Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has confirmed that HMS Queen Elizabeth will deploy to the Pacific as a “show of strength” in 2021.
He said: “The first operational mission of HMS Queen Elizabeth will include the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Pacific Region. British and American F-35s will be embedded in the carrier air wing.”
“I can announce the first operational mission of the HMS Queen Elizabeth will include the Mediterranean, Middle East and the Pacific region.” @GavinWilliamson #TransformingDefence pic.twitter.com/CTZGYmWQRS
— RUSI (@RUSI_org) February 11, 2019
What else will they carry?
The Queen Elizabeth class carriers are the largest and most powerful warships ever constructed for the Royal Navy, but what will they carry?
The term now used for the carriers embarked squadrons is ‘Carrier Air Wing’ (CVW), the previously used Tailored Air Group (TAG) has fallen out of official use. 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, former 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 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 HC4 and Wildcat HM2.
I 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.
Recently, the Ministry of Defence confirmed plans for the deployment of American F-35 aircraft alongside British jets aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth.
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.