The Royal Navy ‘is back in the premier division’ of the globe’s military elite says Vice-Admiral Bob Cooling.

Captain of one of the UK’s last aircraft carriers, the former HMS Illustrious, has told of his delight at the future flagship’s milestone. Vice-Admiral Bob Cooling said:

“All the maritime community are absolutely delighted to see this magnificent ship becoming a reality. She puts us back in to the first division of major military nations. And it is right and proper her home port should be Portsmouth, which has been the home of the navy’s capital ships and air power ships for decades.”

Former First Sea Lord George Zambellas said:

“When the first of our new carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth, deploys on her first mission in a few years, with fifth generation fighters and drones embarked, she will scotch at a stroke any talk of Britain’s retreat from the world.”

Recently 617 Squadron was reformed to fly the UK’s new F-35 fighter jets, the Defence Secretary has announced.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“The 617 Squadron name was made famous by ‘The Dambusters’, who played such a vital role in the Second World War. So it is fitting that by flying the world’s most advanced fighter jets, our new squadron will be ensuring that the legend of world-leading air power lives on. The F-35B Lightning will defend our nation and ensure that Britain remains a pioneer in innovation, with a unique ability to adapt to this increasingly dangerous world.

The UK is currently flying the F-35B Lightning, a multi-role fighter jet capable of a wide range of operations. It is the world’s first jet to combine radar evading stealth technology with supersonic speeds and short take-off and landing capability.”

Lightning Force Commander Air Commodore David Bradshaw said:

“This is a most momentous day for the UK Lightning Force as we celebrate the reformation of 617 Squadron. Manned by highly capable Royal Air Force and Royal Navy personnel and equipped with the truly remarkable F-35B Lightning, 617 Squadron will once again provide potent, flexible Air Power for the nation.

In a simple yet highly significant ceremony held in the heart of Washington DC amongst friends and colleagues as part of celebrations for RAF100, the famous Dambusters marked the start of another exciting chapter in their Squadron’s proud history. I very much look forward to welcoming 617 Squadron home to RAF Marham this summer as they prepare for operational service from land and sea.”

The Ministry of Defence say the first 9 of the UK’s currently 15 strong F-35B fleet will arrive at RAF Marham in Summer. It is understood that the jets will be supported on the move by Voyager tankers.

British F-35B initial operational capability is scheduled will be declared in December 2018 for land and the from the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers in 2020.

A very informative timelime from Save The Royal Navy.

48 COMMENTS

  1. Drones? What drones do we have, or expect to acquire in the next couple of years, that could operate off the QE class carriers?

      • Surely anything that requires traps to be installed is unlikely due to funding issues? Besides, has the predator ever been tested for arrestor wire landings? It was not designed for them, so it’s unlikely to be able to take the strain.

        • For sure there would be design and engineering issues to resolve. I’m just saying that in principle I think quite a few propeller driven aircraft could take off from and land on QE. It would be a throwback to WW2 and certainly not Taranis but a propeller driven drone from QE should be feasible.

    • the UK is a million miles behind the USMC in terms of determination to be as lethal as possible. I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for us to see the light.

  2. The USMC like everybody else has invested billions in the F35. To say they are maybe planning an all drone fleet “in the fairly near future” i.e. 15 years is hardly hold the front page news. If we can actually sail just one of our carriers with 24 F35’s embarked within the next 10 years then premier league status may be achieved. It’s no good having a great stadium with no team on the pitch. It’s all taking too long. Now it’s 6+ years to get a bloody frigate built and on active duty. Ridiculous!
    138 F35’s? Dream on! The Taranis? 7 seven years and counting. A stealth surveillance drone but looks pretty enough.
    By the way hats off to the RAF for their handling of the Typhoon upgrade program. We should be operating 107 of this superb multi role aircraft when the final 2 tornado squadrons are phased out. 7 frontline squadrons plus 2 (surely) for the RAF and we reassert the RAF back to the top of the European ORBAT. Royal Navy, take note!

  3. How about using the Zephyr as top cover for surveillance? They have the endurance to launch from pretty much anywhere and still have a few days on station.

  4. Look, I love the QEC, I really do. But this is another space filler article.

    What is the progress on Pow?
    What are the changes made to her from QEC?
    Will the tests of F35B on QEC speed up their acceptance onto Pow?
    Will Pow be helicopter ready much faster than QEC?
    How able are they both to host tiltrotors?
    What is the timeframe for fleet escort?
    When does the 2nd T26 build start?
    What is the status of T26 builds 4 to 6?

    Please, please – some detailed background info.

