The new Queen Elizabeth class supercarriers will represent a “powerful and important strategic conventional deterrent” according to the First Sea Lord.

Admiral Sir Philip Jones First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff said:

HMS Queen Elizabeth is the first carrier in the world designed from the outset to operate a fifth generation combat aircraft. Crucially, a second ship – HMS Prince of Wales – is on its way, which will give the UK a continuous Carrier Strike capability.

I have every expectation that, in time, this combination of carriers and jets will represent a powerful and important strategic conventional deterrent.”

The ships former commanding officer, Captain Simon Petitt, pointed out that there is a lot of symbolism in modern warfare and that having a ship the size of HMS Queen Elizabeth, which will be the navy’s biggest ever, was significant.

The sight of a heavily equipped 70,000 tonne carrier, which is almost 300 metres long, heading towards a potential enemy had a deterrent effect that is essential if the UK wants to project influence across the world Petitt claims.

“It is massively visible, you can range back in history and see the value of this. Everything from Nelson deterring Admiral Villeneuve from leaving Cadiz all the way to the big battleships of early 20th century, to what we are doing now.

The Americans use it all the time. We currently haven’t got this level of carrier capability. The bigger the capability the more influence you have to bear.”

So great is the impact of larger vessels as a deterrent, they’re often used as a geopolitical chess piece. American governments have, since the second world war, moved aircraft carriers around to demonstrate American resolve.

The particular benefits of using carriers in this way are that they operate on the high seas, where permission is not needed from other countries.

Indeed, since modern US carriers are large and imposing they “show the flag” to great effect due to their sheer size alone. Equally, it is often argued that had the Royal Navy had two full sized carriers in 1982 it is more than possible that Argentina would not have attempted to take the Falklands in the first place.

HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to start fixed-wing flight trials with F-35Bs off the eastern coast of the US in Autumn 2018.

25 COMMENTS

  1. I cannot find myself able to agree. We have a very top heavy navy now and these two ships are a big mistake. When I was in the Andrew, there were 4 carriers, smaller than these two but very powerful with dependable strike aircraft and a combined destroyer and frigate fleet of over 60 ships and nearly 20 diesel and nuclear submarines, I don’t recall how many minesweepers and hunters, patrol vessels, LPDs, and countless RFAs. I read the headlines today and am horrified. I ask the politicians, would you want to join this navy?

    • Harold.

      Thank you for serving. My thoughts are.

      Yes the navy is too small, but how much do you think in today’s money a fleet like that would cost?
      Defence Inflation rises constantly.
      Would you sacrifice SSN capability to have more escorts and Diesel Subs for example?

      I agree with the sentiment yet at the same time longing for the navy of yesteryear is as big a fantasy as the fantasy fleets some post on this website.

      Again, compare with other medium sized powers. Would their citizens join their navy if we are simply talking numbers of assets and not capability?

  2. a better solution would have been to order one, fit it with cats ‘n traps, order the Rafale-M as a maritime fighter and then pool it with the French CDG. Total inter-operability of both carriers and air wing. we could then have enough money left over to keep our amphibious capability and possibly have a couple more frigates/destroyers EVEN WITH the de-valuing of the pound. We could have then been free to order F35A and/or more Typhoons for GR4 replacement

    • Ask anyone in the French navy how only having one carrier works out ! Maybe if someone is thinking of attacking somewhere we are responsible for we could ask them to wait for our one carrier to complete it’s refit ? It could work I suppose !

  3. I’m happy with them the way they are, for me VSTOL is appropriate for the RN, should have been the emphaisis in the first place rather than vanity project cats and traps which suit the Yanks, not us with the UK’s history and geography. And so is the F35-B appropriate, with minimal runway need and multi-role.

    Yes, they’re a deterrent, a show of force, half as much again as the Charles de Gaulle in size, and the UK’s contribution to both NATO and the EU, whether in the EU or out of it, and one that apart from the US, is unmatched. No, the rest of the world is not laughing at the UK with two huge carriers.

    When we’re independent in Scotland, we’re having 3 of them. Wha daur meddle wi’ me!

