Falklands War Commemorative Carrier Coin

So I just started collecting coins now it seems.

Today I received my second coin from World Challenge Coins, a neat company that sells a lot of British military coins (among other coins). The first one I ordered back in September 2016 was a commemorative Avro Vulcan bomber silver coin. This one is for the Falklands War carrier fleet, namely light carriers HMS Hermes (R12), Centaur-class, and HMS Invincible (R05), Invincible-class. I decided to order this coin as my personal tribute to both of these fine carriers that served the Royal Navy well under trying time of war and increasing budget cuts. I also fancied completing a 16-coin 35-year-anniversary collection dedicated to the Falklands War that came with it (a fancy cardboard ‘ammo box’ for holding them came with the coin).

The coin itself is silver. There was an option to upgrade to gold, but I did not have enough money to spare for it at the time. This coin cost £4.99 + £2.50 delivery. The coin has a fair bit of weight to it, even when it is out of the included protective casing. The photos I took of it in relatively-poor lighting do not do the coin’s quality justice, as it is a fine piece of pressed metal.

Both sides of the silver coin

I guess at this point I should do the usual disclaimers, like saying that I by no means support the deaths that occurred during the conflict. Because I don’t, and all I wanted is something to remember these amazing, misunderstood machines that I love so much by!

HMS Ocean sales rumour

Apologies for my absence as of late, I have been busy with coursework among other things. Anyway, rumours are now floating around about a possible sale of HMS Ocean (L12) to Brazil as a possible replacement for their now-demobilising NAe São Paulo (A12). I believe it to be a very bad decision for both the UK and Brazilian governments. Here’s why.

Note: this will assume that Brazil wants Ocean in a strike-carrier role. Also before we get into this, I’ll give a brief overview of the ship. HMS Ocean (pennant L12) is a 21,500-tonne Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH) carrier commissioned back in 1998. The ship is a dedicated helicopter-carrying platform for supporting amphibious assaults and serves as an afloat Royal Marine training and staging base.

Firstly, the impact to the UK. As supporters of the sale quickly point out, we do indeed have two Queen Elizabeth-class supercarriers coming soon, with one (HMS Prince of Wales R09) being ‘enhanced’ with amphibious-supporting capabilities. But that is far from a specialised replacement. Those supercarriers are and will always be fleet carrier-first. LPH-second is not good enough. Especially given the whole purpose Ocean was commissioned was that using a non-LPH ship in the LPH role was problematic. RFA Argus (A135), which now serves as an aviation training and casualty receiving ship, was pressed into the LPH role in the early-90s due to the decommissioning of our dedicated ‘commando carriers’. She proved the unsuitability of ships of a certain type being made to serve as another type. This ‘solution’ to the absence to Ocean from I fleet I feel has the potential to be a repeat of that crucial mistake that led to Ocean being developed in the first place! There is also a question of a two-year gap between the scheduled decommissioning of Ocean in 2018 and the commissioning of Prince of Wales in 2020…

Next, we need to consider the impact of purchase for Brazil itself. Firstly, if Ocean is to serve as a strike carrier now, there would be a pressing need for a very large and very costly conversion to make the ship suitable for operating STOVL jet aircraft. This includes adding a ‘ski-ramp’ to support take-offs given Ocean‘s relatively-small flight deck, re-plating the flight deck with a new material and/or coating to better deflect the immense heat that would it would be subjected too (even modern helicopters such as the MV-22 Osprey put a lot of pressure of a flight deck), and finally a lot of internal reconfiguration would have to be done for supporting large amounts of aircraft munitions, jet fuel and aircraft workshops as opposed to its current internal commitments to training facilities and troop barracks. More things Brazil must consider with Ocean is that it was built to commercial (not military) standards. Which potentially means poor damage resistance, and I know for a fact the carrier is quite slow at 18 knots maximum speed. These characteristics are understandable for a ship that was primarily designed be anchored off some shore, providing helicopter support to Marines (with secondary roles as a limited anti-submarine platform and aforementioned an afloat training and staging base). In conclusion, Ocean as a strike/light carrier would have a small airwing and her speed would effectively ‘handicap’ its own escorting fleet, making long-range travels horribly slow.

That’s my two cents and brief rationale towards this argument. My concluding position that it is not feasible and quite ill-advised that Brazil would even consider Ocean as an alternative to a proper replacement to São Paulo.


