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Rick

Fabulous photos, well done!

Cam

Shame the hangar can only hold 20 odd airplanes.

Bob

Just the 20 fifth gen fighters then Cam. Might as well scrap them now.

Cam

What you on about scrapping them for! I’m just saying loads of our jets and hellos will stay on top deck if we ever get half decent numbers on the ships. Ford class is obviously far bigger how any can they hold in hangar?

Rudeboy

A Nimitz or Ford Class hangar are not much bigger. USN keeps the majority of the airgroup on deck, aircraft in the hangar are there for maintenance in their operations.

Cam

Yeah and if we get 40 aboard then half of the “5th gen” aircraft will have to stay EXPOSED on the top deck…

Challenger

20 quite large F35 and Merlin as standard but I’ve no doubt it could be more in a pinch. The official maximum air-wing is 40 after all but several insiders have confirmed 50 or so aircraft could be comfortably operated if necessary and some even say up to 70 could be physical squeezed on board. What’s the harm in keeping some up top anyway? Lash to the deck, with protective coverings means even the worse sea and weather conditions won’t really have an effect.

Captain Nemo

It’s forty aircraft below decks and about seventy in total I think, as you say, though fortuitously the internet has provided; have a wander over to Chris Cavas’ twitter page (brought to you by way of Nicholas Drummond) and he has a recently added chart showing forty five F35 spots on deck.
I seem to recall much being made of a ‘strike package’ of thirty six planes, so I guess that’s the number you’re working around for a ‘surged’ carrier and a while back one of the posters on this site made an observation regarding the law of diminishing returns when adding aircraft, as you basically start stepping over yourself.
I’d still like to see twenty four F35 (as ably represented by geese) and a future V247/V280 mix bringing it up to 40ish for routine deployments.

Rudeboy

The tweet in question:

https://twitter.com/CavasShips/status/1197945431524818944

Hopefully it puts to bed all of the nonsense of 70 F-35B onboard that some regularly speculate on.

At first glance the deck spot chart actually backs the ’70 F-35B’ claim up. You could put 45 F-35B on deck as the recent chart from flight ops shows (and thank god that argument could be put to bed officially). And that could indicate that with the c.25 F-35B in the hangar that 70 F-35B could be carried by CVF….but that would be dumb.

It doesn’t mean you could actually operate that number. 4 of the F-35B spots are on the elevators, which are clearly just temporary. 14 of the spots (Fly1, Fly2 and Fly3) would not be used during sustained air ops as they would prevent vertical landings or SRVL’s. Bridge Park A and Flyco Park E don’t look like they would fit an F-35B so probably are folded helo’s only. So realistically that means ‘only’ 25 F-35B can be parked on deck. Add in the c25 F-35B that can be accommodated in the hangars and you reach a total of c50 F-35B max that could be operated without extreme amounts of constant deck movements/re-organisation or assuming that some F-35B are constantly in the air. Packing the hangar to capacity also means that you can’t get to aircraft without significant movement and time, imagine if the F-35 closest to the elevator goes U/S…you have to get it out of the way before getting to aircraft behind it. And with no space to move….that’s impossible.

It also means no helos….so no Merlin, no Merlin Crowsnest or Merlin HC.4.

The CVF were designed for a normal maximum of 36 F-35B and c14-15 rotary wing. That’s consistent with having 8-9 Merlin HM.2 for ASW, 4-5 Merlin HM.2 for Crowsnest and a couple of Merlin HC.4 for CSAR/Planeguard and Vertrep. Thats for maximum efficient sustained operations. Any more and you actually lose sorties as efficiency drops. The flight deck spotting chart supports this. There are c50 spots that are usable in day to day ops without constraining those ops. Merlins actually fold up to a smaller area than an F-35B occupies so that gives some leeway, particularly in the hangar. And don’t forget you’ve got deck equipment like cranes, aircraft tractors and firefighting gear to have in place.

Hopefully this finally puts to bed all of the stupidity….

