Following some rather disparaging comments about this ship and it's class in one libertarian community, I want to say a few words about the role of Naval forces, about military procurement, and the military/ political interface, as I see it.
Lets talk about two very different wars, shall we?
Back in the 1960s, America sent super sized carriers, B52 bombers, and just about everything they had short of nuclear warheads into a war zone on the other side of the world. They stayed about 10 yrs, and they fought a mostly irregular guerilla force that had little air support, and no naval presence. The war ended with the eviction of American forces from South Veitnam by victorious Communist troops from North Vietnam.
Fast forward a few years to the the 1980s. When Argentina invaded the Falklands, Britain launched an invasion force to the other side of the world, and it faced an enemy on land that outnubered it 5 to 1 in battle, it faced an enemy that had air support, naval support, and regular soldiers. The Task Force stayed in the South Atlantic for less than 6 months and totally vanquished the foe, expelling the Argentine occupying forces from the Falklands.
That, ladies and gentlemen is largely how to use your military, and how to fight a war.
There were some factors that were not so good, and I will cover them. but the point remains that there were several advantages that the Uk forces had that the Americans in Veitnam lacked.
If we care about our democratic heritage, if we care about our service personnel, we should look at why America lost and bBritain won in these two very different wars.
Firstly, let it not be said it was because the Americans were wusses, or that the Argentines wee all incompetant and second rate fighters.
#1.The American forces an Vietnam were propping up an unpopular and corrupt regime in the South, and this worked against them long term.
The Brits were liberating people of English heritage from an unpopular Spanish military junta government. this meant that Falkland Islanders gave the Brits a level of open moral and practical support that they did not enjoy in Northern Ireland. Farmers lent them tractors to haul loads, and there were always people who were willing to tell them where the enemy were and where the way was clear. Once the task Force was on Falklands soil, they had an edge on the Argentines they never lost.
#2. The British forces that re-took the Falklands were all volunteers. their Argentine opponents were mostly conscript forces. likewise, many of the Americans in 'Nam were draftees.
The Americans were trained up and sent out, but two years later, when they had gained some experience in fighting an elusive enemy - they got sent home to be replaced by a bunch of new recruits who were starting from square 1. The Argentine Air Force were the only really professional force they had, and it was them who did the most damage to British ships.
#3. The Brits came to the conflict with some of the right tools for the job.It is a shame, and a big mistake that is being made to replace the Invincible class with bigger carriers we cannot afford to run properly.
The Invincible class was smaller than the Hermes, but could still carry the versitile Harrier aircraft. And this amazing ly versatile aircraft played a huge part in winning the war. it did everything from photo reconnaisance to CAP and CAS.
Though not as fast as the Argentine planes, the subsonic Harriers still beat them every time in air combat, due to their amazing 'viffing' ability. this meant that a hHarrier, with an enemy fighter on his tail, could literally slide sideways or backwards, or just stop in mid air. the enemy in close pursuit would overshoot and the Harrier was in a position to stick a Sidewinder missile on his tail before he knew what had happened. The only Harriers lost in the war went down to ground fire while giving the closest of close air support.
The implications in all of this for politicians are very clear.
~1 We should not send our forces to places where there is no support for them over there, or even at home.
~2 A force of long term volunteers will always perform better than a force of draftees or conscripts, whatever their nationalities. We should therefore select and use our military personnel wisely.
~3 America is a first ranking military power. It can project land , sea and air assets onto any point on the globe into two or more places at once . Many European nations, Britain included, can go anywhere, but not be in two places at the same time. We British need to realise that being a second rank power will limit our role. We need to focus on looking after our own interests first and making sure that our forces can look after themselves, and do what they do best, instead of trying to emulate the Russians and Americans.
More importantly for Britain, the Harrier has proved itself over and over in combat. It can operate from a medium sized warship or an improvised landing strip near the frontline. It can carry out a wider range of missions than any other plane. Updated and upgraded harriers are used by the spanissh navy and the US Marine Corps. We should not be dropping them ourselves in favour of a new and untested weapons system just yet.
Most importantly, the whole question of military procurement needs looking at. Before the Falklands war kicked off, Royal Naval top brass were warning that scrapping the Ice patrol ship Endurance was a bad move. The bean counters didn't listen. thatcher and her government started the Falklands war by looking too weak. Britain needs to remain a strong conventional force, not a nuclear power. the nukes we had did not deter an invasion of the Falklands.
In America , many argue for a smaller and more streamlined government. As HMS Invincible showed, you don't have to be enormous to be tremendous. If there is a place for smaller aircraft carriers, there may also be a case for getting the government to handle the important stuff and handing over a lot more power to the people - including people like Service chiefs.
Bureaucrats choices of military kit are often criticised. Maybe serving military officers should have a bigger say on the committees that choose our weapons. The things that never went so good for the british in that war were the lack of Airborne Early Warning, the poor performance of our shipborne radars and the problems of fighting fires in aluminium ships. These problems were flagged up and rectified, but maybe could have and certainly should have been avoided by bringing in the service cheifs at the planning stage. More to the point, we need to ask what we want our military forces to do and how they want to be.