President Trump has recently set out plans to build a 350 ship fleet, should vessels similar to the Queen Elizabeth class be part of that?

I propose that the United States government seriously look at consulting with its ally Great Britain in jointly producing the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier. Why? Britain has the technology to build conventional aircraft carriers which are not nuclear powered, and the Queen Elizabethclass would be able to increase the US aircraft carrier inventory and amphibious capability. There is a debate as to whether the US Navy should build smaller aircraft carriers.

The current Gerald Ford-class Supercarriers are expensive pieces of real estate. The programme has cost $36.30 billion with each ship costing over $10 billion dollars a year. While the Queen Elizabeth-class programme built by the Aircraft Carrier Alliance cost a total of £6.2 billion for both vessels with HMS Queen Elizabeth already in commission, and HMS Prince of Wales will be in commission from 2020 onwards.

This is not to say these are what you would consider ‘smaller’ aircraft carriers by any stretch of the imagination. Quite the opposite. They are formidable pieces of real estate which has global power projection abilities and are ‘supercarriers’ in their own right. However, unlike the Gerald Ford-class, these are not nuclear powered, but conventionally powered ships.

I believe this is a cost-effective alternative, which would be seen to be attractive to United States Senators, US Defence Officials at the Pentagon, US Strategic Planners, and International Relations experts specifically those interested in American military Grand Strategy, and also the Trump administration itself. To be working with one of their closest allies in this military build-up, they have the cash and we have the technology. It would be a partnership of equals.

It is interesting when looking at the size of the aircraft carriers that HMS Queen Elizabeth with its displacement of over 70,000 tons, and the ability to have a full carrier wing of up to 40 aircraft with a full load of 50 aircraft if deemed necessary. This would be suited to the requirements of the US Navy and also US Marine Corps with their F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.

In 2004 Admiral Sir Alan West gave evidence to Westminster highlighted the compatibility of the future Queen Elizabeth design in this statement he gave.

“I have talked with the CNO (Chief of Naval Operations) in America. He is very keen for us to get these because he sees us slotting in with his carrier groups. For example, in Afghanistan last year they had to call on the French to bail them out with their carrier. He really wants us to have these, but he wants us to have same sort of clout as one of their carriers, which is this figure at 36. He would find that very useful, and really we would mix and match with that.”

Admiral Sir Alan West, evidence to the Select Committee on Defence, 24 November 2004.

On the American side, the debate raged across the Atlantic with the Secretary of Defence Robert Gates positing “Does America need 11 plus supercarriers when our competitors do not even need one?”

This question I believe was an attempt to rationalise the need for these large vessels. As America is a global military superpower, it is only appropriate that the US Navy has the equipment needed to perform global operations. However, I would question the logic that this necessarily has to be done with a carrier like the Gerald R Ford class. The fact the US Marine Corps will be operating on HMS Queen Elizabeth enhances the profile of the ship, and its adaptability to US systems and requirements.

The fact that operationally during the War in Afghanistan the United States had to get the French to aid with their carrier capabilities to make up for the shortfall, means that there is already a perception that the Americans may need to rely on us in the future with our QE-class carrier. More recently, the Ministry of Defence confirmed plans for the deployment of American F-35 aircraft alongside British jets aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth which means there will be further collaboration between the two allies. However, I believe this collaboration could go one step further in both the acquisition and building of a new Queen Elizabeth class ship.

It is also worth noting that the backbone of the US Navy supercarriers are the Nimitz class aircraft carriers, with the first ship USS Nimitz was commissioned in 1975, with the displacement of 100,000 tons. While this class have proved an endurance with conflicts ranging from the First Gulf War in 1990 – 1991, to the Afghanistan War in 2001, and the Wars in Iraq from 2003 onwards, and the recent military interventions against ISIS, this has proved a formidable platform, but an aging one, in need of replacement. I have a doubt whether the United States is able to replenish its stock of supercarriers with the expensive Gerald Ford class when the unit cost is over £10 billion dollars for each vessel.

I predict the possibility of a capability deficit during the 2020s, while the United States is retiring old supercarriers and adopting the expensive Gerald Ford-class it may not have the ships in total to carry out functions. One way to ameliorate this is to complete the purchase of the QE-class. A ship of the 21st century with an operational lifespan of 50 years.  

