Recently we were alerted to a rather surprising event, an MP on the Defence Select Committee itself repeating the assertion that HMS Queen Elizabeth and her sister ship HMS Prince of Wales, will not have any aircraft.

The remark, part of a larger exchange which can be found here, was made by Madeleine Moon MP:

“Yes We’re going to have these two shiny new aircraft carrier, with nothing to put on it.”

If this is happening at the top, what chance does anyone else have? Many of you are likely aware of the fact we run a Twitter account dedicated to correcting claims that the vessels will not have aircraft, we routinely find ourselves correcting politicians of all parties on this claim but this is the first time we’ve had to correct someone on the Defence Select Committee itself.

HMS Queen Elizabeth with aircraft that have “been put on it”.

HMS Queen Elizabeth has various types of aircraft ready for her, she just isn’t ready to operate them yet, there’s nothing untoward about this and everything is on track. She’s currently alongside in Portsmouth having work done to allow her to land F-35 jets in a couple of months.

Many of you might have taken note of the surreal coverage of HMS Queen Elizabeth entering harbour last year to claims on national TV that she has no aircraft, despite aircraft sitting on her deck.

Merlin helicopters were the first aircraft to begin flying from HMS Queen Elizabeth and they will soon be followed by other helicopter types and eventually F-35s in around 11 months. The UK currently has 15 F-35s with more being delivered. The plan, essentially, is to work up both the ship and her aircraft simultaneously to a point where the jets can begin integrating with the carrier. To that end both will require a series of trials to ensure they can function together safely and this complex programme of trials are already underway.

Thanks to Jack MaidmentPolitical Correspondent for The Telegraph, for alerting us to this.

What will the vessels carry?

The term now used for the carriers embarked squadrons is ‘Carrier Air Wing’ (CVW). 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 2023, 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.

British F-35s.

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 and Wildcat. 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.

Recently, the Ministry of Defence confirmed plans for the deployment of American F-35 aircraft alongside British jets aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth. 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.

Recently 617 Squadron was reformed to fly the UK’s new F-35 fighter jets. Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“The 617 Squadron name was made famous by ‘The Dambusters’, who played such a vital role in the Second World War. So it is fitting that by flying the world’s most advanced fighter jets, our new squadron will be ensuring that the legend of world-leading air power lives on. The F-35B Lightning will defend our nation and ensure that Britain remains a pioneer in innovation, with a unique ability to adapt to this increasingly dangerous world.

The UK is currently flying the F-35B Lightning, a multi-role fighter jet capable of a wide range of operations. It is the world’s first jet to combine radar evading stealth technology with supersonic speeds and short take-off and landing capability.”

British F-35s

Lightning Force Commander Air Commodore David Bradshaw said:

“This is a most momentous day for the UK Lightning Force as we celebrate the reformation of 617 Squadron. Manned by highly capable Royal Air Force and Royal Navy personnel and equipped with the truly remarkable F-35B Lightning, 617 Squadron will once again provide potent, flexible Air Power for the nation. 

In a simple yet highly significant ceremony held in the heart of Washington DC amongst friends and colleagues as part of celebrations for RAF100, the famous Dambusters marked the start of another exciting chapter in their Squadron’s proud history. I very much look forward to welcoming 617 Squadron home to RAF Marham this summer as they prepare for operational service from land and sea.”

The Ministry of Defence say the first 9 of the UK’s currently 15 strong F-35B fleet will arrive at RAF Marham in Summer. It is understood that the jets will be supported on the move by Voyager tankers.

British F-35B initial operational capability is scheduled will be declared in December 2018 for land and the from the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers in 2020.

A very informative timelime from Save The Royal Navy.
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If you repeat a lie long enough people are likely to start believing in it. This MP is either naive or disingenuous – a total disgrace.


A helicopter is an aircraft is it not. You would have thought MPs might have noticed the helicopter trials earlier this year.
My money is that she was being disingenuous, as you said, to prove a political point.


So it is a replacement for HMS Ocean it being a helicopter carrier that can also land v/stol aircraft.


I guarantee we end up with a half of force of “tranche 1 TYPHOON” type F35B’s that are incapable of being software upgraded to maximize their capability and are riddled with all the early stage production issues.


