The Royal Navy ‘is back in the premier division’ of the globe’s military elite says Vice-Admiral Bob Cooling.

Vice-Admiral Bob Cooling told The Portsmouth News:

“All the maritime community are absolutely delighted to see this magnificent ship becoming a reality. She puts us back in to the first division of major military nations. And it is right and proper her home port should be Portsmouth, which has been the home of the navy’s capital ships and air power ships for decades.”

Former First Sea Lord George Zambellas said:

“When the first of our new carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth, deploys on her first mission in a few years, with fifth generation fighters and drones embarked, she will scotch at a stroke any talk of Britain’s retreat from the world.”

What will the vessels carry?

The term now used for the carriers embarked squadrons is ‘Carrier Air Wing’ (CVW). The vessels are capable of deploying a variety of aircraft in large numbers, up to a maximum in the upper fifties in surge conditions.


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

“We are constrained by the F-35 buy rate even though that was accelerated in SDSR in 2015, so initial operating capability numbers in 2020 are going to be very modest indeed.

We will flesh it out with helicopters, and a lot depends on how many USMC F-35s come on our first deployment in 2021. But by 2023, we are committed to 24 UK jets onboard, and after that it’s too far away to say.”

In addition to the joint force of Royal Air Force and Royal Navy F-35Bs and their pilots, the air wing is expected to be composed of a ‘Maritime Force Protection’ package of nine anti-submarine Merlin HM2 and four or five Merlin for airborne early warning; alternatively a ‘Littoral Manoeuvre’ package could include a mix of RAF Chinooks, Army Apaches, Merlin HC4 and Wildcat HM2. We understand that vessel would still carry at least one F-35 squadron aboard in such circumstances to offer air defence as well as support to the helicopter assault activities.

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

Around the time the first carrier deploys operationally, 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 jets on coalition operations.

We understand that the composition of the CVW is a balance between ship capacity and squadron availability. Squadrons assigned or ‘programmed’ to sail on deployment will mostly in the case of the aircraft carrier be unique to it, for example the airborne early warning helicopters that have no other purpose but to serve the carrier force.

In addition, we have also been told by a senior source that we will shortly see decisions like this for the F-35B and “maybe a utility helicopter (or tilt-rotor in future) type”.

The source we spoke to told us that his expectation is that the vessels will sail with a larger number of F-35 than previously expected because “It is not that they can’t do land based operations, just that there is a need to get the return on investment for the well found forward deployed bases that these aircraft carriers that form the centre of the CSG are” and that “the capacity of the F-35B force in the near years in particular is very limited and it is unwise to do other deployments”.

We discussed this with retired Air Marshal Greg Bagwell who expressed doubt that the composition of the CVW would develop this way initially, referring to the idea of set numbers being assigned so far in advance he said:

“There is absolutely no need to fix a flexible capability so far in advance – it hems politicians in unnecessarily.”

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

“Where F-35B is based is entirely down to the most suitable basing option for the tasks/missions is being sent to do. If that’s a well-founded host nation base, great; if it’s the Carrier, great; if it’s an austere location, fine.

Range, logistics and other ‘enablers’ such as AAR and connectivity will determine what’s the best option.”

The Queen Elizabeth class mark a change from expressing carrier power in terms of number of aircraft carried, to the number of sortie’s that can be generated from the deck. The class are not the largest class of carrier in the world but they are most likely the smallest and least expensive carrier the Royal Navy could build which still have the advantages that large carriers offer.


  1. Food bank’s record levels of homelessness, roads are a state junior doctors getting wages cut but on the plus side 2 new ships to patrol the world and drop bombs on people

  2. They can’t man her! The navy has chronic staffing shortages and retention. She would put to sea without a proper carrier group as our surface fleet is lacking numbers. It’s a great bit of kit but all the extra factors seem to have been overlooked.

  3. by the time its operational its systems are out of date …no planes to put on it….. no staff to man it…. no air craft to protect it…. no fleet to protect it pile o scap can be used to block the enemys ports so they cant go to sea and then just talk them to death

    • Yes they would . We did in 1982 and those ships were not nearly as good as 1 new QE is going to be . It was a close run thing back then . These ships are built as conventional deterrents , if that doesn’t work then they are off to war.

  4. You can cover a turd in glitter, it’s still a turd.
    I’m not surprised a serving Vice Adm has come out in support, that’s his job.
    Let’s hear from some retired senior Mil staff, you’ll get a real picture then.

  5. Good Grief…why do so many people feel free to post cynical uneducated claptrap ……. If you don’t know what your talking about just please don’t bother posting such nonsense.

