Thursday, 16 January 2014

Friends with benefits? The UK/US relationship and Mr Gates.

Humphrey woke this morning to the news that the former US Secretary of Defence (Bob Gates) has criticised UK defence spending and cuts, implying that the UK is no longer a 'full spectrum military power' and that this in turn calls into question its long term credibility as a major ally for the USA. Leaving aside the purely coincidental fact that Mr Gates currently has a book out, and is media savvy enough to know that controversial comments playing to well known UK insecurities may be a smart way of boosting sales, these comments are rather interesting and worthy of further thought. 

There have arguably long been two constant truths in UK foreign policy assumptions - firstly that the UK has a uniquely special relationship with the USA, and simultaneously that the special relationship may not be as special as we'd like it to be. The simple fact is that on the global scale the UK and USA enjoy a genuinely close and intertwined defence and security relationship where there is a wide level of overlap between national interests which merit close co-operation. In practical terms the value that the UK offers to the US comes from several areas:

  • The UKs unique network of diplomatic relationships and influence, often providing access and insight in locations where the USA cannot operate, or where the UK can provide a second voice to influence a nation to support US views.
  • The exceptionally close and highly effective relationship between the UK and US intelligence communities, which is of real and genuine value to both nations
  • The ability of the UK to offer access to sovereign territory around the world, enabling the US to conduct operations in an extremely permissive environment (and in turn permits the UK a veto over any operations conducted from its territory).
  • The provision of certain specialist military assets and capabilities including nuclear weapons, nuclear submarines, Special Forces and ISTAR assets which are on a par with US forces and able to operate in a truly integrated way with them as a 'day one' asset and not as a coalition bolt on at a later date.

All of this combines to ensure that the UK can offer the US a reliable ally who shares their position on many policy issues, and where they can act as a trusted sounding board to provide reassurance and also a second opinion on many matters.

There are some, particularly in the UK media, who seem to think that it should be a relationship of equals (or rather it would be if we had an empire, and Calais still belonged to the Queen), while an equally vocal group, again mainly in the media, hold that we are a poodle, somehow bound to carry out every whim of the US President, whether we want to or not. 

In reality it is probably somewhere in the middle - it is a relationship built heavily on close interpersonal relationships, where many UK officers and officials spend much of their careers at all levels working with their US peers. Having worked closely with the US military in Baghdad and Kabul, Humphreys own personal view is that the UK seems to have a more flexible junior officer (perhaps in part due to the very different commissioning process used by both nations), but by SO2 the two groups are equal, and that in time the US system seems to produce a much more strategically aware and business minded individual as an officers professional and personal education is (in his own view) taken far more seriously than in the UK system. The level of integration and trust means that the UK can influence to a much higher level than we perhaps give ourselves credit for, but equally it is not something which can be taken for granted.

In terms of Mr Gates comments though, the accusation seems to be that the cuts put forward in recent years call into question this relationship. Frankly Humphrey would regard this accusation as plain wrong. It is easy to say that the UK cannot do X, Y or Z anymore - indeed, it currently has no carrier capability or MPA capability, but equally it continues to provide a lot of assets that do matter to work with the US. Indeed, while it is easy to say that the UK has no full spectrum capability, arguably it is many decades since the UK last had anything close to this, and there is no other nation in the world today which can meet US requirements in a similar way. Given the scale of cuts being considered by the US Military at present, it is probably not long till the US could easily be accused of the same claim.

In citing the lack of a carrier with fixed wing aircraft now, Mr Gates seems to imply that Washington only viewed the UK as a credible ally when it was able to put a nearly 30 year old vessel to sea with half a dozen older aircraft at the end of their lives and without it, the UK ceases to be relevant. Given the UK effectively dropped out of fixed wing carrier operations when the Harriers went to OP HERRICK, and yet since then has continued to be seen as an ally of preference for the US, one must question the validity of the statement. Similarly, this view also ignores the very substantial construction programme and investment in both CVF and the JSF which put the UK firmly back on the table as a big deck carrier operator.

Even after the cuts of SDSR, the UK has continued to field a military which remains capable of deploying forces on operations as near level partners with the US. It is perhaps ironic too that some view the UK as unable to do full spectrum operations, when in fact for years both the US and UK have been urging more and better burden sharing across NATO, trying to end the duplication of capabilities and instead focusing scarce resources on specific areas - arguably the MPA decision is a good example of this, rely on your allies to cover some areas, while you do others. In essence Mr Gates argument seems to be that by practising what the US has preached, the UK is actually damaging its capability and value as a partner to the US- an odd argument to make!

The biggest challenge is probably one not of military capability affecting the UK ability to operate, but the changing strategic laydown as the USA drifts ever further eastwards. One of the reasons why the UK has long held such a close relationship is the WW2 total war relationship turned into a Cold War potential war relationship, which turned into a post Cold War messy operations relationship. In the course of this, the UK and US military have worked together almost daily through a variety of alliances, operations and exercises. This has built a very strong relationship, built on shared experiences. But as the ground commitments of Afghanistan come to an end, and as US resources dwindle too, with a focus on the Pacific, while the UK focus is more centred on the Gulf and North Africa, the opportunity for day to day interaction is reduced. It is hard to see the UK refocusing purely on the Pacific where there is extensive economic but limited military interest just to stay close to the US military capability. At a time when the US interest in Europe is waning, the UK will need to work out how it remains close to the US - probably through the highly specialist capabilities discussed above, where it can be seen to add real value to the alliance, and not by the provision of a large but less deployable military force. Ultimately there is no point having a large Army if you cannot move it easily and quickly towards the noise of the guns.

