There is a school of thought that says the Queen Elizabeth class carriers are an ‘over-sized vanity project’ and there are regular complaints that RN should have built smaller ships. In this long-read we analyse the context of their development and the case for and against the procurement of large aircraft carriers.
The QEC are the largest ships ever built for the RN, officially their empty displacement is 65,000 tonnes, although some with a trained eye suggest it may be in excess of this figure. Carrying a full load of fuel, aircraft, weapons and people will add a further 10,000 tonnes to these impressive vessels. From a communications perspective, their size has been a mixed blessing. Official publications have tended to highlight their scale, the engineering achievement and even their contribution to increased overall tonnage of the fleet, ahead of their actual utility. But building big has also attracted an army of critics, many advising us we should have gone for a smaller “Invincible plus” concept or given up on carriers entirely. Even more misguided is the idea that we could have saved £billions by investing in smaller and/or more numerous platforms, when in fact the QEC are arguably the best value for money aircraft carriers in the world.
Meet the critics
Nick Witney, a former MoD Director of International Security Policy says the carriers ended up being so large because “the Royal Navy wanted them to be as big as possible so it would be taken seriously by the US Navy” , They were nicknamed “topsy” within the MoD, after a character in the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin who kept on growing in size.
Max Hastings is an experienced journalist but characterises the shallow analysis and amateurish ideas about carriers that is widespread, commenting “How much smarter it would have been to build a couple of cheap ‘n’ cheerful naval platforms from which to launch drones and low-tech aircraft. For that, one could almost have welded steel plates on top of tanker hulls, to create acceptable flight decks.”
Bernard Gray is one of the more credible voices, being employed as a SPAD to George Robertson and Geoff Hoon, helping direct the 1998 defence review and later becoming Chief of Defence Materiel at the MoD (2010-15). He says “the real reason that the size was doubled to 65,000 tonnes was to make room for boilers or EMALS for cat/trap operations, an adaptation that made no sense. We never had the money for the 4-5 squadrons of F-35 that the new carriers could accommodate. We order two 35,000 tonne carriers. Then the navy insanely decides to almost double the size to 65,000 tonnes.”
Shaping the design
To understand whether the navy really did “go insane” it is necessary to look back at the personalities, the design process and the decision making in Whitehall during the early 21st Century. The July 1998 Defence White paper stated that “The centrepiece of the new strategy of force projection is the planned acquisition of two large, 40,000-ton aircraft carriers, with a complement of up to 50 aircraft and helicopters each.” The RAF was supportive and ACM Sir Richard Johns (Chief of the Air Staff 1997-2000) has said: “Admiral Jock Slater and I agreed amongst ourselves we would work together on the Review. The agreement before Jock and I both left the service was they would be 30-40,000 ton ships”.
In October 1998, Slater was succeeded as First Sea Lord by Admiral Michael Boyce who has the task of overseeing the initial design work. Until it was decided in 2001 that the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF / F-35) would be the primary aircraft for the carrier, it was unknown exactly what the Future Carrier Borne Aircraft (FCBA) as it was known would look like. Early studies for the carrier design competition included CATOBAR, STOBAR or STOVL variants and for a range of carrier air group (CAG) numbers.
Boyce and the Thales / BAE Systems design teams did not wake up one morning and in a fit of madness conspire to build the biggest carrier they could get away with. Instead, the specification and subsequent design process drew on the RN’s long experience of building and operating carriers going back to WWII. As early as 1954 a 28,000-ton carrier design able to operate 38 aircraft was studied but the Navy Board concluded that the ship was “too small for a big carrier and too big for a small carrier”. Design work done for the CVA-01 carrier project (cancelled in 1966) heavily influenced the QEC specification. Renowned naval architect, David K. Brown, writing about CVA-01 says “A particular problem was the association of displacement with cost, which was proving a fallacy as complex (and expensive) solutions were accepted to save weight to keep the ship within the agreed displacement of 53,000 tons.” CVA-01 designers had already discovered that increasing tonnage from 40,000 to 50,000 tons increased costs 10%, but aviation capability by 50%. Studies for the CVF concluded in 2001 that a 25% cost reduction for both ships, from £4 billion to £3 billion, would result in a 50% cut in sortie rate.
The Invincible class were originally labelled “through-deck cruisers” and were kept small, for political reasons as much as cost, allowing the RN to keep naval aviation alive, despite the 1966 decision that the UK would not have carriers. Although they performed miracles and in the Falklands War vindicated the need for carriers, the Invincible’s small size always limited their operations and potential for mid-life upgrades. There was a determination in the navy not to be trapped again by an arbitrary displacement cap.
Despite various modifications to the Invincible class light carriers to support more aircraft, during operations off Bosnia in the mid-1990s the 8 embarked Harriers were only able to average a single sortie each per day, despite their reliability. The Harriers delivered more than 2,200 sorties in support of operations in Bosnia, and while this was a very useful contribution, operational analysis concluded that around 50 aircraft would be needed to deliver decisive strike capability in medium-intensity scenarios. Carrying greater numbers of aircraft reduces the pressure on individual airframes allowing for planned maintenance and a more sustained and higher number of overall sorties.
In September 2002 it was decided the UK would buy the STVOL F-35B variant of the JSF but the CVF would be built to allow reconfiguration for CATOBAR operations later in its life if required. While this may have increased the ship’s size by around 10,000 tonnes, the adaptable carrier may yet prove to be of great benefit in the future. The replacement for F-35 will almost certainly be long-range Unmanned Air Systems. It may prove cheaper and technically less challenging to fit ‘son of EMALS’ to the QEC and purchase a conventionally-launched carrier UAS than develop a very niche large STOVL UAS.
The original specification in 2001 called for a carrier that could launch up to 150 fixed-wing sorties every 24-hours although by late 2002 it was accepted that this would have to be reduced to 110. The design did not “double in size” but instead when through competition and then an iterative process of refinement which included several displacement options. The original ‘gold standard’ (Alpha) concept resulted in a 73,000 tone vessel but was rejected as unaffordable, partly due to the inclusion of armour, Aster missiles and very high levels of automation. The subsequent 55,000-tonne ‘Minimum Viable Technical Design’ (Bravo) did not meet damage control and stability standards. The Charlie variant was then developed with greater subdivision but this reduced internal volume. The compromises of the Charlie were seen to be adding technical risk and complications to construction and the RN successfully argued for a small increase in budget for a slightly larger ship. The result was the 65,000 tonne Delta which was subsequently adopted as the basis for the QEC we know today. (A full design history of the QEC is covered in our previous article.)
As the QEC was designed around the JSF it should be noted that the F-35B is significantly larger than the Harrier it replaced, driving the need for more deck space, larger hangars and more powerful lifts. The wingspan is more than a metre and a half greater than the Harrier GR9, the aircraft is a metre taller and has almost twice the maximum take-off weight. The 50 aircraft on a 40,000-tonne ship that was dreamed of in 1998 would have been cramped with Harriers but entirely unachievable with JSF.
Gray’s complaint that we could never have afforded enough aircraft is a case of being wise after the event. In the early 2000s, the vast international JSF collaboration, and the economies of scale it was expected to produce, suggested it would deliver a much more affordable jet than ultimately proved to be the case. The final price tag is a failure that can be laid at the door of Lockheed Martin and the over-ambitious goals of JSF, rather than the RN having unrealistic expectations about air group size.
“Air is free and steel is cheap”
Admiral Boyce was well known to use the above maxim to explain the choice of the larger carrier. In broad terms he is correct but the calculations around size and cost are very much more complex. A bigger ship will obviously require more materials and internal fittings. Counter-intuitively a larger ship may actually be easier to build and require proportionally-fewer man-hours having better access for installation of internal systems and equipment. The trade-off between the cost of materials against access and space for upgrades is is also a consideration in the much more important total lifetime cost of ownership which we will consider below.
The main costs drivers of modern combatants are the weapons, sensors and electronics, the steelwork typically comprises just 5% of the cost. For an aircraft carrier, this is proportionally only slightly higher as the density of equipment is slightly lower in relation to hull size. Gray points out the extra costs of internal equipment: “…to say nothing about the hundreds of miles of additional fibre optic cable, additional fire safety bulkheads and fire control crew, HVAC, etc etc. The 35,000-tonne ship was costed at £2.7bn and the 65,000-tonne ship (before delays) £3.7bn. £1bn is not nothing… but it bought no advantage”. In other words, a 27% increase in cost delivered a 46% bigger ship, a ship with a huge advantage – approximately 250% increase in potential capability.
Barren West of Spithead?
Admiral Nigel Essenhigh (father of the current captain of HMS Queen Elizabeth) succeeded Boyce as 1SL in January 2001, with Boyce promoted to Chief of the Defence Staff. Essenhigh was in post for a relatively short time before being relieved by Admiral Alan West who served from September 2002 – February 2006. With Boyce, Essenhigh and West at the helm, the JSF purchase was approved, the QEC design finalised and the project successfully steered through the political and inter-service minefield. Various industrial and financial issues created delays but the order for the two ships was finally placed in July 2007.
West appeared before the Commons Defence Select committee in November 2004 and explained the decisions around the size of the QEC. “..to do the initial deep strike package, we have done really quite detailed calculations and we have come out with the figure of 36 joint strike fighters, and that is what has driven the size of it, and that is to be able to deliver the weight of effort that you need for these operations that we are planning in the future”. He also emphasised the benefits that larger carriers would have for the trans-Atlantic alliance; “The US CNO (Chief of Naval Operations really wants us to have these, but he wants us to have the same sort of clout as one of their carriers, which is this figure at 36. He would find that very useful, and really we would mix and match with that.”
The complaints that we built large ships “to impress the Americans” is plainly absurd. The US Navy certainly appreciates the availability of another big deck and interoperability with our most important international ally is clearly of immense value. The US has effectively underwritten the defence of Europe since WII and other NATO nations should be sharing the burden, even if many Europeans don’t want to face up to it. The USN has helped enable the carrier project in all kinds of ways and the first operational deployment will see USMC jets flying from HMS Queen Elizabeth. Even if there are a maximum of 24 British jets on the carrier by 2024, US jets could bring the number up to 36.
In October 2003 the Labour government published its defence whitepaper “Delivering Security in a Changing World”. It was essentially a money-saving exercise, cutting defence to fund the war in Iraq that began in March 2003. Three Type 23 frigates were to be sold to Chile, the Type 45 destroyer programme was reduced from 12 to 8 (then 6), plus 2 SSNs, 3 Type 42s and 6 Minehunters were retired early. The myth that Alan West allowed the fleet to be gutted to fund ‘his over-sized aircraft carriers’ still persists today. In fact, all three services suffered deep cuts, mainly to fund operation Telic, a trick Labour repeated but with more subtlety a few years later to fund the conflict in Afghanistan.
Although the initial price of construction is important, it typically only comprises 20% of the total lifetime cost of a warship, probably less for the QEC with a very long planned service life of 50 years. No one can predict how technology and aircraft will change over such a length of time and the QEC has plenty of spare space for upgrades and modifications over time. Even if there is margin available, the work to modify a smaller ship can also be more demanding and expensive as working spaces are more cramped, creating access pathways for new equipment may involve complex surgery. Building large vessels with a long design life may involve a slightly bigger initial outlay but saves the much greater capital expense of completely replacing them in 25-30 years time.
Putting aside the cost of aircraft which we would have bought in some form anyway, the largest through-life expense for the carriers is personnel. Sailor recruitment, training, salaries, benefits and pensions form the biggest overhead. The QEC design has already achieved a major success by keeping crew numbers for such a large vessel startlingly low. The core ships company numbers 800 and the QEC have one of the lowest personnel densities of any warship afloat – around 1 sailor for every 81 tonnes. The Invincible class ship’s company was only slightly smaller at 685 – about 38 tonnes per sailor. The vast US Nimitz class CVNs are colossally more manpower intensive, they require 3,500 sailors – about 28 tonnes per person. The scale of the QEC has not significantly driven up demand for many more people than would have been the case with the ‘utopian’ 40,000-tonne design. With so much automation, most of the same jobs that have to be done on a large carrier have to be done on a small carrier anyway. It is only the embarked air group that will scale up or down in relation to aircraft numbers.
A larger ship will obviously consume more fuel than a smaller vessel but the increase is not proportional to size. The resistance the engines must overcome is a function of the surface area in the water but a ship with double the internal volume does not have double the wetted surface area. The QEC also benefit from advances in marine propulsion technology which further mitigates fuel expense in relation to size. The diesels and modern MT30 gas turbines are far more efficient than the thirsty Olympus GTs of the Invincible class. (Nuclear power was sensibly never considered as a propulsion option.)
If there is one unavoidable headache created by going for big carriers it is the provision of suitable dock infrastructure. The QEC are too large to get into Devonport and there are limited places where they can dock in the UK. New and enlarged jetties and support buildings have been constructed in Portsmouth as well as a new ammunition jetty in Loch Long. These are relatively modest investments will last for the life of the carriers but the problem of dry docking the carriers has not been properly addressed. A purpose-built dock in Portsmouth has been costed at about £500M and for now, the far from ideal dock at Rosyth where they were built, is to be used.
When the carriers are deployed on operations the benefits of the big deck will be demonstrated more clearly. Their size will allow them to operate unsupported over longer ranges and for a longer time than a smaller ship. Although not a consideration when designed, this may partially help mitigate the current lack of solid support ships in the fleet. The QEC has magazine capacity to support around 400 sorties, assuming a ‘maximum effort ‘110 strike sorties on day one, followed by a further 5-6 days sustaining about 50 sorties per day. Operations may not work out like this paper exercise but the big carrier has inherent flexibility. The large deck also allows space for critical helicopter operations to comfortably run simultaneously. Round-the-clock ASW and early warning coverage can be maintained to protect the carrier, side-by-side with the fixed-wing flying programme. The smaller the deck, the more complex the rotation of aircraft between the hangar flight deck and launch spots becomes.