    • Whilst I agree with you in kind, they are only a deterrent if we have enough aircraft to fly from them and that really is still the unknown. Leaning on Uncle Sam to make up numbers shows we have neither the money nor intent to fully complement the carrier air wing ourselves – and I fear the latter more dangerous than the former!

      • Well, numbers of aircraft will be lower than optimal for some time, but the thing is the carriers have a 50 year lifetime and can take plenty, whereas two small cheaper carriers as some suggested would soon be filled with no expansion room.

        I suspect also space could be made available to other countries if they take the F35-B, France as an example, but other NATO countries too, Italy, Germany, or co-operative countries like Austria.

        Take it 15 years in the future, countries having 3 or 4 F35-Bs on LDAs, and you could even get the QE as a central operations hub for other countries, giving double the capacity or more! The sky’s the limit …

  4. Morning
    The government has decided to go down the shiny toy route, nothing we can do about that now. It’s like a house holder who needed an estate car to get the family around and thought no, I’ll buy a Rolls Royce instead. Can’t afford to run it, but the neighbours will all see I have a Rolls-Royce so I must be important – a “big deal” as Ron Burgandy Would say (Anchorman).
    We now find ourselves in the position where our Rolls-Royce needs to be taken out and about, driven around and shown off. What it also needs to do though is all the other tasks that it wasn’t designed for like the School run (LPH and LPD). Things that it can do, but are totally impractical and not really value for money. Very brave to put a £4bn warship 60 miles off an enemy coast so that it can launch its helicopters – we all know how brave our political classes are.
    Like a new Rolls-Royce – absolutely amazing, just a shame we cannot afford to run it without sacrificing so much else. You will be telling me next we bought two 😂

  5. Hi Lee

    Not sure I agree with you totally here, I think the QEC may well be the saving of the military in the UK. Whilst my personal preference would have been 4 more Astutes and 6 Frigates – I suspect these would not have been built if the QEC had not been ordered anyway.

    The QEC for better or worse demonstrates Britains ingenuity, manufacturing prowess and is the fulcrum for what is our new operational mode as an expeditionary force. Many other assets of the RN are on their last legs and this is a strategic asset that the RN is clearly going to build around.

    Without it I think the escort fleet would be reduced to 13 and the groundswell of support in parliament would not be quite so vociferous.

    The current FSL seems to have a vision and is ruthless/bold enough to make the tough decisions needed to modernise the RN. I suspect it will be uncomfortable for those impacted for some time, but ultimately will result in a more balanced fleet.

    We cannot have major assets sitting in ports due to manpower issues and this needs resolving – but overall I believe this will be resolved in the next 3 years as the scale of our ambition becomes crystal clear and the government wishes to leverage it.

    I could be wrong – but think this is where we are going…

  6. Not to be in Asia is to ignore 21stC power and influence.

    At this moment we have reasonable relationships with three of the big four local powers in region (China / Japan / India) which if we play our cards right mean we could be a very useful ‘trusted third party’ which I am very much in favour of.

    However, for any of this to be a remote possibility the navy and our diplomatic core needs to gear up and scale up spectacularly.

    Escorts, subs, manpower, planes all need scale. By way of comparison, China alone has a submarine fleet approaching 70 with the express intention and capability of taking out entire ‘enemy’ carrier groups Doenitz style should things turn nasty.

    However, any credible policy needs will and wallet – which I can’t see ‘50,000 is a gig enough army’ Hammond or St Theresa ‘0.7%GDP Aid is the right thing to do’ ever aligning Global Britain rhetoric with reality to deliver.

    No choice across the chamber either though…

  7. We need capability across the board. Both high end and low. To those critical of the carriers I’d suggest they look at their crew complement and how amazingly low it is. It isn’t academic one of the biggest determinants of lifetime operating cost is crew cost. We’ve got a bargain if we only realise it. a lot of Americans and French would tell you that.

    • David this one I agree with you.
      Few nations can get a CBG together. Hopefully the pieces continue to fall into place.

  8. I don’t understand why some of the rough/ short field fixed wing aircraft couldn’t operate off the QE and PoW, perhaps as COD, refuelling or AWACS? The thing seems bigger than some of the rough fields they are intended to operate from?

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