one that needs exploring IMO. However the aerial domain needs a dedicated service in order to push development and ensure that air and indeed space blindness doesn’t occur. This can only be done by RAF. As under any other service airpower which is the single most important domain drops down the pecking order.

However, a home defence force & expeditionary force could over advantages for recruitment, clarity of equipment we have & actually make clear how under funded defence is. What I mean by these is no THAAD, or MEADs, tiny number of patrol vessels, no SSKs the list goes on. The causation is the politicians that want for political and economic reasons services to be engaged all over the world and are prepared to take risks with fundamental systems for home security which is explained away by NATO. These capabilities cannot be introduced overnight due to skills and technology required, with the speed/range of attacks available on the modern battlefield and then the likelihood these capabilities may be needed overnight increases.


Past performance is not a predictor of future performance. Using this sort of analysis ignores the massive technological change that has occurred since the Falkland war. It is akin to the investment in battleships prior to world war 2. The protagonists had largely under invested in Naval airpower due to historical organisational inertia. The UK went into ww2 with just terrible naval squadrons that were outclassed due to the under investment in Naval airpower. Why? Because they felt that battleships and cruisers gave them the advantage. They were wrong because they had ignored the technological changes in airpower. In the same way the improvement in submarine, ballistic missiles, sensors as well as surface to air missile technology cannot be ignored.

Projection of power using SSGN is far more cost effective and survivable. Ask yourself this question. What is more likely to complete its mission successfully in the South China sea ? A strike group of the Queen Elizabeth and its escorts at a whopping 4 million pounds per day or a solitary SSGN with 150 cruise missiles at a fraction of the cost. We all deep down know the answer to this question.

The UK needs to stop fighting the Falklands war again.


How many cruise missiles on a solitary SSGN? 150 sounds a tad high a number, especially considering the UK probably doesn’t own much more than that many TLAMs.


The USS OHIO has 22 tubes (where the Tridents used to go) which can each hold 7 TLAM.


USS OHIO is a refitted SSBN. Very few nations can afford the size of such a platform. Furthermore I’m pretty sure the 150 TLAM from USS OHIO is anything but the fraction of a cost of a CBG. SSBNs and SSGNs are anything but cheap and the operational support required to deploy them undetected is also anything but cheap. As is the SF, Satellite cover and friendly airspace required to allow them to achieve a “150 TLAM salvo” that remains undetected and is not countered with EASE by the opposition.

An example of how often people assume the worst for a carrier in a given scenario and then demonstrate no knowledge about ASW, long range targeting or even TLAM salvo timings from a converted US SSBN.

Dave G

My guess (I am an aviation bod rather than ships) is, If you made an ssgn version of the ssbn we are already building and shared basing and logistics, you dont need a complete new design and much of the fixed costs are already covered. Make the tlam tubes modular inserts to the trident tubes and you could potentially share the fleet. 1 permanent nuke available from 4, 1 nuke 1 tlam from 6?

I like the sound of this but wouldn’t want it instead of a carrier. Not sure I would want to escort an amphib force into scs with only an ssgn. 😉


Surely in South China sea, CV is not the best option to use. UK is vastly INFERIOR to China in the region. Fact.

But, this does not mean CVTF is useless at all.

In the blue water, a CV with her air-wing provides
– much better air defese than a couple of T45s: 24-36 F35B with 3-4 helicopter AEW is a huge air-defense power.
– much better ASW capability than a couple of T26: 9 ASW Merlin is a huge ASW power.
Here, the CVTF (with, say, 2 T45 and 2 T26) is much-much more survivable against long-rage air raids or SSN/SSK threats than a TF with NO AIR COVER (with 4 T45 and 4 T26, for example), for sure.

Also, against a 2nd-rate hostile nation, which could be (literary) “tens of times inferior” to China, the UK CVTF can overwhelm its air force. The air power of 24-36 F35Bs in 2025 is (relatively) an order of magnitude lethal than 30-40 Sea Harriers in 1990. As such, there will be no Falklands war if there is a CVTF in UK. (simply because fighter jets get so expensive and 2nd-rate nation can buy only a several of them now).

Also note that, first of all, “fighting against China in South China sea” is not much different from “fighting against USA in Caribbean”. When UK faught Falklands war, no one compared it with “fighting against USA”. Similarly, when thinking about UK future military, comparing EVERYTHING to fighting against China is meaningless.

However, I am not saying CVTF is “super”, nor all-mighty. But, it does contributes to AAW and ASW defense, not only Strike. Strike is only one of the tasks CVTF can provide. And Strike from CV air-wing is superior in some theaters, while cruise missile from SSN is superior in others. Just a matter of choice.


The point is that a SSGN can easily deploy to the South China Sea and project force and be undetectable. A carrier strike group simply cannot operate in such a hostile environment as you point out.


