Falklands Harrier hero raises fears over navy's new aircraft carriers

A DECORATED Falklands fighter pilot has claimed the navy's two new £6bn aircraft carriers face a '˜myriad of problems' including a '˜dreadful design anomaly' that causes the hull to bend.

Wednesday, 14th December 2016, 6:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 14th December 2016, 1:48 pm
HMS Queen Elizabeth in Rosyth

Harrier hero Commander Nigel ‘Sharkey’ Ward was the commanding officer of 801 Naval Air Squadron during the 1982 war, based on aircraft carrier HMS Invincible.

Flying more than 60 missions, with three air-to-air kills using cannon fire and Sidewinder missiles, he was the campaign’s leading night pilot.

But now the war hero has written to the government’s defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon and head of the Royal Navy, Admiral Sir Philip Jones, expressing his concerns over the new Queen Elizabeth-class carriers.

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Nigel 'Sharkey' Ward

Cdr Ward claims the two giant 65,000-tonne vessels suffer from a ‘hogging of the hull’ – an issue that causes a ship’s centre to bend upwards.

And he says the navy’s new fighter jets, the F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing aircraft – which are to replace the Harriers that were scrapped in 2010 – are ‘extremely limited’ in capability, especially in bad weather or heavy seas.

Cdr Ward wrote: ‘All of these problems and severe operational limitations need to be addressed immediately and solutions found – however draconian the latter are likely to be.

‘We need a powerful strike carrier-based navy with modern submarine and surface escorts now that can effectively contribute to the enforcement of international law as well as protect our island nation offshore interests – not in 15 years’ time or later.’

Nigel 'Sharkey' Ward

Hitting back, the Ministry of Defence denied Cdr Ward’s claims, saying they were untrue.

The MoD said ‘hogging’ of a ship’s structure was due to sea conditions and was a well-known phenomenon in naval architecture.

The MoD added it was confident the new carriers and F-35Bs would be able to operate in a wide range of conditions, including ‘moderate to heavy’ seas.

Speaking to The News, a source said: ‘There is no design anomaly in the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers, and the F-35B has been designed to operate from them in bad weather and heavy seas.

‘We are confident that both platforms offer the best capability for our armed forces.’