DEBATE: It is great news that the Royal Navy is poised to again deploy fixed wing aircraft from a modern and capable aircraft carrier. However, how will the arrival of the new carriers affect current and future naval operations? A Carrier Strike Group (CSG) is the modern successor to the Carrier Battle Group (CVBG) of the post WWII era. Generally one would expect a carrier to have its own assigned air defence destroyers, ASW frigates (note the plurals) and possibly an SSN in ‘deep field’ along with logistic support. The Royal Navy will, next year, take acceptance of HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH. How will the RN deploy a CSG from its very limited resources and what impact will such a deployment have on the rest of the Royal Navy and its tasks? Today it is severely stretched to meet current tasking - RFAs and OPVs have already taken on roles previously carried out by frigates and destroyers. 19 destroyers and frigates we know, translates to roughly 6 – 8 operationally available at any one time - particularly if deployed at a distance from UK. With only 6 SSNs by 2017, three of which are ageing T Class boats, the submarine service would be hard pressed to provide full time support to a CSG in addition to its role in protecting the CASD. The RFA has the two ageing Rover Class, two Wave class tankers and three stores / replenishment vessels with which to deliver logistic support.
With pressures looming in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, in the Indian Ocean and Chinese littoral the ability to deploy a Royal Navy CSG would be a powerful international political tool - but could it be done?
I am sure that deep within the MoD and CinCFleet HQ there are people that have been working on the challenge of squaring this circle. Nevertheless, adding a powerful, sophisticated and high value ship to the Fleet that will, itself, absorb units of the Fleet for support and protection could be seen as less a 'force multiplier' than a 'force reducer'. How will the arrival of HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH impact on availability of ships and the ability of the RN to meet all its current commitments?
What do you think??