You cannot project force & be completely undetectable. You can use force & be undetectable. They are not the same thing. Of course, once you have used force, you have proven you really are there (which means to some extent you have been detected even if they don’t know much more than that you exist). There is a reason why a security guard or bouncer works better than a threat to call police.


Thanks, no objection.

If UK wants to fight against China in South China Sea, yes, the only way to do it is by SSN/SSGN. But, surely UK will lose the war. China is a super power, becoming nearly as large a USA. Especially around South China Sea, it is very much a super power.

Thus, I understand UK main aim is NOT “fighting against China in South China Sea”. Must not (if alone).

Therefore, CVTF is useful, because it is useful in almost all the other theater, significantly contributing AAW and ASW to the Navy, and also providing Strike.

Yet RN having 7 (6?) SSNs with TLAM is good thing. If really there be a situation to fight against China, they can “contribute” to an allied force (but never alone). Heavily investing on very minor scenario is not a good idea, I think. (Note I am not saying UK will not fight against China. I am saying UK will not do it in South China Sea, especially if alone).


Anyone who thinks TLAM on an SSN or even SSGN serves the same purpose as TLAM on a FFG or DDG is deluding themselves. There are significant benefits to placing TLAM on DDGs which happens to be why the USN does exactly that and uses the SSNs and SSGNs in some very different ways.

Again, a lot of assumptions about Submarines, Submarine capabilities and counter submarine capabilities here.


Out of curiosity how does this SSGN achieve its mission? How does it remain undetected? What threats do you think it will face? What ROE will it use? In what way will its subsonic cruise missiles achieve better penetration than ones launched from stealth fighters and facilitated by previous SEAD missions? How will the SSGN defend itself once it “projects” power and is suddenly visible to every Chinese unit that has a satellite uplink?

I feel you are criticising Carrier proponents for assuming the best about carrier capability and the threats it will face but simultaneously conducting the same sin yourself.


I am not criticising carrier proponents. I always argue the merits of a strategy. I have however seen ad hominem attacks on this website, usually by carrier proponents.

I will answer the questions. The SSBN remains undetected by sitting quietly at a launch point. The range of a TLAM is over 1000 miles. Lets say the target is an island in the South China Sea, the submarine can be underwater east of the Phillipines and be in range of the target, at a location where the Chinese navy cannot control. There is no evidence a satellite can detect a submarine launching cruise missiles from underwater. Do you have information that they can? The evidence is that the SSGN will not be detected even after Launch. They will know it is out there but not where it is. The TLAM is an old missile it will be replaced by the next generation of stealthy cruise missiles and likely will become more lethal.

Conversely the range of the F35B is less than 400 miles. In addition it has reduced performance in hot conditions. In the same way the type 45 destroyer turns itself off when it gets to hot, the f35b struggles to land safely when it gets hot. The answer is to reduce payload and fuel. Therefore the aircraft carrier has to get close to the target. The aircraft carrier can easily be detected by over the horizon radar as well as satellites. The Royal navy taskforce currently cannot defend against ballistic missiles. The carrier will last less than 1 hour once a confrontation takes place. There will not even be a SEAD mission . Lets say the type 45 destroyer gets a ballistic missile capability with the Aster NT. The Chinese can build 400 ballistic missiles for the cost of a carrier task force.

Realistically the carrier cannot be used in a heavily contested environment. A SSGN however can. In reality what has it been built for? Protecting colonies ie Falklands or projecting force in the middle east against third tier powers. (but only in winter). If you really want to read a well thought out opinion piece by an experienced naval air warfare expert, then read Hendrix.



The Royal Navy isn’t sending a single carrier task force head-to-head with China (who spend three or four times the UK’s defence budget), and just because it would be suicide to send a carrier group into the middle of half-a-dozen of the world’s most contested hotspots, doesn’t make a carrier force useless. It just makes it less than omnipotent.

Hendrix’s analysis of carrier/plane costs has some real merit, and I agree that people’s casual use of build costs as the comparator isn’t the best way to think of these things. Not only does through-life cost have to be considered, so does operational availability and the overhead time versus time available for use. Unfortunately politicians will not read detailed analysis, and at best decisions will be made on executive summaries, and equally likely on spurious emotional and irrational grounds. The armed forces have to deal with that reality every bit as much as how many submarines Russia is building.

Arguing a partisan point of view isn’t always helpful. Consider Hendrix’s way forward. He suggested that the JSF should be cancelled because it doesn’t have the range, casually ignoring refuelling options. Then he says investment should go into unmanned arial combat vehicles (UCAVs) instead, which would be “limited only by the availability of tankers to refuel it”. The double standard in logic would be risible, even if UCAVs existed, which Hendrix admitted they don’t (in 2012). “It is not clear how quickly the Navy will develop an operational UCAV.” Well his unmanned fighters are clearly still some way off, even in 2020.

