The Telegraph is reporting that the HMS Ark Royal, the Royal Navy’s only remaining aircraft carrier, is finally being sold for scrap. The ship was originally to remain in service until 2016 or 2017 when it would have been replaced by HMS Queen Elizabeth, the first of the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers. Budgetary issues, though, caused the Ministry of Defence to rethink their time table and remove the ship from service early. The Ark Royal was decommissioned in March of 2011 and an internal debate within the UK government about its final disposal has caused delays in the decision. Among the various scenarios considered for the Ark Royal’s ultimate fate were it being sunk as a wreck site for divers, converted to use as a London heliport, converted into a Hong Kong casino, refitted for hotel use (much like the former Soviet carrier Kiev) or sold for scrap. Ultimately the Ministry of Defence chose to scrap the vessel for £3 million.
The Ark Royal was laid down in 1978 and commissioned in 1985. She was the third and final ship of the Invincible class carriers and was designed to operate short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft and helicopters from her flight deck. Her sister ship HMS Invincible saw service in the Falklands War and was sold for scrap earlier last year. Her other sister ship HMS Illustrious served in the Balkans conflict of the 1990s and has since joined HMS Ocean as a helicopter carrier. Ark Royal was the fifth Royal Navy ship to carry the name with previous ships having fought against the Spanish Armada, the German High Seas Fleet, the Nazi Kriegsmarine (lost to a u-boat in 1941) and in post-World War 2 service. The current Ark Royal provided air cover for operations in the Balkans in 1993 – 1994 and in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Following the retirement of the the Ark Royal in March 2011, the UK Ministry of Defence sold its remaining Harrier STOVL jets to the US Marine Corps to be used for spare parts. This decision has left the Royal Navy with only 1 fixed wing aircraft until the entry of the F-35 into service. While the Ministry of Defence is much better prepared to resist an invasion of the Falklands than it was in the 1980s, the loss of its seaborne fixed-wing aircraft capability until 2016 has left the UK increasingly reliant on allies (such as the French in their agreement to jointly operate the Charles de Gaulle) in the shaping of its foreign policy. Gone are the days when an enlightened British citizenry could call for the outlawing of the slave trade and the Royal Navy unilaterally enforce the prohibition. This further erosion of British autonomy has most assuredly set Lord Nelson and Winston Churchill to spinning in their graves.