My friend Ian always has good questions for me after reading Definitive Lapse of Reason.
He did first out of this Post :
which earned him these two answering ones:
Well, he’s done it again ( No Oops, all fine by me! ) after checking out my 2 part piece on aircraft carriers and possible WWIII :
Here is his comment/question on that topic :
Hey Tay! Hope you’re well my friend. The nuclear vs. conventional powered aircraft carrier debate is something i’ve been thinking about a bit recently. The justification for not going nuclear on the UK’s QE’s was always upfront costs being higher – typical MOD! I was wondering though – surely this would be offset by increased lifetime fuel costs for a conventionally powered ship? Is this another case of MOD ‘short termism’ or are there other hidden costs in going nuclear? Do you have any links where someone has examined the lifetime costs of the two approaches?
To me, the operational advantages of nuclear are indisputable and i can’t see how the total lifetime (bearing in mind that can be near 50 years!) costs can be that different.
And here then is my reply :
Hey, Ian mate! I do have links at hand ( on the HD, that is, so E_hand maybe? ).
Before you check them out in full, let me offer a short debriefing : Yes the cost of nuclear propulsion is higher, by about 50% all costs included for the ship itself and maintenance over its lifetime; big part of which comes from de-activation costs at the end of the cycle.
There are however two hidden financial variables. The first is that you can spare the at-sea fuel replenishment of the CVN. That is however mitigated by the fact that in most cases, the escort vessels still require it as they are normally conventionally powered themselves.
The second as you alluded to is the price of oil/gas. The last of these links is recent ( 2011 ) and analyses that. If oil prices rise a bit over inflation ( 1% ), values remain the same. If they rise twice as much or more, there begins to be a case for the CVN as savings grow. Were those prices to double in the two coming decades, a point would be scored for smaller vessels to be made nuclear as regards propulsion.
This said, there are important tactical advantages to a nuclear carrier ( or indisputable operational ones as you put it ). From the US East coast to the Mediterranean, minus two hours for the trip and up to six hours less to the far East? To which you may add the possibility of meandering out of standard navigation paths at will to evade hunting submarines and the much longer presence on zone.
That explains in relation to our second part of the analysis in the above Posts why China is building conventional ones now ( to protect its homeSeas ) but planning to build nuclear ones for 2020 and beyond ( to be able to go play further away? ). As found below :
or in the link to the The Diplomat piece found in part 1 up there and which prompted my take in both Posts.
Strictly in the UK perspective though, the actual wisdom still relies on the not East of Suez conundrum/doctrine. As long as that remains true, the MoD’s bet on conventional propulsion is full of wisdom, I guess. The problem as you put it is that if this attitude changes in the near future and the need arises for the carriers to go further, out of the Atlantic or Mediterranean, then …
As such, considering that the lifetime of a carrier is quite long, the short-term gain might turn to lack of vision? A though bet, my friend!
Where I would personally dispute the MoD’s choice though is not even on that but on technology instead. Considering that the UK makes it own PWR 2 Rolls-Royce reactors for the Vanguard and Astute subs AND that is is moving on to a new generation for the 7th Astute and Successor class beyond …
and that the French Charles-De-Gaulle carrier shares its K15 nuclear power plants with the new Barracuda SSN class, the same could have been done thus providing savings by numbers?
The only reason that I see to negate this advantage is that the QE and PoW would then have had outdated reactors by the time of the PWR 3? So that between getting older motors and not being able to wait for new ones, that is another reason why they will be conventional. But there is a very high price for that : namely that the PWR 3 is going to be a mainly US design?
And as such, the technology of nuclear reactors is slowly leaving British hands. And no, I am not talking of the military market alone! The present new builds envisioned in the UK are licensed versions of Westinghouse and to a higher degree France’s Areva through their EPR new design and EDF corp.
Heck even the Russians want in? http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/0822801a-160e-11e3-856f-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2fRwpdpNl
And here is the sea of words that the government uses to disguise the fading :
out of which simple sentences can be extracted such as : -”The policy landscape is sub-optimal.” or – “The capability in the UK’s national laboratories and industry is smaller and more fragmented than it has been in the past.” Both from the second more analytic link.
It does conclude however that the present efforts by the Strategic funding reflection of the UK Govt found in the other document can still be implemented if the vision is carried over the next series of builds planned at present to a more distant future!