He also suggested putting money into Super Hornets instead of the JSF. Well the US did buy more F/A-18s, and kept right on with the JSF programme too. But that was a second argument to cancel the JSF programme, which would have been picked up and used by those who already wanted to cancel the programme for financial or other less-rational reasons. Jam yesterday (F/A-18) and jam tomorrow (UCAV) but no jam today. That is the origin of the capability gap.

You can’t make do with any single platform for all occasions nor over all periods of time, and those who argue for A rather than B, because B isn’t perfect in such and such a scenario, also have to explain why a judicious mixture isn’t the best option.

We keep getting people wanting to cancel operational (or near operational) capability in favour of future wonders, which will be so much better. The truth is that the future will always be shinier and you still have to maintain the out-of-date operational capability while you create the new stuff, which itself will be eclipsed by the prospect of even newer wonders the day it hits service.


The other issue he failed to address, is what happens when your satellite controlling the UCAVs gets switched off/taken out? How do you control them once they go beyond the horizon? You need a parent aircraft to go with them to maintain control.

Meirion X

So what fraction of the cost? A SSGN is an converted SSBN at about $10 billion each!!


Where did you get that number from. The conversion was $400 million each. The cost of $10 billion was the cost of the conversion and 4 Ohio class submarines.

each cruise missile is between 1 and 2 million each.

The cost of running a US carrier strike group was $6.5 million per day in 2013 dollars.


I think Meirion was pointing out that an SSBN costs about $10bn as the UK would have to build new as we don’t have any spare. At present the RN only uses the torpedo tube launched version of TLAM.

Meirion X

You are correct Paul, for the UK to have SSGN’s, we would need to build more SSBN to convert to SSGNs, or build extended Astute hulls with VLS, which would cost a few $ billion each.


The UK SSBN costs !0 billion and the US SSBN costs 3 billion. Perhaps the UK should not be building SSBN but buying them from the US.


10 not !0



There is problem with using submarines to have an effect short of all out war. No one knows that they are there. That is their greatest asset & their greatest weakness. During the Falklands War, it was the sinking of a major warship by a British SSN that completely changed the conduct of the Argentine Navy. A UK or French CVN sailing through the SCS sends a message. You can sail all the subs you like through the SCS, but unless you want to sail through on the surface? Indeed, a CVN pretty well guarantees one or more subs. Can’t find the subs? Well now that is a worry.


150 TLAM = 150,000 lbs worth of warhead (68 tons). Launch them and go home, weeks away, to get a new batch.

An F-35B with 8 Paveway IV (beast mode) = 4,000 lb of warheads per sortie. 70 sorties a day = 280,000 lbs (127 tons) of warheads. Rinse & repeat tomorrow. And tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

Not only could a QE carrier deliver nearly double the mass of conventional explosives at four times the number of targets in a single day without surging, it could keep doing it every day for months on end. This isn’t a Falklands war carrier.


Things a carrier can do a SSGN can’t.

1) posture, the primary aim of the armed forces is to first prevent a war, while still achieving a positive outcome for the nation. A carrier can do that…simply by being. A SSGN can only fight a war…all wars are zero point games in that by fighting you have already lost.
2) provide aid to allied nations in need, SSGNs don’t do that.
3) keep see lanes and choke points open, via presence, anti piracy and freedom of navigation. sSGNs can do that.
3) rescue people, evacuate national ect. SSGN can’t do that
4) support allies via sustained military intervention ( bombing campaigns or providing Marines, rotor support ect). SSGNs can do that.
5) deal with a criminal activity ( drug dealing, or hostage rescue) SSGNS can’t do that
6) interdict shipping, SSGNs can’t do that
7) ASW or air coverage for a significant area of sea or littoral….you get the message.

SSGNs are specifically designed to A) fight a specific part of the Cold War going hot B) act as a support as part of day one kicking a door.. Elizabeth is designed to do just about everything you could ask a navy to do and sustain that effort until a campaign is done.


Great article, sad but important to lay out all the facts to remind people of the importance of carriers.

As for their cost, as others have said, £6bn is nothing compared to other national investment schemes, and had successive govts not dragged their feet, potentially could have got both ships built quicker and cheaper.

There have been a number of costly procurement decisions since the 1990s which were unnecessary: the carriers are without a doubt not one of them.


6 billion pounds is not the cost. The cost is the aircraft carriers, includes escorts, aircraft, crew , training, maintenance and the cost of deployment.
2 aircraft carriers. 6 billion
48 F35 B 5 billion
The escorts including 2 type 45 and 2 type f26 4.5 billion
got the idea.


