A Cousin’s Playdate

Seapower as done by real Navies

The picture is of the USS George W. Bush and HMS Queen Elizabeth plus escorts doing joint work-ups off the coast of Scotland. The first time in years that the RN has had a carrier that is actually fairly close to the capital ship class that the US CVN has become.

We talk here, particularly lately, a fair amount about the military because 1) we’re quite proud of our boys and girls, and 2) they have a huge responsibility to keep us free. But this blog has long prided itself on its Anglophilia and we still pay attention. Indeed, some days, I spend more time on UK matters than I do ours. Part of that is paying attention, of course. And one of the best places to do that is a Thin Pinstriped Line. Sir Humphrey does us all a service in keeping UK Defence matters real. This article is from him.

The decision by the RN to move to a bigger generation of carriers for CVF posed a number of challenges. For nearly 30 years it ran a reasonably small airwing on the Invincibles – usually peaking at roughly 20 airframes all told of which only about half were fixed wing Harriers. This meant the RN had lost its experience of dealing with big deck carriers, and wasn’t used to dealing with large airwings anymore – not just in terms of practical handling on deck, but the wider issues of force generation, sortie generation and employing a large airwing in a very different manner to a small force of defensive fighters.

Without doubt the most impressive defence related story of the week was the news of QUEEN ELIZABETH and the USS GEORGE W BUSH steaming together off the coast of Scotland in concert with a variety of escorts. The sight of a pair of allied carriers operating together is increasingly uncommon, and its even less common to see a US carrier in UK waters these days.

The pictures are genuinely stirring – two of the largest and most complex warships in human history sailing together, one returning from operations in the Middle East and the other at the start of a career that will see her doubtless spend many years deployed in the Middle East. But its not just a photo that is so compelling here, it’s the deeper story of integration and co-operation between the US and UK that makes this such a fabulous story to tell.

Any nation can put on a photo shoot of ships together at sea – indeed when you have multi-national maritime exercises between countries that don’t work closely together, the most important ‘take away’ is being able to get them all to steam together long enough to take a photo or two. But a photo is little more than a snapshot in time intended to look good for PR images. Ultimately there is nothing particularly difficult for the RN & USN to form up in a completely non-tactical but very photogenic formation and steam in roughly the same direction for a short time.

What really matters is the wider support and links between the USN and RN that have helped keep the UK on track to sustain and regenerate carrier strike over the last few years. This is less visible, but as equally important.

 

Embedding Excellence

From the outset of the CVF project the RN has worked closely to maintain an excellent relationship with the USN, who have in turn provided fantastic assistance. This took on renewed significance after 2010 when the decision was taken to delete the GR9 from service and take a gap in operating fixed wing carriers. At the time the intent was to move to a CTOL F35 fleet, and even though this later changed to STOVL, the USN remained very willing to let the RN in and have access to its resources and training pipeline.

This offer has played an enormous part in keeping the RN able to keep naval aviation alive and prepare for the reintroduction of a truly ‘big deck’ carrier capability. The USN hasn’t just trained pilots (there are a lot of RN F18 pilots out there now), its also provided training for RN flight deck crew to get them aware of just how complex a ‘big deck’ carrier is, and what a step up it is from the Invincibles.

For many years now, there has routinely been a detachment of 6-10 RN personnel onboard many US Carriers, usually flight deck crew, pilots or officers carrying out roles as an integrated part of the ships company. This isn’t always without its challenges – apparently the USN doesn’t allow beards, and at least one copy of Queens Regulations has been sent out to confirm to the USN that the bearded RN crewmen aren’t trying to get one over on them!

A similar story can be told about the manner in which the USN is prepared to allocate control of its assets to the RN, such as during SAXON WARRIOR to help the RN gain experience of operating a large carrier with significant strike capability. It is no exaggeration to say that the RN has simply never had the level of strike capability generation that QEC offers. Even in the supposed ‘heyday’ of the RN carrier fleet in the 1970s, the strike package was limited to 18 buccaneers. Once QEC is fully up and running, she will be able to support and sustain an air-group of 36 JSF  and potentially significantly higher, with a level of sortie generation far in excess of what has been possible before.

Being able to practise this sort of planning and co-ordination with a US carrier matters because the RN is going to be operating at a scale of capability that it simply has not experienced before. At the risk of descending into ‘fantasy fleets’ territory here, its worth noting that a combined US/UK embarkation of 48 F35 on a CVF gives her an almost equivalent level of capability to a US carrier. If the US didn’t give the UK this sort of access, it would take many more years for CVF to reach her full potential with a much steeper learning curve.