    • I’d be interested imin the itinerary for the fast jet trials off the eastern seaboard of the US. I have heard QE will visit NY and as someone who works there, I’ll definitely be taking time out to greet her

      • There’s are very interesting article on the progress of the Type 26 frigate by ‘Save the Royal Navy’. Off the top of my head I believe HMS Cardiff is planned to be laid down in the summer of 2019 and Belfast in 2021.

    • @John West
      the reality appears to be that the government is delaying everything as much as it can, to shift costs into later years (resulting in more overall costs but is a tomorrow problem). I am fully expecting further creative delays as part of the next defence review.

      Working on this assumption, I think it’s safe to assume
      1. PoW won’t be ready any faster
      2. new frigates will come online slower than existing ones going out of service, resulting in a perm overall reduction in numbers
      3. details are so vague on the PoW upgrades, making me think that there is only one answer, the upgrades are minor
      4. we will never see UK tricopters on the QE and so any usage will be from the US getting a free carrier on behalf of the UK tax payer

      Details would be nice but I suspect they are being withheld to hide the reality that we just can’t afford the SDSR2015 and need to accept major cuts.

    • John West – (1) Progress on POW is going well I think,should be at sea ready to take over from QE when she is due her first certification inspection (2)There are some changes made to POW stated here on another thread (as expected with the second in a class of new ships) (3)Lessons learnt on QE should make any trials on POW much easier and quicker I would have thought. (4) same as above. (5)Tiltrotors are an unknown as there is no official requirement for them as far as I know,but should they be needed the Carrier size should be more than capable of taking them. (6)Fleet escorts we know are in too short a supply-situation not likely to get any better for a few years yet.(7)Type 26 ships 1-3 ordered but unless anyone working on them can spread some light on the subject its hard to say if they are building more than one at a time. (8) Builds 4-8 only messrs Williamson and Hammond can answer that id imagine.

  5. Help me out here someone – In a pinch can the QE’s actually launch fixed wing aircraft (not VSTOL) off her ski ramp and arrester cable recover them ala PLAN / IN / Russian Navies? It’s something I haven’t really thought about… They are certainly large enough…

    Thanks in advance for refraining from hoots of derision, Bronx Cheering, and expressions of pity for the dog eyed colonial…! 😀

    • The answer Helions is no, as currently configured, no. In theory anything is possible. There is no reason why a CTOL aircraft could not take a run at a ski jump and be helped into the air in the process, so long as the undercarriage coped and the sudden change in alpha didn’t cause any handling issues. As you say, the Russians, Chinese and Indians already do this. Traps would have to be fitted (no current plans to do so) if landing speed required it. Landing aids for traps would have to be modified. Lots of qualification tests would have to be conducted. As you know these are expensive and take time. So currently it won’t happen, it would require a lot of work and money for it to happen and no plans exist (as far as I know).

      • I’ve wondered the same thing too, not because I’m anti F-35B but more out of curiosity. What does it do to the takeoff loads when PLAN/IN/Russia do it? Do the planes have to scale back a lot on the maximum fuel/armament loads that they can get off the deck vs if the same plane was taking off from a longer land-based runway?

        • I did a piece about this in the past. I looked at the power to weight ratios of aircraft that currently use the carrier short take off with ramp assistance method. I specifically looked at the Mig29K and the Su33 as used by Russia and China. Also the Rafale M is supposed to be capable of operating from a carrier in STOBAR.
          Funnily enough the Typhoon is theoretically able to take off from the QE. However it would need the full length of the deck.

          • Thank you all for the replies. Since I read an article about the new PLAN flattop about to go into service I wondered if the capability (technically) existed for the QE.

            https://www.csis.org/analysis/chinas-first-domestically-built-carrier-set-begin-sea-trials

            I don’t expect any current plans for this type of operation off the QE’s have been entertained, however, if it were feasible, in a real pinch (think all out warfare), the RN could do something audacious by using that capability (after proper training) to launch something like an all or nothing full deck Alpha Strike of fixed wing aircraft (with mid air tank up provided by country XXX and recovery at another location) ala Doolittle) followed by her F35’s.

            A really significant number of aircraft could be launched ( I know the QE’s can carry about 60 aircraft fully loaded) and an opposing belligerent would have their socks knocked off by expecting and preparing for F35’s and their known capabilities then receiving the brunt of an attack force of Typhoons or Rafales AND F35’s…

            Please note I’m not pushing the idea – just a thought exercise plagued with numerous potholes filed under “desperate times call for desperate etc etc”.

            Cheers!

