HMS Prince of Wales: Refloated?

Not the HMS Prince of Wales. Artist’s impression of the HMS Queen Elizabeth via militaryphotos.net

 

Today, in the closing statement of the NATO Summit in Newport, Wales, British Prime Minister David Cameron, among other things, announced that the Queen-Elizabeth class aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, would not be mothballed after all, as had been suggested in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review.

Under severe budgetary pressure, the incoming Conservative-led coalition* sought to scrap the second aircraft carrier entirely, but it was discovered that the contract they had inherited from their predecessors included clauses that made it more expensive to cancel it than to let it be built.

I wrote about the long and winding road to the ocean its sister ship, the HMS Queen Elizabeth has travelled, in one of my first pieces for NATO Council of Canada – you can find that here. A lot of the criticisms levelled at that process apply to the Prince of Wales, though I’m gutted I didn’t make any bold predictions as to its future back in July.

Now, the HMS Prince of Wales will enter service with the Royal Navy when it is complete, giving Britain continuous carrier strike capability**.

The statement was limited in details, so several questions remain – I’ll try and update this post when the government release more information.

UPDATE: Update the post I have, but it’s not for government information so much as Twitter information. A very informative conversation over there cleared up some doubts and confusions I had. I’ve flagged updated bits.

  1. Will the HMS Prince of Wales, as planned, be built with catapults and arrestors (CATOBAR***)? This sounds trivial, but it’s probably the most important question. The CATOBAR system, used on US and French aircraft carriers, would allow the Royal Navy to launch a variety of jets from its decks, including the F-35C. There had been plans to adapt the Queen Elizabeth to a CATOBAR system, but as costs mounted, these were cancelled (I explain it in slightly more depth in the above article). This leaves the carrier unable to fly anything other than Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) jets, which, for the foreseeable future, means the Lockheed Martin F-35B. If the Prince of Wales, as expected, goes with a CATOBAR system, not only would the Royal Navy have more strategic options, but the Ministry of Defence would have more procurement choices – there are a lot more options for fighter jets that can be launched by catapult than there are STOVL ones. EDIT: I may have gotten lost in the twists and (u-)turns of the carrier saga here. I had assumed HMS Prince of Wales was being designed from the ground-up with catapults and arrestors – turns out it’s subject to the same costly modifications that did for the Queen Elizabeth. So it looks pretty likely that it’ll be the exact same model as its sister ship.
  2. Following on from the previous question, and largely contingent on it – what will it fly? Will the government need to order more Joint Strike Fighters, or will it just spread the existing purchase across the two carriers (I suspect the latter, but you never know). EDIT: To be clear, there’s also, I think, a question of what to fly – if they have different launching systems, will they fly different planes? As was pointed out to me in that Twitter conversation, since the carriers are meant to be interchangeable (to ensure continuous availability), it would make most sense for them to have the same air wing, etc.
  3. Where will the money come from? The HMS Prince of Wales was to be mothballed to cut costs. While the government has promised that they have finished their defence cuts, and budgets are set to rise in the next few years, this is certainly a turnaround, and may require extra spending or cuts elsewhere in the armed forces.

This was a surprising announcement, but, generally, a positive one. There doesn’t seem to be much clearer a statement of British commitment to its own defence than ensuring the Royal Navy has the means to project power across the globe, all year round.

PS: In the ongoing tale of my descent into weird military fetishism this past year or so, getting excited over the announcement of a really expensive piece of military hardware may mark a nadir.

PPS: I mean technically I don’t even think the HMS Prince of Wales has been put together or even built, let alone ever floated but this was a far more exciting title than just “removed from hypothetical mothballing”

*these days, I keep forgetting the Lib Dems are even a thing

**with only one carrier, the need for maintenance, training, etc. would mean there would be stretches of time where the carrier was unavailable.

***the most conversational military acronym I think I’ve heard

27th of July: Straight outta Skipton

I’m writing to you from a tiny village in Yorkshire (a proper one shop, two pubs place), showing you just how committed I am – from Spain to the provinces, I never fail to bring you the best reading the internet had to offer this week.

This week’s song is Kendrick Lamar’s “Real”. It’s a great song in itself, but comes at the end of an incredible run of songs in the middle of Good Kid M.A.A.D City, an album which took me five or six listens to actually appreciate once I had gotten over the hype, and now I listen to the songs from “m.A.A.d City” to “Real” all the time, so listen to this one, then those four, then the album.

Before I get into it, an announcement. Inspired by Kelsey Atherton (excellent for tech and especially drones), and Jamelle Bouie (lovely photos, recipes and brilliant writing on race), I’m starting a newsletter version of this series. Basically, if you’d rather receive the Reading List to your inbox every Sunday instead of seeking it out here, just click on the following link to subscribe!

  • First up, this week’s NATO Council piece was on the new British aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth. Unsurprisingly, the project has been a joke.
  • Speaking of absurd ship-building projects, here are three articles on France’s sale of Mistral-class amphibious ships to everyone’s favourite autocrat. One demanding they cancel the sale, one explaining why it’s not that easy, and one offering an alternative.
  • And while we’re talking about EU sanctions, this explainer from Vox on why the EU reaction to Putin has been so seemingly toothless strikes me as having a lot of truth to it.
  • Last week, posted a thing about Srebrenica – this by Stephen Saideman on the recent Dutch ruling that it was partly liable for the massacres, and the consequences for future peacekeeping operations, is interesting
  • Provocative argument: it’s time for the USA to let Iran deal with the mess that is Iraq, given their part in further destabilising it after the US smashed it up.
  • Avoiding posting any Israel/Palestine stuff because it’s depressing and may already have torpedoed a job interview for me this week, but this piece on writing about the Middle East is really well-written and thought-provoking, regardless of the rest.
  • Further writing on the BRICS Development Bank announcement from last week – will it fund coal plants? And will that be such a bad thing?
  • Properly brilliant piece on Brazil in the wake of the Cup.
  • Cord Jefferson excellent as ever on male entitlement to women’s affection
  • Interesting discussion of how we define “public”
  • This discussion/list of advice for writers and journalists of colour is valuable even to white non-writers like me for a variety of reasons. First, some of the advice is universally applicable. Second, no matter how much I read about discrimination and stuff, it’s still an eye-opener to see the different adversities people have to overcome. Finally, it’s good to be aware of the specific struggles people go through in an area to see if there’s a way to alleviate them.
  • About to start the second season of the excellent Orange is the New Black*, so this was relevant. This feature by the real-life Larry (Chapman) Kernan is really interesting, both on the experience of the outside-prison partner, and on the experience of being made into a TV series.

And that’s it! Have a lovely week, all x

*seriously fucking good. I might write something about it once I’m done, though I’m wary of pontificating too much on a TV series refreshingly centred on the perspectives of people who aren’t middle-class white guys like me (related to the penultimate link in the list). Still. Relentlessly humanising, critical without preaching, funny, sexy, heartbreaking stuff. Go watch it.