What we just found though is the picture of a ( for now ) secondary level industry. Through the deliquescence of the period ranging from the 1950′s to 2010, any hope of seeing the UK sell nuclear power plants abroad is non-existent. It will not catch up to the 3 big players that are Russia, the US and France in crescendo order as the records of each for incidents show, i.e. Tchernobyl, Three Miles Island, No major one.
The reason for the choice of conventional propulsion of the upcoming carriers can be found therein, I believe. It is not a matter of depending on foreign technology so much as either the US in the military area or the French in the civilian one can be trusted to stand by Great-Britain in their commitments. It it however a matter of cash flow. By choosing to restrict the nuclear propulsion of its fleet to the attack and missiles launching submarines, the MoD simply acknowledges the absence of fully indigenous proprietary abilities in the domain. When they have to, they go nuclear but whenever it can be avoided, they obey the undeniable spending logic of selecting national industry products which is simply not available to power the carriers whereas the Rolls-Royce MT30 Turbines chosen for the QE class are?
And part of the blame could be shared with the French and the 2008 economic crisis? Had the money been there, had then the decision been made to build 3 carriers ( or ideally 4 ) in cooperation between the 2 nations, maybe the choice of the K15 nuclear power plants could have been made? Alas, the last glitch is time frames. The CDG is there now. So France could not easily ditch it to acquire 2 new ships, now could it? Nor could it be envisioned to sell it to Brazil ( too costly ) or India ( having chosen the Russian/indigenous route ) and certainly not to China or Russia ( let’s be serious ). The US build their own and the rest of the gang has neither the money nor the incentive? Plus, had the carriers been done in full cooperation as outlined, the nuclear plants would have been French, the CATOBAR choice would have been imperative and then heck, who knows, the Rafale might have been introduced to the Fleet’s Air Arm or at least the F-35 C ( which the RN aviators probably would have found peachy either way ). And in that perspective, too much French content would have warranted almost total shipbuilding to be done in the UK’s yards which in turn would have been deemed too detrimental to France’s industrial interest in the field?
So summing it all up, in chronological order, the UK lets go its nuclear industry in some dismay / which influences some of its choices / then states a restrained approach to the World’s seas ( not East of Suez call ) / and goes catapults carrier less with the excellent Harrier’s apparition / while France replaces the Clemenceau/Foch with the CDG/Rafale to maintain E-2 capability and inter-operability with the USN / and vague hopes of a PA2 / which then forbids joining the QE development in partnership / which brings the present big carriers small planes option that makes the UK stuck to non-nuclear and East of Suez ( although there have been talks recently … but we know how cheap those are )?
End result : a big cost big boats but relatively small ranged and less powerful Air Arm for the Royal Navy ( as a subsidiary to the Marines Corps? ), a big cost effective but lonely carrier and plane combo for France just as the USN is seeing its numbers dwindle from 12 to possibly 10 carriers instead of a possible 4 big boats and full interoperability to each other and the main ally?
In the best of worlds, the solution might be an extension of the Lancaster House Treaties that would see France commit to a acquiring a CDG2 as soon as possible and its Air complement of Rafale and E-2s so that all 4 ships could be jointly operated and all costs shared? The aviators from both Navies would likely trip out bubbles at the prospect of flying both the Rafale and the F-35B ( over there careers, not at the same time, LOL ) and the US would certainly appreciate the idea of two different carrier class units being available to help out and at least train with?
But even discounting America, that would require France’s Independence at all costs stance to be lessened which I think is unlikely and one reason why sharing materials acquisition and development is the best we can hope for. The other reason being that it would require both governments to agree with each other? Something that my optimism may see possible despite the light feuding between the 2 nations over the last few centuries but … huh …
certainly not over the fact that both Nations’ politicians ( as most of the World’s ones ) cannot agree with themselves in-house for the sake of essential national needs at most times to begin with?
That’s democracy as it stands fer ya, bloke, and may be the crux of the matter in this instance and for a long while to come? Just ask the US Congress for fun *sigh* ???
And yes, my good Ian, apart from such judgments on the state of things, I am doing well, especially when I get news from & a post subject handed out to me by my mate, cheers on that and all the best to you and yours and all my readers, Tay.
Additional reading since Ian asked for links :