Perhaps the most disappointing part of Mr Gates comments was the way in which he seemed to not realise that the UK remains an active player with the US right now. For instance his inference that the USN was operating in the Gulf without the RN was utter rubbish - one only has to look at the Gulf to see an excellent example of how well the USN and RN work together, with both navies working closely out of Bahrain and on wider operations in the region. Indeed one could make the same argument of the USN at present, where budget cuts have reduced the ability of USN vessels to deploy oversea, with most European deployments being cancelled this year, and many ships remaining in the US and not proceeding overseas. It is easy to snipe at the RN, but the USN is struggling just as much with some of the cuts it faces.

Perhaps a different way of looking at Mr Gates comments would be to see them as a reality check on the limitations of UK power in a broader sense. Arguably much of the Anglo-US relationship since WW2 has been built around preparing for an unthinkable war, and conducting small scale operations together - such as naval work or air operations in Kosovo. Outside of NATO exercises, it is hard to think of many occasions where there was major joint ground deployments. Indeed with the exception of the 1991 Gulf War, the US and UK did not deploy large scale forces together after the end of the Korean War. UK assurances about capability, and US memories of past UK glories coupled with their experiences of working with the UK on exercise perhaps built a subconscious view in Washington and elsewhere that the UK military was somehow still at a similar level of capability to its 'glory days' of being able to put large forces into the field. The experiences of Afghanistan and Iraq may have served as a wake up call that whilst UK forces remain extremely capable, there are limitations on what they can achieve - perhaps not helped by 'extremely optimistic' planning and views by some in the UK military who seem to cling to similar views and sought ground engagement at all costs. Arguably what the last decade of operations has exposed is that in US eyes the UK is an exceptionally valuable ally, capable of providing very high quality assets on operations, particularly in the maritime and air domain. Where it struggles (and this perhaps had not been fully realised by the US) is in its ability to support a large scale COIN campaign for a sustained period of time. Perhaps to some in the US, this wake up call comes as a shock as if they have suddenly discovered that the Emperor is only in possession of his underwear.

This is emphatically not to do down the UK position - the author has long maintained that the UK as a nation remains one of the most capable and agile militaries on the planet, but that there are very clear limitations on that power. If Mr Gates views are shared elsewhere in DC, they perhaps reflect the reality kicking in that the UK simply does not (and cannot afford) the manpower anymore to support large scale land campaigns in a way it previously could during WW2 or Korea.

What does this mean for the UK? Well if anything it perhaps continues to emphasise the importance of getting the Army to the right size and investing in the high end capability that continues to make a real contribution to the US. Ultimately there is no point having a very large army if we cannot deploy and support it for the long haul. HERRICK and TELIC have shown that the UK can comfortably keep 6-10,000 troops deployed for a long period of time, but beyond this and things get challenging. While some long for a larger Army (and preferably a regular one at that), this author fails to see the need to do so if we cannot afford to deploy it and support it. It would seem infinitely more sensible to focus tight resources on high capability items like SSNs, Typhoon, ISTAR and so on, where these can make an appreciable difference to the US when it comes to planning, and are also easily redeployable - in other words, if the US shifts east, it is much easier to deploy a destroyer to the Asia Pacific region for regular exercises than an Armoured Division.

Be in no doubt that the UK remains a significant power, and when one hears phrases like 'full spectrum military' bandied around, the next logical question to ask is 'who else has one'. There is a genuine and extremely close relationship between the two nations, which in turn translates into an excellent relationship between the two militaries. There is no doubt that maintaining this relationship requires an investment of time, money and procurement of high capability equipment, coupled with a continued willingness to countenance the use of force in situations of electorally challenging proportions. But, this is easily resolved, providing a willingess to work together remains in place. There is no other nation vying to become the replacement for the UK in the affections of the US - indeed Humphrey would argue that the US has a variety of 'special relationships' as does the UK. Ultimately, for as long as the two nations share similar foreign and security policy outlooks, it is hard to see them not working together in an extremely close fashion indeed


  1. Congratulations Sir H - I agree with nearly everything you have written.

    The only thing that I wish would happen now, is that our political masters would recognise this statement you made:

    "If Mr Gates views are shared elsewhere in DC, they perhaps reflect the reality kicking in that the UK simply does not (and cannot afford) the manpower anymore to support large scale land campaigns in a way it previously could during WW2 or Korea."

    Thank you for a good article.

    1. Ianeon - I am sure you are as worried as I am that we find ourselves in agreement - what has gone wrong to make that happen! :-)

  2. There are still the never-to-be-fired nukes while IEDs blow up troops

    1. That's a stupidly inane comparison.

      There are always going to be IEDs in operational theatres of one kind or another, and they'll always grow in capability. The UK MOD has invested in a huge range of research and technology development for means of defeating numerous different flavours of IED over the last decade and continues to do so.

  3. The Securocrat17 January 2014 09:14

    I think that's a little harsh on gates. Having listened to the podcast, he's asked a specific (and leading) question and responds in a very specific way, which is to say that the UK isn't currently able to be the same sort of partner as it was before 2010. Given our reductions in deployable scale and gaps in some capabilities, this is self-evidently true.