  6. Christopher Kent it’s true I work with a guy that just came out the Navy he says they might be able to crew ONE of them but Cameron has cut back on the number of jets for the one that will sail !!!!!

  7. Too many left-wing,passivififst out there. But will be first ones crying when we are attacked again like 7/7. We need these ships an our armed forces we can not rely on the tanks or Europe.
    Let’s make Britain great again an be proud of our ships an armed forces. And all you conscious objectors go back to bed

    • All the broken down 45s? Last time I looked yesterday 4 of the 6 were at sea on various operational duties.

  8. MILITARY ELITE? WE ONLY HAVE 2 aircraft Carriers? Not Exactly a superpower Navy? Even if there the biggest most modern we’ve had since the steam cat carrier’s in yesrs gkne by? still without modern Aircraft F35 not ready yet? the mad uk gov&mod got rid of harriers too early? the rest of surface fleet is very thin on the ground? frigates ,destroyers,ect, or in dry dock? the most modern 45’s spend more time being maintained than at sea.

  9. Coolaid talk about only embarking 12 jets until there’s a crisis. Ya think any other navy in the world spouts such daft nonsense.

    If the RN doesn’t practice with a full deck load, they won’t be able to fight with one. Permanent wing is required. 36 at least.

  10. Welcome back the elite Royal Navy so pleased you don’t have to suffer the indignity of being told what to do by the french errr merging with the French

  11. No ‘F35 Lightnings’ until 2023. And to think, the Harriers were disposed of to save money. Still, the Gosport Ferry equipped with a squadron of ‘Drones’ might be a ‘stopgap’ 😕

  12. We don’t have enough escorts, we are short of supply/support ships and we won’t have enough aircraft to fully equip even one carrier until 2030! – by which time one of them will have been sold and the navy run down even further..So much for ‘military elite’!

    • Hi David, simply put, you’re wrong.

      “We don’t have enough escorts” – Yes we do, the vessels will slot into the fleet that is replacing the Response Force Task Group.

      “we are short of supply/support ships” – More are already under construction. and

      “we won’t have enough aircraft to fully equip even one carrier until 2030!” – Tabloids often like to quote 12 as the maximum number of F-35B’s the carrier will be able to carry (despite the intention to purchase 138 in the long term), however this, as you probably know, is nonsense. The carriers, in peacetime, will usually deploy with 12 F-35B’s as a minimum and a number of various helicopters. To reduce costs and free aircraft for other commitments, the maximum aircraft complement will not usually be carried in peacetime, it instead will be supplied as required or deployed to the vessels in the event of a crisis. Rather than funding a large and permanent Carrier Air Group, the relatively new concept of a Tailored Air Group rather than fixed Carrier Air Group will be adopted for the Queen Elizabeth class with the exact types and numbers of aircraft embarked being adjusted to meet current requirements and threats.

      The Queen Elizabeth class mark a change from expressing carrier power in terms of number of aircraft carried, to the number of sortie’s that can be generated from the deck. The class are not the largest class of carrier in the world but they are most likely the smallest and least expensive carrier the Royal Navy could build which still have the advantages that large carriers offer.

      “by which time one of them will have been sold” – Can you not post speculative nonsese? Cheers.

      “So much for ‘military elite’!” – Don’t justify your nonsense with more nonsense, cheers.

    • Thank you for your reply, however there are a couple of points I would like to elaborate on…The F-35s, The original planning (published by the MoD) envisaged 24 F-35’s (12 Navy & 12 RAF) to be operational in 2020, this level was pushed back to 2023 in the last defence review and whilst 138 are planned there is no guarantee this number will actually be ordered – I hope they are. I agree with the concept of ‘flexible’ airgroups but you need to consider a war situation where a full load of perhaps 40 F-35’s may be required and at the projected rate of procurement would put this being achieved sometime in 2026; for both carriers to be so equipped this becomes 2030 – but this is for both Airforce and Navy operated aircraft. As for escorts the current type 23 Frigates are due to commence decommissioning in 2023 (at a rate of 1 per year thereafter), to date no replacements have been ordered and the design of the replacement Type 26 (as reported to the Defence Select comittee last week) is only 60% complete – with no date set for design completion or first steel cutting.. As it takes a good four years to build and commission the lead ship of a class (and the Navy will only be getting 8 instead of the 13 originally planned – although a further 5 of another smaller frigates are also promised) it is unlikley (but admittedly not impossible) the first ship will be available before the Type 23’s start decommissioning. Regarding support ships, new ships are being considered but no orders have yet been placed (and they could be built outside the UK).. I apologise if my use of ‘military elite’ caused offence, I have a deep respect for the armed forces and believe they achieve great things with the resources available to them.

