“To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, if he will examine options in SDSR 2020 to enable HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales to extend the effective combat radius of the F-35B through the introduction of a shipborne air-to-air refuelling capability.”
Answered by Harriett Baldwin, Under Secretary of State for Defence Procurement:
“The Department will continue to explore a variety of options to augment the capabilities of the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers in future. Decisions on funding will be taken at the appropriate time within the Defence annual budget cycle.”
This wouldn’t be without precedent, for instance, in 2011 the MoD explored the shipborne air-to-air refuelling capabilities during the shortlived plan to operate F-35C from the Queen Elizabeth carriers.
At the time it was reported that the UK asked Lockheed Martin to assess the feasibility of using the F-35C in a buddy-buddy refuelling mode.
Peter Luff, then Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology said that “the most cost-effective means of providing an embarked air-to-air refuelling capability in support of the department’s future Carrier Strike capability” would emerge around March 2012. With the switch back to the F-35B, nothing more seems to have been discussed publicly.
We have reached out to contacts involved with the F-35 programme and the Queen Elizabeth carrier programme for further details.