A delay to the start of sea trials of aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth have been branded a “farce” by a Labour Lord.
Lord Touhig said in a House of Lords session regarding the aircraft carrier:
“My Lords, we were told in the review of the SDSR that the carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth would begin sea trials in the spring.
Alas, in the words of Ella Fitzgerald, “spring will be a little late this year”, because Ministers now say that that will happen in the summer. But lo and behold, just two weeks ago, when my noble friend Lord West of Spithead asked whether summer was,
“defined as … from the summer solstice to the September equinox, or … June to August”,
he was told by the Minister that summer “was not defined” and that rather, it was a,
“broad indication of the likely timetable”.
This milestone in Britain’s maritime history is turning into a farce. I invite the Minister to come clean, tell us what has caused the delay and give us a firm date for the sea trials.”
Minister of State for the Ministry of Defence, Earl Howe, said:
“My Lords, perhaps I can clarify the timetable a little bit. “The summer” means “a little later than shortly”. To address the substance of his question, this is about the need to test systems.
The Queen Elizabeth class carriers are the largest and most complex warships ever built in this country. It is essential that we thoroughly test the ship’s many complex systems before she begins sea trials. None of the issues now being tested will affect acceptance of contract of HMS “Queen Elizabeth” later this year. The work is within the tolerance that we had anticipated in the contract schedule.”
Defence Procurement Minister Harriett Baldwin faced the Commons Defence Committee earlier in the year, she was asked Madeleine Moon what was behind the delay and responded by saying:
“The carrier is due in Portsmouth this year but what I can’t give the committee is the specific days of the week.
By the very definition of what you’re going through when you’re going through trials is that you’re potentially in that trial process have to make some corrections to something, that’s the whole point of a trial.”
The minister added that the crew of the aircraft carrier was ready.
Lt Gen. Mark Poffley, Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff for Military Capability, said:
“There have been a series of technical issues associated with bringing the vessel to the point where she can commence her sea trials.”
It is understood that this minor delay is ‘not outside the tolerance’ of the programme.
According to Bob Hawkins MBE, First Lieutenant of the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth the plan was for the carrier to sail in March, he was quoted (in mid 2016):
“The build process continues up here in Rosyth. Some of you may have experienced this from the RN side of the house, perhaps in a new class of ship, in a new build. The frustrations are many and varied. Add to this the sheer scale and complexity of the Queen Elizabeth Class (QEC) aircraft carriers and you can imagine that each day brings a new challenge in moving towards Ships Staff Move On Board (SSMOB) then its sequel, Ready For Sea Date (RFSD).
SSMOB is planned for 9 January; RFSD 10 March. Using Andrew St George’s 12 principles of Leadership in the Royal Navy, I subscribe to his No.2, Cheerfulness. A glass half empty as opposed to a glass half full approach is a choice, and I choose to remain optimistic. Draw from that what you will.
Timing of First Entry Portsmouth (FEP) is dependent upon achieving RFSD and the subsequent success of Power and Propulsion Trials. This initial Contractor Sea Trials period we call euphemistically ‘5-1-5’, i.e. from RFSD, five weeks at sea, one week alongside (Invergordon), five weeks at sea, then FEP: a standard package that must be executed in full from whichever start date we achieve.
Clearly, FEP will shift right if RFSD does, or indeed if ‘5-1-5’ needs to be extended to accommodate any set-backs thrown up during the trials.”
Ian Booth, managing director of the Aircraft Carrier Alliance said:
“Pretty much everything is now installed in the ship and working. We’ve had lots of prior factory testing before putting systems on board and so far, it’s all looking pretty good.
Over the next few months we will finish compartment handovers, and complete work to coat the flight deck. We will also conduct harbour events and acceptance trials for virtually all systems – propulsion, steering, navigation, or communications – here [at Rosyth] before we go.”
It is my personal opinion that while there has been a slip in the timing of the vessel leaving Rosyth for trials, this really isn’t something to worry about as the vessel remains on track to enter service with the Royal Navy on time.
In such complex engineering projects, this type of occurrence isn’t a cause for concern nor is it unusual. HMS Queen Elizabeth, after all, is essentially a prototype and the Ministry of Defence can’t afford to get it wrong.