    I didn't see his comments as really being a threat to the alliance, but as he specifically says, a lament about broader defence cuts (including in the US) and what that means. Neither did I read him as saying the UK had no ships in the Gulf, though some might have drawn that conclusion (incidentally - he implies, you infer). Overall this was Gates being consistent in his argument that military capability, both conventional and nuclear, provides a form of deterrence that means you might not have to actually use it for war, and he is concerned - after years of NATO cuts - that high end military players like the US and UK are in danger of forgetting this going too far in (necessary) reductions.

  4. Surely the question posed in the last paragraph of who is vying to take on a special relationship could be answered by Australia - closer to the action and investing strongly in assets like helicopter carriers and subs. Or maybe Japan - also building up their forces, although they wouldn't want to be seen as a poodle so not as much "special" as rather a pragmatic way to balance a stronger China.

    1. Hi John,
      Thanks for your comment. I think with both Australia and Japan, the question is what wider value (and not just regional) do they bring. While both nations have competent military forces, the Australians perhaps struggle for manpower, while the Japanese lack at present the willingness to deploy widely and with little hesitation. Both are great nations, but they are unlikely to be the replacement some wish them to be.

  5. I doubt Gates is even aware that the first QE class carrier will be floated out in a few months.

    @ John L

    Investing in helo carriers and SSKs, the former not even constructed in Australia, is not in the same league as building two 70,000 tonne strike carriers and the world's second most capable class of SSNs. It's also worth noting that even after the cuts the British Army will still be nearly three times the size of the Australian Army, and the reserve forces will be double as well. The 8,300 Royal Marines (including 700 reserves) are also a huge asset for the UK military.
    So if Australia did supplant the UK in the so-called special relationship it would be because of geography not military capability.

  6. Had to laugh at this:

    UK simply does not (and cannot afford) the manpower anymore to support large scale land campaigns in a way it previously could during WW2 or Korea.

    UK population 1950 = 50 million approx
    UK population 2013 = 63 million approx

    Is it not more of the case of declining population quality rather than quantity?

    I do wonder why our social engineers in the corridors of power never factored in that one...

    1. No - it's because we can't afford to pay enough to generate mass volunteer armed forces. We've only ever fielded mass armies through conscription. Nor does the industrial capacity exist to equip a much larger force without at least several years of very considerable up-front capital investment. Basically, rearmament is very very expensive and takes a long time. It took 2 years in the First World War, probably longer in the run-up to and early years of the Second. And both were critically dependent on US industrial capacity.

    2. The problem is that manpower has a cost all of its own. The average cost of troops these days is enormous - we simply cannot afford to pay the numbers we had in the past, let alone equip them. As the poster noted, the UK has never done large armies except in WW1 and WW2, and with good reason.

    3. I posted the population figures and stand by my comment. The quality of the population and it's concern for it's own home is declining.

      The wages paid to the troops in Korea was a fraction what is paid today. Obviously there is no way the feather bedding pay levels would be affordable with a larger force. The costs I think would not be as horrific as the MOD hand wringers make out.

      How much for basic equipment and training, of perhaps 30 000 men extra? A lot less than for a Typhoon I suspect.

      The Swiss can call up 600 000 men in a few weeks to defend their nation and they are well equipped too. They have conscription, we can introduce a similar scheme here. If you don't think we can, just try not turning up for jury service because you don't feel like it.

      Defence should be seen a civic duty, as it traditionally was. Now however it is a 'profession' no more than any other. This is the main reason for the decline in the armed forces. Even at a time of high unemployment the forces find it hard to fill the basic vacancies - except at the top table where there is a queue for promotions and retirement at 40

    4. Well, you're wrong on the costs by a factor of at least 20 just comparing capitation costs for personnel for a year with unit purchase costs for Typhoons, not counting all the costs associated with training, housing and equipping, you seem to think that the Swiss have the same strategic objectives for defense as the UK do, and your views on senior officers read like a particularly stupid comment from the Daily Mail. All of that makes me glad that individuals like Sir Humphrey are posting cogent, well-informed articles, to help counterbalance the kind of wilful ignorance you're demonstrating.

      Or, as a friend in the Royal Marines told me, everyone has an opinion and an asshole, but that doesn't mean they're qualified to operate either.

    5. Use all the weasle speak you want, we might as well use the original 'Sir Humphrey' quote when asked what the armed forces were for :

      ...not to defend the county but to make the public think the country is being defended..

      An amusing line and of course and not completely true, however there is a grain of truth it that. The cost you refer to can be made to prove anything. Keep your blindfold on and your fingers in your ears, if you feel threatened by ideas you don't feel comfortable with.

    6. The UK has completely different defence needs to Switzerland and the latter fields what is basically a symbolic force. Switzerland has been surrounded by benign NATO nations for over 60 years and these have provided a safe, stable enclave.

      There is currently no direct military threat to the UK in terms of attack/invasion by another power. Trident is there to protect against the unexpected and the conventional forces are geared mainly to the global role. We are not the same as Switzerland and do not need a large conscript army.