    • The reality is…when the hulls are on the water and the aircraft are delivered then and only then will it be believed. Governments have a habit of promising much but delivering little. How many Type 45s were there supposed to be? Promise of orders are exactly that….promises. The armed forces are woefully under funded and under equipped. To continue to spout the MOD party line is to treat people as lacking intelligence.

    • NATO could provide such support, cover and escorts if so required in real war/emergency situation. Isn’t that one of the advantages and essence of belonging to such an organization?
      I read some where that some RN pilots were training on the French Aircraft carrier. Such co-operation, if it actually exist should be encouraged most especially in this era of low economic gains.
      Regional co-operation and collective security arrangement among friendly nations should be encouraged all over the world and that is the case presently.

  13. I read in various media and specialist journals that due to the last round of redundancy notices the Navy are having problems staffing the current fleet, will their be a problem when both carriers are at sea , or is this also media speculation?

    • Both carriers won’t be at sea simultaneously. The plan is for “continuous carrier capability” two ships to ensure that one is available at all times. The other will likely be in repair/refit/alongside with its crew at reduced readiness or working up to take over as the “duty” carrier.

      • On average conventional carriers spend 25% to 35% of their time, which equates to 3 or 4 months/year per ship, in port for repair/refit etc. Such being the case, when both ships have entered service they will have significant time available, again about 3 or 4 months on average per year to operate together. Given the flexibility of their design it is almost certain that this will occur, though not necessarily as a pair of VSTOL Carriers each with 12 F35B’s but maybe one VSTOL Carrier with 24 F35B’s and one Helicopter assault carrier with 18 troop carrying helicopters or one hospital ship with 12 rescue helicopters, or one disaster aid ship with 20 heavy lift helicopters, or etc. etc. The number of different permutations is enormous. What is certain is that the will at some time operate together.

    • I eccept what you say and believe you but the staffing levels still will be a problem, will this be sorted out for when the the carrier task force sets sail and will it deplete the rest of the fleet , for example currenty the navy has a type 45 in port with insufficient crew , this is not a critisisem just concern that the navy finally gets the kit it needs but no one to operate the ships.

  14. Can’t wait to see these beauties sail into Plymouth. As an ex squaddie I’m always impressed with our naval fleet. As you can imagine my knowledge is very limited on details but I know what I like and the two carriers look awesome.

  15. Too many people reading the rag mags ( sorry newspapers) and taking it as fact. Lets not forget that these same rag mags claimed recently the MOD had wasted 180 million on a 5inch long gun !

    If its in the papers it probably aint true ( or even nearly true)

    Personally looking forward to seeing our newest carrier sailing the 7 seas, my only concern with the f35b is the lack of an internal gun. With the best will in the world it will eventually have to dog fight at close range, even though that’s not the concept with this aircraft it will happen if we ever get in a proper shooting war. F4 Phantom springs to mind. I know missiles are better now, but still…….

    • YES! YES! YES! Common sense and history clearly indicates that “the military elite” has clearly always had the best chance of deterring aggression and winning wars whilst incurring the least casualties.

  16. I can’t see any situation where our armed services are deployed on its own we would always be part of a multi country task group so France and even American power would always be added to our fleet to bring it up to full strength it’s in everyone’s interest to do this ,the role of war has changed so much and the Falklands were our last lone engagement one we smashed in 8 weeks and trust me we have better ships now don’t fall for the uk press and the political attacks saying our ships don’t work and we don’t have air power they love to put down our fantastic brave men and women and their equipment we spend more GDP Than most other country’s ,I have compleat faith in our forces .

    • I respectfully suggest you get your eye’s tested! Who helped us to dispatch the Westside Boys and Ebola in Sierra Leone or who is going to help us protect 30,00 UK citizens in Gibraltar from Spain or the Falkland Islanders from the next invasion from Argentina etc. etc.

  17. Why do you keep saying as a argument of the 12 aircraft that we ordered 138? When you know that not even half of those 138 will be used at any one time, it misleading and just as bad as what the other news papers say about there only beeing 12 aircraft. Just say the truth that we plan to operation four combat squadrons and stop being hypocritical.

  18. The UK has the wealth to pay for these AND all the other stuff, homeless, food bank etc. Etc.
    Just make the people who owe tax, pay their tax. Starting with tax dodging corporations and companies, everyone and their dog seems to be fuddling the tax one way or another.

  19. It’ll be obsolete if the Russians have developed the scram jet missile. At 4000mph itll sink everything within range, which is rumoured to be 250 miles.


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