CVF-90 Part 2 (Build)
HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH the lead ship of the CVF-90 aircraft carrier program was laid down at the Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead in October of 1987. Though the ceremony marking the event was the official start of the 62,000 ton ships construction it could be argued that construction had been started weeks earlier in a Rolls Royce facility when the production had begun on some of the “long lead” items such as the ships machinery or in the steel works that had been pumping out steel plates destined for the ship.

During the bidding process for the construction of the first ship of the CVF-90 program Cammell Laird had emerged as the obvious front runner and ultimately been awarded the contract for a number of reasons. Namely the shipyard had the required space for the project and the capacity in terms of workforce. The same week that saw HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH being laid down had also seen the launch of the TYPE 22 Batch 3 Frigate HMS CAMPBLETOWN. This meant that the yard was at the time largely empty and thus in a position to be able to devote the necessary industrial capacity and resources to the aircraft carrier building project.
Rather than being built on a slipway the QE (as the ship was often abbreviated to) would instead in a new move for British warship construction be constructed in Cammell Laird’s Number 5 graving dock and would be floated out instead of being launched down a slipway. Despite being one of the biggest graving docks in the country at 290 m long and 42.5m wide space was going to be extremely tight with only meters between the ship and dock walls.

Before construction of the ship could even begin the government had had to agree to finance a multimillion pound program of upgrades to the yard to enable them to build something of the scale of QE. In fact, this was still very much an ongoing program even during the laying down ceremony for the ship with many visiting VIP’s commenting that the yard looked like a building site. Intentional or not they were in fact right on the money with those remarks. The graving dock itself had been extensively surveyed and some maintenance work had been carried out. on the dockside all existing structures had been cleared to make way for large covered storage buildings and workshops and a large open storage space. This area was still under construction at the time of QE’s laying down ceremony. A large 100m tall gantry crane named “Goliath” had been constructed in Germany and shipped over to Birkenhead and erected over the graving dock. The crane had the capability to lift objects weighing up to 1000 tons and enabled entire sections of the ship to be prefabricated elsewhere and then lifted into place. Two smaller cranes had been erected either side of the dock to erect “Goliath”. These cranes would remain in place and be used to move smaller loads. One of Goliaths most important features was its ability to reach out up to 20m into the River Mersey. This meant that large prefabricated sections of the ship such as the Island superstructure and aircraft lifts could be transported on barges which would be positioned at the end of the graving dock where their loads could be lifted straight off by Goliath and lifted onto the ship.

Many on Cammell Laird’s board of directors were already thinking about how to drum up work for after HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH’s completion. Having recently been privatised and with a newly upgraded and now very modern yard capable of building large vessels the future for now looked bright.
One major concern was security. With the troubles in Northern Ireland showing no sign of letting up and now beginning a campaign of bombings and other actions on the British mainland the threat from the IRA was in everyone’s mind. The shipyards security was beefed up as a condition of having been awarded this very lucrative contract. Barbed wire was erected around the yard’s perimeter wall, floodlighting was erected both along the perimeter and throughout the yard along with a (for the time) extensive CCTV network and extra security staff working closely with the various government and MOD security services. Around Number 5 Graving Dock itself and the areas and buildings associated with the QE build project a separate perimeter fence was erected as an extra layer of security with checkpoints checking people and deliveries coming in as there was considered to be a high risk of dissident Irish Republicans attempting to smuggle a bomb aboard. People were also checked on their way out as it was all but certain that the intelligence services of the Soviet Union would be taking an interest in the ship.

Perhaps the most serious security concern was the fact that the graving dock and QUEEN ELIZABETH were very close to the yard’s perimeter wall. Barely 10m at its closest point in fact. Close enough in fact that anyone who for some reason felt the need to do so could stand outside of the yard and throw bricks at the ship with a very good chance of a hit. The obvious solution would have been for the government to issue a compulsory purchase order of the adjacent land and to expand the yard and thus push the perimeter further away from the ship. Unfortunately, the adjacent land was occupied by the Birkenhead Priory, a monastery dating back almost a millennium which rendered this option a bit of a nonstarter. Worse the perimeter wall in this area was only about 2m high meaning that it would not have been that difficult for someone to climb over and potentially gain access to the ship for nefarious reasons. The occupants of the priory were extremely unhappy with it but the solution eventually adopted regarding the northern perimeter was to erect 3m high corrugated iron sheeting with barbed wire, CCTV and lighting atop along the top of the wall extending its height to 5m and blocking the view of anything going on inside the dockyard and of the ship.
Something else the security people were very worried about was the possibility of a long ranged sniper or rocket attack on the ship which would ultimately tower over everything that surrounded it. While it would be impressive and awe inspiring to see it would also be a pretty large target.

With the preparatory work complete and the ship formally laid down construction got underway. Gradually the piles of sheet steel and piping in the open storage area were transformed into decks and bulkheads, entire prefabricated sections were lifted and welded into place. What had started out as an almost pathetically small pile of metal in the bottom of the vast graving dock which had been dwarfed and looked as if it could have been very easily lost in amongst the crowd that had packed into the dock to watch its birth grew and grew and over the weeks, months and years that followed into a ship that dwarfed anything the Royal Navy had ever possessed before. One shipyard worker described it as a growing monster with and insatiable hunger for steel, wire, machinery and men. The ship was said to glow in the dark as during the darkness of early evenings in winter it was lit up by the many hundreds of welders torches at work onboard and floodlights in the scaffolding that enveloped her and was said to roar thanks to the noise of the builders machinery, cranes and the ships own and builder temporary ventilation systems.

Remarkably for a project of this scale there were very few delays or cost overruns caused by technical difficulties or supply chain problems. This was largely due to a very well planned out build plan and efficient project management (now that the managers were having to play by private sector rules).

Nevertheless, there were plenty of delays and attendant cost overruns. While a lot of these were down to government inaction or indecision there were two big causes. Terrorism and militant trade unionism.

While Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast was probably the most capable out of all British shipbuilders of taking on a project of this scale, they had been ruled out due to the unacceptable risk from the ongoing sectarian violence and terrorism.
Instead H&W had been awarded the contract to build the first of a planned 6 32,000 ton FORT VICTORIA class Replenishment Oilers for the Royal Fort Auxiliary which would support the QUEEN ELIZABETH class aircraft carriers and escorting ships.
Nevertheless, even while she was still just a pile of steel being worked into the shape of a warship QE was a potent symbol of British military power and prestige and thus a target for those who wished to inflict harm upon Her Majesty’s Forces. Barely 3 weeks in the first security scare came when various shipyard workers reported having been approached in pubs by an individual asking about the workings and layout of the dockyard. This information was passed onto the security services who naturally took great interest and a proactive approach. If nothing else it served as a warning to everyone to be vigilant. The first serious incident occurred months later when during a routine search of a delivery lorry a sniffer dog located a suspicious object strapped to the underside of the vehicle prompting an evacuation of the area and resultant stoppage of work while the object was investigated and made safe by a bomb disposal team. The object was found to be an improvised explosive device and despite some pretty intensive questioning the vehicle driver was found to have had no knowledge of it and was thus released without charge.
A statement later released by the IRA claimed responsibility and stated that it was a warning and that they would be successful next time.
After this incident security around the shipyard was tightened and drivers and shipyard workers were urged to be extra careful outside of the yard.

Another incident that took place was when a civilian motorboat was spotted trying to approach the shipyards waterfront at night time. As part of the tightening of security the MOD police had taken up a number of security responsibilities within the yard including the basing of a number of security motor launches. The suspicious civilian motorboat was warned off. However, when it was spotted again a few nights later security personnel became extremely concerned. The worry was that this may be some sort of attempt at infiltration. Chase was given but was given but was broken off when the security launch crew became suspicious that this may be an attempt to draw them away to allow a potential second craft to approach the waterfront. While an intensive police manhunt was mounted, they failed to locate the craft or identify any of its occupants. The theory was that it had been abandoned somewhere and then carried out to sea by the strong Mersey currents.
These incidents were the only confirmed attempts at a direct attack upon HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH and the shipyard.

From that point on the IRA began to adopt what could be described as asymmetrical tactics. Numerous bomb threats were telephoned into the dockyard over the course of QE’s construction. Each threat would cause major disruption as work would have to be stopped and the yard evacuated for perhaps days while the area and ship were searched for a bomb that wasn’t there because it had never been there. The dockyard management were later quoted as stating that these hoax bomb threats were probably causing more disruption and attendant financial cost than an actual bomb attack would.
Despite considerable effort being expended attempts to identify and locate the callers were fruitless.

Things took a much more sinister turn when the IRA made threats against the shipyard workers and their families in an attempt to cause disruption by making people scared to go into work. However here was where the IRA had miscalculated. In an attempt to prove that they were serious about their threat they had identified the home of one of the workshop Foremen in Liverpool and attempted a break in during the night. However, their target was not actually home at the time meaning that the pair of IRA men instead discovered his wife and children who promptly started screaming for help and thus waking up the entire street. Panicking the IRA men ran out of the house and down the street in full view of the various neighbours who had at that moment opened their curtains to see what was going on. The Foreman was at the time not very far away in a pub frequented by many other workers at the yard and other people of what was a fairly tightknit community. Upon hearing what had happened it didn’t take long for the occupants of the pub and nearby streets to work themselves up into an angry lynch mob looking for the two intruders. Nor for the police to begin to arrive.
Unlike Belfast where there was plenty of friendly territory and locals willing to assist them the pair of IRA men found themselves very much on the run in unfriendly territory. A new and very unwelcome experience for them. One of the men was “fortunate” enough to be apprehended by the police. The other man had to be rescued by the police from a group of the foreman’s friends who were initially arrested on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm. They were subsequently quietly released without any charges being pressed due to “extraordinary circumstances”.
The police and security services were very surprised at the botched nature and overt method employed by the would-be assassins. They had expected the IRA to do something along the lines of planting a bomb under someone’s car as they had done in the past.
Despite fears that the IRA’s botched attempt may still have the intended effect of scaring the shipyard workers the terrorism threat actually decreased as other IRA operatives were forced to leave the area or go into hiding for fear of having being compromised. Nevertheless, security was once again stepped up in light of this incident. This in turn tied into another ongoing issue. That of industrial relations.

When the Conservative Government had come to power in 1979, they had introduced new union laws to combat industrial unrest which had plagued the previous Labour government. This had resulted in a bitter and long lasting standoff between the government and trade unions. The Prime Minister saw strong unions as an obstacle to economic growth and had sought to impose restrictive legislation upon union activities. This had resulted in what essentially amounted to open warfare with between the unions and the government. Most notably the miners’ strike of 1984-85. However, by the time that construction had begun on the first ship of the CVF-90 programme much to the relief of many it appeared that the government had well and truly won. There had been a real fear that so called “union baron’s” may attempt to effectively use the project as a hostage in order to continue their fight against the government by attempting to bring the yard to a grinding halt through industrial action.
There were various unions represented within the shipyard and the majority of these came under the umbrella of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions.
A big part of the problem was the government’s privatisation of many previously nationalised industries including Cammell Laird which had previously been a part of the British Shipbuilders Corporation. This had necessitated a massive culture change within these industries as they found themselves no longer subsidised and having to make fundamental changes to the way they functioned in order to survive in a competitive market without the safety net of government support. Within Cammell Laird almost overnight the management attempted to bring in fundamental changes to modernise and deal with inefficient working practises. In particular the attitude towards the workforce changed as the managers were now much less willing to tolerate what they regarded as groundless industrial disputes and actions and were much less willing to tolerate things like absenteeism and inefficiency.
Many of the workers adapted well to this culture shift. Many did not. The union in particular saw these changes as a fundamental attack upon their way of life. Had this happened a few years earlier things got have gotten very ugly. However, by 1988 the power of the unions was in steep decline. The failure of the miner’s strike is often cited as the decisive point in the dispute between the unions and government. Across the country union membership was declining and many held the view that union leaders were either dinosaurs clinging to a time that had passed or more motivated by their own interests than that of their members. Though there were some small scale industrial actions at Cammell Laird there were no general strikes of total stoppages of work (despite attempts by union organisers who merely found themselves outvoted in ballots on proposed action again and again). There was however a “Work to Rule” lasting a few weeks as a result of a dispute over overtime pay. In this case the management decided to agree to the workers rather reasonable requests rather than risk a wider strike. The resulting overtime was largely spent trying to bring the project back on schedule following the disruption that this had caused.
Unfortunately, a number of the older hands within the workforce found that their attitudes towards work were simply not compatible with the new working ethos within the yard and that the modernisation of working practises meant that their skillsets no longer as valuable to the company as they once had been. Some of these men simply drifted away quietly while others went kicking and screaming.

Things came to a head following yet another hoax bomb threat which had stopped work for a number of days while the yard and ship were thoroughly searched. The threat had indicated that the bomb was actually aboard the ship hidden in one of the machinery spaces. This had prompted the security services in conjunction with the yards management to carry out a thorough vetting of the workforce. A monumental task to say the least but one that was felt necessary. As a result, a handful of employees had been identified who were felt to be potential security risks for various reasons. The MOD had demanded that these employees be removed from the project. With nowhere else that they could be usefully employed the inevitable result was redundancy. Naturally the union had kicked up one hell of a storm about the affair and what they felt was unfair discrimination against the affected employees simply because of their Irish connections. Unfortunately for the union it was during this time that the IRA made their ham fisted attempt on the life of the workshop foreman.
Literally overnight attitudes dramatically changed and hardened and as a result the union found its credibility and popularity amongst the people it was supposed to represent completely shattered. Many in the workforce now whether justly or unjustly regarded the union as being supportive of the people who had been threatening them. Following that incident, the likelihood of industrial action receded from view.

While there were no running battles between the police and striking workers similar to those seen outside Yorkshire coalmines outside the shipyard gates there were still a few spectacular punch ups between the police and various protest groups. With the ship growing to such a size that it was the dominant feature of the skyline for miles around the yard became almost a magnet for various anti-war groups such as Greenpeace and the CND (Who for reasons best known to themselves laboured under the misassumption that the ship was nuclear powered). Most of the time these groups confined themselves to protest marches and occasionally graffiti on the shipyard wall. However, some did occasionally choose to resort to attempting “direct action”. The most notable was when incident a large march descended into violence when a large group of locals and shipyard workers fed up with the disruption caused and irritated by the fact that the marchers were in affect trying to put them out of work decided to make their feelings clear. Many were arrested for public order offenses in what essentially amounted to mass roundups by the police. This incident is notable partly because amongst those rounded up were two Members of Parliament from the Labour Party. The MP’s whose far left wing and pacifist views were well known soon found themselves brought up in front of a Labour Party disciplinary panel charged with bringing the party into disrepute. Frank Field the Labour MP for Birkenhead was furious about the actions of his colleagues pointing out that they had dealt considerable damage to the party’s reputation within his constituency where many of his constituents now felt that the Labour party was endorsing those who wanted to put them out of work and attack their way of life. This perception wasn’t helped by statements given by one of the MP’s and the circulation of photographs in the media of them present at the march. The result was that the party felt that it needed to take decisive action to prevent any further reputational damage. The two MP’s found themselves ejected from the party. The Constituency Labour Parties in Islington and Glasgow found themselves having to look for new candidates to stand in the next general election.

By April 1989 the future HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH had been under construction for 15 months and now had a displacement greater than that of an INVINCIBLE class carrier and was soon to exceed that of an AUDACIOUS class carrier. The time had now come to begin work on the second ship of the CVF-90 programme.

The builder selected to build this second ship was Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd more commonly known as VSEL who would build the ship in their facility in Barrow In Furness.
The choice for the contract for the second ship had been between VSEL and Swan Hunter on the Tyne. VSEL possessed a number of advantages which had brought the decision down in their favour. One of the biggest and most decisive advantages they possessed was the fact that the recently privatised Cammell Laird was now a subsidiary of VSEL. This meant that VSEL were already familiar with the design and build plan and that many of the men currently working on QUEEN ELIZABETH would be able to be temporarily moved to the yard in Barrow to work on the second ship. This would mean that the build process could be sped up as workforce building the ship would include a large number of workers who had done this before and had an in depth understanding of the ideal way to do things and would be able to anticipate and deal with any issues before they became problems. VSEL had successfully argued that they would be able to achieve efficiencies and economies of scale unlike the Swan Hunter workforce who would have to spend much time gaining knowledge that Cammell Laird and by extension VSEL already possessed.
Another reason was the superior facilities that the yard in Barrow possessed compared to the Swan Hunter yard in Wallsend.
Unlike QE which was being built in a graving dock and would be floated out the lack of a second suitable graving dock and the RN’s unwillingness to wait for the one in Birkenhead to become available the second ship would be built on and launched from a slipway in a more traditional approach. The slipway at VSEL’s facility was considerably larger than that possessed by Swan Hunter which had just about been able to accommodate the 22,000 ton INVINCIBLE class ships and would need major expansion to be able to cope with a 62,000 ton vessel.

When Cammell Laird had been awarded the contract for the first CVF-90 programme ship in June of 1987 it also had been announced that VSEL were the preferred choice to build the second ship. The actual order however hadn’t been placed until January of 1988. The timing was necessary as the slipway upon which the ship was to be built was at that time in use by a number of other build projects which would need to be completed and then as with the yard in Birkenhead extensive work would need to be undertaken to enable the yard in Barrow to be able to build such a large and complex ship. This work would include extending the length of the slipway by clearing some buildings (meaning that new buildings to replace the lost facilities would need to be built), the construction of another mammoth “Goliath” gantry crane and the dredging of the channel and at the end of the slipway to increase the depth of the water to prevent the 62,000 ton ship from simply slamming into the seabed of side of the channel upon launch.

Things were complicated by the fact that while all of this work was going on and even when construction of the ship began, they would be sharing the slipway with the under construction TRAFALGAR class SSN HMS TRIUMPH which was due to be launched in 1990. This launch date would be pushed back to 1991 after welders working on the boat unfamiliar with new procedures and building methods accidentally welded a part of the boat in an upside down position resulting in a considerable delay while the defect was rectified. Even as far back as 1985 it had been recognised that having both an SSN and supercarrier being built on the same slipway at the same time had the potential to cause significant problems. Serious consideration within the MOD had been given to cancelling the boat and limiting the TRAFALGAR class to just 6 boats. This would have the advantage of freeing up money to cover any major cost overruns on the CVF-90 project. The RN had already made plenty of sacrifices to pay for their new carriers and expected they would have to make more in future. They were however unshakable in their belief that the Submarine Service was the single most important tool for containing the Soviet menace and guaranteeing the security of the country through providing the nuclear deterrent and was thus regarded as untouchable. There was no way that they were going to sacrifice what would be one of the most advanced submarines in the world.

Barrow in Furness has the distinction of being the birthplace of all of the UK’s nuclear submarines being the only such facility in the country capable of building such vessels. With the construction of a 62,000 ton aircraft carrier combined with the various other ongoing project the yard now had the distinction of being the busiest warship building yard in Europe and the biggest employer in North West England as the workforce was expanded greatly to cope with this new megaproject.
A few hundred meters north of the slipway where HMS TRIUMPH would soon be joined by the new carrier was the 25,000 square meter Devonshire Dock Hall. Within this cavernous space was VSEL’s other ongoing megaproject. The construction of the new generation of SSBN’s that would be armed with the Trident SLBM and succeed the RESOLUTION class boats currently in service as the carriers of Britain’s nuclear deterrent and power on the world stage. At the time of the laying down of the aircraft carrier on the slipway to the south the workers in the haul were assembling the first two of a planned 4 boats weighing in at 16,000 tons. These boats were the future HMS VANGUARD and HMS VICTORIOUS.

In the basin immediately outside of Devonshire Dock Hall the first example of another new class of RN submarines was fitting out. HMS UPHOLDER the first of a new class of 2,400 ton SSK’s designed to replace the OBERON class boats currently in service was undertaking first of class trials and was very near to completion. A total of 12 of these boats were planned with UPHOLDER as the first boat being effectively the prototype with another planned 3 batches of the class to follow. Given the lack of capacity within their Barrow yard VSEL had decided to allocate all future SSK building work to their subsidiary Cammell Laird to be carried out at in Birkenhead. Cammell Laird was felt to be capable of building SSK’s as the design work would still be done in Barrow and there would be no need for nuclear skills or facilities. Plus, if Birkenhead could build something as vast and complicated as HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH then an SSK barely a 30th of the size shouldn’t be too difficult. A smaller submarine building facility which was essentially a smaller version of Devonshire Dock Hall had been built in the southern part of the Birkenhead Yard and was currently working on the next 3 of the “Batch 1” boats HMS UNSEEN, HMS URSULA and HMS UNICORN. With the upcoming completion of the final TRAFALGAR class SSN the RN was keen to maintain force levels by being in a position to replace the aging OBERON’s as they reached the end of their service lives. Therefore, the next batch of 4 boats had already been pencilled in with construction to start as soon as space in the submarine building facility became available with the launch of the boats currently under construction. The MOD, VSEL and Cammell Laird had high hopes of some export orders and were aggressively marketing the class.

One of the unavoidable knock on effects of the decision to build the second aircraft carrier in Barrow was that with the Devonshire Dock Hall capacity completely taken up by the VANGUARD class program there was now no available capacity for the building of nuclear powered submarines for the next 10 years at least. This meant that the planned follow on SSN to the TRAFALGAR class (known as the SSN20 project) which would be have replaced the older VALIANT and CHURCHILL class SSN’s would now have to be postponed indefinitely. At that time, it had been envisaged that the SSN20 design would be an improved TRAFALGAR (also known as Trafalgar Batch 2) which caused the RN to briefly look at the possibility of constructing an 8th TRAFALGAR class boat in HMS TRIUMPH’s space on the slipway when she launched. However, it was quickly determined that this would be unfeasible for both practical and financial reasons.

Though they were understandably disappointed at missing out on such a lucrative contract as building a supercarrier Swan Hunter were not losing out. With VSEL and Cammell Laird now working at peak capacity on the new carriers and submarines Swan Hunter and Yarrow (who not possessing facilities big enough had not been considered for the CVF-90) in Glasgow were to handle the RN’s frigate construction. In 1989 Swan Hunter as a busy yard building not only TYPE 22 Frigates but one of the first of the new TYPE 23’s. The final 3 ships of the 6 strong TYPE 22 Batch 3’s which had been ordered to replace those ships lost as a result of the Falklands conflict were in various stages of build. HMS CHATHAM had launched in 1988 and was now fitting out. HMS CHIEFTAIN was due to launch in August and HMS CAMBRIAN in March of 1990. Alongside these ships was the future HMS MARLBOROUGH which would be the second ship of the new TYPE 23 general purpose Frigates (The first HMS NORFOLK being built in Glasgow by Yarrow). With 3 TYPE 23’s already in Swan Hunters orders book and the Defence Whitepaper calling for up to 25 examples of the class the future for Swan Hunter looked secure. The possibility of export orders for the TYPE 23 was also very tantalising.

The late 1980’s were a high point for UK warship building with recently modernised yards and full order books. However, it was recognised by those in government and those on the director’s boards of the various shipbuilders that once the CVF-90 and VANGUARD programs were complete the industry would find itself dealing with the issue of overcapacity. Beyond the current programs there wasn’t currently anything envisaged at all let alone something that would require even half of the currently existing build capacity.
As one shipbuilding industry analyst put it “right now they are growing fat on a feast. In a decade they will start to wither through starvation”.
An Eagle Becomes a Phoenix
When HMS EAGLE had returned from the Falklands War she had become not merely one of but the enduring symbol of the conflict. Her immense contribution and performance particularly in the battle that had seen the destruction of the Argentine fleet had seared her name into the hearts and collective minds of the British public. A few years later the Falklands conflict had receded from recent memory and into the realms of history books and TV documentaries and farfetched stories told by drunken men in pubs (some true and some not so true). Indeed, some of the young men who had served in that conflict were now starting to become middle aged men and a great many of them had left the RN once their minimum four years of service was complete.
When the 1983 Defence Whitepaper had announced a decommissioning date for HMS EAGLE it had included a few lines about the possibility of preservation. In the run up to her decommissioning in 1986 the MOD had announced that they were open to the possibility of preserving the ship and willing to hear any serious proposals for the ship’s future. To this end rather than being immediately put up for disposal following her decommissioning EAGLE ( As she was no longer an HMS) had been towed out into the Tamar for storage while her future was decided. However, those in the know knew that this was a political move for PR purposes rather than a serious attempt at saving a piece of naval history.
An HMS EAGLE Preservation Trust had been formed and some funds had raised and proposals put forward by various parties ranging from making her a museum ship in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard to an ambitious proposal to moor her in the Thames at Greenwich as part of the National Maritime museum.

The problem is preserving a ship as big as an aircraft carrier is often simply not viable for a number of reasons the biggest of which as always is simple cost. Keeping something the size of EAGLE even in a mothballed condition was expensive enough to scare off most potential private sector investors. Then there was the cost of restoring the thoroughly gutted ship to museum condition and making it safe and accessible to visitors to say nothing of the electricity and water bill just to keep the lights on and toilets flushing. Without a ships company onboard to carry out maintenance and to provide firefighting cover the majority of the areas of the ship (Which wouldn’t be accessible to visitors) would in all likelihood rapidly deteriorate and safety would be a major concern. The initial restoration costs would be expensive enough and the continuing costs of maintenance and preservation would only rise as time went on and the ships condition deteriorated more and more. The fact that once she was left to her own devices in the Tamar without a soul onboard the colour of the ship gradually changed from warship grey to a rusty red was testament to this.
There is also the issue of finding somewhere to put the ship that was big enough and deep enough for her while still being accessible to the public. Deepwater berths are very valuable bits of real estate owing to their scarcity and commercial value from berthing fees and are thus very expensive to purchase and not the sort of thing anyone in their right mind would simply give away no matter how worthy the cause. The proposal to move the ship to Greenwich would involve building a completely new deep water berth for the ship which being in the Thames in London would actually have much more commercial value as a cruise ship dock than the home of a museum ship.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard being technically a part of HM Naval base Portsmouth certainly had the space and the facilities to run the ship but the MOD were not going to hand over one of their precious deep berths which with two supercarriers on the way would soon be at a premium. EAGLE would have made an impressive addition to the growing fleet of RN historical ships. Henry VIII’s salvaged flagship MARY ROSE and HMS WARRIOR the world’s first ironclad warship had recently been opened to the public with money having in part been generated from the RN’s higher public profile and increase in public interest in naval history following the Falklands conflict. However, the MOD was finding it hard enough to finance the construction of its new aircraft carriers let alone paying to keep what would essentially be a tourist attraction. Some may have been tempted to point out that the RN was still paying to keep Nelson’s flagship HMS VICTORY and that if they were struggling so much with their finances shouldn’t consideration be given to disposing of this “unnecessary burden”. However, it was known within the MOD that anyone attempting suggest to the Admirals that HMS VICTORY should be sold would likely find themselves at risk of an “unfortunate fatal accident”.

To be financially viable the ship would have to attract the kind of visitor numbers that could only be found somewhere like London. However, the Greenwich proposal would have involved towing the ship which would no longer have its own power through the Thames Barrier which given the size of the ship relative to the gap she would have to transit and the tidal conditions was just asking for an accident. Plus, a ship that size would have been a permanent navigational hazard to other vessels on the Thames and the chances were permission from the relevant authorities to go ahead with this would not be forthcoming.
Other cities had been looked at as possible locations but rejected or had ruled themselves out for reasons ranging from not having a suitable and commercially viable location for the ship to not being able to drum up the required number of visitors to keep the ship financially afloat.

Finally, in March 1988 speculation about the former HMS EAGLE’s future was brought to an end by the Ministry of Defence’s announcement that EAGLE would be sold for scrap. The announcement came as a bitter blow to those who had been trying to secure the ships future and had created a storm of negative PR for both the MOD and government. Over the following months various groups and campaigns and public petitions tried to reverse the MOD’s decision without success.
Immediately after the announcement in an attempt to try and counter the storm of negative press HMS EAGLE’s former captain the now Vice Admiral Jock Slater who had commanded the ship during the Falklands campaign had been forced to give a television interview. The now Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Policy and Nuclear) had stated “The fate of EAGLE was a straightforward Navy Department matter and without difficulty. All of the bids for preservation had been found to be inappropriate and unrealistic and had therefore been rejected and the old lady given a ships equivalent of a decent human burial: scrap”. He had gone on to state that the navy and especially himself has EAGLE’s old captain would rather than dwell on what had been instead be working towards what would soon be with the introduction of the new QUEEN ELIZABETH class supercarriers that would dwarf the old HMS EAGLE.

There had been a proposal for HMS EAGLE to be the subject of a SINKEX (used for target practise and sunk at sea) to see how modern naval weapons would fare against an aircraft carrier. Some had been actively pushing for this as the data gathered from this once in a lifetime opportunity would be extremely useful to the ongoing CVF-90 programme and even the US Navy would very likely be interested. However, the sight (and ensuing photographs) of EAGLE burning and slipping beneath the waves would probably have a devastating impact on the British public, be politicly damaging for the government and be a propaganda tool for Britain’s enemies (Argentina would probably claim they had sunk her or some other bizarre conspiracy theory). Thus, this proposal had been rejected.

Finally, in late July 1988 the day finally arrived for HMS EAGLE to leave her home in Devonport for the very last time.
As had happened so many times before crowds of onlookers had turned out to witness departure of the ship. The only difference was that this would be her final voyage. This time however apart from a few members of the skeleton crew onboard for the voyage dotted around the vast expanse of her empty and rusted flight deck that had even begun to sprout trees there was no ships company lining the side, no Royal Marines band playing and no flags flying. The ship was a dead ship in every sense of the word. Devoid of all power, steering and navigational equipment the ship was merely a hulk being towed to her grave by tugs. The skeleton crew onboard to tend to the tug lines navigated their way through the dark ship by torchlight though endless empty passageways and compartments that had been completely emptied of everything from furniture to machinery and consoles and even wires and hatches. They made their home in the ships rust stained island superstructure (which now looked almost naked with the various radars and other electronics removed) where they had a clear view of and easy communication with the tugs. With little to do until they reached the shipbreakers yard the men of the skeleton crew spent the six day voyage touring the ship in groups and putting together a photo album documenting the last voyage of the EAGLE.
However, as she rounded Devils Point past the crowds and made her way towards Plymouth Breakwater the ship was given one last gasp of life. A Chief Petty Officer onboard EAGLE as part of the skeleton crew had decided that the ship deserved better than to be towed away from her home as a decrepit hulk and had “procured” a box of smoke flares. As the ship passed the crowds, he set off all 26 flares in the ships funnel giving the impression that she was moving under her own power.
Upon his return to Devonport he was ordered to report to Flag Officer Plymouth Vice Admiral Webster (who had commanded the ill fated HMS ARGONAUT a decade before her destruction in San Carlos Water). The admiral had stated that the Chief had exceeded his authority and that he hoped he felt suitably chastised and regretful. This was however followed by “off the record, well done Chief”.

It had taken 6 days for EAGLE to make the transit up to Cairnryan in Scotland where for the first time in years she once again found herself berthed next to her sister the former HMS ARK ROYAL, However, by this point ARK ROYAL was little more than a few thousand ton lump of unrecognisable steel and a fore shadowing of what was very soon to befall EAGLE. It didn’t take long for the scrappers to sink their teeth into the ship. A gaping hole opened up in the centre of the flight deck which had kept growing and growing. Very soon the ships island superstructure was gone and the cavernous hanger seemed to become carnivorous as decks, bulkheads and compartments simply ceased to exist. A seemingly endless relay of barges were filled up with scrap metal from the ship before being dispatched to be melted down in a Spanish smelting plant.
A shipbreaker who had a cousin who was working for Cammel Laird on the construction of the new HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH in Birkenhead kept a record of the current displacement of both ships noting how quickly QUEEN ELIZABETH was gaining weight while HMS EAGLE was rapidly losing it. Not all of HMS EAGLE was destined to be melted down or simply burned. The furnishings from the admiral’s cabin had been dismantled and reassembled in a Plymouth hotel and many of the ships fittings such as her portholes were sold off and occasionally turn up in the most unlikely of places such as the Ferry public house in Salcombe.

In April 1989 the BBC had decided to make a special follow up episode to their 1977 award winning TV series Sailor which had documented life aboard HMS EAGLE during a deployment. In response to the massively increased public interest in the ship a second series had been made in 1984 covering the ship while she operated in home waters and took part in exercises. The BBC had later commissioned a special one off episode entitled “12 Years On” in response to a renewed public interest in HMS EAGLE and the series following the ships final voyage to the scrap yard. This episode focused on the lives of the crew members who had featured in the original series and what they were doing now. Some were still serving, some had gone onto other things, some were able to talk about their experiences in the Falklands Conflict and tragically one had been lost aboard HMS GLASGOW during the conflict. As a part of this follow up episode one of the members of EAGLE’s old crew who had featured frequently in the series but had since left the navy had been taken to Cairnryan to see his old ship in the final stages of her scrapping. By this point so much of the ship had been ripped apart that he hadn’t recognised her until a yard worker pointed to a hulk at the end of a line of cars and told him that was her. At this point despite the camera focusing on him he had nearly burst into tears and said that it broke his heart to see the remains of what had once been his home. The producer apologised to him after filming saying that he had wanted to capture that reaction. The camera showed how all that remained of the ship at this point was a skeleton. Amongst the mud and snow on the jetty were once beautiful mahogany ladders and chrome fittings just discarded. The old crew member even spotted and waded through deep mud to retrieve a metal ladder that had once been outside of his mess and which as a young sailor he had spent many hours of his life scrubbing boot marks from. He was able to confirm that this was “his” ladder by the fact that it still bore his name that he had scratched onto it all those years ago. The cameras had filmed him having retrieved this ladder (which he took home with him afterwards) reminiscing about the 1977 Silver Jubilee Fleet Review and how he remembered him and his shipmates working their fingers to the bones polishing and scrubbing every inch of the ship in preparation for the Queens review.
By the time the program broadcast EAGLE was gone with the last loads of scrap having made their way to the Spanish smelter.

From that point on the closest anyone would ever get to sampling what it was like to be aboard HMS EAGLE would be by visiting the Carrier display in the Fleet Air Arm museum at Yeovilton where a one third section of the flight deck including the island superstructure had been recreated. While it is impossible to recreate the spectacle of an operational aircraft carrier flight deck within the confines of a hanger the display certainly gives a good impression of what it would have been like with the hangar filled with preserved aircraft that all flew from EAGLE’s deck at some point. Within the “island” a visitor would see recreations of many of the ship’s compartments such as Flyco, the bridge, Operations Room, aircrew refreshments bar and other compartments. Many of the displays were recreated using items salvaged from the former HMS EAGLE and other ships of the same era.

Though HMS EAGLE was no more the name EAGLE which stretched back 400 years and had 16 battle honours wasn’t about to fade away.

When HMS EAGLE had returned victorious from the Falklands Conflict in 1982 the Prime Minister had very much nailed her colours to the ships mast (metaphorically of course) and the name EAGLE had very much become synonymous with her own as she attempted to make the most of what was termed the “Falklands Factor” to maximise the positive impact on her image and polling.
The PM had made a highly publicised visit to the ship not long after its return and on its first voyage after the Falklands and had flown out to the ship where she had been filmed watching flight deck operations, chatting with the crew and sitting in the backseat of a Buccaneer that sported an aircraft carrier shaped silhouette. One of the more famous photographs of both the ship and Prime Minister was taken from a helicopter while the ship was at sea of the PM stood on the ships bow with the 2500 strong ships company assembled on the deck behind her flanked by parked Phantoms, Buccaneers and Gannets.
As a result of this relationship the ship had earned many nicknames in the tabloid press such as “Maggie’s Enforcer”, “Thatcher’s Fist” and “the Iron Lady’s Iron Glove”.

Starting in 1984 the satirical puppet TV show Spitting Image which featured a caricature of the Prime Minister as arguably the main and definitely the most memorable character often depicted the PM using the services of a group of tough looking sailors sporting HMS EAGLE cap tallies to enforce her will on her cabinet and minor foreign leaders and to deal with those who displeased or disagreed with her. Crew members aboard HMS EAGLE were reported to have been greatly amused by their depiction on the show and somewhat enjoyed their apparent newfound reputation for toughness.

Consequently, when it had been announced that EAGLE was to be scrapped rather than preserved which many erroneously thought of as the MOD backtracking on a promise a lot of the public anger and resentment at this decision had ended up being directed at the PM who was portrayed as indifferent and callous.
To this end in order to deal with public anger and potential fall out and to help preserve her reputation as a prime minister who was strong on defence (which was debatable given the cuts her government had inflicted on the armed forces despite the Falklands Conflict to say nothing of the ones they had tried to implement before the conflict) the PM had decided to do something.

When the ship naming committee met to discuss potential names for the ships of the CVF-90 aircraft carrier programme they had decided to stick with the tradition of naming the first new capital ship of a monarch’s reign after the monarch. Hence the first ship was to be called HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH. This name had a fine history from the previous HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH which had been the lead ship of a class of superdreadnought battleships which had fought in both world wars and had seen action at Jutland. This was also the name that was to have been given to the first of the CVA-01 aircraft carriers that had been cancelled in 1966.
Naming the first ship QUEEN ELIZABETH also set the precedent for the other ships of the class (although only two were to be built officially three ships were still planned and so they were obliged to allocate a name) to be given royal names.
PoW, KG5 and DoY would mean that that hull #2 would be named after one of the KING GEORGE THE FIFTH-class battleships of the second world war all with proud histories with Pow and DoY having sunk the German battleships BISMARK and SCHARNHORST. DUKE OF YORK was discarded as it would likely be seen as the ship being named after Prince Andrew the Duke of York (himself a Falklands veteran) and thus causing allegations of nepotism to be directed at the queen. HMS DUKE OF EDINBURGH was to have been the name of the second ship of the cancelled CVA-01 programme which was the main reason why it had been included on the shortlist. The only other HMS DUKE OF EDINBURGH to have been part of the Royal Navy had been a WW1 armoured cruiser which had fought at Jutland.
HMS THUNDERER was the odd one out. No one was sure quite how it had sipped onto the final shortlist but there was no denying that it was a good and solid name and given that the ship would be launching supersonic aircraft probably an appropriate name. The previous HMS THUNDERER had been intended to have been one of the LION class battleships cancelled at the end of the second world war and the one before that had been an ORION class dreadnought which had also fought at Jutland.

The name that the committee had decided upon in the end for hull #2 was HMS PRINCE OF WALES. This was somewhat down to the influence of the former First Sea Lord Admiral of the Fleet Sir Henry Leach who had been credited as the man who had single handily convinced the Prime Minister to go to war over the Falklands.
For Admiral Lech the name HMS PRINCE OF WALES held a special place in his heart. He had served as a young midshipman onboard the previous HMS PRINCE OF WALES which had been sunk along with HMS REPULSE by a Japanese air attack in December 1941. He felt that the reason why he had was still alive was simply due to his having been transferred ashore before the battleship had sailed on its last voyage on the orders of the ship’s captain. The captain had been Captain John Leach Admiral Leaches father who had gone down with his ship.
Therefore, the PM’s last minute intervention had resulted in long lasting bad blood between her and the former admiral.

The order for hull #2 had been placed with VSEL in the latter half of 1988 not long after the departure of HMS EAGLE from Devonport for the final time. The Prime Minister had personally intervened at the point of placing the order and insisted that the ships name be changed so that it would become the 19th HMS EAGLE.
She had even gone as far as to insist that some of the steel from the previous HMS EAGLE which had been melted down should be used in the new ships construction along with whatever suitable fittings could be located in the ashes and mud at the previous ships grave in Cairnryan.
There were some issues caused by this but there was a reason why the Soviets of all people had called the PM “The Iron Lady” and even she herself had once said “the lady is not for turning”.

