The Ministry of Defence have confirmed plans for aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to visit the British territory of Gibraltar in the coming weeks.

The recently reported rumours regarding this deployment have finally been confirmed, the first to confirm them with the Ministry of Defence was Sky News Defence Correspondent Alistair Bunkall.

When contacted, the Royal Navy said in a statement:

“As part of HMS Queen Elizabeth’s next phase of sea trials, there is an option for the ship to visit Gibraltar next month”.

We understand that this would be a routine logistical stop. The visit remains an “option” because of the rapidly changing nature of sea trials.

Recently, the 70,600 tonne vessel began the initial stages of her rotary wing trials. A Merlin helicopter from 820 Naval Air Squadron was putting Flight Deck crews through a series of drills and procedures that are part of flying trials.

During the two days embarked the Merlin was used to verify many of the flight deck and hangar facilities by connecting up to the ship’s on-board electrical supply cables and refuelling hoses.

“The Merlins of 820 NAS are old friends of ours. The Squadron was the first rotary Unit to embark with us up in Scotland when we came out of build. These Sea Acceptance Trials (Air) or ‘SAT (Air)’ has proved the ship’s aircraft services are ready for action with a live helicopter and that everything functions correctly.”

HMS Queen Elizabeth will sail from her home port for rotary wing trialS VERY SOON, where she will undergo deck trials with Royal Navy Merlin helicopters.

Lt Cdr Cobbett continued:

“Introducing the Ship to aviation and aviation to the Ship is all part of the learning structure we are going through. We are taking it slowly at first before we embark whole squadrons of rotary and fixed wing aircraft.”

HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to start fixed-wing flight trials with three or more F-35Bs off the eastern coast of the US around September this year. A fantastic info-graphic created by SaveTheRoyalNavy can be found here and details the timeline of the programme.

What will the vessels carry when in operational service?

The term now used for the carriers embarked squadrons is ‘Carrier Air Wing’ (CVW). 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, 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 2023, the UK will have 42 F-35 aircraft, with 24 being front-line fighters and the remaining 18 will be used for training (at least 5 on the OCU), be in reserve or in maintenance.

An Apache takes off from HMS Ocean during the war in Libya.

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.

The Crowsnest AEW&C aircraft will come from a number of the embarked Merlins (any of which can be fitted with the sensor package), the number again scaling with requirements.

We 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.

A source we spoke to, currently flying the jet, explained to us that the vessels will deploy with the number and type of aircraft required for a specific deployments:

“Where F-35B is based is entirely down to the most suitable basing option for the tasks/missions is being sent to do. If that’s a well-founded host nation base, great; if it’s the Carrier, great; if it’s an austere location, fine. Range, logistics and other ‘enablers’ such as AAR and connectivity will determine what’s the best option.”

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.

34 COMMENTS

  1. Fantastic opportunity to test Gib’s support facilities and its remarkable selection of pubs! Great run ashore and up the rock.

    UKDJ…Any news on Crowsnest? Have USMC done anymore on fitting it to the MV-22?
    Also on self defence fit? Any news on possible Sea Ceptor or Phalanx RAM fit?

    • The 3x Phalanx and 4x 30mm will be fitted at the end of the year. This has been the plan for more than a year.

      Sea Ceptor is not going to happen, there is no plan, room or budget for it. Maybe in 25 years time during a mid life refit.

      • IMHO crass stupidity not to fit Sea Ceptor. The carriers have the space and radar to fit them. Also need ATT (anti torpedo torpedoes the USN is rolling out on its major warships).
        Why do we do things by halves?

        • 4thwatch, I totally agree with you. Look at HMS Ark Royal for example, she went into the 1967-70 refit with plans for 4 x Sea Cat Missile systems. Yes she was fitted for the 4 systems but came out without the Sea Cats and for that matter no other defensive armament.

  2. Oh how I hope to see the Spaniards try and harass her and her carrier fleet, it’s always funny to them throw a fit when the Royal Navy uses Gibraltar but this’ll be something else

  3. Hard to believe that for over 200 years and right up to 1967 she would have been met by ships of our Mediterranean fleet based at Malta. Even up to late the 1980s we would have mustered a fleet to greet her at the Rock. A Navy half the size of the one in 1982 now seems out of reach.

    • On that subject, how is it that we have a bigger budget than say, Japan, and yet their combat fleet is twice the size of our own?

      • Probably due largely to the cost of building and maintaining Trident and Astute class subs not to mention the 2 QE carriers. Despite their larger fleet, the Japanese have little capability to match these assets

        • The Japanese have the Murasame Class of Destroyer which is armed with the Type 90 SSM-1B which has a range of 80 nmi, 500lb warhead and 2 x triple Type 68 torpedo tubes. It also carries VLS Mk 48 (16 cells) Evolved Sea Sparrow SAM. VLS Mk41 (16 cells) RUM-139 VL ASROC. 1 x 76mm OTO Melara3, 2 x 20mm Phalanx CIWS and 1 x SH-60J (k) Anti-Submarine Helicopter. All this on a ship which is 3,000 to lighter than our Type 45s. I’m just comparing one of their ships with what we have.

  4. She really does need to visit London with as many helicopters and an F35 onboard.

    I dont like what I am about to say, but here is the truth none the less.

    1. Going to London will get on the news
    2. It will get the politicians interested and for many of them probably the first time on an Aircraft carrier.
    3. Show off the kit that is on it – then ask for more over a nice meal (also on the QE)
    4. Point out what a great sales tool it will be for Team GB in the post Brexit talks
    5. Point out how we are making loads of money from the F35 – the ask for more.

    As bad as I feel pandering to the London set – the pragmatist thinks the QE parked in front of Greenwich and Belfast (if it can come up that far) would be amazing.

    Greenwich Day 1 (massive photo op)
    Tower Bridge and Belfast (day 3 or 4 – another major photo op)

    • And also let them know how many high value jobs these and the other ships of the RN create in the frozen North – as well as the benefits of having nice modern kit for our forces who they keep sending into combat zones…

  5. London is a good idea but it should be as part of a tour of ports this summer before the trip to the US. Raise the profile of the military and RN in particular and help influence the defence review.
    Whilst it may not be popular with serving personnel the lack of Navy Days etc has seriously reduced the profile of the Navy at home. With the two carriers coming on stream the RN should seriously consider getting these ships to tour the country every year and display the F35B and air group to the public. Military deployments are of course what the ship was built for but given what is at stake I would argue the RN has currently its biggest and most important battle at home. The RN need to think more like the RAF and arrange some decent photo opportunities.

  6. Paceman totally agree. The RNneds to be more politically astute and perhaps then we will get the follow on order for a further 48-76 more F35Bs so desperately needed.
    Sending her to Give is fine but her armaments need fitting and the QE class carriers needed a self defence SAM system. It cannot be right that they are the ONLY strike carrier in the entire world with no SAM.
    Containerised sea ceptor would be a minimum as well as an anti torpedo anti mine rocket system as fitted on Italian FREMM class frigates. These should be a minimum weapons fit for a £3 billion fleet flagship and 70,000+ tonnes vessel

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