The Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers have radars that provide 360-degree visibility out to 400km – in other words, the distance from Portsmouth to Kendal, in the Lake District.

The S180M radar, also known as the long range radar is the large black rectangle that rotates on top of the ship’s forward island. This will give the crew the 360-degree vision out to 400km. This is the visible face of one of the world’s most sophisticated air defence systems. It can handle up to 1,000 tracks simultaneously and its operators can guide the ship’s own F35B fighters on to any hostile or unidentified aircraft.

It has the capability to detect stealth targets, such as incoming missiles, at 65km, even when they are approaching against a backdrop of ground clutter. The radar can also be used to provide air traffic control services for civilian aircraft, a potentially vital role if the ships are stationed offshore from a country whose airport infrastructure has been severely damaged by a natural disaster or due to conflict.

As well as its primary air defence function, the S1850M can also act in a surface surveillance role out to the radar horizon.

One of the most complex aspects of creating a modern warship is integrating all the vessel’s systems, particularly those used for combat. An indication of this comes in the operation to install the carrier’s ARTISAN 3D radar. Preparations to install the radar on to the carriers took two-and-a-half years. Part of this time was spent in creating a life-size mock-up of the carrier’s aft island at Cowes, on the Isle of Wight.

Read more here at the official Aircraft Carrier Alliance website.


  1. Can detect stealth missiles at 65km, that sounds great.

    Just one question what is the minimum RCS of a stealth missile for it to be detected at this distance?

  2. If the stealth missile were hypersonic that would be useless without energy weapons and even then at 5000 kph they’d have less than a second to react, aim and fire. A cruise type stealth weapon at 1000 kph might be ok though

  3. If a hypersonic missile with a velocity of 5000km/h were to be detected at 65km, defences would have a little over 45 seconds to engage it before impact. If the missile were traveling at 1000km/h with an identical detection range, that time would increase to 234 seconds, almost 4 minutes. These times, of course, assume it is the carrier that detects the missile and not an aerial platform such as an F-35B or Merlin, both of which, operating at altitude, would hopefully detect it at a longer range, as would a Type 45 or Type 23/26 acting in a radar picket role.

  4. The excellent benefits of radar and C3; except when it is permanently burnt out by a high altitude exoatmospheric nuclear detonation with its saturation of EMP.
    When dealing with any nuclear armed adversary, this would probably their first option.
    Such a high altitude blast would not initiate a nuclear exchange, so long as it was done away from BMEWS sites to ensure these systems can verify no secondary land strike is about to happen.

    This ensures that any such EMP blast will (initially) be exclusively used against naval assets.
    Due to proliferation of US satellites, it would not be beneficial for the US to use such a tactic.
    Is this the new Maginot Line of the US and Western powers?

    Oddly enough, the old Soviet naval forces were often joked about having redundant radar systems due to their failure rate, but as it has now come to light that the Soviets kept one of the systems always off, maybe they were just anticipating such a high level EMP blinding tactic.

    Can we afford to have secondary redundant backup systems?
    Can we afford not to?

    • Modern radars have electronic ” non return valves” between the transmitter receiver and the aerial.
      One of the reasons that military electronic equipment is so expensive is that military electronics and the cabinets they are housed in are hardened and shielded for EMP.
      EMP works both ways…. its not a directional weapon of attack. If you pop off a high altitude EMP blast it is going to blind you as well as your enemy. The units with the best EMP protection will win out not the person initiating the blast.

  5. The height of HMS QE is about 56m. I reckon the horizon at that height is about 24km. Can QE radar see to 65km for sea skimmers?

  6. The question of size is an irrevant metric….does it matter if the navy has 50 ships or 60 ships….nope….

    Does it matter if the navy tonnage is 450 thousand tons or 500 thousand tons……nope

    What matters are two questions: does the mix of equipment and staff allow the navy to do its job ?and is the required mix of staff and equipment sustainable ? any other measures are simply self licking lollipops.

  7. Even though the radar system is great on QE (as it should be for a capital ship and strike carrier), the utter lack of self defence missile systems really worries me. The QE class are the largest warships in the world with no SAM, that is a fact. All other carriers over 30,000 tons in the entire world, have a SAM capability which is useful as an added tier or layer in its defensive screen.
    The QE class is easily large enough to fit x2 48 cell sea ceptor or sea viper cells, cost would probably be £50-100 million per ship.
    Are we so destitute that we cannot afford this?
    Do not even get me started on the lack of escorts or the armament on our escort warships.
    We need to go to 3% gdp yo defence expenditure, no doubt about it. Cut the flippin foreign aid budget.

    • There is no need for 2 sets of 48 or even 1 set, what there is a need is a last ditched missile coverage, since the carrier is never going to operate without an escort. We can safely assume the escorting vessels would handle most of a saturation attack and so the QE just needs something for those few missiles that get through for whatever reason. 5-10 cells would be more than enough. What i do think is it needs something, since Phalanx is way too short range and hasn’t proven very reliable.