          • Daveyb, as I posted already once before, I actually was part of a party that carried a proposal for a navalised version of Typhoon for the Queens into MOD Main Building only to be rejected out of hand. Too steeped in F-35B and not interested in alternatives. Operation would have been STOBAR like Russia/China/India, but unlike them, Sea Typhoon would have had very good payload/range characteristics.

  6. In terms of drones could the Watchkeeper operate from QE? Might seem a bit odd but they pack very compact and the UK bought 54(?) which is way more that the RA is operating. They have an endurance of 16 hours(?) and their arrester wires are just laid on the runway. So with 3 onboard (two in cycle and one spare) QE could have a mobile recon system airbourne 24/7.

    • They have trouble launching and recovering WK from land based runways. I would say it’s almost impossible to launch WK from a carrier.

    • Also very slow, low endurance. Remember carrier will be kept very far away from the action. Any drone would have to be very fast (as fast as a F-35) to get to the action in time to influence proceedings, or very, very long endurance so that it can position itself over the action and stay there for a long time.

  7. If there is a change of Government, then the optimism held by many, (including the statement above by former First Sea Lord George Zambellas), may have to be reviewed. If you think the current Government has made too deeper cuts, (over the past decade), then I predict those cuts will be nothing compared to that of the other lot, who will see the defence budget as a means of financing their great utopian plan.

  8. All very good, but now let’s concentrate on giving the F-35B some actual teeth, cause at the moment, apart from it’s air-to-air weapons, it can only drop Paveway IV. So let’s get on with SPEAR Capability 3 and integrating Storm Shadow as well. Only then will the massive investment in the carriers become value for money for the British tax payer.

    • I must be missing something. But if QE is going to ‘dominate the battle space’ does this not require F-35B to have an anti ship missile? Or are its stealth and counter measures really so good it can get close enough to a target ship to lob Paveway?
      Would love to know how those Black Sea exercises went where Typhoons tried to sink a Type 45 with Paceway.

      • If you consider the exercise from the Typhoon’s perspective using LGB Paveway then there’s only three methods of attack i.e. high, medium or low. Both the High and medium would leave the aircraft as a sitting target because it couldn’t cover the distance to the release point quickly enough to launch the weapon without being targeted, besides keeping it illuminated with the laser if the GPS wasn’t working!
        That leaves the low altitude attack which is a fast and low approach with a pop up and toss manoeuvre to lob the Paveway at the ship. The Typhoon has a small frontal RCS but massively larger than say a Harpoon which is what the ship was designed to counter with PAAMS. So in essence the Typhoon would stand a very small chance of either getting to a position to release the weapon and/or escaping. Secondly, the PAAMS or the Phalanx system should be able to take out the the Paveway.

        • Sorry Nigel, missed that. What does your message mean? Sorry! And to Paul P, yes! I totally agree with you! F-35B should also carry an ASuW missile. Unfortunately the bomb bay is too short for NSM (designed to fit internally in the C version). USN is likely to integrate LRASM under the wing of its F-18s and 35 Charlies. We could do the same under the 35 Bravos.

  9. The drone reference is interesting, wonder if this relates to the MoD’s “Novel Air Concept” though the Lockheed Martin Various looks more impressive. Anyone know of any progress on these?

  10. Need to fill the gaps in capability created by the tories since 2010 first, and have an army that’s a bit bigger than 85,000.

  11. Bell are producing a very promising drone. This is the V247 tiltrotor Vigilant drone and is being developed as part of a USMC requirement. It has s MTOF of 13000kg with a range of 450nm and an endurance of 11 hours.
    This has the size and power to host a decent surveillance radar such as Searchwater. It is also going to be designed to carry out the same role as Reaper ie surveillance and close air support.
    To me I’d suggest the RN looks at jumping in bed with Bell and going for this aircraft. It has been designed to work from Arliegh Burkes as the main wing can rotate through 90 degrees like the Ospreys yo save on space.

    • That does sound extremely interesting. Wikipedia quotes a service ceiling of 25,000 feet so a very worthwhile increase on Merlin’s 15,000ft to get the AEW radar up higher and with that endurance it reduces the number of on-station swap-overs needed every 24 hours so takes a bit of traffic off the flightdeck. I wonder whether is could also handle some ASW work since one nice thing about the planned QEC setup is with Searchwater and ASW hosted on the same platform I would assume that there there are some economies of scale regarding spares carried, maintenance expertise etc. It would be nice to have the same with something like this.

    • Sounds like a good future move for a frigate. Just running some back of a fag packet numbers I reckon Merlin and Searchwater at 15,000 feet will get you the ability to detect a sea skimmer at 150 miles. Assuming a generous 600 mph missile that would give the target a quarter of an hour’s notice. Supersonic AShM would be another problem of course.

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