After Defence Secretary Michael Fallon mocked Russia over fears it will attempt to spy on HMS Queen Elizabeth during sea trials, Russia has hit back.

Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Major-General Konashenkov said:

“The British aircraft carrier is nothing more than just a huge easy naval target. The ecstatic statements of Michael Fallon about the exterior supremacy of the new aircraft carrier over Russia’s Admiral Kuztensov warship demonstrate his absolute ignorance of the naval science.”

The Russian embassy tweeted: “Kuznetsov helped to defeat terrorists in Syria, it’s a real asset. What is the British record and who has to envy whom?”

It is understood however that the Russian carrier Admiral Kuznetsoz returned home from Syria due to the vessels inability to safely operate aircraft.

Writing in the Telegraph, Fallon said:

“It’s really routine for the Russians to collect intelligence on our ships. We will take every precaution to make sure that they don’t get too close, but I think they will be admiring her.”

He added: “When you saw that old, dilapidated Kuznetsov sailing through the Channel, a few months ago, I think the Russians will look at this ship with a little bit of envy.”

The smaller Russian Kutnetsov has been plagued by technical problems and is accompanied by a tug when she sails.

The Russian carrier is designed to lead a flotilla of vessels or operate solo while keeping enemy fleet at bay using its anti-ship missiles and using its aircraft to deter enemy aircraft.

The Queen Elizabeth class are designed to operate with a battle group to maintain air superiority, strike a variety of strategic and tactical targets using aircraft in addition to providing an air assault platform.

Despite recent sensationalist tabloid headlines, describing the Admiral Kuznetsov as “massive” while decrying the UK’s “tiny ships”, the Queen Elizabeth class are of a significantly higher tonnage than the Russian vessel, each sitting at 70,600 tonnes compared to its 55,000.

That being said, size is a poor indicator of carrier capability so let’s look beyond tabloid headlines.

The Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers will be the largest surface warships ever constructed for the Royal Navy.

The vessels will be utilised by all three branches of the UK Armed Forces and will provide eight acres of sovereign territory. Both ships will be versatile enough to be used for operations ranging from high intensity conflict to providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief.

Surprisingly for their sheer scale each ship will only have a total crew of 679, only increasing to the full complement of 1,600 when the air elements are embarked. This is made possible by extensive automation of many systems.

HMS Queen Elizabeth, the first in a fleet of two, is currently in the final stages of completion, the vessel is due to go sea for trials after the New Year.

The Admiral Kuznetsov serves as the flagship of the Russian Navy and is their only aircraft carrier. The initial name of the ship was Riga; she was launched as Leonid Brezhnev in 1985.

She was originally commissioned in the Soviet Navy and was intended to be the lead ship of her class but the only other ship of her class, Varyag, was never completed or commissioned by the Soviet, Russian or Ukrainian navy. This second hull was eventually sold to the People’s Republic of China by Ukraine, completed in Dalian and launched as Liaoning.

The Russian vessel carries a number of offensive weapons typically associated with guided missile cruisers and the carrier itself is capable of engaging surface, subsurface and airborne targets.

The Queen Elizabeth class carriers, in peacetime, will usually deploy with around 24 F-35Bs and typically around 14 helicopters. The exact types and numbers of aircraft embarked being adjusted to meet current requirements and threats.

In addition to the joint force of Royal Air Force and Royal Navy F-35Bs, the air wing is expected to be composed of a ‘Maritime Force Protection’ package of 9 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.

The vessels are capable of deploying a variety of aircraft in large numbers, up to a maximum in the upper fifties in surge conditions.

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 is estimated to be able to sustain a maximum sortie generation rate in surge conditions of up to 110 sorties per day.

The Admiral Kuznetsov can hold up to about 40 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, including Su-33 fighters and various versions of Ka-27 helicopter, however it rarely sails with more than half of that number.

While designated an aircraft carrier by the West, the design of Admiral Kuznetsov implies a mission different from that of either the United States Navy carriers or those of the Royal Navy.

The Admiral Kuznetsov is a heavy aviation cruiser rather than just an aircraft carrier. The vessel carries a number of offensive weapons typically associated with missile cruisers. The carrier itself is capable of engaging surface, subsurface and airborne targets, independently of its air wing.

According to War is Boring here:

“Admiral Kuznetsov has never seen combat, nor would she be of much practical military use. The 55,000-ton carrier has a bow ramp, not steam catapults, requiring her aircraft to shed weight before taking off.

This means her planes will go into combat with less fuel or bombs than the ground-based fighters Russia has already deployed to Syria.”

During the voyage the Admiral Kuznetsov reportedly “will have about 15 fighters Su-33 and MiG-29K/KUB and more than ten helicopters Ka-52K, Ka-27 and Ka-31”.