Your number means, even if UK cuts the whole 2 CV and its airwings, RN can increase only double the escort fleet. Yes it is significant, but, I think 2 CV with their air-wings contribute at least as much as “8 T45 and 8 T26” to fleet defense in AAW and ASW, and also in Strike.

In other words, nothing has been lost.

Just imagine doing AAW defense without aircover and with aircover. Big difference. In former case, you can only “react” to all enemy air-raids = the enemy has the initiative. In the latter case, you can counter it. Tactically, it is a very good advantage.

Note I am not comparing “only CV” vs “only escorts”. I am saying “mix of CV and escorts” has some clear merit against “pure escort (with doubled number)” fleet.


Part of the job of the F35 is to replace the Tornado & the Harrier. Only the Sea Harrier was a dedicated carrier aircraft. The ‘escorts’ would have existed regardless. Escorting is only one of the jobs of destroyers & frigates. The carriers are not the only ships to need escorts. Netherlands & Denmark do not have carriers, but both have AW heavy frigates. Even NZ can manage 2 patrol frigates (& they have only two ships that need escorting – one of which is a resupply ship). Canada does not have any carriers, but are building 15 up armed T26 heavy frigates.


It is amazing how you can be down voted for stating a fact rather than an opinion.


I guess downvote was not on the fact, on which I agree to you, but on your opinion.

“Projection of power using SSGN is far more cost effective and survivable”, is only true against super powers.

SSGN needs very expensive cruise missiles to fire (TLAM is exceptionally cheap, but still very expensive than other ordinances).

SSGN cannot escort the surface fleet (logistic and escorts) critical to win a war in many theaters.

SSGN cannot show the flag nor do port visit, cannot provide air cover or deny enemy air cover.

Of course, SSGN has its own place, no objection, such as fighting against China. It is much more survivable than any surface fleet. But I think fighting against China in alone is never a choice for UK. Never underestimate the nation.

Harry Nelson

You’ve missed out the involvement of CVS in Afghan??!


I like the “Mind the Gap” bit, we got away with that !

Mustafa özülker

Just for the sake of expanding your horizon and completing your knowledge from a different angle I strongly recommend the following pages,it is really worth your time spending on :
” At what cost a carrier” by Cpt.Jerry Hendrix in CNAS,Center for a new American Security


The new Commandant of the US Marines General David Berger has taken a hard and honest look at the large and costly F-35B equipped LHA/LHDs now being produced for that service. The A2/AD environment in the West Pacific region means large vessels are increasingly vulnerability to Chinese anti-ship ballistic missiles. Hypersonic manoeuvering missiles are being developed by both China and Russia that will further increase the vulnerability of large vessels such as CVs. Both China and Russia are known to on-sell such weapons to client states that will proliferate world-wide. I trust the Sea Viper Piff-Paff can cope with such threats.


A question for someone in the know: why does the QE Class sit much higher in the water than the Nimitz and Ford Classes? Is it simply a design choice, e.g. to squeeze in another deck?
The QE almost looks top-heavy in comparison to her cousins.

Humpty Dumpty

The F-35Bs might be going to the boneyard as early as 2026:
“During durability testing, the Marine and Navy F-35s have suffered so many cracks and received so many repairs and modifications that the test planes can’t complete their 8,000-hour life-expectancy tests. The Marine version’s airframe life could be so short that today’s F-35Bs might end up in the boneyard as early as 2026, 44 years before the program’s planned 2070 sunset.”

And if that happens, then we’ll have 2 ridiculously expensive helicopter carriers with no meaningful role. Not that they’d have a meaningful role anyway when it comes to peer or near-peer enemies because of the poor range of the F-35Bs (and any aircraft on any carrier for that matter). Carriers will want to stay far out to sea beyond the range of the longest-ranged land-launched anti-ship missiles when it comes to peer or near-peer enemies, which effectively renders them impotent.

The only way to fix this mess would be to develop extremely long-ranged, extremely stealthy UAVs with excellent EW suites (as good as or better than what a Growler can provide). These UAVs would need to be able to carry a considerable amount of ordnance internally (so as to not compromise their stealthiness). But if cats & traps will be required to launch and recover these UAVs, then obviously we’ll have to fit them to the carriers at huge expense. And then we’ll have to make a decision about which type of cats and traps to fit. If the problems with EMALS and AAG have been fixed by or before 2026, then we could install them on the QE and POW assuming of course that the carriers have enough power to operate EMALS. If not, we’ll have to go with old-school steam-powered CATOBAR, which presumably would mean that steam turbines would need to be fitted to the carriers to power the cats & traps. Is that even feasible?

Stan pol chinski

Interesting history – i was not aware of. Thank you.


My only question is why only 2 carriers? Surely 3 or 4 would be more ideal. Then you can have 2 on operations, 1 on training duties, and 1 on maintenance. This would mean a much more continuous naval presence than having only one carrier away from port.