Once the world’s mightiest fleet, Britain’s Royal Navy is reeling from recent defense cuts announced in October as part of the United Kingdom’s Strategic Defense and Security Review. These cuts include termination of the UK’s maritime-patrol aircraft capability through cancellation of the MRA.4 Nimrod program, as well as decommissioning HMS Ark Royal (pictured here), the youngest of the Invincible-class small aircraft carriers, and retirement of all Harrier vertical and/or short take-off and landing (V/STOL) aircraft by 2011. The V/STOL variant of the Joint Strike Fighter (F-35B) also has been canceled in favor of the conventional aircraft-carrier variant (F-35C). HMS Queen Elizabeth, first of the new class of large aircraft carriers, will not enter service until 2016. The new carrier, however, will only operate helicopters when commissioned, because the F-35s that would have been carried on board the ship have been delayed until 2020. A second aircraft carrier, Prince of Wales, is now expected to enter service in 2019 and will be fitted with catapults and arresting gear to allow for interoperability with allied naval aircraft.
By Eric Wertheim