Being There Still Matters
In May the British government decided to reverse its previous decision to abandon short-take-off combat aircraft and therefore to relegate the first of the country’s two 65,000-ton carriers to helicopter operations while the second was completed with catapults and arresting gear. That decision was made in light of the fact that the STOVL (short take off/vertical landing) version of the F-35 was proving too expensive. On the assumption that STOVL was dead, the government felt justified in eliminating the existing joint navy-air force Harrier fleet and laying up the three existing light carriers (one has been retained as a helicopter carrier). The Harriers operated by the joint force were sold off (to the U.S. Marine Corps) to make sure the decision could not easily be reversed. This was the result of an agonizing defense review forced on the government by the fiscal crisis, and Prime Minister David Cameron said that killing—albeit temporarily—the Royal Navy’s carrier strike capability was the hardest and most unpleasant decision he made.