While some Americans may feel that their nation will lose credibility, if it purchases a ship abroad, there are compromises. Firstly, the QE-class ship is modular in its architecture, meaning that there could potentially be a partnership between the United States and Great Britain to produce another ship of this class.

Plus, the Americans may want to change the specifications of this ship, its architecture, and also change the specifications for their needs. There are a range of possibilities in this partnership which would secure both British and American jobs.

In conclusion, this is a worthy proposition if a little unrealistic due to the politics behind it.

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I am currently a part time student at the University of East Anglia studying for a PhD in International Security. The title of my thesis is: Obama’s Wars’: The Changing Nature of Obama’s Grand Strategy during the First and Second Administration in relation to the Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. I teach International Organisations: Conflict and Development at an MA level as well as Global Politics at the UEA. I graduated with an MA in International Relations (UEA), and also a BA (Hons) in Politics (UEA). My interests include strategy, grand strategy in the Middle East and the Asia Pacific, international relations and politics, maritime strategy, counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency warfare, and maritime policy.

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Richard Attenborough
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Richard Attenborough

It’s an interesting thread, Oliver, but isn’t the US Navy already building something like this capability with the America-class (LHA) ? So far it’s ‘America’, ‘Tripoli’ & ‘Bougainville’…maybe others if they decide that the concept is worthwhile.

True, they are smaller than the UK QE2-class, and more Amphib-orientated, but they’re based on an established design ( Wasp-class), flexible, relatively inexpensive, and – if the USN thought worthwhile – they could likely build a dozen of them!

Elliott
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Elliott

Their is only one person with any amount of pull in the US who believes in smaller/lesser conventional carriers vs nuclear powered ones and that is Senator John McCain. And he won’t be with us much longer (terminal brain cancer). No one else in the US military or Congress thinks it is a good idea. Sen. McCain has used his position on the Armed Services committee to force both the Navy and the DOD to waste $100s of millions of dollars over the past three decades to conduct both their own studies and independent ones from places like the RAND… Read more »

Swallow
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Swallow

“Furthermore the QEs air group would not be considered sufficient for a full CSG by the US only enough for a ESG. As it could not launch the tanker drones being procured or surveillance aircraft in service.” Why do you think this Elliot? A QE airgroup is roughly between a squadron and a half behind its Ford/Nimitz sisters, the captain of the ship said himself that the QEs had the room for 72ish aircraft. Besides what’s stopping from EMALS being fitted if the QE design was considered? “Then added to lack of magazine space due having to carry fuel for… Read more »

Callum Manning
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Callum Manning

There are a couple of mistakes you’ve made in your assessment: firstly, you assume that the US would buy the carriers from the ACA instead of having them collaborate with a US company like Lockheed Martin to build the ships in the US. British companies would still benefit, either from building specialist components or sending experts to pass along all the lessons they learnt from building QE and PoW. As you yourself pointed out, buying foreign designs is more than fine, especially if they’re from a company like BAE, who are already a big contractor for the US military. Secondly,… Read more »

4thwatch
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4thwatch

Who is to say a nuclear plant doesn’t take up more space than the QE class engines.
Maybe a hybrid Nuclear (cruise)/ GT (sprint) power system would be feasible.

Bloke down the pub
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Bloke down the pub

The US navy already have the 45,000 ton America class of LHAs, able to operate 20 F35b. Because of concerns that they would distract from the carrier building programme, they were not even fitted with a ski-jump, even though a 6deg ramp would not have diminished their ability to operate troop carrying helicopters and V22s in their primary role. As for the nukes, the USN has a long term plan,cf the UK MODs hand to mouth existence.Three more vessels are on order, with two under construction, at a rate that will see the fleet remain stable in the long term.… Read more »

andy reeves,
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andy reeves,

all well and good i suppose, certainly uk industry would be over the moon, but, i’d rather see our own government looking to improve the carriers we’ve got by a)removing the ramp and b) fit the emals which is now operative on the ford class andc)bin the f 35 once and for all.

Harry Bulpit
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Harry Bulpit

I agree with the idea of getting catapults and traps if we had the excess money. But still feel the f35 is the best option.

