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.”

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?

American MV-22B lands on HMS Queen Elizabeth.

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.”

F-35B jets on HMS Queen Elizabeth.

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.

HMS Queen Elizabeth, arriving in Mayport, Florida.

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.

68 COMMENTS

  1. Article makes it sound like we are facing off against China.

    This is a hello world deployment taking in the Med, Middle East and Indian Ocean en route.

    Fine by me.

    • Indeed, and with the opportunity to rotate in and out various friendly nation’s escort vessels as we go. A “grand finale” of one or more RAN escorts towards the end would be valuable experience for all involved.

    • its interesting to compare the mindsets of the R.N and the U.S.N, the americans are battle ready within seconds, as all the hardware, is kept loaded,aircraft, fighters, and ASW HELICOPTERS SYSTEMS ARE LOADED. THE U.K/ r.n are not.everything that lands or flies off an american ship/carrier is a wa r craft, and ready to do its job, in the falklands believe it or not h.m.s antrim had to train engine room stokers to operate the loading systems for the sea slug system because the seamen missile branch had forgotten how to, it was so rare they had to honest i was there, i was one of those tasked to do it, and i wasn’t impressed!

      • The accidents involving the technically very capable Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain would suggest otherwise. You might read the excellent but harrowing account in the ProPublica article I’ve linked.

        Despite the ships having all the toys in terms of satellite, radar, IR, cameras, etc there were significant failures up and down the chain of command in the US Pacific Fleet, as well as on the vessels, that resulted in collisions and loss of life due to basic failures of training, culture and seamanship.
        https://features.propublica.org/navy-accidents/uss-fitzgerald-destroyer-crash-crystal/

  2. Is the constraints on the F35 buy rate mentioned due to MoD choice or simply the fact that there are so many planes being built for so many countries and LM can only manufacture so many at a time?

    If the latter then we should really push to licence build them here to get more of them faster. As well as securing jobs and skills.

      • but the u.k gets no preference or priority in the construction process, but we would if we said we were rethinking the full order size, less dollars paid i.e reduced profits , is the one way you can get one over on the u.s every time.

    • Steve no LM are delivering ever increasing numbers of F35s to worldwide customers. 500+ so far. The problem is the UKs anaemic ordering rate 1-3 aircraft per year. Just pitiful. HMG need to get themselves sorted out. This is the aircraft that is supposed to equip carrier strike and the RAF at the same time thus at least 90+ aircraft should be in active service. We have firm commitments for just half the required number 48.
      LM would happily supply the UK armed forces with 24+ aircraft a year but we are not ordering them

      • At the very least we should order that rate until we get the frontline squadrons ready, then slow down the ordering of the spares.

        Should any extra money come to MoD they should use some to boost that pitiful purchase rate.

      • Quite right Mr Bell, it seems to me that a sensible (and affordable) build rate for the UK should be 12 a year, with a Squdron forming every two years.

        A nice steady drum beat that matches the steadily growing support and aircrew numbers.

    • It’s more to explain why USMC F-35Bs will be carried by QNLZ when she is deployed to the Pacific & Indian Oceans. Not enough planes in the UK so have to “beg/borrow” from a foreign power to fill the needed number of aircraft…
      The other reason for the slow acquisition rate is cost. F-35Bs built later will cost less to purchase than the ones’ currently being built. That was also part of the reason why Australia deferred their purchase of F-35As as well.

    • The slow take up of F35B by the UK may be partially due to budget and giving up production capacity in favour of the USMC, but is almost certainly also due to to the stage of development of the aircraft which is still in LRIP (Low Rate Initial Production).

      The current Block 3 software does NOT support the weapons the UK wants to use with F35B, that support comes with Block 4 sometime in the early 2020’s if not delayed. Buying more F35Bs now means more money spent later to upgrade them and having to buy weapons now that the UK has no long term interest in using, assuming we actually want to arm them with something other than just AMRAAM, which we can at least use on other platforms. For example the UK wants to use Meteor, ASRAAM and jump straight to SPEAR 3, non of which are available on F35B until 2022/23 earliest and/or Block 4 software. I’m not sure where we are with qualifying Paveway IV for F35B either.

      The aircraft the UK has now and the near future will enable training and the development of tactics specific to the F35B and as a function of combined operations with Typhoon. Embarking and training with USMC (even if the UK doesn’t have all its desired weapons available) is still a very important NATO capability to develop.