There are also plenty of unallocated spaces and spare accommodation, this will allow the ship to comfortably absorb many extra people, including an embarked military forces, specialist, medical staff and others to flexibly respond to demanding missions. Having briefing rooms, office space and recreation areas available is not just a matter of comfort but will contribute to more efficient operation. In older carriers, when deployed in overload condition, people were sometimes accommodated on camp beds in passageways and improvising offices in bathrooms or other awkward spaces.
There is a perception that a big ship is an easy target. There is some truth in this but conversely, a bigger ship is harder to sink. The QEC are not stealth ships but have measures to reduce their radar and infrared signatures and are harder to detect than many imagine. Their size also permits a greater degree of underwater protection including a double hull. They also have multiple redundant systems and the propulsion is especially resilient, the engine rooms being widely separated.
Big is not inherently better but there is very good reasoning behind the heavy displacement of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers.
There is no credible case for the U.K. having carriers of this size. That is well known and accepted across Defence, apart from those so prejudiced that they are blind to reality. Ordered for political reasons to appease Scottish industry, it was only due to punitive clauses that prevented their rightful cancellation. All the RN needed were smaller replacements for the Invincible carriers but still able to carry the RAF’s Lightning aircraft (and no, they are not owned by the RN/FAA, not even jointly). These obsolete carriers are way too vulnerable for modern warfare, will also need to operate close to land based AAR and ISR and the cost has undermined the RN (and wider Defence) for a generation. They should be sold and the money reinvested into needed capabilities but no one will have the guts to do this.
So Dave explain to me how the Queen Elizabeth Class Carriers are more vulnerable in modern warfare than an Invincible Class sized vessel?
Because the RN would be able to afford a bigger surface fleet………afford both financially and personnel. Keep safe!
How are they suddenly more vulnerable now than 60 years ago?
The RN has been facing and has SOPs in place for near Hypersonic weapons which it has been facing since the 1960s. OK by definition Hypersonics are +Mach 5 but I am not going to argue about 300mph when facing the old AS 6 Kingfish doing M4.5 or a newly upgraded AS4 Kitchen doing slightly faster and diving down the funnel from 40k ft.
Hypersonics are not a new thing…they are just the latest buzz word that people have grasped.
Have Said this in many of my posts When was the last time the UK lost a carrier. modern carrier design, twin towers and such, and the RN learnt a good deal from the Falklands. and warship and survivability.
Hi Johan, I both agree & disagree with your thinking on when we last lost a carrier, WWII is the last time we went up against a foe capable of hammering the Royal Navy so the more pertinent question would be how did our carriers fare when facing an enemy that can give as good as it gets or better, During WWII we lost 14 aircraft carriers so that’s not that good. I’d be fine with having 2 QE Class Carriers if we also had an additional two or three smaller carriers in the fleet, I imagine HMS Ocean could’ve been fitted out to support a small number of F35b’s, so we could’ve had 2 QE Class Carrier Strike groups and a smaller carrier strike group headed by HMS Ocean. Adding a smaller carrier class would be another option, They could’ve been ready to enter the fleet in the 2030’s adding a couple of medium sized strike groups to the two we have now. Having just 2 Carriers feels like we have too many eggs in one basket. A handful of smaller Carriers would’ve been my first choice but what do I know.
And that money would not be spent on the RN, or any part of the military.
More surface vessels to defend what, you just sold your biggest asset. QE class is what 100 personel more than an Invincible class. and i would put money on a single QE class could take out 3 Invincible class. and also UK Govs will wont to protect its capital ships. planning for the future not net week.
Yes, the carriers are. I agree with you
Ridiculous comment by someone who didn’t bother to read this excellent article before posting a rant.
They don’t need to operate close to land.
The F35s are operated by a joint command, some are RAF owned, some are FAA owned.
They’re not obsolete nor vulnerable.
And no nation wanting a carrier like these would buy them, they’d build their own.
You’re probably right on one thing, you’re a fat-head.
Incorrect. Factually incorrect. All the F-35 Lightnings are owned 100% by the RAF. They are flown by RAF and RN pilots. Indeed, OC 617 is FAA but all of the aircraft are owned by the RAF.
oh and thanks for the childish insult about fat head. Very objective, Mr Poo Pants
617 is an RAF squadron.
809 is a FAA squadron.
The pilots and maintainers on both squadrons are interchangeable…Who “owns” the aircraft is a moot point with regards to day to running
Both squadrons aircraft are part of Joint Force Lightening HQ and fall under overall control of the RAF Air Command.
The F35s are owned by the British Taxpayer.
Absolutely, excessive inter service stupidity should get you sacked, possibly via a stay in Colchester!
Exactly!!! They are also based in one location- RAF Marham to facilitate maintenance using required facilities established in that one location, which itself was chosen due to its close proximity to RAF Lakenheath where US maintenance facilities will also be established allowing inter co-operation on any issues arising from the F35 airframe in the future.
no some are now based in Yeovilton i think this is due to be the naval sq base ….Or might be the culdrose
Aircraft are owned by the MOD not the RAF which is a branch of services of the MOD and cannot own anything as they are paid with via public money…..
sat behind youre keyboard warrior you have forgotten if youre rude to some in the street they remove teeth, gummybear…
I’m curious Dave. What do you do for a living? Are you a veteran and if so what branch?
If FD was really fat, it would of been likely to have seen the last of him!
Fat Dave, did you read the article? I think you need to, it sounds like you didn’t at all.
I think in 10 years time, we will look back at the build of these vessels as being the turning point. Including the minor challenges encountered, they are both an unremitting success, both for RN planning and procurement, and for the investment in marine engineering that will benefit T26, T31 and beyond.
They will give us huge advantages in soft power just when we need it (Brexit), and hard power if required.
Well done ACA! ?
I would like to see some improvement in protection, and especially a longer ranged radar.
Yes. As for escorts, they are all getting bigger. A modern so called frigate is the size of a light cruiser. If to walk around HMS Cavalier, a WW2 era deatroyer, you will find it was 1800 tons. A Dauntless is about 8500 tons. The latter is half as long again and twice as broad.
He Said whats reading, and does it come with colouring pencils and pictures lol
Hi Dave, hope you are well. Just curious, who you would sell these ships to? If the UK does not need them, for the reasons you state, then who does?
What would you reinvest the money in and in what way would that be better value for money than the carriers?
Hi Mike, all good here thanks. Hope all well with you. Selling the carriers is probably a moot point but we know that countries like Brazil and the UAE have expressed interest.
I would suggest that funds and personnel should be reinvested in capabilities that are needed by the U.K. and by our allies…..surface escort vessels, mine warfare vessels (RN is a world leader), fishery protection.
The RN needed/needs a balanced force, sustainable by the standards of the U.K. but also federated capabilities across NATO, in particular.
What exactly are more surface escorts going to escort if we have no carriers? I too have misgivings about allocating so much of the budget to the carriers but the real problem is the aircraft. The F35 won the JSF fighter 20 years ago and is still not fully operational.It went from being a more affordable alternative to several legacy US aircraft to a hugely expensive sensor platform needing 25000/30000 lines of code to function. And we are stuck with it- there is no alternative.
The cost escalation means a reduced buy, leading to underuse of the massive platform.
The huge cost of the programme (£13/14bn with aircraft) has hollowed out both RN and RAF. We have too few combat aircraft, too few submarines and now propose to keep up frigate numbers by ordering ships with little more capability than an opv, because they are cheap.
It might have been better to order smaller helicopter carriers with their own defensive systems. This would still have left us the option of operating a small number of F35bs when necessary just as Japan is planning.
Impressive though they are, I think on balance that ordering the carriers was a predictably poor decision.
25/30million lines of code!
We will soon find out that ordering these carriers was a wise decision.
Another intervention like that in Sierra Leone in 1999 or Bosnia, or in other parts of the world is inevitable.
Britain has a world policing role due to its permanent UNSC membership.
Yes maybe BUT IT WAS BASED ON BEST GUESS. like all Arms based contractors they all say yes we can do this this and this. But as BAEs have proved on many occasions it doesn’t even fly. HOW do you predict the next 10 years, compared to the Ford Class think the design is right.
MCMV? because the RN is a/the word leader the UK is moving away from manned MCMV to unmanned vessels. They can be run from a shore side base out of a 20ft ISO container or from a mother ship such as a Bay or future T26 , T31, T32.
The days of building dedicated and massively expensive (For their size) MCMV vessels are gone. The RN tupperware navy will be a thing of the past in 10 years with a few Hunts, who are non-magnetic as opposed to the Sandown which are low-magnetic remaining on the books .
Of cause, a diminished RN that is No threat to your Master Putin. A man that can Not deal with personal rivalry in a normal way, but can only deal with it by poisoning his rivals.
Your have got a very shallow mind!
US , UK ,France etc have all eliminated by unconventional means threats to their security from individuals
D notices meant historically it wasnt publicised until now they need to give the newspapers ‘something’
There was a ‘body in a bag’ found in a London flat recently, the give away is the scrupulous clean up of evidence but the cover up ‘evidence’ left behind. if he really had that sort of background he would never passed the strict vetting for his ultra secret crypto work and postings.
And why should we not do like other nato members and supply special units and let our allies pick up other special units.
Carriers as in 2 makes the UK THE 2ND LARGEST NATO OPERATOR. defending Europe let them take care of themselves for a change. River-class patrol, pointless building destroyers and frigates if you have nothing to protect, Build cost alone of one destroyer type 45 class now quoted @Владимир Темников £1b. youre bases youre logic when the world was pink and you could see your toes….
Dear Lord, but you are denser than a dense thing.
You really could not be more wrong if you tried, and clearly have no knowledge or concept of naval aviation at sea? Firstly, two thirds of the earths surface is covered in water, and conflicts have a tendancy to crop up in areas where we don’t actually have access to a land based airfield. In instances where we do, and they belong to others, we pay a great deal for their use, yes, large amounts of taxpayers money poured down the pan ( this occurred during the Libyan crisis after Cameron got rid of the Ark Royal and Harriers). So, projection of airpower from the sea is the answer, from sovereign floating airfields.
Now in order to actually be able to project airpower on the scale required, you need to be able to embark a suitable size airwing including not just your offensive aircraft, but ASW and AEW etc. You need to be able to maximise the sortie rate to make the most effective use of your assets and store everything required including weapons, spares and fuel, food and all other associated items including of course the crew! Time and experience has clearly shown this cannot be done effectively from a small hull. The Invincible class were designed purely for ASW after a short sighted labour government decided to scrap our fleet carriers. They Sea Harrier came about to give the Navy some sort of airpower and thank god it did – remember the Falklands? But our capability was limited, and it was readily apparent then, that the future needed to be different.
The UK Harrier is long gone, the future lies with bigger, better aircraft which need bigger and better ships. The QE class have taken advantage of automation, and considering their size, have a reasonably small crew. Now successive governments have cut defence spending, it was the easiest option, and in doing so created chaos with acquisition programmes including the F35B. That’s down to the Politicians, not the MOD. The QE class represent a massive leap forward, enabling the UK to project airpower via a fiifth generation warplane. The only negative aspect is the lack of a point defence missile system, but we do have highly capable escorts in the form.of the Type 45s, and as more capable anti-ship weapons are developed, so more capable defence systems are being developed including lasers.
I agree! I think we will be a needing a carrier soon, if the Myanmar regime kicks off with mass killings and ethic cleansing etc.
This would be a job for the UK, as it is an ex British colony.
The idea that we have some special obligation to a country we ruled for 60 years and which has been independent for 75 is nonsense. Even dafter is to fail to learn the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan: you need large numbers of ground forces to achieve any lasting result. And because of the pressure the carriers have put on the defence budget, our army is the smallest it has been for centuries and woefully equipped.
Yes . The regional power there is India now and there are more interested than Britain would ever be. But its up to them and most likely to involve Thailand etc. And Yes , India has carriers
You have never liked the carriers and your lack of understanding of the strategic and tactical use clouds your judgement. Are China, Russia, USA, India, and the smaller operators Italy etc all wrong in their operating carriers?
He talks like Harold!
‘Thinking’ like yours has blighted UK defence since 1966.
Sorry but no matter what your view on the carriers if u back it up by logical argument I don’t mind but u are completely ignoring whole article your commenting on. At least comment intelligently on the points the writer made.
I personally think the carriers are under armed and should have better armour and point defence. But your comments are like sticking your fingers in ears and shouting blah blah blah I’m right and your wrong so there
The most obvious argument against scraping the shiny new carriers is to see what our strategic competitors are up to regarding fleet carriers. Russia is still rather desperately trying to modernise the 58,000t Admiral Kuznetsov, and would probably like to buy a replacement, if anyone would be daft enough to sell it to her…
China is well on its way to finishing its third carrier and plans a fourth, all based on the Kuznetsov class to varying degrees. If these countries see utility in such floating sovereignty, whilst also pursing surface escorts, mine warfare etc. etc. then it’s likely for a damn good reason and we should not expect the USN to cover our backs in this capability.
China’s ambitions are very clear. Take control of the South China Sea (SCS) and bring Taiwan back into the fold. The carriers it has built and the future ones are a political statement not only to the Nations around the SCS, but also to Taiwan and the US. The carriers are a means to bully those Nations around the SCS and enforce the claim on the area. Taiwan has been their object of desire since the 40’s. Thankfully for Taiwan the US Navy has had their backs, but the Chinese carriers will upset this support. The Chinese have already sailed a task group around the eastern side of the island. Which shows they are willing to push out and operate further from land. Operating off the east of the island, they could enforce a blockade, which would require US assistance to break, by which time they would have landed on the island.