  7. Sir Humphrey is simply totally out of touch with the current view of the UK Armed Forces in the Pentagon and the other corridors of power in Washington. In fact, Mr. Gates views on the efficacy and capabilities of the UK Armed Forces can be characterized as most favorable and do not reflect the current consensus view in Washington which border on contempt for the British Army and sad head shaking towards the RAF and Royal Navy. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the British Army's disastrous performance in Basra and Helmond and the arrogant contempt for the US Army displayed by British general officers, viewed as incompetent by US senior leadership, has severely damaged the relationship and has resulted in the conviction in the US that the British Army is not worth the trouble. While the US still has profound respect for the RAF and the Royal Navy, it recognizes that their sizes and limited capabilities in the full spectrum of air and naval warfare mean that they are of not that much value in any future major conflict. A couple of aging destroyers and a few modern air defense destroyers are not of much help in the Gulf or the Pacific. The two new British carriers are incapable of operating without integration into a US fleet in any major conflict. And, something that really irritates the US, is the number of British generals and admirals who don't command anything strutting about American generals and admirals pretending as if they did. The fact is that the US has moved on but the UK just doesn't fully realize it.

    1. Complete tripe. Size and limited capability of the RN? That would be one of only two blue water (at a stretch you could say 3 if you include the French) navies on the planet? Ageing destroyers? Which are those then?
      I politely suggest getting out of your armchair and walking down the newsagents to buy a
      copy of Navy News. Have a look at the current RN deployments shown on the first page and then show me any other country's navy (with the exception of the USN and to a certain degree the MN) that routinely achieves the same.

    2. And I would suggest you actually analyze the size and capability of the Royal Navy in relation to the size of the Pacific and the Gulf instead of harboring delusions of "Britannia Rules the Waves". As viewed from the United States, not little England, the size and capabilities of the Royal Navy are quite Lilliputian. The Royal Navy is essentially that of a provincial power whose ability to project on a global scale simply isn't there. Many in the UK just refuse to accept that the current and future cuts to the Royal Navy result in a reduced capability that the US deems of little value. Comparisons to the French or Dutch Navy are totally irrelevant. And any suggestion that the Royal Navy remains a first class power is simply tripe. Get off of your cloud and face reality.

    3. Paul
      Thanks for your comments, although I am very unclear as to the supposed authority or credibility with which you speak.
      You seem to regard navies as a business of fantasy fleets by which looking at an interesting list of tables and statistics implies and infers capability. I would suggest, and have done so since the start of this blog, that numbers are not everything.
      The RN is an immensely capable force, able to project power and sustain it at distance should it wish to do so. While it is very easy to say a destroyer may not matter in the Pacific, it is equally easy to look at any Pacific nation and apply the same logic to a European deployment.
      What the RN provides is a force well versed in working alongside the USN in a range of very complex areas, particularly in the Gulf and elsewhere. While it my be tempting to say that nation X has many more destroyers or frigates, my simmple response would be 'where are they deployed and how well can they work with others'. There are very very few navies out there capable of projecting power at a distance, and this is primarily the RN, USN and to a lesser extent the French. While it is easy to use phrases like Lilliputian, what is perhaps more difficult is to provide any other credible partner for the US right now that offers an equivalent level of capability to the RN.
      Finally be wary of implying that the USN is a massive and omnipotent force. It is not, and it is getting a lot smaller. The future USN is going to have a lot less escorts, a lot less carriers, and if Chinese build patterns continue, it may well be numerically smaller than the PLAN too...

    4. I am a retired US Air Force officer who lives within a stone's throw of the Pentagon who still hs many friends and neighbors who are in senior leadership in DOD. Secretary Gates, a true gentleman, did more than his share to quiet the frustration and anger at the British Army within the Pentagon and in the MAJCOM HQs. I don't think that this is really appreciated in the UK.
      By 2020, the US Navy will have six of eleven active carriers deployed in the Pacific. I don't see that as "a lot less carriers." I also think that once the US pulls its combat forces out of Afghanistan, which maybe a lot sooner than we think, the US will accelerate the transfer of forces into the Pacific. I can well envision only one carrier task force in the Med and one in the Indian Ocean.
      Fracking and the resulting US energy independence will see the US withdraw from the Middle East and the forces committed to that area will be redeployed. Whether this is wise or not is a separate issue. I do think that there is a real lack of understanding in Europe, acknowledgement perhaps but not understanding, of just how fracking will change American security interests and the subsequent strategy. Europeans tend to fixate on oil when the true revolution in energy in the US is occurring in natural gas. The US should be seen as part of a North American energy super-complex ( Canada, the US, and Mexico) holding vast reserves of oil and natural gas with contiguous borders. Given the nature of the global oil market, the US probably cannot obtain true oil independence, but it doesn't need to. It has Canada and Mexico to draw on to supply any shortfalls. But it is becoming a natural gas superpower who will dominate that market. That's a long winded way to make my point that the world has changed in the last five years and quite frankly, the need for a special relationship with Great Britain has become less and less a priority for the US. Quite frankly,the sentiment I am observing is that it may be past its sell date.

    5. " it may well be numerically smaller than the PLAN too..."

      Which is totally irrelevant. It will take generations for the PLAN to catch up to the USN in terms of capability and effectiveness. You actually think you can just create several aircraft carriers (with their myriad escorts) out of thin air and have them capable of fighting other navies? The USN may have less ships, but they have much better trained ships and sailors than any navy on the planet. And yes, that includes the RN.

      Seems like you had a lapse of judgement when coming up with this response. Don't bash the USN just because someone is making good points about the decline of the RN.

      Seriously, this blog is in danger of becoming nothing more than a mouthpiece for the MoD.

    6. I am sorry you think my personal views are an official mouthpiece just because they challenge the status quo. It takes a lot of my ever scarcer time to write for this site, and views like yours depress me immensely and make me wonder why i bother.

