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Royal Navy cuts: ships as reflection of state might

RIA Novosti


MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik) - Her Majesty's Navy has cancelled plans to build the aircraft carrier Prince of Wales, newswires announced in the middle of the week. One of the most ambitious British navy programs in recent decades will be significantly scaled back. How will this reflect on the operational capability of the navy and what does the British navy generally consist of today?

Two aircraft carriers named the Queen Elizabeth and the Prince of Wales - customary names for large British ships - with displacement of 65,000 tons and an air group of 40 F-35 fighters and 10 helicopters, were planned to replace ships on stand-by such as the Invincible, which are much smaller in terms of size and capabilities. For more than a decade, there had been discussion of building new ships to be developed jointly with France, and this year the work on their construction finally began.

Endless disputes about the ships' cost, which was constantly growing - from two to five billion pounds sterling for two ships - as well as disputes about their designation, led to the planned commissioning date being constantly moved forward. Initially, the navy was counting on receiving the new ships in 2012-14 and then in 2013-16. Last summer, the timeframe was quoted as 2016-18.

The cost of the aircraft was rising in parallel with the cost of the ships. Currently, the price of one F-35 fighter is approaching 90 million pounds, which means that the cost of the air groups, including reserve and training aircraft, can be estimated at approximately 10 billion pounds.

As a result, a decision was made to cancel construction of the second ship in the series, the Prince of Wales. But the form of this cancellation is not yet clear. According to some sources, the ship will not be built at all. Others say the ship will be built but will be used as an assault helicopter carrier, which will make it possible to save several billion pounds on its air wing.

One way or another, it seems that when ships such as the Invincible are decommissioned, the number of aircraft carriers in the British navy will be reduced to one.

Therefore, it is to be expected that the U.K. will also cut its escort ship construction program - the destroyers and frigates designated for escorting the new aircraft carriers.

The continual reduction of the Royal Navy has been in progress for decades. It began even before World War II, when this navy was the largest in the world, and became more drastic in the late 1940s to early 1950s, when the British colonial empire was falling apart, with the navy that had created it joining it in oblivion.

Britain, having officially become a victor in World War II, became a second-tier nation after the war, and the U.S. secured the status of the leader of the western world.

The main ships to be cut were the larger ones - battleships and cruisers at first, followed by aircraft carriers. In the 1950s, after the cutbacks, the British navy still remained a rather formidable force capable of operations far from its home shores, but this was only the beginning of the process.

A new blow, after which the British navy definitively lost its greatness, came in the 1970s, when the Royal Navy cancelled the construction of the full-fledged aircraft carriers of the 1940s and decided to build light aircraft carriers such as the Invincible.

Nevertheless, even after these cutbacks, the Royal Navy was able to withstand the Falklands War of 1982, making an integral contribution to Britain's victory.

Today, however, the navy has been halved once again. In 1985, it had 172 ships. In 2009, it has only 85. Escort ships have been reduced particularly drastically, from 56 to 23. In fact, the Royal Navy is now not much larger than the battle group used in the Falklands War.

Needless to say, the combat strength of modern ships is much higher than the ships of previous generations. Nevertheless, not everything depends on the strength of one combat unit. Today in the western world, only one great navy remains - the U.S. Navy, the strength of which surpasses all the other western navies combined, as was once the case with the Royal Navy. If anything, this is the best illustration of the hypothesis that only the most wealthy and influential powers can create a large navy.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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