F35B in Focus (PART 3) Ownership and operation

Jun 18, 2013   //   by NavyLookout   //   Articles, blog, Featured  //  42 Comments


Some background – a potted history of the destruction of the Fleet Air Arm

The Fleet Air Arm was remarkably successful in WWII despite the obsolete aircraft it was equipped with, a tribute to the aircrews courage and resourcefulness. In the 1930s & 40s RAF aircraft were given absolute priority by the British aircraft industry which produced outstanding successes such as the Spitfire, Mosquito and Lancaster. Meanwhile the Royal Navy only regained control of its aircraft in 1937 and began the war flying ancient bi-planes and second-rate aircraft. It was not until late in the war that the Americans were kind enough to let the RN have some decent aircraft. The FAA had its ‘heyday’ in 1950s and early 60s operating many squadrons of dedicated naval fighters, bombers and specialist aircraft together with a fleet of carriers. The cancellation in 1966 of the CVA-01 carrier project signalled the end of the FAA as a global force. Fundamentally the UK chose a continental strategy in the Cold War ahead of its traditional and successful maritime strategy, prioritising forces in Germany hoping to stem the Soviet tide for a few days at least. (This may have been the right choice at the time but the lingering outdated influence of that continental mindset remains). (For more detail RAF and RN 1945-70 here).

The RN managed to cling to carrier aviation by the skin of its teeth for nearly 3 decades with the Harrier and the 3 Invincible ‘pocket’ carriers and again achieved incredible things with tiny resources. The RAF finally achieved its long-held ambition to neuter the FAA in 2000 by taking control of fixed-wing flying. The RN was foolish enough to accept the creation of the “Joint Strike Wing” with a mix of RAF and RN squadrons flying Sea Harriers and Harrier GR9s from RAF bases under RAF command (but with an RN Admiral on staff). The Sea Harrier FS2 fighter was then axed in 2006 thus leaving the fleet with no fighter cover. The Admiral’s post on the staff of the “Joint Force Harrier” was quietly abolished and the Harriers got precious little time at sea. In 2010 the RAF ensured it was the Harriers that were axed in the Defence Review ahead of the Tornado. Thus today there is no UK fixed-wing flying from ships sea at all and with the ‘precedent’ of the JFH established, the RAF have positioned themselves to have the controlling interest in the F35B that will fly from the new carriers.

Generations of hard-won skill and experience and a great fleet of specialist aircraft and ships has been gradually whittled down to a small helicopter-only force. Successive governments have almost destroyed Britain’s single most flexible and powerful conventional defence asset. The order for the 2 large carriers in 2006 signalled some hope that FAA could once more make a come-back and seemed to be a rare political endorsement of maritime power. Sadly political stupidity and service rivalries got to work right away, not helped by economic turmoil and have already severely reduced the great potential of the project with further avoidable problems brewing.

A marriage of inconvenience

Without the main armament of fixed-wing planes the carrier would just be a ridiculously over-sized helicopter carrier. The F35B is therefore the cornerstone of the Royal Navy carrier project and they will be “jointly operated” with the RAF. We reject this fudge and advocate that to make best use of this large investment the Royal Navy and its specialist naval aviators in the Fleet Air Arm should own and operate the aircraft that fly from the carriers.

The carrier project sits at the most sensitive interface between the 2 services, at a time when both are starved of funds. By under-funding defence, governments conveniently ‘divide and conqueror’ by setting the services against each other. The problem is rooted in poor government as much as the RAF’s adgenda. This is a failure of leadership, trying to appease the RAF, smudging over a lack of funds to replace Tornado and admitting that aside from the Typhoon/Storm Shadow lash-up, most future strike missions could now be done by unmanned aircraft, naval aircraft or sea-launched Tomahawk missiles with their better global reach.

Questioning the purpose and direction of the RAF on this blog has often generated accusations of ‘cap badge politicking’ or stirring up some bitter crusade against the RAF to boost Royal Navy prestige. Although there is good reason for historical grievances, we are not ‘anti-RAF’ as such and fully recognise the RAF has a lot of brave and hard-working people, every bit as dedicated as the RN and it offers UK defence many useful capabilities. However the narrow self-interest of the leadership has been distorting what is best for UK defence as a whole for many decades and the state of the Fleet Air Arm is just one symptom of this. It is hard to comprehend how the Royal Navy, inventor and pioneer of carrier aviation is now reliant on RAF ‘advice’ and agreement to make a success of Britain’s most important conventional defence project since the war.

Carrier aviation - how hard can it be?

The argument against RAF co-ownership of the F35Bs is pure logic, underpinned by the fact in every single other carrier operating nation in the world they have decided the navy must own its carrier aircraft. Why has every other nation come to this conclusion?

The RAF sees the carriers simply as mobile airfields upon which the F35B may or may not be deployed. The RN views the carrier and its aircraft as a complete and integrated weapon system. As a properly functioning weapon system the aircrew need to be trained and worked up with carrier-specific skills and fit into the naval ethos and environment.

Carrier-specific flying skills are an addition to regular combat flying skills and naval pilots are generally considered an elite. The pilot must cope with the obvious challenges of landing and taking off from a moving, pitching deck and a much smaller runway with no room for error. There are also additional navigation challenges, posed by a moving base – a 30knt carrier can move to anywhere within a 700sq mile circle within a half an hour. The F35B with its advanced avionics will reduce the difficulty of these evolutions to some extent. The vertical landing is assisted by an auto-pilot for example but it would be foolish to rely entirely on automation – good combat pilots must still be fully trained  to cope with failures, battle damage or extreme conditions. The F35B as a VSTOL aircraft presents several additional flying challenges, the most demanding is the Shipborne rolling vertical landing (SRVL) which will supposedly allow the F35B to return to the ship with unused weapons or fuel if too heavy for vertical landing.

Actual carrier-based operations, integration with the naval task group has to be practiced and carefully laid down operating procedures established for their and control and communications, working with other ships and aircraft to co-ordinate a variety missions. This won’t happen overnight and is an area where new technology makes little difference – it is the skill and experience of the aircrews and the operations room personnel that must be honed together.

Complex flight deck and hangar choreography is required in maintaining, handling and preparing of aircraft before and after flying within the confined space of the carrier. In high-intensity carrier operations sortie rate can be decisive and it takes a skilled team to ensure the right number of serviceable aircraft at the right place at the right time. Whether it is RAF erks or RN wafus doing the job they will need to be worked up to high level of competency just to ensure safe operations. This niche skill is currently being kept alive by a small number of FAA aircraft handlers serving with the US Navy. RAF personnel are included in the programme with around 300 personnel expected to be trained by the end of the decade.

Shipboard life. Although the carriers will have very high accommodation standards compared to previous ships, essentially everyone is still living mostly below decks in a tin can with 1500+ people and on occasions it will move about considerably, depending on sea state. Sailors are used to this but for RAF personnel this will be a significant adjustment. They will also have to learn at least basic ship routines, drills and become reliable members of a ships company for periods. There is also the thorny issue of different career paths and “harmony” guidelines between the 2 services. As it stands, those in the RAF can expect more time off and far less frequent deployments abroad than their RN counterparts. None of this is insurmountable with time and the right attitudes but it again demonstrates the how a carrier is not just another airfield and it would make more sense to have an entirely RN ships company.