You never know in time some people may give up on the V-22 as it’s never going to happen. Suspect we’re going to have to wait for the production line to close for that though…

The only improvement we could hope for the airgroup in the near future is a long shot, but comparatively cheap and small. A couple of cheap to run helo’s for Planeguard and HDS could save a lot of the Merlins airframe hours and cost. The French used to use Alouette III’s until recently for this. But a comparatively cheap platform like a AW139M could do a little more including vertrep.

Captain Nemo

I think it’s just a form of shorthand for operations and claims to be from QE’s operation centre, not some form of internet conjuring.
The figure of seventy generally comes from comparisons to the earlier US carriers of QE’s size, but in fairness to common sense it’s usually made within the context of a mixed group and is merely to demonstrate scale.

Challenger

For the life of me i can’t remember were it was stated but a RN source has confirmed they will routinely carry 2 Wildcat’s as part of the air-group to provide close over-watch and protection when entering/exiting ports and transiting narrow straights so they will presumably also be able to conduct CSAR and at least some of the Vertrep when at sea to allow the Merlin’s to conserve flight hours and focus solely on ASW/AEW coverage.

40ish F35B (plus the handful of helicopters that will always be necessary for 50 aircraft in total) is certainly the maximum amount that could be operated efficiency over an extended period of time. 70 is purely a figure to help visualize the size and dimensions of the vessels.

I believe they once squeezed 24 harriers onto one of the Invincible’s to ascertain the maximum figure but knew only up to 18 could actually be operated, not just due to the traffic jams anymore would cause but also the crew accommodation, fuel and munitions storage that has to be factored in. It’s no different with QE & PoW – just on a much bigger scale!

24 F35B, 12-14 Merlin’s and 2 Wildcat’s will deliver an air-group second to no one except the USN. I’m fine with 12 of those jets being USMC as well so long as we demonstrate the ability to field an all UK air-group in 2023 and carry on doing it every 3-5 years thereafter.

Rudeboy

The 2 Wildcat I believe mentioned would be from the escorts (i.e. one from each T45). But Wildcat isn’t cheap to run either. For its capability its very expensive, and we also don’t have many. A really simple cheap helicopter (think FLIR, countermeasure suite, rescue hoist and pintle gun mount only, no radar, ESM, data link or anything vaguely expensive) could save an awful lot of money. The AW-139M or AW-169 could make a lot of sense. Even an AW109M would make more sense than Wildcat.

Duker

Having a different helicopter type in the RN just for this doesnt make sense from a support and training point of view. Wildcat is there already and just because its overqualified doesnt mean it cant do routine tasks like this . Indeeed for pilots, theres a lot of flying done just to keep up the hours and this could be part of that when crew are allocated the mission.

Rudeboy

That is a valid point. But the purchase and per hour costs for Wildcat are enormous, and they’re in short supply as it is. There’s a lot to be said for not goldplating things (personally I think Wildcat should never have gone ahead, its a good helo but the cost is ludicrous). Look at USN MH-60S and MH-60R for an example. If you wanted to keep training costs down you could actually reduce them by using the EC-145. That’s already in service as the Jupiter and all FAA pilots will have trained on it. And it could definitely do the job.

Duker

I dont think you know the costs for an individual Wildcat purchase. The UK MoD isnt like the Pentagon which publishes actual contract costs, the UK just gives a development, purchase and sustainment aggregate figure. This way they cant be accused of over spending.
Looking at the Wildcat web page of the RN , shows that force protection, counter piracy is one of its tasks and Im sure having a few aboard a 70,000 t carrier when required at sea will trump the ‘not enough’ issue, which is another vague generalisation.

Geoffrey Hicking

What is the realistic number of F35s that can be operated from the Fords?

Captain Nemo

B or C? This a sly observation about folding wings?
I’d thought maybe the hanger disparity was based on old numbers. we’ll see in 2021 I guess.

