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Newly appointed Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson spoke about HMS Queen Elizabeth as he visited her on trials.

“Let’s not underestimate the growing threat from Russia and North Korea. These are countries that want to damage Britain, these are countries that want to undermine Britain,” he said.

When Russia sees this aircraft carrier – they have nothing like it in the world. This is the finest aircraft carrier in the world – it is leagues ahead of any other nation.

We should take a great amount of pride in that, and we can use this to strike fear into the hearts of all our enemies and that is what it is designed to do, and I am sure that is what it will do.”

Captain Kyd said of the new Defence Secretary:

“Clearly he is a new pair of eyes and he’s been intrigued to meet a lot of the ship’s company and get a sense of the culture and the philosophy of the ship and to see what the nation has bought.”

What does Russia have?

The Russian carrier is designed to lead a flotilla of vessels or operate solo while keeping enemy fleet at bay using its anti-ship missiles and using its aircraft to deter enemy aircraft.

The Queen Elizabeth class are designed to operate with a battle group to maintain air superiority, strike a variety of strategic and tactical targets using aircraft in addition to providing an air assault platform.

The Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers will be the largest surface warships ever constructed for the Royal Navy.

The vessels will be utilised by all three branches of the UK Armed Forces and will provide eight acres of sovereign territory. Both ships will be versatile enough to be used for operations ranging from high intensity conflict to providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief.

Surprisingly for their sheer scale each ship will only have a total crew of 679, only increasing to the full complement of 1,600 when the air elements are embarked. This is made possible by extensive automation of many systems.

HMS Queen Elizabeth, the first in a fleet of two, is currently in the final stages of completion, the vessel is due to go sea for trials after the New Year.

The Admiral Kuznetsov serves as the flagship of the Russian Navy and is their only aircraft carrier. The initial name of the ship was Riga; she was launched as Leonid Brezhnev in 1985.

She was originally commissioned in the Soviet Navy and was intended to be the lead ship of her class but the only other ship of her class, Varyag, was never completed or commissioned by the Soviet, Russian or Ukrainian navy. This second hull was eventually sold to the People’s Republic of China by Ukraine, completed in Dalian and launched as Liaoning.

The Russian vessel carries a number of offensive weapons typically associated with guided missile cruisers and the carrier itself is capable of engaging surface, subsurface and airborne targets.

What kind of power can they project?

The Queen Elizabeth class carriers, in peacetime, will usually deploy with around 12-24 F-35Bs and typically around 14 helicopters. The exact types and numbers of aircraft embarked being adjusted to meet current requirements and threats.

In addition to the joint force of Royal Air Force and Royal Navy F-35Bs, the air wing is expected to be composed of a ‘Maritime Force Protection’ package of 9 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.

The vessels are capable of deploying a variety of aircraft in large numbers, up to a maximum in the upper fifties in surge conditions.

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 is estimated to be able to sustain a maximum sortie generation rate in surge conditions of up to 110 sorties per day.

The Admiral Kuznetsov can hold up to about 40 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, including Su-33 fighters and various versions of Ka-27 helicopter, however it rarely sails with more than half of that number.

While designated an aircraft carrier by the West, the design of Admiral Kuznetsov implies a mission different from that of either the United States Navy carriers or those of the Royal Navy.

The Admiral Kuznetsov is a heavy aviation cruiser rather than just an aircraft carrier. The vessel carries a number of offensive weapons typically associated with missile cruisers. The carrier itself is capable of engaging surface, subsurface and airborne targets, independently of its air wing.

According to War is Boring here:

“Admiral Kuznetsov has never seen combat, nor would she be of much practical military use. The 55,000-ton carrier has a bow ramp, not steam catapults, requiring her aircraft to shed weight before taking off.

This means her planes will go into combat with less fuel or bombs than the ground-based fighters Russia has already deployed to Syria.”

During the voyage the Admiral Kuznetsov reportedly “will have about 15 fighters Su-33 and MiG-29K/KUB and more than ten helicopters Ka-52K, Ka-27 and Ka-31”.