Regardless of the names of the great ships that were now taking shape in both Birkenhead and Barrow a carrier is nothing without its aircraft…...
CVF-90 Part 3 (Hawks, Hornets and Hawkeyes)
One of the reasons why aircraft carriers are considered by many nations to be the ultimate prestige items (after SSBN’s) is the fact that they are generally only operated by the select few truly top tear blue water navies of the world. The reason for this exclusivity is simple cost. Many smaller navies around the world over the years have produced designs for smaller vessels but the vast majority of these never amount to more than some artists impressions that look good in PR material. While some of these designs will be motivated by genuine operational need just as many will be driven by reasons of prestige in being allowed to join that most exclusive of naval clubs (after the club of nuclear submarine operators). What pretty much uniformly kills off these aspirations is the reaction of the respective nations leaders when they are told of the likely costs.
Building an aircraft carrier isn’t a singular project just to produce a ship. It is a programme built of a great many projects to not only build the ship but to develop and purchase the necessary specialised aircraft and support equipment and to build up the skillset required to operate the thing.
When the UK had embarked upon the CVF-90 aircraft carrier programme a large number of individual projects had been set in motion. Individually these projects would be challenging enough for reasons ranging from the technical to the financial. However, each one was but a small cog that would be expected to fit seamlessly into a larger machine otherwise it would have no reason for being.
Three of the largest projects were simply to put aircraft onto the decks of the new ships.

During the course of the Phantom’s service with the RN a total of 48 aircraft had been procured. Of the FAA’s fleet of 48 15 had been lost in accidents representing almost a third of the fleet. The thought of such a thing occurring with the planned fleet of 80 F/A 18 Hornets was something beyond horror. Even before the 1983 Defence Whitepaper had formally committed the UK to a new generation of carriers and naval aircraft it was obvious that something needed to change. Indeed, this had been an unofficial condition from the Treasury if they were to finance the navy’s new generation of fast jets. A study had been undertaken into FAA aircraft and pilot losses over the last 20 years. The study’s findings regarding the causes of the losses weren’t too surprising. Operating an aircraft at sea from the deck of an aircraft carrier above the hostile environment of open water is an inherently dangerous business. Whereas a pilot operating over land will have a number of options of where to land his aircraft or even bail out if he finds himself in difficulties a pilot out to sea will likely only have the options of returning and landing on the carrier which in itself is dangerous enough or ditching in the water where there was a strong chance of him drowning or freezing. His only hope of survival would depend on someone else locating and rescuing him. The study had made reference to the fact that it was believed that a large number of Argentine pilots in the Falklands conflict had died of exposure or drowning in the South Atlantic after ejecting from their aircraft and that the majority were still officially listed as missing as nobody had ever been found.
In terms of the individual aircraft losses most had occurred when the aircraft had for whatever reason exceeded their capability envelopes or in accidents that had occurred during launching and recovery to the carrier. Aircraft carrier landings were known to be extremely difficult and stressful for aircrew requiring pinpoint accuracy. As a result, a number of aircraft had been written off as a result of landing accidents at sea. In one notorious case a Phantom crash aboard HMS EAGLE during the Falklands Conflict had not only written off the aircraft involved but had rendered the fight deck unusable resulting in two other aircraft (A Phantom and a Gannet) having to ditch due to not having anywhere else to land. Indeed, an aircraft didn’t have to be in the air to be at risk. In another notorious case This time aboard HMS ARK ROYAL a Buccaneer that wasn’t secured to the deck had rolled of the side of the ship resulting in the loss of one of the crew. The study also noted that in incidents where an aircraft entered the water with the crew still inside such as launch failures (Known as Cold Shots) and the aforementioned incident crew survival rates were extremely low due to the crews being strapped into an aircraft that would generally sink like a stone long before even the plane guard divers could reach them. The study wasn’t able to make any recommendations as to how to mitigate this last issue.

The conclusion of the report was that this was a training problem. In the 1980’s RN fast jet trainees followed the same syllabus and trained alongside their RAF counterparts and only began learning the art of operating from the deck of a carrier in the last stages of their training when they converted onto the frontline type that they would be flying.
The solution was felt to be the addition of a specialised maritime and carrier flying course before the trainees converted onto their frontline type. The idea being that once they had completed their advanced fast jet training with No 4 Flying Training School at RAF Valley RN pilots would then undertake another fast jet course to teach them the specialist skills they would need for operating at sea with extra training being delivered on things like sea survival and generally trying to get the trainees more hours in the cockpit. This course would also be where trainees would be introduced to and taught the skills required for carrier operations. The reasoning behind this was that when they converted onto the F/A 18 Hornet the trainees would find it much easier if they were merely having to adapt skills, they already had rather than having to start from nothing in an unfamiliar aircraft. It was hoped that by learning these skills (in particular landings) in the less demanding training aircraft the trainees would be able to build up their confidence and hopefully this would reduce the washout and accident rate. It would also eliminate one particularly annoying issue. Landing an aircraft aboard a carrier at sea is one of the most difficult, frightening and most demanding feats of airmanship out there and the simple fact of the matter is that not every pilot is up to it for reasons of not having the required natural skill or nerves. At present carrier qualification was the very last thing that a pilot would achieve before graduating from training. While failures at this stage were rare, they were extremely annoying as it meant that all the years of training and vast amounts of money spent on the pilot in question were effectively wasted. Generally, the pilot’s career could be salvaged by transferring him to the RAF but that was of little comfort to the RN.

Therefore, it had been recognised that a modern carrier capable training aircraft would be required. In 1976 the RAF had introduced the Hawker (Now British Aerospace) Hawk advanced jet trainer as a replacement for the Folland Gnat and Hawker Hunter in the jet trainer role. Even back then the RN had viewed the aircraft as an ideal replacement for its own Hawker Hunter trainers meaning that pretty much every FAA fast jet pilot trained since the late 70’s had experience on the type.
The Hawk was already becoming something of a runaway export success with nations queueing up to buy the aircraft not only as a trainer but also in its secondary role of light attack aircraft.
Even better at the time of the 1983 Defence Whitepaper’s release which called for a navalised Hawk such an aircraft was already well into development.
In 1978 the US Navy had launched the VTXTS Advanced Trainer Program to find a replacement for their T-2 Buckeyes and A4 Skyhawks in the jet training role. Ironically though as always the preference was for a domestic aircraft no US companies were able to provide a serious contender on their own. Instead, US aircraft manufacturers went into partnership with foreign manufacturers with British Aerospace offering a navalised version of the Hawk known as the Goshawk in partnership with McDonnel Douglas who would be the prime contractor. This partnership and experience of working together would prove to be crucial once the UK’s F/A-18 procurement program got underway.
Much to the delight of the British government the British Aerospace/McDonnel Douglas Goshawk proposal had been selected by the US navy who had a requirement for potentially up to 200 aircraft. For the MOD the fact that the development work had already been paid for plus economies of scale meant that the Goshawk would be a damned sight cheaper than any other proposal and with a significant share of the work being undertaken in the UK it was fairly easy to get political backing for its own procurement of the aircraft.
The plan was for the aircraft’s fuselage, wings, Rolls Royce engine and certain other components to be manufactured in the UK at British Aerospace’s facilities at Samlesbury and Brough with other components and final assembly taking place at a McDonnell Douglas facility in the US. The initial batch of aircraft would be assembled in the UK in order to train the McDonnel Douglas staff. With a production line available in the UK for political reasons it was decided that the UK’s aircraft would be assembled in Britain.
The choice of the Goshawk upset some US politicians who weren’t happy that the US was in effect merely licence building a foreign aircraft and that most of the development work and component production and therefore a large number of jobs were in the UK and not in the US where they felt US defence contractor jobs should be.
In particular the fact that the first batch of aircraft were being built almost entirely in the UK caused a stir as some weren’t happy with the US Navy using foreign made aircraft.
The solution to this was to announce that the first batch of aircraft manufactured would be going to the Royal Navy with only aircraft assembled (This was subtly reworded to manufactured to try and avoid any more annoying questions) by McDonnel Douglas being delivered to the US Navy.

The Goshawk first flew in 1988 and entered service with the RN in 1991 and the USN a year later. Ultimately the Fleet Air Arms 736 NAS based at RNAS Yeovilton (where the Sea Harrier currently operated from and the upcoming F/A-18 was expected to operate from) would operate 24 aircraft in both the training and aggressor role. Though 736 NAS had been stood up and begun operations a few years before HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH was due to enter service, they were still going to be one of the FAA’s busiest squadrons. The RN felt it extremely important to keep CATOBAR carrier flying skills alive in the decade long gap between HMS EAGLE being decommissioned and HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH coming online. To this end a numerous RN aircrew had been seconded to USN squadrons in part to keep these skills alive and also to try to build up a body of experience on the F/A-18 before it entered service with the UK. In preparation for the QE entering service a large number of RN aircraft handlers had been seconded to the USS George Washington in order to learn the skills needed to operate the American built aircraft catapults and arrestor wires that QE would carry. The large British contingent onboard coupled with their habit of smuggling alcohol onboard to keep alive Royal Navy traditions on a dry US Navy ship led to numerous jokes amongst the Americans about the British attacking Washington again.
In the meantime as well as training brand new pilots 736 NAS would be busy preparing the current generation of FAA pilots who by this point mostly only had experience on the Sea Harrier for the conversion to the F/A-18. The most experienced pilots in the FAA had all found their way to 736 NAS as one of its most important roles would be as the trials squadron for the new aircraft carriers. These men would be in effect expected to write the book on how to operate aircraft from the QE class carriers.

Compared to the Goshawk program the E-2C Hawkeye procurement project was relatively straightforward and painless. The Fairey Gannet had done sterling work down in the Falklands but that had often been more down to the skill of the Observers flying in them than the capabilities of the aircraft themselves. While they had proven the need for Airborne Early Warning capability at sea the aircraft themselves were ancient and hopelessly obsolete and in dire need of replacement. The decision had been made to go with an off the shelf solution in the form of the Grumman (Which became Northrop Grumman during the procurement process) E-2C Hawkeye. In this case there would be no attempts at trying to allocate some of the workshare to UK companies or anything like that as it wouldn’t be worth the extra pressure on an already very strained budget. These aircraft would be added on to an existing US Navy production run and apart from some small modifications to make them compatible with UK systems would be pretty much identical to their US counterparts.
The first aircraft entered service with the Royal Navy in 1992 being one of the first aircraft of the latest and most advanced Group II production runs of the E-2C.
849 NAS which had previously operated the Fairey Gannet and been disbanded in 1984 when the type had been retired was reformed at RNAS Culdrose to operate the Hawkeye.
The RN would purchase a total of 8 aircraft. It was envisaged that the QE class would typically carry 3 aircraft as part of their air group and at a push 4. Eight aircraft would allow for both carriers to be at sea at the same time with their full complement of AEW aircraft while leaving some behind for things like training, deep maintenance and attrition replacement.
The addition of the Hawkeye as it would be known in RN service to the Fleet Air Arm threw up some issues with regards to training. It had been many years since the RN had operated multiengine propeller driven aircraft at sea and there were questions over how this skill could be relearned and how a training pipeline could be maintained for what would be a very small cadre of aircrew. The simplest and only really cost effective solution was to send Hawkeye pilots over to America for training with the USN at NAS Norfolk in Virginia for conversion onto the type. This way the RN would only have to pay per pilot rather than maintaining yet more training aircraft.
The addition of the E2C Hawkeye to the RN’s order of battle and the greatly enhanced capability it brought tied in nicely with a concurrent RAF program.
Like the RN the RAF had a need to replace its elderly and obsolete AEW aircraft. In their case the Avro Shackleton which had first entered service in 1951. The initial solution had been a project to convert a number of Nimrod MPA airframes into a new AEW variant. The programme had begun in 1977 and had frankly been an embarrassing failure. The design was hugely complex, extremely expensive to develop, produce, maintain and operate and after years of work had yet to produce a fully functioning and capable prototype as engineers struggled to integrate large and heavy radomes and computers into airframes that already had some mileage on them and had never been intended for something like this. The first flying example had even been nicknamed “Frankenstein’s monster” by some. Developmental cost overruns had seen the number of aircraft intended to be produced halved from 12 to 6 in the infamous 1981 “Nott” Defence Review.
In 1983 the MOD had undertaken a full review of the Nimrod AEW program which had run concurrently but separate to the 1983 Defence Whitepaper. To say they were not happy with the projects progress would be an understatement. So far, the project had cost close to one billion pounds and had yet to produce a single working aircraft. The entry to service date was repeatedly being pushed back and it had become clear that the capability offered by the aircraft if (and it was a big if) it could ever be made to work wasn’t going to be what had been hoped for.
With their procurement budget being cut in order to finance the navy’s CVF-90 aircraft carrier program the RAF had made the easy decision in 1983 to scrap the Nimrod AEW and buy something off the shelf instead. The aircraft they had opted for to replace provide AEW capability was the Boeing E-3D Sentry of which the RAF purchased 7 examples with the first entering service in 1987.
The Sentry together with the Hawkeye meant that the UK had taken a quantum leap in air battle management and situational awareness capability. One senior RAF officer even described the two aircraft as the most important new capability in the air since the introduction of the guided missile.

Of course, as important as these aircraft procurement projects were, they all paled into insignificance against the real big ticket programme. The McDonnel Douglas F/A-18 Hornet.
The UK had committed to buying 200 examples as part of the 1983 Defence Whitepaper with 80 going to the RN to fly from the decks of the QE class aircraft carriers and 120 going to the RAF to replace the Phantom and other older aircraft.
When the Defence Whitepaper had committed the UK to the F/A-18 (which would officially be known as the Hornet in UK service) in 1983 the aircraft was still under development not entering service with the USN and USMC until 1984 and not going to sea until the following year. There was no real rush on the part of the UK in these early stages to get the aircraft into frontline service. The RN wasn’t expecting its first new carrier until at least 1994 and so wouldn’t have much use for the aircraft until then. The RAF was already busy with numerous aircraft procurement projects such as the Tornado and Harrier GR5 which was eating up most of their budget at the time and so wanted to wait until the majority of the aircraft they already had on order were delivered whereupon a large chunk of their procurement budget would be freed up. There were many other advantages to waiting to actually place an order for any aircraft. The intention was to begin production sometime in the late 1980’s by which time the USN/USMC would have been operating the F/A-18 for a few years and would hopefully have ironed out the various kinks in operating and maintaining the aircraft and carried out any necessary modifications thus the MOD would be saved from having to learn any of those lessons the hard way when the Americans could do it all for them.
The Americans traditionally had a habit of developing upgraded versions of new aircraft every few years based upon operating experience. By waiting a few years the UK would be in a position to take advantage by either procuring upgraded aircraft without having to pay any development costs or if they were feeling bold and the timing was right trying to get involved themselves to try and produce an aircraft that was more tailored to their particular requirements and generating some work for the UK aircraft industry.
Politically waiting a bit to order was an attractive option as the bean counters within the government and MOD knew that it was much easier to not order as many aircraft as you had previously planned than to cancel something you had already signed the contract for.

Though despite the British Government announcing in 1983 that it would be procuring the F/A-18 but then deciding not to actually place an order until about 1987 the time in between was certainly not wasted. When HMS EAGLE had returned from the Falklands the US Navy had been very keen to get some of her now battle hardened airmen on exchange postings where they could pass on their experience to the USN’s own flyers. The RN had agreed to this on the condition that some of their men be posted to F/A-18 squadrons. The Americans had agreed to this in exchange for some of their pilots being given positions in 892 NAS which until 1986 was still flying the Phantom and was now arguably the most combat experienced squadron in the world at that time and definitely had the highest proportion of flying aces. These exchange tours allowed the British to build up a level of experience with the aircraft and allowed them to start to plan things like what should be included on the training syllabus, how to make best use of the aircraft in the air, how to be as efficient as possible with regards to availability ect.

When the decision had been made to go with an American aircraft many within the British aircraft industry had regarded it as a disaster or even a death knell for them. The trade unions within the industry had kicked off which had caused plenty of problems. Industry figures argued that loss of development and building work meant that there would be nothing to sustain the industry and that the knock on effect would be massive job losses and loss of industrial skills and capabilities.
Politically it was a bit of an unwinnable situation for the government. Job losses were never a good thing and wouldn’t help a government that had already managed to establish a reputation for destroying entire industries and the livelihoods of masses of people. On the other hand, there wasn’t the time or money to design and develop a completely new aircraft from scratch. Going down this route would have been very expensive and likely produced an aircraft that wouldn’t be much better than what was available off the shelf and would be guaranteed to probably cost twice as much due to the development costs having to be shared across a relatively small number of aircraft. This would have drawn plenty of criticism for the government and made them look incompetent (well perhaps more so).
Mindful of the political fallout if the British aircraft industry which barely 30 years ago had been world leading was allowed to wither away and die the government decided to do what governments usually do in such a situation and tried to find a compromise.

In order to preserve British jobs in it was decided that the aircraft would be licence built in the UK by British Aerospace. The good working relationship that British Aerospace had established with McDonnel Douglas through the T45 Goshawk project and the relatively large order that the UK intended to place meant that it was fairly easy to browbeat McDonnell Douglas into accepting this. Many pointed out however that merely assembling aircraft from kits shipped over from the US was no replacement for the work that would have come from designing, developing and testing a new aircraft and manufacturing components in Britain and that there would still be job and skill losses. Again, however the government was able to find a compromise that was actually effective.
The RN and RAF had examined the F/A-18 A/B and built up a degree of experience with the aircraft and concluded that while they were very impressed with it the Hornet did not quite meet all of its requirements in its current form feeling that it was a bit of a jack of all trades but master of none. The RN wanted a more specialised maritime strike aircraft while the RAF wanted a multirole fighter to provide air superiority and close air support. Obviously, some development work would need to be carried out to make the aircraft compatible with UK systems. The initial solution was to look at developing a UK version of the Hornet. Such a thing would play well for the British Government who could claim that they were preserving British jobs and delivering an aircraft more suited to British needs.
Many however were wary of going down this path owing to the previous experience of trying to do this with the Phantom where they had ended up with an aircraft that was slightly more capable but vastly more expensive than simply buying the standard American version Phantoms. They also pointed out that the whole reason for buying something off the shelf was to save money and that doing so would have been completely pointless if the money saved was merely spent on an “anglicised” version that wouldn’t really do anything that its original American version couldn’t already do.
Nevertheless, the MOD formed a group of scientists, planners and aerospace engineers and initiated a project to investigate and develop potential modifications to the F/A-18. The MOD reasoned that this project would help to keep aerospace development skills alive, find a way to integrate the aircraft into the UK’s order of battle and there was always the chance that they might develop something that could be sold back to the Americans who by this point were developing a block upgrade for their Hornet fleet.
To this end in early 1986 a single seat F/A-18A and a twin seat F/A-18B were purchased directly from the US Navy (as opposed to McDonnell Douglas who did however send over a number of their engineers to join the British development project) and flown to the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at RAF Boscombe Down. The project team were presented with the aircraft and told to do their worst. The results of their work were pretty interesting.

There were the necessary and relatively straightforward things first up such as fitting UK communications and crypto equipment to the aircraft.
The F/A-18’s engines had been paid considerable attention by the likes of Rolls Royce who reckoned they might be able to provide an alternative British design as they had done with their Spey engines for the RN’s Phantoms. The problem was the General Electric F404-GE-402 is quite a small engine and that the airframe had been built around this particular engine. Rolls Royce found themselves unable to offer anything small enough to avoid the need for a difficult and expensive airframe redesign as had happened with the Phantom while providing an increase in performance to make it worth the effort. A cap had been placed on the unit cost for the aircraft which had killed the idea of doing anything with the engines.
Swapping out the M16A2 Vulcan cannon for a British made Aden Cannon had been looked at. While it was found to be technically feasible and fairly simple to do doing so was judged to be undesirable. Vulcan gun pods were already in used by the RAF’s Phantoms anyway meaning that the 20mm shells and spare parts were already in the logistics chain. Even though the Aden was very slightly cheaper the switch from 20mm to 30mm shells would not only reduce the amount of ammunition that the aircraft could carry but the redistribution of weight would entail rewriting some of the aircraft’s software (being effectively a computer flown aircraft) which would likely cancel out any savings for no worthwhile capability gain.

Where the team did have success however was in the realm of weapons and sensors.
The F/A-18A was a single seat multirole aircraft which was broadly what the RAF were after. However, they wanted their new aircraft to be able to carry British missiles which they felt were in some way’s superior to the American one’s that the Hornet currently carried.
The F/A-18B was a two seat trainer version for the F/A-18A. While a two-seat trainer version was always useful the British and in particular the RN had something different in mind for the two seater. The RN wanted an aircraft with much more capability in both the strike and fleet defence role and therefore wanted to put a Weapons System Officer/Radar Intercept Officer (Observer in RN parlance) in the back seat. The Observer branch which had been previously planned to become a rotary wing only specialisation had suddenly been given a new lease of life. When it was found that the Americans were already thinking along the same lines for their own Hornet block upgrade a joint project had been established with McDonnell Douglas. Much of the electronics that would go into the rear cockpit were designed in Britain as their project was somewhat ahead of the Americans and many components would ultimately find themselves being used in the F/A-18D.
From the outset one of the intentions had been to adapt the Hornet for British made munitions. When the decision had been made to upgrade the Sea Harrier FRS1 to the much more capable FA2 variant a much more powerful radar had been required to replace the Ferranti Blue Fox. The result was the vastly more capable and impressive Blue Vixen radar. Multimodal and capable in both the air intercept and air to surface strike roles and look down shoot down capability Blue Vixen was already compatible with the British missiles that the RN/RAF wanted to use and crucially was also compatible with the American made AIM-9 Sidewinder short ranged air to air missile. This last point was important as it also meant that it would be fairly easy to make Blue Vixen compatible with the upcoming AIM-120 AMRAAM should the British ever decide to purchase that particular missile at some point in the future.
Perhaps the biggest British specific modification to the F/A-18 was the decision to replace the Hughes APG-73 radar with Blue Vixen. The differing size and shapes of the radars meant that the Hornets nose had to be redesigned to accommodate the Blue Vixen becoming slightly wider and thus longer making British Hornets very distinctive amongst differing variants of the F/A-18 around the world.
In terms of armament once the Blue Vixen radar was integrated attention could now turn to the wiring and software necessary to carry British made weapons.
The Sea Eagle sea skimming anti-ship missile had been introduced in 1985 to replace the Martel ASM which had claimed quite a few scalps in the Falklands. Already carried by the Navy’s Sea Harrier FA2’s and the RAF’s Buccaneers and Tornados it went without saying that the MOD wanted the Hornet to be able to carry this missile. Integrating the extra wiring and software to enable this was never going to be easy but it was at least relatively problem free and straight forward.

The Skyflash semi active air to air missile had proven itself during the Falklands campaign and had down a large number of Argentine jets. In most air to air engagements the superior range offered by this missile coupled with its high success rate had been the decisive factor in deciding the outcome. In light of the missile’s performance in the Falklands conflict the previously cancelled project to produce a fully active Skyflash missile had been resurrected. The resulting missile had a much higher probability of success, a slightly longer range thanks to some tweaking with its motor, was less susceptible to electronic countermeasures and was in the short term at least a strong rival to the AIM-120 AMRAAM. Already being introduced to the RAF’s Phantoms and Tornado F3’s the upgraded fully active Skyflash was another missile that would be carried by the Hornet.
Despite Skyflash being a rival to AMRAAM it was almost certain that British Hornets would carry the AIM-120 at some point going forward either if the British ultimately purchased the newer missile at some point in the future to replace Skyflash or perhaps even operating alongside the Americans who would only have AMRAAMS in their stocks. Therefore, the kit needed for compatibility with AMRAAM was retained.

Another set of modifications to the Hornet were carried out to make it compatible with another British made weapon. This time it was the WE.177 freefall tactical nuclear weapon. The F/A-18 had been designed from the outset to carry the American B61 nuclear weapon. However, the Americans had a policy of removing all technology relating to nuclear weapons deployment from aircraft for export. While British Aerospace had a very close working relationship with McDonell Douglas on the Hornet project this did not extend to anything involving nuclear weapons owing to national security restrictions in both nations. Engineers from the Atomic Weapons Establishment were brought in to help the British Aerospace team integrate the WE-177. The weapon had been carried by pretty much every British combat aircraft going all the way back to the Canberra so adding the required hardware to the Hornet was pretty easy. The difficult bit came in writing and integrating the software to enable the Hornet to deploy the weapon via toss bombing.

Yet another British made missile to be integrated with the Hornet was the Air Launched Anti Radiation Missile (ALARM). After a bitterly fought bidding process in 1983 the British Aerospace Dynamics made missile had been selected to meet the need for an antiradiation missile necessary to carry out Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD) missions. The anti radiation version of the Martel had played a decisive role in the Falklands Campaign destroying Argentine radars at Port Stanley Airfield and even disabling and leading to the subsequent sinking of the Argentine Type 42 destroyers ARA HERCULES and ARA SANTISIMA TRINIDAD.
Granted ALARM was a very ambitious project and Royal Ordinance were having some difficulties I getting the burn-loiter-burn aspect of the missiles motor to work properly but the capability offered by the missile could be an absolute game changer in establishing air superiority over the battlefield.

Another missile underdevelopment which would ultimately be carried by the Hornet was the ASRAAM which was being developed in a joint project with the Germans, Canadians and Norwegians as a replacement for the AIM-9 Sidewinder which while still capable would soon start to show its age. This project had come about as the result of a Memorandum of Understanding signed by these countries and the US in 1980 who agreed to develop the AMRAAM to replace the AIM-7 Sparrow then in service with many NATO air arms while Britain and the other nations developed the ASRAAM.

Away from the realm of weapons and sensors there was one other British development. This one actually impressed the Americans and other Hornet operators to the point where they adopted it themselves. Mindful that the F/A-18 would be the only jet aircraft in and also the majority of the air groups of their new carriers the RN had been looking for a way of extending the aircrafts range. The aircraft was already air to air refuelling capable and so a “buddy pack” similar to those used on the Buccaneer was being purchased. However, this threw up the traditional issues of a fast jet not really being able to carry that much fuel to transfer to other aircraft to be effective in this role. The F/A-18 was perfectly capable of carrying drop tanks however this meant a reduced weapons loadout and reduced aircraft performance owing to the extra weight and drag of the large fuel tanks.
Previous generations of British aircraft designers when faced with the task of extending the range of the fast jets then in service with the RAF such as the English Electric Lightening and Gloster Javelin had come up with what was called the Distended Internal Tank. This was an enlargement of the internal fuel tanks which created a bulge underneath the aircraft but still being flush with the fuselage had only a limited effect on aerodynamic performance.
When presented with the issue of extending the Hornets range the British Aerospace team had therefore designed and successfully tested conformal fuel tanks mounted on the fuselage above the wings. These eliminated the need for underwing tanks and the drag penalty that came with them increasing lift and adding an extra 130 miles to the aircrafts combat radius. The slight disadvantage was while these tanks could be added or removed as necessary before flight they couldn’t be disposed of in flight.
The conformal fuel tank was to become standard across the RN and RAF Hornet fleet. The USN and USMC plus the RAAF and RCAF were impressed enough to order the tanks for their own fleets of F/A-18’s. With the tanks all manufactured in a British factory quite a few in the British government and aircraft industry were very pleased with this particular outcome of the British Hornet Development Project.

Though the MOD had from the outset been attempting to avoid producing an anglicised specific version of the Hornet that is essentially what they ended up with. Many breathed a sigh of relief though seeing as they seemed to have avoided repeating the mistakes of the Phantom and ending up with a vastly more expensive but not that much more capable aircraft.
The main differences between British and American F/A-18’s was the Blue Vixen Radar, the compatibility with British Weapons, conformal fuel tanks and some British electronics and computer programming. Essentially what had been designed was a British variant of the F/A-18C/D which were starting to be introduced to the USN in 1987.
Though the F/A-18C/D’s did include a number of British components that had been found to be superior or preferable for different reasons. Therefore, every American F/A-18 produced from now on would include a small number of components manufactured in Britain.

Two British variants had been designed. The first was named the Hornet FGR1 which was a single seat aircraft broadly the equivalent of the F/A-18C. The second was a two seat strike aircraft named the Hornet FGR2 which was the equivalent of an F/A-18D. Despite being officially named the Hornet in UK service throughout its life the aircraft would be commonly referred to as the F-18 in the UK.
The aircraft would be manufactured under licence in British Aerospace’s facility at Warton where the Tornado was being manufactured. Cynics pointed out that “manufactured” in reality meant merely assembling kits shipped over from McDonnell Douglas’s plant in St Louis consisting of components manufactured in the US. They weren’t far from the truth. St Louis would assemble the components for F/A-18C’s and D’s and transport them by air over to Warton. British Aerospace would then assemble the components under the supervision of McDonnell Douglas engineers with experience of producing the aircraft and then integrate the British specific components which would have naturally been manufactured in Britain.
Where possible the British Government had sought to obtain licences for components to be manufactured in British factories as long as it was cost effective to do so and sustained British jobs. McDonnell Douglas were opening to and accommodating of this arrangement being well used to their products being licence manufactured abroad as had happened with Australia and Canada (who had designed and built their own variant called the CF-18). They felt that having a strong supply chain and manufacturing facility in Britain might help the F/A-18 push further into the European aircraft market. Already they had managed to break into that market when the Spanish Air Force had placed an order for 72 aircraft with deliveries having commenced in 1985. There also positive noises coming from the Finnish and Swiss Air Force’s and perhaps led on by the British the French Navy were looking at the aircraft for possible use aboard their next generation of aircraft carriers.

Finally, in late 1988 with the development work complete and manufacturing arrangements agreed (and unions beaten into submission) the British government placed an order for 200 F/A-18’s with the buy split into 120 FGR1’s for the RAF and 80 FGR2’s for the FAA.
The first production aircraft would begin flight testing in February of 1990 and be delivered to the RAF later in the year. The Navy would receive its first aircraft in January of 1991.

The RAF’s first Hornet squadron was Number 111 Squadron which would be the Operational Conversion and Evaluation Unit for the Hornet responsible for converting air and ground crews onto the type. 111 Squadron was to be based at RAF Leuchars which would become the RAF’s UK centre of operations for the Hornet. The first operational squadron to be converted onto the type was Number 19 Squadron followed by 92 Squadron both based at RAF Wildenrath in Germany. The RAF intended for the Hornet to be a replacement for the Phantom and so starting with the squadrons based in Germany intended to convert the Phantom squadrons onto the Hornet as the Phantom was gradually phased out of service. In the meantime, there were planned to be frequent reallocations of individual Phantom’s to the remaining squadrons as aircraft with fewer flying hours would be kept in the operational squadrons while the older and more worn aircraft would be withdrawn from service and dismantled for spares as had happened with the RN’s Phantoms.
In the meantime, the RAF were acutely aware of the need to replace their 65 strong but aging fleet of Buccaneers and in the need in the longer term to start thinking about a replacement for the Jaguar. A possible second order of Hornet FGR2’s this time for the RAF was being keenly eyed as an efficient and capable solution to both needs.

The Royal Navy had decided to base its Hornet’s at RNAS Yeovilton. To this end beginning in 1988 Yeovilton had undergone a massive expansion with large numbers of Hardened Aircraft Shelters being built along with new munitions bunkers, maintenance facilities, new accommodation blocks and amenities to house the bases increased population, ect. This work was ongoing when the first Hornet arrived in 1991.
The first FAA squadron to receive the new aircraft was 700 NAS which would serve as the Operational Conversion Unit. The previously planned Joint Hornet Force between the RN and RAF had never really materialised. The decision of each service to operate different variants of the aircraft had reduced the need for a joint training squadron and while RAF aircraft were perfectly capable of operating from the deck of a carrier and some RAF pilots would be trained to do so it wasn’t felt that this would be a regular enough occurrence. The closest Joint Force Hornet would get to becoming a reality was a joint administrative organisation set up for the purpose of procuring and allocating spare parts and such things. If the RAF did decide to procure their own Hornet FGR2’s then the idea might be worth another look at.
The first FAA frontline squadron to begin flying the Hornet would be the reformed 892 NAS which had previously flown the RN’s Phantoms and become legendary for its Falklands War exploits. Some of the older members of the reformed squadron were extremely proud to have previously served in and in some exceptional cases flown with the squadron in that conflict.
The problem for the reformed 892 NAS and the squadrons that would eventually come after it was that they were at present without a deck to fly from. HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH wasn’t expected to be handed over to the RN until 1994 at the earliest and even then, there would be at least a year of flying trials with helicopters, Goshawks and 700 NAS’s Hornets to get the ship certified for frontline operations before 892 could even consider embarking on the ship. In the meantime, they would have to contend themselves with occasional deployments to US Navy carriers to gain experience of operating their aircraft from a flight deck.

Going forward the plan for the RN was to reform 767 NAS as the next Phantom squadron. Beyond that once HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH came online the plan was to retire one of the INVINCIBLE class carriers and then the second once HMS EAGLE came online. In fact, the decommissioning of the INVINCIBLE class ships would probably happen somewhat before the commissioning of the new QE class in order to free up manpower for the larger ships larger crew and to save a bit of money. The INVINCIBLE class were planned to be put up for disposal but there was speculation that at least one of the ships may be retained and converted into an LPH to replace HMS HERMES which had been retired some years ago. Consequently, this meant that when these ships went so would the Sea Harrier with 800 NAS and 801 and 899 scheduled to convert over to flying the Hornet.

It was recognised that despite the ongoing expansion with Hornet’s, Goshawks and Sea Harriers operating from there RNAS Yeovilton would become pretty crowded despite that fact that a significant number of the Hornets would probably be away at sea at any one time.
Therefore, it was decided to rejig the basing of the FAA’s helicopter squadrons with the Commando Helicopter Force consisting of 707, 845 and 846 NAS’s flying the Sea King HC.4 being relocated from Yeovilton to RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall. To free up space at Culdrose 814 NAS flying the Sea King HAS.5 ASW helicopter would relocate up to RNAS Prestwick up in Scotland. Culdrose itself would be expanded to cope with the influx of aircraft and recreate the specialist facilities that the Commando Helicopter Force had had at Yeovilton. Facilities including a small number of Hardened Aircraft Shelters were also built in order to allow Hornets to operate from the base should it become necessary.

It was infrastructure and support projects like these that helped to the UK’s aircraft carrier programme to become one of the most expensive defence projects ever undertaken by the UK with the exception of the Trident programme.

6th July 1991, Cammell Laird Shipyard

Today was a big day for Cammell Laird. The day in which nearly 4 years of hard work would come to fruition. As the Managing Director stood in the shadow the gargantuan structure that was HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH, he couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of pride in what his workforce had achieved. Though he was too modest to say anything he also felt a quiet sense of satisfaction in himself in that he had overseen and delivered what had been asked for and overcome every challenge and obstacle along the way.

Today was a day of great ceremony and probably the most exciting thing to happen in Birkenhead since the Luftwaffe had flattened much of it during the war. Today was the naming ceremony for HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH. The government and Royal Navy had really pulled out all the stops for this one. The yard was filled with the great and the good, the Royal Navy had provided an immaculately turned out 60 man guard and a Royal Marines band.
The VIP’s included the Prime Minister, the local Labour MP Frank Field (who would be criticised by some of the more militant elements within his own party for shaking hands with the Conservative Prime Minister), the Defence Secretary Tom King and other members of the cabinet. As well as the current Prime Minister who had only taken office the previous year the previous incumbent whose government had ordered the construction of the ships was also present in a private capacity.
On the military side of things, the Chief of Defence Staff Marshal of the Royal Air Force Craig Radley was present along with the First Sea Lord Admiral Julian Oswald and the other defence chiefs and a sea of senior RN officers along with visiting senior officers from France and the US.
The real VVIP’s had arrived that morning aboard the Royal Yacht BRITANNIA which had berthed by the yards Basin. They were driven in a Rolls Royce State Limousine from the BRITANNIA escorted by heavily armed Royal Protection officers through the shipyard to No5 Dock where the ceremony was taking place. As the car arrived by the ship the assembled dignitaries, yard employees and invited families and other guests all stood up as the Royal Marines began playing the national anthem. This was the first time that either of the VVIP’s had seen the ship in person. In an event well captured and documented by the press the Queen acted with the professionalism and decorum she was well known for while the Duke of Edinburgh himself a former naval officer seemed unable to hide his look of awe and excitement upon seeing the gigantic vessel for the first time.
Acting as a sort of chaperone to the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh was Captain Michael Gretton. Captain Gretton had previously commanded HMS INVINCIBLE and though nothing had been announced yet it was known that he had been tapped as the first commanding officer of HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH who would oversee her fitting out and sea trials.

With Her Majesty now in attendance things got under way.
Though this was being treated as if it were a ship launch (the only reason why anything was even happening at all was really for PR reasons as well as tradition) a floating out ceremony would be closer to the truth but still not 100% accurate.
QUEEN ELIZABETH had been constructed in a graving dock. When the time came for her to leave it would simply be a case of flooding the dock and floating her out. There would be no ship sliding down the slipway into the water or anything of that nature.
HMS EAGLE currently under construction in Barrow was being built using more traditional methods on a slipway. When the time came for her to be launched (currently scheduled for February 1993) it would be a truly spectacular sight to see close to 60,000 tons of British built aircraft carrier thundering down the slipway. With Cammell Laird being a subsidiary of VSEL who were currently building the EAGLE and having been closely involved in the construction of the ship himself the managing director of Cammell Laird shipyard knew he would be getting an invitation to that event and was looking forward to that particular day.

Ships undergo two phases of build. The construction of the hull which is usually followed by launching and then fitting out. QUEEN ELIZABETH was structurally complete but was at present essentially an empty shell. Out of sight of the VIP’s mostly in the yards newly built warehouses and open storage areas were the miles of electrical caballing and millions of pounds worth of equipment and machinery waiting to be installed onboard. Along with this were hundreds upon hundreds of gallons of mostly grey paint. Though the ships sides had already been painted and from the dockside made her look like an almost complete ship anyone who was able to get themselves into a position where they could look down onto the flight deck from above would see a good few acres of rust coloured unpainted steel flight deck.
Joining a select few who moved with the Queen around to the limited space around the bow of the ship (The stands and crowds and focal point up until now being in the large and much more secure open space on the ships port side) the manging director watched as the Queen was driven around and made her way up onto the podium by the ships bow where the champagne bottle was waiting. As this was going on he for some reason found himself reminded of the fact that despite this being the MOD’s PR departments job he himself had repeatedly had to inform or remind people that the ship was not named after the Queen herself but the previous HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH Dreadnought battleship which had seen action in both world wars which was itself named after Elizabeth the First.
The Queen began her speech in which she emphasised that this was the largest warship ever built for the Royal Navy in all of its close to 1000 year history. Holding the champagne bottle in her hand she proceeded to say the words “I name this ship Queen Elizabeth. May God bless her and all who sail in her” and proceeded to smash the bottle over the bow to the delight and roar of the crowds.
Inwardly many of the assembled naval officers and ratings and shipyard workers breathed a sigh of relief when they saw the bottle smash. Though they often won’t admit it sailors are a superstitious bunch and its commonly said that if the bottle doesn’t break on the bow then the ship is cursed.

With the ship officially “Launched” the sluice valves to the graving dock were opened for the first time in 5 years and the dock began to fill with water. It would however take the best part of an entire day to fill the dock and lift the ship off of the keel blocks and make her float for the first time.
The MOD had seemingly recognised that merely opening a sluice valve and watching a dock very slowly fill up with water would be visually rather unimpressive. Therefore, they had arranged a distraction for the crowds and cameras. The Queen broke the bottle over the ships bows at exactly 11:30. With the kind of timing and precision that could only have come about through extremely careful planning and practising the cheers of the crowds were drowned out by the roar of jet engines as seemingly everyone in Birkenhead and Liverpool looked to the sky to see a spectacular flypast of jet aircraft that passed over the ship at exactly 11:30:30. The small contingent of Hornets currently owned by the UK led the way followed by Sea Harriers with both Hawks and one of the new Goshawks bringing up the rear of the RN contingent. Aircraft from the RAF followed on close behind with Phantoms and a number of formerly RN owned Buccaneers. The flypast was ended by a formation overflight by the RAF’s Red Arrows in bright red painted Hawks trailing a curtain of red, white and blue smoke behind them much to the delight of the crowds on both sides of the Mersey.

