Aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth has launched the first ever UK F-35 ‘4-ship package’ for a reconnaissance mission.

HMS Queen Elizabeth is undergoing an intense period of flying training having successfully completed four weeks of basic sea training earlier. The aim, say the Royal Navy, is to demonstrate that the jets can successfully defend the aircraft carrier by delivering combat air patrols – launching from the ship to conduct strike missions against a target – and being ready to take off at short notice.

This is all part of a journey to enable the carrier, her aircraft and her escorts to deploy operationally next year. Next year, HMS Queen Elizabeth will deploy with two frigates, two destroyers, a nuclear submarine and support vessels.

Commodore Michael Utley, Commander United Kingdom Carrier Strike Group, is reported by Save The Royal Navy here as saying that HMS Queen Elizabeth will be escorted by two Type 45 destroyers, two Type 23 frigates, a nuclear submarine, a Tide-class tanker and RFA Fort Victoria.

The ship will also carry 24 F-35B jets, including US Marine Corps aircraft, in addition to a number of helicopters.

Prior to the deployment, it is understood that the Queen Elizabeth carrier strike group will go through a work-up trial off the west Hebrides range sometime in early 2021.

When asked about whether or not the UK has enough escorts to do this without impacting other commitment, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said:

“The size and the scale of the escort depends on the deployments and the task that the carrier is involved in. If it is a NATO tasking in the north Atlantic, for example, you would expect an international contribution to those types of taskings, in the same way as we sometimes escort the French carrier or American carriers to make up that.

It is definitely our intention, though, that the carrier strike group will be able to be a wholly UK sovereign deployable group. Now, it is probably not necessary to do that every single time we do it, depending on the tasking, but we want to do that and test doing it. Once we have done that, depending on the deployment, of course, we will cut our cloth as required.”

It is understood that the 2021 deployment will see the Carrier Strike Group sail in the Mediterranean Sea, the Gulf and end up in the Pacific.


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Levi Goldsteinberg

Say each were carrying four SPEAR 3, that’s potentially 16 anti-ship missiles launched in just over a minute. Impressive stuff


I’m sure they carry 8 each internally, so 32? I would like to see any ships defense cope with that number coming at them. The only issue I see is when we will see block 4 Introduced? Until then, the only way to take out the threat from a ship is by submarine which not always be there, and not in the right place.

Nigel Collins

So I’m guessing 2027/28 which fits with a recent report of late 2020s.

“The Block 4 upgrade – a modernisation of the relatively new stealth fighter’s software and hardware – was initially to be delivered by 2024, but now will not be handed over until 2026, according to a report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on 12 May.”


It could be sooner; I believe that Block 4 is being delivered in increments every 6 months or so. It sort of depends where our bits of Block 4 slot into that programme. I’d imagine that the MOD would be pushing to have them early on, seeing as we’ll be going on deployment next year. But who knows with the MOD?!

Nigel Collins

Kendall’s concern was echoed by then-F-35 program manager Air Force Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan. In testimony to the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, he noted that it is the “complexity of the software that worries us the most…

Software development is always really, really tricky… We are going to try and do things in the final block of this capability that are really hard to do.” Among them is forming software that can share the same threat picture among multiple ships across the battlefield, allowing for more coordinated attacks.94

Contents page 20. Software development.


The MOD has also confirmed that not all existing F35b will be upgraded to block4 spec, which limits the number that will be able to launch the more advanced weapons. Although it is unclear how many will not get it.


It costs $20m per aircraft to upgrade to block 4.


Hi folks hope are all well. Good point Nigel, I’m wondering how in realty is the assembled CSG going to cope with an emergency, I have every confidence in our magnificent professional military and can do attitude punching above its weight. What concerns me is the Minister’s statement operating outside of NATO as a UK sovereign force, which is fine but if met with an emergency against a peer nation would that CSG cope well enough to win the day? Although not many nations could assemble such an impressive task force, I’m sure they would be fine. Advise from you… Read more »

Nigel Collins

Sadly George, we placed all our eggs in one basket with the STOVL design so we will have to wait until the end of this decade before the F35-B will reach its full potential. Something I’ve been mentioning for over two years here on UKDJ as I’m no doubt you’re aware! Therefore, we will have to sit back and wait to see what happens with Block 4 and hope it works as it should. Meantime our only hope is by increasing the weapons capacity of the current Type 23-45 and eventually Type 31 and 26s. We need an interim ASM… Read more »


And that kind of contemporary saturation attack potential is why ships cant carry enough CAMM. Type 31 with only 12 is frightening.


Even a type 45 with 48 seems too few!


Adding a further 24 VLS with a mix of Aster 30 Block 2 for ballistic missiles defence and quad packed CAMM would really fit the T45’s out to the role they have. Of course, as ever, it likely won’t be funded.


Yes internally, the F35 will carry one launcher per Bay with each launcher carring four Spear 3s. The F35B will also be cleared to a carry an additional launcher under each wing. So one aircraft will be able carry 16 Spear 3s. I have not read anywhere where the other wing hardpoint will cleared for an additional launcher. Each Bay along with the Spear 3 launcher will still be carrying one AMRAAM (Meteor hopefully) on the Bay door launcher.


What class of shipping would a Spear 3 potentially disable? I thought it was only small displacement ships could be dealt with.


If they target specific areas they’ll mission kill even a decent size frigate.

Think radar mast, the bridge, helicopter hangar….


And if say 8 are launched including an EW version, there’s a damn good chance a decent number will get through. Enough to leave a larger escort disabled and a sitting duck for a follow up strike with a heavy ASM to sink it….if we ever get one.


They can select specific targets on the ships, they could select the targets themselves based on a priority list and analyzing which targets have already been hit.

It should result in far fewer casualties while providing a complete mission kill.


Small craft. Calling them anti-ship missiles is highly misleading, a bit like calling a boys 5-a-side a Premier league team. The whole missile weighs just 220lb at launch, so the warhead is a “slap” rather than the usual ASM ship killer.

The elephant in the room is our lack of a credible ASM, gapped for almost 10 more years.

The less we’re prepared for a peer to peer conflict, the more likely it becomes.


it’s 4 clips spliced together so I’m guessing that it took somewhat longer … Would be interesting to know just how long it really took.


When / if the air group is 36 F35Bs these packages will just blend into constant take offs & landings as recce, strike & CAP operate all day & night.

That flight deck is going to be a very noisy & dangerous place indeed.


We have to accept that, at least until the middle of this decade the carrier group will be very lacking in offensive bite. Once Harpoon has gone, and I very much doubt the government/MoD are serious about an interim solution, we will be almost completely lacking in the ability to destroy large ships. Spear 3 is a hope but I doubt anything from it soon. If there is an emergency our subs will be very busy. Beyond Paveway our carrier(s) and F35s will only be able to protect themselves and no more. Have a read of the First Sea Lords… Read more »


It’s an open secret we’ve not enough escorts, but HMG don’t want to admit it. On paper we have 19, the reality is less. It’s a disgrace. HMG talks of a growing RN while increasing numbers by zero for the foreseeable.