The Marines might have some, the RN won’t though since they’re getting the vast majority later.


In fairness though her basic message seemed to be very pro defence. In that short clip she attacked the ability to protect the carriers, which I took to be a comment on the lack of escort numbers, more than she did F-35B numbers and I am reassured to hear people in parliament talking about that. Also, that clip concluded with her attacking those that claim that the gaps can be filled by juggling around a bit with the current levels of funding and her stating that is not the case which I assumed was leading up to her saying that… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

Really? I had not seen that.


Just click on the video and play the full clip. She’s actually talking mostly about capability gaps, in particular (and I admit rather a clumsy phrase) “not a little gap” in the ability to protect the carriers which, if one is looking at it with an open mind without having already decided that she’s an idiot, might well be coming from being quite familiar with the planned out-of-service dates of the T23s, the likely in-service dates of the T26s, and what do any of us know about the T31s which won’t be top flight ASW escorts anyway so not really… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

Cheers. Was on mobile and didnt see the clip as I skim read through.


Agree. A lot a common sense being displayed and, as you say, the conversation is really about significant gaps in capability and capacity to protect and project that needs an injection of cash to begin to remedy


I totally agree, she’s been quoted out of context and what she says about the capability gap is dead On. We do have these shiny new carriers that we cannot provide enough aircraft for at present plans or a viable escort group and it needs to be said! How embarrassing is it that we may have to rely on the USMC to provide what we cannot So much for independence after BREXIT


Hi Andy,

I agree with you wholeheartedly except that I would say we can afford to provide what we need. We have simply chosen not to. Instead, our politicians have elected to spend vast sums on foreign aid, increases in social welfare and so on whilst neglecting defence. Shameful and irresponsible; a mistake I fear will come back to haunt us in the near future.


increase in social aid?
We’ve cut the social welfare budget so much that we’ve got people dying shortly after they are declared ‘fit for work’.


Thanks for that Julian, it made me look through her twitter timeline and it seems she is very pro defence and pro armed forces. So yes, likely flying a kite to get a reaction and maybe more budget, one which is a good idea.

Ironic that it’s the same thing those who are basically anti-defence use the same argument which is of course actually wrong. I had to post in reply to that usual nonsense elsewhere over the weekend.


Hi Julian,

I believe you are spot on as I inferred exactly the same. To me she was attacking the lack of escorts to protect the carriers and the overall lack of funds for the Armed Forces – both of which she is 110% correct – sadly…..

Daniele Mandelli

Just like the current windrush fiasco. Many ministers, civil servants and MPs from all sides seem totally utterly incompetent. A change from one government to the next simply brings in the next batch. When will the nation wake up to realise politicians are obsolete and a nation should be governed by those with the greatest integrity, intelligence, and business acumen, not politicians whose main concern is their own survival and spin? That a serving MP on the DSC cannot do their homework on the subject matter sums it up. And with brexit being sabotaged as we speak by unelected Lords… Read more »


We do need a very good look at how are democracy is run. For me I would like to see: 1) a specific core section of education on suffrage, should include the history of the vote, who died to give it to use, how early it can be lost and the consequence, how to look at information and make informed decisions and how government works ( what’s the executive ect). You only get the vote after the course is finished, new arrivals to our country would be expected to take the course as would every adult not now in education.… Read more »

Harry Bulpit

While the nothing to pot on thing is a myth. It is true that we are short on both aircraft and escorts. And I’d be rather happy for this over exaggerated claim to continue going around if it meant we got more kit.


Exactly. That’s the other thing. What are the consequences of this myth becoming a reality in the minds of public, politicians and media? Probably a call to increase overall purchase numbers and/or accelerate existing purchase commitments both of which would be a good thing.

Daniele Mandelli

This is a good point actually.


Exactly which is in my understanding why she said it partially as you see the full context of what she said


Whilst you are correct in the narrow sense of that incorrect comment she made I think that, the point the Lady was trying to make on the video was that we need to take the Strategic and Funding issues more seriously, rather than play around or manipulate the small resources that we have, to some how get by! This point carries across all the services, so rather than have under-resourced Type 45’s or Carriers with U.S. Marine Aircraft to make up the numbers we need to NOW adjust our Strategic thinking to the New Emerging World order and increase our… Read more »


well the good news is 9 f35b,s are getting delivered to RAF Marham in the next few months or are those ones not getting used on the carrier…????maybe she did not bother to look into that

Daniele Mandelli

In time yes. But not yet.

