For the last year newspapers, magazines and websites – including this one – have been filled with impressive photographs of the Royal Navy’s two new carriers – HMS Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales – commonly referred to as the Queen Elizabeth Class

This article was submitted to the UK Defence Journal by renowned defence analyst Richard Beedall.

With a length of 284 metres (932ft) and a light displacement of 65,000 tonnes (over 75,000 tonnes fully loaded) these ships are hailed as the “the largest warships ever built for the Royal Navy” at every opportunity the Ministry of Defence and government ministers can find.

This forum recently published an article explaining ‘Why smaller carriers would be bad idea for the Royal Navy‘.  The arguments in favour of large aircraft carriers are strong and convincing – but they ignore one crucial and long-standing problem, the RN’s lack of money.    First Sea Lord after First Sea Lord has prioritised preserving the CVF project over cuts to the rest of the Royal Navy, it can only be hoped they made the right decision.

In the mid-1990’s it was expected that the three small (16,500 tonnes lightly loaded, 21,000 tonnes fully loaded) Invincible-class carriers built in the 1980’s would decommission between about 2010 and 2015 – after 30 years of service.  Preliminary studies in to possible replacements started in 1994 and a wide variety of alternatives were considered, ranging from new build ships of various sizes and sophistication, through to rebuilding of the existing Invincible-class, to merchant ship conversions, and even the purchase of old US Navy carriers.

An early (c.2000) design concept for the new carriers

In 1997 a newly elected Labour government began a Strategic Defence Review.  The resulting White Paper (SDR1998) released in July 1998 included the decision that two new medium-size aircraft carriers would be built.  It is worth repeating a fact sheet included with the White Paper as it was effectively the birth certificate of the QEC:


·         In the new strategic environment, Britain increasingly needs forces which can act rapidly to prevent, manage or deal with crises globally. For these force projection operations, we require forces with wide utility across a range of military tasks and missions.

·         For our forces to be effective they must get to the right place at the right time. But we cannot always be certain that they will have access to air bases on land, particularly in the early stages of a crisis.

·         Successive operations in the Gulf and Bosnia have demonstrated that carriers play a key part in peace support, coercion and combat. They offer:

o    a coercive presence which can contribute to conflict prevention (as demonstrated recently in the Gulf);

o    a flexible and rapidly deployable base during operations where airfields are unavailable or while facilities ashore are being established;

o    a range of military options in all littoral operations.

·         Our three INVINCIBLE class aircraft carriers were designed for cold war anti-submarine operations and can each carry a maximum of 24 aircraft. The SDR has concluded that the main role for British carriers in future will be to deploy air power, in support of joint operations. This could be in the air defence, land attack or other roles.

·         We therefore plan to replace our current aircraft carriers with two larger vessels in the second decade of the next century. Present thinking suggests that new carriers might be of the order of 30,000 to 40,000 tonnes and capable of carrying up to 50 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.

·         The new carriers will operate the future carrier borne aircraft. A range of aircraft options remain open to us, but we shall continue to participate in the concept demonstration phase of the US Joint Strike Fighter programme, which is a strong contender to meet the requirement.

A formal requirement for the new aircraft carriers – ST(S) 7068 – was subsequently approved at the end of 1998.  This anticipated that the new carriers would be able to embark up 40 Future Carrier Borne Aircraft (FCBA).  In addition, ten helicopters could be carried for airborne early warning and anti-submarine purposes.  The carriers were intended to be as simple and minimally equipped as possible, designed using the principle that “steel is cheap, air is free”.  SDR1998 stated “Our intention is that they will be built using all relevant cost-saving techniques, following the example of [the helicopter carrier] HMS Ocean”.  Escorting ships such the planned Common New Generation Frigate (CNGF) would provide defence and share information from their sophisticated radars.

In 1999 the MOD awarded competitive Assessment Phase contracts to BAE Systems and Thales UK for the development of a CVF design.  The budget for the design and construction of the two new ships had been set at £2.2 billion – essentially the original total cost of the three Invincible-class ships, adjusted for inflation.

An ambitious design from BAE Systems, late 2002

In 2002 the Lockheed Martin F-35B Joint Strike Fighter (since named the Lightening) was selected as FCBA, other contenders being the Super Hornet F/A-18 E/F and a navalised version of the Eurofighter Typhoon.   The F-35B was far larger and heavier than the Sea Harrier (60,000 lbs vs 26,000 lbs maximum take-off) – indeed it was roughly comparable in size and weight to the Phantom’s operated by the Royal Navy in 1970’s.   It was now obvious that it would be impossible to effectively operate up to 50 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters on a ship of just 30,000 to 40,000 tonnes.   A ship able to operate 40 F-35B’s flying up to 110 sorties a day (the user requirement in 2003) plus 10 helicopters would need to be big – very big!

The two rival suppliers happily developed ever larger designs and more expensive designs that could meet and even exceed the RN’s requirements.  In January 2003 the Thales CVF concept was selected for construction, but the ‘Alpha’ design had reached ‘super carrier’ size with a light displacement of 75,000 tonnes, which no existing shipyard in the UK could build.  Although the CVF budget had been increased to £2.9 billion in 2001, estimates of the construction cost were now £5 billion for the two ships, in part because of the complex new infrastructure that would be required for their assembly.

The project was on the verge of cancellation for the next two years, before a slightly shrunken, slower and less well equipped ‘Delta’ design with an estimated construction cost of £3.5 billion was decided upon in 2005.  This is the design that has now – almost miraculously – been built, even though the ships remained under serious threat of cancellation until 2010.  The final price tag for the construction of Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales is expected to be £3.2 billion each, and that excludes design costs amounting to about £350 million, including a proposed conversion of Prince of Wales to a catapult and arresting gear (CATOBAR) configuration that was briefly considered in 2010-12.

If the RN was still similar in size to 1998, the new carriers might just make operational sense, however the RN has shrunk by at least third using every reasonable standard – personnel, major warships, submarines, aircraft, auxiliary vessels, etc.  Unfortunately, the escalation in the cost of the two new aircraft carriers has undoubtedly been instrumental in the down-sizing of the rest of RN.

The first concern is personnel.  The RN been out of the aircraft carrier business for eight years and has inevitably lost most of its expertise in this highly demanding specialisation.   The average age of the crew of Queen Elizabeth is “early twenties”, with the youngest members just 17 and straight from new entry training at Raleigh.   However, the RN has adopted a “lean manning” approach for the ships, in practice this means they each have a crew of about 730 personnel, compared to 1,350 for the smaller French carrier Charles De Gaulle, or 3,200 for the larger USS Nimitz class.  Every member of the crew of Queen Elizabeth will need to be an expert at their job, and the technology and automation upon which they will rely must perform flawlessly.  There is a strong suspicion that as the QEC ships work up towards operational service, they will prove to be under-manned and the size of the crew will need to creep upwards, but it is hard to know where the additional personnel will come from.  With the Royal Navy struggling to maintain a strength of just 22,500 trained personnel – each increase of 100 personnel in the complement of the two carriers will effectively de-crew a Type 23 frigate.

The next problem is a lack escorts and support ships.  The QEC are lightly armed and highly vulnerable capital ships.  They must be carefully protected from hostile warships, submarines, aircraft, long range ‘carrier killer’ missiles, mines and numerous other threats.  As such they need a screen of first rate escorts – a mix of perhaps six destroyers, frigates and hunter-killer submarines.  If the RN must provide these from its pool of just six Type 45 destroyers, eight Type 23/26 frigates and seven Astute submarines, very few operational units are left for other tasks.  Further, the resulting Carrier Task Group will still need suitable supporting auxiliary ships for replenishment duties or it will soon be heading home.  If, as seem likely, the RFA has just four Tide-class tankers and two or three Fleet Solid Support Ships (FSS), these will essentially need to be dedicated to supporting the QEC.