There is considerably more at the link above, but this is one of the best stories I have published here. It is so good to see the cousins, the original, globe spanning, English speaking, superpower, again taking its rightful place in the front rank. Once again able to project force at her (and our) accustomed level. Nothing could be a better way to start a new week, fraught as it might be with a rumor of war and unforseen things that go bump in the night.

Sir Humphrey ends, rightly with this, and yes, I wholeheartedly agree with him, and it does my heart proud to see the RN, and yes, the UK step up this way.

True interoperability is an act of faith and trust between partners. This trust takes decades to build up and is only very sparingly given. All it takes is one act where a country is unable to carry out military action due to another refusing access (for instance overflight of airspace) for this trust to collapse.

This is why the QUEEN ELIZABETH is so significant – for the first time ever the US Armed Forces feel comfortable enough to assume that the USMC will be routinely embarking and operating from a foreign platform. This level of shared sovereignty is a real step change for the US, which works well as a coalition lead, but less well as a coalition partner over concerns about how its assets will be used.

This is a big deal, and highlights yet another reason why QUEEN ELIZABETH is such a game changer, not just for the UK but our American allies too. No other country gets this level of access or integration – others get as far as integrating an air defence platform into a CVBG, but this takes the Anglo-US relationship to a whole new level of capability.

 At a time when it is fashionable to say that the UK doesn’t exert much influence in DC and gets little from the US, Humphrey would argue that the reverse is true. The UK has been given an astonishing level of access to US Navy capability and platforms, and in return the US feels it can trust the UK enough to embark sailors and marines to sea with the UK on operations.

The great Anglo-American Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill told the US Congress this:

It is not given to us to peer into the mysteries of the future. Still, I avow my hope and faith, sure and inviolate, that in the days to come the British and American peoples will for their own safety and for the good of all walk together side by side in majesty, in justice, and in peace.’

And because I can, and haven’t had a good excuse to lately

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About NEO
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

10 Responses to A Cousin’s Playdate

  1. Great Churchill quote! Let’s hope the US and the Brits always stay close in the military! Actually a must I believe!

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      I do as well. 🙂

      Like

  2. As much as it stirs my heart (esp. as someone thinking about joining up) to see the RN floating a carrier again, I can’t help feel a twinge of sadness as well, at how brutally our military has been treated by the government over the last ten years. Let’s hope the Senior Service can put the last woeful decade behind them and grow from here!

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      I surely agree with you. Your services have had an awful decade in dealing with the government. I look at it from the other end of the career telescope, and you know, I looked at that Time (I think) cover from the eighties with the title “The Empire Strikes Back” to this day with a tear in my eye. What I said about you guys in the article I meant.

      Nothing new about this either, our commenter, Fr Robert, will tell you in a heartbeat how he, a RM, served with our Recon Marines in Vietnam. The old Harry Hopkins quote from the book of Ruth comes in here, “Wither thou goest, I will go.” Hopkins then added “Until the end”. We learned from you, and the best compliment ever received from anybody was Nelson’s on the cutting out of the Philadelphia in Tangiers.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Indeed. Funnily enough, I happened to be visiting the Historic Docks at Portsmouth this week, and a book named “A Tale of Two Navies” (Antony Wells) caught my eye, on the relationship between the USN and the RN. I may buy it myself, but you may also be interested in it.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. the unit says:

    Pretty picture. Yes very pleasing for today. And yeah, one day at a time. Not given to me to peer into the mysteries of the future, but what we gonna do when our cousins and maybe us, their cousins, become predominately muslim? Me do? If that comes about at my age by then I’ll be turning over in my grave along with the Founders. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Agree. We, and even more the cousins, have a problem, mostly I suspect, with the people in leadership who while essentially atheist (and thus a product of the tolerant west) are afraid to defend our heritage which made them possible. If continued, we will lose, not because we are weak, but because we failed to show up. A sad fate, that. And I will be turning over in mine as well. But then, I haven’t conceded yet, nor have you, nor have many of our countrymen, nor have many of the cousins. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • the unit says:

        Concede? In defense of liberty I’ll risk being called an extremist. “Let’s roll.” 🙂
        https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Barry_Goldwater
        And of course credit to Todd Beamer.

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Always, and yep, the very first, foredoomed counterattack, always to be honored. “Let’s Roll!” 🙂

          Like

  4. Reblogged this on Boudica2015.

    Like

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