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.

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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.

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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!

Coursework, Relaxing & Daffodils

After three lots coursework in the last week or so, today has been my small break from working my ass off.

They were all programming related; C++ Programming, Computer Systems Concepts and Information Management, Assurance and Security. The C++ assignment involved me developing a hare and tortoise race simulator, which was quite fun if a little non-challenging if I might add. My result was 81% due to some small mistakes on my part, but it is still a First-class result! The Computer Systems Concepts assignment was writing a summary report and analysis on the ‘Little Man Computer’ (LMC) architecture and writing some Assembly code for a program that runs off the LMC’s limited instruction set. (The LMC is essentially an educative demonstrator for a Von Neumann-based computer, if you do not know). The final assignment was developing a database system with SQL and writing a few queries – with Microsoft Access… Urgh.

There was also an earlier assignment for Information Management blah blah blah, which was designing an ER diagram as a group that would later help us this SQL assignment. I have not discussed it until now since any mention would of turned into a rant back when it happened. Basically, the group made a basic diagram that was missing a lot and I had to spend the night before the day it was due completely redesigning it with logical assumptions to bring it to a passable standard since most members of the group neglected to help and suggest ideas for it when I asked in a FB Messenger group-chat for some (I had to take charge of the entire thing since nothing was happening after that basic ‘diagram’ was completed).

It will be a while until I get the results back for those two assignments. But yeah, I can now finally take a small rest this weekend. I say small since by the end of the month, I will have three more assignments due! Yay!

Today I decided to spend some time on campus, sitting down on a bench for a few hours or so. I also ended up spending some of the time taking photos of the daffodils around campus and messaging a friend for a while as well. I have attached one of the best photos on this blogpost! I originally opted not to go for a walk as part of my ‘complete chilling’ strategy for the day, although I ended up going food shopping at Sainsbury’s anyway.

Other than that, not much else to report!

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Copyright Khalid Ali

Hailstones

It was hailstoning yesterday.

As usual, I was out on my daily walk on my usual relaxing route. It then began to hail. Normally, most people would be trying to cover themselves up to deflect these little beads thundering down from the sky. But I didn’t. I embraced it. I was in skinny-fit jeans and a relatively-thin jumper, so I could feel it all over me (except for my feet).

And I loved it.

It was not the hardest hail I have experienced, so it didn’t become unbearable. It felt ‘just right’, although quite difficult to explain given the context. It lasted about five minutes, during which time I was smiling all through it!

Have I burnt myself out?

A question I have been asking myself for the last two weeks.

This is one of the reasons I have not posted much this month. Lately, I have been feeling that I lack energy to do a few things. And I hate it. I love being energetic and ready for work, but something has been putting a barrier in place. Symptoms were frequent lacking energy, frequently lapses of concentration and poor sleeping patterns.

So since the start of this week, I have begun making some routine changes as an attempt to improve things. In order get my mind set in this, I have drawn up a basic schedule for myself on my whiteboard in my bedroom. Every day, I have worked out the amount of time I need to dedicate to my university studies, what personal projects I should work on each day, when I should put some time aside for research, and what I should do to relax each day. Hopefully, these should be able to help.

Another contributing factor to all this could be the fact that I am starting to see more coursework being assigned to me. However this Tuesday, I did a demonstration for my recently-submitted C++ coursework that I felt went well and certainly lifted a few things off my shoulder. But I still have a lot to do!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”