Two carriers in a week

That’s right. Last week, two big events impacted the carrier world. The Indian Navy’s INS Viraat (R22) light carrier was formally decommissioned and the US Navy’s USS Independence (CV-62) supercarrier began its journey to the breaker’s yard.

So the first event. On 6th March 2017, the Indian Navy decommissioned INS Viraat, former Royal Navy Colossus-class light carrier HMS Hermes (R11). Age and her cost of maintenance prompted the Indian Defence Ministry to retire Viraat three years early – her expected end of service life was 2020. Future INS Vikrant will replace her role in the fleet. It is unclear at this time if she will be preserved. A previous attempt at making her a museum a few years ago apparently fell through. Period to her decommissioning, Viraat was the oldest operational aircraft carrier. Personally, I will remember the ship chiefly as Hermes, since she was famous for being one of those Cold War-era ‘commando carriers’ (basically a Landing Platform Helicopter or LPH) and serving in the Falklands War.

INS Viraat – US Navy photo (cropped)

Now the second event. USS Independence (CV-62), Forrestal-class, was decommissioned almost 20 years ago (30th September 1998) and now it is time for her tow to Texas for scrapping. She began this journey on the 11th March 2017, which is 25,750 kilometres from Puget Sound Naval Shipyard to a breaker’s yard in Brownsville. Being a Forrestal-class member, she was among the World’s first supercarriers in service. From 1959 until decommissioning. She served with distinction in Vietnam and the rest of the Cold War. After the decommissioning, she remained mothballed for five and a half years before finally being struck on 8th March 2004. During this time, Independence was said to have been heavily stripped to support active supercarriers. The state of the ship by the end of this meant she was not in good enough condition to be preserved.

USS Independence – US Navy photo (cropped)

As always, I hate to see carriers go. I hope that INS Viraat can be preserved, since she could be the last World War II-era British carrier left that can be preserved. As for USS Independence, I understand she is not in safe condition for preservation as a museum/memorial. It does suck that no Forrestal-class supercarrier can be preserved now, but they were all pushed hard during their years of service. I am grateful that they did exist and left their mark on history!

See you around Viraat and Independence, noble Warriors of the Sea!

Goodbye São Paulo

I did not expect to write two of these sorts of posts in a month. But it seems I must wave goodbye to another aircraft carrier. NAe São Paulo (A12) of the Brazilian Navy (Marinha do Brasil). I first heard the news at around 4AM this morning. I saw someone post a news article about it on a Facebook group I am a part of. Although the impact of São Paulo is not approaching that of USS Enterprise (CVN-65), the other carrier retired early this month, but she is still a Warrior of the Seas and thus I will once again say my goodbyes.

Photo by Rob Schleiffert (cropped)

São Paulo has had the distinction of serving in two navies. She was built and first commissioned as the French aircraft carrier Foch (R99). (Pronounced “fosh”, not “fock” or “fuck”.) She was the second Clemenceau-class fleet carrier. First commissioned in 1963, she was a CATOBAR-type carrier (basically means catapult-assisted take-offs for aircraft) and was named after French general, Marshal and military theorist Ferdinand Foch. Her size, displacement and capability is similar to that of a World War II-era Essex-class fleet carrier of the US Navy. She was decommissioned from French service in 2000 and transferred and commissioned into Brazilian service the same day.

In her years of service as São Paulo, the ship has suffered fires, serviceability issues and has never managed to operate more than three months at a time without the need for repairs and maintenance. Despite the attempts to refit and upgrade her, a recent study has shown that it would take around 10 years to upgrade the ship. By that time, its airwing of A-4 Skyhawk fighters will reach the end of their service periods themselves. Officially due to high costs, the Brazilian Navy will demobilise and decommission São Paulo. Apparently, the Navy plans to domestically construct two 50,000-tonne carriers to replace and supplement São Paulo‘s role in the future.

Admittedly, I am not completely informed about the history of Foch/São Paulo – both ship’s service lives have had much less media coverage here in the UK compared to our Royal Navy carriers or US Navy carriers. But it is always sad for me to see an aircraft carrier go. In the years that I have been alive, it has seemed like São Paulo has never managed to stay in the sea long enough to be an ocean warrior. But every aircraft carrier has a place in my heart, and São Paulo is no exception. She’s in dire need of repair, and thus I’d rather see her put to rest than rust away doing nothing. Or worse, being a moving hazard at sea.

