The Queen Elizabeth class supercarriers, the ships we deserve or the ships that we need?
IMAGE: The proposed CATOBAR variant of the vessel.
While they demonstrate huge capability leaps for the Royal Navy are they all that they could have been?
A common saying in the Navy is “One is none, two is one” so have we reduced ourselves to the capabilities of a single carrier?
Potentially but then this is not a choice of want but a choice of necessity as simply put the Navy nor the MoD would have money for a third carrier; let alone the planes needed for it. One of the most contentious point about the two we do have is that the STOVL design was selected for her, meaning that aircraft will need to use a ski-jump to provide the extra lift for takeoff.
Straight away this can limit the variety of aircraft that you can operate, as they need to be ones optimised for these short take offs. And if often means the decision will need to be made if aircraft will be taking off with extra fuel for their mission or a heavier weapons load for the strike. Yet as a carrier optimised for higher sortie rates the former can be selected as more aircraft could be launched and then be rearmed and launched again in quick succession.
Though with the F-35 being a jet that already has a small internal bomb bay, though this grants the plane a stealth advantage, the ordnance load will always need to be a priority. Furthermore, as we saw with the Harrier, expensive ordnance had to be dropped in the ocean for the plane to land on a shorter deck but this will not be the case with the F-35B.
Was the decision to not install steam catapults one that will haunt us for the next 50 years?
That is hard to say but she is a carrier specifically designed on the basis of higher sortie rates rather than high aircraft numbers. It is also important to note that helicopter operations will be core to these carriers for ASW and troop movements, so portions of air operations would be unaffected by steam catapults.
So they could have been an expensive addition for not much extra benefit and the drawback that they cause damage to aircraft air-frames over time. But they need power and power isn’t something the Queen Elizabeth class lack but are they truly future proofed as they do not use nuclear reactors like their big brothers in the US Navy.
This means that she needs to be refuelled, she has a range of 10,000 nautical miles rather than the limitless range of a nuclear powered carrier, however nuclear carriers still need to take of food and aviation fuel frequently.
After all, she is meant to serve as the flagship for 50 years and in that time money could be wagered that development in laser weapons will be made, laser weapons that will more than likely need a lot of power.
Though is nuclear always the answer as it removes the need to refuel the ship but the men and women on-board will still need their food, as the aircraft will need fuel and weapons.
But then this could be done in the safety of a port but some nations would not allow a nuclear powered vessel to dock within their borders so that would reduce the available docks to the Queen Elizabeth class.
That would be before cost would be looked at, not just the life cost of it but the decommissioning costs as we currently have 7 nuclear submarines sitting in Rosyth and Devonport awaiting dismantling.
So it is obvious that the QEC could have been more similar to that of a Nimitz class and possibly could have benefited from that but in the budget that the MoD has and the way the QEC would be operated this could be money saved for no real loss in capability.