Defence review: HMS Ark Royal to be scrapped

HMS Ark Royal HMS Ark Royal played a key role in the Balkans conflict in the early 1990s

The Royal Navy's flagship, the aircraft carrier Ark Royal, is to be scrapped early as part of the government's defence review, the BBC has learned.

The move is part of the price paid by the Royal Navy for the decision to go ahead with two new aircraft carriers.

The Ark Royal - launched in 1985 - will be decommissioned almost immediately, rather than in 2014 as planned.

David Cameron will unveil details of the first strategic defence and security review in 12 years later.

It is expected to see big spending cuts for the armed forces.

Chancellor George Osborne signalled on Sunday that the construction of two new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, would go ahead, when he told the BBC it would cost more to cancel the projects than proceed with them.

The BBC has also learned that at least one of the new carriers will be redesigned so that it can deploy normal fighter aircraft that do not need a Harrier-style vertical lift capability.

Emerging threats

The new design would allow American and French joint strike fighters to land on the new carrier.

Mr Cameron is preparing to unveil details of cuts to the armed forces at 1530 BST on Tuesday, when he announces details of the first large-scale defence review since 1998.

It is being published in two phases. The first, on Monday, revealed the government's new national security strategy - which sets out the strategic thinking behind the review.


  • Is 211 metres long
  • Has a maximum beam of 36m
  • Has a draft of 8.4m
  • Displaces 20,000 tonnes
  • Full complement of 682 sailors
  • Can carry an additional 668 aircrew and Royal Marines

It ranked attacks on computer networks as one of the biggest emerging threats to the UK, alongside terrorism and a flu pandemic.

Downing Street said Mr Cameron had spoken to US President Barack Obama on Monday evening about the review.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "The prime minister said that the UK would remain a first-rate military power and a robust ally of the United States, we would be reforming our defence and security capabilities for the challenges of the 21st Century [and] we remained committed to meeting our responsibilities in Nato and would continue to work closely with the US on the full range of current security priorities."

The review is intended to decide the future shape and size of the armed forces but there have been criticisms it has been rushed and driven by the need to cut spending.

The Army is expected to have to cut personnel and lose some tanks and heavy artillery - seen as weapons of the Cold War.

'Rushed process'

It is thought the navy's new ships will have fewer new aircraft and the overall size of its fleet will be reduced.

And the Joint RAF/Fleet Air Arm Harrier force may face the axe, while some squadrons of RAF Tornado jets could be saved instead - although some air force bases will close.

Spending review branding

A special BBC News season examining the approaching cuts to public sector spending

The Army may have to cut up to 7,000 or so personnel over the next five years, while the MoD itself could face substantial cuts to its civilian staff.

Sources say £750m will be saved over four years on the Trident nuclear deterrent missile system but it is not yet clear how those savings will be made.

Meanwhile, the BBC has learned that BAE Systems fears thousands of jobs could go if there are cuts to the Eurofighter programme or joint strike fighters and in Scotland there are concerns two of its RAF bases - Kinloss and Lossiemouth - could close.

But the Financial Times reports that Mr Cameron will also say spending will double on alleviating poverty in areas of conflict - such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia - to £4bn by 2015, while funding to other states like Russia and China will be reduced.

The strategic defence review is intended to look at the threats likely to be faced in the future. Defence Secretary Liam Fox has previously said it would "make a clean break from the military and political mindset of Cold War politics".

But the government has been accused of rushing the process. The last strategic defence review in 1998 took over a year while this one has been carried out in five months.

And it has been undertaken at the same time as the Spending Review - due to be published on Wednesday - which is expected to see huge cuts to departmental spending across Whitehall.

A leaked letter from Defence Secretary Liam Fox last month showed he was concerned the defence review was looking more like a "super comprehensive spending review" than a proper strategic defence review and warned the prime minister against "draconian cuts" at a time of war.

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