I salute you, old Warrior of the Seas. Let history never forget you.

Farewell Enterprise, Magnificent Warrior of the Seas

Today is a big day for carriers. An emotional one at that.

“A bittersweet day”, as described by Admiral James F. Caldwell, Jr of the United States Navy. Today, USS Enterprise (CVN-65) is to be decommissioned. She was the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the fastest supercarrier, the longest naval ship ever and the longest serving US Navy aircraft carrier.

Enterprise in all her glory – Official US Navy photo

As per the orders of the US Chief of Naval Operations, Enterprise is decommissioned as of 1602 hours (UK time), 3rd February 2017. I watched most of the 1 hour and six-minute livestream of her decommissioning ceremony on the Huntington Ingalls Industries Facebook page. I must say, it was more emotional than I thought. The speeches of Rear Admiral Brain K. Antonio and aforementioned Admiral Caldwell. Man, they were good! They gave a lot of insight to their stories of Enterprise and what made her live up to the nickname “Big E”.

Because Enterprise had quite the legacy to live up to. The original Big E, Yorktown-class USS Enterprise (CV-6), earned 20 battle stars, making her the most decorated US ship of World War II and indeed of all time. At one point in the War, CV-6 was the only US fleet carrier functional in the Pacific. It was Enterprise versus Japan. her, along with the then-upcoming onslaught of Essex-class fleet carriers, Independence-class light carriers, 100+ escort carriers and the carriers in the British Pacific Fleet, won that fight. CV-6 returned to the States as a war hero. Sadly, she was never preserved.

Upon the launch of her career, CVN-65 managed to once again capture the public’s love and affection. Setting records straight out of dry dock; she was in fact the largest ship in World upon launch. As per the words of those Admirals I mentioned; she struck fear in the eyes of America’ enemies whilst being a major strategic and humanitarian tool for the Navy. With her truly astonishing EIGHT nuclear reactors, she was the most powerful power-generating object on the planet at launch. She was faster than most of her escorts. In one instance, she beat destroyer leader USS Leahy (DLG-16) in a race! And that was a smaller fleet unit designed to be fast! Come 1964, she became the core of World’s first all-nuclear task force, aptly named Task Force One. In Operation Sea Orbit, from 31st July to 3rd October 1964, three ships conducted an unrefuelled cruise of the world in 65 days. They totalled 30,565 miles without refuelling! Those three ships were the Big E, along with the first nuclear-powered surface warship USS Long Beach (CGN-9) and USS Bainbridge (DLGN-25). They made history that year, demonstrating the logistical and strategical power of nuclear-powered ships.

Task Force One. Note Big E’s crew forming an “E = mc2” on her deck – Official US Navy photo

That is probably one of the most iconic photos in naval history. After this, she went on to deployments to Vietnam, Korea, suffered a fire in 1969, and eventually fought in the Iraq War.

She had quite a run. But obviously, all good things must come to an end, and I write this blog post today with a heavy heart. I never saw the ship in person, and I have only been alive for a relatively-small portion of her service life. But the impact she made and the technological marvel she is digs deep in me. I admire this beautiful and magnificent carrier. But what happens next? Now she is decommissioned, she will be stricken from the Naval Vessel Registry and prepared for a tow from Newport News Shipbuilding, around South America, to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for the removal of her radioactive systems and eventual scrapping. In the livestream I mentioned, a plaque of a Big “E” in remembrance of Enterprise was showed off. It was made from the steel from CVN-65.

That plaque will be placed aboard the next Enterprise, and as much steel as possible will be reused for the construction of this new carrier. Third carrier of the Gerald R. Ford-class supercarriers.

USS Enterprise CVN-80.

“Let history never forget the Enterprise.”

Liaoning. Should the US Navy worry about it?