So you sell these for say £2b each if we are lucky due to the current economical environment. USS AMERICA quoted @Владимир Темников £2b each. so we sell the big future proof carriers for a carrier that the USS classes as too small. you thought that through well. The size and weight of the F35 is a clue, and that the QE class can Hanger all allied types including rotorcraft. by your logic sounds like you have no idea about future-proofing a design in order to prevent it from reaching a premature end of life AKA HMS OCEAN had reached its natural end of the upgraded life cycle. hence the Brazilian navy actually downgraded her. planning for the next 50 years. when the Helicopter/drones/flight systems have not even been designed. Going backwards is what the UK Has done best, but defence isnt a bottomless pit ask the US DOD who suddenly are fighting for money as USA infrastructure is starting to need repairs and upgrading. and have supa carriers in salvage costing more than a QE class does to build. Labour government under Tony Blair stripped the armed forces of any development and upgrades to pay for 2 wars, and left us with the surface fleet we have now, trying to correct that will take decades. but we have a pandemic But the UK IS THE 2ND STRONGEST PARTNER IN NATO…Regardless
So I guess us American will have to keep protecting the UK with our carriers
There is plenty of reason to build capabilities that are adaptable to changing technologies especially when you’re acquiring 50 year plus platforms. These ships begin their service lives flying F35Bs but 25 years from now the aircraft will be different…..and if they were smaller carriers you’d need to replace both the aircraft and the carrier.
Carriers of Invincible’s size (around 22,000 t) would only be able to operate 10-12 F-35s, at most 1/3 that of the QEs and FAR too few for an effective first strike, sustain continuous sortie rates, or to absorb losses… The credible case is they have to be that size to hold enough aircraft to have a credible effect in any serious conflict (plus some headroom for future growth and/or reconfiguring).
I agree that shipbuilding was moved to Scotland to appease the Scexit crowd, but not the actual ships. If shipbuilding was still south of the border, they would still have ended up just the same.
What makes the QEs so obsolete and vulnerable?
What a well crafted article. I think think these are fantastic boats and the look fabulous into the bargain!! Well done, all!! Stay safe.
History will show that QE and POW and the Aircraft Carrier Alliance evidence nothing less than the resurrection of the UK shipbuilding industry and affirmation UK engineering, indeed of the United Kingdom itself. They have a significance that goes way beyond detailed arguments about cost and design. The Royal Navy has its roots in the ships Alfred needed fo defend embryonic England from the Danes. Make no mistake, the Britain is back because England is back, and England is back because the Royal Navy is being rebuilt. Our US allies will be delighted to see this reversal in our decline.
In view of the available space is it worth being realistic loosing the 138 F35 pledge and actually buy some affordable aircraft ?
Do you mean fewer F35b or something else? Because there ain’t anything else.
The RN made the mistake of building them around the wrong platform. Surprisingly as the only first world navy to fight a modern war at sea they didn’t learn one of the key lessons of that war. The carriers should have been built around these……….
…….and not the bomb truck.
The difference being that this role will be covered off in part by satellite: we know the area to sanitise and by UAV carrying son of CrowsNest.
When the project came up I though the ski ramp decision was nuts for the reasons you outline here and elsewhere. More recently I’ve come to see it as an inspired bet in futurology!
Exactly right. The carriers lack all sorts of essential capabilities. The F-35, albeit 100% owned by the RAF, are immensely capable but they can only be successful when part of a wider force, which will be land based. That includes AEW. Projecting into the future and a potential conflict with China, the carriers would have to be abandoned…..just too vulnerable
I can’t disagree with the argument that the carriers lack key capabilities but I cannot help think any conflict with China probably means armageddon so the usefulness or otherwise of various conventional weapon types is rather immaterial.
Of course where strong conventional forces work is in deterrence and in localised proxy wars where the presence of a carrier and it is battle group is still a powerful show of national will.
Those who suggest carriers are obsolete because of hypersonic missiles, smart torpedoes and the use of drone swarms amongst numerous others seem to forget that all new weapons are just the catalyst for the development of countermeasures. Carriers will have drones and already have sub surface protection.
i tend to think we are living in a comparable period to the 1920s and 30s where the battleship was still seen as the ultimate naval weapon and the carrier is today’s equivalent but if the U.K. has made that mistake then so have many nations.
The carriers will be sitting under a US AEW umbrella with Crowsnest playing a very local part.
My main concern with the carriers is the crew is small for such a large ship when it comes to DC.
Good point …
That’s incorrect, China wants a conventional war with the west.. don’t be such a slimy Euro trash scared little girl.. Think harder .
Why is a carrier more vulnerable than a FF/DD or an RFA?
Your land based support in the South China Sea is going to be based where? On Guam? Viet Nam? The Philippines? All are land bases, that don’t move around and are easily targeted by exactly the same weapons that can target a carrier.
A carrier task group has the advantage of being able to move around and to make the kill chain task of detecting, targeting, launching missiles and hitting the ships a lot more difficult. Disrupt or break a kill chain and an attack cannot happen.
So you interdict the search aircraft outside of there own radars detection range using F35s and Meteor.
Drop the Air refuelers so that search aircraft and missile carriers don’t have the legs to reach you.
Target the midcourse guidance aircraft or their refuelers.
That’s all happening before anyone has even fired a missile at the task group. While all this is happening the TG will be upping revs and increasing the area that a missile needs to search for a lock on by nearly 3000 sq miles in the first hour, and by 10000 sq miles by the second hour.
The RAF owns Nothing!
It is the Ministry of Defence(MoD) that owns RAF, RN and Army property.
The RN does Not even managed the refitting of its vessels, done by a arm of the MoD.
Your lack of knowledge of the UK is glaring!
I very much think you are a foreigner of a sort, most likely based in St.Petersburg!
what a stupid lazy comment , it is completely correct to say AF owns this Army has these etc etc.. stop being a punk an think harder .. so very stupid. think harder next time.
Speaking of yourself, with only making lazy comments!
It is You that’s being a Punk here!
Go On, just keep On making A fool of
Grow Up Man!!
U don’t think usa has come to different view about carriers survivability? Course they arm there ships properly offensively unlike us
AKA THE FORD CLASS, and it cannot launch its 5th generation fighters due to the strain of shooting and stopping aircraft made from composite materials. as unlike metal alloy carbon fiber is strong but doesn’t have memory once stretched. so no 5th gen fighter on a FORD. Including the new Hornets as they rip their conformal tanks off.
They’re just too sinkable in the modern world to make sense in anything other than a very asymmetric conflict. How effective would that double hull be against a modern 500kg torpedo?
Lol…… how effective is your brain and it’s effective defence against modern warfare…….
You are right but unfortunately, people are just too prejudiced to see it.
“How effective would that double hull be against a modern 500kg torpedo”
They said that before Jutland ( where the warheads were 4-500lb or so.
“On the day of battle there were almost 1,000 torpedoes “in the tubes” – 826 to be precise. The Germans, with a numerically inferior fleet, in fact tubed more than the British: 426 out of the 826. Looking at the destroyer actions alone (by far the most important source of torpedo activity), the Germans fired more torpedo shots than the British: 89 shots, or 56% of the day’s total. ..”
Marlborough after being hit carried on at a slightly lower speed , and the ship didnt have the multiple fuel-air bulkheads ships like QEC would have , as well as the big US carriers.
As a comparative example, the late USS America (CV-66) had similar proportions and tonnage to the QE class. In 2005 she was used in a live fire exercise to see how much damage she could take, before succumbing. After 25 days of continual abuse she was still floating. Some of the exercises involved explosive charges that would mimic torpedo hits, yet she resisted these. In the end they had to use scuttling charges to force her under the water. The reason why the ship was so resistant lay in part due to her size. Having numerous watertight sealed compartments aided her buoyancy especially when half of the ship was flooded. So don’t quote me on this, but if a torpedo hit one of our carriers, I’d say she has a very fair chance of not sinking!
You detonate a 500 kg warhead under the keel of any ship and it will ruin your day, not just a carrier so it’s a rather facile statement that a carrier is just to sinkable.
We will just ignore the need to get past ASW pickets, SSNs and Sonar 2071 before actually hitting a target.
Lets say a Chinese sub gets picked up following HMS QE somewhere in the SCS, What course of action will be taken by the escorts to persuade the sub to bugger off?
It would probably be contacted and warned to move out of a specific range. If not a merlin might be deployed to follow it until it does and engage if absolutely necessary. It’s a tricky situation in general with warning against provocative actions as you don’t want to start a war yourself but submarines aren’t any different to surface vessels – provided they can actually be spotted in the first place.
Engaging is a little drastic I think, I thought maybe drop a couple depth charges a couple hundred meters would a good enough warning. Let’s us hope nothing happens though.
You drop active sonar buoys to shepherd it away from the fleet.
That drops the hint you know the opposition submarine is there.
This would be considered medium aggressive and you would only do it after being less than subtle that you knew where the sub was. And it ignores the hints.
No submariner wants to be anywhere near an active sonar buoy.
It is the equivalent of WWII driving U boats with a lines of frigates actively pinging.
It would be closely monitored by the sub attached to the carrier group and if necessary we woukd let it know we were there, give me a ping, one ping only…..
Unlikely you would do the ping from the sub.
That would give away the location of the UK sub.
The ping would come from a surface vessel or, as I said above, a sonar buoy.
“One ping only” – A ‘Hunt for Red October’ reference! I approve. 🙂
This is the USN CAT ..or countermeasures anti torpedo…torpedo..being launched from a carrier . Its being added to all of them.
“The CAT is essentially a miniature torpedo that is six and three-quarters inches in diameter and approximately 85 inches long.”
hat tip warzone
There are so many problems and issues around that sort of system that I really wouldn’t trust it.
Torpedos can be quite quiet for most of their run so you might not hear it till it’s REALLY close, this is especially true if the torpedo is in the ship’s baffles (especially if it’s a wake-homing torpedo).
The other difficulty is radar and infrared don’t really work underwater so tracking is pretty much limited to sonar which is fine for something the size of a ship but hitting (or getting close enough to destroy a top with the small warhead on an anti-torpedo torpedo) a torpedo head-on… I’m not surprised they’re having many issues.
In a hot war, they don’t just sail towards the sound of gunfire all on their lonesome. They move in with a whole battle group, preceded by cruise missiles.
And u think the carrier won’t be at the centre of a huge network of anti sun frigates helicopters and subs for 200 nmiles out? Will never just sail into an insanities area
We are where we are. I was excited as most were to be getting two new carriers back in the day. That was carriers as part of a fleet of 32 decent escorts, 12 SSN’s, 3 amphibs, and a decent number of RFA’s. But the reality today is different.
(I would say carriers in support of and not at the centre of but I think the subtle difference would be lost here.)
Admirals Boyce, Essenhigh and West had nothing to do with the design of the ship.
MoD oversight of the ship’s design was largely in DE&S in Brizzel and usually at 1*level and below.
The principal reason in the growth in size from the SDR98 value to the post 2002 size was because the Flypro was considered properly, including package size etc.
The SDR concept studies (designs used to estimate rough programme costs) had used cruder assessments of required aircraft – based on joint operational analysis. That joint OA essentially said bring a decent number of aircraft to the party or don’t bother. The SDR carriers were 40 aircraft total, but just fitted on the ship without real consideration of how to operate them.
That detail became available post Initial Gate, which is where it became clear that parking area was going to crucial, leading eventually to the bigger ship.
How could you be so wrong: It’s Brissle not Brissel.
Interesting to see that commenters who support the purchase of carriers are insulting those who question the purchase. That says something about the purchase.
Two questions need answering.
1) Should the taxpayer buy big carriers for the Navy?
2) Can the taxpayer afford to buy big carriers for the Navy?
The answer to question two has to be no. Our roads, schools and hospitals are in poor shape. As for our legal system – it seems to be completely broken. Just pray you are never taken to court. So, on opportunity cost grounds, the carriers are a bad idea, in my opinion.
I don’t know the answer to the first question. I can see the value of ASW helicopter carriers, given the threats Britain faces but I have no idea whether the taxpayer gains any value from power projection. Someone will probably mention the Falklands. As a taxpayer, how did I benefit from that conflict? As a taxpayer, not as a patriot.
Here’s another question.
3) What else could the Navy have bought with the money?
Other vessels might have helped British shipbuilding as much and been at least as useful for the Navy. More OPVs. Mine sweepers. Fisheries patrol vessels. Submarines, possibly small, non-nuclear boats.
The minesweepers are being replaced with a new solution which will be more. Astute class subs are considered state of the art and all planned for are being built. We are getting more hulls in the water in the coming years. As highlighted in the articles, the QE class are the lightest crewed carrier due to incredibly advanced storage and retrieval systems which being highly automated they are able to run by considerably fewer crew. Twice the size of Invincible class, with only a few more crew with three times the deck space and 250% more storage of aircraft.
They are adaptable, highly modern and mould breaking. The argument that we should have CATOBAR added unnecessary cost. The fact is, however, CATOBAR takes so much more machinery and crew and the catapult and capture of the aircraft in that system reduces the life of those aircraft by as much as 35%, not withstanding the added cost of repairs needed to aircraft due to the catapult and cable catch. Thus those systems need considerably more crew and aircraft. Add to that the fact that the only larger vessels the Americans have have not one but two nuclear reactors. We could have built two more QE class boats to equal the cost one Ford class carrier (which they cannot use in action yet due to significant issues with their electronic catapult and capture systems. The money spent on that system we could have built two QE class. To develop that system it has cost over $10bn.
I think the path they have trodden to create two incredible vessels is admirable in the face so much hysterical hyperbole.
I don’t know where to start to unpick that. I mean well done for talking up the positives. But all it says to me is that you don’t have much understanding of the issues at hand.
Yes CTOL landings are heavy on cabs. But there are reasons why the USN still pursues that route over VSTOL. F35b is a clever aircraft. Harrier was pushed to do so much in technical terms flying from hulls. And apart of that was VSTOL. But one does have to question whether we gain anything from it on a cab flying from a 70k tonne hull. Is the wear and tear on the cab (which is a given) with more than weapons and fuel? Why was a CTOL version of F35 even considered if F35b was so capable? The issue are missing is that the day a F35b falls from the sky because of some design flaw is the day our carriers become the world’s biggest LPH’s. We are tied to one cab. There isn’t even a VSTOL version of Tempest planned. VSTOL cuts us off from the main line of USN aviation development be that FJ, AEW/ASAC, COD, AAR, or UAV. I can grasp why they chose B. And the reasons you gave are all valid. But don’t sell it is optimum because it isn’t. It was yet another decision taken because it was cheaper not better value. As Not a Boffin points thankfully HMG were ‘pushed’ to go for a bigger hull to ensure packages would be a decent size. Well done for making a virtue out of our given position, but don’t over egg the pudding by trying to pass it off as the best solution.