Consider why the QE carriers have 2 islands. A cynic might suggest this ‘innovation’ reflects the schizophrenic character of the aircraft ownership. The flight controllers are back aft in the “control tower” well away from the RN “fish heads” up front on the bridge doing their ship-driving thing. This dual-island design is unique to the world’s aircraft carriers. In every other aircraft carrier design, the ‘flyco’ is co-located with the navigation bridge as tight co-ordination is required between the ship and its aircraft. This is not to say the new design can’t be made to work, just that a really convincing reason for the 2 islands has yet to given.

What is clear is that the whole environment is all very different to land-based aircraft operating from large airfields. RAF personnel cannot just rock up to the carrier and expect things to be run much the same as at RAF Marham. It is not that RAF pilots shouldn’t fly from Royal Navy carriers – many have in the past, indeed there are many skilled RAF pilots who will be a great asset to the carrier force. By far the biggest problem is with RAF involvement higher up in the chain of command in tasking and training with the F35Bs. With the perishable skills discussed, carrier pilots and the carrier crew need to spend as much time at sea as possible exercising if not on active operations. There is no place for a ‘part-time’ naval aviator who may dabble in a bit of carrier flying from time to time if allowed.

Questions on F35B in shared operation

Maybe the RAF will accept the arguments above and the carriers air group will always have priority for both training and operations. However with so few aircraft (A maximum of 48 F35Bs seems likely) this creates great pressure for the RN & RAF to agree on tasking priorities. The RAF initially proposed just 6 F5Bs would routinely be embarked, presumably some heads were knocked together an announcement that 12 will be the routine compliment has been made. This is a reasonable bare minimum for training but the 65,000 ton carrier designed for at least 36 aircraft may find it’s decks may look rather empty. Rather silly to invest £6Bn in large carriers then not field sufficient aircraft because they are being tasked by the RAF for other things. (Even the very small Invincible carriers routinely embarked 8 Harriers – this lack of numbers was a big reason for replacing them with much larger ships). 2 squadrons totalling 24 aircraft would seem like a sensible minimum standard.

There are many questions around who will train for what missions – will pilots be expected to be ‘all rounders’ who can master the multiple missions and environments of the F35B or will there be specialist carrier pilots etc? It is also unclear at this stage if there will be a split of two RN and two RAF manned squadrons or whether personnel will be mixed and spread across squadrons. Doubtless these difficult issues are being painfully thrashed out behind closed doors at the MoD right now. Rumours / wishful thinking for a future order for additional F35As for the RAF might ease the pressure (although whether the great cost of procuring more land-based manned deep strike is worthwhile is another discussion).

Basing and support

A big factor used to justify RAF co-ownership of the carrier aircraft is that the Fleet Air Arm now lacks the people and infrastructure to support the aircraft is service. This is largely true since the Sea Harriers departed from RNAS Yeovilton. The RAF will have alot of unemployed people when the Tornado finally goes in 2019. It make sense to employ RAF personnel on the F35B at least initially. Clearly they cannot be volunteered to transfer en mass to the FAA and it would be silly to try. However RAF personnel could go through natural wastage new recruits could come from the RN. Surely it is logical to have crews trained as sailors from the outset to serve on the carriers? Successive cuts have left the RAF plenty of under-used airfields so there is some reason in the choice of RAF Marham. As a minor point Marham is hardly convenient for aircraft embarking aboard the carrier which will most often be heading West from Portsmouth. Ultimately the colour of the uniform worn by those maintaining the aircraft is not critical. It is the command and control of the planes that really matters but while they operate from an RAF base that will surely affect the mind-set of all concerned, possession being 9/10ths of the law. RNAS Marham anyone?

So in our brave new world of ‘jointness’ will the carrier project be a wonderful example of inter-service co-operation or decent into a chaotic rivalry and farce? Lets hope it is a great success but the risks in this very expensive ‘experiment’ could be avoided by making sensible decisions now.

“During the Falklands War [RN task force commander] Sandy Woodward had to fight 3 battles; against the Argentines, against the staff at Northwood and against the RAF”
A naval officer serving with the task force



  • […] This hugely controversial aircraft is too expensive, over-complex, plagued with avoidable development problems and has a mediocre airframe for a fighter. Its stealth characteristics are poor for the amount of money invested and the compromises that it forces on the design. However the F35 is a quantum leap in capability in many areas particularly in cockpit design, sensors and networking. If its ability to fight beyond visual range (BVR) work as advertised then it will be formidable. Overall we remain F35 ‘skeptics’ but desperately want to be proved wrong. Those who say we should have retained the Harrier are right, but the two aircraft are incomparable. The Harrier was an amazing late 20th Century aircraft that should have served for longer but the F35 is appropriate for the 21st century and the RN will undoubtedly make the best of it, despite its flaws. We reject the ’joint ownership’ of the carrier aircraft by the RAF and advocate the Fleet Air Arm have control of all F35B tasking. 3-part commentary here: Back ground & Cost Roles of the F35B Ownership & Operation […]

  • Re: Headline Picture. Not sure if this was intentional, but flag/ensign protocol dictates after a naval battle the winner would fly their ensign above that of the defeated enemy… Appropriate then, as shown here, the White Ensign is being flown above the RAF Ensign on QE2. Here’s hoping!!!(Incidently, this is the origin of the ‘half-mast’ tradition to mark a death… when an individual as lost a battle to the ‘immortal enemy’)

  • […] Part 3 we look at the ownership and operation of the […]

  • - “X-47B catapults into new era of naval aviation”, May 19-2013:

    - “US Navy Stealth Drone Catapults from Sea-Based Carrier”:

  • Reference links:

    “NAVAIR Issues UCLASS RFP”, June 18-2013:

    “(US) Navy awards preliminary design review contracts for unmanned carrier-based system”, August 15-2013:

    “Pentagon Altered UCLASS Requirements for Counterterrorism Mission”, August-30-2013:


    Probably the most damaging and far-reaching result of not fitting the UK’s new big deck aircraft carriers with aircraft launch catapults and landing equipment is that these new vessels will be unable to embark and deploy unmanned naval fighter/bombers…

    Reason??: Because of their sizes and weights, unmanned naval fighter/bombers require aircraft-launch catapults and landing equipment to be operated from sea-going vessels…

    The United States’ Department of Defense long ago recognized that so called “Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) Air Vehicles” were the future of military naval aviation, and are actively developing unmanned fighters/bombers that can be deployed from aircraft carriers…

    The US’s naval unmanned fighter/bomber programmes have been well known to Royal Navy planners and senior MoD officials since the early part of the previous decade…

    The process used by the UK’s MoD to choose the type of fighter/bomber to deploy from the UK’s new aircraft carriers would have considered the potential future need to deploy unmanned types of fighter/bombers from these vessels…

    As part of these considerations/deliberations, the requirement (of unmanned fighter/bombers) for aircraft-launch catapults and landing equipment in order to be operated from naval vessels would have been well understood, and no doubt minuted….

    So, what kind of idiot would support a decision to not install catapults/landing equipment to the UK’s new aircraft carriers, and consequently restricting these mega warships to only being able to deploy 1 kind of fixed-wing aircraft, the F-35B… a type of aircraft that, due to it’s need for a pilot- will be rendered obsolescent/un-usable for certain types of missions in the not too distant future??

    Roderick V. Louis,
    Vancouver, BC, Canada

  • CVN-78 News:
    http://blogs.defensenews.com/intercepts/2013/10/go-aboard-uss-gerald-r-ford-cvn-78-the-newest-aircraft-carrier/ -

    “… the Ford has just received a new coat of paint, part of the preparations for her public debut on Nov. 9, when ship’s sponsor Susan Ford Bales, daughter of the 38th U.S. president, will formally christen the ship…

    “Water was let into the dock to float the Ford for the first time on Oct. 11. She’s not yet officially launched- that won’t technically take place until after the christening ceremony when the ship is moved out of the dock to a fitting-out berth in the shipyard… the ship is scheduled to be delivered to the Navy in early 2016….”