Mark B

I’m not sure I would worry too much about this. It will be dispelled in a few months when we get pretty pictures of F35Bs landing on this shiny new ship. A BBC documentary is sure to follow in due course. If the RN and RAF can maximise their publicity efforts perhaps there can be pictures in the media which will spread the word. Remember that you need no qualifications to be an MP or a Minister – they are supposed to represent Joe Public and be equally well informed.

Daniele Mandelli

Therein lies the problem for me. I know this is how it is but I think it is nuts. Jobs with responsibility should come with certain standards.

Mark B

I take your point however the UK electorate are the ones who hired them and therefore they must be the ones to fire them. In theory the britsh press should be taking this on in all areas not just defense. MPs and cabinet ministers should be ensuring that they are briefed and understand what is going on otherwise they may inadvertantly mislead parliament and the British public. A topical subject at the moment.

[…] post ‘Carriers with no aircraft’, the myth that refuses to die is still being repeated in Par… appeared first on UK Defence […]


A remark taken out of context I think. I think she understands that lack of funding is restricting the F-35 buy rate and the building of escorts and that juggling with the budget will not solve the problem: an increase is needed. She is doing her job.


I think she’s spot on to be fair…

Ex Vosper guy

One man’s myth is another man’s fact…. Perhaps the origin of this ‘myth’ is a document that can (or could) be downloaded off the RUSI website entitled ‘WHITEHALL REPORT 1-15 Maximising European combat air power’. There on page 2 (16 of 43 in the pdf download) is the following paragraph;- Current UK plans for the F-35 envisage an initial order of 48 aircraft spaced across production lots such that a maximum of 37 F-35Bs will be in service at any given time until at least 2030 with the RAF/Royal Navy. Due to the needs of the training cycle, maintenance and… Read more »


Im more concerned that the only sort of defence at the moment on these carriers is GPMG, no Phalanx/Goalkeeeprs, no missile sytem, what sort of system is envisaged. How reassuring that the ship has a film set on board. Im very concerned that the vibration issues on the vessel were hushed up as they were reports at least 6 months before launch that i know of, how surprising that on sea trials all of a sudden the issue of vibration emerged, there are paint issues below the water line. The issue of flight deck coatings have yet to be addressed… Read more »

Paul T

Pressguard – if you look on various threads on here there is lots to read about the why’s and wherefores regarding the lack of substantial armament on the Carriers.As to technical issues I thought that the Vibration problem (at the time of first sailing) was down to some debris picked up by one of the propellers on the tricky maneuvering to get her out into the open water from the dock area.Ive not heard of any paint issues so have you more information on those ?


‘The 617 Squadron name was made famous by ‘The Dambusters’, who played such a vital role in the Second World War’

Barnes-Wallis suggested quite a few more targets for the bouncing bomb but the cost of one raid was far too high to consider more. A great feat of flying, courage, and science but not vital in the winning of the war.


The current plan is that for the ships maiden operational deployment, a US squadron of F-35B’s will be embarked because the UK will not have enough aircraft.

That’s beyond pathetic.

30 years planning and HMG can’t get 24 UK aircraft to half fill QE’s deck. Let alone have enough for a full complement of 36.

John Barton

Not sure if the MP was wrong or right on this. It all comes down to whether he was talking about fixed wing aircraft or not. If he was, then he was right. As a helicopter is an aircraft, but we normally split the two types, don’t we? If that was the case, then we do have two aircraft carriers that have no fixed wing aircraft for the next year. So, we have two of the most expensive helicopter assault ships ever to be built for the Royal Navy, for the next year anyway. As someone said, ‘If you tell… Read more »


Something to think about to fill the gap for a while. Buy the USMC Harriers being put out of service as they convert to F35B’s. As I recall many were purchased from the UK. I’m sure at least 2 operational squadrons worth, training ships, reserves, and spares inventory could be bought at fire sale prices just to fill the gap for – say 10 years. Have F35B pilots dual rated on both…