With the naming ceremony now complete next would come the part where the managing director would really earn his pay today. First, he would accompany the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh on a brief tour of the ship followed by a tour of the shipyard to view the other vessels under construction and then joining the rest of the VIP’s for a reception in a marquee that had been erected adjacent to the ship. The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh would return to the Britannia afterwards which would put to sea that evening.

The tour of the ship really consisted of a walk around the vast hangar as the ship was still an active construction site and this was the one area where the managing director wouldn’t have to face the awkwardness of asking the monarch to wear a hard hat. The Queen seemed genuinely interested and asked a few questions but to the relief of an already nervous managing director most of these were aimed at Captain Gretton. The Duke of Edinburgh on the other hand seemed to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things naval and asked plenty of questions which felt to the managing director like an interrogation.

He explained that once the ship was fully afloat a survey of the hull would be undertaken to ensure watertight integrity. Then the process of fitting out would begin and if all went to plan the ship would finally be in a position to leave the dock in 1994. The Duke had asked if the ship was not going to be floated out of the dock and berthed elsewhere in the yard for the fitting out. The director replied that this had been the original intention but there was simply no berth in the yard big enough to accommodate the ship and that moving a ship this large into the yards basin for fitting out had been ultimately judged as too risky. Therefore, the ship would be fitted out right here where she had been built and would only depart No5 Dock for the very first time when she departed the yard for her initial sea trials.

Following the tour of the ship and the yard the managing director had accompanied the Royals to the reception where they had thanked him for being such an excellent host and congratulated him on his yards achievements and told him and his workforce to be very proud of themselves. They had then left him and begun their rounds of the various dignitaries they were expected to meet.
The managing director had had a rather nerve racking few hours and still had a supercarrier to finish to a somewhat ambitious timetable. He felt he needed a drink. Fortunately for him no expense had been spared today and there were plenty of trays of champagne going around. Unfortunately for him one drink turned into another drink which turned into another drink and so on. The conversations he ended up having with the various military officers, politicians and dignitaries began to become somewhat tedious as he ended up being asked and giving the same answers to questions about the QUEEN ELIZABETH over and over again. He had therefore been rather pleasantly surprised when someone had engaged him in a very interesting and enjoyable conversation about the yard as a whole and the outlook for its future. In his already somewhat tipsy state, the managing director simply didn’t notice that the person he was talking too had introduced himself by name only and not mentioned whether he was a member of the government or MOD or any other organisation or company.
Much to the managers later horror the individual turned out to be a journalist who had been covering the ceremony and wanted to try and gather more information for follow up stories.

Alcohol loosens tongues and it didn’t take long for the managing director to admit that he held many fears for the long term future of Cammell Laird. The QUEEN ELIZABETH project had resulted in an expansion of the yards workforce and once that ship was complete a great many of them simply wouldn’t be needed anymore. Potential mass redundancy was an issue that he was dreading but knew he would have to face soon.
All of the ships that the yard had built in recent years had been for the RN meaning that Cammell Laird had ended up as a specialised warship building company along with its parent company VSEL. The problem with this was that once the current programmes were complete there were no other warship construction projects on the horizon that could potentially sustain the yard. This wasn’t an issue unique to Cammell Laird. The problem was that right now a significant chunk of warship building capacity in the UK was being taken up by the QE class aircraft carriers with other projects being allocated to other yards. Once the QE class were complete though there would be far more building capacity than could ever be sustained with defence budgets that would likely only get smaller in the future and not everyone in this business would survive. Privately he held real fears that VSEL might well sacrifice Cammell Laird to try and ensure their own survival.

The board of directors felt that the best way to combat this was to diversify into building civilian ships. The design teams were already producing designs for cruise ships to try and drum up interest from cruise ship operators. It was hoped that Cammell Lairds large graving dock and recent experience of building large and technically complicated vessels may attract customers. However, with no recent experience in this field many were sceptical whether they could beat any competitors in terms of design or price in what was a much more cutthroat market than warship building.

It wasn’t all bad new though. The yard had recently been awarded the contract to build the future 32,000 ton FORT VICTORIA class replenishment oiler (one of six being built for the RFA) RFA FORT CHARLOTTE. This ship would begin construction in one of the other dry docks towards the end of the fitting out of QUEEN ELIZABETH when many of the work force would be becoming available. Though the construction of FORT CHARLOTTE would sustain many jobs that would otherwise have been lost unless something else came through for most it would merely be a stay of execution.
Yarrow and Swanhunter had snapped up all of the contracts for building the TYPE 23 frigate and there were currently no other new escorts on the horizon.

What was going to sustain the yard going forward at least in the medium term was SSK’s. With Barrow full to capacity building HMS EAGLE the VANGUARD class SSBN’s (with 3 of the 16,000 ton boats now under construction) VSEL had financed the building a submarine hall at Cammell Laird to facilitate the construction of the 2,400 ton UPHOLDER class SSK’s which were to replace the OBERON class.
The first boat HMS UPHOLDER had been built in Barrow and had been in commission with the Royal Navy about a year now. The first Birkenhead built boat HMS UNSEEN had been launched in November 1989 and was due to commission into the Royal Navy in about 2 weeks. HMS URSULA had been launched in February and was due to commission next year. The final boat of this first batch HMS UNICORN was still under construction in the submarine building hall and was scheduled to be launched in April of next year. Current plans called for up to 12 of the class and Cammell Laird’s submarine building hall was capable of having three boats under construction at any one time. The first 2 boats of “Batch 2” were already in the very early stages of construction. These were to be the HMS UNDAUNTED and HMS UNBEATEN. The names for the final two boats of Batch 2 and the planned four boats of Batch 3 had yet to be decided by the RN.
If the Managing Director had any reason to be positive about the future it was the UPHOLDER class SSK and the strong potential for export orders. To this end in conjunction with the MOD he had salesmen all over the world trying to secure export contracts.

Already some very positive sounding signals were coming from Pakistan. The Pakistani Navy was looking for a new submarine to replace their ageing HANGOR class boats and were very interested in the UPHOLDER class. The head of the Pakistani Navy Admiral Khan had publicly stated the navies preference for the UPHOLDER class. However, there was some very stiff competition from France who were offering their AGOSTA class boats. As usually happened when the French got involved in export competitions things had the potential to get ugly fast.

Canada had recently abandoned its CANADA class SSN program when it had become clear that a fleet of 10 SSN’s was completely unfeasible and unaffordable. The plan had been for Canada to purchase either British TRAFALGAR class or French RUBIS class SSN’s. This had created all sorts of problems as nuclear submarine technology is generally one of the most closely guarded secrets that any nation can hold and no one anywhere in the world had ever sold a nuclear powered boat to another country.
The failure and cancellation of this over ambitious program meant that once again Canada now looking for a conventionally powered replacement for its ageing OBERON class boats. Luckily the UPHOLDER class had been designed specifically to replace the OBERON class and therefore was being heavily marketed towards the Canadians who were showing a strong interest in the design.
Portugal and Chile were also likely candidates as they looked for a modern submarine to replace their elderly ALBACORA and OBERON class boats.

There was one other underlying fear for the yards long term future held by the managing director. Like everyone else he read the newspapers and watched the news on TV. Like everybody else he saw that behind the now former Iron curtain things were beginning to crumble.
Decline and Fall
On the evening of Christmas day of 1991 at the Kremlin in Moscow the red flag that bore the hammer and sickle and star in its top left corner was lowered as a military band played the Soviet anthem. Both of these were for the last time. In its place as a different anthem was played rose a new flag. A White, Blue and Red tricolour not seen since the days of the Tsar.
The Soviet Union and the Cold War were no more.

The reasons for the collapse of the once monolithic superpower are far too myriad and complicated to be fully explained here.
Though arguably the various causes had been building up over many years the final chapter in the life of the USSR had started in 1985 when a man by name of Gorbachev taken power.
He had come to power intending to bring in radical changes that were felt by some to be necessary to enable the stagnating Soviet Union and its economy to survive into the next century. These changes Known as Glasnost and Perestroika were a programme of political reforms to change the way the Soviet political system worked in order to introduce a limited form of democracy and liberalise the stagnated economy in order to address living standards (which were quickly becoming abysmal compared to those in the west and were a potential driver of unrest) and support the armed forces which ate up a major part of the USSR’s GDP. Along with this was a general relaxation of the tight controls within the union. Citizens would have greater freedoms of speech and expression and individual rights previously almost unheard of. Perhaps most significantly censorship would be relaxed to a degree. This in a country that had always been obsessed with secrecy and paranoid about presenting the “correct” image both to its own citizenry and the outside world.

The inescapable truth was that even in the late 80’s despite attempts to convince both itself and the outside world that it was a civilised nation like any other the reality was the USSR was still very much a totalitarian dictatorship.
Totalitarian states can only survive through the use of an iron grip of total control in order to prevent any internal threat developing. Throughout its existence the singular overriding of the Soviet state (not the nation but more its system of government) had been to ensure its survival. Regimes that have come to power through revolutions or coups or deposing the previous regime are generally fearful of the same thing happening to them. To this end it had used censorship, limitations of individual freedoms and repression to protect itself from internal threats and had maintained a gigantic military machine to protect itself from external threats. It’s perhaps possible that given the length of time that had passed since the revolution in 1917 Gorbachev felt that this threat was no longer an issue. Part of the reason why the Soviet Union had stagnated and why previous attempts at political and economic reform had come to naught was because the Soviet Union could only survive in its current form.

Without the iron grip of total control, it hadn’t taken long for things to start becoming unstuck. The Warsaw pact was officially a defensive alliance in Europe similar to NATO with Soviet military forces based throughout the member states to defend against the threat posed by the West. While this wasn’t untrue there was a lot more to it than that. The nations that made up the Warsaw Pacts were very much satellite states of the USSR. To the Soviet Union the purpose of the Warsaw Pact was to provide a buffer zone against any hostile force in Europe. The theory being that any conflict with NATO even especially in the case of a NATO invasion would be fought within the territory of the Warsaw pact nations and thus prevent a repeat of Operation Barbarossa (the experience of which had traumatised the soviet national psyche). To this end the armed forces of these nations were fully integrated with and subordinate to the Soviet Armed Forces.
The official reason for the presence of the Soviet military within the borders of these nations was to protect them. Officially this was from externa threats. While this was true there were other reasons for their presence. To ensure the survival of the communist regimes within those nations by protecting them from internal threats and to protect the USSR by “discouraging” any of these nations from acting in a way detrimental to the interests of the Soviet Union.

The USSR had never been a country where anyone outside of the ruling party had any form of participation or stake in the direction of government (unlike a democracy where the man on the street gets to decide who the leaders are). The consequence of this was ruling government that had always told its citizens what they should think and desire rather than having to pay attention to what they actually wanted. This created a massive disconnect between the state and the population and a catastrophic misreading on the part of the politburo of the mood of the people.
The new policies of transparency, freedom of speech and expression and citizens for the first time being encouraged to critique those in power and openly discuss problems backfired in a massive way.
Freedom of information meant that many for the first time became aware of the scale many atrocities that had occurred in the Soviet Union.
Many of the ethnic minorities in places such as the Baltic states and Ukraine who due to cultural and language differences felt themselves under the occupation of the Russians found themselves for the first time able to air their many and serious grievances. It didn’t take long for protests (something previously unthinkable) to begin occurring in the various ethnic states of the USSR. In the Caucasus in particular these protests and demonstrations soon became violence and uprisings.
The Soviet Union wasn’t the only country struggling to deal with an angry populace. In the nations of the Warsaw Pact there was serious public discontent aimed at the communist governments of those nations. The governments attempted to deal with the situation in the way they always had with arrests of dissidents and repression through the use of military force. These actions however had merely inflamed the situation and hardened attitudes.
East Germany very much the frontier of the Eastern Bloc was particularly affected and was the first to go.
On the 2nd of November 1989 East Germany formally withdrew from the Warsaw Pact having announced its intention to reunify with West Germany. While in previous years such a move would have resulted in an immediate and decisive Soviet military intervention (as had happened in Hungary and Prague) the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany stood by and watched unsure as to what the future held for them. The Soviets by this point were having enough difficulty trying to deal with the deteriorating situation within their own borders. One high ranking general within the defence ministry is reputed to have stated that the Soviet Army had left Afghanistan and that war only to find the same war being played out within the motherland and again not knowing how such a war could be won and this time not having somewhere to withdraw to.
For all his faults Gorbachev was definitely no Stalin and declined to use military force to hold the Warsaw Pact together. By the end of 1989 the Warsaw Pact was no more as the USSR’s satellite states deposed their communist leadership and moved very firmly into the capitalist camp. In Romania a violent led to the overthrow of perhaps the most oppressive communist regime in Europe and the swift execution by firing squad of its former leader Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife. During the late 80s and early 90s without the Soviet Union propping them up communist governments around the world fell left right and centre.
It didn’t stop there however. By 1990 the Soviet Union was literally breaking apart as the various SSR’s that had made up the union split away becoming independent nations leaving only Russia.
Finally, in 1991 the game was up. In the first ever democratic elections in Russia the Communist Party was voted out of power receiving less than 20% of the vote. Despite an attempted military coup being carried out in August by Communist hardliners trying to preserve the Soviet Union on Christmas Day 1991 it was all over. The Soviet Union had been ended not by a nuclear firestorm unleashed by NATO but by its own people.

The effects on the Soviet Armed Forces were truly devastating. Despite attempts to keep it together and preserve it as a combined military of the former Soviet nations under the banner of the new Commonwealth of Independent States a traumatic breakup became inevitable. The average Soviet serviceman found himself in a strange state of limbo. Many hundreds of thousands of them found themselves based in what were now foreign and distinctly unwelcoming countries in the now former Warsaw Pact. It would take until 1994 for the Russian Armed Forces to completely withdraw from these countries. In many cases servicemen weren’t even sure which country they now served and who if anyone was paying them.
The general consensus was that former Soviet military forces based in the newly independent post Soviet nations would transfer to the ownership of those nations becoming their new armed forces. This created many problems as men who regarded themselves as Russian either found themselves asked to serve another nation to which they had no allegiance or in many cases simply forgotten about. To call the economies of the new Russia and the new nations a shambolic mess would be an understatement. In the moves to transition from a communist centrally controlled economy to a free market capitalist economy and to establish the new institutions of state military spending was far from being a priority.
Far from fighting each other for the spoils in many cases (especially with regards to older equipment) the new nations argued that Russia still owned these assets and so should pay for their return while the Russians argued that as these assets were within foreign territory they now belonged to those nations. In many cases the equipment and bases in question simply ended up abandoned and quietly rotted away unwanted and forgotten about.
Many formerly Soviet military formations simply dissolved owing to this indecision over which nation actually owned them. They had no higher authority to answer to and no government to fund them.
The Russian army was predominantly interested in the return of its men to Russia (even though being a predominantly conscript force most would simply be discharged upon their return). Eastern Europe found itself awash with abandoned military facilities and entire armies worth of military equipment that was no longer wanted by anyone and so was left to rot. This created an arms dealer’s dream as enterprising soldiers unsure of their future or simply opportunistic found it easy to “dispose” of equipment profitably. They didn’t really care who the buyer was as long as they were paying. With no effective accounting and administration system and no one government willing to claim ownership of the equipment in question there was very little risk of suffering any consequences for their actions. In many cases it was possible for someone to walk into one of the now nearly deserted former military bases and for a small fee to the underpaid sentries be able to walk away with whatever they could carry. In Berlin of all places it became possible to purchase anything from Soviet uniforms all the way through to nearly new T72 MBT’s and a whole variety of small arms at bargain basement prices. The Russian officers (who still wore the old Soviet uniforms and insignias) faced with the task of returning all of this equipment to Russia where they knew most of it would probably be scrapped or abandoned anyway were all to happy to create less work for themselves by finding some other way of disposing of equipment and altering the paperwork to show that it had never existed in the first place. By this point things were getting to the point where many Russian officers knew that it would be a very long time before they were paid their meagre salaries again and even longer before they received the months of backpay owed to them if that ever happened at all. Therefore the Russian servicemen were all too grateful for another source of income and the buyers were perfectly happy with the fact that having lived their entire lives within a communist society the Russian servicemen simply had no grasp of economic realities and little understanding of business and most importantly no idea of how much their merchandise was actually worth.

Even once the Russian Armed Forces had completed the withdrawal from Europe and brought everybody home things were dire. The economy of the new Russia was struggling to even survive birth and the Russian military budget plummeted to barely 20% of what it had been in the last year of the Soviet Union. Much of the industrial base that is required to sustain any military was now located in newly independent foreign countries. This often meant that units would no longer receive new equipment or no longer had a source of spare parts to keep operating the kit that they did have.
Within the Armed Forces morale had hit rock bottom but now started to drill deeper. Despite having lost nearly 40% of its strength through the transfer of units and equipment to the newly independent states the much reduced budget the Russian High Command had to work with was nowhere near enough. The Armed Forces also suffered from a lack of purpose as with decades old foe of NATO and the West no longer seen as the enemy commanders no longer knew what their reason for even existing was. The chronic lack of funds had a devastating effect. Equipment when it broke down or needed maintenance would often simply be abandoned. Airbases began to fill up with unserviceable aircraft that had been towed out of the way and left to the mercy of the elements and fields full of abandoned and often obsolete rusting vehicles became a common sight near military bases (themselves often abandoned). The men themselves were often no longer being paid. Even the officers who being the only professional servicemen in the military were prioritised for the little money available for payroll found themselves simply being given IOU’s in lieu of actual money month after month. This led to a breakdown in disciple exacerbated by the fact that there was often no money to even feed the men and many of those who had returned from Eastern Europe found that there was simply nowhere for them or their families to go and effectively found themselves homeless and were for a while frequently found living in barns or shanty towns near military bases. It wasn’t unheard of for the wives and families of even senior officers to be found in woodland foraging for food. Desertion and draft evasion skyrocketed. For those that for whatever reason actually did report as ordered (in some cases less than 20% of those called) service was a harrowing experience.
Crime and corruption within the military became endemic. The Armed Forces frequently found itself only able to generate the money to pay its bills by selling off assets, mostly at knockdown prices to third world nations. Frequently “irregularities” occurred when not all of the money paid for purchases found its way into the armed forces coffers. It wasn’t just high command selling off assets. Individual unit commanders with no budget to pay even themselves let alone feeding their men frequently resorted to various forms of crime and corruption just to survive. Men often found that their duties consisted of working in factories or fields for a daily rate (none of which ever filtered down to them of course). Weapons, vehicles and equipment would be sold off and books altered to cover up the fact that they had even existed. Unlike the official deals conducted at government level these lower echelon commanders and even conscript soldiers were much less decerning about who the buyers were. Many terrorist organisations, organised crime groups and shady individuals found themselves able to buy anything they wanted at bargain prices. In one notorious case a Columbian drug cartel attempted to purchase a Russian Navy submarine and crew having already purchased a number of transport helicopters and vehicles. In another case a naval base commander had sold off the contents of the warehouses on the base. These included live anti-ship missiles a number of which were purchased by a local attempting to set himself up as a scrap merchant. It’s quite possible that the scrap dealer hadn’t understood that many of his new purchases were live munitions owing to the nature of his demise. He along with all of his employees were killed when one of the missiles exploded as a worker attempted to dismantle it with an acetylene torch in an explosion that set of nuclear detonation alarms in Moscow and Europe.

It wasn’t just the sale of assets that was plaguing the Russian military. Organised crime had taken hold not only in the armed forces but in the nation in general. Border Guards found that their only source of income was through being paid bribes to not inspect certain vehicles or individuals too closely. Members of the Spetsnaz were often found to be moonlighting as hitmen or enforcers for the Russian Mafia. Military recruitment officers found themselves doing very well for themselves as they were frequently paid bribes not to recruit or to otherwise reject individuals for mandatory military service. The extremely negative impact of the now seemingly horrific nature of service in the new Russian Army created a whole new breed of lawyers who specialised in finding ways for individuals to avoid conscription.

The newly independent Ukraine had found itself effectively a military superpower. The former Kiev military district had been considered by the Soviets as one of the most important as this was the marshalling ground for the reserves and reinforcements for any conflict in Europe. Consequently, Ukraine had inherited close to 800,000 servicemen, 6,500 tanks, 7000 other armoured combat vehicles and 1,500 aircraft along with the rather prickly issue of the Sevastopol Naval Base and the Black Sea Fleet. As well as the men and equipment many of the industrial facilities necessary to build and sustain hardware were located within the borders of Ukraine.
The Ukrainians had also found themselves possessing a formidable nuclear arsenal consisting of over 1700 warheads and nearly 200 ICBM’s and a number of strategic bombers including some of the brand new TU-160 Blackjack supersonic bombers.
In the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union nuclear proliferation became a serious concern. With the effective collapse of the administration systems that had run the Soviet Armed Forces there was a mass scramble to locate and positively confirm the status of thousands of Nuclear weapons that were now spread out throughout the former USSR. There was considered to be a serious risk that states interested in acquiring a nuclear capability such as Iran, North Korea or Libya or possibly even terrorist groups may try to obtain one from a now likely less than well guarded storage facility somewhere.
What little money the Russian Military still had was prioritised for the safeguarding and recovery of its nuclear weapons. There was however some cause for comfort. Moscow had always maintained a very tight control over its nuclear stockpiles and operated a system very similar to the American’s Permissive Action Link system. This meant that while many former Soviet states now in theory boasted impressive nuclear arsenals in reality, they would be unable to actually use them if they ever felt so inclined as the codes required to arm them were still held in Moscow. Better still the facilities for the design, manufacture and support of these weapons were also located within Russian territory meaning that the nuclear warheads in former Soviet states were now a perishable resource.
It wasn’t that difficult for Moscow backed up by the USA to persuade these states to allow Russia to remove these weapons. In many cases the United States in a move that would have only a few years before been considered bizarre and unthinkable provided the funds for Moscow to “purchase” these weapons from the nations I question and return them for dismantling. Furthermore, in compliance with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty or START II signed in January of 1993 the United States funded the decommissioning and dismantling of many of the ICBM’s, strategic bombers, missile silos and submarines that Russia was required by the treaty to divest itself of.
Nevertheless, the securing of both nuclear warheads but also other nuclear materials did occasionally involve covert actions by NATO and or Russian special forces and intelligence agencies. The countries within which these actions took place were generally either completely oblivious to the operations having ever taken place or were quietly reminded that it would be in their best interests not to make a fuss seeing as this would adversely affect their prospects of receiving the western loans and financial aid they so desperately needed.
Of the ex Soviet warheads themselves many actually found their way to the United States. Worried about the proliferation of the warheads themselves and even the Weapons Grade Uranium components from dismantled warheads the US and Russia signed the Highly Enriched Uranium Purchase Agreement also known as the Megatons to Megawatts Program. In accordance with the agreement the Russians dismantled thousands of their warheads to recover 500 tons of Weapons Grade Highly Enriched Uranium. This was then shipped to the United States where it was used as nuclear reactor fuel in exchange for desperately needed hard currency.

In Mykolaiv in Ukraine was located the most visible symbol of the shattered ambitions of the Soviet Navy. In the Black Sea Shipyard formerly known as Chernomorsky Shipyard 444 sat the unfinished hull of the 68,000 ton nuclear powered supercarrier ULYANOVSK.

The performance of the Royal Navy in the Falklands conflict and especially of the aircraft carrier HMS EAGLE had convinced the Soviets of both the value possessing and danger of going up against large aircraft carriers. They had concluded that there was a need to develop the capability to more effectively counter the threat posed by carrier battle groups centred around the gigantic US Navy nuclear powered supercarriers which were now breaking 100,000 tons in displacement and to build big deck carriers of their own.
The fact that the British in light of their experience in the Falklands Conflict had not long afterwards reversed their previous policy of downsizing their navy and committed themselves to building a new generation of supercarriers had enabled Admiral Gorshkov to convince the Politburo to fund his ambitious naval projects in the face of strong objections from the other the armed services.
To counter the threat by USN and soon to be RN carrier battle groups the Soviet Navy had invested in strengthening and modernising its long range bomber and SSGN fleets.
Production of the TU-22M Backfire supersonic long range strategic bomber had been stepped up along with the procurement of large numbers of IL-78 Midas AAR aircraft. The theory was that once a carrier battlegroup had been located and identified either by submarine, MPA’s or ocean reconnaissance satellites large formations of TU-22M’s carrying fast and long ranged ASM’s would take off from their bases in the Kola Peninsula and make their way out towards their target which was expected to be far out into the North Atlantic. They would be escorted by MIG-31 Foxhound long range interceptors which would be sustained by air to air refuelling’s from the IL-78’s which would follow on behind at a slower speed and most likely meet them on the return leg of the mission. Once in the proximity of the target carrier group the TU-22M’s would launch a barrage of KH-22 ASM’s. Flying at Mach 4.5 the speed and sheer number of missiles would overwhelm the fleets defences. The use of air to air refuelling’s from the IL-78’s meant that if required the TU-22M’s range could be extended enough to be able to cover more distance and come at the target from multiple directions at the same time and carry out a saturation attack.
The Blackjacks themselves would rely on their speed and the long reach of the KH-22 ASM’s and upcoming KH-32 to protect themselves from the carrier groups air defences. The MIG-31’s would provide cover against naval interceptors. The reason why the MIG-31 Foxhound had been selected for this role was because it was felt that it’s high speed and long range made it perfectly capable of going head to head with the F-14 Tomcat which was the US Navy’s primary fleet defence aircraft.

Soviet Naval Aviation had spent a lot of time and effort building up this impressive force and developing its impressive capability. But now the Russian Naval Aviation’s long ranged arm faced a bleak future. With the dramatic change in world geopolitics this highly specialised force no longer really had a function. As with the rest of the Russian Armed Forces money was tight meaning that there was no question of receiving new aircraft for quite some time. Existing aircraft some with barely any flying hours logged found themselves parked at the edge of airbases being slowly cannibalised for parts to keep others flying. Money for fuel was in short supply meaning that training was cut right back. There was just about enough to give aircrews enough time in the air to maintain their ability to actually fly the aircraft. Large scale formation flying to practise the kind of anti surface missions the force had been built for became almost non existent beyond very occasionally putting a few aircraft into the air to allow Russian surface units to partake in air defence exercises. Soon the force began to lose its edge and what had once been an important national capability and the tip of the spear of Soviet and Russian naval air power began to blunt at an increasingly rapid rate.

The Soviet Navy’s plans for beefing up its SSGN force had been centred around the building of the OSCAR II class SSGN.
In the OSCAR II class, the Rubin Design Bureau had produced an extremely impressive submarine. The large vessels weighed in at more than 16,000 tons and boasted a fearsome arsenal of 28 powerful torpedoes and 24 SS-N-19 Shipwreck sub launched anti ship missiles. Strongly built the boats of the class were considered able to shrug of weapons impacts such as torpedoes dropped from aircraft. It was known that NATO had a healthy respect for these boats. They defiantly weren’t cheap but the Soviets and now Russians considered every Rouble to have been money well spent.

A total of 20 boats had originally been planned. At the time of the fall of the USSR 8 boats were in service with more under construction. But now the mighty shipyards in Arkhangelsk that had once pumped out submarines at an alarming rate were now almost silent. Work on building new submarines slowed to a snail’s pace due to a lack of funds with anticipated delivery dates being pushed back by years. Many boats under construction including the 7th TYPHOON class SSBN (The largest submarine ever built) were ordered to be scrapped and broken up for parts to either support the active fleet or help to finish off other boats that were almost complete.

The submarine fleet along with the surface fleet in general that the Russian Navy had inherited from its Soviet predecessor underwent a severe contraction in size. Many of the vessels were pretty elderly anyway as a result of Admiral Gorshkov’s policy of keeping older ships in service to artificially boost the size of the fleet. Financial cutbacks saw the Russian Navy’s active fleet reduce to almost a quarter of the size of the fleet it had inherited from its predecessor. Whereas in most navies a ship that was no longer required would be formally decommissioned and then either sold, stripped for parts, scrapped or perhaps sunk as a target in most cases there would be no formal decommissioning for the former Soviet ships. When it became apparent that there was no money to run older ships they would simply be towed somewhere or perhaps even left tied up at their berths and left to rot. In many cases no one would set foot aboard these vessels for years. What had not long ago been the pride of the Soviet Union was now literally rusting away.
Worryingly this increasingly large fleet of abandoned and decaying vessels included a large number of nuclear powered vessels. Even before the collapse of the USSR the Soviet Navy had only just begun to dismantle and dispose of its first generation of nuclear submarines. Now with a vast number of decommissioned nuclear powered vessels and a limited dismantling capacity and even more limited budget the Russian Navy found itself in an impossible position. It didn’t have the money to run or at least properly maintain all of the many hundreds of nuclear reactors it was responsible for and even with western financial assistance it simply didn’t have the capacity to dismantle the boats and safely remove and dispose of the reactors at anything more than a snail’s pace.

The issue of nuclear safety (and potential catastrophe) relating to former naval vessels became a major source of friction between Russia and other nations especially neighbouring Norway. Even the newer ships still in service weren’t immune to these problems. The 28,000 ton nuclear powered battlecruiser ADMIRAL USHAKOV (formerly the KIROV) pride of the Northern Fleet had to be taken out of service after it suffered a major reactor incident caused by lack of proper maintenance and a lack of funds to repair the vessel.

When the Soviet Union had decided to procure its own supercarriers in 1982 it had been decided to develop a class of nuclear powered vessels to rival the USN’s NIMITZ class. It had been reasoned that the Argentine navies obliteration in the Falklands had proven that smaller and less capable carriers were really just a really expensive way to get a lot of people killed and that history showed that in carrier vs carrier actions the side that could put the largest number and the most capable aircraft into the air would be most likely to come out on top. At the time of this decision the closest thing the Soviet Navy possessed to aircraft carriers were 3 KIEV class Aviation Cruisers with one more under construction. Although considered by many in the West to be light aircraft carriers similar to the INVINCIBLE class in reality these ships were guided missile cruisers that had the ability to operate a number of helicopters and VTOL aircraft. The rather underwhelming capabilities and performance of these ships compared to the carriers the British had used in the Falklands had helped convince the Soviet Minister of Defence Marshal Dmitry Ustinov to support Admiral Gorshkov’s plans for large carriers.
At the time the Soviets had already been in the early stages of the construction of a new class of larger aviation vessels named Project 11435. This project was to have produced a class of 45,000 ton vessels that would have been the Soviet Union’s first proper aircraft carriers. The vessels were to have been conventionally powered and built in a STOBAR configuration with a large ski jump on the bow and an aircraft arresting gear to enable recoveries. They were to have had an air group of up to 30 fixed wing aircraft which were to be navalised versions of either the MIG-29 or the SU-27. As with the Kiev class these new larger ships rather than being true aircraft carriers would still be aircraft carrying guided missile cruisers. While a quantum leap in capability over the KIEV’s that they were based on it had quickly been argued that with an even larger class planned it would be a waste of resources to press ahead with this class especially when they would end up with what was essentially an enlarged version of a concept that hadn’t really lived up to its promise.
The Project 11435 had been useful in that it had given naval architects the experience needed to design a proper carrier and had resulted in a lot of development and research work having already been conducted. However, the Politburo had felt that the money and resources actually required to construct and run the ship would be better spent on the planned larger nuclear powered supercarriers.
Originally a second Project 11435 vessel had been planned and Admiral Gorshkov had stated that he had been willing to forego building this vessel to help fund the first supercarrier. The Politburo had taken him up on this offer but had also ordered that work on the first ship was to be halted and the vessel broken up to free up the slipway. In Nicolayev the first ship was barely 10% complete and was quickly scrapped becoming nothing more than a footnote in naval history books and an occasional talking point on alternate history discussion boards. The shipyard workers and designers instead busied themselves preparing for the commencement of what had been designated as Project 1143.7.

Design and development work had started in late 1982 and had been given essentially a blank check from Admiral Gorshkov who saw the project as key to his vision for a true blue water Soviet Navy. The design for the class had been largely based upon the Soviets previous attempt to build a supercarrier in the 1970’s. The 72,000 ton Project 1153 OREL. While the OREL had never got of the drawing board due to an unwillingness to devote the necessary funds this time Soviet the government had been firmly behind the construction of the ULYANOVSK class and the money was actually forthcoming.
The ULYANOVSK was intended to displace 85,000 tons and carry an air group of up to 70 aircraft. The ship was to have been powered by 4 nuclear reactors and as with previous Soviet attempts at an aircraft carrier was to have been equipped with both catapults and a ski jump and a fearsome array of guided missiles including SSM’s.
The first vessel had been ordered in 1986 and laid down the following year. When the Soviet Union began to fall apart and Ukraine started on its way to becoming an independent nation work on the ULYANOVSK came to an abrupt halt with the vessel at just over 70% completion and due to have been launched the following year. Work also came to a halt on the second ship of the class named KREMLIN which was just over 10% complete.
With the Soviet economy and military budget in freefall the project was suspended in January of 1991 before ultimately being formally cancelled leaving the nearly completed ship and the ship yard in a state of limbo.
With the dissolution of the USSR and establishment of Ukraine as an independent nation a massive question mark arose over who actually owned the vessel. While many in the new Ukrainian admitted to quite liking the idea of operating the various incomplete vessels that now sat idle in Ukrainian yards including the SLAVA class battlecruiser UKRAYINA which had been 95% complete when construction had been halted in reality the Ukrainian Navy was never going to going to be more than a costal defence force and would have no need for or the finances or manpower to operate a fleet of massive and powerful ocean going vessels. The Russian Navy as much as it would have liked to have taken possession of the incomplete vessels knew that like the Ukrainians it no longer had the ability to operate or pay for them. Even attempts to sell the almost complete UKRAINIA to Russia or a third party such as China or at least getting the Russians to come and tow her away to one of their own yards at been fruitless. There was a strong feeling amongst some within the Russian Navy that had been carried over from the Soviet Navy that aircraft carriers were an expensive prestige project that diverted resources away from more important areas such as the submarine force. The phrase “Gorshkov’s vanity projects” had made its way into common use within the navy since the Admirals passing in 1988 and can even still very occasionally be heard today.
Even amongst the carrier programmes supporters there was a lot of resentment. They knew that money was none existent but felt that by cancelling the construction of the ULYANOVSK when she was so close to completion and then refusing to claim the unfinished ship for Russia the actions of the government had meant that all of the time, money, manhours and resources spent on the various carrier programmes over the years had achieved was the Russian Navy still not possessing an aircraft carrier. To this end they had tried to prevent the formal cancellation of the ULYANOVSK in the hopes that one day they may have the money to finance her completion. However, this was never going to happen.

When construction of the ULYANOVSK had been halted the ship had been at the stage where the nuclear reactors were being assembled and beginning to be fuelled. Indeed, one of the first acts of the new Ukrainian government had been to order the dismantling of the incomplete reactors and the safe removal of the nuclear fuel. There was still a lot of bad blood on the part of the Ukrainians aimed at the Russians over the ongoing effects of the Chernobyl disaster and its clean up. It had quickly become apparent that Moscow wasn’t going to be paying for the completion of the ship, weren’t going to come and tow it away to a Russian yard and likely wouldn’t say anything if the Ukrainians claimed her as their own. Therefore, fearful of the prospect of the ship’s half finished reactors causing another catastrophe the shipyard workers now began to dismantle all of their hard work. Doing this however involved cutting entire chunks out of the ship to enable the removal of the reactors effectively ripping its guts out. With the ship now no more a 60,000 ton pile of steel the Ukrainian government had given the order to scrap both vessels. The now renamed Black Sea Shipyard were quite keen to be rid of the vessels as there was no prospect of completion or payment for them and they wanted to free up the slipways for lucrative and paying commercial work. KREMLIN being little more than a keel was scrapped fairly quickly. Before scrapping had gotten started on the ULYANOVSK there was a surprise request from the newly established Chinese embassy in Kiev to visit the ship. The Ukrainians wanting to establish good international relations and slightly hopeful that the Chinese might perhaps be interested in purchasing the ship had agreed and a Chinese delegation including a military attaché had been given a tour of the ship. In later years it would emerge that the Peoples Liberation Army Navy had indeed been interested in purchasing the ship with the intention of either completing and operating it themselves or dismantling it in China to enable them to develop an understanding of how an aircraft carrier was put together. These ambitions had proven fruitless when the military attaché and other technical intelligence personnel posing as diplomatic aides had reported that the damage done to the ship in the removal reactors had rendered it a constructive total loss and that in her present state given she hadn’t ever touched the water she was unseaworthy and would not survive an attempt to tow her thousands of miles to China.
It however suggestive that not long after the ship had been scrapped naval architects and historians and anyone else going through the shipyard’s archives looking for details on the ULYANOVSK found quite a lot of blueprints and technical documents missing without explanation and noted that many workers in the yard seemed to come to work in some rather nice cars.

By February 1993 ULYANOVSK had completely disappeared and now exists only in photographs in some components that had found their way to become part of other ships.
Admiral Sergey Gorshkov had passed away in 1988. In a way it was fortunate that he hadn’t lived long enough to see his lifelong ambition of a blue water Soviet Navy that he had spent decades working towards disintegrate.

Of the KIEV Class the KIEV, MINSK and NOVOROSSIYSK would be retired by 1993 and find their way to various shipyards in China where they were scrapped slowly and forensically as the Chinese tried to learn everything they could about how an aircraft carrier was put together. The ships had been slated for retirement anyway once the ULYANOVSK class began to enter service as it was felt that by comparison they were near worthless as aircraft carriers. This opinion had carried over into the new Russian Navy and been reinforced by harsh financial realities.
For one ship however the future was uncertain. The fourth ship of the KIEV class had been halted during construction and extensively redesigned and was now in effect a unique class of its own. The BAKU which had since be renamed ADMIRAL GORSHKOV had been extensively redesigned and rebuilt into what was essentially a light aircraft carrier. The missile armament had been deleted and, in its place, had been built a full length flight deck including a ski jump and arrestor wires. In effect the ship had been completed as a much smaller version of the ULYANOVSK. The purpose of the ship had been to act as a test bed to develop the technologies and techniques that would be needed to operate fixed wing aircraft from a flight deck. The fact that this would be a cost effective way of obtaining a third aircraft carrier relatively quickly had also been a factor in the GORSHKOV’s redesign. Going forward she was to have been a training ship for the future cadre of Soviet airmen who would fly from the ULYANOVSK and KREMLIN as well as complementing the larger ships. After a difficult and prolonged redesign completion beginning in 1982 the ship had finally entered service in 1989. The ship had been conducting the first set of trials of the two aircraft that were to equip the air groups of the ULYANOVSK class the MIG 29K and the SU 33 when the USSR had collapsed.
These two aircraft projects would never become more than a handful of prototypes.
For the GORSHKOV the future was uncertain. With the ULYANOVSK now cancelled the GORSHKOV found its training role superfluous. She might have carried on as in her role as a light carrier however a serious gearbox fire in 1992 crippled the ship leaving it tied up alongside in major need of repair. As with many other ships the money for badly needed work simply wasn’t there at the moment.
Given that the ship had been barely into her sea and aircraft trials and would still need several years to fully develop and work up a naval air group many within the Russian Navy pointed out that without the money to finance the repairs before this could even be contemplated it would perhaps be better to raise some badly needed hard cash by selling the brand new ship.
Colonel Timur Apakidze is famous for being the first and so far only Russian naval aviator to have ever landed and flown a fixed wing aircraft from a Russian Navy aircraft carrier. Even before everything had fallen apart the legendary and pilot was being called by some as the father of modern Russian naval aviation. He had refused an offer to return to his native Georgia to become the commander of the new Georgian Air Force to stay with his beloved navy. The highly respected officer would become the leading proponent of repairing and retaining the ADMIRAL GORSHKOV in service as a light aircraft carrier.