  8. @Paul

    Given your comments you obviously have some issues with the UK, and have nothing better to do but troll UK defence sites, so it is probably a waste of time pointing this out, but the cost to the UK of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in blood and treasure are: over 600 military personnel killed, several thousand wounded many maimed for life, and around £47 billion.
    In light of that the constant scapegoating, carping, and ingratitude shown from Washington is frankly sickening, and shows what the so-called special relationship is really worth.
    Very few of America's other allies have been willing to "walk the hard yards", yet they are spared all the venom, leaks to the media, and briefing against that emanates from Washington.
    As for the RN any fleet that includes the following is hardly "Lilliputian"


    2 70,000 strike carriers (in build, first to be floated out in a few months)
    2 Commando carriers
    2 LPDs
    3 LSDs
    6 Sealift ships


    4 SSBNs
    7 SSNS

    escorts & patrol vessels

    6 light cruiser sized destroyers
    13 frigates (the Type 23s are the most capable ASW platforms in any fleet)
    4 patrol ships (3 larger corvettes on order)
    2 Ice patrol ships
    20 other patrol vessels

    15 MCM vessels (again the most capable in any fleet)

    support ships

    5 tankers (4 new Tide class tankers in build)
    3 Replenishment ships (to be replaced by the more capable SSS ships)
    1 forward repair ship
    1 Aviation/hospital ship

    The above is more than enough for the RN to have a significant presence in the Gulf, and to say otherwise is nonsense, judging from your comments I would assume you get your info on the Royal Navy from sensationalist articles in the tabloids, or a certain reactionary idiotic US defence blog that is comedy gold.

    1. I don't know where you got your list from but it is a joke. There are not will not be any 70,000 ton strike carriers. There will be a 70,000 ton LHA. There are also not two commando carriers. Currently the flat top fleet consists of two LHAs, sans fixed wing aircraft, of which one is currently working up to replace the other (Illustrious; due to be decommissioned) as the sole front-line ship. Planned OSDs tell us the same cycle will continue just with bigger ships and fixed wing aircraft when QE and F-35B arrive. Ocean and Illustrious will go soon. Also, one of the LPDs is in extended readiness; essentially mothballed.

    2. Wind your neck in, just because the QE's have an amphibious capability does not make them LHA's, they are designed to be strike carriers with an air group of up to 36 F-35Bs. The fact that the UK will only have a small number of JSFs when the ships first enter service is nothing to do with it, they will be in service for 40-50 years, their capability will be increased over time as more F-35Bs are delivered, and the UK hopefully orders a second tranche. Commando/helo carriers is how the RN describes Lusty and Ocean. Ocean will apparently be decommissioned in either 2019 or 2022. If the second LPD was required for a major operation it could be reactivated, and the decision to keep one in extended readiness maybe reversed in the SDSR in 2015.

    3. What the QE were designed for and what they are actually going to do are two different things. Current UK planning calls for just two F-35B squadrons- that is 24 front-line aircraft with only one squadron FAA badged. On top of that, with Ocean retiring in 2018/19 the QE class will simultaneously have to perform the Commando carrier role as well- that makes them LHA's.

      Before the UK orders a second F-35 Tranche it needs to order its first, the 48 number has not actually been ordered yet, it is just a current procurement target.

  9. Not a navy guy, but a google search says that talking about two strike carriers is vey misleading:
    IOC for the first one is not till 2020
    Whether the second one--PoW-- will be operated is not going to be decided until 2015
    Maximum complement is 24 strike aircraft and the total project buy--48 F-35's-- would seem to indicate there will not be two fully equipped carriers operating simultaneously, and that they/it would have 1/3 the strike capability of a US carrier

    1. I said the carriers were in build, and it seems fairly certain that PoW will replace Ocean. US Nimitz class carriers now usually deploy with an air wing of around 64 air frames eg 44 Hornets/Super Hornets, 5 EA-18G Growlers, 4 E-2C Hawkeyes & 11 helos. However the French, Indian and Russian carriers have much smaller air groups than that. So is any carrier less than 100,000 tonnes and with less than 60 aircraft now an LHA?
      The Charles de Gaulle usually deploys with around 20 fast jets, and the French certainly count her as a "strike carrier", even though she is 30,000 tonnes smaller than a QE. Even if the UK only buys 48 F-35Bs that will certainly be enough for the "on call" QE to carry a "warload" of 24 JSFs plus Merlin helos. And the UK may buy a second tranche of F-35Bs in the future.

    2. That's because the French have three LHDs in addition to CdG meaning she can be used as a pure strike carrier. QE will not be able to do that as she will also have to fulfil the LPH role now the UK has gone down to one operational flat-top. The QE class will be roughly equivalent to the America (LHA-6) class in terms of how they are used.

    3. The French ONLY have the Mistrals, as there last LPD Sirocco is being sold. Even if Ocean were retired without replacement the RN will still have the two LPDs and 3 Bays. The Mistrals are small only 21,000 tonnes, and there sealift is quite limited eg the 3 combined can carry around 177 vehicles (but I doubt the MN could deploy more than two at once). The 2 Albions & 3 Bays can carry over 500 vehicles, plus the 6 Point class can each transport 130 armoured vehicles and 60 trucks.
      The MN only has 2-3 smaller leased sealift ships. Anyway back to the point, the QE's are large enough to deploy with 24 JSFs and a dozen or more helos. However in a crisis both carriers could be surged, one in the strike carrier role, and the other as an assault carrier or LPH. As CdeG does not have sister ship, there will of course be long gaps when the French have no carrier available, her next refit is from 2015 - 2018/19. There may also be a problem with refuelling her in the future. At least the UK has bit the bullet spent £6.2 billion and invested in two carriers. The MN's best chance of a new carrier was to build a third QE class, now when CdeG is finally retired I doubt France will build another "strike carrier", and will probably opt for two large LHDs.