A graphic of Prince of Wales operating as a LPH with Chinook, Merlin and Apaches helicopter. She is also carrying a small number of F-35B Lightning’s

The third problem is aircraft.  The Ministry of Defence does not have credible and funded plans for one full strength carrier air group, let alone two.   In 1998 the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) had three Sea Harriers squadrons equipped with a total of about 28 aircraft, with the vision growing this to five squadrons equipped with 64 FCBA’s by 2018.   Of course, the FAA now has zero squadrons of both.

The UK seems to be fully committed to buying 48 short take-off/vertical landing F-35B’s (including four early test and training aircraft that can’t be upgraded to an operational configuration), with an approved budget of £9.1 billion.  Fifteen aircraft have already been delivered with the remainder expected by 2025.  The RAF recently reformed 617 Squadron (albeit partially manned by FAA personnel) equipped with F-35B Lightening’s, but it is not until April 2023(!) that 809 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) will re-commission with Lightening’s.  Rather humiliatingly for the RN and FAA, it is expected that the air group of Queen Elizabeth on her first operational deployment in 2021 will include the RAF’s 617 Squadron and a squadron of US Marine Corps F-35B’s!

The MOD hopes to order more Lightning’s, indeed an eventual total of 138 aircraft is still the official target.  However, the RAF is believed to be strongly advocating that any additional aircraft beyond the first 48 are of the conventional land-based F-35A variant – this is cheaper and more capable than the F-35B, but critically cannot operate from the QEC.   Being pragmatic, it increasingly looks like that the UK will only have two carrier capable Lightening squadrons of 12 aircraft each – and that these squadrons will also have land based commitments.  Current plans seem to be that the QEC will normally deploy with one squadron of Lightening’s, but that a second squadron will be briefly embarked every two years for wartime surge training.  This plan may be optimistic as the experience in 2005-2010 with Joint Force Harrier shows just how hard it was to free RAF controlled aircraft for carrier based exercises and deployments in the face other competing taskings.  However the QEC are sized and equipped to operate up to 36 Lightening’s, that is a lot of very expensive capacity being underutilised.

Just as bad is the shortage of helicopters. The RN has just 30 Merlin HM2 helicopters including those in maintenance or used for training duties.  There is currently no clarity as to how these will be allocated, but it seems that a deploying QEC will typically embark 814 or 820 NAS with perhaps six anti-submarine warfare configured HM2s, whilst 849 NAS will deploy a flight of about four ‘Crowsnest’ HM2s configured for Airborne Surveillance and Control (ASaC).  Barring an extreme emergency, there are only enough helicopters for one carrier at a time.

For the Carrier On Board Delivery (COD) role, the RN would like to buy a small number of Osprey V-22’s, but there is no funding for this. An RAF Chinook helicopter is expected to fulfil this role for the foreseeable future.

Another concern is the use of the QEC class in the amphibious warfare role. In 1998 the RN commissioned the badly needed helicopter assault ship (LPH) HMS Ocean at the bargain price of just £210 million.  After a major 2012-2014 refit was expected to serve to the early 2020’s, but instead she was decommissioned on 27 March 2018 and sold to Brazil for £85 million.  It appears that that the MOD desperately needed the money, and her modest 285-strong crew was also needed to man Prince of Wales.  As a consequence of the loss of Ocean, the MOD is now spending about £60 million to modify Prince of Wales so that she can serve in a secondary LPH role with an embarked military of up to 900 personnel (presumably a Royal Marine Commando Group) plus transport and attack helicopters.   This is for the littoral manoeuvre element of what the MoD calls Carrier Enabled Power Projection (CEPP) – Carrier Strike, Littoral Manoeuvre, Humanitarian Assistance and Defence Diplomacy.  Queen Elizabeth will presumably be upgraded to a similar standard in the 2020’s.  However, the potential miss-use of a £3+ billion capital ship in littoral waters threatened by mines, fast attack craft and numerous type of missiles is incredible.  It seems very unlikely that the RN will ever risk using the QEC as amphibious ships in anything but the most benign threat environment.

If the money was available, each QEC carrier could easily embark and efficiently operate a Carrier Air Group with two squadrons of Lightening’s, a squadron of Merlin ASW helicopters, a flight of Merlin Crowsnest ASaC helicopters, and a flight of V-22 Ospreys for COD and perhaps air-to-air refuelling duties.  With sufficient escorts and support ships, this would give the RN a carrier based capability not seen since the decommissioning of HMS Eagle in 1972.  However, assuming nothing changes, it seems inevitable that the QEC are destined fulfil a role very similar to US Navy’s latest LHA, USS America, which is both smaller (about 45,000 tonnes full load) and cheaper (£2.5 billion), whilst still being able to operate up to 20 F-35B’s and accommodate 1,900 EMF personnel.

Unfortunately, the Royal Navy became too ambitious after its success in SDR1998.  It should have stuck it to the original £2.2 billion budget and been realistic about what this could buy, rather than getting overly ambitious and reaching for two huge and very expensive aircraft carriers which it is struggling to man, escort, and provide an air group for.  In recent years the Australian, French, Italian, Japanese, Spanish and Turkish navies have all purchased versatile helicopter capable amphibious ships (LHD/LHA) with a displacement in the region of 20,000-30,000 tons for a cost of under £1 billion each, most of which are potentially able to operate F-35B’s.

With hindsight, I believe that the Royal Navy would be far better served by building two “30,000 to 40,000 tonnes” amphibious ships able to operate a squadron of up to 12 F-35B Lightening’s in addition to helicopters.  These would economically fulfil the role now envisaged for the QEC, whilst the money and other resources saved would, for example, have allowed four more Type 45 destroyers to have been built and operated.


  1. This issue keeps getting regurgitated.

    We have fantastic ships in the QEC.

    Let’s make them work.

  2. All true in hindsight. It’s a wonderful thing. But we’ve got what we’ve got and we’ve got to make it work. My biggest fear is the manning issue. How many more RN ships are we going to have to decommission to keep one carrier going? We shall see…. Let’s hope and pray it’s only one, at most two T23s…

    • SR,
      Is there primary cause of this manning issue? As I understand it, it’s a devil’s cross of underfunding, poor morale, cutting back retirement benefits, and lack of interested / qualified recruits. Are any one of these a primary causality or just a witches brew of bad options?

      My son was lucky enough to be able to chose between the new U.S. military retirement system and the old. He chose the traditional one and I’m glad he was able to do so. The new one is far more complicated and is already causing qualified people (only about 25% of our youth population) to look to other careers.


      • Helions, you said it, all of the above! Lack of funding, lack of long term planning, competition from other jobs/trades, difficulty in retaining skilled personnel, as you say a witches brew. But there’s also been a clear government policy to cut numbers across the armed forces as the quickest and easiest way to save money. This allows them to pretend that they are doing good for Defence by buying shiny new toys but then every battalion, every ship and every squadron is undermanned. Last time I spoke to HR people at RAF High Wycombe, the HQ for Air Command, they told me they had about a 25% vacancy (unfilled positions) in their force structure. In theory the reserves are supposed to grow to fill the gaps but it ain’t happening. So ships stay tied up in harbour or go to sea short handed.

