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SDSR. Navy too small to operate carriers

Published: 03 Dec 2011

Royal Navy will be 'too small for two carriers' - published on 25 November 2011

The UK will "certainly" not be able to operate both Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers in 2020 if the Royal Navy is reduced to 29,000 personnel in line with current planning, the head of the Royal Navy has said.

First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, speaking at a Henry Jackson Society event on 24 November, said that manpower was one of his most "significant concerns" regarding the future of the navy.

Current navy assumptions will see the second-in-class aircraft carrier fitted with catapults and arrestor wire ready to operate the F-35C Joint Strike Fighter carrier variant in 2020, but the fate of HMS Queen Elizabeth, which will launch first and be used to train crews in handling HMS Prince of Wales, is less certain. "There's a people issue here," said Admiral Stanhope. "I don't have enough people in a 29,000 navy to operate two aircraft carriers."

The First Sea Lord said the navy's top priority at the moment was modelling how to reduce manpower to targeted levels by 2020 whilst delivering the Full Spectrum Capability demanded by Future Force 2020 plans.

"We in the Navy have one of the most complicated tasks because we deliver a competency across the air, sea and land interface," he said. "Royal Marines, FAA pilots, submariners, frigate drivers, mine countermeasures, all of these carry specific levels of competency and you've got to make sure you've got enough to be able to feed the machine that's using them," he said. "It's a very, very complicated business and one that we're putting a great deal of effort in to make sure that we retain the critical mass within the service to generate full spectrum capability. And I seek full spectrum capability because that allows the UK to act independently should it have to in the event of special circumstances. Delivering that capability with a number which will be 29,000 people in 2020 is a concern, and we've got to get this modelling absolutely right. And who we make, regrettably, redundant, and who we allow to voluntarily be redundant is a critical feature of that modelling; absolutely core to naval business at the moment."

Current planning assumptions will see HMS Queen Elizabeth put to sea in 2016, Admiral Stanhope said. "It will, as a first of class vessel have two, if not three years of trials, we will be operating the biggest warship we have ever operated in this country and therefore there will be a protracted period of trials during which the Prince of Wales build continues. We will sort out all the challenges that a new class of vessel bring along and we will operate that ship effectively by the time Prince of Wales comes out such that at that moment we will transfer the crew to the Prince of Wales, all qualified to operate that type of ship. You just then have six months' worth of new ship trials and we then get straight on to the fixed wing piece of the jigsaw. That would leave a Queen Elizabeth question mark," he said. "There's a people issue here, I don't have enough people in a 29,000 navy to operate two aircraft carriers. There's the issue with regards to the landing platform helicopter requirements, which provide littoral manoeuvre for commando forces. Could it be used for that? Could we, if the pressures were such, then go and re-refit Queen Elizabeth to take catapults and traps – which is within the feasible. I don't know. It is ambiguous but, given the people, we certainly can't use both."

A Ministry of Defence Spokesperson said: "The Strategic Defence & Security Review made clear that the Royal Navy will operate one aircraft carrier, not two."


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