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By Howard Wheeldon, Senior Strategist at BGC Partners

31 Aug 10. Whilst commitment of Dutch, Italian, Belgian, Spanish, Danish, Turkish, Polish, German and other European nation armed forces have at some point or maybe continue to provide great support to the allied mission in Afghanistan it is surely true to say that the real burden of responsibility for European members of NATO will generally fall on the shoulders of Great Britain and France.

How pleasing then that we may soon be able to use the word ‘Entente’ in its correct diplomatic agreement or cooperation form with regard to the likelihood that Britain and France may be on the verge of confirming the intention to share use of the three existing aircraft carriers in their respective fleets. If so we may regard such an arrangement as the first of many similar military and defence arrangements in the years to come.

Whilst the carrier story (still speculation of course at this stage) was to all intents and purposes ‘broken’ in The Times this morning we have in fact known for some considerable time that given the specific nature of the aircraft carrier mission and that with France having rejoined NATO military command in April last year (in 1966 France left NATO military command because then President Charles de Gaulle objected to the fact that Washington dominated the alliance) shared use of the carrier fleet of three vessels – the two remaining Invincible class carriers of the Royal Navy, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Illustrious and the French aircraft carrier, Charles De Gaulle could make considerable sense.

So it is that with SDSR [to remind Strategic Defence and Security Review is aimed at producing a future UK armed force structure that is not only fit for purpose for whatever is deemed to be our national and dependent territory defensive needs whilst also looking in depth at what foreign and NATO role we envisage is affordable and desirable for ourselves] now reaching a final and most crucial stage it seems to me that joining Royal Navy and French Navy carrier fleets at the hip is a neat and very realisable solution to the problems of affordability that both nations suffer with regard to defence. First though let us ask ourselves whether this is just yet more idle pre SDSR announcement speculation in the press or whether it could be for real? All that I can say on this is that my understanding was that last week paperwork that would allow for such an unprecedented military co-operation deal to be signed had actually reached the highest political office in France.

I do not propose to go into the complicated matters of how an effective joining at the hip of three large carriers might actually be executed in practical and mission terms preferring to await the formal announcement and detail that, assuming the cooperation plan is to be confirmed, will no doubt be provided. Such detail will be expected to state what aircraft and or helicopters of both nations would be carried by each of the UK and French navy carriers, what restraints have been agreed and built in, how this will be costed, what is or is not possible or considered to be practical and so on. However, I believe that combining or at the very least, partially combining NATO and maybe national defence carrier roles currently being undertaken individually by three large vessels HMS Ark Royal (built in 1978 by Swan Hunter) and HMS Illustrious (built by Swan Hunter in 1982) and French Navy flagship, Charles de Gaulle (built 1994 although not commissioned until 2001) should if planned correctly provide operational, military and cost advantages to both the two navies.

Importantly any decision taken to combine the carrier role will also need to see the UK government confirm at least, partially confirm intentions for the two new Queen Elizabeth class ‘super carriers’ in the CVF programme that will eventually replace both Ark Royal and Illust

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