The UK Government's decision to opt for the F-35 B, vertical landing Joint Strike Fighter means that aircraft carriers will not be fitted with 'cats-and-traps' and will lose the strategic flexibility originally envisaged. To some degree, that loss can be offset by bringing two aircraft carriers into service.
Media debate on the UK's carrier programme is focusing on the jets, rather than the ships they land on. Central to this discussion is 'cats and traps', the launch and recovery system, which drives the choice of aircraft. Critics who say that this will cost too much overlook the long-term strategic value it will add.
As the UK government grapples with whether or not to carry out a U-turn over which variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), chiefly because of issues surrounding carrier conversion costs, there are broader issues beyond technical and financial ones, and some echoes from the past.
Air power’s flexibility , paradoxically aided by its impermanence , may well offer the Joint Commander, or more importantly his political masters, the option
to apply pressure in a number of ways of varying subtlety.