  3. Whats the chances they’ll pull into Sydney harbour? I bet its going to be quite a task group at least 1 T45 and 1 T23 plus a RFA and if they’re really lucky a T boat or an Astute. Can’t wait.

    • i’d like to see big lizzie with an r.f.a, a t23 behind it, a t45 in front more t23’s asw on the flank of the group and an astute in front clearing the way in the future a t26 behind big lizzie.

  4. The number of deluded people around has been of concern for some considerable time. A ‘show of strength’? With what exactly? 12 F35’s if we’re lucky? The rate of acquisitions for the F35 is is a standing joke!
    We will NEVER deploy as many aircraft as CDG and will be fortunate if can deploy 24 sea based F35’s by 2023. We should be acquiring 9-12 per annum as A Tier 1 partner. We need 60 fully operational aircraft RAF/FAA split in 4 years time latest! Not going to happen. Then we’ll wonder why pilots will leave when they have a four/five year wait to get a plane to fly for 250 hours pa if at all. Get the Typhoon fleet up to speed now. 8 frontline 1 reserve and 1 ocu. 132 available for operations. Its doable. They have years left in them and 48+ is all we need for QRA so upgrades minimal. Williamson talks about ‘hard power’ but has no concept of what he is talking about. Good to hear a DS cocking a snook at the pacifists at the treasury but they always win unless you have an ultra strong PM in place. Fat chance there then.

    • I agree it is the PM that guides governmental spending and we have not had a PM since Thatcher that had any idea of military matters or determination to ensure the armed forces are equipped and ready for combat.
      Saint Teresa is a pacifist daughter of a clergyman with zero bandwidth for anything but BREXIT, whilst Corbyn is a leftist, Putin loving, terrorists supporting no to pressing the nuclear button even if the UK is made a nuclear wasteland, huge concern. In short he is unelectable. I used to vote labour now undecided who to vote for, definetly not labour under Corbyn.

        • Yes, I think we need a new party that straddles the suffocating embrace of the other two.

          Gently conservative, socially speaking, market orientated but not slavishly so, unafraid to do collective action but with a strong focus on devolution, small government and empowerment of the people.

          We’ve been run by progressive liberals who only care about identity politics and foisting a cliquey, Westminster agenda on the rest of the country for far too long.

          We need a change that Labour and the “Conservatives” simply cannot deliver.

          • the ability to change tack in otherwise flawed planning i.e committing to a nuclear only submarine fleet type costing £1.4 billion each, when a conventional world leading conventional type like the swedish gotland,can built for£100 million.14 fleet boats for the cost of an astute? its a no brainer.AND , are we too snobbish to buy our warships second hand? everybody else does it. the pakistan navy is retiring their 6 type21’s, yes they are old now, but given full system upgrades, they would still be welcomed back i think the u.k could get them, in exchange for the first retiring type 23. they’d be in service faster than the dozy jock on the clyde can build ships

          • ‘We’ve been run by progressive liberals’

            The tories have not been progressive liberals since 1975. Their time in office is marked by policies which are intended to make the rich even richer. That’s why people are discontented with politics – austerity and the greed of the already wealthy.

      • good on you, the moment i saw comrade corbyn choosing to go to glastonbury rather than commemorate armed forces day, that was it for me. vote for him? i’d find it easier to shoot him.

        • ‘comrade corbyn choosing to go to glastonbury’

          Don’t know about that but when he attends Remembrance Sunday he doesn’t go to the fancy nosh up but goes out and meets the veterans who attend.

        • Usually buying cheap second hand old warships don’t last long and will have incompatible systems for the RN to use, so to upgrade them to be compatible will cost tens of millions of £ of added cost.
          An exception to the rule are ex USN warships, they are stil in good condition, due to the build quality, because the USA spends top dollar on their vessels!
          They last a long time too!
          Those old T22’s have had their day unfortunately!

      • ‘we have not had a PM since Thatcher that had any idea of military matters’

        She had no ideas of military matters either. The carriers are a result of Labour decisions, btw.
        ‘Putin loving’ – that’s Trump, who’d rather be;liev Putin than his own intelligence services. I’m no Corbyn supporter and think him incredibly niave on defence and security but let’s not just call him every name under the sun just because The Sun smears him continually.

      • Surely your taking the piss, thatcher was the one who gutted the entire Royal Navy amphibious and carrier forces USA before the Falklands. She was saved purely by Argentine incompetence by going to early 6 months later and Hermes and the LPD’s are paperclips and invincible is probably in the Australian Navy.

