“Zeal does not rest” is the motto of the HMS Ark Royal, yet as of today it will be rested, permanently.
The flag ship of the Royal Navy, and one of only two operational Invincible Class aircraft carriers in the nations possession, is a high-profile example of the cuts. The Royal Navy is in despair at such a loss, but is it mostly symbolic, or has Britain awoken today a far weakened force?
The problem lies not in the scrapping of the Ark Royal, veteran of the Bosnian conflict and first Gulf, but with the retirement of the Harrier jump-jet and revised plans for the first of the two new aircraft carriers. The first of the new generation carriers will never carry fighter jets, instead it will be helicopter only – providing barely any protection to a fleet.
HMS Illustrious is also due to be scaled back to a glorified heli-pad and retired in 2014.
This first new carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, will only last until the second (HMS Prince of Wales) is introduced to service, which will carry the Joint-Strike Fighter, due in 2020. Until then however, we will have to loan or borrow American or French fighters.
It is an embarrassment and has dealt a fierce blow to the pride of an armed forces already struggling for morale. More importantly though, it leaves the Royal Navy hugely weakened and British interests vulnerable and strikes of terrible naivety and short-sightedness.
We could not fight the Falklands War again and win under these circumstances, if the Argentinians were inclined to renew their interest in the islands (and the oil). Lets not forget, it was cuts to the Royal Navy at the time that tempted Galtieri to attack. Furthermore, the contribution we could make to any further conflict in the middle east or our ability to intervene in North Korea would be greatly reduced and would require us to rely on other Navy’s for protection.
The baffling part is that the Conservatives remain committed to Trident, a weapon we can never use. They are taking a real loss over a symbolic one. We retain our most impractical weapon, and lose one of the most effective ways to assert British power.
Any country that is developing nuclear weapons will be stopped by force, but by conventional warfare, as we saw in Iraq. A lot can change in 10 years, but I will bet the next decade will leave us wanting for an aircraft carrier, whilst Trident sits redundant.