Secretary Panetta and the U.K.'s secretary of state for defence, Phillip Hammond, signed an agreement Thursday that will help the Royal Navy get ready for its two forthcoming but controversial aircraft carriers.
As everyone was going nuts over the big strategy roll-out, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little issued this announcement:
Secretaries Panetta and Hammond signed a Statement of Intent on Carrier Cooperation and Maritime Power Projection that will serve as the framework for increased cooperation and interoperability on the use of aircraft carriers, as well as provide the basis for the U.S. to assist the UK Royal Navy in developing its next generation of aircraft carriers. This cooperation is a cutting-edge example of close allies working together in a time of fiscal austerity to deliver a capability needed to maintain our global military edge.In short, the Royal Navy hasn't flown its own fast jets off its own carrier with catapults and arresting wires since 1979, aboard the old warhorse HMS Ark Royal. The three carriers it has had since then -- the HMS Invincible, Illustrious and another Ark Royal -- proved to be essential ships, but they were built with ski-jumps and designed for Harriers and helicopters only.
So although the Royal Navy brass is excited about getting big ships and their own batch of F-35Cs ... let's just assume everything goes well and all today's arrangements materialize as planned ... British pilots and sailors will have a steep learning curve to be ready when the equipment is. Enter the Royal Navy's onetime foe turned steadfast ally, the U.S. Navy.
British and American pilots have served exchanged tours for years, but Thursday's agreement could let the two navies take it to the next level. Royal Navy pilots could haunt U.S. Navy Hornet squadrons, trying to pick up as much as possible about cats and traps, and British sailors could spend a lot of time aboard U.S. carriers, watching American sailors handle the flight deck and also the loud, complicated gear belowdecks.
Now all that needs to happen is for the F-35 program to procede exactly as planned; the world economic slump to dissipate and guarantee Britain's ability to afford its two ships; the new carriers to arrive on time and ready for service; and Bob's your uncle.