British Steel needs weighty naval solution

British Steel is suffering from lack of business when there is a desperate need for steel in our major warships. The Strategic Defence Review promised us a pair of large aircraft carriers but these carriers will not be big enough. The nuclear-powered US Nimitz carriers displace 97,000 tons twice as much as our planned carriers, […]

British Steel is suffering from lack of business when there is a desperate need for steel in our major warships. The Strategic Defence Review promised us a pair of large aircraft carriers but these carriers will not be big enough.

The nuclear-powered US Nimitz carriers displace 97,000 tons twice as much as our planned carriers, despite the fact that the US ships have reactors much lighter than boilers (plus their fuel) and carry only 85 aircraft. The reason for the extra weight is that they are massively armoured. Quite reasonably, the Americans expect their unmatched defences to be penetrated: the intelligence of modern missiles allows for coordinated multiple attacks that can overwhelm the best defences.

We too must anticipate strikes on our ships. While the US navy is fitting multiple layers of armour to stop enemy weapons, our vessels at 40 50,000 tons, yet carrying 50 warplanes have little weight for protection. They need double the proposed displacement.

This is not unaffordable. The quality steel for armour plating is not expensive in defence terms. So big a change affects every aspect of the design, so must be decided before other aspects. To shirk this choice is to risk sending sailors into battle in butterfly-fragile tinder-boxes, while denying British Steel the business it needs to survive.

Noel Falconer, Stockport