N-a-B

Afraid not. Nowhere near that number. The hangar can do 24 or so. The size of the ship is driven by the deck park which is another 20+ (irrespective of what people have drawn on the interweb). The whole idea of the ship has been to design the deck to minimise aircraft movements and therefore chockheads. Mid 40s is the absolute limit of what could be operated.

Cam

Exactly 20 I was told in hangar maybe 22 at a push, but some on here say 40 in hangar lol!!

Rudeboy

People have mapped it out. 23 F-35B can be fitted below (others have got 24 but its tight), but that leaves no room to manoeuvre aircraft to lifts. If Merlin are in there as well the number increases as a Merlin folds up into a smaller, more packagable area than an F-35B (you can fit 4 Merlin folded in the space of 3 F-35B)

https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/644507396650166156/

Geoffrey Hicking

What is the realistic number of F35s that can be operated from the Fords?

Geo

The facetious answer is zero, as the Ford is far from operational. The real answer is a bit tricky to establish as the Ford has a somewhat more diverse airgroup with FA18 E (single seaters) and or FA18F (two seaters); F35; Seahawk S and R; Growlers; Hawkeyes; and Greyhounds. While most of the comments in this thread have been about using the number deck spots and moving aircraft around in the most efficient way to establish the total, thats really only half the story (and while in the 80s they would have had to pack Invincible with Harriers to get the number these days they probably got it with computer modelling early on in the process “if every cow is a perfect sphere” and all of that), but even before getting to the logistics spaces the diversity of types makes the optimum number (of each type) harder to gauge.

As Challenger pointed out a few posts ago the space – volume and tonnage – that have nothing to do with the deck spots such as (in no particular order) aircrew accommodation; maintenance and supply crew accommodation, workspaces and storage; armourers and armament storage are all limiting factors, all of which get more complicated with a more diverse air group. As a rule of thumb the Ford air group will be the same as the Nimitz (and to get the Nimitz’s true figure you have to read a reference from the early 1990s as they are running at about 20 aircraft below their cold war capacity) so say 20 to 24…. Unless of course each F35 is a perfect sphere in a vacuum 😀

( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spherical_cow )

Cam

No no no, it’s 20 max below decks… lol

Cam

Yeah and half the 40 will have to stay exposed on top deck, that’s my point, but hey there only 5th gen aircraft.

Captain Nemo

I would hazard that the reason 40 circulates would be that folding your helicopters would push this number, whereas the 24 represents a workable hanger.

OOA

I really hope you keep these excellent pieces coming. Thoroughly enjoy them.

Captain Nemo

Was anyone else momentarily thrown by the geese?
Just me then.

Rudeboy

The point around maximum weapons load is a little off. The F-35B could recover vertically with a full load of UK weapons for the simple fact that the currently available or planned UK weapons are so light. There are no 2,000lb or 1,000lb bombs or Storm Shadow being integrated for the UK.

Maximum UK weapon load now is 6 x 500lb Paveway IV (2 internal, 4 external), 2 x internal Amraam C-5 and 2 x Asraam on the outer pylon. That comes to a total of 4,160 lbs (6 x 500, 2 x 335 and 2 x 195lbs respectively).

From 2025 with the integration of Meteor and Spear the maximum UK weapon load would be (8 x Spear internal, 4 x Paveway IV external, 2 x Meteor internal and 2 x Asraam on the outer pylon. That comes to 4,990 lbs (8x 220, 4 x 500, 2 x 420 and 2 x 195lb respectively)

If we actually purchase any of the GAU-22 gun pods we could see the weight of weapons increase by c500 lbs if a pod was mounted and fully armed (GAU-22 is 230 lbs, 220 rounds at 222g ea.(49lbs) + c220lbs of feed gear, mounting and pod.)

Both of those figures are comfortably within the F-35B’s vertical landing envelope. The only times when this could be in doubt would be in exceptionally hot or humid conditions. Thats when SRVL could come into use (apparently it adds c 2,000-4,000lb of additional weight).

