The initial operating capability for carrier strike, which is scheduled for December 2020, will consist of one carrier, one squadron of Lightnings and Crowsnest airborne early warning and control helicopters.

Earl Howe, Minister of State for the Ministry of Defence and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords said during a debate in the House of Lords:

“My Lords, the initial operating capability for carrier strike, which is scheduled for no later than December 2020, will consist of one carrier, one squadron of Lightnings and Crowsnest.”

Captain Jerry Kyd, commander of HMS Queen Elizabeth, commented last year on the initial deployment and the gradual increase in air wing numbers:

“We’re 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.”

Around 2023, the Ministry of Defence have indicated that 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.

Recently, the Ministry of Defence confirmed plans for the deployment of American F-35 aircraft alongside British jets aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth. The addition of US Marine Corps aircraft will see HMS Queen Elizabeth sail with 24 or so F-35Bs in addition to around 14 or so helicopters for her maiden deployment. It is understood that the US aircraft will augment British on the carriers first deployment.

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 although this is unlikely to happen short of a major conflict.

Captain Jerry Kyd also spoke about the vessels:

“The Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers are the product of a pioneering partnership between UK industry and the Ministry of Defence. As the Royal Navy’s flagships for the next 50 years, these ships will employ cutting edge technology to deliver fighting power at sea and over land.

Symbolising our nation in both steel and spirit, the Queen Elizabeth Class carriers will be powerful ambassadors for Britain on the global stage, in both peace time and times of conflict. These ships truly will be at the forefront of British military power projection for decades for generations to come.”


  1. This is embarrassing – we have a budget twice the size of the USMC and they will be getting nearly 400 F35B’s and the UK will get less than a third of this amount.

    Not only do the Americans have to sell us stuff cheap – they now have to actually man our services

    What is the point of having the worlds 4th largest defence budget if it isn’t actually spent on defence.

    Let’s hope we don’t have to fight anyone, yet another depressing day in the life of those interested in the UK military.

    Radical thought but when will the chiefs of staff actually become accountable and either resign or go public as one group.

    • @Pacman27

      Absolutely! I couldn’t agree more! It is embarrassing to have another country’s aircraft essentially based on our aircraft carrier. I have said it before and will no doubt again; HMG committed to a 138 F-35 buy – over the life of the program. Those last words are the VERY small print in SDSR 2015. Given the life of the program will extend to 20-30 yrs, HMG is purchasing aircraft at a pathetically low rate.

      Incorporating USMC into the QEC air wing is nothing more than HMG doing carrier strike on the cheap! Why should they buy more aircraft when the USMC will make up the numbers!! Where’s the 178Bn equipment plan that Fallon labours on and on and on about??


      • David

        USMC budget is audited at $26bn this year and has been around that for a while, they plan to purchase 420 F35’s and have a fighting force larger (192k) than the whole UK defence force (165k). Given that the average marine is equipped with $20k of personal equipment and the whole force is well equipped, it kind of puts into perspective what the UK does with its supposed $52bn budget that does include the navy.

        Let’s not forget the USMC has loads of helicopters, V22’s and still have fully audited accounts. An F35b costs circa £100m – why cant we order 12 every year.

        Time to stop saying we have a £178bn equipment budget when the majority is being spent on support and services and not the equipment itself.

        • It’s enough to make you weep!!! I wonder if the USMC will be that excited to have their aircraft and crews aboard QE when they see how precious few escorts we have to protect them!

          • So that will be the next piece of the puzzle, it will definitely be the case that other NATO members will have to help out with the escorts.

            Not much point in having a JEF really if not enough escorts.

            The worst part of this is that the budget should be big enough for what is a modest force, it is just not credible that we are actually spending what is stated on defence, when the assets are so poor and so few.

        • At one time the UK was buying 138 of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II jets of course like all things MOD let kick the CAN a little longer it makes me sad to see navy in suck a bloody bad state and when i left the army in 2008 after 23 years all can say is when i joined it was lot better back then UK has become a bloody banana replica and way were going we end like the bloody Italian armed forces or even worse Belgium or Germany

    • Longer you wait, cheaper the price so that’s a key aspect. The MOD wont spend a penny more than they need, although manage to waste about half of their budget. Then the fact that the US will always get delivery priority.

    • as the ONLY LEVEL 1 PARTNeR, the u.k. should insist on priority for the u.k be given to the manufacturer as it should have been when the order was made.

  2. 20 years of hammering the Two Carriers line worked out well. Next time maybe go for Two Carriers ample escorts, fighters and men.

    They of course will look pretty being nowhere near possible danger. A distance that increase with every cut.