        • SR and Andy,

          I think the saving money issue is probably the bedrock here. If you don’t go out of your way to recruit or retain personnel and fail to authorize enough slots to fully man units and ships then you’re “saving money” without admitting to it… All else can be blamed to cover up the fact.

          Heaven save us from the bean counters…


        • the age old ‘grass in greener in civvy street myth has to be killed off and fact used i’ll get a job paying more in civvy street because i’ve served in the forces, just doesn’t happen anymore they need to be told its tough outside, its competitive, not necessarily better paid and easy to get a job as some would spout, the navy, nor anyone else puts enough into recruitment efforts’made in the royal navy t.v adverts are a joke, whoever accepts this drivel as being any way to boost new recruits, needs shooting.

      • I can never understand why we don’t utilize the commonwealth and gurkhas more who are often very patriotic to the uk & a british passports a great incentive

    • the recruitment [email protected] in the royal navy’ is pathetic in the extreme. when i left the navy my last ship (blake)and that wonderful old steam stuff,nobody asked why are you leaving? i believe this is still the case, you cannot slow down the rate of people leaving by not addressing the reasons they are going for.

  3. I’m genuinely surprised by the lack of understanding shown by this article. CVF studies included options up to 100 000 tonnes. The chosen design was the smallest that gave the required capability, so the claim that the contractors kept pushing the design to be ever bigger and more expensive is utterly false. Nor is there any intention to operate both ships as attack carriers simultaneously. The ships are designed for a combat deployment of 36 Lightnings, not 24, although the latter will likely be a typical peacetime complement. The US gator carriers simply cannot do that. UK Government has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to the purchase of 138 Bravos; the repeated suggestion that the current order for 48 will be the last is wholly disingenuous. The pace of deliveries is limited by production rates, not by our willingness to spend. In fact, SDSR 2015 brought forward the delivery schedule somewhat, thanks to the USMC accepting a slight reduction in their own planned delivery rate near term.

    • the fact that ‘hank the yank’ can’t produce the aircraft fast enough, will mean that, by the time we get the ordered the reasons for choosing using that aircraft may have changed., has saab or dassault been approached for the design of a vstol version of the either the gripen or rafale?i stumbled on an interesting short video that peaked my interest, google f22 jump jet. the f 35b is not necessarily the only show in town

      • The fact the F-35B is the only production VTOL capable fighter at present should prove to you these jets are complicated and difficult to design. If it was easy there would several vendors trying to offer jets to the numerous countries presently buying light carriers. More importantly, what is the total market for non-US or non-Chinese naval fighters? Assuming 20 light carriers worldwide at 30k tons designed for 12 jets doesn’t sound big enough plus you still need to complete against the F-35B.

      • “has saab or dassault been approached for the design of a vstol version of the either the gripen or rafale?i stumbled on an interesting short video that peaked my interest, google f22 jump jet. the f 35b is not necessarily the only show in town”

        Is this serious????

        I mean really???

  4. Why join the RAF to spend your life at sea?
    This insanity has been tried twice (3 if you include JFH) before and failed every time. The two services quite rightly have a very different attitude to the idea of overseas deployments. It will cost the taxpayer and MoD loads of money before the RAF brass finally concede their empire building has failed and hand over the entire 35b fleet to the FAA where they belong.
    I wonder how many times the RAF crew of 617sqd will be rotated on that first foreign deployment, compared to their FAA colleagues?

    • I’m all for joint anything. Its simply a better use of resources, its complelty un-arguable against, unless all you have is old stories.

      • Agree with you Andy but Ali has a point about deck landing ratings and retaining crew currency. Unless you’re embarked all the time or do it regularly, it’s very difficult to sustain although sims have made matters better now…

    • I had been on Tornado Sqn’s for 7yrs, then for some odd reason got posted to 4 Sqn (Harriers) just as they were setting up the JFH, and I can tell you no one was happy about it, if you want to go to sea, you join the navy. Take a sqn of RAF engineers and shove them on a ship with no real prior training, voluntary redundancy looms, just ludicrous. All aircraft at sea should be FAA, all aircraft for the battlefield should be Army, RAF should be air defence, strike, recce, refuel, transport……rather than the current, if it’s in the air it’s ours mentality.

      • You would expect that the FAA will have sufficient F35B engineers to maintain the aircraft on either of the carriers, they managed well enough with the Harriers when we had the Invincible class without taking the RAF to sea.

        The advantage being that the FAA staff can crew with the RAF when they’re shore based.

      • Ian,
        I have nothing but sympathy for the way you guys were treated and completely agree with you. It is an absolute tragedy that the senior ranks of the RAF are so drunk on their empire building (and seem to always have been!). The history of the RAF is littered with it.
        The thing I do not understand is the F35a and even the new B21 (if it does get the same engine and a lot of other common systems) would be an ideal Tornado replacement.
        Maybe if they did not have so much spare time on their hands and an apparent obsession with the AAC and FAA the RAF’s brass would secure such kit (in addition to the 138 or so 35b’s for the FAA).
        The 35b is a naval aircraft and should be allocated to support these carriers.
        To deceive scores of RAF personel into effectively becoming sailors is wrong.

        • typical M.O.D muddled thinking. they don’t know what they want, how to use it they had fine ships in the invincibles, but never realised it.

  5. I’ve commented before that a couple of 40,000t carriers with Astute reactors would have been better. They would share a hull with the Tides / future solid support ships almost making a permanent production line with the resulting savings. They wouldn’t need 5,000t of fuel every 10,000 nm and if correctly designed the alongside Tide could carry the ASW helos freeing space for 24 F35s.

    But it’s too late and we can’t get our billions back. All we can hope is that the cash that we do have left is put into the following:
    1) Personnel. More junior ranks, less senior ones and less civil servants like the 20,000 strong shopping team that we have for our 80,000 strong army.
    2) Training and retention. Rotate crews overseas, stop emptying the batallions and crews so the remaining ones feel like they have to do everything. Give them lots of active training: running around and shooting stuff which is what many of them signed up to do and more training at that will make them better at it and less likey to get killed if they have to do it for real.
    3) Eliminate decisions that take ages and cost time and money like FRES, or result in us having Ridgback, Foxhound, Jackal, Husky, Panther and Bushmaster 4×4 vehicles, and not having a replacement for Harpoon. Also eliminate the inter service rivaly and the fixation of each service getting equal cash. If it supports the Army its AAC (Chinook, Apache, C130), if it supports the RN its FAA (Merlin, Wildcat, F35b), so reduce the RAF to QRA Typhoon and C17 and stop using £100k anti tank missiles dropped from £100m planes to hit soft targets 500 miles away.

    • Rather than going all nuclear, I would think a better idea would be to have cruise with nuclear and sprint with Gas Turbine. CONAG!
      I dont think Nuclear is a wonder idea as it happens. Too expensive to buy and expensive to operate and requires highly skilled engineers and people wont want them in most ports.

      • we’ve still got the whole swiftsure and retired trafalgars sitting in mothballs, they should be docked, surveyed and where able recommissioned. great expense was committed to having this class made tomahawk capable.the last one served off libya not so long ago.they were good enough then, why not now? lots of nuclear equipment rotting when it could still be used.

    • Oh Yeah? How many ex military nuclear ships are laid up awaiting disposal of their nuclear systems? Has a safe & sound means of dealing with them been found yet? How much nuclear contamination has been released so far, particularly from the Russian decomissioned vessels?
      Then of course there is the prospect somewhere down the line that nuclear pwoered ships/subs get sunk or blown to very dangerous bits in action, just as e started to take sea pollution seriously.
      No, nuclear is not sensible or sound for warships. Britain has run the largest navy in the world over two centuries & despite being, thankfully, an imperial power no more is still a very wealthy country. We should fund the navy this major maritime trading Island nation needs & stop flirting with disaster. Carrier aircraft should be primarily FAA, not joint force. These supercarriers should be much better self-armed with area SAMs & anti-misslile weapons in addition to the very basic Phalanx CIWS, especially given the lack of escort vessel numbers for the foreseeable future.