STOBAR (Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery), the system used for the launch and recovery of aircraft from the Admiral Kuznetsov, does not allow for the same frequency of launches/recoveries and tempo of operations afforded by American carriers or even the Queen Elizabeth class.

With Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery, the aircraft take off using the ramp and are arrested by a cable when landing back on the deck. This means that the Admiral Kuznetsov’s aircraft will only be able to fly a relatively limited number of sorties daily.

Other relevant factors include the process and capacities for transporting ordnance to assembly areas and from there to the flight deck, refuelling and arming stations layout, number and capacities of aircraft elevators, etc.

These vessels clearly cannot do some of what the other can, while the Admiral Kuznetsov can venture alone at times, the Queen Elizabeth would be unable due to a lack of offensive capabilities.

These vessels although similar in overall form are designed for different roles and with different ideologies in mind. The topic of which ideology is more practical today however is an entirely different topic.

As an aviation platform however, the Queen Elizabeth class will certainly be more capable and in the role of a cruiser, the Admiral Kuznetsov clearly comes out on top.

Is the press right to portray the Kuznetsov as something akin to the Bismarck however? No, clearly not.

The Russian flagship while a potent symbol is heavily outdated and its mix of roles, cruiser and carrier, severely restricts its capabilities in the mission has been deployed for off Syria.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the more modern Queen Elizabeth class vessels will be far more capable aviation platforms.

51 COMMENTS

  1. Firstly this is most likely going to sail into any contested area with 2 Type 45’s (and a sub or 2) and more than likely at least 1 more allied air defence asset.
    Secondly they will carry some Apache’s which I’m fairly certain will dissuade most attacking surface assets that don’t particularly feel like having a rocket shoved up them or being hosed down with bullets from the rather large gun they have.
    Yes this does have some defensive shortcomings but to act as if this is defenceless is taking pessimism to a whole new level.

  2. In 10 years time, when hypersonic missiles are becoming common place, there will be nothing in our armoury to defend against such threats.

    The aircraft carriers certainly, will be enormous, floating targets. They’ll probably not sink on account of their sheer scale and compartmentalisation but three or four missiles, costing no more than £10m will cripple our £3bn carrier with potentially great loss of life.

    They may be fantastic floating real estate now but without investment in suitable defensive systems they will quickly become enormous liabilities. We can forget about “parking” her off someone’s coast, we’ll need F-35 to F-35 air refuelling to accomplish anything without risking the lives of the sailors on board her un-necessarily.

    • Im a bit dismayed at some of the negative comments on here ,dont forget we lost ships in the falklands due to lack of airborne early warning systems which showed the limits of small aircraft carriers ,soon will have that capabilty.
      Plus the russians have no right to comment on others countries navies after losing a spy ship to a togan cattle ship.

  3. Fallon is a fool. A second rate power provoking the Russians is nothing short of being pathetic. Who the hell does the UK think it is? These carriers are white elephants and we hope that the second one will be sold off. A six billion pound waste of money which could have been better spent on our health and emergency services. What practically will this lump do to keep terrorists off our streets. Nothing! A fleet of locally based patrol boats is needed not these toys.

      • It’s alright David,
        TH is obviously someone who can write but doesn’t understand the difference between a tactical and strategic threat or the concept of deterrence.
        Heck, might even be Jeremy Corbyn in disguise with some defence trolling

      • I have some sympathy for his argument, without more T45s and submarines in the fleet a single battle group will consume nearly all the resources of the navy.

        This seems to be an absurd state of affairs.

    • Maybe a 2nd rate power provoking a 3rd rate power? 🙂

      Russia’s navy seems to consist of Cold War hand me downs and a few new corvettes. Not saying the Russians aren’t militarily strong but they aren’t all that strong on the sea.

      A Queen Elizabeth with a full air group would likely eat a Kuznetsov for breakfast. Actually a Queen Elizabeth with a third of an air group could probably do that. Don’t believe the bad press because the F35 is actually quite a game changer.

    • The terrorists you talk of are home grown so conventional forces are useless of any type and with open borders what’s the point of patrol vessels……..prospective foreign terrorsts can come by plane or ferry!
      The carriers will prove their worth if used wisely as a conventional deterrent.

    • Quote:
      “These carriers are white elephants and we hope that the second one will be sold off”
      So TH: To which ‘we’ are you referring? Whoever it is do not include me Old Son.

      Are you Russian? A Corbyn Momentum apparatchik? Or just an Internet Troll making arsewipe statements about a superb engineering achievement?