The US has been very impressed with the build. And they designs are highly automated. But they are really not that clever of a design. Go have a gander at the Queen Mary 2 and you will see basically the same design. The carriers aren’t as complicated as an SSBN nowhere near. The impressive thing to me is they haven’t suffered from the poor work standards that have plagued our yards since the 1970s.
I’d agree with a lot of that.
As the article makes clear bigger is easier to build, upgrade and maintain.
The QA does seem to be pretty good.
And yes they are big’n’simple and that is a virtue. And that is why, in spite of the best efforts of the politicians, the costs didn’t blow out. That is also why they don’t have crazy missile and radar fits: I’ve pointed out previously that it was likely that if QEC had Sampson then it would kill CrowsNest.
I’m pretty clear that there will be a UAV for COD, AAR etc as the gator navy will want/need them.
Anyway we have QEC and they are great ships. Only the US Nimitz/Ford are better. CDG is about par apart from AEW. The Russian effort sometimes floats and sometimes smokes. The Indian efforts might work one day but will be mostly for show. If you know anything about them Indian carrier and high intensity don’t belong in the same sentence. The Chinese will be crippled by the awful airframes they are using and their lack of carrier experience as well as the limitations of the designs they have copied and evolved.
They are good ships not great ships.
India and China are doing what rising powers always do and that is ape the capabilities of established powers.
As for intensity we might in a future war operate them at a high tempo with the US holding our hand. But our carriers will never operate at the same tempo as the USN’s. We would need two more hulls, crews to man them, all those F35b we have been promised, more helicopters, 100% uptick in auxiliaries, and 4 times the escorts we have.
Cabs = helicopters. Jets are the nickname for fighter type aircraft.
Much of that seems stupid to me. But there you go… that what i think.
The carriers were cheaper then ~500 Ajax vehicles designed abroad and of little strategic value. Compared to so much government expenditure (HS2? Test and Trace?) they are the rare combination of being both world beating capability and a bargain.
World beating capability? They are good in a world with mostly frigate navies. But they are not beating the USN carriers are they? And we are dependent on a cab designed abroad to give them value…….A cab just like Ajax that is getting more expensive and more complicated each year.
Well they are certainly more capable then any aircraft carriers fielded by anyone other than the USN.
we actually are incredibly lucky the USMC wanted the F35B… it’s meant we could get back in the carrier game, with a stealth 5th generation fighter (again another world beating capability). And of course the lift system was designed and is built here in the UK…
What would we be flying if they had cats and traps?
Well, we would have a choice, F18 variants, Rafale M, F35B/C and latest E-2. But, most of all, we would have had choices and a carrier IAL at FOC now, with a wide range of weapons to do the job! As others have said, we are where we are.
World beating apart from the USN? Ok……
Fortunately the US are allies but I do think it is interesting that they are having the light carrier debate again, The Americans are not stupid and when you look at the colossal cost of the Ford class, the QE ships make an interesting comparison particularly a Catobar version. Can the Americans afford 10 Ford class when probably 8 could be afforded along with 4 to 6 slightly smaller conventional carriers. This matters given carriers need to work in pairs in any real war fighting scenario.
The US government chooses to spend money in certain ways. It could easily afford to return to 12 carriers if the US wanted. Just as here governments choose to spend money in other places.
To do what they do at the tempo they do it the USN has no choice but to go to nuclear for its carriers. It is struggling now with the auxiliaries it has now, it would need many more to support conventional carriers at their tempo.
That Governments have choices is correct and the US plans ten Ford class and it seems the QE are in part seen by the USN as a suitable stand in to free up their ships for the Pacific and SCS.
Whilst the US could order more ships they are struggling at this time to build up their navy because their shipbuilding capacity has shrunk compared to the 1980s and the Reagan 600 ship plan. In that regard and on a much larger scale the US is suffering similarly to the U.K.
Bearing in mind the growth in the Chinese fleet including carriers the US arguably require having forward deployed 3 carriers in the Asia Pacific region to maintain their numerical advantage in the next 10 to 15 years. To sustain that level of commitment would require more than 10 carriers unless the USN abandoned other tasks and there is no sign that US is planning to increase the number of Ford class vessels. Some QE scale ships could boost numbers and the replenishment ships shortfall could be made by key allies.
Ford class are an absolute disaster. Yes they have managed to make it work, but if you need millimeters to make a something work, the slightest damage & it won’t. Lots of stuff works great in the lab, not so well in the real world. Ford class simply costs too much for what they supply. A single HWT in the right place & they are done for. You don’t need to sink one. If you can’t make all the parts work all the time, the Ford class is a floating target, not a floating airfield.
Both Australia & Sweden have shown the USN that their aircraft carriers are vulrenable when dealling with quality opposition. This is not to say aircraft carriers are not worth while or that the real opposition can pull off the same stunts. But they involved the use of high end SSK’s not SSN’s & they did it more than once.
There was an analysis a few years ago by someone that decided that the optium aircraft carrier size was somewhere between 60 – 75K tons. If I can find the source again, I will post a link. The nearest equivalent I can come up with is the MBT. Is a 70t MBT really vaiable? Personably I think not, yet they exist. Ever since the end of WW2, the MBT has been edging ever closer to the German Maus, despite everyone agreeing the Maus was unviable. You don’t need to destroy a 70t MBT, you just disrupt one cog in the track on one side & the thing will go round in a very small circle or put it on the wrong side of a bridge that can’t talke 70 t& it won’t be going anywhere either. There is such a thing as being too big.
The F35B price is dropping Y/Y.
Yes, as as I made the point further up the thread the QEC is not as potent as a Ford but as we are on the same side as the USN where is the issue?
The point of QEC was something that would get built and could be run.
For the Sierra Leon situation, alluded to above, QEC are vastly overkill.
For conventional deterrence QEC are perfect.
UK wandered away from carriers and that left a vacuum which was filled by other navies taking up the mantle. UK built Invincibles which were then aped by the Juan Carlos and Garibaldi classes etc.
The pricing is dropping yes. From very expensive to expensive in terms of what was originally intended to be a cheap(er-ish) cab. Plus inflation etc. The price will never drop to a level where we will have enough. Very few defence projects ever come in cheaper. How many were we going to buy originally? How many are we going to buy now?
I am not sure what you are on about re the Fords.
QE’s were built because Blair some the UK as some world policeman leading the EU in a rules based international system. We did need something bigger than the Invincibles. But whether we needed a large carrier is debatable now.
If we have no other large hulls for ops likes Sierra Leon then they will have to go. What exactly is too large anyway?
A carrier is only good for deterrence with enough aircraft as part of a integrated defence system and strategy.
Though I see what you are diving with ‘other navies’ but I think you stretching it.
Thankfully, those other navies are mostly allies of some sort. While India may be somewhat questionable when it comes to Russia, when it comes to China they are all in.
While F35B are expensive, so are F35A & plenty of nations are buying those. Most modern fighter jets are expensive to buy & run. There is not that much difference between the F35 (A or B) & Typhoon when it comes to cost per flight hour. Neither are at the cheap end.
Right now, with Brexit & Covid 19, some in UK (& Europe) are re-looking at the numbers. Others like Japan, Korea & Australia have barely blinked. It’s all a case of what worries you most & if you are prepared to find the coin to do something about it.
I don’t think F-35 is sustainable. In great scheme of things it is a failure. it took decades to field, it is very expensive to use.
You have today USAF having to resort to buy F-15’s a design from late 1960’s
The word you usrd was an importany one. Strategic.
Where we going to put Ajax or Chieften? Or Boxer.
Our main strategic land based weapon in our arsenal is the SAS. An investment in Special Forces would pay dividends.
And no army can move anywhere, either on wheels or tracks or under rotors without an air force… without air superiority.
And it’s the same with a navy.
Some very valid questions but we shouldn’t forget the cost of the carriers as quoted includes I believe £1Bn because HMG slowed the build and even more money was wasted on the abandoned Catobar conversion. The Navy could have had T45s 7 and 8 for the money wasted.
I am sure we could argue the pro and cons of these ships all day but they will be used unlike Dreadnought. By the way I personally do believe in the deterrent but there are many others who don’t.
I’m just not sure that the men at the top really made all the decisions and there are targets for credit/blame?
As I understand it, for once, the necessary capability was spec’d, at the top, and then the size of the ship was driven from that.
Similarly the shape of the fleet is now, fir a change, more driven by required capability than by Brownian Motion…….of money….
Its interesting to see debate on the pros and cons of a VSTOL carrier, but it rarely if ever considers the ability of such a carrier to sustain battle damage and still have the potential to launch and recover F-35B aircraft, when a CTOL carrier would be unable to do so because of damage to one or more of the flight deck, EMALs launch system or recovery system.
The F-35B doesn’t need the ramp. In extremis, the F-35B doesn’t need the protected vertical landing and takeoff deck positions. The F-35B doesn’t need the ship to be underway. Sure weapons and fuel loads might be constrained without ramp use or enough deck space for STOL, but F-35B might still be able to provide CAP for a damaged carrier along with its escorts. Likewise Crowsnest could provide AEW under the same circumstances. A large deck helps improve the odds of having somewhere to launch and recover aircraft in such a scenario.
While it is certainly valid to point to the limitations of Crowsnest, along with current lack of COD and AAR for a VSTOL carrier, that seems to underestimate the likely pace of development of commercial VSTOL UAV platforms, that will be capable of providing a platform for improved AEW, along with COD and AAR. Consider for example two hybrid UAV concepts that use turboshaft driven generators for manned and unmanned flight, either of which might scale up for these roles.
Just a different perspective to think about.
Fractured fuel lines? Disable aircraft lifts? Weapons lifts? Lots and lots of reasons why even a VSTOL carrier could go out of action. You seem to be forgetting one of the supposed virtues of these ships is lean manning due to automation. And automated systems go down when a ship is hit. I think you have a point. But you are reaching a bit.
As for COD and AAR and under estimating commercial developments something may well come along. But neither of those system is any better than Merlin in terms of real performance. And as I keep UAV still needs piloting, technicians, secure comms, etc. Why do you all think these systems are going to be cheap and simple? Is tech in your world getting cheaper and simpler because it isn’t in my world?
Yes, all of that damage could occur on a VSTOL carrier, as it also could on a CTOL carrier in addition to the potential damage I outlined. Not sure why you consider it to be reaching. Its simply an observation of factors not usually considered or at least mentioned. At the very least if a VSTOL carrier was hit while it had aircraft in the air there might still be the chance to recover pilots back onto the deck, rather than CTOL aircraft having to ditch with pilots ejecting.
Regarding my UAV examples. They are just that, early examples of concepts. The Rhaegal RG1 is intended to cruise at 22,000 feet, which is already higher than Merlin. To quote “It carries a VTOL payload of up to 5,400 lbs / 2,455 kg over a distance of 1000 nm / 1850 km with a cruise speed of 200 knots / 370 kph.” There is no inherent reason why such platforms cannot be designed to operate at the 35,000+ feet of an E-2D service ceiling, or support even greater distances/endurance/persistence than the quoted 1000 nm; its just likely to be a dedicated military platform at that stage rather than commercial. Commercial platforms might easily develop to support larger payloads for the AAR role though.
Who said anything about cheap, or simple, or anything about manning, comms tech etc? I simply suggested the possibility to leverage commercial platforms to reduce cost. And yes, technology is constantly driving down the price for a given capability. In the military world that tends to then result in developing more complex products to take advantage, including delivering capabilities that just weren’t possible previously.
Regardless, the examples I listed for UAVs show that we have options for a VSTOL carrier and we probably have a 15 year life for Crowsnest on Merlin before we need it to be flying, unless we want an earlier enhanced capability.
It’s reaching because you think F35b will save us from all ills. To say all I said that could disable a VSTOL could disable CTOL carrier is reaching.
Every discussion here ends up with either more helicopters or now the UAV being a panacea to all problems. It’s Top Trumps with no regard to the real world.
“… you think F35b will save us from all ills.” – I didn’t write that, you’re projecting. The F-35B clearly compromises range, payload and weapons bay size versus F-35C.
“To say all I said that could disable a VSTOL could disable CTOL carrier is reaching.” – so a CTOL carrier isn’t subject to “Fractured fuel lines? Disable aircraft lifts? Weapons lifts?”
“Every discussion here ends up with either more helicopters or now the UAV being a panacea to all problems.” – You’re projecting again. Its hyperbole to suggest that all discussions end that way.
However, unmanned air platforms clearly are being planned for, developed and adopted for naval platforms where it makes sense. The MQ-25 for AAR. The MQ-8 Fire Scout is on its third version with an RFI recently issued for a mid-30’s replacement as part of the USN FVL program. Northrup Grumman and Ultra demo’d a Fire Scout proxy deploying sonar bouys for ASW large area multistatic acoustic search. The USMC continue to work on a UAV solution for organic AEW.
I am not projecting about aviation.
The thing with a VSTOL carrier is that the aircraft don’t even need a carrier to land. Any escourt with a heavy enough helicopter flight deck can take a F35B. It might not be able to take off again with any decent load, but it can land, saving pilot & aircraft. The deck might not like it, but it won’t melt. CTOL aircraft, its find land (hopefully friendly) or another CTOL carrier or ditch. If it can land a Chinook, it can land an F35B. Even an underwhelming T31 will do.
Tell you what. Let’s not bother with a navy.
Navies are very important. I have been studying the subject, in and around it, for nearly 30 years.
This carrier-fan-boy-ism isn’t doing the RN any favours. Look at the childish and spiteful attacks further up. Look at your own barbed little one liner without rhyme or supporting reason.
Some here need to do a lot more research. This isn’t Top Trumps.
Tell you what. Let’s not bother with stupid comments like yours……..
Then you have been studying in blinkers.
What do you want a navy to do?
The purpose of our armed forces is to deter. Deter aggression. Sustain out national interests. Support our allies who in turn are part of our wider national interests.
It is in our national interest, as an example (but only 1 of several) to support the defence of the interests of Australia and New Zealand. Sending a pootling escort under the Sydney Harbour Bridge won’t help much, but the 70,000 tonne HMS Queen Elizabeth with 24 F35s certainly sends a message.
