It has emerged that the UK plans to sail HMS Queen Elizabeth to the Pacific in 2021 amid concerns regarding freedom of navigation in the region.

HMS Queen Elizabeth will sail to the Pacific on her maiden deployment in 2021 according to an ambassador.

Kim Darroch, Britain’s ambassador to the US said at a think-tank event in Washington:

“As we bring our two new aircraft carriers on-stream in 2020, and as we renew and update our defence forces, they will be seen in the Pacific.

And we absolutely share the objective of this US administration, and the next one, to protect freedom of navigation and to keep sea routes and air routes open.”

Currently on sea trials, HMS Queen Elizabeth is due to be handed over to the Royal Navy by the end of the year.

Former First Sea Lord George Zambellas said:

“When the first of our new carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth, deploys on her first mission in a few years, with fifth generation fighters and drones embarked, she will scotch at a stroke any talk of Britain’s retreat from the world.”

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.

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.


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Mike Saul

Tailored air group = we won’t have enough F35Bs to fully equip the carrier, so let’s stick some helicopters on it to fill in the gaps


Helicopters are always an integral part of any carriers inventory, I am staggered you didn’t know this Mike.

Mike Saul

What should the ratio of F35 to helicopters to enable the RN to achieve its carrier strike role that they said is crucial to its capability? Well it was 36 F35 and 12 helicopters, that’s 3 to 1, which is about the same as the USN. Of course the USN uses Hawkeye instead of our helicopters with a tiny radar. The RN will be lucky to achieve 1 to 1, which means the rationale behind such large and costly ship’s is flawed by the UK’s inability to procure sufficient F35B. So the aspiration of achieving 90 F35 combat missions a… Read more »


We will always need anti-submarine Merlins alongside Crowsnest helicopters on the QEC.
Then we can deploy a further range of helicopters when needed.
I am amazed you need to have this explained to you Mike.

Mike Saul

You still don’t get it do you.

The RN will never have enough F35B to fully equip one carrier let alone two.

So what was the point of building two carriers that should have been equipped with 72 F35B?

Lots of empty spaces on these carriers, how embarrassing let’s throw some helicopters on them to fill the gaps.


Mike is just saying that the Navy is trying to make the best of it. If US aircraft are to be flying from this carrier, I would suggest that that the ground crew workshops are equipped to maintain all models of helicopters, including Black Hawks and even old Sea Kings. Interoperability will be key.


This is why we built her and her sister. China is militarizing international waters in the Far East, and there can only be one purpose, to dictate sea trading terms in that zone. The implications of not showing the flags of free trading states, would be very unwise. I firmly believe that the oceans will become the frontline of trading nations, and only a strong naval presents will dissuade those who wish to militarize them. Exclusive portage is a real threat especially around Africa, which is rich in minerals. If I were the British Government, I’d place a number one… Read more »

Steven K

Ask yourself why militarization in the far east is happening? Ask yourself why relations between the west, Russia and China are frosty? The EU like NATO started as noble projects and ideas but as much as I think the US have done good they have a dominance over everyone that’s creating an unfriendly world. It’s about time the world pulls away from the US imo. I think this is why the EU want an army. To be big and bold enough to pick it’s own fights without the need of the US and its regional influence. The Mid East is… Read more »


Thank you comrade. Putin will be proud of your nonsense.


We need lots of things, I’d say subs as many as possible, conventional or otherwise. You can fight a war with the surface fleet, you can make any enemy too scared to start one with subs. Unfortunately we have the austerity at all costs government in power, the lesser of all the evils granted but this lot has cut everything it can get away to the bone, police, military doesn’t matter as long as it seems likely they’ll be collecting pensions before it’s time to pay the piper. If they found a 100 billion down the back of the couch… Read more »


Politicians are dangerous beasts and countless Defence Ministers have proved that to be the case. The notion that defence can be trimmed to the bone, and still work has been the mandate of successive governments. However, the state of the current Royal Navy is scandalous, and all principle payers who have any role in managing it, should hang their heads in shame. What is difficult to reconcile is the ability to ignore history. The assumption that conflicts in and around Europe are highly unlikely, leads to dosy planning as witnessed over the last five or so years. Decommissioning perfectly operable… Read more »


Spot on Maurice


The point of this is not to actually deploy in the Pacific in 2021 ( a lot of things can happen in the meantime) but to point out we could do, in order to provide further justification to the QE class project. no doubt in 4 years time there will be other pile of stuff to deal with.


As an aside it would be great if the Royal Navy could send a carrier to take part in the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Mike Saul

Warfighting capability is more important than PR exercises


So obvious it didn’t even needed saying.

Mike Saul

If it was that obivious why reply


Chinese will just sink it


We aren’t at war with China


Let them try ye of little faith


(at least) one F35 when in the “Littoral Manoeuvre” configuration…one???? One to provide air defence and support to the helicopter assault activities..I had imagined it would be a minimum of 6-8….


