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 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 Maidment, Political Correspondent for The
Telegraph, for alerting us to this.
An MP on the Defence Select Committee just said the UK has a new aircraft carrier but has “nothing to put on it”. One for you @UKDefJournal?
— Jack Maidment (@jrmaidment) May 1, 2018
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.
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.”
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.