  • PART 4:

    Much of the most important developmental testing of EMALS and AAG that was to have occurred on land- at land-based purpose built testing facilities- has been shifted to occur on the just launched CVN-78…

    This has raised many questions and criticisms from the US’s Government Accountability Office and Congressional Research Service… with serious concerns raised about the potential consequences of ship-board testing indicating requirement for re-designs of EMALS and/or AAG… which would be impossible to do without huge additional expenses incurred- since both systems are to be fitted to cvn-78 under and attached to many layers of steel, piping, power supplies and decks…

    If UK govt had not cancelled plans for EMALS and AAG to be fitted to the UK’s 2 new big deck aircraft carriers in 2012, could the US’s improvised AND HIGHLY RISKY methods for fitting EMALS and AAG to CVN-78 been used for fitting EMALS and AAG to the UK’s 2 new big-deck carriers??

    UK’s Parliamentary Defence Select Committee should comparatively investigate the US’s and UK’s big-deck aircraft carrier projects, their costs-for-construction and their planned-to-be-embarked aircraft, air traffic control and ship-defence radars, ship self-defence systems, automation, reduced crews technologies, etc!!

  • PART 3:

    Additional links:

    - http://hamptonroads.com/2013/09/costs-and-doubts-keep-growing-carrier-ford :
    $14 billion projected cost for first of new class of aircraft carrier…(September 06-2013)

    - http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/emals-electro-magnetic-launch-for-carriers-05220/ (October 21-2013)

    - “US Navy, GAO at Odds Over Carrier Issues”, September 05-2013:

  • PART 2:

    - “Ford-Class Carriers: Lead Ship Testing and Reliability Shortfalls Will Limit Initial Fleet Capabilities”,GAO-13-396, September 5, 2013:
    http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-13-396 (1-page summary)
    http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/657412.pdf (70-pages)

    - “(US) Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress”, October 22, 2013:
    http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/weapons/RS20643.pdf (69-pages)

  • PART 1:

    Potential F-35 / aircraft carrier project/Royal Navy story(s)??:

    1) Newly reported, but highly significant problems in development of the US’s electromagnetic aircraft launch (EMALS) and Advanced Arrestor Gear (AAG) systems (both of which were to be fitted to the UK’s new aircraft carriers);

    2) Potential years-long delays (until 2027!!) in having both EMALS and AAG systems workable and installed to the first of the US’s new Ford class of aircraft carriers, CVN-78…

    3) Costs-for-construction of CVN-78 projected at upwards of $14 billion dollars, not including aircraft!!

  • 4th Watch, some notes on Korea for you:

    The primary role of the RAF in the Cold War was the defence of Western Europe against potential attack by the USSR, with many Sqns based in Germany. Further, because of commitments in Malaya, Britain made only a limited contribution to the Korean War.

    Although Britain did not base any RAF squadrons in Korea during the Korean War, several RAF pilots saw action while on exchange with the USAF, mainly flying Sabres. They were credited with seven kills. Other RAF pilots flew Meteors in the RAAF squadrons on ground support attacks. Two flights of Army Cooperation aircraft flew in support of artillery spotting and reconnaissance. In addition, the two RAF squadrons of flying boats were based in Japan and flew maritime reconnaissance. It is hardly the fault of the RAF if the Government decides not to deploy them, we only had one Brigade of ground troops as well.

    The Transport force was involved in trooping flights between the UK, Japan and Korea. The first Hastings flight left RAF Lyneham on 19 September 1950 carrying reinforcements from the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. Casualty evacuation flights were also undertaken, bringing home not only British wounded but those of other nations in the UN force.
    Four British light aircraft carriers, all of the “Glory” class, served in Korean waters. These carriers operated about thirty-five aircraft formed into two aircraft squadrons.

    This is from a RN report:

    ‘The light fleet carriers provided the most conspicuous aspect of Commonwealth operations in the Korean War. Their performance was admitted on all sides to be outstanding, but was possible only because of the lack of serious naval and air opposition. Had these existed on an appreciable scale, more ships would have been needed, and more effort would have been required for fighter defence and escort to the detriment of offensive operations. The results achieved were the result of hard work, much improvisation, and the driving of machinery, in some cases, beyond the limits for which it was designed’.

    I can see no reason for criticism of the RAF in Korea – only praise for the work for the RN, which is a different issue.

    • JH

      Thanks. An RAF no Show in Korea then. The Pacific 1944-45?

  • What has not been discussed is the very different Harmony Rules applied to the RN and RAF were RAF routinely deploy for periods no longer that 3 Months! This would result in loss of experienced maintenance and support staff effecting capability.

    • Most RAF pers deploy for between 4-6 months (I speak from personal experience). It’s true that with ground based air you can rotate aircrew through in 2-3 month batches, but this is proven to keep them fresh and lessen the chance of accidents while on ops. If deployed to a carrier the plan would be to deploy in line with that operational task. The vast majority of RAF ground pers deploy for 6 months every 16 months or so. This does include the mirad of trg exercises and work up required before deployment and other routine tasks.

      • JH- I quite resent your inference that the Navy didn’t prioritize carriers before the war. If this is as you claim, they were pretty quick off the mark after 1938 when freed from the RAF yolk wouldn’t you say ?
        More importantly you have to ask yourself why they didn’t prioritize or rather were n’t able to prioritize it more? They certainly had a better grasp of carriers than the rest of Europe combined.
        Taranto 1940 was the blueprint for Pearl Harbour in 1941. They fought an effective campaign in Norway (also in 1940) sinking one and damaging several German cruisers albeit with antiquated and limited aircraft.
        The RAF had an appalling record in defending expeditionary incursions and defending our overseas bases. Norway,Crete, Malta and Malaya being cases in point.
        The Japanese caught everyone off guard with the excellence of their Naval Air Arm. Indeed the Japanese Navy shows us precisely what can be done with an independently run Naval Air.
        Banzai JH, Banzai!
        The RAF may learn something on board the carriers but I very much doubt it from past British experience. I predict they will be put ashore within 10 years.
        Lets see how RAF prioritize things. For example in RAF hands we now have zero Maritime recce and as good as no Maritime strike. This is hardly anything to be proud of is it?

        • @JH & @4th Watch. I think you both have a point. It is true the leadership of the RN was still dominated by the gunnery brigade who did not fully appreciate the power of the aircraft (or the submarine) until the late 1930s. However the RN did move fast and the construction of the HMS Ark Royal (3) launched in 1937 as well as the conversion of various other ships to carriers proves that aviation was not entirely forgotten. It was undoubtedly the prioritisation of aircraft for the RAF that saw the RN begin the war with such a motley collection of planes. If the RAF had not been so obsessed with flattening German cities at terrible cost and of dubious military value the war at sea could have been a lot less costly. When the RAF was forced to get serious about Costal Command it eventually proved to be a highly effective and crucial element in the defeat of the U-Boats in the Atlantic. As you say the RAF had a terrible record of defending ships at sea. Probably not directly their fault as it is very hard to provide continuous air cover from land bases at distance, even if your heart is in it. Hence the need for RN operated carriers.

          The axing of Nimrod was really stupid government rather than just the RAF’s fault. Of course it would have been far better to cull some Tornadoes and keep the Nimrod instead. Don’t forget RAF leadership is dominated by fast-jet jocks so the helicopter pilots and Nimrod types who have served the country well but with a lot less hubris have less influence. It is this very mixed track record of RAF involvement in the maritime sphere that is part of the cause for concern over the carrier project.