The remainder of the 20th Century wouldn’t be kind to the once proud and powerful Russian Navy with things only getting worse as time went on. Things would get better in future but for now that future a very long way away.
Operation GRANBY
Though the Soviet Union didn’t finally meet its end until Christmas 1991 it had been obvious even years earlier that the end was nigh and there was no road to recovery. With the overthrow of communist regimes in Europe and the retreat and accelerating decline of the Soviet Union, from about 1989 many Western leaders had started talking about a so called “Peace Dividend”. With the Cold War for all intents and purposes over and the end of show credits playing in the USSR western nations began to look towards implementing significant cuts in their defence expenditure.
The United States was looking at withdrawing the majority of its significant military presence in Europe. On the continent the Iron Curtain had been well and truly pulled aside and European nations were no longer living in fear of Soviet tank armies storming across the Inner German Border which itself was now just a footnote in history (and a series of abandoned fortifications that were now little more than local landmarks). The various Groups of Soviet Forces (Germany, Northern, Central, Southern) that had intimidated Western Europe for decades now found themselves isolated in unwelcoming foreign lands and were desperate to get back to Russia as soon as possible leaving behind a patchwork of empty military bases and unwanted and abandoned equipment in their wake. European nations also began to withdraw their forces from the former frontlines in Germany. Throughout Europe many nations no longer needing to maintain large military establishments began to abolish compulsory military service and chose instead to become professional volunteer forces. In the newly reunified Germany, the Bundeswehr which had absorbed the Nationale Volksarmee (the armed forces of the now non-existent East Germany) found itself one of the most heavily armed nations on earth with close to 600,000 men and masses of vehicles, aircraft and hardware. However, with East Germany and the Warsaw Pact now but a firmly in the history books the Bundeswehr which had throughout its entire existence geared and trained itself solely to take on its opposite number in the East found itself without an enemy or a purpose. Though the Germans were still uneasy about the fact that there were still a good few hundred thousand Russian troops within their borders (Who wouldn’t completely withdraw until 1993) it didn’t take long for the cuts to set in. The recently enlarged Bundeswehr saw its manpower shrink by well over half as hundreds of thousands of men who had until recently been part of the NVA were discharged and the masses of Soviet origin hardware that had previously belonged to the NVA were deemed surplus to requirements and disposed of. With some notable exceptions such as the MIG-29’s and a select few personnel who would be demoted but allowed to stay on for an extra few years there was no place for the former NVA in the reunified Germany and the once mighty force met its end not on the battlefield but on the balance sheet through the means of budget cuts and absorption.
In the years following the reunification of Germany many former members of the NVA felt bitter towards the new German government as a result of their treatment. As well s being unceremoniously drummed out of the military these men found that they would have no pensions and in felt that in many ways they were treated by both government and society with even less respect than former members of the Wehrmacht and SS. There were even stories of former NVA General’s being found working as labourers as they could not afford to retire and could not find any other form of work.

Britain’s response to the money saving opportunity offered by the so called Peace Dividend was to conduct a new defence review starting in 1990.
A defence review usually occurs usually every decade or so (there being no fixed frequency) with the last one having occurred in 1983 in the aftermath of the Falklands Conflict. In theory what happens is that the review first works out what threats the UK is likely to face and what commitments the armed forces will likely be expected to meet over the next decade or so and how best to counter those threats and meet those needs. This then leads on to how the Armed Forces should be structured and equipped in order to meet the requirements identified which in turn leads on into the details of what equipment needs to be procured, what restructuring and reorientations need to take place and what is no longer required. Finally, this leads into how much money will be needed to pay for everything and how budgets will be redistributed.
The 1983 Defence Review had been unique in that it had been one of the few reviews where this process had been followed and where requirement had dictated budget and procurement.
Most of the time what actually happened was that a review would be conducted in response to a reduction in defence spending and the process would be followed in reverse with newly reduced budgets dictating what threats the armed forces could actually afford to meet and equipment and manpower disposed of on the basis of what was affordable rather than what was needed. The Defence Reviews carried out in 1981 and earlier in 1966 were prime examples of this with the 1966 review especially having far reaching consequences for the armed forces and Royal Navy in particular. The worst effects of the 1981 review had fortunately been cancelled out by the Falklands Conflict and the 1983 review which had been carried out as a result of the lessons learnt in the Falklands.
From the outset everyone knew that the 1990 review would be no different. Like most western nations the UK had for years focused on defending Western Europe from the threat posed by the Eastern Bloc. Granted the UK had been involved in plenty of conflicts such as Operation Banner in Northern Ireland, the Falklands Conflict and various bushfire wars around the former British Empire in recent decades but in the grand scheme of things these had been sideshows and distractions from the main focus in Europe and the North Atlantic.
Thus, when the military threat from the East had evaporated the British Armed Forces had found themselves without their previous primary purpose. All of a sudden it was extremely difficult for the armed forces to justify the numerous expensive high technology equipment programmes which were intended to fight an enemy that no longer existed and impossible to justify keeping the British Army of the Rhine at anything near its present size when it was now protecting Germany from nothing. The Government and Treasury had been quick to exploit this. The 1990 review had been due to report in November of 1990 and had it gone ahead by all accounts would have imposed utterly brutal cuts upon the Armed Forces. One Civil Servant who had been involved in the review that would come to be known as one of the great what ifs of British military history years later described it as mere salami slicing on a massive scale. He explained that by this he meant that the review paid next to no attention to the likely threats and taskings that the Armed Forces would face in the future (illustrated by the fact that the British Army and RAF would maintain a significant presence in western and central Germany for the foreseeable future) and was simply an exercise in working out how and where money could be saved.

Fortunately for the Armed Forces much like the still imprisoned General Galtieri had saved them from John Nott’s 1981 Defence Review by invading the Falklands and allowing them to demonstrate their worth in another far flung part of the world another despot was about to unwittingly save them from the effects of another brutal review.

In August of 1990 motivated by a longstanding territorial dispute and struggling to find the money to pay off debts accumulated during the bloody 8 year war with neighbouring Iran Iraq invaded and occupied the tiny neighbouring nation of Kuwait.
Iraq had always claimed that Kuwait was rightfully part of Iraq and that its existence as an independent nation was as a result of British imperialism. Following the Iraq Iran war Iraq’s economy was in a shamble’s and struggling with a heavy debt burden accumulated during the conflict and in desperate need of oil revenues to rebuild and pay off debts. This led to diplomatic conflict with Kuwait whom Iraq accused of oil overproduction thus driving down the price and hurting Iraq’s ability to rebuild. This had led to Iraqi president Saddam Hussein to decide to invade and annex Kuwait.
When they had taken the decision to invade and occupy the Falkland Islands the Argentine Military Junta had sought to unite an increasingly fractured population around a popular patriotic cause and thus preserve their grip on power. It is possible the Saddam Hussein had been at least partially attempting to do the same by annexing Kuwait. The Iraq Iran war had started in 1980 when Saddam Hussein had attempted to invade and annex the western Iranian province of Khuzestan taking advantage of the political chaos in Iran in the wake of the 1979 revolution and of the fact that the Iranian armed forces had been severely weakened by purges of its personnel its inability to source spare parts or sophisticated munitions for its western made equipment due to sanctions.
Unfortunately for Saddam the war hadn’t gone well and had devolved into an 8 year long struggle that had left both sides back where they started and resulted more than 1 million casualties.
Following the failure to achieve decisive victory or anything even remotely resembling it during the war with Iran and the hardships and losses suffered in the process tensions existed within Iraq. Therefore, knowing that Kuwait would likely be a quick and easy win Saddam may have seen invasion as a way to restore confidence in within the armed forces and his regime and unite the Iraqi people around him to see off any internal threats with the added bonus of Iraq being able to establish itself as one of the main regional powers.

The rest of the world and the United States in particular were outraged by this blatant act of aggression and disregard for international law. Even worse was the perceived threat to the world’s oil supplies and the economic effects of the sharp rise in oil prices.
The worry was that Saddam having taken Kuwait may decide to push on into Saudi Arabia in order to establish Iraq as the dominant regional power. The present situation was unacceptable to the rest of the world and things clearly could not be allowed to get worse.
This resulted in a response on two fronts. The first was through diplomatic means in the form of sanctions against Iraq. The second was the military option.
Over the course of the following 6 months in what would become known as Operation Desert Shield a massive military build up took place in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf as the United States along with the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Egypt France and other nations assembled a force close to one million men strong with the aim of both protecting Saudi Arabia from further Iraqi aggression and ultimately liberating Kuwait. Diplomatic efforts towards a peaceful resolution had continued during this build up there comes a point where a build up for a major military operation develops a nearly unstoppable momentum of its own. This momentum makes military conflict more likely the longer its allowed to go on for as it becomes more and more difficult to stop and walk away without losing face. Saddam’s refusal to withdraw from Kuwait merely sealed the deal.

Therefore, in the early hours of the 17th of January 1991 the coalition began what would become a 42 day long air campaign against the Iraqi’s. Within a week total air dominance had been achieved and the campaign began to switch to attacking Iraqi forces on the ground in preparation for the coalition ground offensive that would soon come. The Iraqi air force was shattered as a fighting force with 36 aircraft downed in air to air combat and more than 100 more destroyed on the ground. Seeing it as their only hope for survival more than 100 Iraqi aircraft fled to the territory of their recent enemy Iran. The Iranians were quite pleased with this turn of events as chose to regard the aircraft as a form of compensation for the aircraft they had lost at the hands of the Iraqi air force. Saddam’s hope that they would merely impound the aircraft and airmen and soon return them was found to be one of many terrible miscalculations.
The air campaign was merely the prelude to the ground phase of the war. The operation code named Desert Storm (also commonly known as the 100 hour campaign) aimed to isolate and then destroy Iraqi forces in Kuwait by advancing into southern Iraq and encircling them before finally clearing them out.
At the start of the campaign Saddam Hussein had bombastically proclaimed that the mother of all battles had begun. 100 hours later western commentators were proclaiming Desert Storm to be one a one sided massacre.
The Iraqi army had been utterly crushed and swept aside. Both Iraqi and coalition commanders had severely overestimated the Iraq military’s ability and willingness to resist. It was notable that the only reason why Saddam Hussein had not been forced out of power by the coalition advance was not because of any ability of his forces to hold back the enemy but because the coalition had allowed him to remain in power. Having achieved everything they had set out to do in liberating Kuwait and removing the threat to Saudi Arabia the Coalition had decided against pushing on towards Bagdad for their own political reasons.
The conflict was also notable for having taken place right at the end of the Cold War meaning that coalition forces were made up of men who had been trained and equipped to fight the Soviets and that the Iraqi forces were equipped with the same kind of Soviet made hardware that they would have faced in the war in Europe that had never happened.
The commander of the British Forces in what became known as the Gulf War Lt General Peter de la Billiere (who had been the Director SAS during the Falklands Campaign) later remarked that the Gulf War had presented the British and American militaries with the opportunity to finally fight the kind of war that they had spent so many decades and so much money preparing for without having the inconvenience of a competent enemy.
The poor performance of the Iraqi forces and in particular their equipment had shocked many. In particular Iraq’s Soviet made tanks such as the T72 had been found to be almost completely useless when faced with the superior American Abrams and British Challenger’s. Many of the formerly Soviet and now Russian military commanders still in their bases in eastern Germany were shocked and shuddered at the thought of just how badly outmatched they would have been and how short their life expectancies would have been if they ever had been ordered to go up against the NATO forces on the other side of the Inner German Border.
One significant consequence of this was a dramatic change in direction for China’s People’s Liberation Army. Up until this point the PLA had followed the doctrine of quantity over quality and based most of their doctrine on the belief that enough numbers could overwhelm any opponent no matter how much more advanced, they were. The PLA had actually considered the Iraqi forces to be significantly more technologically advanced and better trained than they were and had to a degree looked up to them. The almost overnight destruction of the Iraqi armed forces had come as a terrible shock to the PLA and been cause for reflection and soul searching as they realised all of their beliefs and assumptions had been literally blown apart. If the Iraqi’s had been little more than a speed bump for the Americans then they would probably cut through the PLA as if it wasn’t even there. The result was a complete change in direction as the PLA decided that they would need to become a high technology force while retaining their numerical superiority.

Britain had played a major part in the Gulf War with its contribution being named Operation GRANBY. With no need to counter the Soviets any more the UK had had a much freer hand and had been able to deploy almost 55,000 men to the Gulf.
The British Army’s contribution had come in the form of the reinforced 1st Armoured Division. The Division and its constituent brigades (4th & 7th Armoured Brigades) and regiments had added yet another battle honour to their proud histories taking part in the gigantic armoured “left hook” which had outflanked the Iraqis and pushed into Iraq. The still new and state of the art Challenger MBT’s supported by Warrior IFV’s had easily cut through the Iraqi Republican Guard divisions opposing them destroying well over 300 enemy vehicles for hardly any losses of their own. One Challenger had written itself into the record books when it had destroyed an Iraqi tank by landing a hit on it at a distance of 3 miles.
During the Falklands Campaign the RAF had been somewhat perceived as playing second fiddle to the RN and Army. In the aftermath of that conflict the RAF had often found itself the butt of jokes from members of the RN, Army and RM about having to remind everyone that they were also there. The RAF’s most visible contribution had been the Black Buck Vulcan bombing missions which had set records for the longest bombing mission in history (subsequently broken by USAF B52’s in the Gulf War). Since then, commentators had debated whether Black Buck was carried out for reasons of military necessity or as a way for the RAF to prove its worth.
In the Gulf War however the RAF arguably made up Britain’s most significant contribution to the coalition deploying hundreds of aircraft of multiple types fulfilling every role imaginable. Tornado GR1’s proved very effective in putting Iraqi air bases out of action by destroying runways while the Jaguar had also been a success in its ground attack and close support role. C130 Hercules transport aircraft once again provided a vital air bridge with the UK, Nimrod MPA’s patrolled the seas and even provided SIGINT and ELINT capability and Chinook and Puma transport helicopter played a vital role in supporting British and coalition ground forces.
Even the Buccaneers had one last hurrah supporting other RAF aircraft by carrying laser targeting pods for precision guided munitions and carrying out their own strikes. After a career spanning nearly 30 years that was now coming to its end many serving and former RAF and FAA men were delighted that the type got to go out with a bang.
Tornado F3 interceptors were also deployed to the Gulf by the RAF but despite flying hundreds of sorties never encountered the opportunity to engage any enemy aircraft. One glaring omission from Operation Granby’s air order of battle was the Phantom. The type was showing its age by this point and it was felt that with all of the other aircraft being deployed to theatre the capability that Phantom’s would bring wouldn’t really justify the effort required to deploy and support them.
Britain’s brand new Hornet’s on the other hand would have been an excellent addition to the order of battle. However, the type was still in the extremely early stages of entering service and both the RAF and FAA were yet to stand up their first squadrons and were still at least a year and a half away from being ready to deploy. Both the RAF and FAA did however pay very close attention to the performance of the USN’s and USMC’s F/A-18 Hornets during the Gulf War.

The air force that Britain had deployed to the Gulf was a very different beast to the one that had taken part in the Falklands. Older aircraft types had been retired and replaced with new cutting edge types such as the Tornado and even more significant the RAF had this time been able to arrive in force.
The Royal Navy on the other hand found its role in the Gulf War very different from the central role it had played in the Falklands campaign. The state of the RN at the time and the nature of the conflict meant that it played a much more limited role in the Gulf War supporting the primarily US Navy coalition naval forces.
The Royal Navy during the Gulf War had two areas of operation the Persian Gulf and the Eastern Mediterranean. Within the Persian Gulf itself the RN’s most valuable contribution in terms of capability were the 6 HUNT class mine counter measure vessels that cleared the coastal waters around Kuwait to allow larger vessels to close with the coast to provide naval gunfire support. The RN also contributed frigates and destroyers as escorts for the vast armada that the US Navy deployed which grew to include no less than 6 carrier battle groups. In one notable incident HMS GLOUCESTER used her Sea Dart SAM’s to destroy a pair of Iraqi Silkworm SSM’s that had been launched against the battleship USS MISSOURI which thanks to RN mine clearing efforts had closed with the coast and had been using her 16 inch guns to conduct devastatingly effective shore bombardments.
In another notable action the Iraqi Navy was virtually wiped out in a single day when it was attacked by Sea Skua armed Lynx helicopters that had been launched by RN frigates and destroyers that had been covering the RN MCMV force as it went about its vital work.
The timing of the Gulf War caught the RN in a slightly awkward position in terms of the makeup of the fleet. HMS EAGLE had been decommissioned in 1986 and gone to the breakers yard two years later. The future HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH was still years away from commissioning meaning that in terms of carriers the RN only had its pair of INVINCIBLE class light VSTOL carriers and one of those was undergoing a refit at the time.
The RN had deployed a battlegroup based on HMS INDOMITABLE to the eastern Mediterranean. The Sea Harrier’s that made up her air group were fine aircraft and a massive improvement upon the earlier models that her sister HMS INVINCIBLE had carried during the Falklands campaign. However, given that the Iraqi air force at the start of the conflict at least operated advanced and fast aircraft such as the MIG-29 and MIG-25 it was felt that there would be little sense in putting Sea Harriers into harms away against these aircraft when the USN’s F-14D’s and F/A-18’s would be a much better match. Therefore, the INDOMITABLE battlegroup had remained in the Eastern Med for two reasons. One was to protect the coalition sea lines of communication which went through the Suez Canal and across the Mediterranean into the Atlantic.
The Sea Harrier’s still managed to do sterling work providing air cover in the Eastern Mediterranean. More than once strikes launched from HMS INDOMITABLE against targets in north western Iraq were considered but ultimately decided against as these targets could be more easily reached from bases in Turkey.
The other reason for INDOMITABLE remaining in the Med was as a contingency in case of a widening of the conflict. Saddam Hussein had launched a large number of Scud ballistic missiles at Israel in an attempt to provoke them into becoming involved in the conflict. If this had come to pass it was unknown how the Arab nations that made up a significant proportion of the coalition and in particular Syria would react. Therefore, it was considered sensible to keep a carrier in the Mediterranean to guard against all possibilities. In the end Israeli intervention/retaliation was only averted through a massive diplomatic effort and the diversion of coalition air and special forces assets to locating and destroying Iraqi Scud missile units.

HMS INDOMITABLE wasn’t the only INVINCIBLE class aircraft carrier to take part in the conflict. The Royal Australian Navy had deployed a number of ships to the Persian Gulf including the aircraft carrier HMAS AUSTRALIA which had begun its life as HMS ILLUSTRIOUS. The AUSTRALIA had carried an air group consisting of American manufactured AV-8B Harrier II’s and Sea King helicopters including a number of UK built Westland Sea King ASaC MK 7 AEW helicopters. The RAN AV-8B’s had operated alongside their USMC counterparts operating from the LPH’s USS TARAWA and USS NASSAU and had proven themselves to be an extremely welcome addition by the USMC effortlessly slotting in with the so called “Gator Navy”. The AV-8B’s were used to provide close air support to the USMC’s 1st and 2nd marine Division’s as they pushed into Kuwait. The strike carrier role played by HMAS AUSTRALIA had stood in stark contrast to the less visible role played by HMS INDOMITABLE located far away from the action.
Adapt and Overcome
When it had become clear in August of 1990 that Britain was likely to become involved in a major conflict in the Gulf the decision had been quietly made to pause the then ongoing Defence Review. Politically things would have reflected pretty badly on the government if it found itself releasing a review imposing brutal cuts upon the armed forces while they might potentially be involved in a high intensity (and potentially high casualty) shooting war. At the time of this decision there hadn’t really been any clear idea of when to carry on again beyond “when this thing in the Gulf was over”. Ongoing operations in the Gulf meant that the unfinished review was pushed to the back of everyone’s minds as the senior officers and civil servants writing it found themselves busy dealing with more pressing concerns. It wasn’t until March 1991 that consideration was given to continuing with the review. However much like what had occurred in the aftermath of the Falklands the Armed Forces and MOD insisted that to pick up the review so soon after the end of hostilities would be unsound as they would be conducting their own studies into the conduct and performance of the armed forces during the Gulf Campaign.
Given the length of time that it would take to undertake these studies and mindful of the potential game changing effects of their findings as had happened as a result of the Falklands Conflict the Secretary of State for Defence Tom King was persuaded by the argument that it would be better to abandon the paused 1990 review and start afresh.
A new review was therefore initiated in August of 1991 and delivered its findings in February of 1992.

The 1992 review which became known simply as the Strategic Defence Review or SDR took place against a very different backdrop compared to the 1990 review. It was felt that the Gulf War had demonstrated the kind of operations that the Armed Forces would be likely to conduct going forward. For decades the Armed Forces had been pivoted towards fighting large scale set piece battles in continental Europe. Their main objective in effect had been one of providing deterrence both conventional and nuclear while still maintaining some capacity for what had been described as out of area operations arising from emerging situations such as the Falklands and Northern Ireland.
The review stated that the armed forces focus should now be on rapid reaction due to the more unpredictable and uncertain nature of the post Cold War world with the emphasis now to be on power projection and overseas interventions.
The Gulf War was used as an example of the kind of overseas intervention in response to a suddenly appearing situation that the armed forces should be reconfigured to respond to. The review did however note that it had taken a month’s long build up to deliver sufficient forces into the Gulf theatre before combat operations could begin and this had only been possible largely due to the cooperation of the enemy (who had very thoughtfully not lifted a finger to do anything that might hinder or prevent this build up and merely waited until the coalition was ready to begin hostilities on its terms). Therefore, a need had been identified for the ability to mobilise, deploy and sustain significant forces much more quickly.
Despite all of these positive sounds statements the Treasury hadn’t just gone away and were still going to get their pounds of flesh from the post Cold War defence budget.
The phrase “leaner but meaner” was often used in conjunction with the report which read as follows:



  • The Royal Navy would incur a manpower loss of 10,000 which would reduce the service to a strength of 60,000.
  • The Women’s Royal Naval Service would be disbanded and its members integrated into the regular RN which with the exception of some branches including the Royal Marines and Submarine service would open recruitment to females. This would be carried out in conjunction with the disbandment and integration of the Women’s Royal Army Corps and the Women’s Royal Air Force. Officially this move was in response to changes in society and the necessity of moving with the times. While this wasn’t untrue there were other motivating factors.
    In the aftermath of the Falklands War the Armed Forces had enjoyed a boom in recruitment. However, 8 years later the majority of those recruits had done their time and left the forces meaning that the forces were once again fighting the never ending battle against manpower shortages. By opening recruitment to women, the pool of potential recruits would be doubled overnight going a long way towards alleviating manpower issues. It would take some years to build up a significant female cadre within the forces and it be a bumpy road in some areas but it was a journey that in the 1990’s was now unavoidable.

  • The TRIDENT and VANGUARD class SSBN programme would continue as planned.

  • The UK’s Trident SLBM and VANGUARD class SSBN programme was one of two vastly expensive megaprojects that the MOD was undertaking at the time the review was published (the other being the QE class aircraft carrier’s).
    Questions had been asked about the continuing need for an expensive submarine based deterrent or even whether it was worth continuing to have nuclear weapons at all in the post Cold War world. However there had never been any serious consideration given to anything even vaguely like nuclear disarmament. The Soviet Union may have gone but their nuclear stockpiles still existed. In fact, with the breakup of the USSR there were now more nuclear armed states in the world than ever before and nuclear proliferation was a serious concern. By this point the Trident programme was far too advanced and far too much money had been spent to even consider cancellation.
    Some thought had been given to perhaps scaling the programme. The final VANGUARD class SSBN HMS VENGEANCE wasn’t due to be laid down until 1993. Considerable savings could be achieved by not pressing ahead with this boat and some in the treasury were pressing hard for this option. In the end the Prime Minister had personally intervened to stop talk of any such nonsense. With only 3 boats it would have been impossible to maintain continuous at sea deterrence and this was not something that the PM was willing to even consider giving up. In fact, much to the ire of the Treasury further funds would likely have to be allocated to the programme to speed up the introduction of the VANGUARD’s owing to worsening issues with the rapidly aging RESOLUTION class SSBN’s.

  • The VALIANT & CHURCHILL class SSN’s would be retired without replacement

  • These 5 boats would be taken out of service as part of a general downsizing of the fleet. The boats were getting on in years (the youngest HMS COURAGEOUS being 22 years old) and becoming increasingly obsolete and expensive to maintain. In the post Cold War world now without the need to have to counter the once formidable Soviet submarine force there was going to be less demand for expensive SSN’s and so getting rid of these elderly boats was one of the first decisions that had been made.
    This did however raise the issue of how to dispose of nuclear powered vessels. In true government style the review made no mention of this and the can would be repeatedly kicked down the road while the now decommissioned boats slowly rusted in a basin in Devonport Dockyard.

  • A new class of SSN would be ordered to replace the SWIFTSURE class
  • Previously a new class of SSN’s had been planned as a follow on to the TRAFALGAR class boats under the auspices of the SSN20 project to replace the VALIANT and CHURCHILL class. This project had been cancelled when VSEL had been awarded the contract to build the future HMS EAGLE which alongside the ongoing VANGUARD class building programme meant that Barrow which was the only yard capable of building nuclear powered vessels simply had no room for another project. With HMS EAGLE along with the second boat of the Vanguard class HMS VICTORIOUS due to launch in 1993 space would become available to start working on new boats. A new set of design studies would be undertaken with cost control being a key priority. The intention would be to build upon the still very recent TRAFALGAR class to produce an evolved design or “Batch 2” for reasons controlling costs and technical risk. This project would for now be known as the Batch 2 Trafalgar Class or B2TC. With the RN’s SSN fleet now being reduced in size this new class would serve as a replacement for the SWIFTSURE class.

  • The remaining OBERON class SSK’s would be withdrawn from service as soon as possible.
  • These 1960’s vintage boats were at the end of their design lives and were now completely obsolete. Decommissioning the entire class would free up the significant sums of money it was costing to run them and would free up a significant amount of manpower for reassignment to other boats or in many cases for redundancy.

  • The UPHOLDER class SSK Programme would be capped at 4 boats
  • This one had caused many headaches and less than pleasant exchanges between the MOD and Cammel Laird. The original plan had been to build 12 boats in 3 batches of 4. Batch 3 hadn’t been ordered yet so cancelling that was simple enough. Of the first batch of four two were already in service with the other two due to join the fleet within the next year. Batch 2 had been the problem seeing as the first 2 of these boats were already under construction. The contract for these boats included a cancellation cause meaning that the MOD would have to compensate Cammel Laird for the money they had already spent so far on building HMS UNDAUNTED and HMS UNBEATEN. Worse still though the order for the second pair of batch 2 boats (which would have been named HMS UPROAR and HMS UNRIVALLED) had not yet been placed the letters of intent had been signed meaning that Cammel Laird had already been preparing to begin construction. Cammel Laird were now threatening to take the MOD to court over what they felt to be a violation of an agreement which had left them out of pocket.
    Fortunately, it was at this point that the MOD’s attempts to market the UPHOLDER class had paid off and help had come from the Royal Canadian Navy. Following the abandonment of the unrealistic CANADA class SSN project the Canadians had been looking for a new class of SSK to replace their OBERON class boats. A deal had been struck with the Canadian’s whereby the contract for the Batch 2 UPHOLDER class would be amended to have the boats completed to Canadian specifications. As soon as each boat was handed over to the Royal Navy as per contract it would be immediately (on the same day) sold to the Canadian’s who would make down payments well in advance (non refundable in case anyone on the other side of the pond was tempted to change their minds).
  • The RN’s four UPHOLDER class SSK’s would be based at HMS Dolphin in Gosport where they would be used for specialised work that the larger SSN’s were less suited for such as shallow water operations, SF insertion, surveillance and so on. RCN submarines would also temporarily be based at Gosport while the Canadian crews were trained by the RN on their new boats.

  • The Tomahawk TLAM would be procured for the RN’s SSN and SSK fleet.
  • The British had been extremely impressed with the performance and capability provided by the submarine launched TLAM during the Gulf War. It had been decided to procure this missile as it was judged to be a relatively cheap way of significantly boosting the potency of the Submarine Service and would partially make up for the reduced number of submarines.

Aircraft Carriers

  • The CV-90 Programme would continue as planned
  • Along with the Trident programme this was one of the most expensive defence projects currently underway and one that the Treasury had been desperate to scale back. The first ship HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH was already in the water fitting out and simply too far along to cancel.
    The second ship of the class HMS EAGLE was about 18 months behind her sister in terms of build progression and was the obvious candidate for being axed. The ship had been laid down in 1988 and was now less than a year away from being launched. Had the defence review gone ahead in 1990 as originally planned it is likely that EAGLE would have been cancelled. However, by 1992 the ship was far along enough that cancelling her was politically unenviable and would have been a PR catastrophe to say nothing of the money wasted. Other possibilities had been explored such as selling or laying up one of the ships but these options had been considered unviable for practical and political reasons. Therefore, both ships would enter service and actually fitted quite well into the MOD’s vision of power projection and overseas intervention.

  • HMS INDOMITABLE would be decommissioned
  • HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH was now reaching the point where her ships company would soon start to be assembled. In order to free up the necessary manpower it had been decided to withdraw one of the INVINCIBLE class slightly earlier than planned. HMS INVINCIBLE had recently completed a refit and was in a better condition than her sister and so she would be retained in service until the QE reached her initial operating capability at which point, she would be withdrawn with her crew going to HMS EAGLE.
    The early withdrawal of INDOMITABLE would have the knock on effects of saving the money it would have cost to operate her for her planned final years and allow some of the Sea Harrier squadrons to begin converting onto the Hornet FGR2. Though nothing was confirmed it was speculated that the RN had offered up INDOMITABLE as a sacrifice in order to safeguard the future of HMS EAGLE.
    The INDOMITABLE and ultimately INVINCIBLE would be disposed of by sale with India, Brazil and Australia being identified as the most promising candidates. Since the deal to sell them the former HMS HERMES had fallen through the British Government gently trying to woo the Indian Navy into taking on one of the Invincible’s when they became available. Australia already operated one of the class in the form of the former ILLUSTRIOUS. In the wake of the performance of HMAS AUSTRALIA in the Gulf War as a strike carrier it was hoped that the RAN might be interested in taking on a second of the class. If not to operate then perhaps as a source of spare parts to support the AUSTRALIA.
Amphibious Warfare

  • A new class of Amphibious Assault ship would be built to replace the FEARLESS class LPD’s
  • HMS FEARLESS and HMS INTREPID were now approaching 30 years old. Being one of the few remaining steam powered vessels in the RN they were increasingly difficult and expensive to maintain and would need to be replaced soon if Britain wished to retain amphibious warfare capability. To this end a new pair of Amphibious Warfare vessels would be built. Various design concepts had already been studied. The RN had been without a dedicated LPH since the retirement of HMS HERMES and some had been pushing for a new ship to fill this role. The options put forward were to either convert one of the INVINCIBLE class to an LPH configuration when it was no longer required as a carrier or to build a completely new ship based on the INVINCIBLE class design. The first option had been discarded as it was felt that a converted INVINCIBLE wouldn’t really be able to provide a capacity for a meaningful embarked military force. The second option had been rejected out of hand seeing as the money and manpower to build and operate a completely new class of large helicopter carrier wouldn’t be forthcoming.
    The new ships would be a combined LPH/LPD type of vessel. Initial artists impressions showed a ship that outwardly looked like a large LPH with plenty of helicopter carrying capacity but also equipped with a large well deck and vehicle deck. These ships would be at least as big as an INVINCIBLE class ship and most likely reach anywhere between 25 and 30 thousand tons. However, with the capability they would offer and the fact that thanks to advances in automation and the less complicated nature of the ship the crew size could be kept reasonably modest they were felt to be good value for money.


  • HMS BRISTOL would be withdrawn from service
  • Ships that are the only example of their class are always disproportionally expensive to operate and maintain. HMS BRISTOL was a large ship with a large crew and lots of unique systems. Therefore, the decision made been made to retire her as a cost and manpower saving measure.

  • HMS ANTRIM would be withdrawn from service
  • The COUNTY class destroyer HMS ANTRIM had suffered heavy damage during the Falklands conflict and had been rebuilt as a training ship and since spent most of her time conducting training cruises for the officer cadets at Britannia Royal Naval College. Given the ships age and tightening budgets decommissioning her had been an easy decision. ANTRIM was one of the dwindling of steam powered ships left in the RN making her disproportionately expensive to run. Officer cadets would still receive at sea training by being seconded to frontline ships which was felt to be more cost effective than maintaining a dedicated training ship and in some ways having them aboard active fighting ships would probably give them a better degree of experience.
    HMS BRISTOL would become a static training ship in Portsmouth and take over some of ANTRIM’s former training duties. A number of the other COUNTY class destroyers had been sold to Chile. However, having suffered significant damage in the Falklands then being rebuilt as a training ship without any armament save for a pair of 4.5 inch guns it was unlikely that the Chileans or anyone else for that matter would be interested in purchasing the ship. Therefore, ANTRIM would almost certainly soon find herself on a one way trip to the ship breakers yard. However, given the number of officer’s who had spent the very early careers aboard her HMS ANTRIM would not die out of the RN’s memory for some years.

  • The UK would partake in the HORIZON class programme
  • The UK had originally been a member of the multinational NATO Frigate Replacement for the 90’s (NFR90) project which had fallen apart owing to each nation’s incompatible differing requirements. The UK would therefore team up with France and Italy to design a new type of air warfare destroyer with which the UK intended to replace the TYPE 42 destroyer.

  • The TYPE 21 Frigates would be withdrawn from service without replacement
  • This one was purely down to cost cutting and manpower reductions resulting from planned redundancies. Equipped with Exocet SSM’s, a 4.5 inch gun and Phalanx CWIS these ships were fine for general patrol work but lacked the capability that would allow them to survive in a modern high intensity naval conflict and thus could no longer justify their retention in a time of shrinking budgets. Of the eight ships originally built two HMS ANTELOPE and HMS ARDENT had been sunk by air attack at the battle of San Carlos during the Falklands. Already Pakistan had all but agreed to purchase the remaining six vessels.
    The LEANDER class were being replaced on a nearly one for one basis by the new TYPE 23 frigates and so the withdrawal of the TYPE 21’s would represent an immediate real term reduction in the size of the fleet as demanded by the Treasury

  • Some consideration had been given to retiring the first four TYPE 22 frigates as they were felt likely to have some resale value. However, given the demand for escorts for the QUEEN ELIZABETH class carrier battle groups it was felt unwise to let go of these still very capable ASW frigates and so this idea had been abandoned. This had partially influenced the decision to decommission the TYPE 21’s.

  • The TYPE 23 Frigate programme would be cut back to 18 ships
  • Originally this programme had been expected to somewhere between 18 to 25 ships to replace the LEANDER class. Budget cuts had dictated that once the minimum planned level of 18 had been reached that would be it. Already the TYPE 23 was attracting considerable interest from abroad with Chile having announced their desire to purchase two vessels and Singapore expressing a strong interest.
    So far 3 vessels were in service with the Royal Navy with seven more in various stages of construction and others expected to follow at a rate of about two vessels per year.

  • Decommissioning of the remaining LEANDER Class FRIGATES was to be accelerated
  • This was in order to achieve some short term cost savings to appease the Treasury as the decommissioned vessels would be a source of spare parts for those remaining in service while relieving pressure on manpower. Originally the vessels of this class were to have been replaced on a one for one basis by the TYPE 23’s. With the number of TYPE 23’s to be built now reduced removing a number of the older LEANDER’s from service almost immediately could be justified while the rest of the class largely stuck to the previously planned schedule.

  • A second batch of seven SANDOWN Class MCM vessels would be ordered
  • The HUNT class Mine Counter Measures vessels had performed spectacularly well during the Gulf War and had made a vital contribution to the success of naval operations by clearing Iraqi mines vast stretches of water. The RN was keen to capitalise on its success and capability in this somewhat niche aspect of warfare. The SANDOWN class which had just been beginning to enter service were a follow on from the HUNT class. The SANDOWN’s were somewhat larger and significantly more capable than the HUNT’s being true minehunters as opposed to simply minesweepers. A second batch of SANDOWN’s was to be ordered to allow for the retirement of the remaining elderly TON and RIVER class vessels while increasing the RN’s mine warfare capability using a smaller number of hulls.

  • The final 2 of the planned 6 FORT II class Replenishment Oilers would not be built
  • The FORT II class replenishment ships were large and capable ships ideally suited for supporting the carrier task groups that the RN would soon be operating. However their large size also made them expensive to build and operate and so the final two examples of the class had found themselves cancelled as a savings measure.


  • RAF GUTERSLOH & RAF WILDENRATH would be closed down
  • As part of a general scaling down of British forces in Germany the RAF was withdrawing the majority of its strength from Germany and back to the UK. As a result of this two of its four air bases in the country would become surplus to requirements and be closed down. RAF Wildenrath had been intended to become the base for the RAF’s Hornet force in Germany. These plans would now be abandoned and all RAF Hornet FGR1’s would be based within the UK. This allowed much of the support infrastructure to be concentrated at fewer locations all of which would be in the UK thereby saving money in the long term. Ownership of RAF Gutersloh would be transferred to the British Army. The Army was closing down a number of its locations in Germany and would use the former RAF base to accommodate a number of logistics and Army Air Corps units relocated from the closed establishments and allow for a more modern facility to be built onsite to accommodate these units.

  • RAF FINNINGLEY in the UK would be closed down
  • The Former V Bomber base had been selected for closure to appease the Treasury demands for savings measures. The base had been chosen as it was now a training airfield whose facilities could be replicated elsewhere and not being an frontline airbase its closure wouldn’t have much of an impact on the RAF’s operational capabilities. Finningley had also been chosen for closure as it was judged to have a high resale value and this extra money would mean that the RAF wouldn’t be forced to close more facilities. Ultimately the former RAF Finningley would be transformed into a civilian international airport serving the city of Sheffield.
  • The RAF would incur a manpower reduction of 15,000 reducing its strength by nearly 20% to 72,000.
  • The remaining Buccaneer’s would be withdrawn from service
  • Just over 60 Buccaneer strike aircraft still in service with the RAF. Some of these aircraft had been inherited from the FAA and nearly all were reaching the end of their lives. As part of the general downsizing of the RAF the Buccaneer’s would be withdrawn from service immediately without a direct aircraft for aircraft replacement.

  • The remaining HARRIER GR3’s would be withdrawn and production of the HARRIER GR5/7 curtailed
  • At the time of the review just over 60 older Harrier GR3’s remained in service while more than 100 newer Harrier’s were in service or on the production line. These newer aircraft were split between the GR5 which was itself being upgraded to GR7 standard and a number of newbuild GR7’s. The decision to remove the GR3 and curtail production of the newer Harrier variants would effectively halve the Harrier force resulting in significant cost savings.

  • The Number of Nimrod MPA’s in service would be reduced
  • Activity from the formerly Soviet Submarine fleet had declined massively with hundreds of boats laid up and the Russian Navy barely able to even keep SSBN’s at sea on deterrent patrol (In 1992 to 1993 not one Russian SSBN patrol would be carried out). Therefore, the opportunity had been seized to make a small reduction in the MPA fleet. Of the 36 Nimrod’s currently in service the 6 with the most hours on their logs would be withdrawn from their squadrons and gradually ripped apart in their new role as sources of spare parts for the aircraft that remained flying.

