By 2023, the UK is hoping to be able to deploy 24 British F-35Bs at sea if required in the event of ‘a national emergency’.

Former First Sea Lord, Lord West of Spithead, asked in a written question:

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the statement by the Prime Minister on the Integrated Review of Foreign, Defence, Security and Development policy on 19 November (HC Deb, col 495), how many F-35B combat aircraft could be embarked in a national emergency on each of the two new carriers by 2023.”

Baroness Goldie, Minister of State for the Ministry of Defence, answered:

“It has been longstanding policy that by bringing two aircraft carriers into service we will ensure that there will always be at least one carrier available 100 per cent of the time, either at sea or in port at very high readiness to deploy. The Carrier Enabled Power Projection (CEPP) programme remains on track to deliver the second operational squadron of F-35 by December 2023. This will provide two squadrons (a total of up to 24 aircraft) available to embark as directed by operational tasking.”

This has been planned for some time now.

Vice Admiral Jerry Kyd, former commander of HMS Queen Elizabeth, previously commented on the initial deployment and the gradual increase in air wing numbers some years ago:

“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.

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So 2 years before we can deploy a sovereign UK only CBG. Given everything, budget, F35 buy rate, Covid, new capability…… I’d say that was a good show. Given the timing of block IV upgrades to the F35 it probably isn’t desirable to go quicker.

David Barry

Well, semantics, sovereign yes, battle group? Not for peer on peer and with both surface and air platforms both under armed in terms of munitions, it must be a great sight but, if the Greeks can buy 2.5Bn in new jets can we not grasp the nettle and get the CBG kitted out in full?


Greece is buying 18 new and used Rafales for €2.5 billion.


We have ordered 48 F35Bs for a start.


And …. far as I am aware there is no peer to U.K. that can host 24 5th Gen aircraft on a carrier other than the US.


And Greece has a request into the US to buy 24 F-35s.


We have hundred and odd Typhoons, already


I’m not really sure what peer there is apart from the US and France. Can’t really see that being a problem since they are close allies and all.

No other peer navies out there with the ability to deploy a blue water carrier battle group ( and no China and Russian can’t and we have no intention of invading either of those nations so what they can deploy in home waters and sky’s are not relevant as no one is bashing china’s front door in ) .

Paul T

How can China not Deploy a Carrier Battle Group when they have Two Carriers ?.


I was very specific in stating a blue water carrier battle group. Because the two Chinese carriers are either a soviet Cold War STOBAR rebuild ( which has only ever been a test bed and never deployed beyond local waters) or new build from the same Soviet design, which again has not yet ventured beyond the local. These type of carriers alway had a limit in the weight of conventional airframe and weapons you can get of the ski jump. The air wings is made up of the J-15 airframe which is another knocked ex soviet design, the Big problem… Read more »


Sky’s waters?


Home waters and sky’s, as in the blue stuff what is below and you float on and the blue what is above which you fall through….my bad grammar I’m afraid… product of a 1970s education system that was not keen on teaching working class kids such nonsense as grammar.


The correct spelling (not grammar) for the plural of sky is skies.

Glad I could help.


Spelling was not high up in the education systems priorities either.


Cannot train pilots that fast currently taking 3.5 years from student to F35


I suspect that if the brown stuff really hit the fan we could actually do this during 2022. 617 and 207 squadrons with just enough airframes…of course this would leave nothing in reserve and nobody training….

Daniele Mandelli

In war, this happens. Stuff happened in weeks during Corporate.

Supportive Bloke

And some things didn’t happen like putting any kind of air defences on Atlantic Conveyor.

Prepare in haste – regret at lesure.


Good point but that is what war is about. Im sure you are aware, you can plan for as many eventualities as possible, but no plan survives contact with the enemy. Once contact is made, its all about making the best choices you can, with the information you have at hand, to further your plan and mission statement. I think we have all regretted descisions made on the ground, biggest thing is to learn from it mate. However again im sure we are all aware many politicians dont learn and thats the sad thing. Cheers.