    • Even 12 F35s is a serious capability to put anywhere In the world, 24 a very serious capability , we haven’t deployed 24 of a single fast jet type since the op Telic in 2003. Even a small force can achieve a high sortie rate.

  5. F35B is still a fairly immature platform. The early examples are likely to have a short fatigue life and need numerous fixes for defects that come to light over time. They’re also expensive.

    Buying only the minimum number we need to stand up the capability now is a sensible precaution. Those planes we buy later will be cheaper, more reliable, longer lived, and more capable.

  6. “Aircraft carrier” has sometimes sounded like an odd name for a warship to me. It doesn’t just carry the aircraft around like a freighter. It is a warship equipped with fully autonomous 2-stage guided missiles.
    “Battle carrier”, “Aircraft Battleship” or “Aircraft Cruiser” seem like better names. *shrugs*

    Just being an armchair admiral today.

    • I have to disagree. Names are generally indicative of the role of the warship (or original role); battleships stood in the line of battle, cruisers covered long distances doing trade protection or scouting, destroyers destroyed threats to capital ships, etc. If a warships primary role is to carry aircraft, aircraft carrier is the logical name.

      Mixing existing types into the name implies a split mission statement. Battle carrier or aircraft battleship suggest the ship is designed to carry both aircraft and guns as its primary armament and stand in the line of battle with battleships (see the Japanese ship Ise). In a similar way, aircraft cruiser also suggests a mixed main armament (see the Adm. Kuznetsov, which carries both aircraft and heavy anti ship missiles.

      • The site decided to put my comment at the bottom of the page. I will put it up here so that I don’t look like I’m ignoring you.

        You make good points, though I do still think the name implies a freighter rather than something that goes into the heat of battle. I don’t think “battle-carrier” implies a hybrid of battleship and aircraft carrier. “Battle-tank” wouldn’t and neither should “battle-carrier”.

        When ships start carrying UUVs as well as UAVs, then a new name may be needed. Especially as drones resemble cruise-missiles more and more as time goes on.

        For many laymen I’ve asked, “battle-ship” doesn’t mean “line-of-battle-ship”. To them, it merely means “the most powerful Ship that fights a Battle.” Uninformed, of course, but it might gain in relevance as we grasp around for something other than Aircraft/drone/UUV carrier. Maybe “battle-hub”?

        THAT’s the thing on my mind- what does one call something that serves as a mobile base for something other than aerial craft.

    • On a slightly different note, but within the ‘name theme’. I think the RN/MOD should ask the public/ taxpayer what names to give to ships.

      Not call it stupid names like Boaty Mc Boat Face, but offer up a selection of possibilities. I dislike the 2 carrier names, everything is called QE something these days, bridges, crossrail blah blah.. And yes I know QE is named after the other QE that stuffed the Spanish. I’d have preferred something else, something naval, but historical.

      What you all think?

      • Given most of general publics pure ignorance, disdain, and general lack of interest in the military it might not even register with them.

        But it may be another way of getting the forces “out there” which is important.

        How about a Referendum! Ooops maybe best not…though don’t Switzerland have Referendums on many things regularly that are respected and acted on?

        I think the Admiralty Naming Committee might have something to say about the idea though!

          • The name of classes get recycled over time. Thus we have the Daring class – the previous Darings were the ‘super destroyers’ of the 1950’s/60’s. Leander class was used for pre-war/WW2 cruisers and re-used for the 60’s/70’s frigates. The type 42 destroyers were named after major cities, the names will be re-used for the T26 ‘frigates’.

            As for ‘Boaty McBoatface’ – yes it was daft, but funny.

      • I agree the names are terrible but don’t think the unlicensed should choose.

        It should have been HMS Pegasus and HMS Ark Royal

  7. China is a very long way away. Does it threaten us ?

    Do we have any territorial interests out there that needs protecting ?

    How does a single aircraft carrier scare the bejesus out of a country whose armed forces are one of the largest in the world and dwarf UK’s puny equivalent ?

    • It doesn’t.

      But the maiden deployment is not all about China is it?

      The RN is a blue water navy that deploys world wide.

      Few can.

      I for one look forward to seeing QEC with her airgroup and escorts. From the RN, and allies.

    • ‘Does it threaten us ?’

      Not directly but it claims control of seas through which a lot of UK trade moves – which is why we need a strong ‘blue water’ navy. Not to act alone for to participate, with allies, in keeping the sea lanes open. Even one RN ship, while not able to take on the Chinese navy on its own, makes a statement. One of the reasons Argentina thought the UK had lost interest in The Falklands was because the patrol ship Endurance was to be removed by Mrs Thatcher to save a pitiful amount of money.