  4. Russian technology is backwards 3rd world don’t listen to a word the day .. Thier latest fighter ffs is only built for air shows and dog fights .. The always get taken out with ease Russian built planes by western technology

  5. status symbol soft power with open borders mass immigration unsustainable patriotism difficult since blair 1997 impact housing society 2M british despair identity heritage culture Queen Elizabeth & Prince of Wales operate with escorts vulnerable to air to surface missiles & torpedos like cloak shield bubble tow tall deep signal – trident a deterrent option plan B. far better based falklands Islands & used in response to an attack..

  6. Fallon is an idiot for shooting his mouth off but calling the Kuznetsov an asset is straining credulity too. It’s constantly breaking down, never mind having fleet escorts, it has to be escorted by a tug. As for it’s contribution in Syria two of its aircraft crashed.

    There are shortcoming in the Elizabeth’s point defence but they’re not insurmountable and she’s profoundly unlikely to sail anywhere unescorted. If hypersonic missiles become common place they would be a problem for all navies. Ford or Nimitz class carriers in a battle group would struggle against them at the moment. Ultimately only directed energy weapons would be a suitable defence against those.

    • Richard, Fallon is an idiot but I seem to remember the Russians started this spat with the little Britain tuant and revelling in our navies very sad state. It seems they don’t like little Britain having ships that are far superior to their museum pieces. Of course we do need some planes soon or we will look bloody stupid.

    • Ha – this is obviously a cunning plan to deceive the Russians! Fallon pretends to be a complete fool thus sending the Russians to sleep! Unfortunately Fallon (aka Baldrick) appears to be really just an idiot after all.
      As for threats to the new carriers – I think I would be very considerably concerned about the plethora of existing and emerging developments in anti-ship Ballistic Missile technology as well as the new hypersonic cruise missiles both in quantity and quality. As far as I know currently the RN has no defence against these threats. I don’t know what the solution is but I think our defence people had better find one soon and it had better be good.

  7. We found in the Falklands that subs can sneak through easily, and that was massively out of date subs even for the time. Reality is surface ships are easy targets. I am yet to see any evidence that they aren’t.

    But then carrying big flags etc where massively out of date hundreds of years before countries changed their tactics. Same with cav charges in ww1, no one was willing to admit the huge cost of training and sustaining a horse based army was outdated, until they met machine gun and thousands died.

    • I’ve heard that quoted often but do you have any links to more details of what actually happened? How was the task force in the Falklands configured? I don’t think it was all clustered around the carriers with constant sprint-and-drift sweeping for subs or was it? Was it split between carriers with some close escorts further out to sea and the rest closer to the islands? If yes that which element’s screens did sub(s?) “sneak through”? Were those elements doing proper screens or just hull sonar? Were any UK subs on station at the time of the enemy sub(s?) sneaking through(*)? I assume they would have added considerable extra detection capabilities.

      (*) I happen to know what a rush it was to get subs on station at the start of the war because of something that a friend of mine was involved in and only felt able to tell his friends about a couple of years ago, I assume due to official secrets act.

      I do wonder whether the Falklands anecdote that I so often read might be a case of not really having the full facts and sufficient expertise (I certainly don’t) to interpret the nuances hence people drawing very misleading and too wide-ranging conclusions – the sort of effect we see in F-35 critiques all the time.

  8. They’ll prove useful for rescuing the survivors of a major zombie outbreak. As we all know zombies can’t swim and these ships float very well.l!

  9. The strongest economic power in Europe is Germany. They don’t fritter money on silly things like aircraft carriers.

    • Because they rely on the United States, UK, and France to defend them that’s why.

      With the US becoming more isolationist Germany will up its defence spending either on its own or part of an EU defence force.

  10. This year Russia wins this particular round of top trumps because their aircraft carrier has aircraft and ours hasn’t, even if it’s unreliable and not great at recovering. They also have 3 times more N subs than us even though most of them are 1990s models.

    In 5 years time though their carrier will be OOS as will many of their subs, but we will have will two carriers with aircraft and 7 new top class SSNs. It’s a shame we won’t be even better but at least we will win the next round of top trumps.

  11. Would our carrier battle group really just be a QE, a Daring or two and an Astute (plus, presumably, an RFA of some type)? Doesn’t sound as nearly substantial enough a protection force for the big one. Isn’t that about the quarter of the size of a Nimitz group? Fair enough, our air-defence destroyer and attack subs are world beaters, envies even of the USN (putting engine problems to one side for a moment), but it just doesn’t sound like enough tonnage.

  12. Please stop being so precious, it’s terminology used by most armed forces when assessing a possible threat from another military force. Our submariners use the term about our own surface ships in exchanges of “banter”.