    4. So? The point is that the mistral's are LHD's and thus lift the burden of providing a platform for rotary lift and attack assets from their trike carrier which allows CdG to be a dedicated strike carrier whereas QE will have to operate as an LHA.

    5. I would be cautious about placing too much value on the US CVNs as 'super carriers' with massively strong airwings. Currently I understand most of them only deploy with around 48 F18s on, a far cry from cold war glory days. In this context, a UK CVF with 12-20 JSF onboard becomes a sifnificantly more potent asset relatively speaking.

    6. The CVF is going to hold a maximum of 36 JSF at any one time. I would expect based on the SDSR to see a routine airgroup of 12 JSF, plus around 8-10 other airframes.
      Remember too that most US carriers will generally only be carrying some 48 F18/JSF now and future as a routine figure.

    7. USN Carriers currently deploy with 44 TACAIR aircraft and 5 EA-18G (49 combined), that is certainly down from the brief peak of 65 in the late 80s. Be careful thinking the strike capability of a USN carrier has declined that much though, it is actually only down about a fifth on where it was in the Cold War and two USN Carrier Air Wings will have more operational strike/fighter aircraft than the entire 7 squadron RAF.

    8. RE QE airgroup. Current plans call for two F-35B squadrons, one wearing the FAA badge. That gives a carrier air wing of 1 F-35B squadron (12 aircraft) 3 Crownest Merlins and some rotary lift for the Marines- essentially a slightly larger version of the US LHAs with the addition of a minor AEW capability.

  10. I am afraid I have to agree with Paul. All this post has done is highlight the increasingly deluded state in which many Britons look at their Armed Forces.

    The scale of the cuts undertaken in the past 15 years have been enormous, the RAF for instance is now little bigger than the RAAF.

    Rather than living in denial Brits need to face the reality of the their increasingly pathetic forces.

    1. Try using Wiki before posting, it's not up to much, but at least it will give you the basic numbers.

      The RAF has 820 aircraft including 215 Typhoons & Tornado GR4s.

      The RAAF has 275 aircraft including 71 F/A-18s & 24 F/A-18Fs.


    2. Excellent case study in why one should NOT use wiki. UK planning is currently for an inventory of 107 Typhoons and 48 F-35B's to sustain 7 squadrons (one to be FAA badged), the RAAF is planning roughly 100 aircraft to sustain 5 squadrons. And the RAAF has an MPA capability.

    3. Yes I am aware of that, but 155 Typhoons and JSFs is still significantly more than 95 Hornets. I assume the plan is to replace those Hornets one for one with JSFs? If so it's probably a good bet the number will be cut, as everyone else has. How does the RAAF compare with the RAF's other capabilities?
      A few examples:

      fleet of 60 heavylift Chinooks (including 14 soon to be delivered)

      8 C-17s (possibly 9th to be ordered)

      22 A400Ms on order to replace 24 C-130s

      14 A330 Voyagers (first 6 already in service)

      AEW/ISTAR aircraft

      6 E3-D Sentry
      1 Airseeker (2 more to be delivered)
      5 Sentinal R1
      6 Shadow R1
      10 Reaper UAVs

      The SDSR in 2015 will probably ensure the UK's MPA capability is restored, sooner or later.

    4. And? Australia also has 6 AEW platforms (wedgetail), and uses the IAI Heron and will acquire at least 8 P-8s. Australia also has C-17s, C-130Js and C-27Js.

      Australia also has a current commitment to 72 F-35s- 50% more than the RAF's current target.

      Keeping dreaming about SDSR15.

    5. The IAI Heron is not comparable with the MQ-9.
      So no ISTAR & signal intel platforms?
      The RAAF does not have as many transport aircraft, heavylift helos or tankers.

      There's no point not including the FAAs JSFs, just to skew the numbers. Also JSF is not the RAF's main aircraft, Typhoon is.
      The UK will order 48 F-35Bs tranche 1, then a second tranche of either A or B.
      There has been speculation It will be 24 more Bs to take the fleet up to 72.
      As for SDSR15, people were saying for years the QEs will be axed, will be sold, blah blah blah but here we are with the first ship fully assembled and construction well under way on PoW.
      So I think an MPA order is quite likely, don't believe all the crap in the media/tabloids.
      Meanwhile the RAN is not even going to order a few F-35Bs for their new LHDs, so they are in the ridiculous situation of having ski ramps that will never be used.
      Also the RAN does not have an amphibious unit (like 3 Commando Brigade) to deploy from the ships either, it's having to reroll just one army battalion.

    6. There is no public target for the JSF - be wary of making comparisons where no plans exist. What is current knowledge is that 3 have been ordered, whilst reports today indicate a batch of 14 may be ordered soon. The final buy is not likely to occur for many years, and I strongly expect it to be higher than 48. That said, there is little point on guessing final numbers as several defence reviews will occur before that point.

