820 Naval Air Squadron will be on board HMS Queen Elizabeth as she sails into her homeport this week.
This follows several months of working with the carrier during her sea trials off the coast of Scotland.
Lieutenant Rob Andrews, one of the squadron’s pilots, said:
“This is the first time I have had the chance to both see and operate with the ship and it is still very exciting and hugely rewarding to be one of the first to work from such an impressive ship.
820 NAS has been working with HMS Queen Elizabeth in support of her contractor sea trials. This has seen us operate as a helicopter delivery platform providing essential stores and crew work-up ahead of our more operational role when she is formally commissioned into the fleet.”
According to the Royal Navy:
“820 NAS is the Royal Navy’s oldest and most decorated frontline unit and is made up of roughly 150 men and women – a highly skilled mix of flight crew and engineers.
The Merlin Mk2 is a vastly capable aircraft, with its primary role being for anti-submarine warfare, although it can protect HMS Queen Elizabeth and her task group from a range of sub-surface, surface and air attacks.
Recent years have seen them operate in the Middle East and off the west coast of Africa during the Ebola crisis.”
The Queen Elizabeth class carriers are the largest and most powerful warships ever constructed for the Royal Navy, but what will they carry?
The term now used for the carriers embarked squadrons is ‘Carrier Air Wing’ (CVW), the previously used Tailored Air Group (TAG) has fallen out of official use. The vessels are capable of deploying a variety of aircraft in large numbers, up to a maximum in the upper fifties in surge conditions.
Captain Jerry Kyd, commander of HMS Queen Elizabeth, commented on the initial deployment and the gradual increase in air wing numbers:
“We are constrained by the F-35 buy rate even though that was accelerated in SDSR in 2015, so initial operating capability numbers in 2020 are going to be very modest indeed.
We will flesh it out with helicopters, and a lot depends on how many USMC F-35s come on our first deployment in 2021. But by 2023, we are committed to 24 UK jets onboard, and after that it’s too far away to say.”
In addition to the joint force of Royal Air Force and Royal Navy F-35Bs and their pilots, the air wing is expected to be composed of a ‘Maritime Force Protection’ package of nine anti-submarine Merlin HM2 and four or five Merlin for airborne early warning; alternatively a ‘Littoral Manoeuvre’ package could include a mix of RAF Chinooks, Army Apaches, Merlin HC4 and Wildcat HM2. We understand that vessel would still carry at least one F-35 squadron aboard in such circumstances to offer air defence as well as support to the helicopter assault activities.
The Crowsnest AEW&C aircraft will come from a number of the embarked Merlins (any of which can be fitted with the sensor package), the number again scaling with requirements.
Around the time the first carrier deploys operationally, the UK will have 42 F-35 aircraft, with 24 being front-line fighters and the remaining 18 will be used for training (at least 5 on the OCU), be in reserve or in maintenance.
Recently, the Ministry of Defence confirmed plans for the deployment of American F-35 aircraft alongside British jets aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The addition of US Marine Corps aircraft will see HMS Queen Elizabeth sail with 24 or so F-35Bs in addition to around 14 or so helicopters for her maiden deployment. It is understood that the US aircraft will augment British jets on coalition operations.
The Queen Elizabeth class mark a change from expressing carrier power in terms of number of aircraft carried, to the number of sortie’s that can be generated from the deck. The class are not the largest class of carrier in the world but they are most likely the smallest and least expensive carrier the Royal Navy could build which still have the advantages that large carriers offer.