Supportive Bloke

All true: sadly But some lessons have been learned and retained and improved on. We are in a different place to ‘82. Which got me thinking and it sort of begs the question on how STUFT and the Ro-Ro’s would be protected. They need something good on them. The best way would be containerised Sea Ceptor remote fired from an over watching pair of T31 – has to be a pair otherwise the old blind spot problem dominates. This would add to the overall sanitised area around the fleet. Second best would be non deck penetrating 40mm mounted high –… Read more »


We are in avery different place than 82 spot on, tech wise and capability thats for sure. Im a big believer in containerised weapon systems, and Sea Ceptor/Sky Sabre brings that possibility to a whole new level. Wonder how a few extra sets of Giraffe radar would cope on deck, of say any STUFT with CAMM either sea ceptor or Sky Sabre? Non deck penetrating systems, able to be changed and swapped about seem to me to be the way forward. For a relativily small investement a high end capability. Gunbuster, whats your thoughts?

Daniele Mandelli


Benjamin Rule

Disagree completely. Corporate needed to be done fast. There were loads of compromises sure. Some of those led to loss of life and assets. But we only had so much resource and every day it was at sea it was wearing out. Just one example. HMS Alacrity had to go home because her 4.5 inch gun was completely worn out. Commander Craig wanted to fight until the barrel fell off. Sandy Woodward basically ordered him home. Plus there was the weather. It was heading into the Southern winter. If we had not done it fast we would have had to… Read more »

Supportive Bloke

I agree that time was of the essence to beat the winter.

My point was more about how do you make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to critical STUFT again in the future? You cannot change the past only learn from it.

Yes, we now have Phalanx in numbers but other things can also be used to keep the brood of ducklings safe.


Ahh but PHX is a plug n play system. Only needs power source and there are in stock in the armoury. If the French hadn’t sorted the software AC wouldn’t have been hit.

Supportive Bloke

I don’t think the French providing updated Exocet software story is true.

AC was hit because it was a) big b) close to where the carriers were though to be c) had no protection systems fitted.

There was consideration to fitting protection systems to AC and it was canned.


This has been the plan for a number of years but good to see it hasn’t slipped. Is the F35 delivery rate still on track?

Hope to see 24 British and USMC jets on-board for this years deployment. It’d be disappointing if they only managed 14 or 15 again like last year.


Many are blinded by British exceptionalsm and think with 24 jets and sending almost half of the fleet they can conquer the world. If this carriers were not a mistake to start of with then why not fill them to the max? Why not have enough escorts? If none that happens it’s just a vanity project and the enemies known it too well! When countries like Australia and Canada are building more high end frigates than the UK you know Britain is in trouble .Let’s not kid ourselves Within few years the Chinese navy will be a regular scene in… Read more »

Andy B

If this is a vanity project, then why are the following countries building or already have aircraft carriers – the US, France, Russia, China, Spain, Turkey, India, Italy & Japan. Plus others with LPH such as Brazil, Egypt, South Korea, Australia et al. Are they all wrong and James is right? – *BREAKING NEWS* By 2023, we should have 42 F35B’s delivered to the UK. That being the case, in a real emergency, we could probably fill the decks with 36, and still have 3 in the OEU and 3 in the OCU. As other contributors have rightly said here… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Andy B

Umm you do realise that any nation at all by international law is allowed to drive its ships up the channel. We could have the biggest navy in the world and it would not stop the nation of bob driving a corvette up the channel. Its not been PAX Britannica for well over a hundred years now, we are all talking about the U.Ks capacity to take part in maintaining the international order, its commitment as NATO member, Be an effective Allie to its friends and maintain its interests and foreign policy position. As for number of frigates, thats not… Read more »

Peter S

I had misgivings about the carriers from their first announcement, believing we would struggle to fund the project. The real problem is not the ships as such but the F35. It is now 20 years since it won the JSF competition and major problems are still to be solved. It is expensive (3x Sea Harrier) and high maintenancee, with most planned weapons yet to be integrated. To some extent, the reason behind the carrier decision has evaporated: Blair’s new world order nonsense. If we were to decide based solely on the UKs own direct interests, might we have been better… Read more »

My View

It’s the start, these things take time. 24 on deck by 2023 but 42 overall and 48 by 2025 is the real figure. A credible minimum of 70 but up to 138 could be the number in the long run. As for escorts yes the RN needs more but 19 is enough to cover one operational CSG at a time (2 T45 and 2 T23/26). The government recently committed to upping the fleet from 19 to 24 and that will come between the 2025-2033 period roughly. Australia and Canada are fitting out their T26’s more becuase that will make up… Read more »


Pilot training is still a issue as due to pre COVID was taking 18 months longer than programmes. We would have more planes than pilots.