  3. Wow. All I can say is don’t give up, the UK is playing catch up after neglect and complacency years ago. I don’t dare mention one expensive program that should be abandoned, and that budget redistributed, in case I get accused of being a Nat.


      and tell nicola fish(sturgeon) that her referendum calling

  4. This journal, by the way, is indeed excellent. Is that 6 articles in one day? I’m suffering from overload!

  5. 52 billion budget is for the whole of the uk armed forces though… I do understand the point you are making, but you cannot really compare the uk spending with that of a super powers spending. I do agree with David’s view on one issue form a previous story… Some of the other European NATO members need to spend more on their defence forces, but i still think the UK does it’s bit, not too many countries in the world spend the amount we do..

    I know i often end up disagreeing with quite a few of the comments made on this website lol I guess im just a bit more realistic when it comes to what this country can afford. When it comes to defence, yes great, if in the future as the economy grows we can afford more resources for defence i’m all for it, but until then it’s not just defence we have to prioritise money for..

    Personally im still very much looking forward to seeing our new carriers in service, and when it comes to the USMC F35’s deployed on our carrier, good decision..



  6. If I am correct the USMC does not include the ships they serve on (or the the SSBNs!). It is a very trite comparison.

    • David

      It’s not a trite comparison at all – and I state the USMC budget does not include USN assets. The comparison is the USMC has a larger force and more equipment than the whole UK defence force and does it on an audited $26-30bn p.a. Budget.

      The UK has nowhere near this capacity and spends double. As per my previous posts I have costed the RN budget to circa £9bn p.a. (Lets say $13bn) For a 30k sailor only force, but including the SSBN fleet. This still leave a sizeable amount available to spen on anything really. It’s actually simple maths and I am struggling with what the MOD actually spends its money on tbh.

      We should measure ourselves against other forces and their budgets as they are simply getting more for their money and ultimately my aim is to have the best kit at our service personnels disposal at all times.

      As for reality the facts are the facts – USMC has more fighters and helicopter than the RAF and more personnel than the whole of the UK – all for 50% of the budget, and they don’t have to beg, steal or borrow when they are deployed, unlike our forces.

      I am happy to stand by my comparison it is not meant to be a like for like – it is demonstrating what can be achieved with some proper management and focus.

      • Maybe the UK MoD spends money on maintaining their equipment to ensure it is available, unlike the USMC. Recently they identified chronic problems with availability with 19% of the aircraft unavailable for use, some 158 aircraft. USMC seems to have gone through a stage of using their budget to purchase new aircraft such as V-22’s and F-35’s at the expense of maintenance. Their F/A-18s are falling out of he skies at an alarming rate which is why they are trying to accelerate their F-35 delivery rate.
        Also USMC have chronically under invested in their vehicles in recent times. their LAV’s entered service in 1983, the AAV’s in 1971 and their M1’s are several generations behind those of the US Army.
        Its not the complete budget miracle that it might appear.

  7. Depressing but it could have been so much worse. It’s worth remembering the days when there was all the talk of cancelling, mothballing or selling off one of the carriers. At least according to latest government pronouncements we are getting both carriers to give is a pretty much continual availability. It’s possible that HMG might see sense at some point and increase the buy rate on F35 but it would have been very unlikely that we would ever have been able to come back from a switch to a one-carrier-only plan implemented by cancellation or sell-off of one of them during or shortly after build.

    I’m not saying it’s all goodness and light, it is deeply depressing how little we seem to get for our much-vaunted budget, I’m just trying to find a bit of a silver lining somewhere.

    • I do think we may end up buying more when a) the price drops and b) they are proven.

      I don’t think 142 will be the total buy – I think it will end up as the operational strength or close to it, but accept this may be wishful thinking.

  8. At least the UK will have 10 squadrons of fighters when it could of been down to 6 and as said above 2 carriers instead of 1 plus the 9 maritime patrol aircraft. But of course many of these extra assets will not be until the 2020’s, but at least we will receive those assets then. Have to take into account which party will be in power also over the coming years, looks like the current government will be in power at least up until 2025 which hopefully would mean the new pieces of kit will come in, if Labour won the 2020 election everything would change again… So we will see !

    • John,

      Your last point is really interesting and I have been giving a lot of though recently to how we can get cross party support for defence so that whichever government is in power certain spending commitments are honoured, as this is definitely a contributing factor to the lack of investment, cancelled orders and subsequent increase in individual asset cost (think T45 – it could have been £600m each instead of £1.045bn).

      Perhaps a joint oversight committee that manages the budget is the way to go and a clear commitment from all parties (in law perhaps) that these commitments once made will be seen through within the cost and performance tolerances agreed at the time).

      Probably not going to happen – but you raise a really good point.



  9. Hi Pacman27.. You make some really good points there, agree with with you! really would benefit the armed forces.. But unfortunately i have my doubts that would happen..

    • NO WAY SHOULD THE usmc be bigger than our defence availabilities 12 type 45 cut to 6 type 26 order cut to a point where maybe we should simply revert to building the type 23 with major upgrades again i’d buy the harriers back, the 3 type 23’s from chile.remove the superstructure from a bay class and fit a full length deck on it ind use it as a replacement for ocean.easily do able, yards should be put in direct competition first yard to get a t26 built, gets to build the next.

