Britain scraps last aircraft carrier with replacements still years away

Britain scraps last aircraft carrier with replacements still years away

Published time: 7 Dec, 2016 15:49

Britain’s last aircraft carrier ‘HMS Illustrious’ – known as Lusty – has set sail to be scrapped in Turkey, leaving a self-conscious Royal Navy without a working replacement and rocked by equipment scandals.

‘Illustrious’, which came into service in 1982, was the UK’s last aircraft carrier and one of three Invincible-class ships commissioned in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

It was rushed into service to catch the lattermost stages of the Falklands War and served in the Gulf Wars and Sierra Leone conflict.

A last attempt to raise enough money to turn the carrier into a floating museum failed in November and it will sail out to the LEYAL shipyard in Turkey to be scrapped.

The UK’s two Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers are currently under construction. HMS Elizabeth is not due to come into service until 2020 and HMS Prince of Wales some years after.

Besides this obvious capability gap, this is only the latest in series of equipment failures and shortages to hit the Royal Navy.

In November alone it was reported that no replacements had been planned for the Royal Navy’s standard shipboard missile system, the Harpoon, and that the lack of warships was “woefully” low to the point of becoming a major security issue.

A report by the National Audit Office also found that power cables at the Portsmouth base where the Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers will be docked are more than 80 years old and that no funds exist to improve them.

In late November, one of the Royal Navy’s cutting-edge Type 45 destroyers had to be humiliatingly towed back to port just two days after setting off to take part in NATO exercises.

‘HMS Duncan’ is believed to have suffered total propulsion failure, forcing it back into Plymouth harbor.

The billion-pound destroyers were supposed to revolutionize naval warfare with greater anti-aircraft and anti-missile clout, but it soon became apparent that they are unable to operate reliably in warmer waters like the Mediterranean and the Gulf.

Despite the force’s decline, its commander recently made a series of martial speeches about the role and capability of the navy in securing British “prosperity” – by force if necessary.

Speaking at Mansion House in London in November, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones said that “at the height of Empire and beyond” the navy had “always been the guardian of maritime trade” and that it was “naval power that opened China and Japan to Western markets.”

“Now, as the government looks to extend the UK’s economic partnerships, as signified by the creation of a new Department for International Trade in the last two weeks, the Royal Navy’s role in supporting prosperity rises to the fore once more,” he told the audience.

It remains to be seen how a navy hit by equipment problems and questions over its capability will be able to secure Britain’s interests.

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