Page last updated at 17:19 GMT, Wednesday, 3 June 2009 18:19 UK

Army and Navy clash over ships

Artist's impression of new carrier
The carriers will be the Royal Navy's largest vessels

The head of the Royal Navy has defended the commissioning of two new aircraft carriers, rejecting claims that they were outdated "Cold War relics".

Admiral Sir Jonathon Band warned that Britain would always need "higher end capabilities" in the future.

His speech was seen as a riposte to Army chief General Sir Richard Dannatt, who said many new equipment programmes were "irrelevant" to modern warfare.

Work on HMS Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales is expected to begin soon.

The two ships planned will be the Royal Navy's largest vessels, each capable of carrying up to 40 aircraft.

We will always need some high value, high capability clubs in our golf bag unless our ambition is only to play pitch and putt
Admiral Sir Jonathon Band

Speaking last month, Sir Richard said that forces had been guilty of clinging to "the Cold War paradigm of interstate industrial war" for too long.

He said future defence procurement needed to reflect that Britain's troops were now more involved in counter-insurgency operations, such as in Afghanistan.

Only 10% of the MoD's equipment programme between 2003 and 2018 was to be invested in the "land environment" - at a time when Britain was engaged in two land-based military operations, he added.

But Admiral Band insisted that the Navy still needed the ability to mount the full range of maritime operations - from air-sea rescue and anti-drugs patrols to full scale military interventions.

"I am not volunteering for the second division," he said. "While Afghanistan is rightly our priority it is not the only show in town."

He warned of a growing "sea blindness" towards the importance of naval power, and insisted Britain needed a Navy "big enough to have a meaningful presence, whether to deter or defeat an enemy".

'Higher end'

While frigates and destroyers were important, he said that "when it comes to the push" they needed to be backed up by "higher end capabilities" like the new carriers.

"There is a school of thought that sees the carriers as, some would say, Cold War relics - but really as spare airfields that would only be deployed in specific operations where air-basing ashore is not available," he added.

But he called this a "minimalist view" that failed to understand the maritime environment.

"We will always need some high value, high capability clubs in our golf bag unless our ambition is only to play pitch and putt," he said.

Admiral Band, like Gen Dannatt, is retiring later this year but their interventions would appear to reflect the fact that the forces face a fierce battle among themselves for resources as public spending falls in the wake of the recession.

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