The highly mechanised weapons handling system aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth is perhaps one of the most complex systems aboard, moving palletised munitions around the vessel to connect the magazines, hangar and flight deck.

Babcock Integrated Technology director Matt Hatson commented on the system:

“The HMWHS is the first maritime application of shore-based commercial warehousing processes using automated systems with all-electric control, adapted for safe transport and stowage of munitions in a warship environment.

Munitions can be delivered, in bulk, to the point of use at rates that could not be achieved manually, whilst minimising the manpower requirement in what is traditionally a labour-intensive process, thus delivering reduced through-life cost, as well as a saving in onboard living accommodation requirements.”

The HMWHS moves palletised munitions from the magazines and weapon preparation areas, along track ways and via several lifts, forward and aft or port and starboard.

The movement of munitions is achieved by 56 ‘moles’, each able to lift and move a payload to locations around the ship using dedicated tracks and lifts. The moles can transfer payloads between each other.

The tracks can carry a pallet to magazines, the hangar, weapons preparation areas, and the flight deck. In a change from normal procedures the magazines are unmanned, the movement of pallets is controlled from a central location, and manpower is only required when munitions are being initially stored or prepared for use

This system speeds up delivery and reduces the size of the crew.

Babcock developed the design as part of the overall ship development and was awarded the contract covering final design, design integration with the shipyards, manufacturing, assembly, installation, test and commissioning in 2008.

Babcock was the design authority while Thales is the systems integrator.

Babcock describe the system:

“The QE Class HMWHS provides mechanical handling facilities for moving palletised munitions around the deep magazine and weapon preparation areas, and a series of weapons lifts to connect the magazines, hangar, weapon preparation area and flight deck.

This state-of-the-art system represents the first maritime application of shore-based commercial warehousing processes using automated systems with all-electric control, adapted for safe transport and stowage of munitions in a warship environment.

The system significantly reduces the manpower requirement for what is traditionally a labour-intensive, time-consuming and potentially hazardous process, helping to reduce through-life costs and maximise safety.”

When I toured the vessel in December I was taken aback by the sheer scale of the HMWHS, spaces within the magazine and the level of protection this system has from combat damage. The system was massive in scale, easily the size of a medium supermarket and served by a complex rail system.

Needless to say, I managed to trip over it!

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Howard Newman

Good news and I cannot wait until her open day.


Looks amazing. I hope it works in practice as well as in the tests ive seen.

It should represent a majour advantage.

I wish i had an opertunity like yours to actually see it.

Do you know ? Is there a way to fall back to manual processing should for some reason the system go down ?


That last question is the most important as lets face it, it WILL breakdown.


Yes there are redundant methods for accessing the munitions. It’s important to note that these systems have been used in commercial applications for almost 40 years, they’re well tested and reliable.
The USN adopts a different approach, preferring huge amounts of manpower. But they’re missing the point around battle damage. If you take battle damage in that space you’re already screwed…but also even in the USN situation if the battle damage is that severe its likely that the weapons elevators are inoperable so you’ll not be moving munitions. No one is going to start hauling Mk.82’s up ladders…

craig chadwick

Uk navy best in world!!

N Roach

The Navy is now stuck with these Carriers, only one will ever be used at a time unless the new frigates are increased in number . The situation with putin makes me worried , when these giant targets were envisaged terrorism was it’s main direction but not now . We do not have control of our own seas ,with no ships to do it. We need ships on the water not these PR excesses .
Let us hope we can sell one and use the money to build more ships to protect our own homes.

John Stevens

The UK will have enough escorts for a carrier deployment including help sometimes from other NATO escorts, if there was some extreme situation where the UK had to deploy two carriers then again with enough time to plan a surge of escorts they could just about cover the protection of the two carriers including other NATO escorts help. Selling one carrier would be a major mistake, we would be in the same situation as the French are with their one carrier, so it’s very good that the RN will be a two carrier navy… 24/7 52 weeks of the year… Read more »

Tony Leeks

John, where are these escorts coming from? The RN does not have enough “escorts” of any description. The Type 45’s? We have six, of which two will be in refit, (one going into refit and one coming out of refit) One will be up the Gulf and another doing the rounds. So that leaves two. God forbid that they breakdown! The RN is grossly undermanned, so crewing up these White Elephants, the carriers, will be a major headache for the M.O.D.

John Stevens

Just to add to my comments above.. I remember seeing a picture on this very website last year showing the French carrier on operations in the Gulf, the carrier had 5 escorts – 3 French plus two other NATO escorts including a RN escort, so yes i think the RN carriers will have enough escorts for the different types of operations it will be carrying out.


Very informative and properly thought out contribution John.
Perhaps we need to alter our thinking and start regarding these ships as a major UK contribution to NATO rather than just national assets,which I have been guilty of in the past.


And its worthwhile noting that lots of people think the French can escort their carrier properly.

In fact they only have 2 AAW destroyers compared to the RN’s 6. And until recently with the new FREMM Frigates they had zero decent ASW vessels.

The UK with T45, T23 with Sonar 2087 and eventually T26 is immeasurably better served. And thats before we bring in Merlin HM.2, F-35 and Poseidon.

N Roach

Thank you , seems a very sensible answer .


I hope that the concept was tested to the extreme in the design phase, after-all how many shore based warehouse installations have to work in a Force 9 gale with the ‘warehouse’ rolling or crashing through waves. If it works and is reliable an innovative solution to moving munitions about the ship.


The photo in the link below shows the rig that the moles were tested on (years ago as well). It was like a giant full movement flight simulator rig with hydraulic rams moving the system around simulating very heavy and rapid movement.

Another decent article on HMWHS


Depending on the pitch and roll of the of the ship. The system will either carry out the last programmed move then stop, the controller can then decide whether to carry on further moves or not. Or under worse conditions, the system will move to its nearest safe position then stop. The ships pitch and roll needs to fall back under certain conditions before the system will operate again.


You can see an image regarding the testing of it here. It was set up and tested on a rig that simulated extreme movement.