19 May 2012

It's not an "aircraft carrier" if you can't fly one of these from it

US Navy E-2 Hawkeye

... it's just a 'Landing Support Ship'.

Since WW2 we've rarely given our armed forces the equipment they needed. Just the duff gear that provided heaps of money for BAE in return for a few, often short-lived, jobs in MPs' constituencies.

Some years ago there was an idea that we should build some proper aircraft carriers for the Navy, to replace the toy ones we used to have. Of course that project failed at the first hurdle.

To design an aircraft carrier you have to start with the aircraft it is going to use, and that DOESN'T mean the fighters. It means first, Airborne Early Warning (AEW) radar aircraft (like the one pictured or its up-to-date version), tankers (for in-flight refueling), Electronic warfare aircraft, Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) aircraft... and finally, the fighters/bombers.

If you can't fly them, it's not an aircraft carrier. All you have is a Landing Support Ship, good for supporting marines on the beach and a couple of miles inshore.

In order to have an aircraft carrier you need 'Cats & Traps' - a catapult system and arrester wires for 'trapping' aircraft when they land. Back when the project for the next generation of British "carriers" was first conceived they very quickly realised it was a non-starter because the catapults were steam technology, which these days means you need a nuclear power plant for propulsion and to make hot water & steam which you can then feed through the ship to the bow where the catapults are - all horribly expensive.

So the plan was to equip the carriers with the hugely complicated and expensive Short Take-Off & Vertical Landing (STOVL) version of the new Joint Strike Fighter, the American Lockheed F-35B... when it finally becomes available.

The big drawback is one third of the fuel capacity of the ordinary version (F-35A) of the F-35 has to be sacrificed to carry all the extra weight space of the vertical lift engines, so it has much reduced capability and, with all those moving parts, needs more maintenance and is more vulnerable to damage. All in all, a very poor likeness of the real thing (F-35A).


More recently, the Americans have made great strides with electro-magnetic catapults, which is why Cameron and his mates, quite rightly, saw a chance to turn our 'faux' carriers into real ones.

Of course there was never any chance that he would do something REALLY sensible, like kit it out with cheap & excellent warplanes like the American Super-Hornet or French Rafale. (Or even some Russian SU-33s or MIG-29Ks like the Indian navy has).

Sadly, once again super-reality-with-knobs-on (double dip recession) has kicked that idea into touch and we are left with a pair of expensive Landing Support Craft with no aircraft to fly from them until the F-35B is finally ready.

If you were a kid at school playing Top Trumps, what is the ONE card you would not want? Probably the F-35B.

Note to Prime Minister: Best avoid any "overseas adventures" that are more than a few miles inland in future.

It's this kind of stuff that should be powering the good ship 'Britain'

Gloriana rowbarge off Greenwich

I love this kind of news about a small manufacturer (I couldn't give a stuff about royal pageants).

It turns out the Gloriana - that £1million, 94ft royal rowbarge built for the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant (3 June) - will have help from a marine drive system supplied by British high performance DC motor company LMC Ltd, based down in Honiton, Devon.

Despite being a "rowbarge", the motors were installed to make it smoother and more efficient to manoeuvre the Gloriana in and out of its moorings, and to help combat strong currents if necessary. They provide over 90% efficiency with zero carbon emissions, are silent and lightweight, and have been designed to re-charge the batteries when they're not driving the boat. In the case of the Gloriana this is done using kinetic energy from the boat's movement through the water.

LMC motors and generators are used in all sorts of applications, including vehicles, aerospace, and industrial, experimental & developmental tech projects, such as the high-speed French sailboat l'Hydroptère or electric motorbikes like the Agility Saietta.

The point is, LMC make stuff. High-tech, efficient, cutting edge stuff. They add value in real life.

This country's government has to ignore its public school chums, their money and their lobby teams, and re-align its focus, support, attention and political priorities away from the City of London casinos to little tech companies like LMC - because they, actually, are what make the wheels go round.