Saturday, 23 October 2021
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There are two views in the world about who should fly aircraft from ships:
the first is held by just two parties, the senior leadership of the Royal Air Force and a small number of senior MoD civil servants – this view is that flying aircraft from ships at sea is straightforward, and well within the gift of any competent RAF pilot.
the second is held by all the other air forces in the world, and all the world's carrier-operating nations – this view is that aircraft are just one of a number of Fleet's weapons, allowing it to defend itself against enemy air attack, attack enemy ships and support its amphibious forces ashore. Aircraft play their part in a higher integrated approach to maritime strategy and tactics. Flying aircraft from ships at sea thus requires a fully integrated ship-air system, designed for air operations at sea, optimised to generate high numbers of combat sorties, and run by experienced carrier professionals, who understand the maritime environment and needs of the fleet and want to go to sea. For these reasons, all other carrier navies in the world have their own naval air forces, whose officers also go on to command ships.
The evidence from the failed Joint Force Harrier experiment is that the first approach doesn't work. Britain's Invincible-class carrier force is in the weakest state of its thirty year life and, for example, would be unable to mount an operation to re-take the Falklands Islands. This position will be exacerbated if Harrier GR9 is paid off.
The ship-borne aviation environment is uniquely challenging. Aircraft must operate from small crowded pitching flight decks, at night and in poor weather – and integrate with other maritime forces when airborne. Squadron pilots and maintainers must also be fully proficient in key ship skills, particularly damage control and fire-fighting.
Three factors have thus driven the design of the world's leading carrier nations' systems: operational effectiveness; financial cost; aviation & ship safety:
operational effectiveness – modern carriers are designed to generate as many sorties as possible. For example: in the Falklands, Royal Navy Sea Harriers flew between 4 and 6 times the sorties, pro rata, of the Argentineans. This level of performance required a fully integrated ship-air system, a 'system-of-systems' approach and a naval 'all-of-one-company' philosophy.
financial cost – this approach also has cost advantages. Naval airfields ashore have the highest density of aircraft in the UK, with economies of scale. The Fleet Air Arm (FAA) officer structures require 30% less aircrew and 40% less senior officers than RAF equivalents. The RAF would need twice as many squadrons as the RN to support a standard 7 to 9 month carrier deployment abroad.
aviation & ship safety – the risks to life and national investment when operating aircraft from sea are significant. In two major carrier flight-deck fires in the US carriers Forrestal and Enterprise, 159 sailors were killed, 455 injured, 36 jets lost from the national ledger, and both ships required lengthy and expensive docking and repair. The best way to mitigate such risks is a fully integrated ship-air system, overseen by carrier professionals.
The USN are the world's carrier experts, with over 65 years of operating super-carriers. Their view is that operationally efficient, cost effective and aviation safe carrier battle groups can only be delivered with a fully integrated ship-air system, based on a core cadre of carrier professionals and overseen by a single carrier operating authority. The historical and operational evidence of over a century's worth of carrier aviation overwhelmingly supports this view.
The FAA has over a 100 years' of corporate carrier experience, and represent this country's only carrier professionals. This paper thus recommends that, from the launch of Queen Elizabeth in 2015, through to achieving a meaningful air group capacity, the introduction into service, training and development of UK's carrier forces, ships and aircraft, must be commanded by the Royal Navy drawing on its FAA's combat proven carrier expertise. The FAA is institutionally committed to delivering highly effective carrier battle groups. It has been at the leading edge of carrier thinking for over a century and are highly respected by the US and France. By drawing on their carrier professionals in the transition to the new super-carriers, we will be able to maximise the operational effectiveness of the ships, and minimize the ship & aviation safety risks and costs of the transition and, thus, deliver the full spectrum of the carriers' considerable military potential world-wide, in support of Britain's defence and security interests.

This is the intro from a fascinating article by multiple authors  published by the Phoenix Think Tank which can be read in full here

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