STOBAR (Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery), the system used for the launch and recovery of aircraft from the Admiral Kuznetsov, does not allow for the same frequency of launches/recoveries and tempo of operations afforded by American carriers or even the Queen Elizabeth class.

With Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery, the aircraft take off using the ramp and are arrested by a cable when landing back on the deck. This means that the Admiral Kuznetsov’s aircraft will only be able to fly a relatively limited number of sorties daily.

Other relevant factors include the process and capacities for transporting ordnance to assembly areas and from there to the flight deck, refuelling and arming stations layout, number and capacities of aircraft elevators, etc.

What does this all mean?

These vessels clearly cannot do some of what the other can, while the Admiral Kuznetsov can venture alone at times, the Queen Elizabeth would be unable due to a lack of offensive capabilities.

These vessels although similar in overall form are designed for different roles and with different ideologies in mind. The topic of which ideology is more practical today however is an entirely different topic.

As an aviation platform however, the Queen Elizabeth class will certainly be more capable and in the role of a cruiser, the Admiral Kuznetsov clearly comes out on top.

Is the press right to portray the Kuznetsov as something akin to the Bismarck however? No, clearly not.

The Russian flagship while a potent symbol is heavily outdated and its mix of roles, cruiser and carrier, severely restricts its capabilities in the mission has been deployed for off Syria.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the more modern Queen Elizabeth class vessels will be far more capable aviation platforms.

63 COMMENTS

  1. Fighting talk from the DS!

    But surely for all its innovative features and automation a carrier is only as good as what it can project.
    So to say it is the finest carrier in the world is nonsense sitting next to a US Carrier and the aircraft that they can deploy.
    At least he is not playing down the threat of Russia.
    So lets see you up the defence budget.
    And the UK has the second best carrier, or third.

  2. If the innovative design all works then the US would be better off of course having a larger number of Catapult equipped QE class ships that still outclass any other non US carrier afloat rather than continuing with the Ford class. Even the US cannot afford to replace the Nimitz class 1 for 1 so perhaps in the future it may be possible to argue the QE class are the finest all round carrier if you consider cost and capability but not yet!

    • Yes the US can afford it. Indeed it has already been planned in the USN budgets. The last one or two Nimitz class carriers Bush and Reagan will be replaced with either a evolved Ford class or it’s successor.
      I would take a Nimitz or even one of the 2 remaining Kitty Hawks over QE because they are in terms of aircraft more versatile. The Hawks were the last conventional propulsion carriers built for the USN and they are still slightly larger at load than the QEs.

      • Elliot the US Governments budget deficit last year was $552 Billion. The Yanks like us are spending money they don’t have and it can’t last. They won’t replace the Nimitz class 1 for 1 and 10 carriers are not enough because they actually need 15 hence why they wanted the UK to build big. They need to and will think differently in the medium term.

        • They are being replaced one for one. I do believe the US Navy and Congress knows what it can afford better than you.

          Deficits only matter if you have a stagnant or declining population and economy. So long as your Nation grows with it’s debts not much harm is caused. 4 States in the US have a larger or equivalent GDP to the UK so our budget is quite flexible. Not to mention what isn’t mentioned in the Media is all of the debt is caused by Medicare and Social Security. Both of which are are Trusts separate from the main Federal Budget and debt pools. Fear mongers and morons just look at the total number of expenditures not at where it is being spent.
          Does the Navy want more Carriers? Yes, of course they do. But the USN hasn’t shot for a larger than 11 carrier fleet since the bottom fell out of the anti communist market in 91.
          The 10 currently in the Navy build plan are for 1 to replace Enterprise and the next 9 to replace the first 9 Nimitz Class. With the last Nimitz (Bush) replaced by the next carrier class.

          • “Deficits only matter if you have a stagnant or declining population and economy. ”

            Cool, and correct I think. Austerity in itself shrinks eonomy and GDP and reduces the ability to create money.

            Or something like that!

