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In addition to 24 F-35Bs, the carrier air wing will also feature around 14 helicopters with numbers depending on operational requirements.

Captain Jerry Kyd, commander of HMS Queen Elizabeth, commented on the initial deployment and the gradual increase in air wing numbers:

“We’re constrained by the F-35 buy-rate even though that was accelerated in SDSR in 2015, so initial operating capability numbers in 2020 are going to be very modest indeed. We will flesh it out with helicopters, and a lot depends on how many USMC F-35s come on our first deployment in 2021.

But by 2023, we are committed to 24 UK jets onboard, and after that it’s too far away to say.”

This however assumes that both 617 Sqn and 809 NAS will deploy all of their aircraft at the same time with none in repair, leading some to comment that this may not be a realistic expectation.

Around 2023, the Ministry of Defence have indicated that the UK will have 42 F-35 aircraft with 24 being ‘front-line fighters’ and the remaining 18 will be used for training (at least 5 on the OCU), be in reserve or in maintenance.

Recently, the Ministry of Defence confirmed plans for the deployment of American F-35 aircraft alongside British jets aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The addition of US Marine Corps aircraft will see HMS Queen Elizabeth sail with 24 or so F-35Bs in addition to around 14 or so helicopters for her maiden deployment. It is understood that the US aircraft will augment British jets on coalition operations.

The term now used for the carriers embarked squadrons is ‘Carrier Air Wing’ (CVW). The vessels are capable of deploying a variety of aircraft in large numbers, up to a maximum in the upper fifties in surge conditions. We understand that the composition of the CVW is a balance between ship capacity and squadron availability. Squadrons assigned or ‘programmed’ to sail on deployment will mostly in the case of the aircraft carrier be unique to it.

Captain Jerry Kyd also spoke about the vessels:

“The Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers are the product of a pioneering partnership between UK industry and the Ministry of Defence. As the Royal Navy’s flagships for the next 50 years, these ships will employ cutting edge technology to deliver fighting power at sea and over land.

Symbolising our nation in both steel and spirit, the Queen Elizabeth Class carriers will be powerful ambassadors for Britain on the global stage, in both peace time and times of conflict. These ships truly will be at the forefront of British military power projection for decades for generations to come.”

It recently emerged that HMS Queen Elizabeth will now sail for sea trials in Summer instead of Spring as previously expected. In such complex engineering projects, this type of occurrence isn’t a cause for concern nor is it unusual. HMS Queen Elizabeth, after all, is essentially a prototype and the Ministry of Defence can’t afford to get it wrong.

The news of the slip started to pick up traction when Former shadow Defence Minister Kevan Jones MP enquired in Parliament about sea trials being moved back from Spring to Summer:

“In the 2015 SDSR and again in December of last year, in the first annual report of the SDSR, the government were very clear that the sea trials for HMS Queen Elizabeth would begin in spring of this year.

In response to a parliamentary question last week, she informed me that they would no longer take place, but would take place in summer of this year. What are the reasons for this, and what is going to be the operational service date for Queen Elizabeth?”

Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Ministry of Defence Harriet Baldwin said:

“I would just like to confirm to him that she will commence her sea trials this Summer, and she will enter into the same programme so that she can sail into Portsmouth later this year.”

The UK is committed to both the F-35 and the Queen Elizabeth Carrier programmes, both of which are on track to enter initial maritime operating capability in December 2020 as planned. Queen Elizabeth will commence sea trials in 2017, and UK F-35 aircraft will be used for first of class flying trials in 2018.

HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to start fixed-wing flight trials with three or more British F-35Bs off the eastern coast of the US towards the end of the summer of 2018.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Order more. I understand the reasons for our cautious approach to date. The aircraft have now developed in capability so that the greater risk is under-utilizing our expensive carrier asset or, worse still, leaving it relatively undefended.

    • I agree Nick and to your last point; it seems incredulous to me that we would spend 6Bn on two carriers and not properly equip them with self defense missiles and instead rely on only 3 CIWS…. every other carrier operating navy in the world recognizes the need for point defence missiles and has them fitted – even the French CdG has Aster 15. Why did we omit this??? If we are going to spend so much on the carriers then spend the extra to fit them with proper self defence missiles! Crazy!

  2. Whilst I am relieved that HMG committed to the full 138 buy in SDSR 2015, the devil was in the details. The buy is over the ‘life of the program’ meaning on average only a handful would be purchased in any one year. My concern is that by allowing the USMC to use our carriers, it is a way for the government to purchase as few as UK jets as absolutely possible and so do defence in the cheap – as we have all come to expect these days. We need our own organic air wing in sufficient numbers and stop relying on the US. What happens if ‘Falklands Part Deux’ ever erupted where the US has no interest in getting involved?? Unlikely? – yes but that is the point of having a properly equipped military – to be prepared for the unexpected. I’m very worried about how this is going to play out and have no faith that HMG will keep their word….

  3. This is insane, we are basically saying we are launching and paying for a new carrier for the US.

    I can see the advantage of cross decking with allies, but when we have to rely on the US to provide more than a token number of planes on our insanely pricey carriers it is madness.

    Clearly the MOD is in worse state than even we realise, and can’t afford to push more jets today and is hoping one day in the future things will change.

    The problem is amplified by not going cat/trap, meaning that French carrier jets can’t cross deck, meaning that should the US be unwilling to support us and the French carrier be out of action for whatever reason, we are carrierless.

    Really odd procurement practices.

  4. I wonder if on deployment in 2023 they could have 12 -16 UK f35’s plus 8 USMC f35’s for example, would then be around the figure they are saying..

    would still leave 8 – 12 front line fighters plus OCU and reserve f35’s at RAF Marham.

    • If we can muster 24 at that point they should all be on the carrier. What’s more interesting is what she will carry on her first deployment in 2020/2021…

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