Spanish aircraft carrier’s end could be near

Spanish_aircraft_carrier_Principe_de_AsturiasSPAIN’S Navy is considering mothballing the Principe de Asturias aircraft carrier as well as six Santa Maria-class frigates.

The ships would remain on “restricted duties” awaiting a return to operational duties, Navy sources said.

This could be the first step towards decommissioning the ships, experts believe. The medium term economic situation was unlikely to improve and ships deteriorate quickly when not in constant use, they pointed out.

The vessels’ age also meant that they would require such substantial refits before returning to active service that this might not be cost-effective.

By 2018 the Principe de Asturias will be 30 years old - the usual extent of a warship’s life cycle.

Nine years ago it was due for a complete refit which was never carried out, owing to the €400 million this would have cost.

The aircraft carrier now requires increasing repairs and much of its equipment is obsolete. Meanwhile, military spending has been reduced by almost 25 per cent over the last four years.

The €6,316 million allocated to Defence in this year’s budget was 8.84 per cent less than in 2011.

Days at sea for Navy vessels were cut from 49 to 40 and their fuel allowance reduced by 44 per cent.

The Principe de Asturias’ activities are now very limited and the aircraft carrier no longer participates in international manoeuvres.

These are restricted to exercises near the Rota naval base like those carried out last month in Cadiz Bay for pilots qualifying to fly Harrier jump jets.

Any decision regarding the Principe de Asturias would be taken “at the very highest political level”, Navy insiders revealed. It is Spain’s only aircraft carrier and a significant deterrent, the same sources argued.

Its mere presence in a conflict area would be one of the most convincing political messages it was possible to send, they claimed.

By Linda Hall

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