      • Directed energy weapons are now a realistic option since Dragonfire has been given the go ahead. We should see a working system within ten years on multiple platforms. There are at least three locations on the QE that could have the proposed units located giving ample coverage.

    • Missiles on a Carrier introduce a whole new level of ambiguity for air operations.
      You start needing safe fly lanes and min altitude approaches for aircraft when approaching the ship to avoid getting blue on blued
      The action of firing a missile will cover the flight deck in debris that will need to be cleared before take-offs and landings can commence or recommence. No one wants a piece of a frangible missile launch tube cover to be sucked up a jet intake writing off or causing a crash on deck of a 100mil fighter.
      Phalanx produces a similar problem. The sabot that surround the penetrater and the pusher discs behind them cover the upper deck in FOD (Foreign object Debris/Damage) This restricts air ops until the FOD is removed. The sabot and pushers are also a source of damage to equipment and injury to personnel. The sabots and pushers have just been fired from a barrel at the rate of 3000 rounds per min . They process a fair bit of Kinetic energy and can easily penetrate an aircraft’s skin or kill or injure exposed personnel on the upper deck if they where hit by them. This is an issue on current Helo/Phalanx equipped units so imagine the hassle it would cause on a carrier . On the plus side the sabots are brightly colored plastic so you can see them to pick them up.
      With regard to Energy weapons physics is not on the side of maritime based energy weapons . The absorption windows for non visible light energy (IR or UV) at sea level makes the use of lasers a lot more difficult that the manufacturers of such weapons would have you believe.
      The USN tests its weapons at White Sands which is in the desert, at altitude and has clean clear air…not a very representative maritime sea level environment is it?

  8. Reckon we could get the government to cut Foreign Aid if we did one of those pesky petitions? I reckon there’s easily over 100k people who would love to see the back of this stupendous waste of money for all sorts of reasons.

  9. I agree with the call for the aid budget to be reduced mainly for 2 reasons (1) can we really afford to be spending twice what France does (and France is now almost certainly a bigger economy that the UK’s after the Pound’s devaluation)? and (2) It’s extremely unclear how much of the money is well spent on carefully considered projects and how much is spent for the sake of it to meet the 0.7% GDP target. A cut of the budget would hopefully cut the low-worth stuff and leave many of the good and worthy projects in place.

    Having said that though, if the aid budget were to be halved (for instance), even I would struggle to justify giving more than maybe 15% (20% max) of that reduction to defence when our health and social services are in such a mess and our economy continues to struggle with such poor productivity which is at least partly down to infrastructure investment.

    • Our foreign aid budget is not pure altruism. It is expected to pay returns in diplomatic influence and trade. Why else would we give aid to India for example.

      • Agreed, but it’s not clear how effective it is. There was some report that I think might have been the basis of an article here that ranked countries by global reputation and France came in just ahead of the UK. I remember reading it at the time and thinking “Hmm, we spend twice what France does on aid and yet they are still ranked higher than us”. Sorry, I can’t remember the article so I realise that’s a pretty annoyingly vague and unsubstantiated part-remembered anecdote to trot out..

        I am not someone calling for a complete cut of the aid budget but I do think our level of spending might have gone well beyond the point of diminishing returns in terms of diplomatic influence and trade which would be another reason to cut it back.

        • Well in the case of India it clearly isn’t working very well. They bought Rafale not Typhoon. My view is that we ought not to cut the aid budget. It would be bad for our image. That said we do a lot to help countries by training their military and a lot to help in disaster recovery situations because we have the kit and the global reach e.g. Illustrious in the Philipines, C-17s in the Carribean. This is foreign aid which few other nations can provide. I think we need to review how aid is defined and accounted for.

  10. The Foreign Aid Budget at 0.7% GNI equalling approx £12 billions PA is under review just as much as defence spending. Indeed, a cut is generally forecast and rightly so as all government spending should be reduced in order to address the dangerously high National Debt now approaching £2 trillion. Bear in mind that a substantial percentage of the FA Budget is spent as leverage in order to generate overseas sales of British goods.

    • The Foreign aid budget is mandated in law at 0.7% GDP and cannot be reduced….it would take a change in the law to reduce the percentages…..

  11. I have not read all the comments but l am sure they are valid for an Aircraft Carrier.
    But please can we have some common sense, they are great in a peace time situation
    with our Baltic neighbors for flying the flag and bombing Arab terrorist around the
    the World. But such a huge percentage of our budget in two ships which any modern armed
    force would take out immediately is just wrong ask any of your friends and colleagues.
    Look after Britain not NATO l have my doubts they will come running to our aid !


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