With the failure to integrate Storm Shadow a lot of worries about bring back went away. The only thing that will possibly change that are external fuel tanks (and fuel can be dumped cheaply) and a hypothetical heavier weight weapon like the MBDA SmartGlider Heavy or FCASW. Even JSM (if purchased) wouldn’t stop VL landings as its a comparatively light weapon (900lbs) and it would be unlikely for more than 2 to be carried.

Rob

Great photos. People on here keep making the point that the QE Class carriers need to have a 40-50+ CAW. I disagree. Even with 24 F35s and 10 Merlins the QE already has 3 times the combat power of an Invincible Class carrier. We aren’t in competition with the US Navy. The above air wing is more than sufficient to face down any potential enemy other than Russia & China and if that happened (god forbid) we could surge some additional F35s and remember the 10 US CVNs would be on our side. Stop comparing our new carriers with the US CVNs, they are not comparable. We have the best conventional carriers in the world and should be very proud of these ships, their crews and the technology and engineering our country has invested in them. It is also important that a nation such as ours operates within the budget envelope available; as such the QE’s offer great capability and good value for money.

Captain Nemo

We’re in a competition with the world in general and the French in particular.
Driving an empty ship around would just be some weirdly extravagant form of forward basing, it would show you were both very wealthy and very poor at the same time.

Rob

We’re not in competition with the French; they are our closest European allies and operate alongside us in the joint reaction force (Napoleon is dead). 24 F35s is hardly empty.

Rudeboy

For context it’s 24 more stealth fighters than the French have….

And its also more than double the amount of stealth fighters that USN CVN’s will have from 2025-2030. Even from 2030 US CVN’s will carry 20 F-35C as part of their air wing. A UK CSG operating with a US CSG would be a massive bonus for the USN.

I’ll bet the USN are looking at QE and thinking that QE with 36 F-35B armed with Meteor and Asraam CSP could handle the entire CAP for a Task Force leaving the USN to focus exclusively on strike. In addition with Spear and Spear EW the UK F-35B working with EA-18G could kick the door in for the F-18E/F’s and F-35C.

Rob

Great points. An American carrier paired with ours would be very powerful indeed. In fact, since a QE class carrier is half the cost of a CVN, the USN would be well advised to operate 8 CVN’s and have 4 QE’s of their own. I bet they have looked into it or something similar…

Rudeboy

QE Class are actually a 1/3rd of the price, with a 1/3rd of the manning.

If the USN were smart they’d go to 9 CVN and get 6 Catobar CVF. 8 of the CVN would be in the Pacific for the inevitable confrontation with China. The nuclear power plant makes sense there with the vast distances. Keep 1 CVN in the Atlantic Fleet to keep the nuc berths on the eastern coast open (its likely that carrier would be one working up from a refit at Newport News). The 6 CVF would be the Atlantic Fleet carriers. More than enough to deal with the Russians or any other issue in the Atlantic, Med, Red Sea, Gulf or Indian Ocean. Particularly if backed up by the QE Class and CdG, let alone other Allied Navies. The USN could go from 11 carriers to 15.

Never happen though, but it makes a lot of sense.

Duker

Most of the cost is through life operations, overhauls and the aircraft. Im sure the USN has studied to death a conventional steam powered ( boilers and turbines…ughh!) carrier of that size ( 50% of the capability and 70% of the price and found it doesnt make sense.
The Pacific may be bigger than the Atlantic but the USN has a carrier homeported in Japan and sovereign bases in Hawaii and Guam and access to ports of formal allies from Australia in south to Japan in the north. The Atlantic is more difficult port wise for carriers with nothing in Africa or South America

Rudeboy

The cost is 1/3rd.
The running cost over time is around that as well. Why? 1/3rd the crew and the UK MoD ran the numbers on nuclear power, including decommissioning, and they found that nuclear was over 80% more expensive.

Cheaper than an America Class as well.

Captain Nemo

Again, I did say I’d like to see 24 as routine somewhere above, 12 however is still being thrown about.
It’s simply an issue of perception, for war fighting fine, great platform, but if we’re going to be in the flag waving business we can’t keep stopping the ship to tell people we have more at home.