  3. The QEs are a great game changer for the RN but are amongst the poorest equipped with self defense systems whilst belonging to a navy which has never been so short of escort vessels. There’s no point claiming the QE will always be well supplied with escorts when so few exist & numbers will remain static at best for decades. Head in the sand DS! What is constantly ignored is that in any conflict the enemy throws spanners in your plans & vital escorts are sunk or incapacitated requiring extensive dockyard time to repair. If we start at minimal(or less than, even) escort numbers it will be very soon before QEs cannot go to sea for lack of escort protection.
    HMG needs to stop making statements far removed from reality & stump up the resources to give our servicemen a fair fighting chance. The spin does not fool our enemies, only our people.

    • “Head in the sand DS! What is constantly ignored is that in any conflict the enemy throws spanners in your plans”

      and that encapsulate war, something not understood by those lucky enough to have never met it face on.

    • Yes, you have hit the nail on the head. QE classs was not designed to have much by way of AAW self defence and it would probably be impractical to add it. We are where we are. Simply put, ( some) Type 31 must be capable of contributing to carrier screening and the type must be built in numbers. I may be wearing my rose coloured specs but I am hoping for an initial batch of 5 cheap ‘patrol’ frigates to fly the flag and do standing tasks ( to free up the escorts we do have) followed by a further batch of at least 5 more heavily armed ships for carrier escort, with possible reduction of Type 26 numbers to make the sums work.

      • Guys I just think the best we can do with limited resources is to concentrate on giving them the largest poss air group in the shortest poss time. Aircraft are far and away the best means of anti-air and anti-ship defence. AA and ASS are the best option only if aircraft aren’t available.

  4. I hope the new DS is not as clueless as he sounds! If he truly believes what he says, he is delusional at best! I am a big fan if the QE class and am glad we are getting them (albeit at great expense to the RN, which is a whole other conversation) but to say she is the finest aircraft carrier in the world is well……. simply not true. I would have a Nimitz class carrier any day and as stated above, the QEs are absolutely hands-down the least well protected in terms of a self-defence suite.

    Even we concede that the DS is correct, the Russians have so many more other assets that we do that would quickly negate any advantage. Surface ships, submarines, ASMs, etc.,. take your pick.

    I do hope this is not what we can expect in future from the new DS…..

  5. The USN are reported to be looking at an aircraft carrier feasibility study based on the America class large lphd. Only problem is this design is not massively fast or as fuel efficient as QE hull. A catapult equipped QE or slightly enlarged QE would be a good fit for the USN and enable a carrier force of more than 10 supercarriers. They could afford 3 QE class for one Ford class.
    The DS does need to stop talking up the QE class. Remember they have little to no self defensive weaponry. They are the ONLY strike carrier in the world without a SAM and we have insufficent aircraft planned to enter service. An active fleet of just 48 F35Bs is not going to be enough.
    Then do not get me started on the lack of escort warships, their light armament or the fact we have only 7 SSNs to face the Russian threat down.
    we need to man up.

    • No they would not fit US Naval doctrine well. The QEs are not nearly as fast as any of the Nimitz, Ford, or Kitty Hawks. In order to get their maximum range they are confined to slightly over 20 knots and even then can only go 500mi further than a America-class LHA.
      The only reason the USN is having to look at the study is Senator McCain slips it into the appropriations bill every year. McCain has hated Nuclear carriers since the 80s and has tried to get them cut at every opportunity.
      The only reason the Ford was so expensive was the Senate and President Obama dicked around with the construction time. This caused savings in one year but caused costs to skyrocket throughout the program due the stretched out build.
      The Navy in no way want to go smaller or back to non-nuclear. What they proposed to the House and Senate is to go back to a 4yr build schedule. As the sequential production and bulk buying allowes them to save massively.