  • 60 Hornet FGR2’s would be procured as a replacement for the Jaguar
  • This was the one bit of good news for the RAF. They had been very pleased with the Hornet FGR1’s they had already received and had also been very impressed by the performance of the American and Canadian F/A-18’s in the Gulf. Therefore, they had decided to procure the two seat FGR2 which was geared more towards ground attack to replace the Jaguar. The review had already stated that there would be no direct replacement for the Buccaneer’s. The RAF already had 120 FGR1’s on order and had wanted another 100 FGR2’s the realities of the new financial climate however had seen this slashed to only 60 which would replace the Jaguar on a less than one for one basis.

  • The Tornado GR1 would be upgraded
  • The Tornado GR1 had given a good account of itself in the Gulf and was approaching the point where it was due for a midlife upgrade anyway. The new GR4 variant would enhance the Tornado’s capabilities and incorporate lessons learnt in the Gulf. The flipside of this was that out of 200 Tornado GR1’s originally produced only 170 would receive the upgrade with the remainder eventually withdrawn from service. This was an unfortunate necessity as with budgets being cut the only way the RAF had been able to scrape together enough money to pay for the GR4 upgrade programme had been to redirect money saved by reducing the size of the Tornado fleet.

  • £350 million would be spent on laser guided munitions and target designators
  • With a severe reduction in combat air power strength, it was important to make the best use possible of the remaining aircraft. The Gulf War had demonstrated the value and usefulness of precision guided munitions and convinced the RAF to replace its entire bomb stock (Conveniently already depleted by the demands of the Gulf War) with PGM’s. Overall stocks of munitions however would be reduced with a number of munitions storage facilities emptied and closed down. The large quantity of munitions expended in the Gulf had helped considerably with the issue of safe disposal.
    Britain had always struggled to afford to maintain the quantities of munitions that would likely be needed to fight a major war. Even the relatively limited conflicts that had taken place in the Falklands and Persian Gulf had nearly exhausted the munitions stockpiles. The solution to this problem came in the form of the various forms of precision guided ground attack munitions that boasted a high success rate and meant that fewer weapons would have to be kept in the arsenal.


Out of all the services the British Army could quite legitimately claim to have suffered the worst at the hands of the review. More than 30,000 men would be made redundant leaving its strength at 118,000. Deports and other facilities would be closed with the land sold off to raise cash. The British Army of the Rhine in Germany would see its strength cut by nearly 60% and would itself be renamed British Forces Germany.
The aim was to create a smaller but better equipped and more versatile army. One senior officer involved in the review explained that the aim was to transform the army from one that killed a man by repeatedly hitting him with a sledge hammer to one that killed him by cutting his throat with a scalpel in just one movement. In terms of equipment programmes there would be some good news.

  • While it had achieved phenomenal kill ratios in the Gulf the Challenger MBT had shown that it had plenty of limitations and issues. Therefore, it would be replaced by a completely new and superior MBT (albeit at a reduced number). This hadn’t been the original intention as the issues with and limitations of the Challenger had already been known even before the start of the conflict and a programme to rectify these had already been underway. However as with many defence projects that had come before scope creep and thus budget creep had set in and what had started out as a simple upgrade package had become a programme to build an entirely new vehicle.

  • The British Army would procure the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter. Having seen US Army Apache’s in action in Iraq noting how vastly superior they were to their own TOW equipped Lynx MK7’s especially in the close air support role the British Army which had already been thinking about new attack helicopters had decided to purchase the Apache. The MOD did receive some criticism for simply deciding upon the Apache rather than holding an open competition or allowing for the possibility of a homegrown design. The MOD justified their decision by stating that the Apache offered the best value for money due to economies of scale and not requiring any further development work (unlike some of the competing designs which were themselves still under development) and being combat proven. While the option of procuring some sort of British designed attack helicopter had been discounted owing to no money being available to finance the development of such and aircraft and not wanting to wait for the years it would likely take to do so the MOD did agree to look at the prospect of the British Army’s Apache’s being license built in Britain.

  • New and modern small arms and other bits improved individual equipment such as body armour, boots and bergens would be procured.
Where thing became very unpleasant was when it came to the restructuring that was going to be forced upon them as a result of the army’s dramatic downsizing. Officially no regiments would be outright disbanded. In reality they would be amalgamated into existing units or to form new units with new names while maintaining the lineage and traditions of the amalgamated regiments. In most of the affected unit’s amalgamation meant a change of name and cap badge to something new and completely unfamiliar and many men being lost during the transition. Some regiments would continue to exist but find themselves losing whole battalions (notably the Guards regiments finding themselves now single battalion units). For example, virtually none of the Army’s numerous bands survived with their original names intact.

There was even an abortive attempt to force the two most senior and prestigious regiments in the British Army the Lifeguards and the Blues and Royals into a sort of shotgun wedding (described as an “Operational Union”) to form a single composite regiment. However, many powerful, influential and well connected men have passed through their ranks and officers messes meaning that eventually this particular proposal was dropped. Some serving and former members of the Blues and Royals had even pushed for the regiment to be deamalgamated and returned to its pre 1969 state of being two separate regiments. The Royal Horse Guards who had originally been formed in 1650 and the Royal Dragoons who had existed since 1661. This particular proposal had been successfully combatted after it was pointed out that with the reduced size of the army if the proposal were to go through the resurrected regiments would have faced the infinity of trying to work out some sort of rota between them to share the few available tanks and horses. This threat drew considerable amusement from the Lifeguards who were quietly thankful that they hadn’t been forced to merge with their historic rivals.
The Butterfly Effect of War
12th October 2013, HMS DARING, 50 miles off the coast of New South Wales Australia, 2100 Local Time

After a very long day which had followed on from an extremely busy week the Commanding Officer of the TYPE 45 destroyer HMS DARING was finally alone in his cabin where he had decided to allow himself to relax for a bit. Since departing Sydney Harbour early that morning (which had involved everyone getting out of bed at an obscenely early hour) DARING had been making her way north up the west coast of Australia.
The CO having only had sleep occasionally in the last week had spent most of the day trying to hide how tired he really was. His actual activities had consisted of carefully planning the next phase of the deployment, running a lengthy firefighting exercise to blow the cobwebs out seeing as some members of the ships company may have become slightly to relaxed during their week long stopover in Sydney and thus allowed standards to slip and overseeing the ships transit out of Sydney Harbour and through some rather busy waters out into the open sea.
Finally in the early hours of the evening he had been able to write up Captain’s night orders and had briefed the Operations Officer and Officer of the Watch as to what he wanted done overnight along with the usual instruction that he was to be woken immediately if anything were to happen during the night. This was a formality more than anything though. By this stage in the deployment all of the watch officers were now much more experienced than they had already been when they had left Portsmouth and would be able to deal with anything and would probably wake the XO and Ops Officer first if they were unsure about something. Plus, the ship would be transiting a fairly quiet area of water where it was unlikely that anything would happen that would require his personal attention.
The Captain’s cabin was equipped with two screens including one right by his bed that displayed the current radar and navigational plot so the CO had constant access to up to date information regarding the current navigational and tactical situation and was usually aware of events even before he had been informed by the Officer of the Watch.
The CO had left the bridge slightly earlier than usual informing the XO that he was going to attend to the pile of paperwork that had been growing on his desk over the past week while he had been far too busy to deal with it. Rather than proceeding to his cabin however he had decided to first go for a walk around the ship. As CO he naturally spent most of his time either on the bridge or in the Operations Room or in his cabin asleep or attending to administrative duties. As his cabin was in the forward part of the superstructure sandwiched between the bridge above and the Ops room below it was fairly easy for him to become isolated from what was going on aboard the rest of the ship. Therefore, whenever he got the opportunity, he would take a walk around the ship both to be seen by the ships company and to enable him to get a feel for their mood. Usually, he would use the excuse of dropping in on the ships laundry shack to have a friendly chat with the ships Chinese Laundryman (though in practise on most ships the laundrymen were Nepalese ex Gurkhas) who being a civilian would quite happily share a brew and have a friendly chat with the CO in a way that none of the officers or ratings would be brave enough to do. DARING’s laundryman was an ex Gurkha and Falklands veteran who had taken part in the famous charge up Mount William during the battle of Tumbledown. He proudly kept his kukri knife (which he claimed to have used during that bloody night) on display in the laundry shack and was greatly respected, liked and perhaps somewhat feared by the ships company most of whom weren’t even born when the Falklands War had occurred.
This wasn’t the real reason for the CO’s visits though. The laundry Shack was located right at the stern of the ship where most of the Junior Rates and Senior Rates messes, dining halls and recreation spaces were located giving him a good opportunity to see the state of these areas and speak to members of the ships company. He usually timed these informal tours of the ship to coincide with mealtimes when the junior rates would usually line up in the passageway outside the galley. As he went passed the CO asked them a few questions along the lines of did they have fun in Sydney? And were they all rested and ready to get back to it?
Of course the crew would always say yes or whatever they thought the Captain wanted to hear with a slight look of terror in their eyes. The CO had been around long enough to know that if there were any grievances no one would dare say it directly to his face unless it was something serious in which case he would probably already have been aware of it. Very occasionally as on this occasion the CO would pay a visit to the galley to see the state of the food being served. As Captain he ate alone in his cabin and had his own designated chef and food supply which was naturally better than whatever was served to everyone else. However, he knew from long experience how important food was to morale and efficiency and if he felt it was necessary he wasn’t above having a quiet word with the Chief Caterer about the need to pick up standards in the galley. Recently he’d had to personally stamp on a suggestion from the logistics officer about serving cold fresh fruit for breakfast instead of the traditional full English fry up. The CO had pointed out that crewmen who had been on watch all night including those on sentry duty who would have spent at least 6 hours standing outside freezing, exposed to the wind and being rained on and who would now have a full working day ahead of them would probably feel more satisfied and motivated with sausage and bacon rolls rather than a piece of cold grapefruit.
It was for reasons like this that the CO was quite well thought of by the ships company who perceived him as having a greater interest in their welfare and morale than other Captain’s would have.
The CO wasn’t the only one who carried out these little informal walk rounds of the ship though. The XO didn’t even need an excuse to do the same thing. He would tour all parts of the ship checking the state of the ships cleanliness and hygiene of living areas and paying particular attention to the state of the CBRNDC equipment and lockers that were located all over the ship and was known to pick a locker at random and order a snap contents inventory despite the locker in questions having often been inventoried only days or even hours before. Whereas the CO might stop someone for a friendly chat the XO had a habit of randomly grabbing someone and pointing a set of breathing apparatus and ordering them to don it while he timed them to see if they could do it within the 2 minutes required by navy regulations.
Damage control and fire fighting in the Royal Navy had come on a very long way since the Falklands War.

Retiring to his cabin the CO had eaten dinner and then tried to make a start on the mountain of paperwork on his desk but found his enthusiasm for doing so failing him. He knew what most of it would be anyway. The usual routine stuff padded out by reports he would be expected to write regarding his ships recent visit to Australia and a few disciplinary cases resulting from that visit. Knowing that it would take him hours to wade through it all the CO had decided to just leave it until tomorrow and rest for now. Rather than retiring straight to his sleeping cabin despite being rather tired the CO had instead poured himself a glass of brandy from one of the bottle’s in the case he’d been working through since leaving Portsmouth and allowed himself some time to think about things.

HMS DARING was now 4 months into a 9 month global deployment that involved a circumnavigation of the globe. The purpose of this deployment was “Defence Engagement” which really meant flying the flag around the world. In particular the Royal Navy was keen for DARING to make her presence felt in the Far East and Pacific where British warships had been a rarity in recent years due to the fleet mostly being committed to supporting ongoing operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan as well as the increasing need to conduct counter piracy operations off the coast of Somalia.
DARING had left her homeport of Portsmouth in early June as part of a battlegroup made up of the aircraft carrier HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH accompanied by DARING and her sister HMS DIAMOND, the frigates HMS SUFFOLK, HMS RICHMOND and HMS GRAFTON and the RFA’s WAVE KNIGHT and FORT CHARLOTTE. Since the early 2000’s the Royal Navy had been in the habit of sending a carrier battlegroup across the Atlantic on a short deployment to the US east coast to exercise with US Navy carrier battlegroups. The training benefit from these deployments for both the ships companies and in particular aircrews of both nations was felt to more than justify the expense involved and was the reason why these deployments still continued in the wake of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review which had inflicted murderous cuts to the Defence budget. There had occasionally been years where the RN hadn’t carried out these carrier training deployments for operational reasons, most notably in 2003 where the carriers had been committed to supporting operations in Iraq.
In return the USN had a routine of every year deploying either a carrier battle group or amphibious strike group to UK waters to train with the RN. USN commanders in particular were always extremely pleased to have RN trainers from the RN’s FOST organisation onboard their ships and were almost evangelical about the benefits of FOST’s legendarily tough and intensive training exercises.
The French Navy also sometimes joined in with these exercises when they were held on the UK side of the Atlantic. The previous year had been one such year and the Marine Nationale had committed a battlegroup built around the 42,000 ton nuclear powered aircraft carrier CHARLES DE GAULLE.

DARING’s CO remembered attending a reception aboard the DE GAULLE last year when she had paid a visit to Portsmouth following the annual RN/USN exercise on this side of the pond. He remembered going up to the flight deck and seeing HMS EAGLE which was berthed just ahead and remembering the feeling of pride and slight smugness as the 62,000 ton flagship of the Royal Navy seemingly effortlessly dwarfed the French visitor. He had chatted with a group of French officers who had toured the EAGLE and been very impressed by what they had seen. He had occasionally picked up on a sense of regret within the French Navy that they had walked away from the potential joint aircraft carrier programme with the British back in the 1980’s when what had then been known as the CVF-90 project was still in development and pressed ahead with what had become the CHARLES DE GAULLE class.
Still the CO thought most joint projects that involved the UK working with the French generally failed. His own ship DARING had been born out of the HORIZON class project jointly developed between the UK, France and Italy. The UK had withdrawn from the project owing to differences in requirements with the UK feeling they needed a ship that was larger and thus more expensive than what the French and Italians had been willing to pay for. The result had been the TYPE 45 destroyer of which DARING was the first example of what would soon be a class of 12 ships replacing the elderly and obsolete TYPE 42’s.

The CHARLES DE GAULLE had had a rather difficult and protracted birth. Launched in 1994 (the same year that the RN’s QUEEN ELIZABETH had entered service) the French hadn’t been able to commission her until 2001 owing to a never ending series of delays caused by technical problems, financial constraints and design flaws that were often only identified during construction. Some French officers (once they’d had enough wine) would occasionally lament that they had spent the same amount of money as the British but taken a lot longer and ended up with an inferior ship. Part of the reason for the smaller French carriers costing just as much as their larger British counterparts was due to the more expensive but in some ways more useful nuclear powerplant. That and the need to rectify endless technical and design issues often at great expense. The reactor and its associated systems had been the cause of its fair share of these problems.
Still the French ship did have some things that the invited RN and USN officers had been both envious and jealous of. Most notably of all the fact that CHARLES DE GAULLE had a system to pump wine around the ship meaning wine on tap in every compartment. Good wine as well!
Also was the fact that whereas sailors in the RN were fed with whatever the MOD could obtain on a budget of £1.50 per head per day the Marine Nationale being a French organisation had French chefs serving French standard cuisine aboard its ships.

After crossing the Atlantic while conducting aircrew training HMS DARING and the QUEEN ELIZABETH battlegroup had put into the gigantic US Navy base at Norfolk Virginia for a few days before commencing the exercises. It was always interesting to see HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH which generally dominated Portsmouth and pretty much any other port she called at with just her sheer size being dwarfed by the gigantic US Navy NIMITZ class super carriers.
The exercises themselves had lasted for about 2 and a half weeks and mainly consisted of the RN and USN carrier battle groups going head to head against each other before combining into one fleet and working together while fending off various types of threat and carrying out various missions. The Americans were known to hold the capabilities of the TYPE 45 in high regard owing to its powerful and long ranged radars. They would often insist that a TYPE 45 be assigned to their team for the RN vs USN phase of the exercises as they felt the RN would have an unfair advantage otherwise. US carrier battlegroups in the Gulf would often put in requests for RN TYPE 45’s operating in the region to be assigned to their battlegroups before entering the high threat waters of the Persian Gulf. Exercises like the one that DARING was partaking in were key to maintaining this seamless working relationship. As part of these exercises’ personnel exchanges between British and American ships were common and a lot of aircraft cross decking took place between the QUEEN ELIZABETH and the USS JOHN C STENNIS.
Being an air warfare destroyer HMS DARING’s CO had naturally been focused mostly on the air warfare serials. The USAF occasionally decided to partake in these exercises which added an interesting dimension as it allowed for the RN’s Hornet pilots to undertake dissimilar air to air combat training and was particularly useful for the Ops Room crews as the USAF operated different aircraft and in a different manner compared to the USN aircraft they were used to working with.
Another interesting part of the exercise had been the ASW element. HMS DARING having been designed primarily for air warfare had a limited ASW capability compared to the TYPE 23’s which were equipped with sophisticated towed array sonars. However, DARING was carrying a Merlin ASW helicopter for this deployment which gave her some undersea bite. As usual the USN had provided a number of SSN’s this time two LOS ANGELES class and one of the newer VIRGINIA class. The objective for the surface units was always the same. Either staying alive while the submarines tried to sink them or staying alive while they went after the submarines.
The most interesting ASW serials were always the ones that involved the SSK. The Royal Canadian Navy operated a fleet of 4 British built UPHOLDER class SSK’s which in RCN service were known as the VICTORIA class. Three of these boats were based at the RCN dockyard in Halifax and were frequently seen further south off the east coast of the US working with the USN. The US Navy took the threat of quiet diesel submarines very seriously as they considered their most likely naval opponents to be nations like Iran, North Korea and China who all operated SSK’s of varying quality. Therefore, they would often pay for the Canadians to deploy one of their boats south so they could practise ASW drills against boats that they felt were close equivalents to the KILO class SSK’s that they considered their most likely opponents. For this exercise the Royal Canadian Navy had sent down the HMCS WINDSOR. The Royal Navy had an inbuilt advantage compared to the Americans which usually enabled them to do very well compared to their USN counterparts.
The RN still operated 4 UPHOLDER class SSK’s which were almost identical to their Canadian sister boats and were frequently used to provide the exact same kind of training that the USN paid a lot of money for. This meant that RN commanders were generally already familiar with the class and had some experience with them. Better still Canadian submarine commanders were still trained by the Royal Navy on the legendarily difficult Submarine Command Course more commonly known as “Perisher”. This meant that the commander of the HMCS WINDSOR would drive his boat in a manner identical to his RN counterparts and in such a way that the RN surface ship commanders were already familiar with.
Once the exercises had been concluded the QUEEN ELIZABETH and her escorts had headed north to make a port visit to Halifax before heading back to the UK while DARING had detached from the group to continue with her deployment.
She had stopped off at Mayport in Florida to refuel, take on stores, carry out a bit of maintenance and give the crew a run ashore before heading into the Caribbean on the way to the Panama Canal. Though there hadn’t been time in the ships programme for any port visits (refuelling were carried out via RAS with the RFA auxiliary that was part of the permanent rotating deployment to the area) there had been enough leeway in the ships programme to allow DARING to go to anchor off of a small tropical island to give the ships company the opportunity to get off the ship for a bit and spend the day lying on a tropical beach with beer and a BBQ while plenty of footage was being captured for the RN’s next recruitment campaign. The warm waters of the Caribbean were where an annoying but unfortunately well known mechanical problem began to do its best to make life difficult. The Batch 1 TYPE 45 destroyers had an unfortunate problem within their propulsion system intercoolers which often struggled to cope with warm water conditions. This would often result in partial or sometimes even total electrical blackouts onboard.
Being the first of her class and now 6 years old DARING had been the ship that had discovered this issue. The result had been a redesign of the propulsion systems for the 6 ships of the Batch 2 TYPE 45’s to hopefully eliminate this issue.
The first Batch 2 ship HMS DECOY had arrived in Portsmouth the week before DARING’s departure. As well as the improved machinery and propulsion system the Batch 2’s carried a number of other upgrades compared to their older sisters. By the time HMS DARING returned to Portsmouth early next year the second of the Batch 2’s HMS DEMON would be there.

Once through the Caribbean and having transited the Panama Canal DARING had made a five day stop over at the US Navy base in San Diego before undertaking the more than two and a half thousand mile trip to Pearl Harbour in Hawaii where the CO began to feel a sense of Déjà vu as seemingly every time the ship stopped he would find himself in a routine of hosting cocktail parties onboard for local dignitaries and US Navy admirals, giving tours of his ship and the usual planning exercises with local USN units. Occasionally he would be able to go ashore to relax and enjoy himself but nowhere near as much as the rest of the ships company did. As well as the heavy workload that he endured as Captain this he would often find himself having to deal with the fallout for the members of the ships company enjoying themselves too much while ashore. He had long since lost count of the number of times he had had to deal with angry foreign policemen and taxi drivers over the course of his career. Like most RN captains deep down privately his main concern was always to deal with the offender himself and prevent anyone back in the UK finding out who didn’t need to. He wasn’t going to be the next captain with the words “international incident” on his record just because some idiot didn’t know when to stop or decided that he fancied a ride in a police car.
There was even a phrase within the RN called “out pin” which described runs ashore where ships companies who had been at sea for too long would essentially become a drunken mob and enjoy themselves a little bit too much at the expense of the unfortunate port that had agreed to host them in a way that would put most football hooligans to shame. “Out Pins” usually resulted in things such as diplomatic protests, RN members being arrested, RN warships no longer being welcome in that particular port and detrimental effects on the Captains career prospects. For this reason, while trouble amongst his ships company ashore was rare DARING’s CO always came down hard on offenders.

From Hawaii DARING had made her way down towards New Zealand which hadn’t seen a visit by an RN ship in as long as anyone could remember before a few days later sailing in company with the Royal New Zealand Navy frigate HMNZS TE MANA to Sydney for perhaps the most high profile part of the deployment.

October 2013 marked the 100th anniversary of the first Royal Australian Navy fleet’s entry into Sydney harbour. A date that was generally regarded as the birth of the modern RAN despite it having actually been formed 2 years before in 1911 under British RN control.
To mark the occasion the Australians were hosting a week long international fleet review in Sydney Harbour with ships from all over the world participating.
The Royal Navy being the forefathers of the Aussies and perceiving themselves as being held in quite high regard by the rest of the world had naturally felt the need to make their presence felt. Therefore, the RN had decided to send one of its newest and most advanced ships that by happy coincidence would already be on that side of the world to fly the flag for Britain and remind the Aussies of just how their navy had come into being.

The Australians when sending the formal invitation to the UK to participate in the review had actually requested that Britain send a TYPE 45 destroyer. Back in the early 2000’s the RAN had embarked on a programme to procure a new class of modern air warfare destroyers. As with most RAN ships these destroyers would be a modified foreign design and built under license in Australia. Various competing designs had been put forward including the USN’s ARLEIGH BURKE. In the end it had come down to a close run off between two preferred designs. Those being Spain’s 5,800 ton ALVARO DE BAZAN class and Britain’s TYPE 45.
The main selling point of the Spanish design was that it was equipped with the Aegis Combat System that would make the Australian ships interoperable with USN ships. The TYPE 45 design however was felt to be more capable as an air defence vessel and more suited to the sort of long distance individual deployments that the RAN was beginning to undertake. The deciding factor had come down to simple cost. With 12 ships already on order for the Royal Navy and strong interest from the Saudi Arabian Navy the cost for each ship was lower than the Spanish design. Better still the TYPE 45’s builders BAE Systems already had a significant presence in Australia and would be able to comparatively easily build the ships in their yard in Victoria. The Australian TYPE 45’s known locally as the HOBART class were an extensively modified design and considered essentially a subclass of the RN’s TYPE 45’s.
The decision to go with the TYPE 45 instead of the ALVARO DE BAZAN had been somewhat controversial within the Australian Government. Therefore, during her visit to Sydney and in the days before she had even arrived HMS DARING had hosted Australian government and military visitors onboard for tours and capability demonstrations to try and help win over some of the detractors and to enable the RAN to show the Australian public what their navy had to look forward to. To further this aim DARING had been opened to visitors during her visit with members of public allowed to tour the ships hangar and upper decks. Thousands had taken the chance to visit and the event was generally felt to have been a PR success for the RN and diplomatic triumph for the British Government.
The first Australian TYPE 45 HMAS HOBART had begun construction a year previously and was due to enter service with the RAN in 2017.

Being the hosts of the event, the Royal Australian Navy had naturally been present in force with a number of frigates of both the PERTH and ANZAC class being present along with a number of smaller patrol boats and one of their COLLINS class SSK’s. The biggest Australian ship present was the elderly INVINCIBLE class light aircraft carrier HMAS AUSTRALIA which many decades before had briefly flown the White Ensign and borne the name HMS ILLUSTRIOUS. DARING’s CO had been invited to an event held in the AUSTRALIA’s hangar which had proven to be both an enjoyable and fascinating experience. Back in the 1990’s when he had been a mere officer cadet at Britannia Royal Naval College, he had undertaken his Initial Fleet Time aboard HMS INVINCIBLE in what had been one of her last voyages before she had left RN service. Being aboard a foreign owned sister ship to the one he was familiar with had been quite interesting as while the basic layout of the ship was familiar there were a great many clear and subtle differences between the Australian ship and the ship he remembered.
The AUSTRALIA was now 31 years old and along with her AV-8B Harriers was showing her age and her operational capability was declining.

To replace the AUSTRALIA and its rather elderly fleet of amphibious ships the RAN was building a new class based on a novel concept described as amphibious assault aircraft carriers. These 28,000 ton ships were essentially a hybrid of light aircraft carrier and amphibious assault ship equipped with both a ski jump for VSTOL aircraft operations and a well deck for landing craft. It was an interesting concept that hadn’t really been tried before in this way. The closest thing to these ships were the USN’s LPH’s which were primarily helicopter carriers that also had the ability to carry a flight of Harriers and a number of landing craft. DARING’s CO suspected that the RAN would end up with a class of ships that while impressive were a jack of all trades but the master of none. As in a ship that could operate effectively as a Harrier equipped light aircraft carrier or a helicopter carrying LPH but not as both at the same time.
The Spanish were the ones who had come up with the idea in the form of their 26,000 ton JUAN CARLOS I. The Australian ships which would be known as the CANBERRA class were a locally built and modified version of the Spanish ship. The first ship of the class HMAS CANBERRA was due to enter service the following year.

When the light aircraft carrier ARA VEINTICINCO DE MAYO had been destroyed by the much larger fleet carrier HMS EAGLE during the Battle of the Falkland Islands many analysts and defence planners around the world had come to the conclusion that light aircraft carriers were completely inferior to their full sized counterparts and were little more than a very expensive way to get a lot of your own men killed. The consensus being that aircraft carriers were only worth building if you were going to build a full sized and full cost vessel. This type of thinking had been a major factor in the RN’s decision to abandon the INVINCIBLE class light carriers in favour of the much larger QUEEN ELIZABETH class and in the Soviets deciding to build the ultimately aborted ULYANOVSK.
Spain had found itself in the awkward position of already having a light aircraft carrier under construction at the time and well past the point where she could have realistically been suspended or modified or enlarged. The 16,000 ton PRINCIPE DE ASTURIAS had been launched exactly 20 days after the larger DE MAYO had been almost effortlessly destroyed by the British. The Spanish navy had found itself lumbered with a ship was considered to be something of a floating joke and not even a proper light carrier. The Spanish themselves hadn’t really considered the ship to be of much value as a fixed wing carrier and had operated the ship as a primarily helicopter carrying ASW platform with a limited number of AV-8B Harriers onboard for strike missions. The ships perceived lack of air defence capability had resulted in her never straying too far from waters where she could be given air cover by land based aircraft and having a remarkably unexciting career. When the effects of the global recession had begun to be felt in Spain the Spanish navy had been all too eager to get rid of the ship so they could focus on the new JUAN CARLOS I.
A while back it had been reported that Thailand (represented at the Sydney fleet review by the British designed patrol ship HTMS KRABI) had been interested in purchasing the PRINCIPE DE ASTURAIS from the Spanish or even purchasing a new build that would be a cut down version of what was already an extremely small carrier. This interest had come from the Thai government and seemed to be mostly about the prestige of owning a carrier. The Royal Thai Navy were the ones who had quashed this ambition pointing out that Thailand had no real need for a carrier especially not a joke one that would be utterly worthless as a fighting unit and the navy didn’t have the budget to operate the ship or aircraft effectively.

HMAS AUSTRALIA wasn’t the only ex Royal Navy INVINCIBLE class aircraft carrier in the world. When they had been retired from the Royal Navy in 1992 and 1996 respectively HMS INDOMITABLE and HMS INVINCIBLE had been put up for sale along with the FAA’s fleet of Sea Harriers and had been purchased by the Indian Navy where they continued to serve as the INS VIRRAT and INS VIKRAMADITYA replacing the ancient MAJESTIC class INS VIKRANT which had been withdrawn some years previously.
The Indian Navy was represented in Sydney by the INS SHIVALIK.
Originally the Indian’s had intended to purchase the former HMS HERMES and refit her to operate Sea Harriers. However, that deal had fallen through in the mid 1980’s due to the inability of Indian Government bureaucracy to make even the smallest of decisions at the time. This had left the Indian Navy with an aging and obsolete WWII era carrier. When the Royal Navy had decommissioned the INDOMITABLE a few years later the ship had been offered for sale to INDIA. The Indian Navy leapt at the opportunity to take on the modern and still fairly young ship that came with an air group thrown in. However once again Indian Government bureaucracy had made this purchase difficult.
British – Indian relations had been somewhat strained as a result of Britain selling a number of warships to the Pakistani Navy. The ships in question were the 6 TYPE 21 frigates that the RN had disposed if in the early 1990’s which now served with Pakistan as the TARIQ class and were represented in Sydney Harbour by the PNS TIPPU SULTAN. The thing that had really upset the Indian’s though was Pakistan’s purchase of 3 UPHOLDER class SSK’s that the British had built in Birkenhead taking some of the build slots that were originally meant to be for the RN’s cancelled Batch 3 of the class (Canada having purchased Batch 2). The sale of modern weapons to their mortal enemies had generated a fair bit of anger amongst some within the Indian Government towards the British.
For the British offering the Indians first bid on the former INDOMITABLE had been a way of trying to patch things up.
Some within the Indian government had advocated spurning the British offer and instead purchasing the Russian’s modified KIEV class ADMIRAL GORSHKOV pointing out that this ship was STOBAR capable unlike the British offer. An Indian Navy delegation had actually travelled up to Russia and inspected the GORSHKOV and were horrified with what they had found. The GORSHKOV had been intended to be a flight trials and training ship for the Soviet Navy in preparation for the planned ULYANOVSK class nuclear powered super carriers and had had only a very short career before the Soviet Navy had become the Russian Navy. The new Russian navy hadn’t felt that it had the need for aircraft carriers or even the budget to operate the single one that they owned. A serious gearbox fire had crippled the ship leaving her in need of serious repairs. Not having the money or will to do this the Russians had taken the ship out of service and laid her up and hadn’t spent a single Rouble on any kind of maintenance, repair or preservation meaning that the ship had deteriorated rapidly. The Indian naval delegation had stated that it would be completely unjustifiable to spend the vast sums of money that it would take to restore and refit the ship in the face of the much cheaper and in some ways more modern British option.
The Indian’s had been very satisfied with their purchase meaning that when the former HMS INVINCIBLE had come up for sale they had seen off strong interest from Brazil to purchase the ship allowing them to form a second carrier battlegroup.
Like the HMAS AUSTRALIA the INS VIRRAT and INS VIKRAMADITYA were becoming fairly elderly. In fact, only the VIRRAT (Indomitable) was still active with the older and much more worn VIKRAMADITYA (Invincible) being used as a source of spare parts to keep her sister going. The Indians had embarked upon the “Indigenous Aircraft Carrier” programme to replace the ships with an Indian build CATOBAR fleet carrier. However, that programme had yet to lay down or even finalise the design of the new carrier meaning that the first ship would not enter service until the early 2020’s at the earliest.

The former ADMIRAL GORSHKOV had in recent years found herself back in the spot light. In 2005 a Chinese businessman had approached the Russians offering to purchase the ship (which had been laid up for over a decade by this point) for scrap. It’s unclear if the Russian’s took him at face value (The other KIEV class ships had been scrapped in China after all) or were at least suspicious of the businessman’s motives. The Chinese “businessman” had found his offer politely rejected as by this point the Russian’s had their own plans for the ship. With operating military budgets finally picking up and looking for ways to restore their international standing the Russian Government had soon after announced that the GORSHKOV would be resurrected and modernised and put into service as a fully operational aircraft carrier. It seemed that the Russian’s had been somewhat influenced by what they considered to be the Chinese Governments (believing the Chinese “Businessman” to have been a front) clear interest in developing an aircraft carrier fleet and had decided that it was time for Russia to join the carrier club. The GORSHKOV had been towed from its berth in Severodvinsk where she had been laid up virtually abandoned for close a decade and moved into a drydock where the work would take place. Many western analysts had doubted whether the Russians were actually serious about repairing the ship or if they even had the funds or technical capabilities to do so. To the surprise of some the Russians did seem genuinely determined to bring the ship back into service. Unfortunately for them things hadn’t exactly gone smoothly. While the Russians were very selective with their announcements it was known that the project had fallen years behind schedule and gone badly overbudget. More than six years after the ship had been drydocked satellite photos showed that work was still nowhere near complete. As far as anyone in the West could tell the problem that the Russians seemed to be having was that they had underestimated just how much the ship had deteriorated while she had been laid up and also it seemed that they had been somewhat overambitious in the scope of the work they were trying to carry out.

It was well known that the Peoples Liberation Army Navy had for years been trying to develop an aircraft carrier fleet of its own and just like the GORSHKOV they had made numerous attempts to buy such a ship second hand. The ex Soviet Kiev class ships and former RAN carrier HMAS MELBOURNE had ended up in China being scrapped very slowly. It was obvious that the Chinese had been forensically dissecting these ships to learn what they could about how an aircraft carrier was put together. They had even made an attempt at purchasing the half completed soviet supercarrier ULYANOVSK back in the 1990’s. This attempt had been scuppered owing to the ship being completely unseaworthy and China not having the capability at the time to complete the nuclear powered monster. It was generally believed by western intelligence agencies that China was already or would soon begin constructing their first aircraft carrier. It was strongly suspected that the Chinese had managed to obtain copies of the blueprints for the various aborted Soviet aircraft carrier projects.

Singapore had sent two ships of the Republic of Singapore navy to take part in the review. The largest of these two ships was the RSS ENDURANCE the lead ship of her class of 6,500 ton LPD’s. The smaller ship was the FORMIDABLE class frigate RSS INTREPID. The FORMIDABLE class were modified TYPE 23 frigates. When Singapore had set out to build a new class of frigates Britain had seen off some stiff competition from France who had been offering their LA FAYETTE stealth frigate. The first two ships of this six strong class had been built by Yarrow in the UK with the other four constructed under licence in Singapore. As with the RAN’s HOBART variant of the TYPE 45 the FORMIDABLE class were different enough from their British predecessors that they could be almost considered a separate class from the British vessels.

The RSS INTREPID wasn’t the only TYPE 23 frigate present. The Chilean Navy had sent the ALMIRANTE LYNCH which together with her sister ALMIRANTE COCHRANE had represented the first export orders for British escort vessels since the Argentine Navy had purchased a pair of TYPE 42 destroyers (which had later been sunk by the nation that had built them).
The Chilean Navy had traditionally contained a large number of British built ships within its fleet. At present as well as a pair of TYPE 23’s Chile possessed a pair of British built UPHOLDER class SSK’s and a pair of ex RN TYPE 22 frigates. Chile had only recently retired the last of the LEANDER class frigates and COUNTY class destroyers that they had second hand from the Royal Navy.

As well as warships there were a number of other vessels present for the review including a number of tall ships. One of these was the Brazilian Navy’s full rigged CISNE BRANCO. For reasons which members of the Royal Navy had never really been able to fully understand many navy’s around the world insisted on keeping large sailing vessels for training their personnel. The British had never really been able to understand the reason for doing this as in their opinion surely officer cadets would benefit more from time spent aboard actual operational warships. If as they suspected it was all really about prestige then the RN could point to the fact that they still had the 255 year old 100 gun ship of the line HMS VICTORY in their fleet which they considered a damned sight more impressive than any of these foreign vessels.
The Brazilian Navy was another navy that traditionally had a significant proportion of British ships within their fleet. Currently their fleet was largely made up of the 3,800 ton British built NITEROI class frigates and four ex RN TYPE 22 frigates. The TYPE 22’s were the former Batch 1 ships of the class which included the Falklands veterans HMS BROADSWORD (Now GREENHALGH) and HMS BRILLIANT (Now DODSWORTH).
Brazil had showed an interest in acquiring one of the INVINCIBLE class aircraft carriers when the RN was disposing of them during the 1990’s to replace their WWII era Colossus class NAeL MINAS GERAIS (formerly HMS VENGEANCE).
Strong competition from India and the perception within Brazil that a CATOBAR carrier would always be superior to a VSTOL configured ship had seen the Brazilian Navy instead turn to France for a replacement ship.
The French Navy had at the time been in the process of disposing of their CLEMENCEAU class aircraft carriers in preparation for the introduction of the CHARLES DE GAULLE. Brazil had purchased the French carrier FOCH and commissioned her into their own fleet as the Nae SAO PAULO. While they had acquired what they considered to be a large and impressive ship the Brazilians had overlooked the fact that to operate it they needed a larger and more impressive budget than they possessed. The ship being over four decades old didn’t help things. Since entering service with the Brazilian Navy, the SAO PAULO had spent more time alongside undergoing maintenance and repairs than she had at sea in a situation much like the RN had experienced in the 1970s with HMS ARK ROYAL.
The limited budget available to the Brazilian Navy also meant that they had really struggled to put together a full air group for their carrier. New build aircraft were extremely limited in choice and far too expensive. Even the second hand market for carrier capable aircraft was limited. The Americans had offered Brazil second hand F/A-18 Hornets but the Brazilians had been forced to turn them down after realising that these aircraft would likely be too expensive to operate in any meaningful number. In the end they had gone for ex USN A4 Skyhawks retrieved from the US’s vast aircraft boneyard in Arizona. The A4 was much cheaper to operate and virtually 10 a penny meaning that the Brazilians had been able to obtain a respectable number. The downside of going down this route was that the A4 was already very old, obsolete and of very limited value. Aware of this the Brazilian Navy had been attempting to purchase Super Etendard strike aircraft from the French to strengthen SAO PAULO’s air group. For various reasons this had yet to come to fruition.

DARING’s CO’s thoughts now turned to the next stage of her deployment. At the moment the ship was making her way up the Australian Coast on her way to her next stop at Singapore. The British government had wanted the ship to visit SINGAPORE for a defence engagement visit to demonstrate the UK’s continuing commitment to the Five Powers Defence Arrangements which had been called into question owing to the lengthy absence of RN warships in the region.
After that the future was uncertain. The original and still officially current plan was for DARING to head across the Indian Ocean to the Gulf. However, the CO had been warned that there was now a possibility that his ship may be diverted North to help enforce sanctions on North Korea resulting from yet another provocation of some type. If it was to be the northern option then it would most likely involve visits to Japan and South Korea and working alongside those countries’ navies. The CO had always been impressed with the Japanese Maritime Self Defence force and how they always had a fleet of large cutting edge and relatively young ships at all times. During Fleet Reviews it was customary for commanding officers to invite the commanders of other ships aboard for a curtesy visit and the CO had been very impressed by the Japanese destroyer ATAGO which was like a USN ARLEIGH BURKE on steroids.