Trouble is that, according to an ex Harrier pilot who I used to work with, Harriers are hellish difficult to fly so I can imagine that the training is lengthy. With us probably having no ex Harrier pilots left in the RAF it would probably be a disproportionate effort to set up and get pilots rated on Harrier. My ex-pilot colleague described takeoff and landing as being like trying to balance a ping-pong ball on top of a hair dryer. The Spanish might be interested though to keep their Harrier fleet going for longer. If the UK military is cash-strapped… Read more »


That’s what I’ve heard as well, we just lost one due to pilot error a couple of weeks ago. The USMC still flies a lot of them and their training pipeline is operational. Perhaps that could be used to train UK pilots if a decision were made to do so (very doubtful). The Harrier is still a very effective CAS platform and armed with modern air to air missiles could contribute to fleet defense in a limited role. Although there aren’t any current pilots (maybe a couple of exchange types) the UK has very deep institutional experience in flying the… Read more »

Richard Davies

I believe that many of the Harriers that were sold to the USMC have mostly been used for spares. I’m not 100% sure on that but I will look into it.

Richard Davies

This is a article from 2012 showing the Harriers that were sold to the USMC. In Arizona and used for spares. We could buy them back if we wanted to.–sold-price-just-ONE-US-replacements.html


I’ve been to the AMARC “Boneyard” and it’s a sad sight with all those aircraft just sitting there waiting to be dismantled. Many of them do fly again but the vast majority just get scrapped. It’s hard for an old USAF man to see…


Paul T

I’m pretty sure that we still have the Sea Harriers locked away somewhere (Yeovilton perhaps) but agree the preverbial ship sailed long ago as to having the pilots to actually fly them.


When the Charles de Gaulle deployed off Libya she carried 8 Rafale and 6 Super Etandard. QE with just 15 F-35B should be capable of a higher sortie rate. The French would certainly have liked us to have a single cats a traps carrier and to share carrier skills training with them. The pressure to buy Rafale versus F-18 would have been very high. But politically and industrially we made the right choice – we have 2 sovereign carriers, one will always be available, BAE and RR have 15% share of F-35 builds and with both the FAA and RAF… Read more »

Nigel Collins
Peter French

The sheer stupidity of some of those who represent us is beyond parallel . This particular person aptly named Moon is supposed as a person on the defence Commitee, to have some smattering of knowledge as to her brief Instead she spouts Garbage its frightening . Looking at her photograph above one can imagine her settling down in a settee with the Islington set sipping her white wine and chattering away about the useless expenditure on defence.


Err, except that her whole point was that existing budgets couldn’t simply be juggled about to fill the lengthy capability gaps currently contemplated for F-35B and escort numbers and that funding needs to be increased in order to make sure we adequately protect and equip the carriers. Just what most people here have been saying. Did you even listen to the clip rather than just look at her photo?

P tattersall

Stupid women lies lies and lies … What does she think we should do just place aircraft on the carrier before it’s ready to take them …

Sceptical Richard

Trouble is, the myth grew out of the catastrophic balls-up that the Cameron administration made of the whole F-35 debacle. First, they wanted to reverse the Blair government’s decision to buy the carriers until they found out that it would have cost them as much to cancel than to continue (well done the Carrier Alliance negotiating team!). Then, because they couldn’t cancel them, they accused everyone except themselves of having chosen the wrong F-35s to go on the carriers. So they switched to the C version. Until they discovered the QEs weren’t designed for steam catapults and there was no… Read more »

Sceptical Richard

Interesting also to see if before then, any Spanish or Italian AV8-Bs land on Liz. Or Italian F-35Bs when they get them too…. It should be great to be able to cross-deck with the Spanish, Italians as well as USMC…

Sceptical Richard

I’ve now had time to watch her clip. Well done! Well said! She’s absolutely right! So she got the bit about aircraft-less aircraft carriers wrong. OK, so what? The main thrust of her message was not that. It was about the overall capability and funding gap to enable adequate power projection constructed around the carriers and all the other enablers required to achieve effect. I think she was spot on!

Glenn Ridsdale

So Moon displays her ignorance and indolence for all the world to see. She ought to be ashamed to accept her pay cheque. But she won’t be. Socialists are like that.