Friday Rant: A Sign of the Spend Management Times — British and French to Merge Navies…

...Well, sort of, as far as the title goes. But to be more specific, it's the carrier fleets that could potentially join co-deployment forces. Business Week, among others, captured the news earlier this week in a story that headlines: "Britain and France are moving closer to a deal to share aircraft carriers ... a move that could save the one-time rivals money in an age of austerity." Specifically, "a sharing plan would reportedly see the two countries coordinate on the deployment of their carriers so that at least one ship would be at sea at any one time." But "it's unclear if such cooperation would result in British aircraft being based on a French carrier or vice versa."

Regardless, I personally find the concept of the French and English navies sharing resources to be an extremely humorous yet representative sign of the Spend Management times. As a former historian and someone who was addicted to Patrick O'Brien's famous series -- including Master and Commander -- it seems almost unimaginable that the once world dominant English Navy would want anything to do with the French, except perhaps raiding their fleets and merchant vessels. One can almost hear Churchill turning over in his grave, replacing the famous "rum, buggary and the lash" quip (regarding the traditions of the British navy) with "bordeaux, buggary and submission."

Still, there is a serious side to this equation. Carrier fleets are extremely costly to build and operate. I have seen estimates of US carrier acquisition cost of between $4-5 billion per unit (this does not included R&D costs), and annual operating costs exceeding $150 million. Note that I don't believe these numbers include the complete complement of ships that accompany a carrier or the air wings that it houses. By factoring in these numbers, the fixed cost for a ship, its naval complement and aircraft acquisition could easily top $25 or $30 billion per battle group, and operating expenses could stretch above a billion per year. Which explains, of course, why the French and English are even holding such a conversation about joining carrier forces.

Sometimes Spend Management necessity triumphs over centuries of military history. But perhaps most important of all, I'm guessing this move will force us to stop once and for all with the French taunting!

Update: Looks like both nations have watched enough Monty Python skits to remind themselves that this is really not the best thing to do.

Jason Busch

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