UK needs carrier strike capability, defence experts warn

UK's new aircraft carrier won't be operational until 2020
UK's new ircraft carrier won't be operational until 2020

By Alex Stevenson

Two-thirds of defence and security professionals believe the need for a carrier strike capability has become more pressing since last year.

A survey conducted by the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) found that just one-third of those questioned thought Britain had the appropriate national security strategy.

Instead 57% agreed with the statement that the UK should invest more resources in the enabling capabilities necessary for independent operations, even if this reduces the size of deployable forces.

"Overall, the results reveal a high degree of scepticism among this elite survey of those most interested in the subject at the way defence is being handled," Rusi director-general Michael Clarke said.

"The strategic defence and security review still gets low marks from the clear majority of respondents. Indeed the Ministry of Defence (MoD) gets little credit even for the success of the Libyan campaign.

Labour said the survey was a "devastating assessment of the government's record on defence".

"Events have exposed the flaws of a rushed review. Experts have little confidence in the government's ability to tackle today's challenges," shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said.

"We have capability gaps, a timid industrial strategy and a demoralised defence community. The legacy of the previous defence secretary needs to be corrected. The new defence secretary needs to show us he is his own man and sort this out."

The MoD is unlikely to change its aircraft carrier plans, however, after last year's defence and security review unveiled plans to temporarily abandon Britain's carrier strike capability.

Only one of two Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers currently under construction will go into service, but not until 2020. The other is to be mothballed.

Many believe Britain could have had a more significant role to play in the international effort to oust Muammar Gaddafi from power if it had had an independent carrier operating from the Mediterranean.

Only 12% of those questioned in the survey said they thought the Libya campaign had validated the findings of the strategic defence and security review.

The Ministry of Defence argued that the conflict had been successful, however. A spokesperson said: "As our operations in Libya have proved, our extensive basing and over-flight rights enable us to project air power around the world with great effect and at very short notice.

"Even if a carrier had been available for the Libya operation, we would still have based Typhoon and Tornado aircraft in Italy."

The spokesperson added: "Difficult decisions had to be taken to deal with the MoD's financial blackhole but we are moving towards an enhanced future carrier strike capability with the new Joint Strike Fighter arriving at the same time as the next generation of aircraft carriers.

"This is part of £150 billion that will be invested in new equipment over the next decade."


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