Her Majesty The Queen has commissioned aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth today in Portsmouth.
The warship is now in the hands of the Royal Navy. A spokeswoman from the ACA, the company who managed the build of the carrier, said:
“This is really fantastic day. It’s the culminates years of hard work and dedication of 10,000 people across the UK and wider supply chain.”
Speaking before the ceremony, Captain Kyd described the day as a major milestone.
“Building aircraft carriers is not for the fainthearted. There are very few countries who can do this around the world. So we should look at our British industry, our designers, all the skills, all the production companies around the country, the shipyards from Devon through to Fife, to the Royal Navy, who have come together to make this happen.
We should be really proud as a country. This has been a national endeavour. It has just been fantastic – it is really a culmination of all our hard work.”
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:
“Today marks the start of a hugely significant chapter for the Royal Navy, and indeed the nation, as the future flagship is commissioned into Her Majesty’s fleet. It is an honour to witness the crowning moment of an extraordinarily busy year for the Royal Navy that has seen us name the second carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, cut steel on the first Type 26 frigates and launch the National Shipbuilding Strategy.
Our new aircraft carrier is the epitome of British design and dexterity, at the core of our efforts to build an Armed Forces fit for the future. For the next half a century both carriers will advance our interests around the globe, providing the most visible symbol of our intent and commitment to protect the UK from intensifying threats, wherever they may come from.”
The name HMS Queen Elizabeth is a continuation of an historic Royal Navy name dating back over a century and the vessel herself is not named after the current monarch.
— HMS Queen Elizabeth (@HMSQnlz) December 7, 2017
The origins of the massive and sometimes controversial Queen Elizabeth class carrier programme lie in the 1998 Strategic Defence Review.
The review re-evaluated every weapon system (active or in procurement) with the exception of the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines.
The report identified that aircraft carriers offered the following:
- Ability to operate offensive aircraft abroad when foreign basing may be denied.
- All required space and infrastructure; where foreign bases are available they are not always available early in a conflict and infrastructure is often lacking.
- A coercive and deterrent effect when deployed to a trouble spot.
The report concluded:
“The emphasis is now on increased offensive air power, and an ability to operate the largest possible range of aircraft in the widest possible range of roles. When the current carrier force reaches the end of its planned life, we plan to replace it with two larger vessels.”
In November 2004, while giving evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Alan West explained that the sortie rate and interoperability with the United States Navy were factors in deciding on the size of the carriers and the composition of the carriers’ air-wings:
“The reason that we have arrived at what we have arrived at is because to do the initial strike package, that 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.”
What’s next for the vessel?
The next phase between 2017 and 2020 will be critical to establishing carrier strike capability. The MoD must bring together the carriers, Lightning jets, and Crowsnest with trained crews and supporting infrastructure, logistics, communications and surveillance capabilities.
In early 2018, it is expected that the ship will head to the North Atlantic for heavy weather trials and helicopter certification operations where she will work up her helicopters. In Autumn 2018, HMS Queen Elizabeth will sail for the United States where flight trials with the F-35 will begin.
It is essential to test and operate all these elements together in preparation for Initial Operating Capability for Carrier Strike in 2020 followed by her first operational deployment in 2021. She will reach full operating capability for carrier strike in 2023.
Captain Jerry Kyd, commander of HMS Queen Elizabeth, commented on the initial deployment and the gradual increase in air wing numbers:
“We’re 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.”
Around 2023, the Ministry of Defence have indicated that 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.
For a detailed breakdown of when things will be happening with each ship and the aircraft squadrons involved, we suggest savetheroyalnavy.org and their ‘Carrier Strike Timeline‘.
The Key Numbers:
- The project to build HMS Queen Elizabeth and sister ship HMS Prince of Wales cost more than £6 billion.
- The aircraft carrier weighs 70,600 tonnes and has a top speed of 25 knots (this however has been exceeded frequently).
- Its flight deck is 280 metres long and 70 metres wide – enough space for three football pitches.
- The ship is the second in the Royal Navy to be named Queen Elizabeth.
- The ship will have a crew of around 700, increasing to 1,600 when a full complement of F-35 jets and Crowsnest helicopters are embarked.
- There are 364,000 metres of pipes inside the ship.
- Both HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales will keep 45 days’ worth of food in its stores.
- The entire Ship’s Company of 700 can be served a meal within 90 minutes – 45 minutes when at action station.
- Leaving the Rosyth dock was among the most difficult manoeuvres in the sea trials, with just 50cm between the bottom of the ship and the seabed in the port.