Prime Minister David Cameron has today announced a range of cuts to Britain’s defence ahead of the main UK budget announcements tomorrow, which are expected to issue a major reduction in spending on all government departments.
Today’s military announcement targets an 8% spending cut and centres on aircraft carriers, if which there are currently three – HMS Invincible (pennant number R05), HMS Illustrious (R06) and HMS Ark Royal (R07) and a further two under construction – HMS Prince of Wales (R08) and HMS Queen Elizabeth (R09). There is also a single dedicated “helicopter carrier”, HMS Ocean, which is classed as an amphibious assault ship and its pennant number is in a separate series – L12.
The first move will see the 1981-launched HMS Ark Royal decommissioned in the near future, bringing forward its demise from 2014 as previously planned, and announces the end of the iconic VTOL Harrier “jump-jet”.
HMS Queen Elizabeth, due in service in 2016, will just carry helicopters (and no fixed wing as previously planned), and may be itself mothballed just three years later when the Prince of Wales begins operations – the costs of cancelling it now being greater than allowing it to be built due to clauses the previous administration put into the contract. Linked to this, HMS Illustrious will carry helicopters until 2014, and will then be decommissioned and its crew transferred to the Queen Elizabeth.
The second new carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, is due to enter service in 2019, and will be redesigned with a catapult and arrester-wire system. This will allow it to be dedicated to taking the carrier version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, rather than the more expensive version with short take-off and vertical landing capability. From 2017, the crew of helicopter carrier HMS Ocean will transfer to the Prince of Wales to get it ready for service, and Ocean will then be decommissioned. The Prince of Wales will only have catapult-launching facilities from 2020.
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