  6. We have invested this much so far, to not get them fully armed and protected is a travesty. We have got this far, I just wish they would bite the bullet and as 5/6th richest country in the world something we can do. One extra squadron of F35 by 2023, two on QE, one on PoW. Move all three to QE for full strike when needed. How is it that Russia has a slightly larger budget yet gets a state of the art Nucleur triad, hundreds and hundreds of various types of fighters, over 80 subs, over 10000 tanks etc? I know wages are lower Yada yada, and I know a lot of equipment is older, but they still have it, man it, upkeep and upgrade it. The difference is just night and day. Helicopters in the low tens is pitiful, new ships desperately needed with 10 yr build times whilst others knock them out in at least half that is pathetic. manpower so low we have to sacrifice one platform over another even when ship numbers are so tiny is woeful. [email protected] me when you break it all down it makes my blood boil. I’m starting to wonder if we should just sell PoW to release cash to equip QE and it’s support properly. Better to have one done properly and available most of the time than two huge white elephants. HMG = twats. End.

    • T.S.

      Sadly I think many know but will not admit to the fact that our large defence budget exists mainly to support UK defence industry, producing small amounts of kit at ruinous prices. And I’m not getting into the constant argument here about benefits of home build for the economy, which are all true but leave the forces with few platforms.

      Added to this gold Plating anything that moves, having Successor in core budget, HMG dithering and delaying which adds to cost, and the forces themselves faffing about ( see the army brass and FRES ) and that leaves us with capable forces with much cutting edge kit but in small numbers, all for one of the world’s biggest defence budgets.

      I’m optimistic myself that RN will make a success of these vessels and quite happy with the fact that allied escorts will supplement our own.

      • Totally agree Dan. We have enough gold plated and need to focus on the lower end for a bit and in decent numbers. Let’s hope the t31 is the start and we see it in other areas of the armed forces.
        I am often bewildered how we seem to retire equipment when the platforms could carry on. We have all talk d about the running costs increasing, but why do the US and Russia keep stuff going longer if it is so uneconomical? For one thing, let’s keep the Vanguards going an extra 10 years, freeing up a monumental amount of cash to flesh out the rest of the forces. I am a supporter of having a deterrent but not at the expense of so much else. Put it off for a bit. Just think what we could do with £44 billion over the next 10 yrs!

        • BAES at Barrow needs work after Astute and HMG will always prioritise that.

          HM forces are secondary sadly.

          Totally agree with you on lower end I will always call for greater balance between quality and quantity and see T31 as important as T26 at this moment.

          Forces need more mass.

          I doubt they will get it though.

          What government has ever been different in this regard?

    • How much of the Russian kit is actually operational T.S.? My bet is that a lot of it is rusting junk. Smoke & mirrors to try and impress their population and make them forget their average life expectancy is shortening and that their economy is the same size as that of Italy. End.

    • if we went to war and nuclear ships/subs would we worry about where the radioactive nasties end up. we make mountains out of molehills and still end up right where we started.

  7. I’ve just zoomed in close to the graphic of PoW in the LPD role. There are 2 unidentified Fixed Wing aircraft starboard aft, and small.


  8. I fail to see how Mr Beedle is so renowned? The first 7/8ths of this article are dedicated to history, which is well trodden, then the last is a quick vomit of facts around how other nations do it smaller, hardly RUSI material!

    I was expecting more around future warfare and the use of UAV either air or subs, which would have been interesting. Then contrast that with the known capabilities, with how they could be adapted to better meet the potential future small wars. This would maybe prompt more interesting discussion than drum beating around inter-service traditions, and who would start the bogey tree.

  9. Most people who frequent this site know the issues. As always hindsight is a perfect view on the past. It is easy to criticise the past, but when the decision to build the carriers was made, there war no war on terror, 9/11 had not happened yet. In 1998 the Royal Navy (inc. RM) was over 40,000 people. The reduction since then may have been predicted, but I have not seen any such article or report. If manning levels were maintained, would we have the issue of manning now? If we had been quicker at getting ships designed and built (I am looking at you Type 26). Then we might have had 8 ASW and 5 GP frigates deployed now and we would not need to be extending the life and upgrading the Type 23s. The whole of MOD ship procurement from the Type 45 onwards could have been handled better. You also omit the decision to activate both carriers and not put one in extended readiness or sold that was stated in SDSR 2010. However when it was announced later that HSM Prince of Wales would go into active service, the following SDSR in 2015 only added 400 to the Royal Navy’s headcount, only about half that required to man the ship.
    How about an article about how to address these issues.

    • Mostly the Treasury dragging their feet in approving spending. Osborne and now Hammond are anti-defence. Using that spending as a piggy bank to fill holes elsewhere.

    • The plus side to upgrading the T-23s is as a derisk for T-26. Hulls are pretty simple, it’s the Systems that are ruinous.

      ARTISAN and Sea Cepter have been tested together with the new Shared Infrastructure CMS hardware on the 23s, in theory they should be pretty much lifted off the 23s as working units and plonked straight on the 26s. With the crews already trained and practiced on the systems they’ve got less to do to transition to the new ships and get them working.

  10. As much as I enjoy playing fantasy fleets, manpower seems to be the key issue to opening new doors down the line. No point talking extra numbers until then really. No end in sight at the moment…

  11. The problem is always connected to money.

    No question that the larger carriers have far more potential, but no point having that potential if you can’t use it. There is a however the big question mark around how many f35’s will we realistically have available at any one time and how many escorts will survive the next defence review.

    Yes we might have US planes operating on the carriers to make up numbers, but if the aim is to only operate alongside the US, then the US can bring the carrier and our money would have been better spent else where.

    In my opinion 2 smaller carriers would have suited our budget better, but we will see.

    • the giant nuclear supercarrier J.F.K is on hold for donation or as a museum at bremerton naval inactive ships site(have a look at whats there we should be shopping abroad.even a few freebies wouldn’t go amiss i think we should be looking to take a retiring ticonderoga cruiser per year as the yanks retire them. going back to the carrier it is fitted with catapult technology sothe need for the untried over priced slowly manufactured f 35b, wouldn’t be an issue.£6 billion refitting, and reactivating a reserve u.s carrier, would get a lot more than 2 medium sized carriers with no aircraft.

    • if we’d kept the type 22’s things would look far rosier, the fact that romania and brazil, plus chille still operate former R.N. type 22’s, shows the muddled, don’t know what to do expertise at the M.O.D.

  12. “With hindsight, I believe that the Royal Navy would be far better served by building two “30,000 to 40,000 tonnes” amphibious ships able to operate a squadron of up to 12 F-35B Lightening’s in addition to helicopters. These would economically fulfil the role now envisaged for the QEC”

    Not hardly dude. Can’t do carrier strike if you don’t even have enough aircraft to defend yourself. The USMC amphibs are designed to operate under the protection of a USN carrier.

    But who cares, this is just a rehash of old news. Let’s move forward.

    • the illustrious filled in for ocean. keeping the ‘ark’ and getting the 5 years service she still had in her ,would have filled the gap left by losing ocean.