The glossy brochure at the QE naming ceremony said 12 in that mode.


Do you have a link to said brochure? We were originally told that 12 would be the routine deployment (without differentiating between carrier or amphib mode)….all a bit depressing


No sorry, I have a hardcopy.


So the ambassador to the US doesn’t decide RN operational deployments. What a shocker.

As for F-35 numbers, two weeks ago it was 20, now its 24. All on the basis of one Navy guy thinking the RAF will see sense. Yeah right.


There are further budget cuts to come, there is no money for this sort of escapade. We will probably be looking to sell the Chinese our carriers by then.


Well good job we’ll be paying to sail her right past the customer then.


Serious question-why will it take another FOUR years from sea trials to first deployment. This as part of an almost quarter century timescale from conception to service?

Mike Saul

We will not have any UK F35 in sufficient quantity to deploy, an aircraft carrier with no aircraft to deploy the carrier would not be a viable combat platform.


Thanks for your reply Mike which I understand. So the key phrase is “Full Operational Capability”. In the interim they will operate her as a Helicopter Carrier until there are sufficient F 35’s to make her fully combat ready

Mike Saul

Geoff as l understand it we will by 2025 by two operational squadrons of F35B plus an OCU. One squadron would be deployed with the carriers in peacetime operations, so 12 aircraft available for carriers that have the capacity to carry nearly 100 aircraft and helicopters. Of course in wartime all available F35B could be deployed, so say around 30 and no reserves. .This would still leave us short of the of the maximum capacity of one carrier which designed to carry 36 F35. Let alone two. The key reason for this calamity is the lack of funds to procure… Read more »


Because money

Mike Saul

I find it interesting that the article states that the UK will have 42 F35B delivered by 2021.

How many have we ordered so far?

Mike Saul

In November 2015 the UK government said it would have 24 F35 (including development and test models that would not be used for operational purposes) by 2023.

Has there been a change to this statement?

Mike Saul

The sdsr2015 said we would have two operational F35 squadrons ( 2*12=24) ready by 2025, not 2021.


This is a bad decision if we don’t have an appropriately equipped fleet, I can see the headlines now, UK carrier sunk by Chinese on first deployment…. If we do this I suspect we will be hoping the Chinese “allow” us to sail where they want or to ask our American allies for 4 Arleigh Burkes and 24 F35’s

All a bit pathetic, but that’s the UK now I am afraid.


China isn’t going to attack the carrier, even if it was completely unescorted.

The real issue is why are we trying to annoy China, who effectively own the world currently and it wasn’t long ago that we were holding for China to bail us out. There is also the huge trade potential with China, as it progressively becomes a middle class country.

We need to be seen to be supporting the US, but we should try and do so without annoying China with their potential trade options.


It reads to me, like we are providing aircraft carriers for the US to put their aircraft on? which is fine until they elect a psychopath as president and take us into a war we want no part in. Then what. Oh wait a minute…….. they just did.

[…] We reported recently that it had emerged that the UK plans to sail HMS Queen Elizabeth to the Pacific in 2021 amid concerns regarding freedom of navigation in the region. […]


2021? I would of think China should wrap up owning the area in 3 years… by then they would of prob own more carriers than the UK. LOL


So the British have launched a 75,000 ton Marine Assault (LHA) ship?

[…] We reported recently that it had emerged that the UK plans to sail HMS Queen Elizabeth to the Pacific in 2021 amid concerns regarding freedom of navigation in the region. […]

[…] this year, HMS Argyll). In addition, the UK plans to deploy one of its two new aircraft carriers (HMSQueen Elizabeth) and its accompanying battle group in the Pacific by 2021, including to the South China Sea. The […]

[…] next 5 years we’ll see each Type 45 repaired and returned to operations, hopefully in time for HMS Queen Elizabeth’s first operational deployment early next […]

Ian, Bradford

Sending a major unit to test China’s resolve to command the South China Sea is stupid. China are itching to test their ballistic anti carrier missiles. They wouldn’t dare attack a US carrier but the risks of attacking a U.K. carrier are much less. No country has a proven capability of stopping such missiles. I would guess the US has put the UK in line for this sacrificial lamb operation. The last time the RN dipped its toe in the South China Sea it was a complete disaster. I hope somebody thinks this through very carefully.


Emphasises my comments re armed forces equipment procurement which leaves us vulnerable at the whim of the US government, tell them to send in the USS ENTERPRISE OR SIMILAR as the sacrificial lamb in this exercise and see what the predictable reply will be—- not bloody likely


Will never understand why we are making our naval air service totally dependant on US aircraft likewise the RAF do we not in our country have the knowhow, the ability, or the will to supply our fighting personnel with equipment which is not putting us in the position of being dependant on the whim of a foreign government which can be malign as easy as benign. Our country always lead the world in technology and weaponry until our successive governments starting with Thatcher decided to make us Yankee dependant and EU dependant which will always make our military vulnerable. If… Read more »