        • Thank you, Save the RN, for your balanced post. 4th Watch, you are wrong about so much, as it now appears is usual. 

          I’ll start with Malta which was a superb example  of the RN and RAF working together. And as you can’t sink an island, Malta was a superb base for ground based air.

          The Allies were able to launch offensive operations from Malta. Some 60% of Axis shipping was sunk in the second half of 1941. The  German’s required 50,000 tons of supplies a month, but were not able to get them through, and as a result they were unable to resist a strong counter-offensive by British forces in Operation Crusader.

          Joint RN ops with the RAF were so effective that during November 1941 the Axis supply line suffered significant losses. Among the written-off Axis cargo were precious fuel stores.

          In particular, special flights of RAF Wellingtons, which were fitted with air-to-surface vessel radar, were critical to RN ops. ULTRA intelligence would reach Malta on Axis Convoy movements and RAF Malta Command would then dispatch the ASV-Wellingtons to sweep the seas and direct the British naval forces to the targeted convoy.

          The RAF was also making life difficult for the German submarines, which had to pass by the British air base at Gibraltar to reach the contested waters. Waters that were no place for carriers to loiter. 

          Until the return of the Luftwaffe over Malta in. 1942, the RAF defenders had claimed 199 aircraft shot down from June 1940—December 1941, while losses were at least 90 Hurricanes.

          The Allies moved to increase the number of Spitfires on the island. On 9 May 1942, Wasp and Eagle delivered 64 more Spitfires. Malta now had five full Sptifire squadrons. The impact of the Spitfires was apparent. On 9 May the Italians announced 37 Axis losses. On 10 May 1942, the Axis lost 65 aircraft destroyed or damaged in large air battles over the island. The Hurricanes were able to focus on the Axis bombers and dive-bombers at lower heights, while the Spits engaged en aircraft at higher levels. Between 18 May and 9 June 1942, Eagle made three runs carrying another 76 Spitfires to Malta.  With such a force established, the RAF had the firepower to deal with any Axis attacks. The Med was no place for careers to hang around with so much ground based long range en aircraft around. The RAF established air superiority over the Island.

          RAF Beauforts were having a devastating impact on Axis fuel supply (often sinking entire convoys) which were now nearly used up. On 1 Sep, Rommel was forced to retreat. Kesselring handed over Luftwaffe fuel to Rommel, but this merely denied the German air units the means to protect the ground forces, thereby increasing the effectiveness of British air superiority over the frontline.

          The British air-submarine offensive ensured no fuel reached North Africa in the crucial first week of Oct  1942.  In Oct it was alao was clear to Kesselring that the defenders were too strong. He called off the air offensive on Malta.

          On 25 Oct three tankers and one cargo ship carrying fuel and ammunition were sent under heavy air and sea escort, and were likely to be the last ships to reach Rommel while he was at El Alamein. ULTRA intercepted the planned convoy route, and alerted Malta’s air units. The 3 fuel-carrying vessels were sunk by 28 Oct. It cost the British one Beaufighter, two Beauforts, three and one Wellington. Rommel lost 44 per cent of his supplies on October, a jump from the 20 per cent lost in September

          The last air raid over Malta occurred on 20 July 1943. It was the 3,340th alert since 11 June 1940. 

          It will take a separate post to discuss the strategic air offensive, but we should be clear that with the pressure from Stalin to have a 2nd front before we were ready, the bomber offensive was the only way to strike at Germany and help persuade Stalin not to look for a separate peace before a 2nd front could be established in 44. The damage to Germany industry has recently been seen to be far more crippling than historically portrayed – particularly as the offensive was not PC after the war.

          • JH- Just a quickie on Malta.

            To begin with the RAF had to defend this vital base with Faith, Hope and Charity as is well known. What is less well known is that they were 3 Navy Gladiators.

            If you wish I will recount the dismal and belated performance of the RAF to reinforce Malta with Spitfires. Probably you will prefer it if I don’t.

            Perhaps instead we can talk about the RAF in the Pacific or Korea?

        • Short post on Crete. The sinking of the Bismarck distracted public opinion at the time; but the loss of Crete as a result of the failure of the Allied land forces to recognise the strategic importance of the airfields, served as a wake-up call for the government. As a direct consequence, the RAF was given responsibility for defending its own bases from ground and air attack. The RAF Regiment was formed on 1 Feb 1942 to meet this requirement. An example of why the RAF has this responsibility is still clear today in Afghan. When the Army was looking at the biggest likely casualty scenario, they focused on a large vehicle IED. It took the RAF Regt officer, who invited himself to the meeting, to point out that the loss of strat air while landing at KAF would dwarf that. That is why the RAF Regt provide the protection to several km outside the wire.

          • JH- Of necessity a short post on Crete because the RAF were nowhere to be seen.

        • For several weeks, Malta was protected by a force of Sea Gladiators, based at the RAF airfield. The flight is the source of the myth that only 3 aircraft, named Faith, Hope and Charity formed the entire fighter cover for the island. In fact, more than 3 aircraft were operational, though not always at the same time; others were used for spare parts. The names Faith, Hope and Charity were applied to the aircraft many months later, by a Maltese newspaper.  4 Hurricanes joined the Sea Gladiators at the end of Jun 40 and the flight became part of 261 Sqn RAF.
          As you know, by the end of Jun, 40, the Britain stood alone. Nazi Germany had conquered or dominated the rest of Europe from Norway to Sicily.  Serious fighter production had not begun until the end of the 30s and it is little wonder that with limited resources and facing an attack on our homeland, Malta was short of modern fighters in mid 40.  Believe it or not, the RN also had to make decisions on priority.   

          Following the Meuse crossing in France in May 40, the sqns had to keep moving and were finally evacuated on 19 May after just nine days of combat. By this stage, the RAF had already lost 195 Hurricanes, or about a quarter of its total front-line fighter force.

          The extent of Britain’s commitment to air power is indicated by annual aircraft production, which rose from 893 in 1935 to over 20,000 in 1941.

          What you fail to address in your post was the fact that the RAF, working with the RN were crucial in winning the battle for Malta and ultimately the campaign in North Africa.  It was aircraft that were the primary threat to Axis convoys and subs.  Also the fact that the Med was no place for aircraft carriers. 

          RAF’s performance in its next overseas campaigns, in Greece and then Malaya, demonstrate the limitations strategic thinking; it is clear that the real reasons for the successes and failures of 1940 had not been fully identified, and it was assumed that the victory of the Battle of Britain could be replicated abroad in the absence of many of the factors that had led to success. In particular, sufficient control of the air could not be achieved, because inadequate numbers of less-capable fighters (Hurricanes, Buffaloes or biplane Gladiators) were deployed rather than the more formidable Spitfires, and without either an effective system of radar-based air command and control, or the support of a functioning mobile logistics organisation and infrastructure.

          The key to joint RN-RAF operations was therefore not about who ultimately controlled the assets, but rather that both airmen and sailors had an understanding of – and appreciation for – each other’s problems and advantages. Such a positive working relationship, in addition to an effective command and control arrangement, was crucial for winning the Battle of the Atlantic and provides an important empirical example of successful jointness from which modern military forces can learn.

          The last word may be left to Churchill, who illustrated the complexity of strategic appreciation, and the co-dependence of strategy and policy, when he said: ‘As between the different Services, while avoiding invidious comparisons I should certainly say that the outlook of the Royal Air Force upon this war was more closely attuned to the circumstances and conditions as they emerged by painful experience than those of either of the other two Services.’