  6. Although obviously the two ships do share the same principle function, the article makes the important distinction between the classifications of the QE class and Adm Kuznetsov by their relative countries (along with their differences in armament/layout) and consequently their relative roles.
    In light of that, it’s so frustrating that the new DS seems to have carried on with Michael Fallon’s comparison of the new mighty QE with the dilapidated Adm Kuznetsov with seeming little regard for anything else. Context here does make all the difference. Humility would also go a long way for someone in his position. Yes of course he needs to talk the carriers up, and I certainly hope they turn out to be the world beaters he suggests they are, but right now the conservatives are banging on about how much of a threat Russia is (multiple cabinet ministers) while forcing the 1st Sea Lord to choose between his right or left arm to quote Zambellas. The Budget is due next week and I highly doubt any positive announcement will be made for defence, but if it is then the commissioning of QE will be all the better. At the end of the day though, as i said before, humility is extremely important. These are new, untested carriers, yet to embark fast jets. When they do, it may be with a number that is extremely modest relative to the huge size of the carriers themselves. To make matters worse, the fact that they were meant to replace the invincible class seems.to have been lost on the conservatives, and i wouldn’t be surprised if the new DS comes out in a few months and says how terrific they are at replacing Ocean, Albion and Bulwark.
    Just to be clear, this is not a criticism of the ships themselves – I am excited as anyone to see them both commissioned. My fear is the cost of what the RN will lose as a consequence of this. Obviously like all of us here I’d have liked to have seen Ocean kept alongside Albion and Bulwark for amphibious assault and QE class for dedicated Carrier Strike. I’m terrified that the reason the new DS is bigging these ships up so much atm isn’t out of a genuine sense of their ability, but because he intends them to replace not only the invincibles but albion class and ocean as well, and is therefore heaping praise on them so as to justify the huge gap that they will soon have to fill.

  7. Well, considering all the media criticism the QE has taken, and is still getting from the ignorant, I’m with Williamson on this, a great morale boost to have the defence secretary solidly behind her.

    It would be interesting of course if the Russians did decide to go with a complete refit of the Kuznetsov after all. With a missile cruiser and a fair few SSNs, SSGNs and even SSKs in tow, she could be a formidable enemy. Always unwise to kick a sleeping bear, specially when its awake.

  8. I wish these DS,s would stop bragging about capability , its utterly juvenile . To claim that the Carriers are superior to US carriers is utter garbage. When the MOD retrofit defensive and offensive capability in terms of Missiles then the Carriers are totally reliant on its escort group for its defence . Once again we produce an asset on the cheap.

  9. “this is the finest aircraft carrier in the world – it is leagues ahead of any other nation.”

    He is either a fool, an idiot or a liar.

    To be generous I suggest the latter.

    I would like plain speaking truth from our politicians rather than lies, but then again people wouldn’t vote for people who told the truth.

  10. Fallon-esqe bravado from the little boy in the big chair!

    We all know the Kutz is a poo-pile, but the Russian navy is growing, the Royal navy is shrinking.

  11. “When Russia sees this aircraft carrier – they have nothing like it in the world. This is the finest aircraft carrier in the world – it is leagues ahead of any other nation.”

    Geez. If he hadn’t used the phrase “leagues ahead of” this could have been mistaken for a Trump tweet. As for “leagues ahead of any other nation” better than the USA? Firstly that’s delusional and secondly saying “my carriers are better than yours” is not a great or very mature starting point for building and maintaining our relationship with our closest military ally.

    Our carriers will be impressive, probably better than anything else out there at the moment apart from the USA. The CdG shouldn’t be discounted given the extra flexibility in aircraft that her catapult gives her but I’d guess that the QE carriers can sustain higher sortie rates and being newer should I hope have fewer maintenance issues. The one killer feature our carriers have over CdG is omni-availability. That’s got nothing to do with the design but is down to the fact that HMG did go ahead with building both carriers so one should always be available to deploy vs CdG that might be in maintenance or refit.

  12. Aside from things like the Osprey or normal rotary wing aircraft, are there any small conventional transport aircraft that could come to a stop in the length of the QE’s deck?