If as he was ordered to proceed westwards across the Indian Ocean as he thought he most likely would be then DARING would most likely be linking up with the French Carrier battlegroup in the Area built around their new nuclear powered ship RICHELIEU. Given the nightmare that the CHARLES DE GAULLE project had been the CO had never quite understood why the French had decided to press ahead with a second ship of the class. He knew that many within the French Navy had been very much against the idea and hadn’t been happy with the sacrifices that had had to be made to pay for the ship. Perhaps the French felt that they still needed a two carrier navy, perhaps it was a result of French domestic politics or maybe it was a case of keeping up with the neighbours (being the RN’s pair of supercarriers) or most likely a combination of all these factors. RICHELIEU was an enlarged and improved version of CHARLES DE GAULLE with a displacement of 50,000 tons compared to her older sisters 42,000 tons. Mercifully the technical issues and mistakes that had plagued the DE GAULLE’s construction seemed to have been ironed out of the RICHELIEU’s design and construction and the new French flagship had commissioned in 2011.
The RICHELIEU was currently operating in the Arabian Sea providing carrier based air support to ongoing operations in Afghanistan. Since 2007 when things in Afghanistan had started to really heat up Britain, France and the US had cycled their carriers through deployments to the region to ensure that there was always at least one and on occasion two carriers on station at all times to provide air support. The RICHELIEU was currently the carrier on station and was to be relieved by HMS EAGLE in the coming weeks. The USS DWIGHT D EISENHOWER was currently operating in the Persian Gulf and the USS NIMITZ was currently in the Mediterranean on her way home.

When she eventually arrived in the Gulf region HMS DARING’s current operational plan called for her to spend 2 months in the area conducting duties and taskings such as freedom of navigation passages through the Straits of Hormuz, maritime security operations in the Persian Gulf (winding up the Iranians), visits to Dubai and Bahrain and counterpiracy/anti smuggling duties in the waters off Somalia before heading for the Suez canal and ultimately home. However as often happened the CO reckoned that these plans would most likely be scrubbed as soon as he got there and his ship retasked to join HMS EAGLE’s battlegroup.

Before retiring to his sleeping cabin, the CO thought briefly about one other noteworthy ship that had been present in Sydney Harbour. The Argentine Navy sail training ship ARA LIBERTAD.
It could be argued that even 30 years later the Argentine armed forces still hadn’t recovered from their mauling in the Falklands War.
The Argentine Navy had suffered grievously during the conflict with the bulk of its fleet being destroyed. This had included an aircraft carrier, a cruiser, two modern and one elderly destroyers, 3 modern frigates, one modern and one older submarine, the majority of the navy’s aircraft and well over one thousand men. Since then the navy had been struggling to rebuild. Fortunately, at the time of the conflict Argentina had a number of ships under construction both at home and abroad which the navy had in later years used to rebuild its fleet virtually from scratch.
The Argentine navy now consisted of 2 TR-1700 class SSK’s, 4 ALMIRANTE BROWN class destroyers and 6 ESPORA class corvettes giving the Argentinians a respectable order of battle on paper. Looks however can be very deceiving.
Something that had hurt the Argentine Navy just as much as the loss of its ships had been the high proportion of its personnel that had perished including the majority of its ship command qualified officers.
The effects of this loss of experience had been crippling with knock on effects lasting decades. In fact, many of the new ships had been unable to enter service with the Argentine Navy for some years as they were unable to assemble a competent crew to man them. This was a somewhat convenient face saving excuse in the case of the ALMIRANTE BROWN class as their completion was significantly delayed by the fact that they had originally been designed with British made Olympus gas turbine engines which had been embargoed by the British who had placed an embargo on anything destined for the Argentine military and continued to do so all these years later.
The ships in Argentina’s fleet now had an average age of 30 years old and thus were becoming more demanding in terms of maintenance which lead on to the biggest and most enduring problem for the Argentine armed forces.
Given the unpopularity of the military in Argentina owing to memories of the atrocities committed by the Military Government during the Dirty War and their poor showing in the Falklands war funding for defence had been a long way from being a priority for successive Argentine post war democratic civilian governments. A problem not helped by the fact that Argentina was nearly always broke anyway.
This meant that for the navy there was no money for things like maintenance, fuel and ammunition meaning that its ships these days very rarely if ever put to sea. This had massively exacerbated the problems with trying to rebuild a base of experience as there were hardly any opportunities for personnel to undertake even the most basic level of sea training and many crucial skills had simply died out. For example, none of the ALMIRANTE BROWN class destroyers had been able to put to sea in over a year owing to vital engine maintenance not being carried out due to a lack of funds to purchase the necessary parts and all of the class’s ordinance being expired anyway. The Argentine submarine force over the past two years had accumulated a grand total of barely a week submerged across both boats.
The reason why the Argentines had despatched the ARA LIBERTAD to Sydney was as a sailing ship with few moving parts compared to the warships, she was just about the only operational ship the Argentines had left.

The Argentine Air Force had come out of the Falklands War in an even worse state than the navy having been utterly mauled by the British losing almost its entire fast jet fleet and many other aircraft on top of the virtual obliteration of the naval air arm.
The war had left them with an odd mixture of whichever Mirage’s, Daggers and Skyhawks had survived the conflict representing barely a squadrons or two’s worth of serviceable aircraft. Even more so than the navy the air force had been hurt by its personnel casualties losing the vast majority of its aircrew and fast jet crews in particular. Those who had survived had often been so traumatised by their experiences over San Carlos Bay (which the Argentines had nicknamed Death Valley) that they were unable to fly again.
Attempts to rebuild the air force had been spectacularly unsuccessful. Every attempt to procure badly needed new combat aircraft had been scuppered by a lack of funds and interference from the British who even all these years later to prevent the Argentines from procuring any equipment that could be even a remote threat to the Falklands. New aircraft were beyond what the Argentine Air Force could afford on its tiny budget and attempts to buy second hand Mirages from France and Spain had been thwarted by the British who had leaned heavily on these countries not to sell to Argentina. In one case it was widely rumoured that a deal with Israel to purchase 22 surplus Dagger’s had been scuppered when the British had suddenly turned up before the deal was formalised and outbid the Argentines and then apparently forgotten to take delivery of the aircraft. Whatever the truth the one hard fact was that Argentina had not been able to purchase these aircraft.
Argentina’s only successful aircraft purchase in the years after the Falklands War had been a purchase of 36 refurbished former USN Skyhawks purchased from the US in 1990. Despite being close allies with the American’s the British had made strong protests regarding the deal. However, these aircraft had already been fairly old with many hours on their airframes when Argentina had purchased them. The Argentinians had originally wanted to purchase second hand F16’s but had lacked the funds necessary. This along with the need to avoid antagonising their British allies had led the US to instead offer the elderly Skyhawks which wouldn’t really be a cause of much concern for the British Armed Forces. Like Argentina’s ships her aircraft were massively handicapped by the grossly insufficient maintenance and training budget and by 2013 it was believed that less than 10 of the Skyhawks were still in an airworthy condition.
Attempts by the Argentinians to procure new build aircraft had been even less successful. As well as the now normal issue of lack of funds most western combat aircraft included a number of British made components. This meant that the British had again and again been able to veto any attempted sale of military aircraft to the Argentines, most notably when Argentina had expressed an interest in the Swedish made Saab Gripen of which more than 30% of the components were manufactured in the UK. The British had used their considerable economic and diplomatic clout to persuade other nations not to in anyway assist with any Argentine military modernisation and had even gone as far as to make subtle threats against nations that may be tempted to sell second hand hardware that included British made components to Argentina. The Russians and Chinese were much more wiling to sell to Argentina. However, this would still be expensive enough to make it impossible due to the fact that the Argentine Air Force’s support infrastructure was geared towards western made equipment and would require significant changes to support Russian origin designs. The Russians had made an offer of second hand Mig 29’s or Sukhoi’s in part to spite the British but even this had fallen through when both sides had lost interest owing to the Russians realising that the Argentines weren’t able to meet the asking price and the Argentinians feeling that the Russian made aircraft did not meet their needs and would be too difficult to operate.

It was telling that the 2010 SDSR had significantly scaled back the British military presence on the Falkland Islands as a cost saving measure due to a lack of any realistic threat from Argentina.

A few years previously DARING’s CO had been the XO aboard the survey ship HMS ECHO during a 6 month deployment to the Falklands to conduct oceanographic surveys of the area and conduct patrols of the waters around the Islands.
The Falkland Islands were a very different place from what they had been in 1982. The population had almost doubled and the economy had boomed as a result of having a large British military presence on the islands based at RAF STANLEY, a thriving tourist trade with cruise ships regularly visiting the area and the discovery of vast offshore fields infrastructure being built on the islands to exploit them.
Though the War was now decades in the past it was still very much a fact of everyday life for the islanders. Vast swathes of land were no go areas due to the risks from unexploded ordinance and uncharted minefields. Efforts to make these areas safe had dwindled away to almost nothing in recent years as there were more pressing needs for British bomb disposal units in Iraq and Afghanistan.
During ECHO’s deployment DARING’s CO had spent plenty of time ashore undertaking the various Falkland Battlefield tours. He had visited the battlefield at Mount Tumble Down which was still scarred by bomb and shell craters and littered with the debris of war such as abandoned equipment and thousands upon thousands of rusted bullet and shell casings. There was the wreckage of a Buccaneer that had crashed into the side of a mountain during a night sortie. The remains of the platoon of Panhard Armoured Cars outside Port Stanley that had surrendered to 2 PARA on the last day of the war. As well as a British military cemetery there were numerous Argentine military cemeteries and memorials around the islands as the Argentine government had repeatedly refused offers of repatriation of their war dead by claiming that they were already buried in Argentine territory.
One of ECHO’s primary tasks during her deployment was to survey the wreaks that lay in San Carlos water. Highly detailed sonar scans had been made of the wreaks of HMS ARDENT, HMS ANTELOPE and HMS ARGONAUT along with the remains of a landing craft that had been strafed by attacking Argentine aircraft and the crashed remnants of numerous Argentine aircraft that had been shot out of the sky during their bombing runs. San Carlos bay was off limits to all civilian vessels as the whole site was essentially one large war grave and there was plenty of unexploded ordinance on the seabed from Argentine bombs that had failed to detonate and British SAM’s that hadn’t acquired a target and aboard the sunken British ships. Divers had been sent down to each of the British wreaks where they had placed a white ensign on the remains of the bridge. Service a service of remembrance had been held aboard ECHO with wreaths of poppies being thrown into the sea.
Ashore at San Carlos one again finds the remnants of war such as the numerous fox holes and trenches dug by the PARA’s and Marines. The area is littered with abandoned and wreaked equipment which had lain undisturbed for decades such as an Argentine aircraft that had crashed int the terrain and the various bits of rubbish and equipment that the British had simply left behind. The two most obvious sites of interest are the former helicopter operating base and prisoner holding facility which had not been completely dismantled as the British had only taken what they felt could be used again and had left everything else behind. The location where prisoners had been kept was still marked by the reels of rusted barbed wire and stockades that had been left behind. As well as two simple hillside memorials that commemorated the British and Argentine dead there was a third rather unusual memorial in an unassuming and obviously long abandoned structure near the shore line. Originally a refrigeration plant the structure had last seen human habitation during the Falklands war and if one could get high enough up the adjacent slope they would be able to see an indication as to what this buildings purpose had been in the form of a now very faded red cross painted on the roof. The building had been used by the British as a field hospital and had been nicknamed the red and green life machine. It was famous for being perhaps the first military hospital in history where everyone who had been admitted had survived. Inside in a room that had been used as an operating theatre was a memorial plaque not to men who had died but to the men who had survived and the doctors and medics who had saved them.

One of ECHO’s other taskings had been to survey the wreak of the TYPE 42 destroyer HMS GLASGOW located to the east of the Falklands which had been sunk by an Exocet missile on the 6th of May 1982. The ghostly sonar images of the decades old wreak of a TYPE 42 destroyer almost identical to the one’s that could still be found in Portsmouth Harbour had unnerved DARING’s CO somewhat and got him thinking about what had been and what might have been if things had been a little different.
A Grand Day Out
HMNB Portsmouth, 2nd May 2022

The old man had been looking forward to this day for quite a while. As he sat on the train already, he was spotting other men who were clearly making the journey for the same reason as him. They were instantly recognisable in that they were all at least 60 years old, wearing dark suits and had the tell tale give away of a British Armed Forces veterans badge on their suit jackets.

In Britain and on the Falkland Island’s themselves what had become known as the Falklands War was usually commemorated on the 30th of May which was the date that the Argentine forces had surrendered.
On the Falklands this date was one of almost religious significance and was referred to as Liberation Day. The commemorations there included a service of remembrance at the cathedral in Port Stanley and the laying of wreaths at the Liberation Memorial.
In Argentina the 2nd of April was celebrated as Malvinas Day as that was the date when Argentine forces had first landed on the islands.
For the Royal Navy however there was a date even more important than the 30th of May. The RN celebrated the 2nd of May which was the anniversary of the Battle of The Falkland Islands where they had won a decisive and crushing victory over the Argentine foe in a battle that become the stuff of legend.

This was the reason why the old man was making this journey down to Portsmouth. For along with the increasing number of men who were roughly his age and dressed just like him he was a member of the HMS EAGLE Association which every year held a reunion of the men who had served aboard HMS EAGLE during the Falklands War to mark the anniversary of the Battle of The Falklands. This year was especially significant as it marked the 40th anniversary of the battle.
Thus, this year the reunion was being hosted in Portsmouth aboard the flagship of the Royal Navy the current HMS EAGLE.
As the train made its way through more and more stops on its journey to Portsmouth Harbour the old man began feel overjoyed as he recognised faces and began to be reunited with friends he hadn’t seen in many years or even decades. The increasingly large group of veterans joked to each other about how they had gotten even uglier in the many years since. The old man had been in his twenties during the Falklands War along with most of the old friends he now shared a carriage with. Forty years on he was now well into his sixties and a grandfather along with most of the men. In fact, the youngest Falklands veteran would now be 58. The passage of time meant that there would be plenty much older than him and a few who could not attend having sadly run out of time in life.

As the train arrived in Portsmouth Harbour and disgorged what was now a fairly sizeable chunk of the crew of the former HMS EAGLE the old man felt almost as if he was in his twenties again as he and his old shipmates walked past many of those same pubs that they used to frequent as they made their way towards the dockyard. Like many of the old sailors present today the Old man’s wife (whom he hadn’t met until after he had left the navy) had declined to accompany him on the grounds that previous reunions had taught her that today would probably be little more than an exercise in drinking too much.

Walking through Portsmouth Historic Dockyard past the magnificently restored HMS WARRIOR and HMS VICTORY the veterans were met by a coach which transported them to Middle Slip Jetty where HMS EAGLE was berthed.
The sight of the 64,000 ton 285 long ship dominating the dockyard brought back a flood of memories of all those times he had seen his HMS EAGLE do the same. As the coach pulled up by the gangway it was difficult not to feel insignificant when stood next to the gigantic ship.
As they made their way up to the top of the gangway the veterans were greeted by the sight of the ships Battle Honours Board.
In total there had been 19 Royal Navy ships named HMS EAGLE with the first one having been commissioned in 1592. Over the course of 430 years the name EAGLE had been awarded 17 battle honours starting with Portland in 1653. The men of the previous HMS EAGLE still had proud memories of the day in 1983 when the ship had been presented with a new and updated Battle Honours Board that now had Falkland Islands 1982 on it. Of course, in later years even that board had ultimately been replaced by yet another updated one that bore the honour Al Flaw 2003.
The men were led into the hangar where a reception was taking place as the men of the old HMS EAGLE mingled with the crew of the current EAGLE, the ships affiliates and generally the great and the good.
The old man as always was struck by the sheer size of the cavernous hangar. This was despite it not really being that much bigger by volume than the one he had spent so much of his life in aboard the old EAGLE. The difference was that aboard the old EAGLE the hangar was split up into two decks whereas the hangar aboard the current EAGLE was one massive space. The old EAGLE had been designed during the second world war when aircraft were piston powered and much smaller. The problem was that in the following decades the piston powered WWII era aircraft had been replaced by jet aircraft that increased in size at an alarming rate. He remembered how difficult it used to be to try and squeeze Phantom’s and Buccaneer’s into a space that had never been intended to accommodate aircraft of such size. Indeed, fitting everything into the hangar had required aircraft to be parked with sometimes only centimetres of space around them.
Spread around the hangar of the current EAGLE were displays of the various departments and their capabilities. The old man noticed photos of the current hangar when filled with aircraft and was struck by how much space they had around them and how easy the current generation of aircraft technicians had it compared to his own.

His thoughts were interrupted when over the ships intercom he heard the distinctive sound of pipes being blown on the gangway followed by the Quartermaster ordering the ships company to face towards the gangway and salute a certain pair of VVIP’s. The former First Sea Lord Admiral Sir John Cunningham Kirkwood Slater better known as Jock Slater formerly the Commanding Officer of HMS EAGLE during the Falklands Conflict led the way followed closely by another retired officer by the name of Admiral Sir Dereck Roy Reffell. Since relinquishing command of HMS EAGLE over to the then Captain Alan Grose Jock Slater had had a very distinguished career and ultimately become the head of the Royal Navy and retired in 1998. Admiral Reffell had retired from the RN in 1989 after serving as Controller of the Navy and gone on to be appointed as the Governor of Gibraltar. The old man overheard some members of the current EAGLE’s ships company with sight smirks on their faces noting how the current commanding officer of EAGLE seemed slightly nervous in the presence of his predecessor and a living naval legend.
Slater along with many of his former senior officers was now well into his 80’s and Reffell was by now into is 90’s. There was one other man whose name had become a feature of history books about the Falklands War who was sadly absent. Admiral Sandy Woodward had sadly passed away almost 10 years previously. His name however lied on in the navy in many ways. For example, today many new recruits arriving for basic training at HMS RALEIGH find themselves members of Woodward Division. Recently the retired Admiral Reffell had been honoured to be the guest of honour at a pass out parade at Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth to watch the Midshipmen of Reffell Division pass out of training and march up the steps off the parade ground to begin their careers as commissioned Royal Navy officers. The unprecedented honour of a training division being named after the still living admiral showed how highly though of he was in the modern Royal Navy.

Looking around at the members of the current ships company the old man thought to himself that despite many decades having past they looked, sounded and acted like he and his shipmates had when they were their age. It was amazing how some of the younger ratings looked almost exactly the same as men he had known all those years ago. That’s when it dawned on him that there probably were some officers and ratings currently serving onboard who were the children or grandchildren of the men who had been aboard the previous EAGLE. Indeed, he had happy memories of showing his own father around that ship a very long time ago. He came from a long line of navy men and his father had served in the RN during the Second World War and once recounted how he had shown his father around the battleship HMS VANGUARD.

These happy thoughts were suddenly interrupted when an officer tapped the old man on the shoulder and asked if he would like to join a tour of the ship. An offer which the old man enthusiastically accepted.
The current HMS EAGLE was now about 25 years old and having a connection with the ship this wasn’t the first time the old man had been aboard and so he had some familiarity with the layout of the ship. This time however things were very different. In 2020 EAGLE had completed a very expensive nearly two year long midlife overhaul/service life extension refit which had been almost a complete rebuild and had dramatically altered and modernised the ship.
As he toured the ship the old man listened as the officer guiding the group rattled off various facts and figures about the many extensive changes that had been made including the miles of piping and cabling that had been ripped out and replaced. In the Operations Room he heard about how the ships old combat information system ADAWS which in its earliest form dated back to the 1970’s and had been used aboard the INVINCIBLE class, TYPE 42 Destroyers and HMS BRISTOL had been finally declared obsolete and removed. In its place had come CMS which was the system used aboard the TYPE 45 Destroyer’s. Doing this had necessitated ripping out nearly every console in the Operations Room and replacing them with brand new state of the art equipment. Looking around the old man found it hard to believe that this Operations Room was on a ship well over two decades old as it looked like it should belong on a ship that was brand new. In a brief chat with some of the ships company one of the weapons engineers perfectly illustrated the difference a few decades had made when he described the ships computer room. Located just below the Ops Room the Computer Room held the banks of computer hardware that were required to make the computerised Operations Room function. During the refit this elderly hardware had naturally been ripped out and replaced with the hardware required to support CMS. The difference was that nearly 30 years advancement in computer technology meant that the new hardware occupied less than a quarter of the space while having vastly more processing power. The Weapons Engineer recounted how they had been at something of a loss as to what to do with the large amount of newly empty space freed up in the compartment and now used it as a workshop/WE storage compartment.
Carrying on the tour throughout the ship there didn’t seem to be a single area untouched by the refit. Deck coverings had been replaced, the galley had been completely rebuilt, the ship now had a dedicated gym in a former mess compartment that had been freed up due to a slightly reduced crew complement thanks to greater automation.

Up on the vast flight deck was where the changes were the most obvious. The Island superstructure had been completely remodelled.
The Type 1022 air search radar which had sat above the bridge was gone. In its place was a much larger and much more powerful Type 1046 radar that was also found aboard the TYPE 45 Destroyers. The much larger and much heavier radar along with its associated machinery had resulted in the front end of the superstructure above the bridge having to be significantly enlarged to accommodate it. Further back along the superstructure the Type 996 target indication radar had been replaced with the much more modern Type 997 as had happened aboard the TYPE 23 Frigates. In terms of armament the four Phalanx CIWS’s had been upgraded to the standard of the latest variant and the 16 Sea Wolf SAM’s located right at the aft end of the flight deck either side of the glide path had been replaced with the new and massively more capable Sea Ceptor.
Being ex Fleet Air Arm, the old man was naturally interested in the upgrades made to the aircraft operating facilities on the flight deck.
He was particularly impressed by a large flat screen TV that was now mounted onto the superstructure and visible from most of the flight deck. Apparently, it was quite effective for conveying information to those on the flight deck. A far cry from his day when they had to rely to a large extend on hand signals and runners.

Lined up along the centre line of the flight deck was a selection of aircraft that represented each type that made up the air group of the modern HMS EAGLE. Seeing this brought back memories of all the times he had helped line up Phantoms and Buccaneers in similarly impressive formations on the deck of the old EAGLE.
Stranding by the aircraft were a number of youngish men and women in uniform who were obviously the FAA’s current generation of aircrew. These younger airmen were visibly in awe of the group of older men they were talking to. The older men were now mostly into their 70’s but the old man was delighted to recognise the familiar faces. These men a long time ago had been aircrew themselves and had flown the aircraft that had destroyed both the Argentine Navy and Air Force. A good number of the Phantom crews were the only living British air aces.
Captain Nigel “Sharkey” Ward who had commanded 892 Naval Air Squadron and EAGLE’s Phantoms during that conflict was present. Now nearly 80 years old the young pilots who had not even been born when the Falklands War occurred were clearly holding on to his every word as the man who had been awarded a DSO and DFC for his leadership of the squadron and bravery in the air and who had shot 3 Argentine Mirage’s out of the sky chatted pleasantly to them. EAGLE’s Phantom pilots had become living legends in the military aviation community and in the yards following the conflict had been highly sought after in instructor roles and even all these decades later were still occasionally asked to give lectures about their experiences to modern military pilots all over the world. The 1986 American movie Top Gun had reflected this by portraying one of the instructor pilots as a British Falklands veteran.
The Buccaneer crews were also legendary but alongside this were infamous in some circles. In Britain they were celebrated as the men who had destroyed an enemy fleet and pounded an army into near submission and could be argued to have won the war themselves. In Argentina they were accused mass murder and war crimes (without any detail of the basis of this last claim). For that reason, the men formerly of 809 Naval Air Squadron generally kept out of the public eye a little more than their former Phantom flying counterparts.

The Falklands War was still an open and sore wound for Argentina even 40 years later. The old man remembered traveling to Argentina some years ago as part of an official exchange of veterans to help repair bridges between the two nations. He had attended a very solemn ceremony at the Monument to the Fallen in the Malvinas in Buenos Aires which bore the names of all 2772 Argentinians who had died during the conflict. He had even travelled south to Puerto Belgrano Naval Base where he had viewed the Naval memorial to the Argentine sailors lost at sea with each ship having its own plaque. He had gotten the very distinct feeling that the Argentine military personnel who had accompanied the British contingent throughout the trip were really bodyguards. He’d been struck at how significant the Falklands Conflict seemed to be in the Argentine national psyche when compared to Britain. He had concluded that this was due to it being the only significant international conflict that Argentina had taken part in within living memory and the far reaching national consequences that had resulted. Namely the overthrow of the Argentine military government.
This contrasted to Britain where the Falklands was increasingly just one amongst many other international conflicts that Britain had fought in within living memory. The current HMS EAGLE alone had been involved in British combat operations in Sierra Leone, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and more recently Syria.
One thing that annoyed many in Britain was the habit of successive Argentine governments to try to rekindle the Falklands sovereignty dispute whenever they needed a quick popularity boost or a political distraction. The position of the British government on the issue was that the Falklands were British territory populated by British citizens and that was the end of the matter. There would also be the occasional implied hint of “If you are thinking of doing anything stupid remember what happened last time”.
There were plenty of recent examples of how the Falklands War even years later was still able to stir up a strong emotional response from many within Argentina.
In 2014 while filming their “Patagonia Special” in Argentina the presenters and crew of the BBC programme Top Gear had been forced to abandon filming and flee the country to escape what they described as a “lynch mob” after locals took offence to a vehicle number plate. This incident caused a diplomatic spat between Britain and Argentina and was shown to have hurt Argentina’s image abroad as many English speaking countries for a short while advised their citizens against non-essential travel to Argentina.
In November of 2018 the wreak of the submarine ARA SAN LUIS was discovered, proving the British claim to have sunk her during the Battle of the Falkland Islands. News of the discovery had resulted in protests outside of the British embassy and a demand for an apology from the British Government for destroying the boat. The demand had been given a stiff ignoring by the British.

Many of the surviving Phantom’s, Buccaneer’s and Gannet’s that had served with the RN and in some cases subsequently served with the RAF had found their way into various museum collections following retirement. The old man volunteered at the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton which possessed a number of Phantom’s and Buccaneer’s that had been repainted in their former RN colours complete with kill markings. There had been incidents where the aircraft had been targeted by anti war activists as perceived symbols of British imperialism. In one incident swift and somewhat brutally violent intervention by the old man despite his age had prevented some activists from damaging the exhibits.

The old man’s attention now turned to the impressive line up of modern aircraft before him. Having worked in the aerospace industry since leaving the RN he was familiar with these aircraft and the stories behind them.
First up was the Goshawk. Essentially a navalised version of the BAE Hawk trainer (which had proven itself to be a massive export success and was still in production after nearly 50 years) the Goshawk was used to train pilots in the art of operating from the deck of an aircraft carrier. Compared to the loss of almost a third of the RN’s Phantom fleet in accidents barely a handful of the Hornet’s that had succeeded it had been lost due to accidents. This had proven the value of a naval specific fast jet trainer. The US Navy operated more than 200 examples of the type and even the French Aeronavale had purchased a small number of the type. Goshawks weren’t just used for training new pilots. Aircrew who hadn’t landed aboard a carrier for more than 6 months were required to requalify using the Goshawk. Small numbers of Goshawk’s were usually carried as a standard component of the air group for training purposes.
The example on display today was one of the still fairly new Goshawk T2’s. The Goshawk had first entered service with the RN in 1991. Service at sea takes its toll on aircraft due to the harsh conditions meaning that they often have shorter lifespans than their land based counterparts. As the first generation of Goshawk’s had begun to approach the end of their service lives the RN had decided to replace them with new build modernised Goshawk’s. The RAF had already been in the process of developing what would become known as the Hawk T2. Many of their requirements in terms of modernisation were almost identical to what the RN wanted and the production lines were still open meaning that a joint project had been undertaken.
The Goshawk T2 featured a glass cockpit with modern avionics that were designed to as closely as possible resemble the layout of the cockpit of the frontline aircraft that students would transition onto.
The USN had placed a big order for the Goshawk T2 which they referred to as the T45 Goshawk C and which like the original Goshawk was manufactured in the US by Boeing (who had taken over McDonnel Douglas).
The land based Hawk continued to receive export orders from all over the world and was considered a reliable source of income for the British aviation industry.

Next up was another new build aircraft, the Hawkeye AEW aircraft. As with the Goshawk the E-2C Hawkeye’s that the RN operated had eventually begun to struggle with obsolescence and simple aircraft age. The USN which operated the same type had faced the same issues. Their solution had been to develop what became known as the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye. The E-2D as with the Goshawk was a modernised version of an existing aircraft. The new Hawkeye featured a new and much more capable radar, modern avionics a much more powerful onboard mission computer and communications and information exchange suite. All of these made the E-2D a significant improvement over the E-2C that had originally been purchased by the RN.

The 2015 Defence Review which had sought in part to undo some of the damage inflicted by the 2010 review had resulted in the procurement of 8 E-2D Advanced Hawkeye’s from the US as part of a wider upgrade of the UK’s ISTAR capabilities.
As part of this revamping of ISTAR capability significant numbers of UAV’s were to be procured and new types developed as Britain tried to muscle its way into the UAV market. Indeed, all RN ships now carried a UAV of some description such as the Boeing ScanEagle.
The 2015 review had called for the eventual retirement and replacement of the venerable Nimrod MPA. The current version was the Nimrod MRA4 which had been in service for just over 10 years now. The MRA4 aircraft were essentially rebuilt and thoroughly modernised MR2’s. Unfortunately, there were a number of issues with the MRA4. Cost overruns, delays and budget cuts as a result of the 2010 Strategic Defence Review had seen the planned number of aircraft reduced to a final count of 9 which had been further reduced to 8 after one was lost in an accident which wasn’t really enough to do the job. There was no getting around the fact that despite the rebuilds the individual airframes were already pretty old as was a lot of the equipment onboard meaning that maintenance and maintaining sources of spare parts had always been disproportionately and increasingly difficult and expensive. An issue exacerbated by the non standardisation of many aspects of the individual aircraft.
It had been concluded that rather than continuing to press ahead with maintaining aircraft that were gradually becoming money pits a new aircraft should be purchased off the shelf. It had been decided to by something off the shelf rather than develop a new aircraft in order to save money on development costs which would allow the RAF to purchase and operate the greater number of aircraft they felt they required. To this end the first of a planned 16 Boeing P8 Poseidon’s would enter service in 2025.
Another aircraft being replaced was the Sentry AEW.1 AWACS aircraft. The Sentry had proven itself worth its weight in gold in terms of the capability it offered. However, the aircraft had been beginning to show their age and would not remain cutting edge forever and so a requirement for a replacement had been identified. At the time the American’s were not looking to develop a replacement aircraft and the RAF hadn’t felt that the other smaller AWACS aircraft available really met their requirements.
To this end a new British developed AWACS aircraft had been procured. The BAE/Airbus Guardian AEW.2 was an Airbus A330 airframe fitted with a large and powerful British made active electronically scanned array. The A330 had already been chosen as the RAF’s new AAR Tanker aircraft meaning that there was already experience with the type and existing supply chains. The aircraft was large meaning that it could carry a large radar and its associated machinery along with large computer banks and communications equipment. The Guardian AEW.2 was a massive step up from the Sentry AEW.1 that it was replacing and 7 examples had been ordered for the RAF. With the Americans deciding to press ahead with upgrades to their existing fleet of Sentry’s the Guardian was easily the newest and most modern AWACS aircraft available for export and had already attracted an order from France (who already manufactured the A330 airframes) who intended to procure 4 of the aircraft to replace their own Sentry’s and strong interest from Saudi Arabia and possibly other nations.

Next up were the frontline helicopter types operated by the RN. First was the AgustaWestland AW101 known in the RN as the Merlin which had now completely replaced the venerable Sea King which had been operated by the RN for close to four decades.
Two variants were in service with the FAA. The first was the HM2 ASW variant. The Merlin being a large helicopter leant itself well to the ASW role as it had the space and lift capacity for an impressive loadout of ASW weapons and sonobuoys along with a powerful dipping sonar and surface search radar and an onboard acoustic data processing system while still having a respectable amount of spare capacity for passengers and cargo. With the exception of the small ships the Merlin was capable of being operated from pretty much every vessel in the RN’s order of battle. Much like the old HMS EAGLE had routinely carried at least 6 Sea King’s onboard for ASW defence (with the notable exception of the Falklands War) the modern HMS EAGLE was never without a flight of Merlin HM2’s for the same reason.
The other variant of the Merlin operated by the FAA was the HC4 commando transport which had replaced the old Sea King HC.4’s within the Commando Helicopter Force. The troop carrying variant of the Merlin was also operated in large numbers by the RAF where it had been procured to replace the Westland Wessex and had also ultimately ended up replacing the Westland Puma. In total the UK operated just over 70 of the troop carrying variant with only very minor differences between the RN and RAF aircraft. The Merlin was another British built aircraft that had been widely exported.
In recent years it had become standard practise for the RN’s carriers to carry a pair of Merlin HC4’s onboard along with a detachment of Royal Marines onboard to provide a combat search and rescue capability. This had come about as a consequence of the carriers being used to conduct airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria where the ultimate nightmare scenario had been an aircraft being lost resulting in a pilot trapped behind enemy lines in ISIS territory.

Next to the pair of Merlin’s was another aircraft that looked familiar yet very different to the aircraft the old man remembered. Originally the Merlin had been intended to replace all types of frontline helicopter in service with the RN including the Westland Lynx. The RN however had been unwilling to dispense with the Lynx for the larger Merlin as they felt they still had a need for a smaller and more nimble light utility helicopter. Furthermore, they had identified the continuing need for a helicopter capable of ASUW warfare as the Merlin (which only carried torpedoes and depth charges) was unable to carry out this role. In recent years the rise in the perceived threat of swarm attacks from small craft in chokepoints such as the Straits of Hormuz and the RN’s commitments to anti piracy and anti smuggling operations had reinforced the need for what was essentially a small and very fast helicopter gunship which could also carry a small number of commandos for boarding operations. There was also the fact that whereas the RN’s frigates and destroyers had enough hanger space for only one Merlin sized aircraft two smaller Lynx sized helicopters could be squeezed in. The result was what had been known as the Surface Combatant Maritime Rotorcraft project unofficially known as Future Lynx. The MOD did receive some criticism for pressing ahead with an updated Lynx rather than holding an open competition or considering other options. The intention had originally been to rebuild and thoroughly modernise existing Lynx helicopters. As the list of requirements had grown along with the estimated costs of fitting the various bits of modern technology demanded by the RN it had been decided that in the long term it would be better to build completely new airframes as this would allow the designers and engineers greater freedom to do what was necessary and provide for a longer aircraft service life. Politically this had played well as a great many more jobs were sustained by building completely new airframes. The result of this had been an aircraft that while externally looking near enough like the Lynx that it was developed from in actuality comprised 95% completely new components.
The aircraft had been named Lynx Wildcat but this had soon been changed to Wildcat reflecting the fact that this was a completely new aircraft.
The Wildcat was armed with a formidable array of weaponry. Most notably it could carry 20 of the new Martlet light air to surface missiles which had been specifically designed to take on small fast moving craft such as those used by smugglers, pirates and Iran’s IRGC. Along with Martlet the Wildcat could also carry the larger Sea Venom ASM for taking on larger targets, heavy machine guns and ASW weapons in the form of torpedoes and depth charges. It had become standard practise for ships deploying to the Middle East to carry Wildcat in the place of Merlin.
Onboard HMS EAGLE a pair of Wildcat’s were carried for general utility work and because they had proven quite good in the plane guard role.
The Wildcat was a relatively recent addition to the RN but was already gaining export orders. South Korea which faced the similar threats of small fast craft and small submarines from North Korea had found the Wildcat ideally suited to their needs and placed a significant order. The Philippines had also purchased the aircraft as they felt it would be ideal for policing the various straits and waterways between the islands that made up that nation. Other nations such as Brazil and Bangladesh had also expressed an interest.

The British Army had previously planned to purchase what would become the Wildcat to replace their own fleet of Lynx AH.7’s. However, this had not come to pass. The Army had previously purchased the Apache to replace the Lynx in the attack helicopter role and had been looking to replace it in the light troop transport role due to the age and limitations of the aircraft. Operations in Afghanistan and Iraq had clearly shown the Lynx’s shortcomings and put the Army Air Corps in the position of urgently needing a replacement. The use of roadside IED’s had forced British forces to try and conduct as many movements as possible by helicopter to try and negate the IED threat. Unfortunately, Britain had found that it didn’t possess the required number of helicopters meaning that there was still the need to resupply forward operating bases by road and that casualties were still being sustained that might otherwise had been avoidable. The Army weren’t particularly happy with the Wildcat as they felt that it still had many of the limitations of the Lynx. Namely its small size limiting its troop carrying capacity. Crucially they felt that it would be less than ideal in the vital CASEVAC role as the medics would have difficulty treating casualties in such a small space and that the medics and door gunners would probably get in each other’s way. Furthermore, at the time the Wildcat was still in development and the Army had made the case that they couldn’t wait around for what would be a less than ideal aircraft. Instead, they had decided to go with an off the shelf solution that could be brought into service relatively quickly and had purchased 45 Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk’s from the US. The British were already familiar with the Blackhawk having worked closely with US Army Aviation on operations and through exchange programmes already had a body of experience with operating the aircraft. The deciding factor had been the fact that there would be no need to pay for development costs and that the Americans could be persuaded to divert some of their aircraft already in production to the British meaning that the Blackhawk was able to fulfil the urgent need for new helicopters.

Finally, at the end of the line of aircraft the old man came to the centrepiece and real muscle of EAGLE’s air group. The Super Hornet FGR3 and FGR4.

The end of the Cold War had resulted in brutal cut backs to military development budgets all over the world including the USA with many new equipment projects cancelled. One such project was the McDonnell Douglas A12 Avenger II. Originally the Advanced Tactical Aircraft programme the A12 had been intended to be a stealth strike aircraft to replace the obsolete A6 Intruder and A7 Corsair II in US Navy service. In hindsight the A12 was considered to have been far too ambitious. As a result, the programme had been beset by endless technical difficulties which resulted in massive cost overruns and its expected entry into service being pushed back again and again. These and other issues had resulted in the A12 finding itself amongst many other aircraft that were cancelled in the early 1990’s.
With budgets already stretched and not having the time to press ahead with the development of a completely new aircraft the USN had decided to pursue an updated version of an existing aircraft to replace the A6 and A7. McDonnell Douglas had naturally put forward their own F/A-18 Hornet proposing a new generation of the design.
Another programme that had been cancelled was the Navy Advanced Tactical Fighter which had aimed to create a navalized variant of the Lockheed Martin F22 Raptor stealth air superiority fighter that was being developed for the USAF to replace the F15.
This left the USN with the Grumman F14D Super Tomcat as its primary air defence aircraft. The USN at the time had operated a total of 132 F14D’s along with a number of older F14B’s. The F14D was a relatively young aircraft with the first example having entered service in 1990. However, it was recognised that having been originally developed in the 1960’s the F14 design was not far off reaching the point where it would no longer be able to keep up with newer more modern designs. Therefore, the USN had decided that the A6, A7 and ultimately F14 should be replaced with a common design mainly for cost reasons. The last F14D would leave service in 2017. The choice had come down to a new incarnation of the F/A-18 or an updated version of the F14. The F/A-18 had been chosen since it had been designed from the outset to be a multirole aircraft as opposed to the F14 which was an air superiority which had some capability to perform air to ground missions. The decision to go with a common design was somewhat controversial as many argued that the resulting aircraft would be a jack of all trades but likely inferior in a given role when compared to an aircraft dedicated to that role. The resulting aircraft was called the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet and despite a similar name and appearance was an almost entirely different aircraft compared to the older F/A-18 Hornet. The Super Hornet was significantly larger and had a much greater performance such as maximum take off weight and effective range compared to the earlier Hornet.