        • 4th Watch, In Greece the RAF strength was inadequate due to massive overstretch. Yet in view of Axis success, possibly more aircraft had been sent than was justifiable. Few of those planes returned. At the end of April there were just 43 fighters and 90 bombers operational in the Middle East. Obviously no amount of spade work at Crete could off-set this hopeless deficiency in air power.  However, given the most advantageously located bases, the entire RAF in Middle East was so depleted that it could have done little more than delay the final capitulation.

          The capture of Crete in 1941, was an independent airborne assault. Essentially, it was a Pyrrhic victory – the island was captured but in excess of 50 per cent casualties were incurred, along with further heavy aircraft losses.

          So far as heroism is concerned there are not many more valiant deeds in our history than those of the Navy in attempting to supply, defend and evacuate Crete. But the fact that in eight days the Nazi attack drove the Navy to Egypt and forced an evacuation which left more than half the garrisons behind, testifies to the total inability of any Navy to operate in waters over which the enemy controls the air from Land Bases.

          Due to the great numerical superiority of the enemy, by 19 May the RAF on Crete was reduced to 3 Hurricanes and 3 Gladiators. On 23 May, being desperate for air support  2 flights of 6 Hurricanes each were sent to Crete from Egypt. The first flight flew over the Royal Navy, whose gunners, being justifiably afflicted with “windiness”, put up an unusually effective barrage and shot down 2Hurricanes; three returned to Egypt, one reached Crete.

          Lessons from Crete:

          During Crete operations the German Air Force performed roles normally assigned services: That of transport; supply; communications by signals, radio, liaison; of field, medium, and heavy artillery by bombing; of Infantry by machine gunning and tactical placement of troops; of cavalry by reconnaissance, counter-reconnaissance, harassing, delay, follow-up, pursuit, providing the highest possible degree of mobility, delivering automatic fire power heavier than heretofore known; Coast Artillery by denying vessels access to harbours; Navy by its thorough defeat of the British fleet.  The Germans did not need a Navy of any size to control the waters around Crete.

          The numerical strength of the German Air Force was impressive; the handling of it was superb; the types of aircraft were suited to the task allotted.

          The overwhelming defeat inflicted by the German Air force on the RN of KYTHERA Straits is evidence of the inability of the naval forces to dominate the waters of another continental power when this second continental power has a strong ground based air arm.

          • JH You need to face the unpalatable fact that there are numerous circumstances in which the RAF has proven time and time again that it cannot operate effectively on the fringes. Unfortunately a very great percentage of the most important combat and strategy happens on the fringes precisely because these are the weak spots and can be more easily exploited by ones enemy.

            The single minded way in which the recent Air Staff has sabotaged Naval Air in this country is a scandal that history or indeed an encounter with a ‘Sea Minded’ opponent will judge very harshly.

            Unless the RAF is gifted with some unique knowledge or abilities in sea warfare it would do well to back off and encourage the Navy to rebuild the Fleet Air Arm as a matter of some urgency.

            If you want to see what happened in the Mediterranean then please read the relevant chapters in Winged Victory by ‘Johnnie’ Johnson and ‘Laddie’ Lucas.

        • 4th Watch, you really do appear paranoid.

          You fail to address a single point with evidence and simply resort to insulting the RAF. Airpower was the key enabler in the end that won the battle for Malta and thus allowed victory in Africa, if you cant accept this you are blind. My posts are all about cooperation, you seem to have a pathological dislike for the RAF. Please use evidence. So far we have seen that:

          - Even the authors of this site (hardly bias towards the RAF) agree that the RN was slower than it might have been in the 30s to identify carriers as the new Capitol ships. Your facts were wrong.

          - Faith, Hope and Charity were not simply 3 RN aircraft, but a number of aircraft that had those names applied after the event. Facts wrong.

          - The RAF played a vital part in the defence and then offence from Malta once resources were freed up from the home front. There simply were not the numbers in 1940. Understand the context of the situation. I’m not claiming it was perfect.

          - Please do tell me about the ‘dismal and belated performance by the RAF to reinforce Malta’ From your list It seems you think they should have reinforced Greece, Crete, the Far East, Gib and North Africa (while being outnumbered in UK skies) all at the same time? With which aircraft do you suggest they should have done this? You do not mention the RAF Beauforts that were devastating Axis convoys (or does that not suit your narrative of RAF failure).

          - Carriers were at a big disadvantage in the Mediterranean.

          - This battle showed that a Navy cannot operate when within the range of decent land based air forces, even with organic air cover. Address the point, you don’t have to agree, but discuss with evidence not myths.

          - The loss of the Prince of Wales and Repulse may have been prevented if the RN commander had not been blind to airpower and accepted the offer of air cover by the RAF and RNZAF. You blamed lack of organic airpower, blind to the fact hat Japanese ground based air force units would have overwhelmed a single carrier with faster sortie rates, numbers and heavier weapons. The RN had a carrier assigned to that task, but it ran aground. Are you suggesting that we rely for future ops on one asset?

          - Analysis after WW2 by the US showed that while carrier air was a vital part of the battle, and in a theatre like the Pacific key, land based Air Force assets had a huge advantage and should be brought to bear as soon as possible.

          - You have answered none of the points about Libya or the defence of the Falklands. You give no credit to Costal Command (which again this website does acknowledge) and do not engage in evidence based debate.

          - Finally, modern ‘combat and strategy’ whatever amateur meaning you apply to this does not always occur on the fringes:

          Gulf War 1 – conventional war in desert fought from land bases in the main.
          Bosnia and Kosovo – European – hardly the fringe.
          Iraq – again as The gulf war.
          Iraq no fly zones – policed for nearly 10 years from land bases.
          Sierra Leone – great work by RN. RAF harriers and helos played vital role. A fringe!
          Afghanistan – all airpower relied in RAF and US tankers, them majority of airpower and other assets based in country after 6 months. Land locked.
          Libya – in Europe’s back yard.
          Marli – all French, US and UK forces were/are land based. Land locked.

          Some future:
          Syria (Cyprus, Turkey etc to provide basing)
          Iran – We have numerous options.

          Please address the substantive points in the posts I have put up in response to your anti RAF rants.

          • JH- Hi how’s it going?

            The points I am trying to make are that in the Marine environment the RAF has largely been a spectacular failure. Why entrust the security of our country to something that plainly does n’t work?

            You say I don’t reply with facts. You say that things didn’t go well reinforcing Malta during 1940. But there was still a problem into early 1942!
            ‘During the first three months of 1942, only 151 daylight enemy sorties were flown over the UK and a substantial portion of these were reconnaissance flights….Between February and April ….at the height of the assault….more than17000 sorties were flown against Malta (whose) fighter defence consisted of three sqadrons of Hurricanes ( with) 26 aircraft serviceable (at peak strength). Against this, Fighter Command (UK) disposed of 102 Squadrons comprising 2395 aircraft ….of which….1370 were Spitfires (with ) 886 serviceable……this grave lack of balance…..at a time when Malta was about to be subjected to such a severe ordeal can find no reasonable justification.’
            Air Historical Branch of the Royal Air Force.

            ‘The agony of waiting for the Spitfires…….(was) All down to the Royal Air Force, none of it to the Royal Navy…….etc’
            Winged Victory.

            My reading from all this was that the RAF were as you say preoccupied with flying fast planes over France. I am not sure this would not happen again (granted) in probably a different way, but (say) at the expense of the Army in (say) the Falklands.

