Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

The UK's Aircraft Carriers and Their Rationale

Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

The UK's Aircraft Carriers and Their Rationale

Article excerpt

Under the Strategic Defence Review, the U.K. made the decision to acquire two larger, 50,000 tonnes, aircraft carriers. This article examines the United Kingdom's plans to replace its ageing fleet of aircraft carriers. The use of aircraft carriers during the international crises that have arisen since the end of the Cold War is surveyed, and the inherent flexibility that aircraft carriers provide both militarily and politically is noted. The UK's aircraft carrier program is compared with that of other nations which possess one or more aircraft carriers. The question of aircraft carrier vulnerability is also discussed.

Key Words: Aircraft Carriers, UK Aircraft Carrier Program, Joint Strike Fighter, Naval Swarms, International Aircraft Carriers, Naval Power Projection

The aircraft carrier has been at the forefront in both armed conflict and peace. It has developed many roles during war including reconnaissance, power projection ashore, aerial combat, antisubmarine warfare and in peacetime provides a visual presence of power in order to demonstrate political resolve. The first section of this article demonstrates that aircraft carriers can provide significant flexibility as was highlighted in the regional conflicts since the end of the Cold War. In this section the political rationale that determined the United Kingdom's requirement for the procurement of two aircraft carriers is enunciated. The primary document that led to the procurement decision was known as the "Strategic Defence Review". The impact of September 11, 2001, is addressed in a "New Chapter" added to the flexible Defence Review. This reaffirmed the importance of flexible assets.

Aircraft Carriers and International Crises Since the End of the Cold War

Aircraft carriers have proven themselves in a wide variety of crises in the world. These operations may be classified as "operations other than war". In the current international security environment many of the wars that occur are intra-state. Even in this form of conflict, aircraft carriers have demonstrated an ability to respond to both high to low intensity warfare. In the current international security environment, uncertainty as to where the next crisis will occur means that planners find it difficult to provide troops and protect them. The aircraft carrier is a joint operating platform that is capable of dealing with a wide spectrum of scenarios at different levels of conflict intensity.

The United Kingdom takes and will probably continue to take an active role in international peacekeeping. This involves open-ended commitments that are a regular feature of the current international system. Aircraft carriers provide a sustainable support element as long as there are at least two available for deployment. They are able to maintain strong national presence in a region for an unspecified time. Aircraft carriers also have specific attributes that make them suitable for peacekeeping operations: they do not require neighbouring-state support nor diplomatic overflight, as do land-based aircraft; they can provide medical and emergency aid; and they can be in sight or over the horizon, whichever form of presence is required.

The requirement for highly flexible, effective and powerful military forces embodied by aircraft carriers has been demonstrated by their use in several operations: Desert Shield and Desert Storm (Iraq 1990-91), Eastern Hxit (Somalia 1991-94), Provide Comfort (Iraqi Kurds 1991), Provide Promise (Bosnia-Herzegovina 1992-1996), Deliberate Force (Hosnia-IIerzegovina 1995) and Southern Watch (Iraq 1992-present). These responses would not have been possible without the use of aircraft carriers.

In the immediate aftermath of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the initial aim of the deployment of military forces was to contain the conflict, prevent a possible advance into Saudi Arabia and keep the ports and air bases required for reinforcements. Naval forces, combined with light ground forces and quick-reaction air forces, contributed to this initial deployment. …

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