Deterrence requires a presence… a credible presence in every sense of the word.
(Deterrence… “the action of discouraging an action or event through instilling doubt or fear of consequences”)
Where’s the overlap between automation and STOVL? These seem like two seperate issues. The US CATOBAR carriers feature less automation but I don’t see where there is any overlap in the two separate issues.
Somebody was saying that a lack of machinery for CTOL made the carriers more resilient to battle damage. I made the point that in highly automated ship with a small crew there were other weaknesses.
This is also true of a CTOL carrier. Small crew always means problems when it comes to battle damage. It’s far easier to get a AA loaded STOVL in the air than an equivalent CTOL aircraft. If push comes to shove you don’t even need the ski jump. If a CTOL doesn’t have the catapult available, it isn’t doing anywhere. Without at least the ski jump, CTOL aircraft are fully dependant on the catapult working. I often wonder why ski jumps are not fitted to CTOL carriers. As Boeing have said, any aircraft will shorten its takeoff if driven up a ramp. It even claims its F18E/F can take off with a reasonable load from a STOBAR carrier (India). Rafael claim the same. There are arguments to be made on both sides.
The building costs of the 2 carriers has already been spent. The only question of real relevance is what will the cost of having 2 fleet carriers (more or less) in service does to the rest of the MOD, including other parts of the RN.
One carrier is going to be in full commission but it still unclear what the plan for the second carried will turn out to be. Probably leaning against a wharf far too much on reduced manning.
But the money on the aircraft planned for these very large carriers hasn’t been spent. I doubt it ever will be. So if we are ( as rumour has it) going to reduce the F35 buy by half, we might be able to have @20 on each carrier. To operate this small number, we don’t need such large carriers.
They are simply a result of Blair’s stupid new world order ambition and sustained by dimwitted admirals who should have known better.
The only real need Britain has for naval aviation is to provide fighter cover for a fleet (remember when we had one?) in a Falklands crisis and to counter Russian submarines.
For UK needs, they are the wrong ships. They will be embarrassingly under equipped yet still inflict massive damage on the RN and wider defence budget.
Your so called Blair’s world order has not gone away. Dictators and autocratic regimes will still behave badly and want their own way from time to time.
Intervention will be needed from time to time to restore order especially in the less developed countries of the world.
Britain has responsibilities as being a permanent UNSC member in a world policing role.
The only justification for such huge expense is if they are necessary for Britain’s own defence. When this is ignored we end up making bad decisions for silly reasons. Adm. West tried to justify them by stressing how useful they would be in providing humanitarian aid in the Caribbean hurricane season. Zambellas wrote that getting the carriers ordered would force HMG to increase the number of escorts to protect them.
No politician showed any ability to counter these daft views so we end up squandering billions at the expense of kit we really need.
The primary job of a navy is to defeat other navies. Long range aircraft with anti ship missiles, anti submarine carriers/frigates and submarines are a better investment of our limited resources.
A naval professional once argued with me that the job of a navy is to do what the government wants and not to sink the ships of the enemy. It left me agog too.
The main problem with the carriers is that they are being seen as the core of the RN. That is the platform upon which build everything around.
What we needed was (two) large aviation ships to support the rest of the fleet.
All very good points ( save “The primary job of a navy is to defeat other navies”, a far to simplistic view imo) if (a big if) you are prepared to accept that we are only interested in the defence of the British Isles. If we as a country wish to project power worldwide then carriers are the way to do it.
“The primary job of a navy is to defeat other navies.”
That was entirely the case in World War 2 and the Pre-war. The world is a very different place now with lots of small conflicts and interventions required. A modern Royal Navy needs the right tools for the the present paradigm.
“Small conflicts and interventions required” was the reasoning behind the carrier decision. But these interventions have been costly and ineffective. To me it makes no sense to spend so much of our too limited budget on a capability to repeat the same mistakes. Do WE need the carrier capability so much that the consequent reduction in other equipment is a worthwhile trade off? I think on balance not. As part of a properly balanced fleet the carriers are an asset. As flagships of a too small underarmed navy, they may prove to be a liability.
So was intervention in Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, was not a success!
If read up about them you would find out they were successful interventions.
The war in Bosnia is now almost forgotten!
Otherwise, you might as well argued that black is white!
Is it really a priority of the UK to meddle in the Balkans? I never understood why we did since the warring parties were as bad as each other. Sierra Leone might have been successful but necessary for UK? In any event none of these operations needed carriers.
The other interventions were disastrous: Iraq, Afghanistan ( Britain should have remembered its own history here) Libya.
We really must resist the temptation to intervene unless there are real threats to the UK (not fictitious weapons of mass destruction).
The point I was trying to make was about the thinking behind the carrier decision: the wish to intervene, alongside the US.
If we had increased the defence budget to fund them and their aircraft, I would be less concerned. But we didn’t and perhaps couldn’t. So the carriers must be judged in the context of their overall impact on our defence capabilities.
Yes, because Turkey for one was about to get involved, along with a number of other Muslim countries. Then there was Russia covertly supplying arms to Serbia, that then found its way into the Bosnian Serbs hands. After the UN fiasco, thankfully NATO took over and enforced peace. Having spent 7 continuous tours in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia, seeing countless atrocities. Yes, our involvement was not only fully justified, but also morally!
So Peter are you a person who would Not help to put out a neighbour’s fire?
Britain was part of a coalition of European countries that intervened in the Balkans because their house was on fire.
Britain deployed a carrier in the Adriatic with Harriers, this enabled the task force to react quickly to militia whereabouts and carry out air strikes before they disappeared.
The same should have been done in Libya, the conflict would have been ended quicker if a UK carrier was deployed off shore.
The speed to react to events is essential, and carriers with strike aircraft make a big difference!
Iraq was not a disastrous intervention!
Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime was removed, and him long buried!
I would like to see a few more escorts built. And the T26 build speeded up. And T32 brought forward a few years.
But present numbers does not prevent the RN deploying a carrier.
An 2nd carrier could be deployed in home waters, to pursue ASW tasks which you allude to in earlier post.
You cannot seriously think Iraq, with civil war raging for a decade,was a success and you don’t even try to argue Afghanistan was. Libya has proved to be a disaster with continuing civil war and an open route for mass migration. Bosnia( not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier per Bismarck) was comparatively successful but it is impossible to know whether the ethnic strife would have ended without a NATO bombing campaign.
Interventions are inherently unpredictable and should be a last resort only if we or our allies are under threat.
Yes, I can argue that Afghanistan intervention was necessarily, justified, and was a succes, with the transformation of the country from a terrorist entity with medieval practices, to where women can now go to work, and girls go to school.
Peter you come across as a hard leftist whom keeps burying your head in the sand on military issues!
Being thought of as a hard leftist is a first and would make anyone who knows me choke with laughter. The notion that maiming 1000s of British soldiers to promote female education was worthwhile is utterly ludicrous. It was cited by the usual woke do-gooders at the time.
Afghanistan was no threat to the UK and we had no need to tamely follow an ill conceived and worse executed US intervention. We should have learned from the Russian experience.
We have no right and certainly no obligation to meddle in the internal affairs of other countries unless and until they become a real threat to us.
I just want us to concentrate our limited resources on our defence and security. We are not a global power any more and never will be again.
You are in denial of the facts again Peter!
Afghanistan was certainly a threat to a lot of western countries at the time, look at what happened to the World Trade Centre, which was done by terrorists operating from there.
“The notion that maiming 1000s of7 British soldiers to promote female education was worthwhile is utterly ludicrous”.
By your logic it was not worthwhile to liberate the peoples of occupied countries in World War 2, because too many British soldiers would be maimed.
Your applied logic is example of wokefullness, Peter!
Britain is a would power, due to the size and the developed state of the economy.
The intervention in Afghanistan was necessary to deal with terrorist training camps but anyone who takes a bit of time to read about that awful country would have urged not staying. Sadly nation building was a disaster and that place is not worth the life of any British personnel. It has been a failure and NATO has suffered a defeat and is on the verge of leaving whilst the country is sinking back into the dark ages.
Comparing the liberation of occupied countries in WW2 with what happened in Afghanistan is not credible and totally ignores the cultural, religious and values differences between the West and the peoples in this part of the world.
It would be great if Afghan girls could go to school but ultimately that choice has to be for the Afghans and you cannot impose it.
You have put it far better than I have. I obviously agree with everything you conclude, especially the conflating of Afghanistan with ww2 liberation of Europe.
And in 2 world wars we had to shake that sort of isolationism from the US. How special do you think the relationship is going to be if we raise the drawbridge and hide behind QRA and fisheries protection vessels? In this day and age home defence starts abroad with soft power and hard power. I believe this size of carrier provides both.
While I take your point, UK is not the only one (other than USN) with carriers. France have already announced they are planning to replace their current carrier. Japan is getting carriers after 75 years. S.Korea to follow. Italy & Spain still field carriers. Turkey has a F35B based carrier but no F35B. Australia has 2, but has not yet bought F35B. Singapore is buying F35B but does not yet have a carrier. If UK are getting it wrong, they have plenty of company.
Don’t forget South Korea and Japan. They are both getting the B version alongside the A versions for their converted heli-carriers. With Singapore, they are thinking more along the lines of the old Harrier days, operating from dispersed sites and not relying on their military bases.
Davey – are you sure this is you? I mentioned most of this. It’s very unlike you. You are usually one of the more switched on commentators.
Yes – Singapore is expecting to use F35B from land. They don’t have much land to start with & are looking to reduce the number of Air Force bases to free up more. F35A & F15 require massive runways & unlike China in SCS, Singapore is not getting any larger. There has also been regional speculation as to if Singapore may be looking at a F35B LHD. ST have put forward several designs that every year seem to moving more & more towards a SK/Japan/Australia type LHD. Interesting times ahead.
In one of those strange twists. that can only happen in SE Asia, Australia has 2 x F35B capable carriers but no F35B (as yet). Singapore has F35B on order. Singapore regularly trains its Air Force in Australia. Are these things related?
The article asks whether the QE class are too big. I do accept that the F35b is the only affordable way for the UK to regain fixed wing capability. But given the likelihood that we will never buy the numbers of aircraft the carriers are capable of operating, the other countries you mention point to what might have been a better option for the UK: smaller, cheaper ships with 10 F35s or 20max in surge. We would still face problems with an overcomplicated and high maintenance aircraft, but would not have crowded out other equipment to fund them.
“… we might be able to have @20 on each carrier.” – assumes operating both carriers at the same time. That would only happen if both were surged. Normally only one will be deployed, allowing up to 40 UK F-35B on a carrier, using your estimates of 40 total deployable aircraft.
If circumstances did require both carriers to surge then its likely those same circumstances would drive additional USMC F-35B on board, thus providing two carriers with 30-40 F-35B fully operational aircraft each.
For context, a single carrier’s 30-40 F-35B fully operational aircraft fleet is greater than the total deployable air force of most countries, before we even factor in the F-35’s fifth gen advantages or UK flight training and experience. For example, compared to some of our allies, it would be more deployed aircraft than either Norway’s or the Netherlands’ deployable aircraft from their respective F-35 fleets, or those deployable from Denmark’s and Belgium’s fleets combined.
History suggests we are not very good at predicting future conflicts, or the equipment requirements for them. The UK had no need for naval aviation at this level until circumstances changed and it suddenly did, and then had to muddle through with less than optimal solutions. Carriers, first and foremost, are a deterrent that complicates an adversaries calculations, including those of China and Russia, and helps prevent conflict.
The statement that the America-class “demonstrates the imposibility of fitting 50 modern aircraft onto a 40,000-tonne ship forecast in 1998,” is a little misleading. The America-class wasn’t designed as a pure aircraft carrier. Because she carries 1,700 Marines and their equipment, her hanger deck only runs about half the length of the ship. Remove the Marines and expand the hanger deck and she could carry more aircraft.
As it is, America (LHA-8) deployed with 13 F-35Bs in October 2019. Which is was two short of the number the Queen Elizabeth deployed with last year.
I agree, though the last point doesn’t really matter to maximum deployment. You could fit 50 aircraft on a QE-class and it could sustain high sortie rates whereas the LHAs might be able to afford 22 and even then I would argue their capabilities take a hit.
Obviously the broader LHD aspect is accurate and maybe there could be a point to be made about the carriers not necessitating the size and 50 aircraft capacity if they are only ver going to carry around 30.
In hindsight, maybe the Royal Navy would have been better off with something like the Charles deGaulle, but conventionally powered. The Rafael is about the same size as the F-35B and the CdG can carry 30 Rafaels plus another 6-8 support aircraft. A British version ought to be able to support 24 F-35Bs and 10 to 12 Marlins.
Something else to factor in is that it is preferable to be able to hanger most if not all your F-35 fleet to protect the stealth coatings and reduce maintenance, so that drives hanger size. Then a large deck also simplifies flight ops, supports higher sortie rates, while keeping it safer and also providing more versatility for simultaneous launch and recovery of rotary and fixed wing assets.
CdG normally has 7 Rafales each from 2 squadrons aboard( it means storm not spelt like a boys name)
24 would be a full complement
Its only flown 30odd planes for propaganda. It can probably efficiently use about 20.
As QECVs are already there, making best use of them is the only right answer.
But for “if”, I do agree it shall be a bit smaller.
QECV has a 65000t hull to provide 110 sorties at peak, with 36 F35Bs onboard at peak, and 24 normally.
If making it 1.25 times larger enables 1.5 times sortie rates, it means 52000 t CV (65000/1.25) can provide 73 sorties (110/1.5) at peak with 24 F35B. This will reduce the build cost surely LESS than 1/1.25 = 80%, say around 90 % –> freeing up only £610M total. I guess the crew size will be reduced by ~10% (160 total) as well.
Then the F35Bs onboard will be 20 normal and 24 at peak. The latter number will provide 73 sorties at peak. With air strike technology much modern than those in Bosina era (more than 20 years ago), I guess “73 sorties/day at peak” is not bad.