            My problem with the modern RAF is that it has a wonderful propaganda machine that relies almost exclusively on its WW2 reputation. It is therefore appropriate we should examine this as a clue to see how they might perform in a Maritime situation today.

            They have also by informed agreement, killed off the fixed wing combat arm of a rival service to suit their own ends. What motivated this could only have been RAF paranoia.

          • JH

            If you need evidence of Carriers operating within range of decent air opposition you need look no further than the RN operations off Norway against the German Battleship Tirpitz in 1944.

            Here a Fleet Air Arm finally equipped with modern aircraft, was able to completely fend off all Luftwaffe intrusions against the fleet thanks to improved radar and aircraft; notably Corsairs, Hellcats and Fireflies.

            The same is true of the RN carrier operations over Korea.

            If I recall we only ever lost HMS Hermes, our smallest carrier, to air attack, and no hits at all were obtained by the Luftwaffe on any of our carriers after the attack on HMS Illustrious in early 1941.

            In fact the only aircraft hits on our carriers since 1941 were by the Japanese. Interesting fact.

  • Further to my last, I don’t think you can blame he RAF for the siutation fully with navel airpower in WW2. Naval dogma was difficult to overcome. Off the Malay Peninsula on 9 Dec (the incident referred to when 2 x battleships were lost) Admiral Thomas Phillips, the RN cdr, believed so strongly in battleship superiority that he made no effort to arrange for air cover. Sadly, he was among those brave sailors killed in the sinking of Prince of Wales and Repulse.

    No. 453 Squadron RAAF, which was able to provide air cover for Force Z, was not kept informed of the ships’ position. No radio request for air cover was sent until the cdr of thenRepulse an hour after the Japanese attack began. Flight Lieutenant Tim Vigors proposed a plan to keep six aircraft over Force Z during daylight, but this was declined by Phillips.

    Vigors later commented, “I reckon this must have been the last battle in which the Navy reckoned they could get along without the RAF. A pretty damned costly way of learning. Phillips had known that he was being shadowed the night before, and also at dawn that day. He did not call for air support. He was attacked and still did not call for help. Daytime air cover off the coast was also offered by Wing Commander Wilfred Clouston of No. 488 Squadron RNZAF, but his plan, “Operation Mobile”, was rejected.

    Phillips himself once counselled a jnr offr that aviation was “poppycock” and steered the him away from the aviation profession because it would “ruin” his career.

    I don’t think the RN prioritised carriers before the war and did not understand their importance, particularly in the Pacific.

  • JH

    I am sure precisely the same arguments about a lack of airframes and recourses were being made way back in 1919 or whenever. Similarly you can argue that the Battle of the Atlantic would have been won much more quickly if maritime air had been better funded at the start of the war. For instance; bombers suitable for maritime use were held back for the bomber offensive against Germany.
    No one is denying that aircraft are of paramount importance in Sea Warfare; its just who best utilizes their specialist skills to use them to best effect.
    If the RAF hadn’t abandoned Coastal Command and ASR I would believe they were modestly committed to the fighting at sea at all. Who is to say they wont just pull the F35′s from the carriers at the first whiff of trouble?
    I repeat this is a recipe for disaster.
    Your point about the Prince of Wales and Repulse illustrates the fate of surface ships without navy controlled organic air cover, beautifully.

    • 4th Watch.

      Even with an aircraft carrier, the ships would likely have been suck due to the advantage the land based aircraft had.

      Carriers are very important , but during WW2 Gen. George C. Kenney told MacArthur. “Carrier-based aircraft do not have staying power and therefore do not have the dependability of land-based aircraft.” Kenney was also concerned about the fact that aircraft carriers can be sunk.

      Kenney’s concern about vulnerability and fleet limitations proved prescient. American carriers experienced severe operating challenges during all battles and often were unable to protect their accompanying surface fleets.

      Rear Adm. Daniel V. Gallery, assistant chief of naval operations, summed
      up an inherent design weakness of the aircraft carrier in a 1949 Science Illustrated article. “A big carrier is a tank farm, an ammunition dump, and an airfield all rolled up into one tight package,” Gallery wrote. “This is a highly inflammable combination.”

      An analysis of the Pacific Theatre experience revealed carrier aircraft averaged only one flight every other day while in a combat area. Of those sorties, at least a 1/4 were assigned to the defence of the task force—the burden of defending carriers severely limited the offensive airpower.

      Army Air Forces units, meanwhile, generated unmatched sortie rates and firepower. Eg. in one three-day span, 167 B-29s operating from the Mariana Islands delivered 2.5 times the bomb load that 1,091 carrier aircraft did over the same days.

      Aircraft carriers also must operate according to strict launch cycles and cannot remain on station indefinitely. Carriers can surge to temporarily generate additional sorties, but must eventually stand down.

      In contrast, the facilities at a land-based airfield are dispersed over an area of several square miles, are frequently open to further expansion and enlargement, are cost-effectively constructed of ordinary building materials, and are available for use 365 days of the year as they never have to return to port or refuel.

      By the end of the war, Japan was defeated, in large part, by the same maritime interdiction strategy it had helped validate. Land-based airpower helped destroy Japan’s maritime capabilities, paralyse the Japanese war machine, and strangle its industries and economy.

      Airfield at Sea. Three traditional rules govern how a fleet should be employed:

      1. Keep the fleet concentrated.
      2. Do not tie a mobile fleet to a piece of ground.
      3. Do not become decisively engaged with land forces unless decisively superior.

      These rules can be violated, but the conditions have to be right—namely, there can be no significant opposition at sea. In order to support a ground fight ashore or conduct a continuous air campaign, aircraft carriers have to break at least rules 2 and 3, and in order to stay on station for months . The requirement to feed aircraft continuously into a land fight robs the aircraft carrier of its manoeuvrability, due to the relatively short range of tactical jets.

      People like to talk about Libya, and there is no doubt that a handful of harriers (that all we are talking about) would have been very useful, but even if HMS Ark Royal had been in service, victualled, crewed and ready to put to sea from Portsmouth, she would have taken a good four days to reach Benghazi sailing at full steam the whole way, through still waters. Had she been in the Gulf supporting other ops, it would have taken closer to five days at best and denier whoever she was supporting at the time of airpower. Once in theatre she would have required defence from air attack.

      The C-130 Hercules aircraft the Royal Air Force and Special Forces used in the end to land in Libya’s Eastern Desert and to evacuate people flew from Wiltshire to Tripoli in under 5 hours.

      Another argument deployed in favour of carriers has been the Falkland Islands but the smartest strategy there must be to defend them properly in the first place, maintaining or bolstering the Typhoon jets and Rapier surface-to-air missiles already based there. In the unlikely event the islands were left open to occupation, retaking them would be almost impossible –aircraft carriers or not – because unlike in 1982 there is a proper airfield from which any enemy should be able to establish and maintain air superiority. Land-based aircraft, with much higher sortie-rates, have a huge strategic advantage over marine-based jets and whoever controls Mount Pleasant Airfield controls the Falklands.

      Again, I support the new a carriers and think they will be a huge boast to the UK – but this talk of not requiring an Air Force any more is nonsense and would not be taken seriously by anyone with any real insight.

    • 4th Watch, I’ll take each of your points one at a time:

      My reading from all this was that the RAF were as you say preoccupied with flying fast planes over France.