    7. SH,

      There are clear plans for a 7 squadron RAF with 2 F-35B squadrons (inc 1 FAA badged). Speculated purchases beyond that have been confused with much longer term planning.

      People like waylander can rant and rave about their fantasies for the future until they are blue in the face- the facts are there for those who chose to see them: An RAF little bigger than the RAAF, a combined RN CVA/LPH fleet of just one operational vessel and no near term MPA solution.

      The time for denial and fantasy is over, since 1998 the UK Armed Forces have seen a level of contraction that is almost difficult to imagine and far too many refuse to accept that.

    8. It's easy to write a post that hi-lights all the negatives and none of the positives, if you just want to troll, for example Australian Armed Forces:

      No SSNs, just half a dozen SSKs, with only 1-2 operational at anyone time.
      Fantasies about building a class of 12 SSNs as capable as SSNs.
      No fixed-wing carrier aviation despite buying two large LHDs.
      I say buying because Australia does not have the capability to build them.
      Just 3 AAW destroyers compared to the RN 6 T45s.
      Very limited sealift capability, the RAN only has a decent sized LSD because the UK sold them a Bay.
      limited replenishment capability compared to the RFA.
      No ISTAR or Signal intel platforms.
      An army of just 30,000, which will still be only 1/3 the size of the British Army, even after the cuts.
      No amphibious troops, like the 7,600 RMs.
      Lack of heavylift helo numbers.
      Having no defence industry to speak of and having to buy most equipment off the shelf.
      As the Asian powers around Australia grow stronger economically and militarily, becoming and more dependant on the USA for security.

    9. Typo meant 12 SSKs

    10. It's very easy to write a post about the Australian Navy and Army when the original discussion was about the RAAF in an attempt to distract from your own lack of knowledge of both the RN and RAF.

    11. Given that you were unable to respond to any of the points I made, I think it's obvious who has a fairly good knowledge of both the UK and Australia's military capabilities, and who seems to know nothing apart from the projected fast jet fleet numbers, and how many maritime patrol aircraft the RAAF has, as if that some how makes Australia a great power. By any balanced assessment the RAF is more capable than the RAAF in all areas except MPA. eg


      6 E-3D Sentry
      5 Sentinal R1
      6 Shadow R1
      1 Airseeker (2 more to be delivered)

      AEW - 6 Wedge tail
      ISTAR - none

      Transport aircraft

      8 C-17s (possibly 9th aircraft to be ordered
      24 C-130Js (to be replaced by 22 A400Ms
      There are also some BAE light transport planes

      6 C-17s
      12 C-130s

      ATA refuelling aircraft

      8 TriStars
      6 A330 Voyagers (8 more to be delivered to replace TriStars)

      6 A330s

      UCAVs (armed)

      10 MQ-9 Reapers
      (the UK also operates Watchkeeper, Scan Eagle and other unarmed UAVs)

      RAAF - No UCAVs

      Fast jets now

      113 Typhoons
      112 Tornado GR4s

      95 Hornets/Super Hornets

      And in the future

      107 Typhoons
      48 F-35Bs

      71 F-35s
      24 Super Hornets?


      60 heavylift Chinook HC4,HC5,HC6. (including 14 to be delivered starting this year).
      Plus upgraded Pumas and the Merlins that will be transferred the FAA to replace the Commando Sea Kings.
      The above of course does not include the aircraft of FAA or the AAC.
      Not sure how many helos the RAAF has, but it will be a lot less than the UK.
      There is more to a balanced capable air force than just adding up the number of fast jet numbers. The RAF's main role now apart from QRA is force projection and providing enabler capabilities, after all there is very little threat to the mainland UK, a huge fleet of fast jets is not required, so it makes sense that the RAF has invested in other key capabilities like strategic & tactical airlift, ISTAR, ATA refuelling, UCAVs, Signals Intel, and heavylift helos.

    12. Edit The RAAF has 5 A330s not 6, and does not operate helos at all.

    13. Thank you for perfectly proving my point, I said that the RAF was now little bigger than the RAAF, and you just posted a list (that when updated to reflect current planning) perfectly demonstrates that. BTW, the Australian Army operates it's rotary lift fleet.

      I enjoyed taking you on this journey of discovery.

    14. BTW;

      Aussie future fast jet plans- 24 F/A-18E/F, 12 EA-18G (a capability the RAF can only dream of) and 72 F-35A (longer range and with a greater warload than the B)

    15. 20 AEW/ISTAR aircraft vs 6, 16 tankers vs 5, 34 transport aircraft vs 18, 10 UCAVs vs 0, 114 helos vs 0 etc. Sure the RAAF is only slightly smaller, you keep telling yourself that if it makes you happy.
      The RAF, AAC & FAA all operate helo fleets.
      Anyway i'm done, there's no point debating with a fool, who is too childish to admit when he made a stupid point.

    16. You really struggle with actual facts, the RAF has 14 tankers, not 16. The RAAF does not have a rotary lift capability because in Australia that resides solely with the Army.

      Finally, resorting to insults just shows how out of your depth you are.

  11. On every thread I've read about the QE's, I think there has been a comment from a US poster saying "there not real carriers like ours".
    I suppose it's quite amusing that they feel the need to do that, given the UK is an ally, and the QEs are obviously smaller and less capable than the USN's supa duper super carriers.
    If the PLAN ever build "Strike carriers" with air wings of 60-70 aircraft, some folks in the US will be havin kittens.