  10. I certainly hope no return will be made to the idea of mothballing one. Compared to the US and its carriers in terms of population the UK’s contribution would be 2 carriers – both in operation.

    As for escorts, it seems to me that they would have one carrier strike group with both carriers in any major confrontation, meaning they would provide defence to each other, and alternate landing / take-off in case of damage, as well as pooling the escorts which should then be enough from the current and future assets including the T26. But not enough surface or submarine assets for two in such an action.

    Whereas for low risk actions, two carrier strike groups would be possible, in two different arenas, with less escorts.

    As for insufficient aircraft I think the idea is to get two excellent carriers at a relatively high cost, with basic squadron capabilities, and then add more air assets as and when affordable. Rather that than build two inferior and probably smaller and lower capacity carriers so to get aircraft that might not even fit or be efficiently operable onboard, and not be future proof.

    So I guess I’m reasonably happy with the decisions and the status, within the available budgets.

  11. I think usually one carrier will be in operation, with one in reserve/maintenance. But if needed they could just about find the escorts to cover the two, possibly with some help from our allies but using two carriers would be unusual..

  12. It’s not been plain sailing for the USS Ford either. All class leading vessels encounter teething problems, so I doubt this delay is nothing to get too concerned about. Let’s just hope our prospective adversaries can hold off until 2023?

  13. The whole US MC spend less story is silly as we are not comparing Apple’s to Apple’s.

    First we need to understand what each budget actually includes equipment and manpower wise.

    Then we have to somehow strip out the fact that the USMC benefit from the much larger purchase numbers through combined orders with the rest of the US armed forces.

    If anyone has actual details of equipment in the various budgets or types of equipment we can start to compare.

    Its about as pointless as comparing British military expenditure to Russia, when Russia has a faction of the price for manpower both armed forces and construction.

    • Not to mention that if you just strip out one arm of the military, you miss all the costs involved in overarching them. The military does not act in isolation and there has to be a command and control structure above the navy/army… to make sure they can combine together to make a realistic fighting force.

      • Steve,

        I think you are missing the point somewhat, there is plenty of apples v apples with the USMC and the UK and I understand that there are differences, but the fact remains they have an amazing force at a price point we just cannot match and in an outright fight they will defeat the UK.

        The other elements that are outside of the USMC budget – such as ships, nuclear assets does not actually stack up to the UK defence budget.

        The RN needs $13bn p.a. to run a force that could be comparable to that utilised by the USMC and the airforce require $15bn p.a. to be comparable (although the RAF differential with the USMC is negligible I would estimate).

        Key facts – USMC strength 192k personnel – UK Armed forces 165k

        There are some infographics on the web that compare and it is truly startling how much more kit they have.
        As for the kit – we are purchasing large volumes of US kit based upon a similar scenario and whilst it is valid to factor in the difference – it still does not explain why the USMC is far more efficient and well equipped than the whole of the UK for 50% of the budget.

        The other parts of the UK defence force not covered in the scope of the USMC do not need $26bn p.a. so plenty of waste or as you would like me to believe – plenty of overarching.

        Take the IDF if you don’t like the USMC…. but don’t kid yourself that the UK is special please.

    • cutting the technology snobbery of theU.K. forces, we want this most expensive system,we want that, one, makes a massive dent in the funds that could enable’more for less’ rather than ‘best for more’

  14. UK politicians are fond of making statements about the impressive size of the UK’s defence budget. We are still not getting nearly enough bang for our buck. Of course, the reason is that we develop and build too much equipment domestically. It’s more about jobs and votes than value for money. We derive no economies of scale when we design and build six bespoke frigates. It’s no wonder we can’t fund enough F35s, enough escorts or enough soldiers.

    • Much of the defence budget is spent on non-defence items. Items that were moved into the budget by a series of dishonest chancellors.

  15. Budget today – an hour of mildly entertaining jibes at Jeremy for £1b in social care next year and no new policy developments or initiatives. Wasted opportunity. It’s the hope that kills…

    • giving away the entire 72 plane harrier leet for the qeuivlent of a quarter of a million each when we’re prepared to spend twice as much for 1 aircraft tha its not even built yet, says it all really. my idea for onebay class conversion(remove the superstructure and put a full deck on it) as a replacement for ocean shows that an armchair admiral like me could make the whole R.N. budget go further.
      but common sense wouldn’t fit in at th M.O.D.

      • How will that work in terms of hanger space for aircraft? I’m guessing the decks on the Bay class are totally wrong size for helicopters and once you start changing decks then you would compromise structural integrity of the vessel. Costs would soon spiral.

  16. His why don’t we look forward to qec leaving rosyth for her sea trails and her next fifty years of service when her airing could progress to the sons of terrains


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