The Super Hornet also included a significant amount of British design input and British made components. British Aerospace (now BAE) and McDonnell Douglas (now part of Boeing) had established a strong partnership in relation to the Hornet. When Britain had made the decision to by Hornets for the FAA and RAF back in 1983 a lot of work had gone into producing a variant of the Hornet tailored to their needs which had resulted in the Hornet FGR1 and FGR2. Many of the British innovations such as conformal fuel tanks for the Hornet had been taken up by the Americans for their F/A-18’s. The British aircraft industry had played a much larger role in the development of the Super Hornet despite Britain at the time not yet intending to purchase the aircraft. Many European nations such as Spain, Switzerland, Finland, Italy and others operated the F/A-18 and Britain had become effectively the European hub for manufacturing and support and supply chains with many components and spare parts manufactured under licence in Britain. The Americans had wanted to keep this partnership going as they felt it would help European sales prospects and the British wanted to keep it going to be able to continue supporting their own fleet of Hornet’s and to support the British aircraft industry. The first Super Hornet’s had entered service with the USN in 2001.

One of the most surprising aspects of the 2010 Defence Review and regarded by many as the only positive thing to come from that review was the decision to procure the Super Hornet as an interim replacement for the RN and RAF’s legacy Hornet’s. A total of 260 Hornet FGR1’s and FGR2’s had been procured where they had replaced the Phantom, Buccaneer and ultimately Jaguar in RAF service and the Sea Harrier in FAA service. At the time the RAF’s fast jet fleet had consisted of Hornet’s, Harrier GR9’s, Tornado GR4’s and elderly Tornado F3 interceptors. The review had been brutal with the Harrier being immediately retired without replacement, the Tornado F3 scheduled for retirement within the next few years and a number of older Hornets and a smaller number of Tornado GR4’s retired. Both the Hornet and Tornado were getting on in years and would need to be replaced within the next few years. There were some projects in the works for long term replacements but those were still many years away at the time. The Super Hornet had been a relatively obvious choice as it was based upon a proven design that the UK already operated while offering superior capabilities and without the need to pay much in the way of development costs was regarded as cost effective. The deciding factor had been political considerations which were twofold. The Super Hornet already used a great deal of British components and could be assembled within the UK the same way the original Hornets had sustaining a great many jobs within the British aircraft industry. Unlike the original Hornet which had required a lot of money and effort to “Anglicise” the baseline Super Hornet design already contained a significant proportion of British manufactured and British compatible equipment. The only major difference between the baseline F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet and the British versions that would become known as the FGR3 (single seat) and FGR4 (twin seat) was the replacement of the APG-79 Radar with a British developed and manufactured CAPTOR active electronically scanned array radar. CAPTOR had been developed from the Blue Vixen radar which was already used by the Hornet FGR1 and FGR2.
The second reason was the desire by the British Government to try and break the increasing stranglehold the French were developing on the European aircraft market by selling Super Hornets assembled in Britain to other European nations as had happened with the original Hornet. The French had traditionally gone to great lengths to maintain a strong and independent domestic defence industry including aircraft. With a few exceptions the French Armed Forces were unique in possessing almost exclusively domestically manufactured equipment.
Over the years there had been various pan European attempts to produce a jointly produced combat aircraft. These projects had been given nicknames such as “Eurofighter”. All of these attempts had failed mostly due to a lack of interest from the potential largest partners. When Britain had decided to purchase the F/A-18 in the early 1980’s it had symbolised a general pivot on the part of the British towards partnership with the Americans in terms of aircraft. As a result, they hadn’t really been interested in a joint European project. The French had decided that it would be in their best interest not to participate seeing as without them such a project would likely never get off the ground and would likely push more nations into having to purchase French aircraft.
Without Britain or France onboard Germany had felt that they couldn’t commit to such a programme seeing as they felt they didn’t have the technical expertise or willingness to commit to what they felt would be the lion’s share of any such project and had opted to purchase American aircraft instead. The Luftwaffe had been very pleased with their F15 Eagle’s and F15E Strike Eagle’s and also continued to operate the Tornado. France had been part of the various attempts to produce a European fighter aircraft and in the aftermath of its failure had chosen to take what they had developed so far and go it alone. The result had been a delta wing, canard, twin engine multi role fighter manufactured by Dassault known as the Rafale. The Rafale was now the backbone of the French Air Force and French Naval Aviation and had been exported to a number of countries around the world.

The 2010 Defence review had committed to the purchase of 200 Super Hornet FGR3’s and FGR4’s to replace the legacy Hornet FG1’s and FGR2’ in FAA and RAF service. The RAF would also use the Super Hornet to replace the Tornado F3 in the short term. The First UK Super Hornet’s would enter service in 2014.
The 2015 Defence Review had been conducted against the backdrop of increased tensions with Russia and the increased likelihood of high intensity high technology warfare. As a result, it had committed the UK to the procurement of yet another variant of the F/A-18. The Boeing E/A-18 Growler was an electronic warfare variant of the Super Hornet that had been developed to replace the EA-6 Prowler in USN service.
Now finding themselves desperately in need of a boost to their electronic warfare and SEAD capabilities in order to face Russian air defence systems such as the fearsome S-400 SAM (SA-21 Growler) the UK had leapt on the chance to purchase the E/A-18. Already operating the Super Hornet and having the infrastructure in place to operate it the E/A-18 was regarded as offering a significant boost in capability and mission success chances for a relatively modest price. 36 Growlers had been procured with 12 going to the RN and 24 to the RAF.

Of course, there was more to the UK aircraft industry than just licence building Hornet’s and Super Hornet’s.
In 1997 the Labour Party had won a landslide in the general election and formed a new government. The new Labour government had promised to halt what it described as the long term decline of the British aircraft industry and return it to something approaching its former glory. It had been decided that the best way to do this was through a number of big ticket development programmes that would not only sustain jobs but develop expertise and the industrial base necessary for the industry to survive in the long term. Unfortunately for them there is a reason why few nations develop their own aircraft. It’s hellishly expensive, requires a level of expertise that most nations don’t possess and only really makes sense of you are intending to purchase the resulting aircraft in significant numbers. Thus, it had been decided that some sort of joint programme with another nation would be the best way ahead in order to help develop British industry to the point of being able to take on an independent project in the long term.
The Americans had been approached to see if they were interested in collaboration on what would become the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor stealth fighter to replace the Tornado F3 interceptor. Many in the US would later claim that had the British made their offer a few years earlier it would have probably been taken up. As it was by the time the British expressed an interest in the aircraft in 1998 the first prototypes had been flying for well over a year and most of the development work had already been carried out and paid for. For the American’s the main benefit of having the British aboard would have been having someone to share the massive development costs and the lower unit price achieved through having more aircraft built. Another problem was that the F22 contained a large amount of cutting edge and extremely secret stealth technology and onboard computer systems which had led the US Congress to impose a ban on exports of the aircraft. Had the British persisted they could have probably eventually been granted special permission to purchase the aircraft but it was made clear that even this would be a reduced specification export model.
On the British side when it became clear how difficult and expensive it would be to obtain the F22 interest rapidly drained away. The RAF felt that they wouldn’t be able to afford to field adequate numbers of F22’s and weren’t interested in a dedicated air superiority fighter. Going forward the preference was for multirole combat aircraft.

Far from going home with their tail between their legs the British had come back to the Americans with a new proposal. In the aftermath of the Cold War a lot of American aircraft projects had been cancelled meaning that they were in need of a new aircraft project to replace the variety of frontline types they had in service such as the F16. At the same time, they were looking to use what they had learnt with the F22 to develop a cheaper stealth fighter that could be exported. The British had proposed a joint programme to develop a common aircraft to meet the American’s and their own needs for a 5th Generation multirole aircraft. They had offered a 50/50 split of the development costs which had convinced the US government to approve the programme. The Joint Strike Fighter Programme had begun in 2001 and despite taking many years longer and costing more than it should have had produced perhaps the most advanced combat aircraft in service today. The Lockheed Martin/BAE produced aircraft was known in US service as the F35 and in British service as the Typhoon. The project had been successful in its aim to produce a cheaper version of the F22 stealth fighter that was exportable. The F35 Thunderchief visually looked quite similar to the F22 which had been the baseline for the design of the airframe. Britain’s contribution was the powerful Rolls Royce jet engine, various onboard systems and electronics such as the cutting edge ECM/ESM suite and much more. About 40% of each aircraft was manufactured in Britain, most notably the Rolls Royce engine and parts of the wings and fuselage and many other components. Other nations had also become involved carrying out subcontracting work to supply components.
The F35 Typhoon had been controversial on both sides of the Atlantic. In Britain the controversy was due to the sheer cost with questions being asked as to why the Americans weren’t paying more when they would obviously be the largest users of the aircraft. Behind closed doors many were angered by the fact that it would be politically and diplomatically impossible for them to back out of what at times looked to become an unaffordable project.
On the American side many were angered by the joint nature of the project and how large of a manufacturing share Britain had claiming that American jobs and industry were being sacrificed in order to save money. For this reason, final assembly of all aircraft including those intended for export took place in Lockheed Martin’s in Fort Worth, Texas.
The first prototype had flown in 2008 and the first production aircraft had been delivered to the USAF in 2013. Already more than 500 examples had been built with the USAF being by far and away the biggest operator followed by the RAF who currently operated 48 examples and planned to procure a total of 180 aircraft (meaning that going forward its fast jet fleet would be comprised of Typhoon’s and Super Hornets). The F35 being the only 5th Generation fighter available on the market at the moment had been a runaway export success with nations queueing up to buy it and just over 150 aircraft already in service with these countries. Australia, Canada, Italy, The Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Israel, Finland, Japan, South Korea and many other nations had already placed orders with more from other nations expected. All together it was estimated that well over 2000 aircraft would be ultimately produced, much to the delight of the by then British Conservative Government who were happy to take the credit for what could be creatively interpreted as a British export success.

The Lockheed Martin/BAE F35 Typhoon wasn’t the only fast jet project that Britain was currently involved in.
The Hawker Harrier VSTOL aircraft had been originally developed back in the 1960s and was still in service around the world most notably with the USMC. Britain had operated the Harrier in one form or another for more than 40 years but in all that time had regarded it as more of a nice to have than an essential. The Sea Harrier had only been developed for the RN as a way of maintaining some form of fixed wing capability following the decision in the 1970’s to dispense with conventional carrier aircraft. The Royal Navy hadn’t really held the aircraft in very high regard and had gotten rid of it as soon as was possible with the introduction of the Hornet. Within the history of the Fleet Air Arm the Sea Harrier was regarded as an interesting but not particularly important footnote in history. The RAF had originally procured the aircraft as they envisioned it operating from hidden rough airfields in the German countryside as they expected their air bases to be quickly put out of action by a Soviet attack. While the Harrier had been a pretty respectable ground attack and strike aircraft in later years the RAF felt that VSTOL capability was something they could manage without. The main reason why the Harrier had survived as long as it had with the RAF was that it was still pretty good at its given role and there had never been any serious attempt at replacing it. In 2010 when it became clear that savage cuts were going to be imposed on the defence budget the RAF had decided to offer up the Harrier as a sacrifice to the treasury executioners in order to safeguard their other assets.

In contrast to the Harrier’s creators in Britain the USMC were absolutely in love with the aircraft as it was capable of operating from amphibious assault ships and didn’t require a runway ashore meaning that it was ideal for providing fixed wing close air support.
VSTOL capability was something that the USMC was desperate to keep. The Harrier also continued to be operated by the Indian, Italian and Spanish Navy’s from the decks of their small carriers.
The USMC had been offered the option of buying the F35 Typhoon but had turned it down on the grounds that it was not capable of operating from a carrier and that they really wanted to focus on obtaining a new VTOL aircraft. They had however procured the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet to replace some of their older Hornets.
In the early days of the Joint Strike Fighter programme that eventually became the F35 a number of proposals for different variants had been looked at including a VSTOL capable variant. Pursuing this option had been decided against as it was considered that trying to shoehorn VTOL capability into an existing aircraft design would be far too technically difficult and expensive and would likely compromise the F35 design. It was felt that any new VTOL aircraft should be something designed for that role from the outset rather than a modification of an existing design.
The Americans had originally been interested in pursuing a joint programme with the British similar to the Joint Strike Fighter seeing as the British were regarded as the world leaders in VTOL aircraft design. However, when the British Government had decided to scrap their Harrier’s in 2010, they had made it clear that they were not interested in procuring a direct replacement. This had forced the US into having to go it alone in developing a Harrier replacement. The resulting aircraft was the Lockheed Martin AV-19 Hellcat II. The old man remembered seeing a picture of the proposed design for the first time and how the aircrafts appearance had reminded him of the Hawker Siddeley P1154 or a Harrier on steroids. Many aspects of the new aircraft were similar to the Harrier with a single engine that would switch between vertical and normal flight, downwards thrust in the centre of the fuselage and a relatively small wing. The AV-19’s main improvement over the Harrier was its superior performance with the ability to fly at supersonic speeds and to take off vertically with a full fuel and munitions load out. Though it had aspects of stealth technology onboard the AV-19 wasn’t a stealth aircraft to the same extent that the F22 and F35 were, instead relying on its performance for survivability.
Though the British Armed Forces weren’t interested in purchasing the aircraft themselves British companies had been heavily involved in its development using the experience they had gained over many years with the Harrier. BAE had helped to design the airframe and Rolls Royce had provided considerable assistance and guidance in designing a new engine based upon their own Pegasus engine that powered the Harrier. The AV-19 Hellcat II was due to enter frontline service with the USMC sometime in the mid 2020’s. In the meantime, the USMC was pressing ahead with an upgrade of their existing Harrier fleet to keep them viable until they were replaced by the AV-19.

There was one Royal Navy aircraft that wasn’t represented aboard HMS EAGLE just yet. Both the RN and USN were mindful of the fact that while the Super Hornet was a relatively new and very capable aircraft it was a generation behind what the RAF/USAF were very operating and that potential adversaries such as Russia and China were known to be introducing 5th generation aircraft. Therefore, in the long term there was a need for a 5th generation stealth carrier capable fighter. The simplest course of action and the one that had been pursued was to develop a naval version of the F35 as an offshoot of that ongoing programme.
History shows that generally aircraft that are successful in operating both from land and sea (such as the F4 Phantom) are usually aircraft that started out life as naval aircraft designed for carrier operations as it is easier to remove something that is no longer needed (such as arrestor hooks and a strengthened airframe) than it is to add something to an existing design. This had caused the Lockheed Martin/BAE team to go right back to basics to just the bare bones of the F35 design and start over. The resulting aircraft still shared the overwhelming majority of its components with the F35. The main differences were a slightly different airframe form (most notably a greater wing area to assist with catapult take offs), a greatly strengthened airframe and undercarriage to cope with the stresses of carrier take offs and landings and an arrestor hook. All of this strengthening came at the price of greater weight. The penalty of this was a lower fuel and munitions lift capability compared to the land based F35 in order to get the weight down to the point where the aircraft was light enough for carrier operations.
It had been decided that there was enough difference between this aircraft and the F35 for it to be classed as a separate type rather than just a variant of the F35. Therefore, the aircraft was known as the Lockheed Martin/BAE Thunder.
Prototype aircraft had been flying for a few years now and the first aircraft were expected to be delivered to the FAA’s operational evaluation unit in 2025. With the Super Hornet still being relatively young with plenty of flying hours left on them there wasn’t really that much of a rush on the part of the RN to get the new aircraft into service and thus the first batches of production aircraft would be going to the USN.

The old man had had a very enjoyable time looking at the aircraft on the flight deck and talking to the pilots and aircraft handlers. He had been particularly interested in the fact that two of the pilots were exchange officers from the US Navy and French Navy and had enjoyed talking to them about how EAGLE and the Fleet Air Arm compared to their own services.
As he began to make his way back down to the hangar via a stairwell that had been set up on the Portside aircraft lift, he had noticed a harbour tender that approached and then proceeded to tie up to the Port side of EAGLE. He was then informed that the tender would be taking groups of the old EAGLE men on tours of the dockyard and he was very welcome to partake. The old man had been very pleased to accept this offer and after embarking aboard the harbour tender along with a number of old friends they had set off to see the ships of the modern Royal Navy. It was a completely different navy to the one they had served in. All of the ships they had known were now just names and photographs in RN history books and all of the men they had served with were like them civilians again. The old man had remembered seeing a news article not long ago about how the last Falklands veteran had left the British armed forces. Even the current First Sea Lord had joined the RN after the Falklands War. Soon the last Cold War era servicemen would be gone. The old man remembered when he had joined as a 16 year old all those decades ago how there were some crusty old chiefs and warrant officers around back then with campaign medals from the Second World War. It was interesting to think that those men who had trained him had probably been trained by men who had served in the First World War.

As the tender began to move away from the berthing bay from which he had embarked the old man was once again overawed by the sheer size of EAGLE. At just under 300m in length the carrier took up the entire length of Middle Slip Jetty and also dominated the adjacent Sheer Jetty by taking up just enough of its length with her stern lines to make Sheer Jetty unusable as a berth for any other ship while the carrier was in port. When only one carrier was in port it would nearly always be berthed on Middle Slip Jetty.
The next berth along the wall was Victory Jetty. A ship berthed here has a prime view of the magnificently restored HMS VICTORY, the building that contained the preserved remains of the MARY ROSE, the First World War era Monitor M33 and the Georgian era buildings of the Historic Dockyard that were generally much easier on the eye than the industrial buildings that made up most of the naval base. A ship berthed here was also very much in the public eye as it would be in full view of the visitors to the Historic Dockyard. For these reasons Victory Jetty was regarded as the prestige berth. When both of the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers alongside one would be berthed here as Victory Jetty was also the only other berth large and deep enough to accommodate such massive vessels. Visiting warships would also be berthed here as the view from the berth was used by the RN as a subtle way to show off and it had the added bonus of keeping foreign personnel away from the dockyard’s main operation. Today there was a visiting warship berthed here but it was not a foreigner. HMS BULWARK was one of the RN’s pair of ALBION class of amphibious assault ships. The ALBION class were homeported in Devonport. BULWARK was currently undertaking operational sea training as part of her workup for a deployment and was alongside for a few days for a bit of respite and maintenance from the gruelling training schedule. Nearly every single person on the harbour tender had grim memories of going through OST. With a displacement of 23,000 tons and a length of 206m the ALBION Class were impressive ships. The ships had been built to replace ageing FEARLESS Class LPD’s and had entered service in the late 1990’s. The ALBION’s were essentially a combined LPH and LPD type design and visually looked like light aircraft carriers with a large stern ramp covering the entrance to a large well deck. There were clear parallels with the INVINCIBLE class light aircraft carriers and obvious design influences. The ALBION class’s internal layout was dominated by two extremely large internal spaces. The aircraft hangar which provided space for an air group of 18 helicopters and below that a vehicle deck located just in front of a well deck capable of holding up to 4 large LCU Mark 10 landing craft internally. A further 4 smaller LCVP Mark 5 landing craft were held by davits in berthing bays on the ships side along with the ship’s own boats. BULWARK’s air group usually consisted of 12 Merlin HC4’s from the Commando Helicopter Force along with 6 other aircraft from the Army Air Corps or the RAF. Apache attack helicopters from the AAC’s 656 squadron were routinely carried onboard and the UK was the only nation in the world to operate the type at sea. RAF Chinook helicopters were also regular features onboard but came with the drawback that they could not be stowed in the hangar without having their rotor blades removed seeing as they lacked a blade folding mechanism meaning that they had to be stowed on the flight deck. The ALBION class was theoretically capable of embarking any UK Military helicopter and other types from the FAA/AAC/RAF were infrequent visitors. The sheer size of the hangar and vehicle deck/well dock had presented quite a challenge to the naval architects who had designed the ALBION class and careful control and oversight had been required to prevent the design from rapidly ballooning into something that would have been completely unaffordable. The at the time recent experience of the QUEEN ELIZABETH Class aircraft carrier programme had been put to good use in the ALBION Class. Cammell Laird had been selected to build the first ship HMS ALBION as they were at the time still finishing off HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH and thus had the facilities and experience of building large and complicated warships. HMS BULWARK had been built by what had then been VSEL at Barrow in Furness for the same reasons on the same slipway that had given birth to HMS EAGLE. Though over the last 20 or so years they had become much more involved in civilian ship building and downsized somewhat Cammell Laird was still one of the UK’s most active ship building yards. In Barrow in Furness VSEL was now BAE Systems was still as busy as ever and committed entirely to the naval side of things.
In terms of troop carrying capacity the ALBION Class stats were impressive with the ability to carry 600 men (850 for short periods) not including the personnel who were required to support the embarked air group and a significant number of vehicles depending on type ranging from 40+ small vehicles to 6 MBT’s but usually around 30 trucks or armoured vehicles.
The French had also adopted the concept of combining an LPH with and LPD in their 21,500 ton MISTRAL Class. Though they would never comment many suspected that the French had been at least partially influenced by the ALBION class.

South of HMS BULWARK was South Railway Jetty which was occupied by one of the Royal Navy’s newest and certainly most modern vessel. The TYPE 26 frigate HMS LONDON. The TYPE 26 had been bourne out of a requirement in the 1998 Strategic Defence Review to develop a replacement for the TYPE 22 and ultimately the TYPE 23 frigates under what had been called the Future Surface Combatant programme with the first ship planned to enter service in 2015. 2015 was when the Batch 3 Type 22’s and the first Type 23’s would be starting to hit the 25 years old mark. Unfortunately, due to the usual reasons of budgetary restrictions and delays, technical difficulties and good old fashioned administrative and management incompetence the original planned in service sate of 2015 had been missed by quite a long way. The first ship HMS GLASGOW (named after the TYPE 42 destroyer that had been lost during the Falklands War) had been commissioned in late 2019. HMS LONDON was the second ship of the class joining the fleet the previous year having had her entry to service delayed by the effects of the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic. The next ship of the class was HMS BIRMINGHAM which was currently embarking on her builder’s trials up in Scotland.
Whatever the delays there was no denying that the TYPE 26 TOWN Class frigates were seriously impressive ships. The LONDON had smooth angular sides strongly reminiscent of the slightly older TYPE 45 destroyers that reduced the ships radar signature. The ship was equipped with the latest sensors and electronics including the Type 997 radar and 2087 towed array sonar that had also been fitted to the remaining TYPE 23’s and some new cutting edge and extremely sophisticated ESM/ECM equipment. The TYPE 26 was an extremely capable ASW vessel and getting sufficient numbers into service with the RN would go a long way towards countering the increasing threat from Russia’s submarine fleet. In terms of armaments the TYPE 26’s included a number of firsts. For the first time all of the ships missiles would be carried in a vertical launch system. The TYPE 26 was equipped primarily with the Sea Ceptor SAM that had recently been fitted to HMS EAGLE and the TYPE 23 frigates replacing the older Sea Wolf. As well as Sea Ceptor the class would also carry the new American built LRASM that was being introduced to replace the elderly Harpoon SSM in RN service. In time even the stealthy LRASM would be replaced by the currently under development British/French Perseus stealthy, hypersonic cruise missile. As well as SAM’s and SSM’s the TYPE 26 VLS was also capable of carrying the Tomahawk TLAM and ASROC. HMS LONDON was also one of the first ships to be equipped with the Martlet light anti-ship missile as a form of point defence against small fast moving craft. This was part of an effort by the RN to counter the threat of swarm attacks from the IRGC in the Straits of Hormuz. In terms of guns the TYPE 26 carried the 5 inch gun that in the long run would become the standard RN naval gun replacing the 4.5 inch gun. As well as this the TYPE 26 was equipped with a pair of the latest version of the Phalanx CWIS as well as a pair of 30mm cannons and the usual array of GPMG’s and Miniguns.

The TYPE 26 had been a runaway success even before the first ship touched the water. The most recent Defence Review had reiterated the Royal Navy’s requirement for a fleet of at least 30 frigates and destroyers to meet its needs. Thus, as things stood at least 18 TYPE 26’s would be built for the Royal Navy replacing the TYPE 23’s on a one for one basis. The slightly lower manning requirement of the TYPE 26 compared to the TYPE 23 would also over time relieve some pressure on the seemingly constantly undermanned RN.
The TYPE 26 was also turning into a massive export success for Britain with Australia, Canada and New Zealand getting ready to introduce their own locally built TYPE 26’s.
The Royal Australian Navy already operated the TYPE 45 destroyer (known as the HOBART class in RAN service) and had chosen the TYPE 26 to replace their fleet of ANZAC class frigates. The Australian ships would include some design changes to meet their particular needs and would be known as the HUNTER class. The first of the planned 9 ships of the HUNTER class HMAS HUNTER was already under construction in Australia at BAE’s yard in Osbourne where the Australian TYPE 45’s had been built.
Like the Australians the Royal New Zealand Navy had also chosen the TYPE 26 to replace their ageing ANZAC class frigates. The RNZN had chosen to procure a pair of the Australian HUNTER class version of the TYPE 26 to be built alongside the RAN’s ships in Osbourne as part of their aim of maintaining interoperability with the RAN.
After a rather protracted bidding process Canada had chosen the TYPE 26 to replace the HALIFAX class frigates in what was a near complete replacement of the Royal Canadian Navy’s surface fleet. In Canadian service the class would be known as the CANADA class and would be named after Canadian provinces and towns. The planned 15 ships of the class would be built in Canada by Irving Shipbuilding at their yard in Halifax where the first of the class HMCS ONTARIO was due to begin construction in the next year.
A lot of effort was being expended by the British Government into persuading Brazil and other nations to procure the TYPE 26 frigate.

HMS LONDON’s berth at South Railway Jetty was the furthest most part of HMNB Portsmouth. After heading a little further south in order to give the old EAGLE men a good view of the preserved and still afloat 162 year old iron clad HMS WARRIOR (who had once been the most powerful ship in the world) the harbour tender made a 180 degree turn and headed north again passing HMS LONDON, HMS BULWARK and HMS EAGLE before clearing the bow of HMS EAGLE and making the turn around the corner where Middle Slip Jetty and North Corner met. As he saw the two ships at North Corner berthed 2 abreast the old man reflected on the fact that while the Royal Navy was considerably smaller in terms of numbers than in his day the ships themselves kept getting bigger and bigger putting berthing space at a premium. In fact, when the TYPE 45 destroyers had started to be introduced replacing the much smaller TYPE 42’s there had had to be something of a reorganisation with a number of TYPE 23 frigates transferred to Devonport to free up enough space in Portsmouth.
In his day due to the sheer number of ships it had been fairly common to see ships alongside tied up 2 or even 3 abreast due to a lack of berth space. Today the same thing seemed to be happening again only this time the lack of berth space was being caused by the sheer size of the RN’s current ships with the current generation of destroyers being the size of the cruisers of old. All of this placed a great strain on the dockyard which had been built mostly during the 18th and 19th centuries when ships were only a fraction of the size and was now struggling to cope with the demands of a fleet that had far outgrown anything those long dead builders and architects could have possibly imagined. Indeed, there were plenty of sometimes centuries old drydocks within the dockyard that were essentially abandoned due to being far too small to even accommodate even the smallest ships in the RN’s fleet and buildings that were old enough to be listed.

The pair of ships tied up abreast of each other on North Corner were the TYPE 45 destroyers HMS DEMON and HMS DUCHESS. Both of these ships were Batch 2 TYPE 45’s. In total the Royal Navy operated 12 TYPE 45’s all of which were based at Portsmouth. Their towering pyramid shaped mainmasts were very distinctive meaning that it was generally pretty easy for the casual observer to count how many TYPE 45’s were in port at any one time.
The six Batch 2 TYPE 45’s differed somewhat from their older Batch 1 sister ships. The Batch 1’s had been plagued by propulsion problems caused by intercoolers that were unreliable when the ships were operating in warmer waters. This had resulted in the Batch 1’s having to undergo expensive and technically challenging defect rectification work. As a result of this the Batch 2’s had been built with different machinery including an additional diesel generator. In terms of war fighting capability the main difference between the Batch 1’s and 2’s was the switching of the 4.5 inch naval gun for a 5 inch gun. In the long run it was planned to refit the older TYPE 45’s with the 5 inch gun. As the tender made its way past the two ships the old man noticed the difference in SSM armament with HMS DEMON having recently been refitted to carry the LRASM while HMS DUCHESS was still carrying the older Harpoon. Both missiles were carried in quad launchers in the space forward between the VLS and the superstructure.
The most recent Defence Review had stated that the TYPE 45’s would begin to be replaced sometime in the mid middle of the next decade by what had been termed the TYPE 83 destroyer. The TYPE 83’s were still very much in the concept stage and still the best part of a decade away from being laid down. The old man reconned that construction on these new destroyers wouldn’t begin until after the TYPE 26 construction programme was complete.

As the tender passed North Corner it came upon South West Wall and an extremely unusual visitor to HMNB Portsmouth. The Irish Naval Service’s LE GEORGE BERNARD SHAW. Though many in Britain probably weren’t aware The Republic of Ireland did in fact maintain its own armed forces including a navy of sorts.
No one could remember the last time a visit by an Irish Naval Service vessel to a Royal Navy dockyard had taken place. Militarily Ireland had traditionally maintained a firmly neutral stance having not taken part in any conflicts or foreign deployments outside of the occasional UN peacekeeping mission and not being a part of NATO. The Royal Navy had never really had a relationship or much interaction with their Irish counterparts. At just a little over 2,250 tons the LE GEORGE BERNARD SHAW was the largest Irish military vessel with the rest of the Irish fleet being comprised of just over half a dozen active OPV’s. The official reason for the Irish visit was a simple goodwill visit and PR opportunity although many suspected that this was a tentative step on the part of the Irish towards possible cooperation with their much larger neighbouring fleet. As well as tours of the dockyard and visits to British ships Irish Naval Service personnel had been undertaking firefighting and damage control training at the RN’s world class facilities on Whale Island. The old man reckoned that if both sides were serious about forging closer ties, then the next logical step would be an Irish Naval Service vessel undertaking training conducted by the RN’s legendary FOST organisation. The Irish themselves very occasionally deployed one of their vessels outside of their territorial waters and had already expressed an interest in putting the next such vessel through FOST training in advance of an overseas deployment.
Within Ireland itself the poor pay and conditions endured by personnel within the Irish Defence Forces was becoming something of a national scandal and the cause of a serious manpower crisis. It was noted how some of those who were leaving the Irish Defence Forces were eventually finding their way into the British Armed Forces who still recruited from the Republic of Ireland. The better pay and conditions and perceived better lifestyle and career opportunities were quite attractive to some in Ireland to say nothing of the opportunities for travel compared to the Irish Defence Forces. When personnel from Northern Ireland were taken into account the British Armed Forces easily employed more Irishmen than the Irish Defence Forces. In fact, in the case of the RN and RAF there were probably more citizens of the Republic of Ireland serving in those organisations than in their Irish counterparts.

As the harbour tender passed South West Wall the old man got a good look at 2 Basin. Due to its small size 2 Basin was used to host MCMV’s of the HUNT class (with the RN’s other MCMV class the SANDOWN class being based at HMNB CLYDE in Scotland) and a number of other small vessels miscellaneous including UK Border Force cutters.
The tender now turned north passing the drydocks that were the entry and exit points for the much larger non tidal 3 Basin. Within the drydocks and 3 Basin itself there were plenty of ships undergoing refit and various other forms of work. The dominating feature of the basin was the gigantic shipbuilding hall that had been built over what had once been Drydock 13. The sheer volume of the building was illustrated by how it dwarfed the TYPE 45 destroyer right next to it in Dock 14 undergoing refit. Originally built and operated by Vosper Thornycroft but now (like most things) run by BAE the shipbuilding hall had produced superblocks for the TYPE 45’s and other ships that had been built using modular construction and since then had built the RIVER class OPV’s.

As they proceeded north the old EAGLE men came upon the most visible and dramatic change to the dockyard since their day on what had once been known as North West Wall. When HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH arrived in Portsmouth for the first time the Royal Navy had found itself in the awkward position of not possessing a drydock big enough to accommodate a ship so large. With HMS EAGLE on the way it was estimated that there would be a requirement for a QE class ship drydocking to take place on average of once every 18 months. As things had stood the lack of capacity to do this was considered to be unacceptable. This was an issue that had been known even before the first ship had been laid down. From the outset it had been recognised that any solution to the drydocking issue would not be easy and certainly not cheap. With budgets already strained by the costs of building the aircraft carriers themselves the standard government response of kicking the can down the road had been adopted. This had happened again and again and it wasn’t until the 1998 Strategic Defence Review that the tough decisions had been made and the issue had finally begun to be dealt with. The then new government like the old one had been convinced by the argument of the long term need for a larger drydock somewhere. The difference was that when the new government had taken power the carriers had largely been paid for freeing up the necessary finance to fund a new drydock project.
The chosen solution to the problem however had taken some by surprise and been somewhat controversial. The option that most commentators had expected the MOD to pursue had been to enlarge the existing D Lock within HMNB Portsmouth. The MOD however had gone for something radically different. Falklands Dock as it was known was a completely new drydock built on an area of reclaimed land that jutted out from what had been North West Wall (where some of the now landlocked bollards still remained). The decision to go with a completely new drydock had been heavily criticised due to its expense (costing almost as much as building a third QE class ship) and the disruption it caused to shipping in the harbour both naval and civilian. Portsmouth City Council had been up in arms about the project owing to the disruption that it had caused to the ferry and merchant ship services at the ferry port just north of the naval base. They had even gone as far to directly blame the disruption for P&O’s decision to cease operations at Portsmouth (despite P&O themselves never officially making any such claim).
The MOD had felt that a completely new drydock (very similar to the one proposed back in the 1960’s for the CVA-01 carriers) would be better in the long run as it would allow for a much larger dock to be built as a form of future proofing and would create badly needed extra berthing space and real estate within HMNB Portsmouth. The government despite the costs had backed this proposal on the grounds that the number of jobs created played well politically. The project had required yet another dredging programme to be undertaken within Portsmouth Harbour to allow enough deep water for ships to manoeuvre into the new dry dock and for large ferries to have enough room to sail past. The southernmost sand banks that appear in Portsmouth Harbour at low tide had completely disappeared. Several new hills had been created on the shore at the northern end of the harbour with all of the mud that had been sucked up from the sea bed and dumped there.
The drydock project had been expected to be completed by 2005 but as per usual had been delayed and not been completed until 2009. The delays had resulted in significant cost overruns. Part of the problem had been the disruption caused by the repeated discoveries and disposals of unexploded German bombs left over from the second world war.

Today Falklands Dock was occupied. HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH was well into the same two year rebuild that her younger sister had recently undertaken.
On paper the Royal Navy had 4 capital ships excluding the SSBN’s. The pair of QE class supercarriers and the pair of ALBION class assault ships. In reality only 2 of these ships HMS EAGLE and HMS BULWARK were active. The fact was that the RN didn’t have the money or manpower to operate all four ships at the same time without laying up a number of escorts alongside which was something that they were not prepared to do. Since 2010 the RN had kept one of their ALBION class ships in “extended readiness” which in reality meant mothballed alongside without a crew. The ships would be swapped around every few years which as well as reliving pressure on manpower had the added advantage of extending the ships lifespans by keeping their mileage lower than it would have otherwise been. The aircraft carrier overhaul programme meant that for a period of about 5 years they RN was only required to fully crew one ship which released a massive burden on manpower. The issue was that in just over a year HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH would come back into service and be in need of a crew. The RN’s most recent recruitment campaign was in response to this need as manpower levels had recently been allowed to drop far too low. The recent Covid-19 pandemic and the economic impact of the measures that had been required to bring it under control had seen applications to join the British armed forces skyrocket as a result of economic uncertainty and increased unemployment. The RN sensing the opportunity to bring its manning levels back up to the required level (for the past few years the RN’s manpower had been somewhat below its authorised strength) had been shamelessly exploiting the situation to try and recruit and train as many of these applicants as possible before the economy and jobs market got back to normal. As well as HMS RALEIGH and BRNC running at full capacity and partially in response to Covid social distancing measures extra intakes were being trained meaning that for the first time in decades new Phase 1 recruits were being trained outside HMS RALEIGH at other establishments such as HMS COLLINGWOOD and HMS SULTAN. Even the officer college at BRNC Dartmouth had seen ratings being trained alongside officer cadets for the first time in over a century.

Rounding Falklands Dock to the northern perimeter of the dockyard the tender came upon the 800m long Fountain Lake Jetty where a number of TYPE 23 frigates were berthed. The TYPE 23’s had been the backbone of the RN’s frigate force for about 20 years now and despite their age were still capable ships with many years ahead of them. The 13 youngest ships of the class had been refitted to carry Sea Ceptor, the Type 997 Radar and Type 2087 towed array sonar. Now that the TYPE 26 frigates were beginning to enter service the oldest TYPE 23’s were starting to be retired. In Devonport HMS NORFOLK, HMS ARGYLL and most recently HMS MARLBOROUGH were laid up in a basin having been decommissioned where they were in the process of slowly being gutted for spare parts before being ultimately scrapped or expended as targets. With 15 TYPE 23’s still in RN service plus those serving in the Chilean and Republic of Singapore Navy’s there was a high demand for older out of production parts.

The Tender now again headed north away from HMNB Portsmouth and towards Whale Island. Whale Island was occupied by the shore establishment HMS EXCELLENT. HMS EXCELLENT had once been home to the Royal Navy’s gunnery school which had closed in 1985. Today HMS EXCELLENT hosted a number of training schools and lodger units including the Navy Command Headquarters building and an RNR unit. HMS EXCELLENT’s most important lodger was located on the north part of Whale Island. HMS PHEONIX was the Royal Navy’s firefighting and damage control training school. Boasting world class facilities, the training provided by HMS PHEONIX to all Royal Navy personnel was envied by many other navy’s around the world and even civilian fire brigades. The Royal Navy still held the reputation for being the world leaders in shipboard firefighting and damage control that it had established as a result of the Falklands War.
It wasn’t HMS EXCELLENT that held the attention of the men on the harbour tender though but as they were reunited with yet another old friend and Falklands veteran. The TYPE 82 destroyer HMS BRISTOL had become legendary for her exploits in the Falklands. For much of the time she had served as the air defence escort for HMS EAGLE. Her most notable action had been during the Argentine air attacks on the British fleet in San Carlos Water. Located west of the Falkland Islands HMS BRISTOL accompanied by HMS EXETER and HMS BRILLIANT had detected and disrupted the Argentine mass of aircraft as they made their way towards San Carlos. In doing so she had downed a number of A4 Skyhawks and the civilian Learjet that had been guiding them with her Sea Dart SAM system. Later on, that day the BRISTOL group had successfully defeated an attack by an Exocet missile launched by an Argentine Super Etendard. Bristol had later gone on to provide naval gunfire support to the SAS/SBS force during their capture of Pebble Island airfield. Better still at the time HMS BRISTOL had been commanded by a man who was well liked and highly respected by the men of HMS EAGLE. The then Captain (now a retired Vice Admiral) Alan Grose DSO KBE had commanded BRISTOL during the Falklands campaign and had gone on to become the last commander of HMS EAGLE. Although he had been invited to today’s event aboard HMS EAGLE Vice Admiral Grose had politely declined owing to having a prior engagement.
Since retiring from active service in 1993 the now 59 year old HMS BRISTOL had been the RN’s harbour training vessel permanently berthed at Whale Island. Probably every single member of the Royal Navy for the last 30 years would have undertaken some form of training aboard HMS BRISTOL at one point or another.
As the Harbour tug carrying the old EAGLE men drew closer, they began to wave at the many men of the same age as them on the decks of HMS BRISTOL. The men of the BRISTOL waved back at them. The old man envied the BRISTOL men. It was one thing to have a reunion with your old shipmates, a special thing to have such a reunion aboard your old ship’s namesake but something else entirely to be able to have a reunion with your old shipmates aboard your old ship!
There had been a rumour going around recently that HMS BRISTOL was to be retired from her training role and disposed of. Already an HMS BRISTOL preservation society had been formed. In the old man’s opinion such a ship should be preserved for the nation as a reminder of an era that was now just a memory. It would be a black day for the RN if BRISTOL was sent to the breakers yard. As they noticed a certain familiar figure step out onto the bridge wing of his old command the old EAGLE men stood to attention while the uniformed officers chaperoning them saluted. High up above them Vice Admiral Grose acknowledged the compliment paid by his old ships company.