Geo

The USN are looking at NIFC-CA for the entire CAP for a task force. If the UK has buy in on NIFC-CA, then the USN may well be, if the UK has no buy in on NIFC-CA then the USN are not.

Rudeboy

The F-35B’s MACL links will work in exactly the same way as the F-35C’s so they could seamlessly integrate with the E-2D and other assets. Link 16 is on all RN ships and Merlin as well. So NIFC-CA would be a goer.

The only missing part for the RN would be CEC, but that would only affect the ability of other ships to guide T45 and T26 missiles to targets. As both are firing fire and forget missiles that’s not as big a deal as others think. It would help interoperability however.

There have also been reports that UK F-35B have provided targeting data to T45’s in the Westlant exercises that have enabled simulated launches to be undertaken. I suspect the functionality is a bot less than the full NIFC-CA, but then again the USN is a long way from their goal.

Will O

I do think the UK should take a leaf out of Australia’s book & seriously look at Comapss Call, (if not the EC37B then perhaps using 737s, or the Global 6000 like the Sentinel R1). Not just for SEAD, but to act as an intermediary between F35Bs and the E-7s. The F35s could then use MADL to send info back more securely, & with less risk of giving their positions away.

DaveyB

The Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) is part of the US Navy’s Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) integration goal. It is designed to incorporate all the “Fleets” sensors and weapons into one package. so this includes data-linking F35s, F18s and ships together using the E2D as the central hub. However, the issue is that 4th generation aircraft and most of the ships use Link-16. This is a highly encrypted data-link, but it has a few issues in today’s world. Firstly, it’s omni-directional, so can’t be focused in one direction. This makes it highly detectable, as your transmission is being sent in all directions including your intended recipient. The other major problem is bandwidth. The bandwidth should be likened to high 2G/low 3G which is fine for one plane to ship communication etc. But, we are talking about linking a fleet together. This requires a lot more bandwidth. The Navy have tried stacking Link-16 systems in parallel, operating on slightly different frequencies. However, this should only be seen as a short term fix.

The problem comes when you try to link multiple F35s. The amount of data that is collected is enormous and easily swamps Link-16. The F35 uses a Multi-Function Advanced Data Link (MADL) which should be likened to high 4G/low 5G data throughput. The US Navy ships are being equipped with MADL receivers, I not heard if they are going the whole way with MADL transmitters. This is the same with the E2Ds, they are also getting MADL receivers, but nothing has been said about transmitting. The F35s MADL has the capability to dumb down its transmissions to the Link-16 standard. But unlike other assets it transmits the data directionally by using electronic beam-forming techniques. Thus making it highly improbable of being detected or jammed.

The CEC/NIFC-CA is much more than just guiding a missile on to a target, it’s more about whole fleet sensor fusion. So for example what the F35 sees on a recce, is passed back to the E2D, which is then shared amongst the fleet. Imagine if we had this capability during the Falklands. A Sea Harrier feeding back its data to the T42s, the carriers, but also to other aircraft on CAP, it would have given us a significant advantage.

Captain Nemo

It was tongue in cheek given our history with them, no need to take things quite so literally.
But the French do represent a good benchmark against which to measure our needs and capabilities, they have a similar GDP, similar population, similar colonial history with its attendant problems and responsibilities and a comparable expeditionary outlook, they also seem to run very good procurement.
We are however basically fighting for the number two slot with the French, so make of that what you will.
I did say I’d like to see 24 as routine somewhere above.

Duker

When the design requirements were being finalised, this source says the optimum number of F35 was 36 and this was what drove the ship dimensions
https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/guide-queen-elizabeth-class-aircraft-carrier/

The total aircraft capacity ( presumably including helipcopters) in surge conditions is ‘upper 50s’

4thwatch

We aren’t in competition with the French militarily but we are commercially and geopolitically as thy say, c’est la vie.