  13. Im a bit dismayed at some of the negative comments on here ,dont forget we lost ships in the falklands due to lack of airborne early warning systems which showed the limits of small aircraft carriers ,soon will have that capabilty.
    Plus the russians have no right to comment on others countries navies after losing a spy ship to a togan cattle ship.

    • We would have also lost the carriers, if the Argentina sub hadn’t fired a faulty torpedo.

      The problem is naval warfare is a mess currently. No question in a war, we need a way to defend the shipping lanes. The problem is any surface ship doing the job would be a sitting duck to modern air/missile/sub-surface attacks.

      Carriers however really add no value in a war situation, unless you are the attacker, since the defending country will always have an air strip. I hear you all cry what about the falklands, but can we really justify 2 massively expensive carriers to retake a few minor islands that we now defend around the world.

      • A bold statement. Don’t think it’s actually true though. The Argie sub launched a couple of attacks but they where against escorts unless I’m mistaken. Please provide evidence of the attack on one or both carriers. This belief that all surface ships are just targets for subs is just plain wrong. Submarines are dangerous to surface ships yes but the reverse also applies. If surface ships are useless why does every navy still build them? To carry out an attack on the carriers a sub would have to get past one or more towed sonar arrays (which are really good a finding subs) and a screen of Merlin ASW helos. Carriers are very relevant as our preference is to fight in the enemies back yard and not our own, hence air cover is a requirement.

        • Yeah. I really would like to know more of the details about what really went on with the Argentinian sub thing in the Falklands. I could be wrong but I worry that there might be too much inexpert analysis and gap-filling-in going on resulting in false conclusions. How good were the ASW defences at the point the sub got through (if it did)? Was there proper sprint and drift sweeping going on around the target? Were any UK SSN on station because those are probably the most powerful sub hunters?

          If it was a case of the Argie sub getting into firing range of vessels that only had a few hull mounted sonar for detection then that is a whole different story to getting through to a CBG with full ASW of the type that David describes (and add in an Astute since one will probably be attached to the CBG).

          • Correction. Saying that “I worry that…” is obviously the wrong word to use since the consequence would be that our carriers will be safer than some people claim which is obviously not something to worry about. I suppose it would have been better to have written “I wonder whether…”

  14. TH you are right. The Germans do not do anything other than work hard to increase their economic power. Having failed to conquer Europe in 2 World Wars they have now achieved European dominance and an empire of their own called the EU.
    As an ally they are militarily not great. Spending less than the NATO 2% requirement and not contributing much to reassure their allies that Germany would help in a crises.
    UK needs to cut foreign aid and go back to game plan. 1) invest in infrastructure and the military to deliver economic growth and hard power.
    2) increase taxes to pay for public services all uk citizens want and deserve
    3) orderly exit from EU if we have to leave but with our heads held high as a free and democratic sovereign nation.
    The QE carriers are not white elephants, when they are actually needed in times of peril, they will prove their worth.
    Cannot wait until they are full operational with a lovely airwing of 24-36 (very expensive but highly capable) F35Bs. These are the stealth jump jets TH in case you are wondering as you clearly have no expertise or knowledge of military matters and thus should not be engaged in forums such as this really. Respectfully ask if you could switch to farming today or country file please.

  15. Julian, if you do a google search for “Falklands submarine” you’ll find an interesting US Navy analysis of submarine activity during the Falklands conflict. Look for jtic.mil

  16. Fallon you really are a bit of a Prat. Comparisons are odious for a start. JUst keep it zipped, and get on with the job Further more, cost cutting resulted in no catapult system, no steel anti Torpedo reinforced skirt, and very little self missile self protection presumably relying on Anti Air Frigates or Destroyer escorts. Utterly stupid ,American, and other Carriers have massive self protection capability. As usual we do it on the cheap. and we could pay a heavy price for such stupidity. Indeed become a laughing stock

  17. The QE class simply must have either a large 64+ vl sea ceptor or sea viper cell or cells fitted + Italian anti torpedo anti mine rocket launcher and ideally some anti ship missiles ( would go Norwegian anti ship missile) anything less than this is potentially leaving the QE class without an adequate layer of self protection. They are currently the only strike carrier in the world above 32,000 tons with no SAMs!

  18. Listen to all the experts who know nothing worth knowing .. Am sure our sea lords and Royal navy know a bit more than ppl on this page .. After all we do have the greatest naval history ..

  19. You are all doing a great job to boost our enemies moral keep it up guys no one will ever know how good we realy are Oh we are telling everyone , yes its an awful ship will be years before its ready to go to sea has no aircraft no weapons and no crew typical Uk no idea of what they are doing ……yeh right and Elvis is alive on the moon
    Please do not be fooled by these negative comments they are our enemies fishing for information

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