  13. The Defense Secretary also seems to overlook the fact that the Admiral Kuznetsov actually has fixed wing Su33 and Mig29 aircraft assigned to it…. more than can be said for the QE for a few years…

  14. Geoffrey Roach your idea of what is ‘insulting or derogatory’ seems to amount to people taking issue with something that you do not. Tristan mentioned the fact that ‘context is everything’. Were Williamson to have spoken about the carriers, especially in relation to Russia, on the back of a true growing Royal Navy, where escort numbers and the amphibious fleet were not under threat, and ships’ crews were not being juggled about in order to man newly commissioned vessels, then I think we would all just be able to sit back and cheer as the QE is commissioned. The reality is that this comes at a time when we know we are bound to lose further assets in the fleet. As someone who is symbolic of the UK armed forces, Williamson should be careful about what he says of our Navy today if it could come back to bite him tomorrow.
    Regarding the UKDJ itself. It and its articles claim to be impartial. Therefore you should not expect a one sided comment section, but a range of opinions, that both criticise and complement the contents of the article. One issue that is very topical at the moment is the issue of fast jets. Many people have ‘moaned’ as you put it about the fact the carriers won’t have fast jets for a while yet, to which many people have ‘moaned’ back and told them that there’ll be jets on the carriers from next year. Maybe we’re all just moaners – it’s not grounds for walking in and dropping the average IQ rating of the comments section by a few dozen to post infantile comments – better to post a constructive rebuttal and see where things go from there (but if you’re fixed in your ways, feel free, just a suggestion).
    Finally to end on topic, yes it is very important to boost the morale of the armed forces, but it is equally important to do it maintaining expectations, and not giving a spike in morale if it is just to plunge later on. The armed forces do their job rain or shine, but I think you’ll find a lot of criticism here was pointed at the words of Williamson who has a very real duty that transcends the actions of the armed forces and extends to diplomacy, MOD procurement and all the rest. On a positive note though, at least Williamson’s ‘leagues ahead’ comment was not as hyperbolic as referring to other posters with different opinions as ‘insulting and derogatory’.

    • Wow! Welcome. I think you’ll find if you read my posts that I am very nearly always positive about what we can do or try to do for our armed forces and defence expenditure. I am not against anybody commenting even if they have an opinion that is totally opposite to mine.

      What I do get annoyed about are the completely pointless attacks on the very politicians we are all trying to convince of our argument. The comments are very often no more than insults and innuendo. Please explain to me how that helps our cause?

  15. Pretty much wherever the carrier goes she will have a type 45 and two sea captor equipped frigates, not to mention her own embarked F35s and crowsnest. That’s more air superiority that most countries can muster with their total armed forces.

    Yes it would be great to sea captor fitted as well, but without it its not she like is sailing around unprotected. People need to stop playing top trumps about this, what matters about a carrier is aircraft carried and sortie generation, both of which she will excel at.

  16. Great to see the QE’s being built but If it ends up replacing 3 invincibles, 2 Albions and Ocean without replacements the RN will have taken a step backward, not forward

  17. Patrick. I agree in principle.
    i am not negative about our armed forces. It is the opposite, i have family members in active service and myself have served my nation faithfully for 25 years.
    There is a simple desire to highlight our political folly and lack of investment, resources and armament.
    There must be a reason why every other strike carrier in the world is fitted with SAMs. It is because they offer a vital additional layer of self defence screen whilst supporting the CBG with its air defence umbrella.
    It is penny pinching in the extreme to build a £3 billion carrier and then not spend the £25-50 million to fit them with a couple of containerised 48 cell seaceptor silos.
    My view is that these ships are our fleet flagships which we pin our national hopes and ambitions for military victory on.
    They are very high value targets fir a potential enemy to aim to significantly damage or sink, thus they need all the protection we can give them.

    • First Mr. Bell – thank you for your years of service.

      Secondly, you are completely right. Relying solely on escorts for protection is risky as best. What happens if they are disabled or sunk themselves? Then what? 3 Phalanx isn’t going to cut it. The Type 45s have a small missile count (48) when compared to Arleigh Burke etc., and that would be assuming the Type 45s had full silos. Sea Ceptor can be quad packed on the Type 23/26 but will we actually do that?

      The point is – as Mr. Bell stated – every other carrier operating country sees the need for their carriers to have self defence missiles as a last resort in addition to CIWS. What makes us think we are any different??