Captain Nemo

As I’ve observed before the French will have six SSN’s, we will have seven, we call our seventh Agincourt.

Peregrine

Would it be possible to develop a fixed wing plane with the STOL performance to operate from these carriers without cats and traps? The aim being higher altitude and longer endurance AEW than Merlin/Crowsnest?

Challenger

If we wanted a single mission AEW platform then a fixed wing drone would be the way to go in terms of being lightweight for launch and then having long-term endurance when up. I guess the issue is recovery which could require arrestor wires.

However a VTOL platform could offer the endurance for AEW whilst also being able to do ASW, COD and CSAR all at the same time.

Osprey is expensive to buy and both expensive/complicated to operate but it’s to be expected with the first version of any new concept. As technology inevitably matures the cost and complexity will come down. The V-280 Valor is in the advanced stages of development and is being specifically marketed as a lighter and cheaper 2nd generation tilt-rotor platform.

Personally i think we should look to replace all of the missions undertaken by Merlin with either a fixed wing drone for ASW & AEW and a cheap/simple helicopter for the rest, or a tilt-rotor that covers everything.

Duker

Is Osprey that expensive, as a purchase cost? The 2018 USN multi- year contract was for 58 planes , including 4 for Japan , at US$4.2 bill . That works at around $72 mill , equivalent to £60 mill each. Yes those numbers dont include various other costs a new buyer would have to pay and its running costs are even more than helicopters. The RN Merlins were bought years ago so its hard to know what a standard transport version would cost now. However the major problem with Osprey is exactly what you are going to with it , remembering that the Merlin is already larger and more capable than what ever version of the Seahawk the USN is using. Carrying an F35 engine ?… the carriers have plenty of room to hold spares

4thwatch

I’ve thought about manned STOL and it probably doesn’t work because of the weight penalty; but a drone certainly does.

Rudeboy

Look at HAPS for the answer….dirt cheap, 70,000+ft altitude. Not one but lots of them.

Peregrine

In WW2 there were planes which could land on without arrestor wires. Is it possible to design for very low landing speeds with better ceiling and endurance than Merlin AEW with a useful load? I.e. develop a single role machine ultra-optimised for the AEW role from a carrier without traps?

DaveyB

Swordfish lol!

There are number of manned STOL aircraft that could easily take-off from the QE’s deck, the Islander comes first to mind. The problem comes with landing, even the Islander will need to aero-brake ( very high nose up attitude, using the aircraft’s underside as an air-brake) before slamming it on the deck. You would need either an arrestor wire or barrier to ensure the aircraft stopped. Britten did develop an AEW version of the Defender, which is the military version, but it never came to anything and its max altitude is slightly less than a Merlin.

The best hope for a decent replacement of the Crowsnest equipped Merlin, must be the Bell V247 Vigilant tilt-rotor UAV being developed for the USMC. It has a better range, duration and max altitude than Merlin.

Captain Nemo

Vigilant is very exciting, given its range and endurance five of those would probably allow for three orbiting the carrier group at distance 24/7.

Peregrine

Ha! Yes a modern Swordfish! Huge wing area and landing airspeed of 60knots, add 30knots of headwind and reverse the prop on landing for a really short stop. Could such a machine lift AEW to a useful altitude with useful endurance at a lower cost than Merlin’s or Ospreys?

DaveyB

The Swordfish was fitted with a surface search radar in 1941. It had a decent range for the time of about 25nm (depending on height). The aircraft could carry the 18″ MkXII torpedo which weighed 702kg. So technically the Swordfish could be fitted with the radar mounted underneath. The problem would be the power needed to run it. The old Pegasus engine would need replacing with something a bit more modern. Have the data sent straight back to the carrier for processing, yep definitely doable!

Combatwombat

What the gun on display in the wardroom? does anybody have any backstory?

Paul

Great photos – and the recent BBC 2 documentary series was quite informative as well.

Wes Fowler

American here, I just wanted to say that our Chief needs to find a better tailor.