If “36 at peak” requires 72 F35Bs, “24 at peak” will make 48 F35B “enough”. (adding some training needs, I think 84 or 60 will be needed for 36 or 24 cases, respectively). Air crew size will be 1.5 times = 33% smaller, freeing up 200-300 crews per CV Air Wing (or 400-600 total). About 15 less F35B will free-up ~£2B GBP.
Thus, UK shall be able to save “~£2.6B GBP and 560-760 crews”, with 1/1.25 smaller CVFs. In reality, I’m afraid UK does not have this “~£2.6B GBP and 560-760 crews”, so that QECV will anyway go with “20 normal and 24 F35Bs at peak”. In other words, even if CVF was 52000 t hull, I guess UK was losing nothing. (other than “leasing” the flight deck for US).
Even forgetting the air wing saving, RN shall have had 160 crew and £610M left. I will be rather using this for
1: adding TLAM capability to T45 (as well as adding some CAMM)
2: adding CAMM on CVF
3: and activating 1 more escort. (now only 10 out of 19 is actively used)
Anyway, slightly smaller CVF would have been doing good to UK, I think. I agree it is not so LARGE GOOD compared to what UK now has, but better, I think. So, smaller CVF claim has its own point.
However, again, as the two QECVs are actually already there, UK shall just focus on how to use them.
Christ, I fell asleep there for a bit……. Sorry !
Exactly. We are where we are. We need to make sure only B’s are purchased. Get weapons integrated ASAP. And sort out the bugger muddle that is Crowsnest.
The RN’s ‘problems’ are elsewhere really. It won’t happen but I would really like to see 16 T26 built to the RAN design. That would plug the main hole. And as I said in the last thread a support hull (or two) for the SSN’s.
I think you are assuming the sortie rate is proportional to displacement. One of the major points in the article is that it is not.
Sortie rate may not be proportional to displacement, but a larger carrier can perform more sorties per day than a small carrier for a longer period of time. Because a larger carrier can operate more aircraft and carry more fuel, weapons, and spare parts compared to a smaller carrier. Which I think is the central theme of the post and justification for keeping the QE and PoW.
The remaining issues are will England buy enough F-35Bs to equip them and enough escorts and support ships to protect and sustain a carrier strike group at sea for an extended period of time.
Thanks. I did.
20% smaller ship with 33% less sortie rate, is my point. This is what the article suggests (= 25% larger ship enables 50% larger sortie rate. The same number.)
You are not taking into account the deployment of additional USMC F-36B to the UK’s carriers. This is not just a short term fix to cover UK embarrassment at low F-35B numbers (which seems to be how its often perceived – not saying that’s your view though), it’s of long term strategic benefit to the US (not to mention the UK and Europe) to be able to scale up carrier aircraft numbers at short notice.
When both UK carriers are at FOC then the US may decide, based on the ability to surge USMC F-35B to UK carriers, to move an entire USN carrier group (not just the carrier) from the US east coast to the west coast, to Hawaii or further west in the Pacific because Europe will have three carriers, including CdG (and its replacement) but excluding Italian light carrier options. European NATO countries in aggregate already have significant modern AAW and ASW destroyers and frigates for CSG escort, it doesn’t all have to come from the UK or France or be reliant on the USN, and multiple navies are significantly upgrading these capabilities. Such a move would be major for the US.
One other observation. The 110 max sortie rate was defined back in 2002 after F-35B was selected. One wonders if SRVL was assumed as part of that calculus, since vertical recovery is significantly slower and might require weapons and fuel dumping prior to landing.
I do agree having USMC F35B onboard QECV is very good thing, especially when thinking of maximum usage of current two CVs.
My sole point is, if build with current (= post-2010) budgetary condition not pre-2010, smaller CVFs should have been better. I want more active escorts, and I do not want procurement for the “~80 F35B” (or 50 more from now) killing many critical assets for RN/RFA in the coming decade.
If integrating with US navy/marine is normal, I’m afraid UK will lose the rationale for “two CVs”. If US is normally using UK CV, UK can also use US CV/LHA. Then, one big 100,000t conventional CV, equipped with 80-100 aircraft air-wing will be much more cheap, enabling 3 or 4 escorts to be added. When the UK CV is in maintenance, US CV can be used.
But, I do agree UK shall base their fleet design primarily on sole-UK operation. Thus, having two CV is very important. And to do so, 20% smaller, 33% less capable CVs “would have been better” matched to current budgetary condition, I think. But current QECV are not so bad, I agree.
And, yes, I also doubt if “110-sorties a day” is still valid in current tactics and F35B capabilities in mind. If 33% reduced sortie rate is acceptable, FSSS can be smaller and cheaper (although still much larger cargo compared to French case), as well, enabling earlier procurement.
I understand this is all a hypothetical “if we had it to do over again” exercise, but your calculated benefits from the smaller carriers in your original post aren’t really persuasive for me.
If there weren’t F-35B for dual RAF/RN use, then the same budget would probably have been all F-35A and used exclusively by the RAF, so I don’t believe it would have been likely that the RN would have seen any of that budget for alternative options.
I also question if there would have been a significant manpower reduction too. But even assuming your numbers then the 160 crew and £610M saving seems a poor return for the loss of the larger carrier capability over their 50 year lives.
However, if we take the more-optimistic-for-the-RN perspective that they get the surplus fighter budget, then another SSN might be the most desirable asset. The UK can always use more escorts, as long as we have the manning for them. But Europe in aggregate is well equipped with AAW destroyers and ASW frigates with many navies working on upgrades/replacements, so just from a European NATO nations defence perspective the large UK carriers are far more useful assets than just more UK escorts.
BTW, not sure if you’re tracking it, but the standard USN carrier wing for the 2030’s is shaping up to be 66-77 aircraft versus the 80-100 you quote; consisting of 16 F-35C, 28 FA-18, 5-7 EA-18G, 5 E-2D, 5-8 MQ-25A, 3 CMV-22, 6-10 MH-60R/S. A QEC could support a close proxy to that capability with the all 5th gen F-35B fleet and appropriate future developments for COD, AEW and AAR.
BTW number two. If, as I suspect the T32 ends up being a new intermediate frigate design, with similar spec’s to the French FTI or Italian PPA Full/Light+ and purchased in a batch of five for the 2030’s, then the RN will have the carriers and be building towards a decent organic escort fleet of 6 T45, 8 T26, 5 T32, and 5 T31.
Just for discussion…
The 100,000t hull 100 aircraft argument is just following what the articles says, not my proposal.
1: QECV is 65000t and carries 36 F35B and 13 Merlin.
2: 1.25 x 1.25 times –> 102,000t hull, will give 1.5 x 1.5 times air wing capability –> equivalent to 110 aircrafts (83 F36B and 29 Merlin)
Of course, this is just a rough scaling.
But, if 102,000 CV carries only 66-77 aircrafts, then it is equivalent to (36+13)x1.25×1.25 = 77. So, at least in aircarft numbers, “25% larger hull” is just providing 25% larger airwing. I know they are talking about sortie rates not aircraft numbers, but can a US CV provide 110 x1.5 x1.5 = 250 sorties at peak? Not sure.
Anyway, larger is better in view of efficiency. This is true for everything. So the size limits comes from “amount of remaining resources reserved for other assets”, and NOT from how the CV airwing shall work. For example, “why not 70000t? Why not 80000t? Just a small increase in size/cost causing vast increase in airstrike capability.” But, if QECVs are of 80000t design, escort numbers shall shrink as small as a dozen, I’m afraid.
Here I think the air crew is also “the crew of QECV”. So, it is NOT 800, it is ~1600 (800+800) in QECV. And if with 1/1.25 smaller CV, it shall be 720+550 = ~1300.
Again, I think current QECV size is “not bad”. Just saying “a bit smaller shall be better suit to RN”. And, also I do agree there shall be other points of views. And, anyway this is only on “if”s.
Interesting point to debate thanks. At the risk of repeating myself, a critical aspect of the discussion is whether we look at the RN as just a standalone force, or look at it in the context of operations with NATO and perhaps increasingly wrt to friendly Indo-Pacific based navies.
As a standalone force, the RN might have been better off with smaller carriers, as you suggest, and a larger high level escort fleet, including more submarines, either nuclear or AIP, for a more balanced fleet. But we don’t operate as a standalone navy, meaning we are mostly operating with allies, although we do retain the capability for independent action, even if escort numbers are tight today.
In the context of NATO and Asia, there are plenty of formal and informal allies that have or will have advanced escorts, amphibious assets, modern AIP submarines. What they won’t have is large carriers, with the possible exception of India at some point, and of course the USN operating out of Japan and Guam.
I am not suggesting that the carriers were designed and built with the Asian context in mind, but their size works for that role better than smaller vessels. I also suspect that smaller carriers would make the choice for the USN to potentially shift a CSG from the east to west coast much more difficult. The UK carriers, especially with the planned large CdG replacement make that much easier.
We have 2 aircraft carriers….. we can not take them back for a refund and buy something else….. hind sight is great ……
We have to make the most of what we have and move forward …..is the big problem the time between making a decision and getting said decision delivered and operational
Making best use of QLNZ and POW is the most important point.
On the other hand, I’m just saying “regretting” they were better if a bit smaller, is also OK. Not much different from regretting the temporal decision (and flip-flop) of CATOBAR option causing very significant cost wasted.
Both cannot be changed, because it is in the past.
While I agree with the surrounding point, I don’t think the American LHD/LHAs are really examples of how you couldn’t fit 50 aircraft on a 40,000t carrier.
They are built for amphibious operations and so naturally they don’t prioritise air capability on its own, specifically for fixed wing aircraft. If you removed all the amphibious components (storage space for personnel + vehicles, landing craft, dock, etc.) it would probably be closer to 20-25kt with the same capacity for around 22-25 jets total.
Cavour is 30kt and you could probably cram almost 40 aircraft on her. The QE-class can fit up to 70 or more in total while still retaining takeoff and landing capability, though sortie rates suffer massively.
Realistically you could get a 40kt carrier to carry and operate 50 aircraft but it still wouldn’t be practical as you say. The QE-class could probably manage around 50-56 maximum before the sorties take a hit so 65,000t seems like a realistic scale.
When the carriers were ordered we spent more on defence & had a LOT more escorts to contribute to a CVBG, 20 years later a lot has changed but hindsight is a crap thing so we are where we are,
Personally i think an updated CV01 ( 50k ish tonnes ) design with 24 fixed wing + helos would of sufficed, but if these ships can last 45-50 they are a good investment, if we can deploy 20 F35 + 10 US F35 on joint deployments it will be a sight, even 20 F35 on UK only priority deployments + ASW/ASAC helos with 2xT45+2xT26 would be a mighty force projection compared to most navies
Some unnecessary wars in the Sandbox, politicians obsessed with Europe, and no appreciation of Admiralty.
This drawing http://www.shipbucket.com/drawings/3918/file
shows 14 F35 + 9 EH 101 in hangar for Cavour. But due to lack of F-35 the values will be certainly much lower.
The QEC carriers have been built for a modern global Navy. The Invincible class punched above their weight, but the RN learnt from the class that size does matter. It is not just a question of number of aircraft, but spares, fuel etc. The QEC carriers can operate as Ocean and Bulwark carrying Royal Marines, and can be used in emergencies such as humanitarian crisis’s. The US Navy would be hard pressed to operate their CVN’s in the same way. All commentators should ask themselves if I change my car would I upgrade to a bigger one. That is simply what the Royal Navy has done.
Although it’s a nice carrier cannot help but think we should have designed a 45000 t ship with a well deck so they could be truly multi purpose and act as LPD, carrier, disaster relief, etc and build at least 3 to 4 of them to replace Albion and bulwark, at that size at least 24 F35, 20 helos, and assorted UAV’s, although crows nest is a bit disappointing buying 3 Saab global eyes for EWS and forward deploying them to the area where the CSG is deloping too can scan the areas for up to 11 hours beyond visual range of the carrier.
Yes. Something Makin Island-esque would have been better for us. And yes three would have been better. But we would have still needed a similar number of dock ships. Recreating a USN / USMC ARG would be a lot more realistic. An air group of 8 Junglies, 6 Wildcat, 4/5 AEW / ASaC, and 6/8 F35b more achievable. But just as importantly 2 fast ship-to-shore connectors in the dock. All the outsize stuff plus more LCs in the LPD with plenty of extra berths for a surge. A couple of 30k LSL/LSD(A) for stores.
At the end of the Cold War the RN was a strong ASW force, the second best submarine force, and had a very unique light commando force. The few Sea Harriers we had were an added capability. We have chucked all that to re-establish a capability thanks to missiles that is dating now.
An excellent article, I really enjoyed the read. Lots of deliberate trolling here I think, purley to get a reaction, but no change there!
X, I don’t think you can blame the carriers for gutting the Navy, it was 10 years of pointless war in Iraqi and Afghanistan.
Afghanistan in particular drained the coffers, maintaining and supporting 10,000 personnel in country, year in, year out, coupled with Camerons huge and reckless austerity defence cuts left the Navy where it is today.
Afghanistan cost hundreds of British lives, thousands living with life changing injuries …. For what, what lasting change for the better, has all that sacrifice actually achieved? Absolutely bloody nothing!!!
A lesson has to be finally learned here, all insurgency campaigns are to be avoided, you simply cannot win via conventional means. You might think the penny would finally drop with those in power, but we will see.
This is where the QE class come in, a pivot back to Maritime operations, slotting in with our US allies is how the UK can return to its traditional policing roll, assisting friendly governments, nipping problems in the bud and stopping insurgencies by preventing war in the first place.
Carriers are the big stick of foreign policy and can have a far reaching phycological effect for the better.
The adaptive nature of the QE class mean they have an enormous Soft power capability too for disaster relief, with huge helicopter capability and as a command and control centre to coordinate relief operations. Again, a huge psychological effect, for good and promoting Britain as a first rate power.
Re any deficiencies they may currently have, they will be made good in the years to come, rest assured.
We should all be hugely proud of these fantastic ships.
The submarine budget is bigger than the carrier budget by some distance.