    • agreed this argument has gone well past its sell by date, i’d like more news on the mythical type 31. which i doubt may not even happen

  13. Oh come on!

    £3.2bn for a 36 aircraft carrier is a bargain. The US would kill to have something as capable against their ruinously expensive super carriers.

    The capability over their ‘gator carriers is huge.

    Yes, manning is an issue. No, nuclear would not have been better. There are always problems to be solved – thats what we do.

    That said, amphibious ops is not a good for carriers.

    • but we don’t have a carrier designed for 36 aircraft, we have one designed for far more.

      If 36 was the max number than the price could have been cheaper.

      • In times of conflict do you not think the USMC will have an issues bulking it up? They included extra capacity to future proof it over the next 50 years. Why save 1bn (if even) by providing 50% less capacity, man power will still be the same. The invincible carriers where hugely compromised due to their small size in terms of aircraft range and take off weight.

    • (Chris H) John west – Absolutely right Sir. Some people forget that it is the cost of delivering a capability that is the criteria we should use. NOT rather dreamy eyed longings for undeliverables. AKA ‘Bang for the Buck’

      There is already a big debate in the USA about the cost of their carriers and very senior US Navy people have been visiting QE and discussing the way we are approaching carrier strike. Some on here would have us clone and copy everything the Yanks do for some odd reason. I don’t and have linked articles from respected American writers who have proposed a CATOBAR version of a QE for the US Navy for the very reasons we are doing what we are doing. $16 Bn for a 100,000 ton carrier that will sit in port for 50% of its life is something that cannot continue. Of course the US Defence Industry has considerable political leverage (they call it Pork Barrel Politics) but when for the same money they could build 3 carriers needing a total of 4,500 people (the crew of one Ford Class) that deliver a combined 150+ aircraft of various sorts and get them into initial strike faster then who would not be taking a very close look.

      And I, no doubt boringly to some, repeat the mantra:
      “If you are an Admiral in a war you will take 3 less capable carriers and more aircraft over one very capable carrier and less aircraft every day of the week”

    • Correction – 70+ aircraft carrier as stated by the captain in a wired magazine article.

      Look at some of the deck images – there can be 36 F35’s on the deck at 1 deep all round not including 4 on lifts if required and 20 in the hanger.

      Clearly 36 is in the cost envelope – but the reality is these things can take a lot more aircraft. I believe a Nimitz is circa 90 at full load, so 70 at full load seems very plausible.

    • illustrious filled the role that was oceans, and did it well, maybe we should look at private options a la the 31’s for future H.L.P ships.

  14. If the article is accurate and the RAF are seriously pushing for the F-35A over the B, they get told you get 48 and the FAA get all the B’s and Marham becomes a RNAS. might quieten down their ambition a bit.

    • I enjoyed the article saying that the F-35A is more capable than the B.

      Uh huh, so capable it can’t even land on the carriers. Or anyone else’s.

        • (Chris H) Sceptical Richard – yes the F-35C which then needs CATOBAR and hugely expensive EMALS that still doesn’t work as designed on the Ford Class. And why would the RAF want an F-35C when they have the Typhoon? Indeed I really cannot see why there are ‘noises off’ about an F-35A for the RAF. We can procure more Typhoons for less cost and have more capability with the caveat that we maintain F-35B purchases that give us total flexibility as to where and how we deploy 5th Gen and STOVL capability

          • Chris I was merely pointing out to Ron that As don’t need to be able to land on carriers cause that’s what the USN has Cs for. It’s a well known fact that the RAF would love to have As to replace Tornado. They want a interdiction strike aircraft and F-35A is the benchmark. The RAF want to be in the stealth game with a 5th generation aircraft with state of the art sensor fusion and ISR capability. F-35 is the only game in town, way ahead of the Typhoon. F-35 is a day one of the war aircraft alongside cruise missiles with Typhoon providing cover. Typhoons would not be used as bomb trucks until air defences are diminished. It’s not one or the other. They are complementary. The Air Force view is why should we have an inferior aircraft (B variant) so that we can play boats with the navy! OK to have a few to have the option of carrier based power projection, but for the bulk of the force in the longer term I’m sure they’d rather have As.

  15. Random thoughts:

    1) The point about Russia being able to afford so much more kit with a similar GDP is well taken. Defence funds go a great deal further in countries like Russia (and China). That’s one reason why continually relating defence capability to money (2% of GDP) rather than physical assets is silly at best, dangerously misleading at worst.

    2) The carriers are just the right size for what we might need them to do in wartime. In peacetime, there’s little need to load them up with any more than 24 F35s. If anything, we need to expand the number of helicopters that they routinely carry. An initial but of 48 F35s will be sufficient to equip one carrier. We should routinely embark 4-6 Chinooks. That would obviate he need for Ospreys.
    3) I don’t think the lack of onboard air-air refueling capability will be a great hindrance. NATO has plenty of land based tanker planes with the range to support our carriers in the likely areas they will operate.
    4) I wonder what a Corbin govenment would do to our planned F35 buy. It might be wise to sign a contract now with significant cancellation penalties built in. I can’t imagine Corbin resisting the urge to try to strip defence to pay for more social programs. Odds are better than even that a Labor government will become a reality.

    • Good thoughts. Couple of mine:

      1) most countries like Russia, China lie about how much they spend on defence, in reality they spend more. The UK is in a tiny minority that lies on how little it spends. Padding the budget at every opportunity. Odd.

      3) V-22 Osprey could perform a2a refueling for the F-35B’s just like they will for US marine aircraft. Could also refuel the Merlin junglies. How much would half a dozen cost? 300 million or so. Could double up as long range rescue & COD. Plenty of room on the carriers. Just buy them for pity’s sake.

    • Nick – if your point (3) was the case surely you wouldn’t need to use Carrier based Aircraft anyway ,happy to be corrected.

  16. Why purchase a LHD style smaller vessel when almost all our allies have them? Only the US has anything to rival a fully armed QE class and they only have 10 and are desperate to slot our two into their rotations which is also why the ship is sized to operate 36 strike aircraft.

    Sure the RN had to give up a lot of frigates but really how useful were those frigates? All they managed to do in the Falklands was catch bulletts and they are fine for chasing pirates or submarines if we had faced much of a threat in the last 60 years.

    CVF allows the RN to project one or possibly two heavily armed and capable battle groups anywhere in the world and the ability to deliver a ph amphibious brigade (in part) backed by an armoured division. That’s real power and only the USA can match that at the moment.

    As for escorts, we have more than enough with a surge in a time of war to set up two carrier groups. In peace time the need for escorts is limited and our allies have dozens of FF/DD that can provide these. In terms of aircraft we can also look to USMC and other in future to provide F35B to fill up the decks.

    Queen Elizabeth operating in the gulf with 24RAF/FAA and 12 USMC F35 B and escorted by a Danish frigate and Australian destroyer 6 months out of the year and rotating with a USN CVN is the ideal vision and it’s affordable. It’s much better than 50 cheap partly armed frigates and 3 limited use helicopter carriers as we had in 1982. It gives the UK the ability to leverage allied assets instead of the current situation of contributing to US forces.

    CVF will also be the only carrier in the world operating more than 12 5th generation fighters this side of 2030. That’s a capability that will truly be worth having. F35 is such a game changer especially at sea that I don’t think anyone has really factored in the uplift in power and capability it provides of F18 or AV8.

