HMS Queen Elizabeth has sailed from Portsmouth Naval Base for the first time for trials but what will she be doing?
According to her builders, this phase of sea trials will primarily test the ship’s sensors, which include the radar and communications systems.
During this period, the vessel also undertake further propulsion trials and conduct air flow pattern tests, which demonstrate how air across the flight deck will affect aircraft taking off and landing.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to be at sea for the next month and will be delivered to the Royal Navy by the end of the year.
Her first phase of sea trials, conducted earlier this year, demonstrated the platform stability and manoeuvrability.
Commanding Officer Captain Jerry Kyd, said:
“She was stable and strong, which is important for aviation operations from an aircraft carrier flight deck. Very quickly we were able to run her at full power and she performed extremely well.”
What will the vessels carry?
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.
Merlin helicopters were the first aircraft to begin flying from HMS Queen Elizabeth and they will soon be followed by other helicopter types and eventually F-35s in around 11 months.
The UK currently has 13 F-35s with more being delivered. The plan, essentially, is to work up both the ship and her aircraft simultaneously to a point where the jets can begin integrating with the carrier. To that end both will require a series of trials to ensure they can function together safely and this complex programme of trials are already underway.
Captain Jerry Kyd, commander of HMS Queen Elizabeth, commented on the initial deployment and the gradual increase in air wing numbers:
“We are 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.”
In 2023, 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.
In addition to the joint force of Royal Air Force and Royal Navy F-35Bs and their pilots, the air wing is expected to be composed of a ‘Maritime Force Protection’ package of nine anti-submarine Merlin HM2 and four or five Merlin for airborne early warning; alternatively a ‘Littoral Manoeuvre’ package could include a mix of RAF Chinooks, Army Apaches, Merlin and Wildcat.
We understand that vessel would still carry at least one F-35 squadron aboard in such circumstances to offer air defence as well as support to the helicopter assault activities.
The Crowsnest AEW&C aircraft will come from a number of the embarked Merlins (any of which can be fitted with the sensor package), the number again scaling with requirements.
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.
A source we spoke to, currently flying the jet, explained to us that the vessels will deploy with the number and type of aircraft required for a specific deployments:
“Where F-35B is based is entirely down to the most suitable basing option for the tasks/missions is being sent to do. If that’s a well-founded host nation base, great; if it’s the Carrier, great; if it’s an austere location, fine.
Range, logistics and other ‘enablers’ such as AAR and connectivity will determine what’s the best option.”
The Queen Elizabeth class mark a change from expressing carrier power in terms of number of aircraft carried, to the number of sortie’s that can be generated from the deck. The class are not the largest class of carrier in the world but they are most likely the smallest and least expensive carrier the Royal Navy could build which still have the advantages that large carriers offer.