I am struggling to see where I said we shouldn’t have built two (or more) large aviation ships………
There might be some pointless trolling here. Bu there is a lot more simplistic thinking too.
I’m not sure I’d call austerity cuts reckless, at least nowhere near as much as racking up spiralling debs… Or getting stuck in a pointless decade-long war.
If we can’t reduce the debt we’ll end up spending so much of our national budget just on paying off the interest that it will end up having the same effect on the defence budget just a little further down the line (but way worse because we’ll have so much more debt to pay off by then).
Short term cuts to eradicate the debt means we end up having more money in the long term to spend on things like the navy, but it does mean some lean years in the short term… Like holding off on buying the carriers for a while (we could have waited till EMALS was mature and the F-35 was in service (and the costs were known), and only then jumped on the new carrier bandwagon).
“We have chucked all that to re-establish a capability thanks to missiles that is dating now” – I presume you are referring to the UK carriers being increasingly vulnerable to missiles? I agree that ASM of all ilks are becoming more capable. But surely if a carrier is becoming more vulnerable, then a dock downed LHD, possibly relatively close inshore, is significantly more so? The USMC Commandant and various USN and DoD luminaries seem to think the latter too, based on various statements over the last year or so.
You assume wrong then.
OK, I presumed rather than assumed because it wasn’t clear, so perhaps you might like to clarify?
Most of what we want to do could be done by missiles. Not everything but most. We can’t do everything. The old Harrier was an added capability that aided what we did. F35b is now the centre of what we will do. Navies have high utility in peace. We are dialling that out to build a very focused capability only useful in war.
Navies have high utility in peace….there’s a lot of value in what you say there.
However if that was the main purpose a Blue ocean coast guard would be the answer. Colonial policing is past history as well and the politicians have hooked onto foreign aid to used in peacetime, which makes sense
One of the findings from the 2019 USS Wasp and America Lighting Carrier trials was the poor availability of AEW. This was provided by USN E2C Hawkeyes flying from the Philippines. The transit times killed on-station duration times and the weather at the airbases was sometimes worse than what the LHD/LHAs were experiencing at sea, which delayed their time to get to station The outcome is that the USN and USMC stated that for the Lightning Carrier concept to go forward, the ships need an organic AEW capability. It was at this time the USMC were driving the MUX UAV program, which eventually was halted as too much was being asked from the UAV. The USMC still “something” that can provide organic AEW coverage.
I would have thought the real question is whether in the relatively unlikely event that we wanted to attack ground targets of a peer level opponent with well defended airspace, would that be better achieved with a fleet of very expensive stealth aircraft or instead using the money to equip our ships with cruise missiles and buy sufficient stocks of them?
Our main problem there isn’t the ‘weapon’ but the ‘sights’. We don’t have recce satellites and our other systems aren’t all they could be. We are very much reliant on the US.
Imagine a constellation of recce birds and having the ability to have a cruiser with a VLS with 30 plus-ish cruise missiles on station in the Med and Indian Ocean.
The UK Gov. has brought a stake in Oneweb company to use its IP of constellations of sat’s.
And does that fill you with confidence? Me? No.
Thanks for a very interesting and well written article. My concern is the QE close defence; the 20 mm CIWS has a very short range, even if an incoming weapon is destroyed. Unspent fuel and debris may still fall on the deck igniting aircraft fuel and weapons. We saw what a Zuni missile did on the USS forrestal in the 1960s. The ship need to kill incoming weapon away from the ship would two 57mm mk 110 Bofors at the bows port and starboard position and two 40mm mk 4. Aft all with 3P ammunition be a better defence with RAM in the mix? Just a thought.
RAM is a light weight missile like CAMM, except CAMM is faster & more than twice the range. The reason RCN decided to replace RAM with CAMM on their version of T26. Forget RAM when talking about RN. 57mm? My pet hate. But thats just me. Why would you buy an air cooled 57mm when you can buy a much better water cooled 76mm with option of Volcano for not much more? 40mm with 3P? Sure, excelent weapon.
The OTO Melara 76mm has had some pretty horrendous accuracy problems with sustained fire (not being able to keep a 20-round burst on a 20x20ft target at 500ft range). I think they were somewhat resolved with the super-rapid version by beefing it all up.
I haven’t been able to pin down exact numbers for the length of time the 57mm can continuously fire for before it overheats (if you have a source, that would be good). But a burst to take down a target would be nowhere near long enough for overheating to be a limiting factor. Remember the 76mm super-rapid only holds 85 rounds in its magazine, so that’s a limit of 42.5 seconds of firing before the carousel needs to reloading, so it would be interesting to see how the 57mm compares (in both time and number of rounds fired, ie if it can fire for ~23 seconds which is the time it would take to fire the same 85 rounds).
But as far as people who have used both, the US coast guard said that they thought the Mk 110 (57mm) to be a vast improvement over their 76mm compact guns.
The Vulcano round is primarily an anti-surface (ASuW)/gunfire support (NGS) round for precision engagements, apparently there is an anti-air (AAW) round but it’s unguided. Personally I think the dual hoists of the 57mm is probably on balance a better feature in this applition (though if part of the mission was NGS or ASuW, and it was the primary armament of the ship, that would be very different) as it means faster switching between round types. Plus the water cooling is just asking for more maintenance & things to break down etc. so if it’s not necessary, best done without.
As for missiles I’d prefer they used the budget to fit the Type 45s with their full load of VLS cells and pack them with CAMM/Sea Ceptors. As firing missiles from a carrier is a hazard to flight operations as the debris from the launch could potentially get sucked into a jet engine and write off the plane. The carriers won’t be going anywhere without a close escort (except at home port where the missile systems would be deactivated or removed anyway… As far as I’m aware they’re always either switched off or at least in manual mode when in foreign ports too just incase the systems mistake something benign for a threat and the Phalanx sprays the town with 20mm shells) so you may as well spend the limited budget on them which will in turn keep the carrier safe (and probably doing a better job of it with dedicated ships with better radars and fire control systems).
On the Italian Navy’s new Trieste, she was originally going to have the twin super 40s alongside the OTO 76s, as CIWS and for use against small surface ships/boats. They have now binned the 40s and instead going to use the Oerlikon 25mm as a purely surface defence gun system. The CIWS that the super 40s were going to be used for, is now entrusted to the three OTO 76s, paired with the Leonardo DART ammunition. This combination gives an effective engagement range of around 8km for low level targets.
We have had the 57mm versus 76mm debate/argument many times. The 57 is a lighter weapon system with a higher rate of fire. Both systems have a guided round (OKRA and DART respectively) that can be used against fast moving air targets, with a “one shot one kill” blurb from the manufacturer. They both have a comparative low level effective range, whereas the 76 has a longer high altitude range.
The main differences are the 76 has a higher explosive content and larger mass, so may need less shots to achieve a proximity or kinetic kill. The 76 being water cooled can keep up a sustained rate of fire for a lot longer, whereas the “air cooled” 57 has a higher burst rate of fire, but can’t sustain it for long periods. The 76 needs at least two below deck rooms for the power supplies and ammunition handling. Whereas, the 57 has a light option, where a pedestal magazine can be mounted on the deck which the gun sits on. Or for a deeper magazine can use one underfloor room for ammunition handling and power supplies.
To my mind the 40 is not a great leap up from the DS30 mount nor Phalanx even with the 3AP shell, whereas the 57mm with OKRA is. Unfortunately, the 57 mount is a lot heavier, so its not a simple plug and play system. But, if the superstructure where the Phalanx are currently situated is strong enough, I would favour the 57 with a pedestal magazine.
There is no OKRA round for 57 yet. When will it arrive is also not known. How it will be guided, if the gun mount will have to change is also not know. For example the 76 turret had to be changed to place inside the radar antenna to guide the rounds..
76 have advantage or range, ceiling, worse in rpm.
The 76 Sovraponte installed in PPA does not need anything below. In PPA there is a cabinet with a tube up to reload the rounds in the gun from the helicopter hangar.
Bigger is definitely better in carrier terms, it just makes things easier in so many ways. More planes, bigger fuel tanks, far more redundancy. Out of interest can carriers hold huge tanks on its sides full of fuel like the bays can do, it would give her more range without a permanent RFA oiler.
Oh god no. Those aren’t fuel tanks on the Bays – and no, QEC can’t and shouldn’t.
I think he was thinking of the standard for capital ships since WW2 of the longitudinal ‘liquid- air ‘ bulkheads
Yeah that type of thing.
‘Carrier Strike’ surely didn’t happen in splendid isolation from the rest of this nation’s defence effort. Therefore, it is a fundamental mistake I think to narrow the question so without properly considering sacrifices the RN/MOD had to make in order to fund the QEC – sacrifices that include the drastic curtailment of the vital Type 45 programme amongst much else.
Considered in this its proper context it seems highly arguable that the QEC programme has resulted in a RN that is it some respects unbalanced and Ill prepared for a future where containing Russian martine power in the North Atlantic may once again become a matter of pressing national importance. The old ‘Invincible’ class carriers served this nation well and may well have provided a suitable conceptual model as to replacement aircraft carriers that were both affordable and truly fit for purpose.
Be that as it may, history shows us that within a few years of the CVF build contract being signed with the Carrier Alliance the entire programme was widely considered to be unaffordable in the economic circumstances this nation then found itself in – indeed I understand CVF came perilously close to being cancelled entirely in the 2010 SDSR. The project escaped with a mere delay in the construction rate – but even this slowing significantly increased costs at a time when the service could hardly afford it. Might a decade long (and potentially disastrous) gap in the RAF’s vital MRAP capability have been avoided had £6bn+ not been committed to CVF?
The arguments as why we decided not to follow the long established French example and built two large carriers instead of one are very familiar of course and need no repeating here. However, processing such a pair of ships, when we can hardly manage to escort and fully equip one with aircraft (without foreign assistance) looks like a profligate policy choice in a naval force where every other capability has become ‘pared-to-bone’ as the saying has it.
It is naturally an entirely academic matter at this point in time but one wonders if – knowing what we now do – we would repeat the CVF project as it is? I’m thinking the answer is probably ‘no’ in all honesty. Needless to say other opinions will doubtless be available …
A good post but for me the first line of your post is the key. The carriers were a good choice to replace the 3 magnificent Invincible ships and the fleet could have been maintained up until our PM decided to go and get involved in two disastrous wars. These wars were in part funded from a MOD budget that was not increased and it will take at another 10 years for the legacy of these wars to be overcome by all three of the armed forces.
The decisions made during that era were nothing short of scandalous with insufficient equipment provided for the front line troops throughout, a lack of body armour, insufficient helicopters and of course Snatch Land Rovers.
As you say the build was delayed increasing costs by £1Bn but don’t forget the MOD was also wasting £4Bn on the MRAP programme for no return. The list of abortive or delayed MOD programmes during this era is horribly long.
SDSR 2010 overseen by two Eton educated barrow boys just made the situation worse scrapping an RFA that could have been use for the carriers today whilst retaining older vessels, giving away a very versatile and virtually new LSD(A) and scrapping the harrier fleet. This just after a £500m upgrade and robbing the U.K. of the only aircraft that could have bridged the gap before the F35 entered service in sufficient numbers to fill out the carriers air group.
Meanwhile the much vaunted 2% Defence budget was made up to include pensions and the cost of the deterrent included in the core MOD budget. In this context it is a miracle the U.K. got these two carriers but I am hopeful the fleet can be rebuilt over the next 15 years so we can field a more balanced force.
Couple of bits of context.
The actual annual spend during the build of the ships was somewhere between £600M and £900M per annum. That number represents 2 or 3 days of (pre-pandemic) NHS spending.
The aircraft issue is largely down to annual spending constraints and the desire to buy the majority of ours in the (cheaper) Full Rate production contracts – which have been delayed. PAC hearing last week confirmed that more will be needed, number to be announced as part of IR.
It is true these Aircraft Carriers (and indeed the Albions) are symbolic of the spend thrift largesse of the new labour years. However if there was a tangible positive of Tony Blair doubling how much the state spends each year though it’s these wonderful ships.
Should we have got smaller carriers? Should we have brought LSDs / LPDs with hangers? Should we have brought 8 T45s? All academic.
We now have them and the Navy had done best out of the three services of late due to these visible potent ships and its clear strategy to build strike groups around them (which contrasts interestingly with the Army’s half baked Strike concept which will cost as much for a capability which a peer would decimate in about a day).
We should maximise the investment we have made by getting something cheaper for flying Helicopters off (lack of big decks a clear problem – especially with Argus going soon) and buying enough escorts (proper ones i.e. a couple more T26s)
The government can afford what it wants after all they have just bankrolled U.K. plc for a year due to Covid they just print more money the same as the USA the difference is the USA wants to print money for defence we dont
Great article as usual. It does pain me to see all the personal insults going to and fro in the aftermath.
The UK especially after Brexit needs to be at least a second rate naval power to have any influence at all in the world. These carriers are the minimum entry fee for that. The RN has already gone through the experience of trying to pretend a cruiser-sized ship can do the job but it really cannot. Amusing to read the posts about whether Britain can afford an effective navy, if it can’t, who will defend it if something goes wrong? Dream on.
Related to this, UK defense expenditure is currently trivial in relation to GDP and only meets the NATO 2% by creative accounting via the inclusion of pensions, all intelligence gathering, and other very indirectly related defense costs. Britain is getting off very cheap and as usual in peacetime downgrading its defenses to well below the bare minimum, remember where that got us last time.
All in all an excellent article and I just hope the various members of this group can stop personal sniping for long enough to respect each other’s opinions and try to suggest what is best for the UK and for the Royal Navy in particular.
I understand and respect all the commenters that don’t agree with me or with the main article, but hope everyone can at least refrain from personal insults,
At least they got rid of down voting. 🙂
Unless you think the carriers and F35 are the bestest things evah and drones are our saviour and have no understanding of naval architecture you won’t get a fair shake here.
The problem is not the carrier but the aircraft operated. The lack of cats and traps is fatal. They should have been fitted to allow for a mixed air group and the operation of Hawkeye. At least that way we would not need to rely on sharing obscenely expensive F35s.