      You may not agree that the air offensive in western Europe was the right choice, but Churchill did. As 1941 began, the RAF began the onerous task of winning air superiority over North Western France from the Germans. The year saw the RAF claim shot down 711 Luftwaffe fighters. From the start of 1941, the Luftwaffe’s losses mounted (from 28 in January to 124 in May). With the impending invasion of Russia requiring the movement of air power to the East, the Blitz ended in May 1941 with the RAF in complete control of the sky over the UK. This was to remain so until the end of the war. The RAF also succeeded in preventing the Luftwaffe from interfering with the shipping, which was its primary aim

      The bottom line for Mata was that it was successfully defended. And it was only with ground based RAF aircraft that this was possible. The Germans had no aircraft carriers, but successfully controlled the Med with ground based air until the RAF won air superiority.

      During the month of October, 1942 when the Second Battle of El Alamein was being waged, Allied Air forces were credited with the destruction of 59% of tonnage shipped to Rommel’s army in Africa. In large part the result of AHQ Malta and the British heavy bombers, this attrition was a significant aspect of Rommel’s defeat.

      My problem with the modern RAF is that it has a wonderful propaganda machine that relies almost exclusively on its WW2 reputation. It is therefore appropriate we should examine this as a clue to see how they might perform in a Maritime situation today.

      Now that is paranoia! The RAF has performed with distinction in numerous conflicts since WW2 and if you can’t accept that then you really are do have RAFphobia of the highest order. It does not say much for the RN Snr Leadership if they are so easily outwitted. I see for myself the way strategy is defined and if you think that the chief of staffs and MOD are swayed by tales from WW2 then you are sadly misinformed.

      If you need evidence of Carriers operating within range of decent air opposition you need look no further than the RN operations off Norway against the German Battleship Tirpitz in 1944.Here a Fleet Air Arm finally equipped with modern aircraft, was able to completely fend off all Luftwaffe intrusions against the fleet thanks to improved radar and aircraft; notably Corsairs, Hellcats and Fireflies.

      When Op Tungsten took place the Luftwaffe was defeated and unable to mount any kind of meaningful defence! By 1944 the Luftwaffe was no longer in a position to offer serious opposition to Overlord on 6 Jun 1944. Only a handful of Luftwaffe aircraft were launched against the beachheads. If they couldn’t even defend against an invasion of Europe they were hardly likely to be strong in Norway! This is born out by the stats. By 2 June, the ship was again able to steam under her own power and a series of carrier strikes were planned over the next three months, but bad weather forced their cancellation. A series of carrier strikes were planned over the next three months, but bad weather forced their cancellation. The weather finally broke in late August, which saw the Goodwood series of attacks. Operations Goodwood I and II were launched on 22 August; a carrier force consisting of the fleet carriers Furious, Indefatigable and Formidable launched a total of 38 bombers and 43 escort fighters between the two raids. The attacks failed to inflict any damage on Tirpitz. Goodwood III followed on 24 August, composed of aircraft from the fleet carriers only. Forty-eight bombers and 29 fighters attacked the ship and scored two hits which caused minor damage. After a number of attempts no significant success was recorded.

      The ineffectiveness of the vast majority of the strikes launched by the Fleet Air Arm in mid-1944 led to the task of Tirpitz’s destruction being transferred to the RAF’s No. 5 Group. The first attack, Operation Paravane, took place on 15 September 1944; the damage ensured the ship was rendered unseaworthy. Operation Catechism, the final British attack on Tirpitz, took place on 12 November 1944 and resulted in the sinking of the ship.

      The reason the Luftwaffe was so weak was in a large part because The Allied air campaign forced the Germans to focus its resources on the battle over Germany, which were then missed on other fronts. Albert Speer said that if the 1944 campaign against the Romanian oil fields had been continued for another month, the entire Wehrmacht would have been crippled. According to Speer, 98% of Germany’s aircraft fuel plants were out of production. The production of aviation fuel fell from 180,000 tons to 20,000 tons between March and November 1944. Between 1942 and 1945 the Luftwaffe had to continually expend its resources to counter the Allied strategic bombing campaign against targets deep inside Germany itself.

      If you need evidence of Carriers operating within range of decent air opposition. The same is true of the RN carrier operations over Korea.

      I refer you to a report called ‘British Commonwealth Carrier Operations in the Korean War by Cdr David Hobbs, MBE, RN:

      ‘The… carriers provided the most conspicuous aspect of Commonwealth operations in the Korean War. Their performance was admitted on all sides to be outstanding, but was possible only because of the lack of serious naval and air opposition. Had these existed on an appreciable scale, more ships would have been needed, and more effort would have been required for fighter defence and escort to the detriment of offensive operations. The results achieved were the result of hard work, much improvisation, and the driving of machinery, in some cases, beyond the limits for which it was designed’.

      In Korea the vast majority of airpower was land based.

    • 4th watch, I must reiterate and unlike you I value all 3 services and I am a huge supporter of the carrier programme. The following points are only to provide balance to your blind faith:

      Only a handful of well-placed attacks would be sufficient in crippling a huge portion of our capability if we relied only carrier air for our strike capability. A single attack was enough to end the reign of the battleship in US service in 1941.

      As we learned in World War 2, primary task of the carriers which survived in the Pacific was not to substitute for land bases, but to support amphibious landings so they there were more airbases to utilise in the attack on Japan. The struggles against Kamikaze’s for the islands of Iwo Jim and Okinawa were not to get the carriers closer to Japan, but to secure bomber bases.

      In contrast, land airbases have proved extremely durable, as noted with the Axis devastation of Malta, the Cactus Air Force on Guadalcanal, or the German airfields later in the war, which finally had to be physically seized by the Army in the closing months of the war.

      Even the few carrier versus carrier battles of WW2 were for the purpose of securing land bases. The Battle of Midway was fought over the airstrip on the island which Japan hoped to secure. You can see the carriers are important in capturing and supporting land bases, but in themselves cannot be a substitute. We will always have land bases, including the requirement to defend and sustain them.

      Several mid-1990s operations in the Balkans provided real-world tests of carrier striking power in a littoral environment. Beginning in 1993, US naval aircrew joined with US Air Force and NATO allies to enforce a no-fly zone over Bosnia. 6 US carrier groups took a turn on station in the Adriatic from early 1993 through December 1995.

      Bosnian airspace was only about 100 miles from the typical carrier. Even with a benign environment from which to launch, the Navy generated only 8,290 sorties, about 10 percent of the NATO total. The total was exceeded by both the French air force (12,502 sorties) and the Royal Air Force (10,300 sorties) during the same period. For its part, USAF flew 24,153 sorties, 31 percent of NATO’s total production.

      Carrier strike aircraft may be free to operate from a deck, but they depend on land-based support to reach maximum combat effectiveness. As land-based tankers extend the combat radius of strike. In a study of ops in the 90s no carrier strike operations were launched without the support of USAF land-based tankers. This trend continues today.

      In the Gulf Heavily defended targets like Al Taqqadum and airfields around Baghdad, all well-known Gulf War targets, overtaxed the range and self-protection capabilities of carrier aircraft. The myth that the carrier can provide effective firepower against all targets without land-based aircraft on scene has no basis in reality.

      • JH-

        My belief based on the facts is that the Fleet Air Arm should be built up to include the role vacated by the RAF in Coastal Command and assume a role like the USMC.

        That should be the clear objective.

        • The roles of Costal Command were nothing like those of the USMC, so I’m not sure what you are on about linking those 2 things. I think you are confusing Costal Command with capability. Costal Command went he same way as Bomber Command, Transport Command and Figher Command… Should we bring them back as well? Maybe we should bring back Far East Command and our bases in Hong Kong and Singapore?

