Monday, June 22, 2009

Carrier Wave

The usual excuse for not blogging: pressure of work, will not apply. The fact is that the weather in Tallinn is so sunny and pleasant that the idea of writing has become something of a chore.

However as I look across the shining waters of the Bay of Tallinn, my eyes are drawn to the low shape of HMS Illustrious, which has come alongside the Tallinn cruise ship quay. The sailors will take part in tonight's unveiling of the Freedom monument by President Ilves. Tomorrow is Victory day- the anniversary of the defeat in 1919 by the Estonians and Latvians of the Baltic German army under General von der Goltz. Tonight, just before midnight, the monument will finally be unveiled, accompanied by a premiere of a new oratorio by Urmas Sisask. The Royal Navy will be present in recognition of the role that it played in the War of Liberation as the most powerful allies of the Estonians in their struggle for freedom against both Bolsheviks and Baltic Germans.

Yet although the pride of the Royal Navy, it is hard not to notice how small Illustrious actually is. Moored next to one of the larger cruise ships, the Aircraft carrier is dwarfed by her neighbour. The fact is that these carriers were built as anti submarine warfare platforms, but from the beginning, they have been asked to take on much wider roles, including flags ships for our force in the gulf and off shore support for Afghanistan. It is quite clear that the much larger vessels of the new Queen Elizabeth class which are due to replace the Invincible class carriers after 2016 are very much overdue.

Yet there is the matter of cost- the combination of replacing the Invincible class carriers and replacing the Vanguard class Nuclear missile submarines is huge, at a time when the defence budget is already stretched by our involvement in so many active military operations and the tight conditions of the economy. It seems very clear that something must give, and given the role of the aircraft carriers in combines operations, it can not be the carriers.

The Conservatives have already suggested that by asking the question of why the British nuclear deterrent must be carried on submarines, the Liberal Democrats are "flaky on defence". Nothing could be further from the truth. The point is that our nuclear deterrent could be delivered in many different ways: by aircraft, land based missiles or by ship based missiles at a fraction of the cost of building new ballistic missile submarines. By reducing the cost of our deterrent, the Liberal Democrats are focusing on the the fact that our conventional armed forces have not been properly funded and seeking to solve it. The scandal of inadequate equipment in both Iraq and Afghanistan has cost lives - and that is unacceptable.

It is Labour and the Conservatives, by trying to ram through a new weapons programme without adequate funding, that are threatening our defence capabilities. It is time to be responsible. The two new aircraft carriers are essential.

The proposed replacement for Trident is an expensive luxury.


Newmania said...

Thats a little disingenuous the Liberal Party is the home from home for ex CND campaigners hippies and peace and love merchants to whom the notion of a “Nation “ at all is an unpleasant smell they are obliged to put up with . So it is certainly flaky on defence , having said that I am not at all sure you are not right on Trident . I doubt we could afford it and my hard choice is to admit were are an impoverished Nation and get out of Theatres we cannot afford to properly engage with . Many Conservatives would , with some sadness accept this , conservatism after all is not internationally expansive necessarily
If however Nick Clegg is suggesting that the same funds should better spent on more effective weapons then his use of the words “Hard choices “ as if this was part of a fiscal retrenchment is deliberately misleading

It seems once again that cakes are being retained as well as eaten and until very recently Clegg was vociferously quoting years of foreign policy experience which taught him that without your prestige Nukes you had no say whatever the strategic arguments might be , put in this occasion by Mr. Huhne .

Bit of a dogs breakfast then but not quite wrong for all that

Cicero said...

You can have nukes without submarines, which are anyway under the control of the US at least as much as the UK. If we want an independent nuclear deterrent, then we could base it on carriers, silos and aircraft without reference to the US. It would also be less than half the price...

The Half-Blood Welshman said...

I think the point is that even if we didn't have the nukes, we would want the submarines. They are just about the only naval vessels capable of going anywhere and doing anything (other than flying off aircraft) with at least a reasonable prospect of evading detection and being blown to Kingdom Come by any tiresome bloke in an aircraft that happens to be passing.

Whether we need the nukes is another question entirely - quite apart from all the ethics, it is hard to see how they are likely to be of much use now, and therefore I would not be sorry to see them go - but I would be doubtful of the value of getting rid of our nuclear submarine fleet.

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