All modern Jet fighters are obscenely expensive! Typhoon F-35A, Rafael etc.
4 Hawkeye would set you back $1 Billion. There are alternatives to be developed in the future.
‘ The lack of cats and traps is fatal.”
Not so. The Falklands proved the concept is completely viable, and the Hermes used to cat and trap.
Personally I have always thought Hermes was the crucial asset, being larger and therefore the better platform in 1982. Personally I would have preferred 3 to 4 LHDs with the same hanger capacity as Hermes and no LPDs. But we are where we are, and the,QEs have huge potential which needs to be maximised. Their large size makes them good aviation platforms.
I would like to see all F35s FAA badged, with the Raf able to focus on Typhoon and then Tempest , so fewer F35s overall would be needed
And additional Merlin HM2s
Yes I would like to see 4 Sqn,s of 16 F35B in FAA service. 32 as a standard deployment with 10 Merlin helicopter 6 A/S 4 Crowsnest. This is just 4 short on its allocated max. And in an ideal world the RAF has 2 Sqns of F35B and 4 of F35A. But I don’t think that will happen.
Not going to happen! The RAF need Lightning, as it significantly more survivable on a Day 1 of a peer vs peer conflict. Don’t forget, F35 has replaced three RAF aircraft, which is Harrier, Jaguar and Tornado. Even through Project Centurion Typhoon now has the same weapons capability as the late GR4s, it is not seen as a interdiction aircraft, i.e. striking at an enemy’s strategic targets, whereas the F35 is. Tempest is still along way off and will probably be produced in the same batch style as Typhoon, i.e. Tranche 1 to 3. it prime requirement is to replace the roles done by Typhoon, so air defence first, strike second. Therefore, the RAF will still the F35 for the foreseeable future.
Hi DaveyB yes the RAF needs the F35 but will thay be ordered past the 48 already ordered. The RAF has said it would like the F35A. But at the moment there is no guarantee what will be ordered or in what quantity. It is the RN carrier force that needs the F35B there is no other option. That is why I suggested the mix of both. The M.O.D. original requirement was and maybe still 138 aircraft. The RN was supposed to get 12 type 45 Destroyers but only 6 were built. Things change, policy changes with every new government. Because the F35 is a long term project we may have a Labour government and things get cancelled. Hence it may never happen. I think all 3 services are under strength after years of hollowing out. I hope I have explained my thoughts adequately. Cheers.
A brings nothing and strips value from the carrier project. Better a fewer all B than a split buy of B and A just for few extra miles of range. The carrier has to be centre of all out of area / expedition warfare now. The one advantage B gives us over going CTOL is in theory it will be able to fly from more hulls too.
Deputy CDS has already stated that we will be buying more F35B’s, numbers as yet undecided until Defence review. Numbers mentioned by him were 60/80/100, dependent on how ambitious HMG is. Some of the early buy variants will not be upgraded but replaced, again numbers a bit vague, the review will likely tell all.
Sorry, forgot to add that those numbers were total buy figures, we won’t be getting the fabled 138 aircraft, not that anyone realistically thought we would, unfortunately.
It isn’t just affording cabs it is find pilots to fly them.
The Lord only knows what the right buy figure would be. 60-ish? 2 squadrons for each service and a few cabs for attrition and OCU? I can see FAA and RAF pilots doing lots of exchanges with the USMC.
“Personally I have always thought Hermes was the crucial asset, being larger and therefore the better platform in 1982″
The Invincibles were larger than people think, with 22,000 tons full load and a greater internal floor space ( those boilers and turbines took up a lot of space over multiple decks)
I was going to compare hangar deck size but not any online sources to rely on the newer class but the older ships were 381 by 62 ft
The two carriers of this size is a positive in that it adds great flexibility / redundancy – and as the article states, steel is cheap. (although would be better if had improved AEW).
It would have been ideal however if the big deck carriers were backed up by LHD’s such as Canberra – increased amphib operations v Albions, and could provide a secondary platform for F35 if needed.
Indeed. A key problem for modern navies is the risk of attrition. The cost of a ship, its systems and the highly trained specialists aboard is so great that numbers of hulls and missiles are inevitably shorter than ideal. Lose an aircraft carrier, destroyer or submarine and that’s a significant part of the fleet gone. Long term planning can mitigate the risk by cross-purposing platforms, as you suggest.
A great defense of the QE class. Of all the advantages of their size, I think the biggest is their upgradeability. Naval technology is in a period of rapid growth, with the rise of lasers, drones, and advanced munitions and radar options. These ships seem very well positioned to take advantage of those advances over the next few decades.
Even in the present/near future, the strike power of these ships will be unmatched outside of US supercarriers. A flight of, say, 25 F-35B’s armed with 8 of your Spear 3 missiles in the plane’s internal weapons bay comes out to 200 strike missiles! I don’t know of a capability outside of the US that can match that.
FWIW, people in the US who pay attention to naval matters are very excited to see the UK have this capability with the QE’s.
It would be good to see a Grower version of the F-35 developed. Using the internal bomb rails to hold a EW package.
I thought the USMC were investigating that very capability for the F35B Meirion.
I’m a little saddened by the amount of negative comment on the QE project, it’s an amazing capability that puts the RN firmly back on the map.
Plus points: Future upgrades to the ship, capability insertion of the air group coupled with rapidly evolving UAV technology and a slowly expanding escort force…
10 years from now, we will have a fully evolved and highly capable Carrier force.
The future is actually looking quite bright for the RN, but hey, let’s get back to being negative in a way that us Brits are particularly good at.
I’m a little saddened by the aircraft is everything attitude and little understanding of ships or navies in general here. 🙂
The ‘plane was everything’ dates back to the very first carrier strike group using seaplanes used by the RN in the Red Sea and eastern Mediterranean in WW1.
The only other way was to bombard the shore
Here not in general.
That would be very welcome. You can’t go anywhere without EW today. You would think the RN’s fondness for it would have pushed the idea within the F35b community,
The new underdevelopment EW pods for the Growler are also intended for the F35 (external). One of the problems for the F35 is lack of the 2nd crew member. Information overload is a real thing.
The size is correct.. But not buying the full air wings is stupid..still even with the US marines filling out the slots , which fine for all. The typical crappy lazy sloth ridden British quality is just beyond moronic.. I’m mean a ship flooding in Port Right Next to a Type 45 that can’t run in warm bath water is just to much..
Yes. but what about a USN LHD catching fire in port and begin written off?
An excellent article.
However, would I have preferred four 30,000 tonners or two 60,000 tonners? Probably, 300,000 tonners. If we had to have 60,000 tonners, then it would l have been far better and far more flexible if they had steam catapults and arrestor wires. We could have chosen from a far wider field of aircraft, including proper AEW, which would have been cheaper than the F35B. But we have what we have, so lets make the best out of what we have got. I remember CVA-01 being cancelled, and the decision to scrap the remaining carriers in the late 60s and early 70s, so to see two major aircraft carriers in the fleet is something I never thought I would see again.
The original plan was to carry over the Harriers to the new ships and take the F-35 later. The gas turbine propulsion precluded steam catapult power from the beginning and when the USN moved forward on electric catapults that was seen as a solution with the F35C. That turned out to be a turkey and ridicuously expensive too boot for the first generation, may improve ?
I agree, EMALS can wait, but the QE design was supposed to be “flexible”. When the Coalition Govt decided to scrap the F35B and go with cats and traps and the C variant, it would have cost far too much to add cats and traps (partly because MoD seemed fixated with EMALS rather than providing a steam boiler and conventional catapults: another couple of excellent analysis articles on this website).:So much for flexibility. As I said, we have what we have, so lets make the best of it over the next 10 -20 years. For example, I live in hope that by adopting a transferable AEW solution like Crowsnest (if they can get it working), we might transition one day (in 10-15 years?) to an Osprey-mounted Crowsnest AEW platform, with much greater range, duration and ceiling. The Osprey could even be a contender for air to air refuelling in that time frame.
I would prefer a marinized CH47 for (Son of) Crowsnest.
MV22 is wonderful but too much of an oddity.
The Chinook is not suitable for an AEW platform due to high levels of vibration. If you are a back ender staring at a screen for 6 hours plus everyday, you will kill your eyes. Crew fatigue is a major issue for long duration Chinook flights.
fit arrestor system, not cheap but not extortionate.
then build some fairey gannet aew, re-engine and update props, fit double rotating aesa radar. the new engines would be 200% better going from 2100kw to 6.400kw with GE T64-ge-100. if that cannot get off the ski jump i would be very surprised.
last version not built due to CVA01 cancellation had a rotor dome!
IF YOU COMPARE The QE class to the Ford Class which were designed and produced in the same timeline. UK Had experimented with EMALS @Владимир Темников FARNBOROUGH. and while it was successful for launching lightweight drones, as the weight went up it caused further problems. BAEs were tasked to Navalise the Typhoon. and all this information was jumbled around.
BAEs advised typhoon would need a total redesign for naval use. and was seen as not cost per unit effective with little to no export options, so what aircraft options were there.
Helicopters options future rotary-wing plan selected the Merlin as its prefered option. as it was a best option per unit based on upgrading the RAF merlin. 10 years later maybe not the best option due to issues with airframes.
close support and self-defense. cannot install whats not been developed yet PHX gun upgraded and the self-contained unit only requires a power supply. other similar systems are in testing and development and QE Class has ample power supply for additional defence systems, but A Type 45 would be her best asset for missile attack.
So a lot of best guesses, but the USMC will tell you that the QE class outstrips the USS America class.
and the FORD CLASS has a major issue with flying 5th generation aircraft and there recovery.
Future-proofing the carrier fleet and its Future flight systems, some that are on the design board or a twinkle in a kids eye, but means that for the next 50 or so years RN will be able to respond in whatever way the UKGOVs sees fit.
But their design and delivery ensure that they do EXACTLY WHAT IT SAYS ON THE TIN.
BUT as they have a long way to go it may take 10 years to get there how long did it take the Buccaneer or the Tornado to become an outstanding aircraft……
its just a shame that the government who laid them down, Stripped the UK armed forces to pay for 2 wars, which cut the type 45 nos and stripped upgrades and planned improvements across the entire MOD.
Well said Jhona a good and positive outlook. Yes the hollowing out of all 3 services was a real disaster, I really think Type 45, 7 & 8 should have been built also 10 to 12 type 26 is the only way to achieve a carrier BG at short notice. Have a great day and thanks.
Hindsight being wonderful and all but T45 should have been built as a ‘cruiser’ replacement to T42 and T23 with a secondary class of smaller frigates for the North East Atlantic.
But Type 26 frigate are more suited for ASW tasks. They do not have enough silos to be CBG escorts, only as ASW role.
That where a Type 32 could fill that gap as escorts.
So you think escorting carriers is only about AAW?
As someone who was born in the UK, but grew up on this side of the pond and is immersed in the US Navy, we welcome the QE class. Too big? No. In fact, I think that they’re the right size for a US CV should we build smaller.
As with the Falklands campaign (remember the Hermes?), there will come a time when those carriers are overloaded with aircraft, whether British, US Marine Corps, or even Italian and/or Spanish. Having that extra deck space and hangar space will be invaluable.
The F-35 or JSF at that point was projected to cost $50 million (£32m) in 2002, but inflation alone from then to 2020 is about 44% bringing the cost to $71.9m (£51.8m equating to a 62% rise in costs thanks to the weakening of the pound over that time).
That’s about half the cost inflation has just been the effects of inflation over such a long development cycle. The rest has been problems and delays etc, but it’s only half as bad as it looks on paper.
It’s worth looking at a POGO article from 2020 on the real cost of the F35. It seems the low figures published by LM are for airframe without engine and electronics. The real price looks to be double say 150 m USD.. Details of foreign sales confirm the much higher figure.
That’s interesting, thanks. What a rip off these planes are turning out to be! I wonder how much the USA is paying for their (complete) planes…
According to the article I just read, the UK has done a deal for 48 F-35s for £9.1 billion which is more like £190m per aircraft. To be able to equip both carriers with 36 aircraft each (at the same time) would cost around £13.7b.
And to think people make a fuss over paying for the carriers themselves… At the £3.8b average price, the carriers cost about the same as just 20 F-35s. Put another way, the fighters on a QE would be worth 1.8x the value of the ship.
Adjusted for inflation, a Nimitz costs the same as about 186 Super Hornets… So a full complement is worth roughly half the cost of that ship.
Still, I guess it’s a lot cheaper than the roughly $374m per F-22.
The UK Gov buys the F-35Bs in Dollars.
The UK has brought the F-35B’s for $115.5m each.
The $190m ones were the 3 test versions brought in 2013.
Just have a look at the MoD docs!
The Harrier was just as problematic in the early 1970s when it was first just introduced!
It is difficult to argue with the bullet points in support of the larger size of the QE’s. Just two of them doesn’t leave much depth in the order of battle, though. My 2 cents from across the pond is that the RN should have built 3 ships to a somewhat smaller design in order to ensure that two would be active and available at all times. With just two QE’s, it is unlikely that there would be more than one that would be fully operational at any given time given the standard maintenance – refit cycle. I suppose it might be possible to get both of the flattops up and running in a wartime surge situation, provided that we’re not talking about getting caught in the middle of a total overhaul with extensive modifications. But of course you can’t count on an enemy cooperating with this schedule.
Going forward the RN should build a replacement for HMS Ocean that could serve as a CVE in addition to its standard LPH duties. Even this is not ideal, but it would be considerably better than nothing and would also offer expanded capabilities for the Royal Marines and special forces.
A third option would be some kind of rapid merchant ship conversion, perhaps along the lines of the USN’s “Afloat Forward Base” ships, which are modified oil tankers. This, too, would be subject to wartime conditions, ie, whether UK shipyards might be attacked, but I know that plans for turning a few merchant ships into improvised “Harrier Carriers” did exist during the Cold War. At least one minimal conversion was done during the Falklands War and test flights with a Harrier were successfully completed, after which the ship operated a few helicopters in the immediate aftermath of the British victory. It would presumably take a more lengthy, extensive, and expensive process before a similar vessel could operate a few F-35s.