Well it seems the time has come again for the great carrier debate; please note all the old war horses who appear to still live in the 1930s are charging out with a variation on the theme ; 'the bomber will always get through'. The first is a former chief of the Air Staff, unremarkable really as he was one on those who believed that it was impossible for the Falkland’s war to be waged successfully; we all know how correct that was...it was almost very close to the truth, without those very ships he is so dead against and the amphibious forces which he obviously believes can somehow miraculously operate in the modern world without 'organic' air support, it would have been lost.
However, they do make a salient point, air power is crucial in modern war. No one can argue with this, without sounding like a person who fundamentally believes that the moon is really made of cheese. No one should argue with this. The most important point here is that the strength and importance of air power argues for more aircraft carriers, not less.
Airplanes need to land in order to be maintained and rearmed - yes they can be refuelled in the air, but even that can only be done so many times before the complex piece of military hardware referred to as an aircraft needs to be looked at for things going wrong.
Airplanes are becoming more and more complicated, and thus require more and more capability to be included in their airstrips in order to support them.
Airbases are vulnerable; not only to attack at source - they do not move, and have usually been around for a fair number of years, but also to diplomatic attack. Most wars fought in this age are not fought near enough to a home country in order for tactical aircraft to readily launch from them in support of the campaign. Strategic bombers are of course another matter, but Britain does not possess any, although a fare number of American ones are based on British territory. This all means, that rather like America and its bombers, we need to base our aircraft on very expensive to maintain, upgrade, and possibly denied to us Airbases. If we are allowed to use them, then we need to put a sizeable chunk of the ground forces assigned to the operation to the task of protecting these fixed points. These are all things which to a logical mind seems odd to say the least.
Airbases are useful, and will always be important to the waging of war, but for a nation of limited means the prospect of a mobile air base, providing a strategic platform for tactical air support seems to be the most viable solution; not as an offensive weapon, which surely, could be put forward, as the only reason for maintaining an airbase in another countries territory, but as a defensive instrument of policy. An aircraft carrier can be moved to where the crisis of the moment is, provide the air support to the forces employed or its presence might be enough to render actual use of force unnecessary for the resolving of the situation; without any other powers or state being endangered or required to provide aid or succour. It can then move on to the next, and the next, before being replaced on station in turn by another carrier, thus its crew go home and it can be repaired and replenished for the next crisis. An airbase cannot do that.
This all beggars the question - why then replace three carriers with two? and why are some persons then suggesting this should be reduced further. Whilst it would be easy to perhaps accuse these people of only acting in their own interest and not thinking of the security of the nation they have served for so many years, that is not my answer. They are thinking in a way of themselves but it is not out of selfish reasons, like a 'tanker' would say we need more tanks because they know that tanks work, these men say we do not need aircraft carriers only airplanes due to the simple fact they have never opened their minds to them. This presents a further argument for not only aircraft carriers but also the Royal Naval Air Service, which keeps alive an Naval Air mentality which embraces aircraft carriers - ships which I believe I have demonstrated with the above arguments are well worth the investment for a nation which is not only an island, but an over committed and overstretched one.