    • Good post Martin. The reality for the UK is that we are unlikely to embark on any major war in the foreseeable future on our own so the QEC’s would generally operate in a conflict scenario with ships from allied Navies-notably the US, Europeans and Australasians, so the fact that we would struggle to maintain a fully fledged Carrier Battle Group on our own is not a serious problem.
      On another sort of related issue-the USA has a population 5 times that of the UK so per capita our Armed forces Major assets times five look roughly like this-10 Carriers, 30 Type 45’s, 65 Frigates, 20 Trident Subs, 35 Astutes, 1500 plus front line Aircraft, Combined Personnel one Million…!

      • (Chris H) geoff – Precisely the point I tried to make on here two days ago. And when you add the 75% higher tax take (for clarification I mean the higher take / % of taxpayers money) because the USA spends 3.5% GDP against our 2% of GDP those per capita numbers rise to:
        Carriers – 17
        Type 45 – 51
        Type 23 – 110
        Trident Subs – 34
        Astute Subs – 59
        Etc etc etc … Basically multiply our numbers by (5 x 75%) = 8.75

        This is why we always punch way above our weight for a small nation. 65 Mn people and still the 5th largest economy in the world.

        • The real question to ask is why does the US get so little for its money. Intrenched business interest, corruption and wasteful programs like $15 billion nuclear powered aircraft carriers and $7 billion dollar barley armed battleships are but a few. With the F35B now a reality the US big deck carrier strategy looks increasingly to do with intrenched interest inside the military than a military necessity.

    • Martin – what you say makes sense to me but I wouldn’t downplay the role of Frigates – these tend to be the ‘Ears’ of a Fleet or Carrier Group,especially in regards to very important ASW work.Yes they take Bullets at times but surely that better than losing a major asset.

      • The Issue is that modern frigates are not really frigates. They are billion pound battleship’s. The fleet needs eyes and ears but they need to look at unmanned systems UAV, UUV and USV to provide it. Barley armed gunboats like type 21 were of very little use, limited defensive capability and limited sensor capability. Not to say that we should not have Low end platforms, clearly we should but large numbers of limited use vessels should not be procured at the expense of high end capability platforms and a balanced fleet.

        • Martin – yes you are quite right that modern Frigates are £billion assets – due to a variety of reasons their roles dictate that they have to be very capable in certain areas whence the high cost for each one.Any future technology like UAV etc as you say will be a game changer for sure but time (and investment ) will tell.Im not sure the Type 21’s deserve the reputation they gained during the Falklands War – they had to sail 8,000 miles into a completely alien environment for a role they were never designed for.they performed well above their capabilities,especially useful in shore bombardment,sadly Two were lost but it would have been a much worse situation if Two more Type 42’s or one of the Carriers were lost.

          • No doubt a testimony to the crews that operated those T21. It is understandable why lord west having had a T21 shot from under him would have elected for a high end only escort fleet with two carriers at the expense of numbers. It’s was not just the T21 built on the cheap. The T42 was no where near the ship it needed to be. Only the two T22 were fully effective and they were held back for much of the campaign to defend the carriers. The entire surface fleet was haphazard to say the least. Thankfully lessons were learned and T23 was a much higher quality vessel if still some what limited platform. However with the cost of modern FF/DD vesssels there will never be enough of them.

          • Let’s not forget that Ardent was sent into San Carlos Water essentially as a mine sweeper to see if there were any mines before the rest of the fleet went in! West was told by Woodward that he was effectively using Ardent as a sacrificial ship!

    • as somebody who served in the falklands(on antrim,) i don’t agree with the analogy of frigates being ‘bullet catchers,they all acquitted themselves well.

      • it was arrow that was sent through the channel to see if mines were there, ardent was sent into san carlos for n.g.s.

  17. I agree that the carriers potentially are a game changer for us, but only if we finish the job properly. Our supporting assets will be spread too thin to project power properly. We should be ordering a small number of osprey, a top up of new Merlin, and move the army wildcats to the navy. Then at least one more squadron of f35 by mid 2020’s. Speed build rate of t26, address manpower issues by then and then look at upping escort numbers in the next 10 yr spending plan. We have bulwark, Daring and a couple of t23s lying idle. Use them as active training platforms in our home waters, would be a great recruitment booster.
    I think our final aim should be:
    10 T26, 5 designated for QE escorting, 5 designated for pow and asw in the North Sea.
    5/6 general purpose t31 frigates, low end for global patrol and flag waving.
    5 up armed t31 frigates, medium for escorting amphibs and rfa.
    6 t45, two for QE escort, 1 for PoW, other 3 in refit/training/ high readiness. Up to 8 when we build new destroyers down the line.
    Is this really a fantasy fleet? I don’t think so and would give us:
    QE carrier strike group
    PoW LPH and amphibs support group, local air defence.
    LPD amphibious group with protection
    Increase in ASW in the North Sea
    Patrol frigates for med, gulf, Pacific etc
    Patrol vessels for home waters and territories abroad.
    This should be our aim for 10 yrs time. Fully fleshed out, armed and supported. About right for our stature and spending.

      • (Chris H) Hellions – Interesting article Sir which demonstrates how we should be procuring materiel. Especially exemplified in these two sections:
        “recommends adding an additional two Littoral Combat Ships – for a total of three, to meet industry needs”

        “A committee staffer said HASC determined the Navy’s one-LCS request was “damaging to the two construction yards”

        In other words politicians are deliberately ordering high capital cost warships simply to maintain industrial capability. Well done the USA. Noit too many US Navy support ships built in Korea either …

        Would that we had the same mindset and if we had then those 4 Tide Class would have been built here, the 3 MARSS would be built here and we would not be faffing about ‘not quite ordering’ a 7th Astute. A world beating submarine and we ‘are not sure’!!!!!


        • Chris,

          I live fairly close to the Austal yard in Mobile AL, it’s obviously a major employer in the city but beyond that, it’s part of a rapidly shrinking base of U.S. shipbuilding facilities that can produce USN warships. It builds Independence Class LCS and Fast Transports.

          Huntington Ingalls is down the coast in MS and builds most of our amphibs, the Coast Guard NSC’s, and AB’s as well. The rest of our naval shipbuilding facilities can be counted almost on one hand.

          I’m not a fan of pork barrel procurement but I am fully onboard keeping our defense infrastructure intact and retaining trained and skilled personnel to operate them. Our adversaries (both of the U.S. and the UK) would love to see us lose that capability and be forced to send the work overseas.

          I am fully for collaborative naval construction with our closest allies. I am not for it when we would be reliant on allies who are in a position to be pressured by other powers…


    • the type 42 was a sacrificial lamb, if the technology on the t45 had been fitted to a 42 then we’d have had far more than we do now, same goes for the type 22’s 4 of which are still in use, with brazil,romania and chile we whinge about low ship numbers while we get rid of ships that should have been kept.

      • andy – ive always been curious about the Type 42’s,a sound enough design compromised by needless interference from the Treasury.Im sure the original design was more in line with what became the Batch 3 – but cost savings had to be made and Batches 1 &2 were scaled back to the minimum that could support the Sea Dart system.Im certainly no expert but id bet that it would be impossible to fit the Type 45’s systems on a 42 hull,there just isn’t the growth margin and especially Topweight (for the Sampson Mast) would be a serious problem.


  18. This article is certainly comprehensive and well written, however, it seems to me that we need to be moving forward. These ships will last for 50 years so this decision will not be repeated in most our lifetimes and therefore I don’t believe it is valuable to continue rehashing this decision. I also think this puts an excessively negative spin on everything. The planning number for F35 is still 138 planes and I think the focus should be making a strong argument for enough B models to run either both carriers at around 12 each or 24 on one. It seems like around 96 F35Bs would be enough for that purpose and I’m hopeful that many will be procured. Admittedly, it will be rare to see both carriers in use. There have been some difficult decisions made in downsizing the navy to get this capability however this capability will be extremely useful and a real game changer for the UK IMHO.