Liaoning.  It is about time I turn some attention to China’s 55,000-tonne carrier. She is Russia’s Kuznetsov sister ship and class mate, originally known as Riga and then Varyag during the Soviet era. Both ships were classified as aircraft-carrying cruisers as a work-around the Montreux Convention, which only allowed aircraft carriers up to 15,000-ton (13,600 metric tonne) to travel through the Bosphorus strait, north-western Turkey. She was laid down in 1985, and construction was cancelled in 1992 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Ownership was transferred to newly-independent Ukraine, where the poor ship was laid up and neglected. At the turn of the century, China acquired Varyag and has since modernised and upgraded her. The newly built Liaoning began sea trials in 2011, and was finally commissioned the following year. At the end of last year, the carrier finally began sea exercises, which has caused a stir among nations in the region around China.

Liaoning during induction – Simon YANG (taken 2012)

Around the same time, more than a few people have begun to take aim at the United States Navy, saying they should be worried about China’s rise to sea power. There does not seem to be a lot of news articles talking about it, but there is an opinion war as to whether the US should be worried or not about the growing strength of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). Thus, this is ideal for me to stick my nose in the debate between USN aviation versus PLAN’s future aviation capabilities, given carriers are my interest.

At the moment, No. America should not be worried.

The USN has ten 100,000-tonne nuclear-powered Nimitz-­class supercarriers at its disposal. It also has two also 101,000-tonne Gerald R. Ford-class supercarriers; one due for commissioning (PCU Gerald R. Ford CVN-78) and the other under construction (PCU John F. Kennedy CVN-79). A third (future USS Enterprise CVN-80) is also on order. 83,000-tonne conventionally-powered USS Kitty Hawk CV-63 is also currently in mothballs in case of future use. Despite the nuke-powered USS Enterprise (CVN-65) exiting service in 2012, the USN is still technically an 11 carrier-supporting navy. Gerald R. Ford will bring the number back up to eleven. The now-in-office President of the United States Donald Trump has vowed to fund the Navy to support a 12-carrier navy. This could potentially mean the reactivation of Kitty Hawk until John F. Kennedy is completed, since her internal condition is said to be excellent based off a few accounts. The oldest active carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) is thus not scheduled to be replaced until the upcoming Enterprise is commissioned, although delays to the Gerald R. Ford program could mean delays for future units of the class. Meaning Nimitz could be deactivated before Enterprise is launched.

Artist’s impression of upcoming USS Enterprise CVN-80 – US Navy (created 2013)

Let me throw some more figures at you. 😀 Do you think I would let you forget those lovely, small and petite amphibious carriers, each capable of supporting a decent amount of SVTOL aircraft like the Harrier II and infamous F-35B Lightning II? Exactly. So, that is another eight 41,100-tonne Wasp-class landing helicopter dock (LHD) carriers, three 45,000-tonne America-class landing helicopter assault (LHA) carriers (1 commissioned, 1 under construction, 1 on order) and three 39,000-tonne Tarawa-class LHAs in mothballs. There is also the question of the distant cousins to the carriers, the two 19,000-tonne Blue Ridge-class landing command & control (LCC) carriers, whose hulls were based on the old and now long-retired Iwo Jima-class landing platform helicopter (LPH) carrier design. These LCCs can handle a small contingent of helicopters.

So yeah, summarising that. The USN has the following:

  • 19 carriers in active service; 10 supercarriers, 8 LHDs, 1 LHA
  • 4 carriers in reserve: 3 LHAs, 1 supercarrier
  • 3 carriers due by the end of this decade; 2 LHAs, 1 supercarrier
  • 1 carrier due the next decade; 1 supercarrier
  • In addition, 2 cousins of carriers; 2 LCCs

That is twenty-eight motherfucking flat-tops the USN can play with by 2020 (if everything remains on the current schedule). The PLAN has one active carrier, and two other carriers under construction. Only two of those three will be operational by the end of the decade. After the “Type 001” Liaoning (CV-16), CV-17 will be completed to a modified Liaoning design (Type 001A). CV-18 will be a Type 002 ship, and very little is known as to what the design will be like. It will likely be only an incremental improvement to Type 001A.

So concluding, the figures say America has no reason to worry. For Asian and some European countries, things are another matter. I will likely make another post tackling that situation in the near future. This is purely a USN-based post, and quite frankly there is not enough information on the combat performance and technical specifications of the PLAN’s current and future carriers (respectively) to speculate on actual navy versus navy performance. The statistics and metrics of the USN carrier fleet and infrastructure indicate the USN will remain the World’s foremost powerhouse when it comes to naval aviation and even general naval force. None of this even covers the escorting capabilities of each navy, but the USN has far more experience escorting its ships than the PLAN does. The USN has more experience in general when it comes to blue-water operations. Training is to a high standard, and potentially will increase as naval funding increases under the Trump administration.