      • Does not a lot of EU trade (far greater than that of the UK) pass through those waters, so where are the navies from our European allies ?

        • French Navy is deploying CdG there in 2020 I believe, with an RN escort! The Dutch Navy are providing an escort of the QE Deployment! The French are currently more involved in the Far East than Britain is. A Mistral Task Force is there now I believe.
          No other European Navyhas the capability to project power that far, the Italians might just be able to support a Cavour task group but there isn’t much of a point!

    • The QEC combined with Indian, Australian, New Zealandan, Canadian, and Japanese assets could pose a threat to a Chinese battlegroup, taking the heat off the Americans.

      (unless the Russians get involved, in which case we’d be doing that sort of thing to Russia instead).

    • No one is trying to scare China, simply trying to apply international pressure so they respect the law of the sea. A Royal Navy carrier with US planes onboard escorted by a Dutch frigate is the best way to do that. It’s a far more effective Mission than the regular Nimitz class cruises as it’s more unusual and higher profile.

  8. I am personally happy to wait for proper numbers if it means we get fully sorted F35’s with the upgrades at a cheaper cost. Yes it would be nice to see a full compliment in the early 2020’s, but it could mean all those airframes have heavy upgrade costs in the software too.

  9. The defence minister has basically said she will head to the med, through the Canal and then round the bottom of Africa and on to the west coast of the US. So technically she won’t be going anywhere near Japan and China etc.

    I wonder if it will mistaken and some will assume that’s whats meant by going to The Pacific.!

  10. Can anybody explain to me, knowing that she will be deploying with a British/American mixed bag.
    lets say the yanks get into a bit of a scuffle with a foreign power and they want to use the jets on QE, but the British government deem that we will stay neutral, can the US still use QE to strike from in the capacity of American forces or would they effectively be confined to the ship to protect Britain’s neutrality?, a purely hypothetical situation i grant but it sort of cropped up in my head as an interesting scenario

    • No the aircraft will be under British command. The US could withdraw them perhaps to another vessel if needed. However the chances or the US going to war with someone without UK support are virtually zero.

  11. You make good points, though I do still think the name implies a freighter rather than something that goes into the heat of battle. I don’t think “battle-carrier” implies a hybrid of battleship and aircraft carrier. “Battle-tank” wouldn’t and neither should “battle-carrier”.

    When ships start carrying UUVs as well as UAVs, then a new name may be needed. Especially as drones resemble cruise-missiles more and more as time goes on.

    For many laymen I’ve asked, “battle-ship” doesn’t mean “line-of-battle-ship”. To them, it merely means “the most powerful Ship that fights a Battle.” Uninformed, of course, but it might gain in relevance as we grasp around for something other than Aircraft/drone/UUV carrier. Maybe “battle-hub”?

    THAT’s the thing on my mind- what does one call something that serves as a mobile base for something other than aerial craft.

    • I’ve moved this comment to where it should be. If someone could delete this comment here, then that would be grand.

  12. Well this all all looking up, finally all the hard working Matelots are getting some decent deployments. It will start doing wonders for recruitment, seeing the world will actually mean something again.

    No sure what the whole “show of strength” thing is about though, it’s not very British if you ask me. we are all about freedom of navigation, “show of strength” is not the same as “we will sail our ships anyplace The laws of the sea say we can”.

    • The Australians have also conduct these operations but they keep it quiet, however BBC news crew accidentally recorded Australian P3 contacting Chinese forces to announce it was conducting a freedom of navigation Mission. If the Dutch are signed up to provide QE escort then no doubt they have also agreed to conduct these operations. It would be too high profile a failure of the Dutch escort turned back at Singapore.

  13. It would be great to see the Japanese F35B’s come aboard while we’re in the region and exercises with SEATO Navies are beneficial to all parties involved, also our T45’s can be compared to the New Aussie AWD’s – One negative IMO is that we’re so slow with the production of the first T26 – it would have been great to show the RAN and RCN what they will be getting and maybe pick up a few more orders along the way RNZN? – YES/NO

  14. Our government confirms again that it lives in cloud cuckoo land as regards our military capabilities.
    Yes, we can nuke them ( with USA agreement) but as regards anything else- not likely, not capable, not going to happen. Our recent misguided disasters in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq confirmed our much reduced status and capabilities.

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