    • i’m not happy with one carrier not being operational, if we spent so much building them,we should be operating them, as two battlegroups always on call

  19. It seems to me that the article’s author and the various commentators have missed the fundamental question. Is the UK a first class world power able to project military power or is it a medium level power with neither the will nor desire to commit the resources necessary to attain first class status? It has always seemed to me that the phrase “punching above our weight” is rather a meaningless shibboleth that is a means of evading the harsh reality that the UK cannot go it alone and thus has to be part of some type of alliance and/or coalition in which it pretends to be stronger than it really is.
    It is painfully obvious that the UK has neither the means nor the will to be a first class naval power; in which case, the expenditure of overtaxed resources on two aircraft carriers, unable to go into harm’s way on their own, is a rather tragic choice. The problem is not the size of the carriers but their very existence and the fact that funds and manpower wasted on them has depleted a painfully thin fleet.

    • There is currently only one first class naval power at present and that is the US Navy. After that there is only one other blue water navy. Care to offer any alternatives.

    • Totally agree about the punching above our weight mantra but the current state of the RN and the UK military as whole has very little to do with means or will but alot to do with political competence. Billions spent on refits and upgrades of weapons only for them to scrapped prematurely, more spent on new weapons only for these to be cancelled, vast sums spent on studies that go nowhere, changing priorities (cats and traps for carriers), reduced orders that increase the cost of remaining units, single source procurement, paying a premium to suppliers to build something more slowly than they planned (the carriers £1Bn) and funding endless wars that morph into some kind of nation building exercise doomed to failure. SDR98 was the last sensible review of UK defence and clearly envisaged a return to a maritime strategy, which is historically and for very good reasons for an Island trading nation our core defence need. The carriers were the main output from that review and for very good reasons. They will in time prove their worth and our politicians if they allow the carriers to become fully operational in conjunction over time a rebuilding of RN (escort and SSN) numbers will see the benefit as these ships exert our influence where and when we wish. We will need to do this with our allies as less benign powers such as China flex their strength as this century progresses.

    • When has anyone in the west ever built a carrier capable of going it alone? Capital ships have always relied on escorts since the term was first coined. Russian carrier cruiser’s with missile and aircraft were a failure. I agree about the whole “punching above our weight” nonsense. Clearly we have a lot of weight and we punch about average for our size with 2%of GDP on military spending. However in navel terms we do punch way above anyone other than the US. Defence spending can’t take place in a vacuum and looking at all the other navy’s in the world we are very much number two in blue water terms in capability. No doubt this will change in the near term with China adding capability we will drop to number 3 but I don’t see us dropping below that in my life time. We certainly lack the will at present to act however that may not always be the case. Having the QE class gives us the ability to act though which is something we did not have in the past. Having the F35B effectively allows us to bring the RAF’s tornado fleet on ship in times of need. The capability of the aircraft especially the Low training requirements for ship landings makes that a realllity in a way it never was before. In 1982 we were able in a push to get almost 90% of our harriers onto ships an into action. In future a purchase of 100+ F35B would see us be able to comfortably surge 72 in 6 squadrons. Even if china follows through with its 4 carriers that’s a capability they would be hard pressed to meet. Our navy is the only force that we have that can be said to be truly world class. Much the same as in 1914.

  20. I think Alpha was 65,000 ton standard, the same as Delta and 20 feet longer, but between perps and waterline is almost the same as the Delta today, so not having yards capabably is not an issue and not true. We have to remember, there was a Beta, the smaller ship which in re-design and studies cost hundreds of millions of pounds along with delay. The realisation was that bigger ships are cheaper, so back to the bigger ship but called Delta. Then delays and extra cost which ran in many billions, due to officials and certain interests wanting to use their wheres when listening to Royal Navy STAFF REQUIREMENTS and keeping to it, probably would have made them many billions cheaper. Big ship, Small Ship, back to the big ship, conventional with email catapults (always envisioned), to Vertical, to conventional, back to vertical, do the hokey cokey, then you turn around and that’s what cost you much. Give me strength.

    • It’s worth remembering that the program had to incur an extra £1 billion in costs as the MOD lacked the money to meet its obligations at the time and had to delay build and pay penalties. Strip that extra £1 billion out and the QE looks like very good value for money. Also running a Super carrier on the same 600 crew as an invincible class is impressive. Automation costs money but saves in the Long run. Given the mammoth crew requirements of the ford class You need to ask why they cost $15 billion.

  21. Just another point. “USS America, which is both smaller (about 45,000 tonnes full load) and cheaper (£2.5 billion)”. Just in tonnage to cost alone, does that not make America more expensive?

    • Another interesting point on America class is that the ship is unable to sustain high tempo F35 B operations due to deck heating. The larger size of the Queen Elizabeth class allows her to conduct Short Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL). This reduces deck heating issues and allows for much higher tempo. Same with the ski jump and longer run up for short take off. In addition it causes less ware and tare on the aircraft lift fan. QE class was designed around the F35 where as the America class is a modification of existing design to operate more.

      Also small aircraft number of 20 are too small to dominate a combat area no matter how capable the aircraft. We found this out in the Adriatic with the CVL. Time and again the stated requirement was for 36 strike aircraft. QE class is the smartest ship program since dreadnought or ark royal the RN has conducted. First time in a centaury we are ahead of the curve at sea with something the cousins admire.

  22. Reading these posts puts me in mind of a world class carrier (Formidable) off Crete trying to cover the fleet and a big evacuation with a handful of fighters.
    Couldn’t happen again could it.

  23. Can we get a just the shipbuild price on these ships excluding the UK content (secret stuff done by a few) which was done with the MARS tankers. I assume is far higher on ships like these, as they are not tankers?

  24. TNon of this would of ever been an issue pre 2007. 2006 Britain was, it’s said for one glorious year debt free, then the banking financial sector economy failed and greedy asset stripping banks like RBS was bailed out (when only the savings of firms and public should have been guaranteed and new banks, in particular, proper banks for business and heavy industry formed.. The rest is history… Do we have a bank that serves industry yet?

  25. It’s a good article, but I totally disagree with it.

    The QEs will be in service for 50 years, that’s up to around 2070. So what has happened is we have two big but not super carriers, with plenty of room for increase in onboard capacity. From that point of view who cares in the slightest if there was only a couple of flights to go on them in 2020 or 2023, it means that their capacity is unlikey to be exceeded in their lifetime.

    On the other hand build 2 or even 3 x 40,000 tonne carriers with a 24 F-25B capacity and in 15 years people would be screaming “Why didn’t we build these ones bigger?”.

    You also have to look at WHY full capacity might be needed, and it’s some quite large conflict situation even if short of a full war. In old Cold War terms perhaps it would be Russia and the West facing off in the Middle East in say 2028 with a pact not to escalate onto home territory. In that case you’d presume that the allies would be providing not just escorts in abundance, but aircraft too. The F-35B is likely to be popular, other nations are already ordering them. So what you have is too large allied airfields capable of a fast sortie turnaround. The UK and the RN provide the airfields and some aircraft, and the other allies provide the bulk of them.

    What on earth is wrong with that?

    • Sorry about typos F-35B for F-25B, and two for too, also missing “floating” for airfield.

      But in addition if some smaller nations have smaller vessels taking a few F-35B, they could even double the capacity of the 2 QE carriers, using the QEs to refuel and reload, then relocating to their own small carriers for maintenance of rest. Vessel-hopping in other words.