Moving westwards away from Whale Island and HMNB Portsmouth the tender headed towards the centre of Portsmouth Harbour. Here they came across the TYPE 45 destroyer HMS DEFENDER which was tied up alongside another new addition to the dockyard, the ammunitioning jetty. Munitions and fuel for the Portsmouth based ships were stored bunkers and buried tanks at a large MOD facility on the western side of the harbour. In the case of fuel barges would take on fuel from the tanks and transport head over to the ships alongside at the naval base to fill their tanks. Using barges towed by tugs was a lot easier and a lot quicker than moving the ships themselves over to the fuelling facility on the western edge of the harbour.
For obvious safety reasons munitions handling is something best done well away from anywhere else. For safety reasons it had eventually become judged to be unacceptably risky to continue transferring munitions to and from ships that were tied up alongside within the dockyard. Therefore, a new purpose built munitions handling facility had been built within the centre of the harbour far enough away from the dockyard that hopefully in the event of a catastrophic munitions handling accident some ships and parts of the dockyard would probably survive.
Beyond the munitions handling jetty right up in the north west corner of the dockyard was a conspicuously empty bit of water. The area of the harbour that had traditionally been known as Rotten Row was where the RN traditionally anchored its old retired ships to keep them out of the way while they awaited their fates. Many ships of the old man’s generation had ended their days slowly rusting there while they waited for the ship breakers to come and collect them. Until previously the area had been occupied by a pair of ex Royal Fleet Auxiliary ROVER class small fleet tankers until they had been towed away to a scrapyard in Turkey. Before them the space had been filled with decommissioned TYPE 42 destroyers and TYPE 22 frigates. Soon TYPE 23’s would begin to appear there. The old man remembered his father showing him photographs from the late 1940’s of Portsmouth and Plymouth filled with entire fleets of decrepit old ships left over from the Second World War including dozens of giant battleships and aircraft carriers. What a sight that must have been!

Apart from the Dockyard the Royal Navy still operated many other establishments in and around Portsmouth including the Maritime Warfare School at HMS COLLINGWOOD and the engineering training establishment at HMS SULTAN. The harbour tender now made its way south towards another RN location, this time in Gosport.
HMS DOLPHIN was the spiritual home of the Royal Navy’s submarine service. This was despite the fact that no submarines had been based there since 2012 when the last of the UPHOLDER class SSK’s had left for its new home at Devonport as part of a rationalisation to save money. The UPHOLDER class and diesel powered submarines in general were now a thing of the past in the Royal Navy. The 2010 Defence Review had cancelled the planned UPHOLDER class replacement programme. While the UPHOLDER’s had provided certain useful niche capabilities many had felt that they didn’t provide anything that couldn’t be provided by nuclear boats. With budgets already tight the RN’s Submarine Service had found itself having to make a choice whether to press ahead with developing a new class of SSK’s or becoming an all nuclear force. They had chosen the latter option as doing so allowed them to build more ASTUTE class SSN’s which were considered to be much more valuable. At the time the MOD was also planning and budgeting for what would become the DREADNOUGHT class building programme to replace the VANGUARD class SSBN’s and felt that they couldn’t spare the money to press ahead with building a new class of SSK’s. The potential for export success as had happened with the UPHOLDER class held little weight as the world SSK market was probably more crowded than ever before with Germany, Sweden, France, Russia and now China building SSK’s for export likely squeezing out any potential UK exports.
The Submarine Service’s fleet was now at its lowest every strength with only 12 boats in service. The 4 VANGUARD class SSBN’s continued their 50 year unbroken cycle of nuclear deterrent patrols. The last TRAFALGAR class SSN HMS TRIUMPH had recently been decommissioned being replaced in service by the ASTUTE class HMS AJAX. There were currently 2 more ASTUTE class boats under construction which would give the Royal Navy a total fleet of 10 of the class by 2024.
Although HMS DOLPHIN no longer hosted submarines it was still a very busy port. The Royal Navy’s submarine school had largely moved their operations to HMS RALEIGH and HMNB CLYDE into more modern facilities closer to their submarine bases. However, the 40m tall Submarine Escape Training Facility was still very much in operation.
Gosport also played host the Royal Navy Submarine museum who’s exhibits included the RN’s first submarine HOLLAND 1 and the preserved Second World War era HMS ALLIANCE.
The RN’s Fishery Protection Squadron was now homeported in Gosport. Comprised of RIVER Class OPV’s the ships of the squadron protected the UK’s coast and some were permanently deployed overseas as they patrolled the waters around the UK’s overseas territories including the Falklands and even undertook some limited counter piracy and anti smuggling work in the Caribbean. Doing this freed up other more capable frigates and destroyers from these duties. This was important as it allowed the RN more flexibility to effectively counter the increasing threat from the resurgent Russian Navy and ever expanding Chinese Navy. The RIVER class OPV’s had all been built in Portsmouth and had become larger and more capable with each new addition to the class with the ships divided up into 3 distinct batches. The RN operated 9 examples of the class which had also been successfully exported. Thailand operated a pair of locally built vessels known as the KRABI class. Brazil had been persuaded to purchase 3 ships that had been built for the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard who had cancelled their order at the very last minute despite the ships having already been completed and personnel already training aboard them. In Brazilian service they were known as the AMAZONAS class.
The RIVER class design had also been the basis for the KHAREEF class corvettes that had been built in Portsmouth for the Royal Navy of Oman. The Royal Navy had a very close relationship with the Royal Navy of Oman with many British officers and ratings imbedded within the Omani navy. Britannia Royal Navy College at Dartmouth was usually full of Omani officer cadets alongside other overseas cadets.
Just beyond HMS DOLPHIN the old man could make out the top of the roof of another vital RN establishment in Portsmouth. The Royal Navy Hospital Haslar. The UK’s last remaining military hospital had once been marked for closure but had been given a reprieve to meet the demands of war. The hospital had been used to treat wounded servicemen from Iraq and Afghanistan and for a time had been the busiest trauma centre and rehabilitation hospital in the UK by far. Over the course of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan a lot of experience had been gained and a lot of money had been spent on keeping the hospitals facilities as up to date as possible. The military medical services had worked very closely with the NHS who had routinely seconded medical staff to the hospital in order to gain hands on experience of dealing with trauma wounds and had on occasion sent over civilian patients with injuries that required the sort of treatment that Haslar led the field in. Of course, since the end of those conflicts things within the hospital had quietened down quite a bit. This had allowed the MOD to embark upon the sort of comprehensive overhaul that the hospital had really needed but had been unable to undertake due to the demands placed upon it by the needs of war. These days the patients within the hospital were much more likely to be civilians sent to Haslar to relieve overcrowding at the hospitals in Portsmouth and Southampton or in need of the specialist services provided there as part of a deal between the MOD and NHS.

The harbour tender now began to make its way back towards HMS EAGLE. As it did so the old man and his friends got a glimpse of the Gunwharf Quays shopping centre and Spinnaker Tower that had been built on the land once occupied by the RN’s mine warfare and diving training school HMS VERNON.

Later on, that afternoon the event aboard HMS EAGLE had come to an end and the old EAGLE men had begun to depart. Admiral Reffell, Admiral Jock Slater and the former senior officers of HMS EAGLE (many of whom had gone on to become very senior within the RN) had remained onboard for a mess dinner in the wardroom. Of the men who had departed ashore some had headed straight for home but many more had packed into one of the pubs along the waterfront immediately outside Victory Gate. As the afternoon had turned into the evening and into the night the veterans of HMS EAGLE in the Falklands had indulged in the traditional sailor’s pastime of drinking far too much and swapping increasingly exaggerated stories of their recent exploits. As he drank with his old messmates and oppo’s as they tried to relive their youth’s the conversation was mostly centred around what each man had been up to during the recent months long lockdown resulting from the global Coronavirus pandemic. When it came to the old man’s turn, he had replied that been too lazy to work on getting fit, too old to work on having more children, had already done all of the gardening and DIY jobs around the house anyway and couldn’t spend the time watching TV as he and his wife could never agree on what to watch and didn’t fancy getting divorced. Instead to pass the time he had taken up writing and had written an alternate history novel about the Falklands War. The story was about an alternate Falklands war in which HMS EAGLE had not been present. The point of divergence had been HMS EAGLE being damaged during an entry to harbour resulting in her being decommissioned in 1972 a decade before the Falklands. In his alternate timeline the Royal Navy had been forced to face the Argentines with only Sea Harriers carried aboard HMS INVINCIBLE and a refitted Harrier capable HMS HERMES.
Of course, Britain had still prevailed but it had been very much a hard fought by the skin of their teeth affair and certainly not the almost one sided curb stomp of the Argentines that had occurred in reality.
He had come across a small online forum called and had been uploading his story as he had written instalments. The feedback he had received had been that the whole premise of Britain even fighting the Falklands War without HMS EAGLE let alone actually wining had been complete ASB.
Appendix 1
The Royal Navy in 2022

It has now been 40 years since the Falklands Conflict took place. The conflict and the Royal Navy’s legendary exploits have become the defining feature of the RN’s history in the latter half of the 20th Century and in many ways continues to cast its shadow over naval warfare well into the 21st Century. For better or worse the Falklands War also holds the distinction of being the last peer to peer naval war to have taken place in the modern era.
The post Second World War period marked a period of decline for the RN with its fleet shrinking at an ever accelerating rate as well as its fall from its previous status of the world’s premier navy. Most historians regard the years immediately before the Falklands Conflict as the low point for both the Royal Navy and Britain in general.
The infamous Nott review while arguably merely finishing off the job started 15 years before in the 1966 Defence Review would have seen the RN give up many capabilities such as fleet carriers and amphibious warfare as well as its status as a true blue water fleet instead becoming little more than a costal defence force.
Britain itself in this period was suffering from its image as “the sick man of Europe” afflicted by “the British disease”. The country had lost its Empire and with it its superpower status, had a stagnating economy and industrial relations that were strained often to the point of outright violence and an ongoing problem with sectarian violence and terrorism in Northern Ireland that was spilling over onto the mainland.

The Falklands represented a turning point in the fortunes of both Britain and her navy. The nation regained its confidence and began to turn its fortunes around. The Royal Navy having been able to demonstrate its value to the British Government saw the end of its period of decline and was the recipient of some much needed political and financial investment. The rest as they say is history.

The Royal Navy that sailed to the South Atlantic in 1982 was unarguably a shadow its former self. Some might say that the RN of today is a shadow of its Falklands era self. While this is certainly true in terms of the number of ships and sailors that it possesses it is without a doubt a vastly more capable and versatile force. Since the Falklands the RN has risen to every challenge thrown at it whatever they may be and overcome every adversary.

The modern RN is built around providing four core capabilities:
1. Carrier Strike which is provided by the pair of aircraft carrier battle groups comprising of a significant part of the surface fleet and the majority of the Fleet Air Arm’s focus. In practise usually only one carrier battle group is operational owing to ship availability and the desire to free up vessels for other taskings.

2. Continuous At Sea Deterrence or CASD which represents the United Kingdom’s nuclear capability. The RN’s fleet of SSBN’s have maintained an unbroken, unending cycle of deterrent patrols for well over 50 years under the aptly named Operation RELENTLESS ready to deal unimaginable destruction upon the United Kingdom’s enemies should it ever become necessary. By being ready at all times to fight a nuclear war at the push of a button the aim is to ensure that such a thing never occurs.

3. Littoral Stike is the RN’s ability to put forces ashore on foreign shores wherever in the world it may be needed. This comprises the RN’s fleet of amphibious capable ships and most importantly the Royal Marines.

4. Maritime Security and Engagement. This one is loosely defined as a catch all for all other tasks not involving capital ships or major capabilities. From ASTUTE class SSN’s hunting Russian Submarines in the Barents Sea through to individual frigates and destroyers on station in far flung part of the globe protecting the UK’s sea lanes by conducting anti piracy operations and deterring hostile states such as Iran and all the way down to equally the important roles of the OPV’s and other small ships protecting the UK’s coastline and enforcing the law within her territorial waters and everything in between.

The past 12 months for the RN have been marked by the twin challenges of operating against the backdrop of the ongoing global Covid-19 pandemic and the 2021 Defence Review being published.
Like almost every single other organisation in the world the British Armed Forces were caught by surprise in the face of a sudden global pandemic. Once again when called upon the Armed Forces rose to the challenge. Under the Operation RESCRIPT the RN along with the British Army and RAF provided crucial support to the governments efforts to deal with the outbreak by providing tens of thousands of personnel to various tasks such as maintaining critical national infrastructure, setting up temporary hospitals and running covid testing and later vaccination centres. As well as RESCRIPT the Armed Forces were also running a similar operation dubbed BROADSHARE to tackle the pandemic in the United Kingdoms overseas territories around the world. The RN has had to do all this and simultaneously try to deal with the effects of occasional outbreaks amongst its own personnel while continuing to meet its standing commitments and keeping on sending its ships out to sea.

One of the main features of the Covid-19 Pandemic is perhaps the most unusual General Election in recent history. Most people will remember the Governments half hearted attempts to postpone the 2020 General Election due to the potential for further spreading the virus. Despite pretty much every other election that had been due to take place in 2020 being postponed until at least the next year as even the government recognised that trying to put off the General Election and in effect grant itself another year in power presented a terrible image to the electorate and could even be considered as dangerous for democracy. Such a thing obviously never had a chance of occurring without at least a supermajority in parliament. A combination of the Governments own half hearted support for the proposal combined with the potential for the opposition to rip them to shreds meant that the potential postponement of the election amounted to little more than an interesting but hot tempered debate that would take place everywhere except the House of Commons. As a result, many of us remember filling out one of the record breaking number of postal votes or visiting socially distanced polling stations.
As expected, once the election was over the next round of the now regular cycle of Defence Reviews got underway.

Though as you will see below on paper the RN has a very impressive order of battle it is not without its issues. The latest Defence Review has sought to address these challenges but is not itself without criticism.

The RN has in recent years often been described as a “hollowed out” force with too much money spent on big ticket procurement projects and not enough on the things that keep everything running such as maintenance and spare parts and maintaining sufficient manning levels. This has often resulted in ships being “placed in reduced readiness reserve” or “allocated to harbour training duties” or worryingly frequently “Lean manned”.
As well as these issues much of the RN’s hardware is getting on in years and has been worked pretty hard. Given how long defence procurement projects take to come to fruition it is often necessary to start thinking about the need to replace hardware over a decade in advance.
Perhaps the RN’s biggest challenge in recent years is the fundamental change in the strategic environment that it operates in. For the best part of the first two decades of the 21st Century the British Armed Forces found themselves focused on fighting the War of Terror. This involved a focus on counter insurgency in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan and force structures being reconfigured to lighter and more mobile forces. This often came at the expense of heavier and more conventional forces such as the British Army’s armoured regiments becoming effectively vehicle borne infantry. Many core skills and conventional warfighting capabilities ended up slowly dying out due to priorities being elsewhere.
In recent years the threat posed resurgent and increasingly belligerent Russia and the unprecedented rise of China’s military power has seen the focus switch back to conventional peer to peer warfare in a high technology environment and traditional state on state warfare.
The Defence Review (which reported in 2021) is intended to reequip and reorganise the British Armed Forces to allow them to meet the challenges they now face in this new environment.

While many in the RN especially can be quite rightly pleased with the outcome of the review it is not without fault. The main criticism of this review focuses on its affordability. A significant number of very expensive new and ongoing programmes will have to be funded at the same time causing many to suspect that tough decisions will have to be made in future regarding priorities and that not all aspects of the equipment plan will become a reality. This is despite the Governments recent promise of a significant cash injection into the British defence budget (the most significant increase in decades).
All the same the next few years promise to be a very good time for the British defence industry reminiscent of the warship building boom on the late 1980s and early 1990’s.

Overall, the future for the RN and British Armed Forces in general is looking a lot brighter than it has in previous years.


The Royal Navy has an official authorised strength of 42,000 officers and ratings. In addition to this are just over 4,500 members of the Royal Naval Reserve, 9000 members of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and over 8000 Royal Marines.
In practise the RN and RM have both for some years now been well below their authorised strengths for a number of reasons. This has resulted in quite a few headaches and difficult decisions for the RN who have been struggling to find enough manpower to crew all of their ships.
For example, of the RN’s pair of aircraft carriers and pair of assault ships it has only been possible in recent years to operate two of them owing partly to financial constraints but also the lack of sufficient personnel to crew all of the ships. Even on other ships its not unknown for billets to be left unfilled or for ships to spend periods “Lean Manned” (where ships that have a relatively quiet immediate programme have reduced crews).

The Royal Marines have always had difficulties not in just getting enough suitable candidates into the recruiting offices but actually getting enough of them through the legendarily tough training course which on average has an over 50% dropout rate!

The years leading up to the Covid-19 pandemic saw record high employment rates in the UK which naturally made things difficult for the RN who had to compete in a much smaller jobs market. This situation was not helped by a somewhat ill advised and poorly executed (And hastily abandoned) attempt at contracting out the RN’s recruiting efforts to a private contractor.
As well as difficulties in recruitment the RN has also been struggling with retention. This is particularly felt in the technical branches as the RN finds itself unable to match the rates of pay in the private sector causing a steady stream of experienced personnel being lured away to other employers.

Interestingly the situation for the Royal Naval Reserve has been the complete opposite. Due to a lack of regular manpower the RN has frequently found itself having to call upon its reservists meaning that they are spending a lot more time at sea than they could have hoped to have done in previous years. This and a very successful scheme to encourage regular RN personnel in the process of leaving the service to join the RNR has had a massive impact on the organisation in terms of recruitment, morale, professionalism and job satisfaction.

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused economic turmoil with many people either furloughed or losing their jobs entirely. This has seen the pool of potential recruits and interest in joining the Armed Forces skyrocket while the numbers leaving the service has dropped of significantly. The RN has been taking advantage of the situation to get as many new recruits through the gates as possible and now for the first time in a good few years actually looks like it can finally fill all of its billets.
As well as the ratings initial training base at HMS RALEIGH being completely full the RN has even started conducting Phase 1 recruit training at HMS COLLINGWOOD and even training ratings alongside officer cadets at BRNC Dartmouth as it struggles to absorb this surge of new recruits.

For now the RN’s manpower worries appear to have been solved. If demand to join continues at its recent level it is likely that the RN will push for an increase in its authorised strength to allow for a reserve pool of full time manpower which would allow for personnel to spend more time ashore and hopefully help with retention.
How many of these new recruits will decide to make the RN their career compared to how many decide to leave after their four year minimum return of service will decide whether the RN has finally solved its manning issues or merely bought itself a brief respite.

Note: Ships appearing in Italics have yet to commission.

The Submarine Service



Name Pennant Commissioned


Displacement: 16,000 tons Dimensions: 150m x 12.8m x 12m Speed: 30knts
Compliment: 135
Armament: 4x 533mm Torpedo Tubes (Spearfish), 16x Trident D5 SLBM’s

These four submarines have formed the UK’s nuclear deterrent capability for almost the last three decades now. In this time the four boats (all based at Faslane) have carried out an unending series of deterrent patrols. The boats are getting on in years and have been worked pretty hard throughout their lives meaning that it is becoming increasingly technically challenging and expensive to maintain them. It has taken extended and expensive overhauls to keep them going in recent years and also to keep them from becoming obsolete and potentially vulnerable to detection by hostile forces.
VANGUARD is expected to serve until 2028 at which point she and her sisters soon after will be replaced by the new DREADNOUGHT class SSBN’s.


Name Pennant Commissioned


Displacement: 17,200 tons Dimensions: 153.8m x 13m x 12.6m Speed: 30+knts

Compliment: 130

Armament: 4x 533mm Torpedo Tubes (Spearfish), 12x Trident D5 SLBM’s

This new generation of SSBN’s is being built to replace the VANGUARD class and to take over the role of Britain’s nuclear deterrent. With their predecessors rapidly aging the introduction of this new class is taking place somewhat later than the RN would have liked. This is due to parliamentary approval for replacing Britain’s nuclear capabilities and funding to do so having been slow to arrive and also the need to wait for the ASTUTE class SSN build programme to have reached a point where the shipyard in Barrow in Furness had the capacity to begin construction of the new boats. DREADNOUGHT will enter service a year before VANGUARD is due to decommission to allow for the first of class trials and training to take place. This is almost certain to include a live launch of a Trident SLBM. Only once all of these trails have been completed will DREADNOUGHT be able to begin her first deterrence patrol. The other boats of the class will follow at 2-3 year intervals.



Name Pennant Commissioned

ASTUTE S119 2007

AMBUSH S120 2009

ARTFUL S121 2011


ANSON S123 2015



AJAX S126 2021


AVENGER S128 2024

Displacement: 7,800 tons Dimensions: 97m x 11.2m x 9.5m Speed: 30+knts

Compliment: 98

Armament: 4x 533mm Torpedo Tubes (Spearfish, Tomahawk)

The ASTUTE programme can trace its origins back to the SSN20 programme of the 1980’s which was to have replaced the RN’s first generation of SSN’s. This programme was cancelled to allow the then VSEL owned shipyard in Barrow in Furness to focus on the construction of HMS EAGLE. The project was revived in 1994 as the Batch 2 TRAFALGAR Class (B2TC) project with the intention of producing an evolved version of the TRAFALGAR class to replace the SWIFTSURE class SSN’s. The ASTUTE class have become the RN’s sole class of attack submarine and ultimately ended up serving as a replacement for the TRAFALGAR class boats following the 2010 Defence Review that saw the decommissioning of the remaining SWIFTSURE class and the final demise of the RN’s SSK’s with the retirement of the UPHOLDER class and the abandonment of any replacement project.
2010 saw the strength of the Submarine Service endure a rapid and significant decline which has taken over a decade to overcome (The RN was forced to sacrifice older boats still in service to safeguard future ASTUTE class boats). This situation was not helped by the final TRAFALGAR class boats reaching the point where they were too old to carry on and having to be paid off further decreasing the numbers of SSN’s even if only temporarily.
Despite this and following a rather protracted and somewhat painful construction of the first three boats the RN is extremely proud of the fact that it now possesses the most modern and capable fleet of cutting edge SSN’s in the world.

Future SSN

The 2021 Defence Review confirmed that a new class of SSN’s will be built to compliment and ultimately replace the ASTUTE class with the first boat planned to enter service by 2037. Already early design and development work is underway however construction is unlikely to begin until the DREADNOUGHT class programme is nearing completion.

The Surface Fleet

Aircraft Carriers


Name Pennant Commissioned


EAGLE R09 1996

Displacement: 62,500 tons Dimensions: 285m x 68m x 11m Speed: 28 knts

Compliment: 1150 + 600 Air Group Aircraft: Up to 50

Armament: 16x Sea Ceptor SAM’s, 4x Phalanx CIWS, 4x 30mm guns, Martlet Light multirole SSM’s, GPMG/Minigun

The RN’s pair of supercarriers have been the centre piece of its order of battle for over a quarter of a century. These ships are very much children of the Falklands Conflict where the contribution and value of the previous HMS EAGLE convinced the government to order the construction of a new generation of big deck carriers which replaced the 20,000 ton INVINCIBLE class light Harrier carriers. Since commissioning these ships have seen service all around the globe and have seen action in action in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya amongst other places. In recent years only one carrier has been operational as the ships are now approximately half way through their lifespans and have thus been undertaking midlife overhauls in Portsmouth to modernize and allow them to serve for potentially up to another 20 years. Each refit takes just over two years and costs over 1 billion pounds to complete with no areas of the ships left untouched and no system modernized or replaced. HMS EAGLE completed her refit (in reality a near rebuild) earlier this year and HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH is now well into her refit in Falklands Drydock in Portsmouth Dockyard and is expected to return to service in 2024. Once this happens the RN is hoping to be able to once again have two operational carrier battle groups which is something it hasn’t been able to do for some years. This will allow the UK to deploy one group to faraway places such as the Far East while being able to keep another group near to UK waters for any unforeseen circumstance.
The ships can carry an air group of up to 50 aircraft (although 40 is a more common number). This comprises of up to 36 F/A-18 FGR 3/4’s Super Hornet’s spread amongst three squadrons (in peacetime or in UK waters this is usually reduced to two squadrons with a total of 24 aircraft), up to 6 E/A-18 Growler’s for electronic warfare and SEAD, 3 E2-D Hawkeye AEW aircraft, 5+ Merlin HM2/HC4 Helicopters for ASW & CSAR. Other aircraft such as the Goshawk T2 and Wildcat are frequent visitors to the ships.
Part of the ships overhauls has been to enable them to operate the upcoming Lockheed Martin/BAE Thunder 5th Generation combat aircraft which will replace the RN and USN’s Super Hornet’s. The first Thunder is expected to begin trials from the RN’s carriers in 2026.

Future Aircraft Carriers

The QUEEN ELIZABETH class aircraft carriers will be replaced by a new pair of supercarriers with the first ship entering service in the mid 2030’s. This project has been in the works for some time and although this announcement was one of the centrepieces of the Defence Review it merely gave the greenlight to proceed. Much of the preliminary design and development work has already been undertaken. These new supercarriers will be significantly larger than their predecessors (weighing in at 75,000 tons) and carry an air group of around 70 aircraft. Officially the choice of whether to make the ships nuclear powered or stick to gas turbines is still undecided. The ships will be equipped with the EMALS catapult system as opposed to steam catapults.

Amphibious Assault Ships


Name Pennant Commissioned

ALBION L14 1999

BULWARK L15 2001

Displacement: 23,000 tons Dimensions: 206m x 34m x 6.7m Speed: 26+knts

Compliment: 350 + 250 air group + up to 850 embarked troops

Aircraft: 18

Armament: 3x Phalanx CIWS, 4x 30mm guns, GPMG/Minigun.

The ALBION class replaced the FEARLESS class LPD’s and have been the backbone of the RN’s Amphibious warfare capability for the past two decades. The ships are essentially combined LPH/LPD’s and due to their appearance are often mistaken for light aircraft carriers. The ALBION class’s internal layout is dominated by two large internal spaces. The aircraft hangar which provided space for an air group of 18 helicopters and below that a vehicle deck located just in front of a well deck capable of holding up to 40 vehicles (depending on size) and 4 large LCU Mark 10 landing craft internally. A further 4 smaller LCVP Mark 5 landing craft were held by davits in berthing bays on the ships side along with the ship’s own boats. The air group usually comprises of 12 Merlin HC.4’s from the Commando Helicopter Force and up to 6 other aircraft. These are usually RAF Chinooks or Army Air Corps Apache’s from 656 Squadron which is the AAC’s specialist maritime operations squadron. Both of these ships are based in Devonport.
Since 2010 only one ship has been active with the other one laid up in “extended readiness” and swapping over every few years. This was due to financial and later manpower constraints. Worryingly the Defence Review was rather vague regarding the future of the RN’s amphibious capability beyond committing to maintaining it. Very little detail was included regarding a replacement for the ALBION class. It is likely that with a new generation of supercarriers to begin constructed within the next few years the money and shipyard capacity to replace the ALBION’s will be taken up by this programme instead. With the ALBION’s already too decades old and looking likely to have to soldier on for perhaps even another two the RN would be well advised to maintain the policy of only keeping one ship active in order to extend their service lives.



Name Pennant Commissioned

DARING D32 2007


DIAMOND D34 2008

DRAGON D35 2010


DUNCAN D37 2012

DECOY D38 2013

DEMON D39 2014


DUCHESS D41 2016



Displacement: 7,350 tons Dimensions: 152.4m x 21.2m x 5.7m Speed: 30 knts

Compliment: 190 Aircraft: 2x Wildcat or 1x Merlin

Armament: 48x Sea Viper (Aster 15/30) SAM’s, 4.5 or 5 inch Gun, 8x Harpoon or LRASM SSM’s, 2x Phalanx CIWS, 2x 30mm guns, Martlet Light multirole SSM’s, GPMG/Minigun

The 12 examples of the TYPE 45 Destroyers have completely replaced the much smaller TYPE 42’s and now comprise the entirety of the RN’s air defence destroyers. The powerful Type 1045 and 1046 radars make these vessels very powerful air defence ships. No Royal Navy capital ships leaves UK waters without an accompanying TYPE 45. The class are split into two distinct batches of six ships. The Batch 1 ships were initially plagued by propulsion problems caused by intercoolers that were unreliable when the ships were operating in warmer waters. This had resulted in the Batch 1’s having to undergo expensive and technically challenging defect rectification work. As a result of this the Batch 2’s were been built with different machinery including an additional diesel generator. In terms of war fighting capability the main difference between the Batch 1’s and 2’s was the switching of the 4.5 inch naval gun for a 5 inch gun. In the long run it was planned to refit the older TYPE 45’s with the 5 inch gun. The class is currently in the process of having its older Harpoon SSM’s removed and replaced with the new LRASM stealthy SSM. Both missiles are carried in quad launchers in the space forward between the VLS and the superstructure.
The Royal Australian Navy operates three examples of a heavily modified locally built version of the TYPE 45 known as the HOBART class.


The recent Defence Review announced that the TYPE 45 Destroyers will be replaced by a new class of ship dubbed the TYPE 83. This new class of ship is still very much in the development phase and is expected to enter service sometime in the late 2030’s.



Name Pennant Commissioned

GLASGOW F70 2019

LONDON F71 2021


CARDIF F F73 2024





YORK F?? 2030




EXETER F?? 2033




CHATHAM F?? 2036


Displacement: 6,900 tons Dimensions: 149.9m x 20.8m x 7.8m Speed: 28+ knts

Compliment: 157 Aircraft: 2x Wildcat or 1x Merlin

Armament: 48x Sea Ceptor SAM’s, 5 inch Gun, 24x VLS cells for LRASM SSM’s/TLAM’s/ASROC, 2x Phalanx CIWS, 2x 30mm guns, Martlet Light multirole SSM’s, GPMG/Minigun

This RN’s newest class of frigate is intended to replace the current ageing fleet of TYPE 23’s. While the originally planned in service date for the first ship was missed by well over four years the RN can once again at least be pleased with the final product of what was an often painful procurement and build process. The TYPE 26’s are the most advanced and modern escort ships afloat in the western world and are primarily optimised for ASW duties. The ships are equipped with cutting edge weapons and sensors such as the Type 997 radar and Type 2087 towed sonar array. Getting sufficient numbers of these ships in service will go a long way to revitalise the UK’s ability to counter the increasingly active Russian submarine fleet. The first three ships of Batch 1 are now in service with construction of the next five ships of Batch 2 well underway. Although it was always expected that Batch 3 and ultimately Batch 4 would only be ordered after a pause to allow for refinements and updates to be worked into the design (which includes quite a lot of spare capacity onboard for new equipment in future) the expected signing of the order for Batch 3 seems to have been delayed for some reason. If the RN doesn’t want the in service dates to slip any further then it needs get whatever is causing this delay resolved as soon as possible.
The TYPE 26 even before GLASGOW entered service had already become a runaway export success that the UK can be very proud of. In Australia a locally built and modified version of the class known as the HUNTER class is being built at BAE’s yard in Osbourne with 9 examples being built for the Royal Australian Navy and a further 2 for the Royal New Zealand Navy. In Canada 15 examples are planned to completely replace the Royal Canadian Navy’s fleet of surface combatants. Known as the CANADA class the first of these ships HMCS ONTARIO is due to be laid down next year. As well as the 18 ships being built for the Royal Navy and 26 being built overseas strong interest has been shown by the Republic of Singapore Navy and Chilean Navy and positive noises coming from others.
It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that with so many TYPE 26’s in the world the RN may be able to take advantage of economies of scale to allow for an increase in the number it will procure from the current planned total of 18. This would fit in well with the governments stated aim of increasing the RN’s capabilities and strength.


Name Pennant Commissioned


IRON DUKE F234 1993

MONMOUTH F235 1993

MONTROSE F236 1994



RICHMOND F239 1995


GRAFTON F80 1997


KENT F78 1999


ST ALBANS F83 2001

WESSEX F84 2002

SUFFOLK F88 2003

Displacement: 4,900 tons Dimensions: 133m x 16.1m x 7.3m Speed: 30 knts

Compliment: 185 Aircraft: 2x Wildcat or 1x Merlin

Armament: 32x Sea Ceptor/Sea Wolf SAM’s, 4.5 Gun, 8x Harpoon, 2x Stingray Torpedo Tubes, 2x 30mm guns, Martlet Light multirole SSM’s, GPMG/Minigun

Originally built to replace the LEANDER class the TYPE 23 became the mainstay and following the (arguably premature) retirement of the last TYPE 22’s in 2010 the entirety of the RN’s frigate force. The TYPE 23’s are now themselves being replaced by the much more modern TYPE 26’s. As well as the RN the Chilean Navy operates a pair of British built TYPE 23’s and the Republic of Singapore Navy operates a version of the TYPE 23 known as the FORMIDABLE class with six examples built split between the UK and Singapore.
The TYPE 23’s have served the RN well all over the world and have always given a good account of themselves and despite the age of the design remain capable ships. With the first three TYPE 26’s having now entered service NORFOLK (F230), MARLBOROUGH (F233) and ARGYLL (F231) have now been retired. These ships are now located in Plymouth where they will be stripped for parts before final disposal by undecided means (possibly via SINKEX). Unlike their younger sisters LANCASTER and IRON DUKE did not receive upgrades to equip them with Sea Ceptor SAM’s, Type 997 Radar and the Type 2087 Towed Sonar. This was due to budgetary constraints influencing the judgment that it would not be worth spending the money on ships that had such a limited planned service life remaining. In practise these two ships have been laid up for some time having been “allocated to harbour training duties” owing to manning shortages. This pair will formally decommission by the middle of the decade as more TYPE 26’s enter service.
Already some interest is being shown by players in the second hand warship market in perhaps acquiring ex RN TYPE 23’s when they become available. Chile already operates a pair of class and has historically been a reliable customer for ex RN warships. The Greek Navy is looking for an interim frigate to serve for a few years until they can acquire a newer and more modern design (Britain his heavily marketing the TYPE 26 to the Greeks). The real money is likely to be made by stripping out retired TYPE 23’s and selling off the recovered parts to support ships still in service both with the RN and abroad.

Patrol Vessels


Batch 1

Name Pennant Commissioned

TYNE P281 2002

SEVERN P282 2003

MERSEY P283 2003

Displacement: 1,677 tons Dimensions: 79.5m x 13.6m x 3.8m Speed: 20+knts

Compliment: 48 Armament: 1x 30mm gun, GPMG/Minigun.

Batch 2

Name Pennant Commissioned

CLYDE P257 2006

Displacement: 1,847 tons Dimensions: 81.5m x 13.5m x 4.2m Speed: 20+knts

Compliment: 36 Aircraft: Flight deck only

Armament: 1x 30mm gun, GPMG/Minigun.

Batch 3

Name Pennant Commissioned

FORTH P222 2018

MEDWAY P223 2019

TRENT P224 2020

TAMAR P225 2020

SPEY P226 2021

Displacement: 2,000 tons Dimensions: 90.5m x 13.5m x 3.8m Speed: 24+knts

Compliment: 36 Aircraft: Flight deck only

Armament: 1x 30mm gun, 2x 20mm gun, Martlet Light multirole SSM’s, GPMG/Minigun.

The RIVER class were originally procured to replace the ISLAND class patrol vessels. The design has been so successful that the design has been updated and upscaled twice now to allow the class to undertake greater duties. The Batch 1’s are primarily found in and around UK home waters where they perform roles such as fishery protection and anti smuggling work. HMS CLYDE is an upscaled version of the Batch 1’s designed specifically for duties as the Falkland Islands patrol ship. In 2015 the government decided to order yet another upscaled batch of the RIVER class to fulfil patrol duties overseas in places such as Gibraltar and the Caribbean. This was in response to the then increasingly belligerent Russia which meant that the RN wanted to free up the frigates and destroyers that had until recently been used for duties such as counter piracy and counter narcotics smuggling that it was felt could be fulfilled just as well by OPV’s. Given the nature of the duties they undertake and the regions they operate in it has been decided to equip the Batch 3’s with Martlet light SSM’s to give them a bit more bite when dealing with the small craft often used by smugglers and pirates. Royal Marines boarding and force protection teams are a common feature aboard these vessels. The RIVER class are all based in Gosport as part of the RN’s Patrol Squadron. Although in practise it is very rare to see any ships other than the Batch 1’s in Gosport as the Batch 3’s are either permanently deployed overseas or undertake multiyear deployments with the crews being rotated. CLYDE has not been in UK home waters in over 15 years now!

The RIVER class is another British built warship that has been successfully exported in one form or another. Brazil, Oman and Thailand operate versions of the type. With the exception of the pair of Thai KRABI class vessels all of the RIVER class were built in Portsmouth.

Mine Warfare

Hunt Class

Name Pennant Commissioned

LEDBURY M30 1981







QUORN M41 1989

Displacement: 750 tons Dimensions: 60m x 10.5m x 3.4m Speed: 15knts

Compliment: 45 Armament: 1x 30mm gun, GPMG/Minigun.

These vessels have been dependable work horses for the RN for longer than most of the men who now serve on them have been alive. They are constructed from glass reinforced plastic in order to reduce their magnetic signature and keep their draught and wake as shallow as possible. Both of these can mean the difference between life and death when dealing with sea mines. For the past decade the RN has kept a flotilla of mine warfare vessels including the HUNT class permanently deployed in the Persian Gulf in case the Iranians should ever carry out one of their many threats to mine the Straits of Hormuz through which most of the UK’s oil supply transits. In the Gulf War in 1991 the RN and the HUNT class established a reputation for being the best in the business when it came to mine warfare. This is a reputation the RN has been working very hard to keep.

The former HMS BRECON now serves as a static training ship at HMS RALEIGH and for most of the new recruits is the very first warship they ever set foot on. The former BICESTER and BERKELEY were sold to Greece in the early 2000’s and the former COTTESMORE and DULVERTON now serve with the Lithuanian Naval Service.


Name Pennant Commissioned

PENZANCE M106 1998

PEMBROKE M107 1998

GRIMSBY M108 1999

BANGOR M109 1999

RAMSEY M110 2000

BLYTH M111 2001

SHOREHAM M112 2001

Displacement: 600 tons Dimensions: 52.5m x 10.9m x 2.3m Speed: 13knts

Compliment: 34 Armament: 1x 30mm gun, GPMG/Minigun.

Like their HUNT class predecessors these ships are made entirely out of glass reinforced plastic. Apart from those ships on long term deployment in the Gulf all of these ships are based in Faslane. The former HMS CROMER is now a static training ship at the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth where inn accordance with tradition she has been renamed HINDOSTAN. The former SANDOWN, INVERNESS and BRIDPORT were sold to the Estonian navy as a result of the 2010 defence cuts. WALNEY also fell victim to financial constraints and remains laid up awaiting disposal. Three examples of the class were sold to the Royal Saudi Navy in the early 90’s.

The RN’s fleet of mine warfare vessels is getting old and various programmes to replace them have repeatedly failed to come to fruition usually owing to higher priority projects soaking up all available money. The RN now intends to introduce some truly remarkable automated systems to replace its fleet of mine warfare ships. While impressive these new systems will still need to be deployed from a ship (or theoretically an aircraft). The Defence Review was unclear as to whether an new class of “mother ships” will be constructed for this role meaning that the SANDOWN’s may find they still have some years of service ahead of them in a new role.