The Ministry of Defence have confirmed that the Queen Elizabeth class carriers might be fitted with catapults ‘in the coming years’ in order to launch certain types of aircraft.
Kevan Jones, MP for North Durham, asked via a written Parliamentary question:
“To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what assessment his Department has made of the feasibility of fitting a catapult system to Aircraft Carriers.”
Jeremy Quin, Minister of State for the Ministry of Defence, responded:
“Since the Queen Elizabeth Class carriers entered service no such feasibility assessment has been made. In the coming years, the intent is to expand experimentation of Uncrewed Air Systems (UAS) with Royal Navy vessels. This may include a number of projects to consider UAS capabilities for the Queen Elizabeth Class carriers. Including Fixed Wing UAS. The launch and recovery systems for these capabilities may require assessments which could include catapult systems.”
This isn’t entirely new news, however. It’s been known for some time that the Ministry of Defence were looking for information regarding fitting catapults to certain unspecified ships capable of launching aircraft of a certain weight (more about that below). The new news here is the confirmation that it’s for the carriers and that it’s part of efforts to operate large uncrewed aircraft from the decks of the carriers.
Back in March, I reported that the Ministry of Defence was seeking information on the potential for industry provide assisted launch and arrested recover systems for a range of air vehicles, which would be suitable to fit to a vessel within 3-5 years.
The Ministry of Defence say that this request for information is to support the development of the Royal Navy’s Future Maritime Aviation Force with potential for use with both crewed and un-crewed air vehicles.
The Ministry of Defence also add that it is looking to assess the availability of electromagnetic catapult, and arrestor wire systems for the launch and recovery of air vehicles.
While the Request for Information looks to assess the “availability of electromagnetic catapult and arrestor wire systems to launch aircraft” from a ship, words associated with the previous effort to explore converting the vessels to ‘CATOBAR’ in order to launch carrier variant F-35Cs, it shouldn’t be taken as indication that the Royal Navy are abandoning the short take off and vertical landing F-35Bs and returning to catapult launched fighters. They aren’t, they’re looking to “add mass” to the F-35B fleet by complemening it with uncrewed aircraft like ‘Vixen’. You can read more about Vixen by clicking here or by visiting the link below.
The drones that come out of project Vixen might be used for a wide range of tasks. You can read more about the aerial surveillance side of things by clicking here and the aerial refuelling potential of the drones by clicking here.
Anyway, on to the Request for Information itself.
“Potential supplier and interested parties are invited to provide information in relation to potential solutions which are sufficiently technically mature to be fitted to a suitable ship from 2023.”
According to the Request for Information, the Ministry of Defence have set out the following requirements.
“Potential arrestor solutions ideally should offer:
a. Max trap 47000lbs / 21318Kg
b. Min trap 11000lbs / 5000Kg
c. Energy damping method
d. Potential for energy reclamation
Potential catapult solutions ideally should offer:
a. Max launch weight 55000lbs / 24949Kg
b. Electrical power input required against launch cycle time.”
According to the Ministry of Defence, the intended outcomes of the Request for Information are as follows:
“a. Develop further MoD understanding of the different technologies and capabilities available in the market, both current and emerging.
b. Alignment of potential future MoD requirements with industry standards and processes for procurement of maritime un-crewed and autonomous capabilities; and,
c. Enable the Authority to develop a procurement strategy that will deliver best value for money for Defence.”
The Royal Navy say that the DEVELOP Directorate leads the development of the Royal Navy’s future warfighting capability and “acts as the platform for the through-life capability for all maritime capabilities in order to achieve the optimum mix of present and future warfighting technologies for a modern, global and ready Royal Navy”.
The Royal Navy is driving hard to introduce a range of un-crewed air vehicles and to “give wider options for the use of different air vehicles types within the Fleet”.