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‘Big Tel’ tells it like it is

key.aero got a chance to speak with Rear Admiral Terry Loughran CB at the Fly Navy 100 flypast at Greenwich.

14-Jul-2009


Rear Admiral Terry Loughran CB. Key - Gary Parsons

Rear Admiral Terry Loughran CB is not an imposing figure at first. Short in stature, he’s not what you may first visualise when thinking about great Navy commanders, but get him talking and you realise why he is affectionately known by his people as ‘Big Tel’. He’s full of enthusiasm, opinion and has a great grasp of history, making him the ideal man to head up this year’s centenary activities for the Fleet Air Arm. His career is extensive, from his early days as a pilot on Sea Kings on the ‘old’ HMS Ark Royal in the sixties, he went on to command the current HMS Ark Royal in 1993, and was Flag Officer Naval Aviation (in other words head of the Fleet Air Arm) before ‘retirement’.

Rather than retire to a cottage by the sea and tend the garden, Terry became a consultant to Thales UK in the design of the proposed Future Aircraft Carriers (formerly known as the Carrier Vessel Future or CVF, the acronym still used to describe the programme) and is Chairman of the Independent Review Panel, ensuring the programme stays on track. He's also Chairman of the Trustees of the Fleet Air Arm Museum and Fly Navy Heritage, the reason for his presence at Greenwich.

Understandably, he is a great advocate for the carriers: “The new carriers will secure a lot of jobs and bring new technology within the UK. They are cheap – £4 billion isn’t much compared to £20 billion for Eurofighter, for example. With all the new technology, they’ll have the same ship’s company as the present-day HMS Illustrious at just 1,500 souls. They’ll also last for 50 years.”

When asked of his opinion on the choice of the F-35B, he is clear the right choice has been made. “Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) is the better choice – it drastically reduces the training requirement. It is always better to stop and land, rather than land and stop. In the meantime, it is important that Harrier maintains our expertise in embarked STOVL operations – further delays (to F-35) are likely to demand further investment in both the aircraft and in the two remaining 'stop gap' carriers – Illustrious and Ark Royal. We need all the time we can get to recover the skills of operating large aircraft carriers, skills that, through necessity, have faded somewhat since the demise of the 'old' HMS Ark Royal. It is the intricacies of the ship/air interface that allow the most effective employment of embarked aircraft, core skills embedded in Royal Navy Fixed and Rotary Wing Squadrons, and no job for a part-time air group, embarked today but ashore tomorrow.


The new 'CVF' aircraft carrier. Royal Navy image
“It’s inconceivable that the combined ship and air group capability package should be undermined in the interim by the early retirement of the Harrier. Regarding cancellation of Joint Strike Fighter, a single aircraft type such as Typhoon would soak up any savings in an effort to make that aircraft's 'multi-role capability' a reality, and not one that could ever encompass embarked operations from any ship.”

A fierce supporter of the Royal Navy, he adds “People don’t realise nearly half the forces in Afghanistan have been Navy personnel at times.” At the present time, naval forces in Operation ‘Herrick’ comprise 2,500 Royal Marines from 3 Commando Brigade, 700 Fleet Air Arm personnel flying either with the Naval Strike Wing or the Commando Helicopter Force and 20 Headquarters and support staff. The Royal Marines make up over half of the UK ground troops. As for the three services combining in the future, “I don’t think we’ll see a unification of the three services – it didn’t work in Canada and we would lose that vital ‘esprit de corps’.”

With that, ‘Big Tel’ was off, heading for the group of schoolchildren that were chatting excitedly about the big boat parked in the middle of the river – future sailors for recruiting!

*CB – Companion of the Order of the Bath, a British order of chivalry founded by George I on May 18, 1725.

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