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21 May, 2019 18:56

Let me borrow your ride: US gets UK carrier, while her captain gets the boot

Let me borrow your ride: US gets UK carrier, while her captain gets the boot

The captain of the HMS Queen Elizabeth has just been relieved of command, reportedly over borrowing the ship’s car for personal use. Yet the US Marines are about to do basically the same with the Royal Navy’s flagship carrier.

Commodore Nick Cook-Priest, who took over as captain of the Queen Elizabeth (R08) in October 2018, has just been “reassigned” and ordered to sail the ship back to Portsmouth after a dry-dock refit.

“We can only say that management action is ongoing and it would therefore be inappropriate to comment further,” the Royal Navy said in a statement. Several UK media outlets, however, reported that Cook-Priest was reprimanded for using the ship’s official car, a Ford Galaxy minivan, for personal trips on the weekends.

Cook-Priest was not accused of fraud or embezzlement, and reportedly paid for the gas himself. Still, it appears that borrowing a ship’s official minivan is a career-ending mistake in the Royal Navy, and Cook-Priest will be replaced by Captain Steve Moorhouse, currently in command of the HMS Prince of Wales, the carrier’s sister ship still under construction.

The two 280-meter, 65,000-ton ships are the largest-ever Royal Navy vessels, though still dwarfed by the US Ford-class supercarriers.

Here is where things get ironic. The Queen Elizabeth, also known as Big Lizzy, was commissioned in December 2017, but is still sailing around without an air wing, due to the bottleneck in UK purchases of the US-built F-35B fighters. The fifth-generation stealth jet made by Lockheed Martin has been plagued by software and hardware problems, and is also one of the most expensive weapons programs ever.  

Lockheed has designed three variants of the F-35, including a naval one, but the design of the British carriers – which lack a steam catapult, due to cost considerations – lock the Royal Navy into using the most expensive variant of the F-35, the S/VTOL F-35B, with a base price of at least $115 million (£90.31 million) apiece.

The UK has committed to buying some 138 F-35s over the next few decades, and signed a contract for the first 48, estimated to cost the crown £9.1 billion ($11.6 billion) by 2025, including training and maintenance.

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Of the 42 F-35s the UK is supposed to have by 2023, 24 will eventually be assigned to the Queen Elizabeth – if all goes according to plan, anyway. Until then, however, the Queen Elizabeth is a carrier without actual planes. So the US military has proposed an inventive stopgap solution: Send in the Marines!

A USMC fighter squadron is currently preparing to deploy aboard the Royal Navy carrier sometime in 2021, said the Marine Corps’ chief aviator, Lieutenant-General Steven Rudder.

“It's going to be a wonderful new way – and I will offer, potentially a new norm – of doing coalition combined allied operations with a maritime partner,” Rudder said at the annual Sea-Air-Space conference on May 7, according to Military.com.

So the British taxpayers ponied up billions of pounds for building Big Lizzy only to turn it over to the Americans, yet Commodore Cook-Priest gets in trouble for borrowing a Ford minivan? What a deal.

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