(Oh yeah, I should disclaim I have no love for the bigoted, anti-science, anti-progressive President Trump what’s so ever. I just happen to like his naval spending policy.)

So. there you have it. My two cents on the argument. Take what you want from it. I never stated I was a naval analysist. 😛 As aforementioned, expect more posts on Liaoning soon!

My thoughts on Kuznetsov, HMS Illustrious gone

For the last two months, you might have noticed the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov (bit of a mouthful, I know) has been in the news quite a bit. Usually in reference to her 2016 deployment, which in involved her battlegroup sailing through the English Channel and being denied access to a port whilst on the way to Syria. But after reading some critical “news” articles about Kuznetsov, I felt I should get my views straight about the carrier.

Admiral Kuznetsov – Russian Ministry of Defence (taken 2012)

Admiral Kuznetsov (the generally-accepted short name) is an interesting carrier, or aircraft-carrying cruiser as the Russians like to call her. She has a maximum displacement of ~62,000 metric tonnes and has an overall length of 305 metres, which makes her bigger than a lot of her Cold War contemporaries. Her size and airwing (approximately 41 aircraft) is a lot smaller than the current 100,000-tonne US Navy supercarriers however. She is part of a class of two carriers, with the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning (formerly Riga then Varyag whilst under Soviet control) being her sister ship. A Chinese-built variant of the class is now also being constructed.

Now let us talk about what has happened recently. Around the end of October, Kuznetsov and her battlegroup left the North Sea to travel to Syria, leading to it passing through the English Channel. Two Royal Navy warships, destroyer HMS Duncan (D37) and frigate HMS Richmond (F239) shadowed the battlegroup during the entire time they were near British waters. During Kuznetsov‘s transit through the Channel, the media heavily reported on the technical issues of the carrier, including the condition of the engines (evidenced by the amount of smoke being exhausted) and the internal plumbing. NATO allies then voiced concern over the planned fuel stop of the battlegroup at a Spanish port, which eventually lead to the refuelling request being withdrawn. After passing through the Strait of Gibraltar, the carrier refuelled at sea off North Africa. During November, the group reached Syria and subsequently began launching airstrikes to aid the Syrian government. Two aircraft were lost; one MiG-29K crashed into the sea after take-off and one Su-33 crashed into the sea during a landing attempt, with the latter accident happening at the start of this month.  No one was killed during the accidents.

Seems like a rocky road for the carrier, does it not? The engineering problems can be attributed to the poor maintenance over the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The US Navy, on the other hand, maintains its supercarriers and Landing Helicopter Assault/Dock carriers to high standard that allows them to remain in operation for multiple decades at peak efficiency. Crew training standard is also lax compared to the training that other power-projection navies like the Marine Nationale (French Navy), Royal Navy and US Navy can give to their personnel. Poor training is widely used as the cause of the first accident, with the second one being attributed to the arresting cable (used to rapidly decelerate and hold an aircraft as it lands) failing. The refuelling issue is just a cause of politics (NATO not wanting a country aiding the battlegroup in any way, shape or form).

I rarely agree with opinions forced upon us by the media, but it seems reasonable to assume these events indeed happen. The current state of the Russian Navy is not really great at all. But my main reason for adding my two cents to this is the treatment of the carrier, which is has received nothing short than slander. Yes, the carrier has its major faults, but we (the United Kingdom) have nothing to show for it. Which brings me onto issue two of the day, the scrapping of 22,000-tonne Invincible-class light carrier HMS Illustrious (R06). Illustrious was our only remaining true aircraft carrier as of now, which has just began her transit to some breaker’s yard in Turkey. The Queen Elizabeth-class supercarriers are still years away from combat-ready service, and we have now ridden ourselves of true aviation capability until then. Landing Platform Helicopter carrier HMS Ocean (L12) is not enough to defend ourselves from a naval attack at sea, and Kuznetsov represents a capability that the Russian Navy has and we do not. Maybe we should not be the ones to laugh…

HMS Illustrious (R06) – Wikipedia (Taken 2006)