      A 40,000 tonne 24 aircraft carrier is just that, a carrier. A 65,000 tonne up to 60 aircraft carrier is a concept.

    • Good point, too many people want to compare QE to a Nimitz class or an LHD but it’s neither. It’s a giant floating airbase able to embark highly capable 5th generation fixed wing aircraft and helicopters depending on the need of the Mission. US CVN’s are poor helicopter platforms as was discovered in the Indian Ocean and US LHD’s are poor fixed wing platforms.

      We have seen a gigantic leep in the ability of STOVL aircraft with F35B, its two generations beyond harrier. CVN armed with only F18 looks increasingly incapable in the modern environment and at $15 billion increasingly unaffordable even for the US.

      US F35C plans put at best one squadron on a CVN and F35C is still the platform most likely to be canceled in favour of F18 E/F.

      With the capability of F35B and no doubt the increase in future of drones to provide AWACS and other sensor missions CATOBAR carriers days may be numbered. However many in the navy look on CVN as the proper way to do things much the same as many in the navy looked at fast battleship in 1939 as the future.

      Even if we had the Budget for one or two CATOBAR CVN or four America class LHD’s I would still choose the two CVF’s that were are getting. It’s a purple asset able to operate air force planes and army helicopters and that’s the future.

      • Well, to float a boat so to speak, putting this together:

        at a cost of $400 million each according to that, but let’s say $600 million to be generous, you could get this in a bit cheaper version:

        So you’d get a standalone facility, but one also that could effectively be a ferry for, and it’s difficult getting numbers, perhaps 4 to 6 F35-B. These could in an allied fleet operation even be used for QRA, air cover for the fleet, leaving the QE and perhaps tandemed POW free for the major operation. Or they could be used to supply extra F35-B to the QE which then refuels and arms them, and air co-ordinates them.

        For a major op you could have both carriers to hot deck if neccessary, a load of escorts, and maybe 6 of these small carriers to provide an extra 2 or 3 squadrons.

        In fact if you stuck the Gerald R. Ford in the fleet, you’d have the equivalent of a reasonably large size country’s whole air force at sea.

      • Well, to float a boat so to speak, putting this together:

        “Aircraft carriers, amphibs ‘mark growth of regional navies’ say analysts” (UKDJ Sep 17)

        at a cost of $400 million each according to that, but let’s say $600 million to be generous, you could get this in a bit cheaper version:

        So you’d get a standalone facility, but one also that could effectively be a ferry for, and it’s difficult getting numbers, perhaps 4 to 6 F35-B. These could in an allied fleet operation even be used for QRA, air cover for the fleet, leaving the QE and perhaps tandemed POW free for the major operation. Or they could be used to supply extra F35-B to the QE which then refuels and arms them, and air co-ordinates them.

        For a major op you could have both carriers to hot deck if neccessary, a load of escorts, and maybe 6 of these small carriers to provide an extra 2 or 3 squadrons.

        In fact if you stuck the Gerald R. Ford in the fleet, you’d have the equivalent of a reasonably large size country’s whole air force at sea.

  26. Where to start?
    I think its mad to build 65-70k ton STOVL only carriers. They should have been CTOL or at least STOBAR.
    If you want STOVL only, then 3x Super Invincibles of around 35k ton each, would have been more flexible.
    We are where we are, so lets make the most of QE/PoW. So at least 24 block 4 software, block 1 engine upgrade F-35B on each carrier, all FAA owned & operated.
    If there was any money, a few V-22 for COD & AAR. Plus a few CH-53K for heavy lift.
    If we stopped giving aid to China (that China does not want), perhaps we could replace HMS Ocean with a UK built version of the new Italian Fincantieri, 32k ton assault carrier Trieste. Base it in Plymouth for HM Marines.
    In the book “War with Russia”, we lost HMS Queen Elizabeth because it lacked escorts. We need the T26/T31, to be built & armed, rather than whitled away & half equipped.
    I would also swap a few (4) 7.62 machine guns for the manual 20mm cannon taken from retired RN/RFA ships.
    Losing QE or PoW, does not bear thinking about, so perhaps we should think of equipping them with the SeaSpider Anti-Torpedo System.
    We all know there is not enough money in the MoD for this, but HMG spends over £700 billion a year. One less failed IT project, not started, would probably fill the MoD hole.

    • STOBAR aircraft carry less than STOVL aircraft and have all the training problems Of deck landings p. It takes a USN carrier group 6 months to train before deployment.

      Also short of buying Migs where would you get the STOBAR aircraft .

      STOBAR is the kind of half assesd compromise you have to make when you don’t have access to Rolls Royce products.

      • BAE offered a STOBAR version of the Typhoon to India.
        STOBAR gives you flexibility. Any agile modern fighter can be modified for STOBAR, if you are willing to spend on the software & landing gear.
        With STOVL, you only have F-35B.
        STOBAR gives you the potential (once mods are done) of F-35 B&C, Typhoon, Rafale, F/A-18EF, Gripen.
        Also you can do an emergency landing of an allied CTOL jet in trouble, perhaps low on fuel.
        STOVL seems great if you obsess on the artificial target of maximum take offs & landings in a day. However, when has the RN done that since the introduction of smart bombs?
        The F-35B is limited in range & weapon load. No point in putting vast numbers in the air if none of them can reach the enemy. F-35B is limited to 1000lb bombs internally (X-32 could carry 2000lb bombs internally & had greater range).
        RollsRoyce is great when you use Harrier/Pegasus style engines (X-32) , but not so great when they are copying Soviet lift fans that are dead weight outside of take off/landing.

  27. Sorry, its not clear that I wanted the manual 20mm cannon on QE/Pow. I did not mean for T26/T31.


    • Makes you proud to think that the British Pacific Fleet was an equal to the US Navy with 6 Invincible class armoured carriers let alone the light carriers. Yes they had mostly US made aircraft, but they made the best carrier aircraft.
      It also proves the operational difference between heavy and light carriers. The heavies could sustain strike and cap missions taking into account losses whilst the lights could not.
      This would be the same today. A super Invincible of say 24 F35s involved in a peer to peer war would sustain losses. There would be a critical point where the carrier could no longer support both CAP and strike. With a much larger carrier this line in the sand would be delayed much longer so you could continue providing mission support.

      • Also, a having a larger number is ideal. Note that only 4 of the 6 were in action at any one time. One of the biggest flaws of the Essex Class were their wooden flight decks and the vulnerability of their elevators to bomb/kamikaze damage.

        It seems the USN took full advantage of the RN’s armored flight decks on several occasions when it was too risky to send Essex Class CVs or CVEs to the area. Another lesson for later USN carrier classes…


  28. There is no point to this article as we have built the QE class carriers.
    They are fantastic ships and great flagships with immense potential.
    To maximise that potential we need just a little bit more invested.
    A firm commitment to at least another 48 F35Bs. 3 squadrons of which for FAA squadrons, not under bloody RAF control
    A order for all 8 type 26 and at least 10 type 31e
    A follow on order for another 2-3 more astute class
    9 more Poseidon MPAs and we will be sorted. Just needs a little bit more political will and find a bit more money from somewhere. Raise taxes or cut foreign aid either/or

  29. the problem with smaller carriers is you don’t get the sortie rate high enough

    there simply is not enough space to land, handle, deck lift, rearm and refuel and get back on deck for take off.

    the size is almost not the issue – steel is cheap, its the internals that cost the money and you wouldn’t save much by going smaller – still need two engines, two shaft lines, two lifts and the same electronics and gensets.


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