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21 Dec 04. Following our story last week (BATTLESPACE UPDATE Vol.6 ISSUE 48, 16 December 2004, I SEE NO SHIPS?), BATTLESPACE understands that following further studies into the size and specification of the CVF ships that it has been recommended to the Government that the project should only carry on if the larger vessel is built.

The study is believed to have concluded that the AEW system required to protect the fleet from sea skimming missiles needs a fixed wing aircraft such as the Hawkeye rather than a rotary wing option. This is because the system requires a greater radar horizon of 90 miles to intercept sea skimming missiles. In addition the larger vessel will accommodate conventional take off and landing aircraft rather than the V/STOL alternative we discussed last week, in spite of reassurances from Lockheed Martin that the programme is on track. The provision of a vessel for conventional aircraft would also increase the flexibility of the fleet in possibly accommodating the European solution, thus Rafaels could also be used from the vessel.

The use of Hawkeye will question whether Northrop Grumman would be willing to keep the Bethpage line open without firm assurances for the MoD that it will purchase the aircraft, now entering its second decade of service and having had an upgrade for its current customers, in ten years time and keep the line open for an order which would be for a maximum of twelve airframes which have to be built using old production techniques. In addition the decision not to use the rotary option will put dampners on the Lockheed Martin study for future rotary missions for the Merlin, particularly AEW.

The announcement is expected to be kept under wraps until after Christmas and perhaps with a new Secretary of State. Gordon Brown would welcome the opportunity to cancel the project saving the Exchequer billions, but rather than start the election campaign in Iraq, Tony Blair should look closer and perhaps make his next stop in Scotland where this announcement coming on top of the dissolution of the Scottish regiments and the ban on smoking in pubs will set the Scots hackles rising.

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