HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to sail into Portsmouth Harbour this autumn, Defence secretary Michael Fallon has said.
The minister also said that sea trials will start within “the next few weeks”.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is due to go to sea for 11 weeks of trials in summer before arriving in Portsmouth around autumn if all goes to plan.
She’ll return to the Forth once the sea trials are done for a final period of fitting out and testing.
Ian Booth, managing director of the Aircraft Carrier Alliance said:
“Pretty much everything is now installed in the ship and working. We’ve had lots of prior factory testing before putting systems on board and so far, it’s all looking pretty good.
Over the next few months we will finish compartment handovers, and complete work to coat the flight deck. We will also conduct harbour events and acceptance trials for virtually all systems – propulsion, steering, navigation, or communications – here [at Rosyth] before we go.”
According to Bob Hawkins MBE, First Lieutenant of the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth the plan was for the carrier to sail in March, he was quoted here (in mid 2016):
“The build process continues up here in Rosyth. Some of you may have experienced this from the RN side of the house, perhaps in a new class of ship, in a new build. The frustrations are many and varied. Add to this the sheer scale and complexity of the Queen Elizabeth Class (QEC) aircraft carriers and you can imagine that each day brings a new challenge in moving towards Ships Staff Move On Board (SSMOB) then its sequel, Ready For Sea Date (RFSD).
SSMOB is planned for 9 January; RFSD 10 March. Using Andrew St George’s 12 principles of Leadership in the Royal Navy, I subscribe to his No.2, Cheerfulness. A glass half empty as opposed to a glass half full approach is a choice, and I choose to remain optimistic. Draw from that what you will.
Timing of First Entry Portsmouth (FEP) is dependent upon achieving RFSD and the subsequent success of Power and Propulsion Trials.
This initial Contractor Sea Trials period we call euphemistically ‘5-1-5’, i.e. from RFSD, five weeks at sea, one week alongside (Invergordon), five weeks at sea, then FEP: a standard package that must be executed in full from whichever start date we achieve.
Clearly, FEP will shift right if RFSD does, or indeed if ‘5-1-5’ needs to be extended to accommodate any set-backs thrown up during the trials.”
Merlin helicopters will be the first aircraft to begin flying from HMS Queen Elizabeth followed by Apache, Wildcat, Chinook and F-35. Merlins will start simple flight activities in March 2017 and then first-class flight trials begin in early 2018.
Recently, the news that HMS Queen Elizabeth will now sail for sea trials in Summer instead of Spring entered public perception. In such complex engineering projects, this type of occurrence isn’t a cause for concern nor is it unusual. HMS Queen Elizabeth, after all, is essentially a prototype and the Ministry of Defence can’t afford to get it wrong.
The news of the slip started to pick up traction when Former shadow Defence Minister Kevan Jones MP enquired in Parliament about sea trials being moved back from Spring to Summer:
“In the 2015 SDSR and again in December of last year, in the first annual report of the SDSR, the government were very clear that the sea trials for HMS Queen Elizabeth would begin in spring of this year.
In response to a parliamentary question last week, she informed me that they would no longer take place, but would take place in summer of this year. What are the reasons for this, and what is going to be the operational service date for Queen Elizabeth?”
Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Ministry of Defence Harriet Baldwin said:
“I would just like to confirm to him that she will commence her sea trials this Summer, and she will enter into the same programme so that she can sail into Portsmouth later this year.”
Defence secretary Michael Fallon said:
“It has always been our intention that Queen Elizabeth should be accepted into the Royal Navy before the end of this year. We are not giving specific dates as to when the sea trials are likely to commence.
The Queen Elizabeth will set out on those sea trials when she is ready to do so.”
Defence Procurement Minister Harriett Baldwin faced the Commons Defence Committee today, she was asked Madeleine Moon what was behind the delay and responded by saying:
“The carrier is due in Portsmouth this year but what I can’t give the committee is the specific days of the week.
By the very definition of what you’re going through when you’re going through trials is that you’re potentially in that trial process have to make some corrections to something, that’s the whole point of a trial.”
The minister added that the crew was ready.
Lt Gen. Mark Poffley, Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff for Military Capability, said:
“There have been a series of technical issues associated with bringing the vessel to the point where she can commence her sea trials.”
It is understood that this minor delay is ‘not outside the tolerance’ of the programme.
There has been a small slip in the timing of the vessel leaving Rosyth for trials, this really isn’t something to worry about as the vessel remains on track to enter service with the Royal Navy on time.