  12. Another fun fact:

    UK planning for its attack submarine fleet for the entire Cold War was for the equivalent of 24 SSNs (including some SSKs calculated to be a percentage of an SSN), that is now down to 7.

    By comparison, the US Target peaked in the 80s at 100, today the USN has 54 and plans to sustain this. See the difference? The RN is down to less than one third of its Cold War target but the USN is still over half of its peak Cold War target.

    That is exactly what Gates was talking about.

    1. I seem to remember the target force was ~18 SSNs plus ~10 SSKs in the early 1980s but the RN never actually got to that number of SSNs. I have "British Warships and Auxiliaries 1987/8" in front of me and there seem to be 15 SSNs and 12 SSKs in service, the author noting that the SSK fleet is set to shrink as the Oberon/Porpoise boats are not to be replaced on a 1:1 basis by Upholders.

      The submarine service was particularly hard hit after the end of Cold War as the Soviet submarine threat, which the RN was geared to countering, more or less evaporated overnight. 7 SSNs is too few though and I think 10 would be a more appropriate number. Didn't the last government cut the SSN fleet from 10 to 7, with Bob Ainsworth wanting to cut further and drop the requirement for the 7th Astute?

    2. Actual archival evidence confirms 24 SSN's (including SSK equivilants) as the target, by the end of the Cold War this had morphed into 18 SSNs and 8 SSKs.

    3. Parlimentary documentation from the time indicates that the precise number of SSNs and SSKs in the target force did not remain fixed but altered several times. For example, the original requirement for the Upholder class was for 8 boats but this was later revised upwards to 10 to offset a dip in SSN numbers. By the late 1980s this was reduced again to 9.

    4. As I made clear, all framed within a notional 24 SSN equivalent.

  13. The whole point about whether my bomber is bigger than yours boils down the intention to use it and that is not within the remit of the outfit who owns the said bomber. Global communications now put battlefield decisions in the hands of politicians. It was Margaret Thatcher who ordered the sinking of the Belgrano after a discussion with Admiral Lewin, Chief of the Defense Staff and it was she who had to deal with the malicious spin of those politicians who disagreed with her.
    The UK's position in regard to the effectiveness and size of it's military hardware has now been torpedoed by the disastrous political insistence of control from the centre. Any attempt to drag a clear strategy from the bowels of Whitehall is constrained by more caveats than there are boats
    Any opinion of our military relationship with the USA is a useless exercise as is their assessment of our usefulness to their plans. I see no signs of any political will in this country to initiate any effective military response to whatever threat appears over the horizon and the USA is not that far behind the UK in that regard. Not so North Korea or China, they haven't any whistleblowers.
    Whatever the USA view is of the UK's performance in Basra, Helmund or Bosnia, it was no worse than the USA record in Viet Nam, Bahgdad or Kabul. Pound for pound we did creditably well despite the politicians on the other end of the phone.
    In my day, any device would get dropped, accidentally, in the drink. Then, like Nelson, a blind eye could be turned.
    The one blessing that might come from all our cut-backs is that any sacking of a disobedient Admiral, (or lesser fry), would be followed by a frightful panic to find another one half as capable.

  14. No matter how many Gates you close, our horse has bolted.

    It's all very well being able to deploy, but the gravy is what you do when you get somewhere. I half suspect the armed forces of the future are for the evacuation of UK and allied nation's nationals from crisis spots.

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  16. Keep in mind that Gates does bring a good point about the decrease in the UK military's capability. And now comes word that the UK will no longer have missiles for suppression of enemy radars.

    No matter how you spin this, it is NOT a good development.

  17. I can not assert that I am versed in all the manners of which you are speaking, but as an American, I think that kicking the UK to the curb, as seems to be the sense in some of these comments, is an atrocity. They are our brothers. And so what if we are bigger and more capable? An Englishman once pointed out to me that the entire length and breadth of England can fit into Texas. But yes, the UK is one of the heaviest hitters out there. Why waste a "brotherhood" based on stupid things like weapons and air craft carriers. Aren't we missing the point? I don't think tearing up the UK is right, or even moral. Most Americans love and adore the UK and I'm starting to think that we are destroying our brother in all our financial and military arrogance. When it's all over, all the money, ships and guns won't account for anything. Who we honored. Who we kept. Who we were loyal to when we should have been, will. Leave the UK alone. We are no better - just bigger. And I don't think that our "brotherhood" with Britain reached it "sell date." That's the kind of arrogance what will turn a "brother" into a stranger. Arrogance never served anything. I'm ashamed of America and hope that our next President has a ton more class and sense than what is coming from Washington today. This is a damned sacrilege.

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  19. I am not a military person, so I'm not going to bother remarking on who has what in that area. But it seems like the US is saying to Britain, you no longer have the military capabilities to keep up with us, so we're downgraded the "special relationship" in terms our military relationship. The "special relationship", itself, as it is called, is not a term used here in America. We call you family/friends. Allies is the technical term, but comes nowhere near the "family" element.

    Most people wouldn't care if Britain had nothing but a single "baseball bat" in terms of your defense capabilities, because that is not what binds us. (You have much, much more than a baseball bat, however, as we know..LOL.)
    This is political/military junk and never did or will mean anything.

    Don't give up on us, Britain. We can come out of this stronger if we wanted to.

    Guns. Warships. Bullets. None of those things will matter in the end.

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