          I think what you are concerned about is the loss of the MPA (Nimrod). I agree with you that it was a mistake by the Governemnt and one that the RAF also did not agree with. However, I expect that mistake to me corrected in the 2015 SDR and new MPA to be purchased. Sadly for you I expect it to be almost certain the it will be operated by the evil RAF as the Nirmod was so superbly done the past.

          The key Is that the RAF, with its wider and more strategic view of airpower, was able to turn the Nimrod into a highly valuable ISTAR asset. The outbreak of the Iraq War in March 2003 saw the RAF’s Nimrods being used for operations over Iraq, using the aircraft’s sensors to detect hostile ground forces and to direct attacks by friendly coalition forces.

          • JH- Hi how goes it?

            I am not a complete swivel-eyed anti RAF loon as you suppose. I am however a convinced Fleet Air Arm supporter and I feel our national defence would be better served if the Navy was given the means to protect itself and provide for support of the amphibious role of the Navy. What better way to do this than give them the means in much the same way as the USMC. Shortly the Navy will be taking to sea the F35B which is the same as the USMC.
            You may also detect that I have always believed the Navy should have had the Maritime Patrol and Strike role. Where applicable and convenient they should also have a forward base defence role at least until the RAF has ‘caught up’ so to speak.
            I think the UK has got Air way out of kilter for a number of historical reasons and needs to reset the responsibilities in line with other NATO partners; especially the US who have a far better and more balanced model. The USA has our problems writ large.
            In my opinion British politicians are generally unread on the subject of the Strategic Importance of the Maritime environment and its bearing on our trade and security.
            That sets out my aims. Does that help understand where I am coming from? If that means resources shifting from the RAF to the Navy so be it. D Day was planned from Southwick Park not Bentley Priory. ‘Join the Navy and see the world’.

        • 4th Watch,

          Fair play to you and I think it’s laudable what you are seeking for the RN. In an ideal world I think it would be excellent to have a fully funded and powerful FAA (not on the lines of the USMC, who are a separate branch of the US military to the Army, Air Force and Navy, and simply is not practical for the UK). Sadly we’re broke and it simply won’t happen, if for no other reason than we haven’t had one since the 70s and we’ve got by ok during a period when we’ve fought more wars than in many decades. I don’t agree with that attitude, but it’s how politicians will look at it.

          I would say that your point about the RAF ‘catching up’ is unfair. When the Iraqis invaded Kuwait, air power was the only instrument at the disposal of the Government which could get to the Gulf in time – and sufficient force – to deter the threatened Iraqi invasion of Saudi Arabia.

          Within 48 hours of the Governments decision to send large-scale forces to the Gulf, a sqn of RAF F3s arrived in Saudi Arabia and 2 hours later they flew their first operational sorties. Within a further 2 days, a sqn of Jaguar fighters-bombers arrived, together with half a sqn of VC10 tanker aircraft and soon after they were joined by half a sqn of Nimrod patrol aircraft.

          Within hours of the PM deciding to strike in Libya RAF ac were dropping weapons.

          Just on the idea of the RN being like the USMC. While the majority of Marine air assets ultimately derive from the Navy, much support is drawn from the United States Air Force. The Marines makes extensive use of the USAF Air Mobility Command to airlift Marines and equipment. The Air Force also provides the Joint Force Air Component Commander who controls all sorties for air defence, and long range interdiction and reconnaissance while the MAGTF commander retains control of the Marines’ organic aviation assets for CAS. This is quite a limited use of air power.

          Is it worth pointing out that Eisenhower’s deputy was ACM Tedder RAF for D-Day.

          Unfortunately what you wish for will never happen. It is more likely that they will get rid of all 3 services and form a defence force. You would be better spending your energy trying to ensure that the relationship between the RAF and RN works – because it’s going to happen…

  • The QE class and it’s air wing must be RN FAA operated.

    The RAF do not see carrier borne air power as their MO will at every opportunity try to render sea borne carrier air strikes as impotent and who see the carriers as nothing more than glorified taxis to get land based combat aircraft and all their support and personnel from the UK to any trouble spot in the world without wasting fuel and negate the need for in flight refueling tankers until in theater

  • JH

    First of all i speak as a ex navy rating and ex Royal Marine Commando.

    All of your points are correct and worth reminding everyone what a great job the RAF do.

    All of that could also be done by the RN FAA.

    But, however we do not spend all of our time trying to convince all and sundry that in complete contradiction to all other major nations and the fact of geography that land based air power is a better and only option to project sea power and that sea based carrier air power must also be given to the land based air force again in complete contradiction to all other major nations.

  • When we surrender our position in Afghanistan nearly every current RAF task apart from Home Defence and Strategic Transport could be carried out by an effective Naval Air Service or its Army equivalent.

  • For information:Current drones cannot operate in contested airspace, such as Libya, Iran, Syria etc.

    To be fair, this is one of your more balanced articles and you make some reasonable points, there is still a hint of RAF paranoia, but after the tweet I saw on the weekend which questioned what the RAF does for the nation in 2013, it is nice to see you acknowledge that the personnel are as professional and dedicated to serving their country as anyone else.

    Certainly, the CCAST teams on 24 hour notice to evacuate casualties from theatre along side Strat Air, the 2 x RAF Regt squadrons taking the lead for FP at Camp Bastion, the Tornado crews and ground crews who have done a superb job supporting several ops at once, the AT filling a gap for the French in Marli and the Sentinel proving vital int, the Typhoons providing effective deterrence in the South Atlantic, the Support Helicopter crews risking their lives everyday, the AT flying spares out in days to RN ships around the world when urgently required, the embassy staff flown out of Libya by 32 Sqn, the oil workers being lifted from the desert in a C130 under fire, the QRF crews escorting a Russian bear out of UK airspace (a frequent task) as they test to see if we have let our guard down, would all feel that they do something for the nation and they do it as part of a professional Air Force like every other serious nation has. That is just scratching the surface of what the RAF does for the nation. And I don’t have to run down the RN to say it as I know what a superb Service the RN.

    • JH
      I understand how the misconception of seaborne airpower that has taken root in the UK and it scares the heck out of me.

      It required the arrogant and willful misreading of the lessons of history and indeed the practices of every other nation with navy air Without Exception.

      I hold the RAF entirely responsible. I dread to think that there will be another fiasco a la HMS Glorious 1940.

      The blunt truth is the whole scenario is a recipe for disaster and hardly anyone dares say it.. Wrong plane, wrong AEW, and the wrong people running the show.

      • 4th Watch,

        You clearly have no idea what the roles of the RAF are today and therefore need to do some research.

        There is a legitimate debate somewhere here, and it mainly consists of how many aircraft we buy. 48 is not enough to sustain the FFA on its own without RAF support as the technological and logistical knowhow is simply not there. The best solution is a larger buy of aircraft and ultimately that would allow the best of both worlds in the medium term. My post above was mainly due to the needless tweet asking what the RAF does for the nation in 2013 that came from this website. It’s comments like that which undermine the arguemet being made and detract from any serious points raised. In the end they do not help. I would love to see the FAA operate its own squadrons – however as it stands it simply will not happen. The UKs strike capability cannot rest solely on the availability of 2 aircraft carriers. Land and sea based aircraft both have a role to play. After all, in the last three years of the WW2 RAF Coastal Command land based aircraft sank more U-boats than any other service and continued to hold the technological advantage from 1943 onwards. It’s always better to work together! It was land based aircraft that sank The Prince of Wales and Repulse who were the first capital ships actively defending themselves to be sunk solely by air power while steaming in the open sea.

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