      • Maximising and optimising flight deck and flight operations I think. It’s a way of thinking. I potentilaly agree with it.

      • Evening guys

        As I have mentioned on another post on this site, the CVF within the wider CTG has a full proven layered defence system. CWIS is last line of defence. If it is getting that close we have bigger problems.

  18. pre 1982 we had missiles on our ships but no CIWS or AEW. We then had a war and lost men and ships. We then had all three! Nothing has changed except with fewer ships and men we now could not afford any losses. Anyone serious about the defence of an island should be worried.

  19. Too much pessimism on here.. Just take a few minutes to think about this.. relax and calm down and sit back. Now say after me ” The UK is going to have two huge 70,000 ton carriers (multi-role) yay brilliant..

  20. 47 comments – with passion, tells you that as a country we are still free, still debating and more importantly – we still care.
    The platform has been designed as a high end STOL platform, nothing in the STOL arena even comes close. The only other cats and traps platform that even come close happen to be our closest ally – the USA.
    There may be perceived shortfalls but, compared to what we have today and what we had 10 years ago it is a massive step change in capability.
    The only challenge HMG now face is funding the other capabilities that SDSR has also called for:
    Deterrent
    Amphibious ability (battle group)
    If HMG wish to maintain those capabilities either funding matches ambition or something gets cut.
    Potentially painful times in the year of the Royal Navy or a renaissance of Naval combat power not seen since the early seventies.
    We shall see.

    • STOL / VSTOL was always the right way for the RN to go. Now indeed all it needs is a (relatively modest) escort fleet to suppor them and other duties. But it really doesn’t need to be huge in numbers of hulls, compact and complete will do fine.

  21. It’s inconceivable The QE class would deploy anywhere without one T45. If heading off to a shooting war, it would be two T45’s, plus other escorts.

    The small active T45 force is going to be fully committed to the carrier group, with little capacity for anything else.

    The lack of QE2 Sea Ceptor capability will, I am sure be rectified at some point, but, without doubt, two T45’s will provide a “very” effective air defence umbrella.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if future T45 refits saw the Astor 30 replaced with Astor NG and the Aster 15 replaced with quad packed Sea Ceptor (preferably ER version) and perhaps energy weapons for last ditch Defence, mast mounted for range, taking advantage of the T45’s statue.
    Such a weapons fit would provide a supremely capable war load.

    • Good. I don’t want them doing anything else. Or the T26.

      Our best assets should be used to support the CBG.

      Leave the flag waving, drug smuggler and pirate chasing to OPV’s, T31, or RFA with a helicopter and RM.

      Using billion pound T45’s is quite frankly ridiculous.

      • “Using billion pound T45’s is quite frankly ridiculous”

        I agree. I have no issue with the T45s only deploying with the carriers. I can’t see the Albions (if we retain them) ever deploying without carrier backup so that’s covered too. We just need T31 to be credible now for those tricky medium threat situations and I’d love to see some drone projects back on the table after the ScanEagle trials lost funding because some clever stuff there could transform the abilities of the new B2 Rivers for low threat surveillance/policing roles.

  22. Positive comments – Geoffrey, Patrick, John etc, you know who I mean – are always welcome, and I heartily support them all. Let’s give the new man a chance, at least he seems to be talking up defence, and the carriers in particular.

    • Steve, its been a very long time coming, but we are on the cusp of regenerating Carrier capability, well not so much regenerating, but introducing a new extremely capable ability that’s in a totally different league from the old Invincible class and her Harriers.

      The ships are coming along and F35 numbers are steadily growing.

  23. Russia doesn’t particularly need anything like it. Russia is a land based power. Always has been. We waste our taxes on the navy. They waste theirs on the army. America wastes theirs on both.

  24. I can only think of one post-war example of a carrier using its close-in weapons systems. That was the USS Saratoga accidentally firing a Sea Sparrow at a Turkish destroyer. I think we’ve moved on along way from the Midway and Leyte Gulf. I no longer think it important that our carriers be equipped with significant weapons systems.

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