Ron5
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Ron5

“Because of concerns that they would distract from the carrier building programme, they were not even fitted with a ski-jump”

Utter bollox.

4thwatch
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4thwatch

Ski jump made them look ugly maybe. Don’t understand why its not fitted.

Chris
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Chris

Ignoring Elliott’s internal US political statements and classic exaggerations there is considerable debate by very well qualified people in the USA (including the US Navy) about whether large carriers are the answer. The debate isn’t ‘replace large with smaller’ it is about ‘adding more with less cost’. Two well researched examples here: https://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/why-the-us-navy-should-build-smaller-aircraft-carriers-1600899834 From 2014 https://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/americas-carrier-gap-crisis-highlights-a-need-for-sma-1740644946 From 2015 The QEs have made a very clear and bold statement that you do not need 4,500 crew for a capable carrier even with CATOBAR. They also make the point that you can have 3 QEs ($5 Bn a piece) for the cost… Read more »

Elliott
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Elliott

You link two articles by the same man who has no Shipbuilding or fleet experience only journalistic and call that high level agreement? Versus the RAND Corporation, the CRS, and NAVSEA in addition to the House and Senate Committees on Seapower which had this debate going back to the 1970s all coming out against smaller inferior carriers. With the exception of John McCain who has had it out for the Naval Staff since his father disowned him when he turned Songbird in the prison camp. You talk about plates having slight rust in the Yard. The yard is in Virginia!… Read more »

Pacman27
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Pacman27

Couple of points – some already said but worth repeating. The USN carrier fleet is really Ford, Nimitz, America and Wasp classes. The fact that the Nimitz and Ford classes are massive should not detract too much from the other 2 classes which are still very capable. A QE carrier can take over 70 aircraft (Jerry Kidd is on record with this) and if you look at some of the graphics on this site you will see pictures with 30+ aircraft on deck and loads of space left. As for the arguments around nuclear or not, I agree with the… Read more »

Mark B
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Mark B

I really think we need to get into the habit of giving credit where credit is due to the individual decision makers etc. who took forward actions & decisions in the knowledge that they would not be around to take any credit. We say we want this and that sorted out yet we are perhaps not always sending a message that the population are grateful to personnel, backroom boys & girls and politicians alike when difficult decisions are made, work put in & money spent to solve problems effectively. Just a thought that perhaps as has happened today some positive… Read more »

Ron5
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Ron5

Americas & Wasps are are not built, equipped, or operated as carriers any more than HMS Ocean. Some will operate F-35B’s in support of their LPH role and under the protection of a real carrier, but no more than that.

Elliott
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Elliott

LHA – That designation superseded LPH in the 1970s in the USN with advent of the Harrier an the laying down of the Tarawa class. In the USN you have a carrier strike group (CSG) and a expeditionary strike group (ESG). The reasons for separating being is so that amphibious ships like say San Antonio or Albion are slow. So the LHAs were built with the ability to provide air cover in addition to delivering Marines. A CSG can make a emergency redeployment at 30knots a amphib or support ship can usually only make 20-25 at full speed so would… Read more »

4thwatch
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4thwatch

I hope the USN does adopt F26. We must remember the US has been very helpful with the Astute class and indeed has been with our nuclear subs since Dreadnought. However its hard to get Foreign stuff thru congress and US has always been very patriotic.

STEVEN KIRKLAND
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Aren’t the Russians new super carriers going nuclear powered? and at 100k tonne

the QE also requires fewer man power and has logistical automation. pity we can’t build another two?

Mr Bell
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Mr Bell

The Russian will not build their 100,000 tons project Storm class carriers. Simply no money for such a huge project with unit price for first of class estimated at £14-15, billion pounds per hull.
The Russian navy instead is concentrating on ability to deliver saturation cruise missile, ballistic missile and hypersonic missile strikes via every available platform.
Unless we have a UK air defence plan which includes SAM protection via land ceptor for vital sites the UK is at risk.

4thwatch
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4thwatch

I would say the UK homeland is going to be at serious risk any time. This should keep the Treasury awake at night. They need to free up funds for defence as a matter of urgency. Russia is specifically preparing for a sub-nuclear war and have said so.
I would put sea ceptor on barge-type vessels and move them about the coast.