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Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier
Queen Elizabeth aircarft carrier.png
Depiction of a Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier
Class overview
Name: Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier
Builders: BAE Systems Surface Ships
Thales Group
Babcock Marine
Operators:  Royal Navy
Preceded by: Invincible class
Cost: £5.9bn project cost for two
In commission: 2020 IOC
Building: 2
Completed: 0
General characteristics
Type: Aircraft carrier
Displacement: 70,600 tonnes (69,500 long tons; 77,800 short tons)[1]
Length: 280 m (920 ft)[2]
Beam: 39 m (128 ft) (waterline)
70 m (230 ft) overall
Draught: 11 m (36 ft)
Decks: 16,000 m2 (170,000 sq ft) 9 Decks beneath Flightdeck with Hangar covering the centerpiece of two Decks (without Islands)

Integrated Full Electric Propulsion

2x Rolls-Royce Marine Trent MT30 36 MW (48,000 hp) gas turbine

4x Wärtsilä diesel (2x 9 MW (12,000 hp) & 2x 11 MW (15,000 hp))

2x Converteam 20MW Advanced Induction Motors
Speed: In excess of 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph)
Range: 10,000 nautical miles (19,000 km; 12,000 mi)
Complement: 679 ships crew
1,600 with air element
Sensors and
processing systems:
  • S1850M long range radar
  • Artisan Type 997 medium range radar
  • Ultra Electronics Series 2500 Electro Optical System (EOS)
  • Glide Path Camera (GPC)
  • Phalanx CIWS
  • 30 mm guns
  • Miniguns
  • Aircraft carried:

    Tailored air group of up to 40 aircraft
    (50 full load):[3]

    Aviation facilities:
  • Large flight deck with ski jump
  • Hangar deck
  • Two aircraft lifts
  • The Queen Elizabeth class (formerly the CV Future or CVF project) is a class of two aircraft carriers being built for the Royal Navy. HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to begin sea trials in 2017 with an initial operational capability in 2020; the decision whether to operate HMS Prince of Wales will not be taken until 2015.

    The contract for the vessels was announced on 25 July 2007 by the then Secretary of State for Defence, Des Browne, ending several years of delay over cost issues and British naval shipbuilding restructuring. The contracts were signed one year later on 3 July 2008 after the creation of BVT Surface Fleet through the merger of BAE Systems Surface Fleet Solutions and VT Group's VT Shipbuilding which was a requirement of the UK Government.

    The vessels were originally expected to displace about 65,000 tonnes (64,000 long tons), however, as construction continued, the revised estimate of 70,600 tonnes was revealed by the Royal Institute of Naval Architects.[4] The ships will be 280 metres (920 ft) long and have a tailored air group of up to forty aircraft (though are capable of carrying up to fifty at full load).[3] They will be the largest warships ever constructed for the Royal Navy. The projected cost of the programme is £5.9 billion.[5]

    The carriers will be completed as originally planned, in a Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) configuration, deploying the Lockheed Martin F-35B. Following the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the British government had intended to purchase the F-35C carrier version of this aircraft, and adopted plans for Prince of Wales to be built to a Catapult Assisted Take Off Barrier Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) configuration. After the projected costs of the CATOBAR system rose to around twice the original estimate, the government announced that it would revert to the original design on 10 May 2012.

    Under the previous plans, the Royal Navy would operate only one aircraft carrier, routinely equipped with 12 fast jets. However, the Chief of the Defence Staff has subsequently said that the STOVL design, "gives us the ability to operate two carriers if we choose." The final decision will be made at the next major strategic defence review, expected in 2015.[6][7][8]


    Strategic Defence Review

    In May 1997, the newly elected Labour government launched the Strategic Defence Review (SDR) which re-evaluated every weapon system (active or in procurement) with the exception of the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines. The report, published in July 1998 identified that aircraft carriers offered the following:[9]

    • Ability to operate offensive aircraft abroad when foreign basing may be denied.
    • All required space and infrastructure; where foreign bases are available they are not always available early in a conflict and infrastructure is often lacking.
    • A coercive and deterrent effect when deployed to a trouble spot.

    The report concluded: "the emphasis is now on increased offensive air power, and an ability to operate the largest possible range of aircraft in the widest possible range of roles. When the current carrier force reaches the end of its planned life, we plan to replace it with two larger vessels. Work will now begin to refine our requirements but present thinking suggests that they might be of the order of 30,000–40,000 tonnes and capable of deploying up to fifty aircraft, including helicopters."[9]

    Design studies

    The vessels, described as "supercarriers" by the media, legislators and sometimes by the Royal Navy[10][11][12][13][14][15][16] will displace approximately 65,000 t (64,000 long tons) each, over three times the displacement of the current Invincible class. They will be the largest warships ever built in the United Kingdom.[17] The last large carriers proposed for the Royal Navy, the CVA-01 programme, had been cancelled by the Labour government in 1966.[18] In November 2004, giving evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee, the then First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Alan West explained that the sortie rate and interoperability with the United States Navy were factors in deciding on the size of the carriers and the composition of the carriers' air-wings:

    The reason that we have arrived at what we have arrived at is because to do the initial strike package, that deep strike package, we have done really quite detailed calculations and we have come out with the figure of 36 joint strike fighters, and that is what has driven the size of it, and that is to be able to deliver the weight of effort that you need for these operations that we are planning in the future. That is the thing that has made us arrive at that size of deck and that size of ship, to enable that to happen. I think it is something like 75 sorties per day over the five-day period or something like that as well.[19]

    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.[20]

    On 25 January 1999, six companies were invited to tender for the assessment phase of the project – Boeing, British Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, Marconi Electronic Systems, Raytheon and Thomson-CSF.[21] On 23 November 1999, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) awarded detailed assessment studies to two consortia, one led by BAe (renamed BAE Systems on 30 November 1999) and one led by Thomson-CSF (renamed Thales Group in 2000). The brief required up to six designs from each consortium with air-groups of thirty to forty Future Joint Combat Aircraft (FJCA). The contracts were split into phases; the first £5.9 million phase was for design assessment which would form part of the aircraft selection, while the second £23.5 million phase involved "risk reduction on the preferred carrier design option."[22]

    Aircraft and carrier format selection

    On 17 January 2001, the UK signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the United States Department of Defense (DoD) for full participation in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme, confirming the JSF as the FJCA.[23] This gave the UK input into aircraft design and the choice between the Lockheed Martin X-35 and Boeing X-32. On 26 October 2001, the DoD announced that Lockheed Martin had won the JSF contract.[24]

    On 30 September 2002, the MoD announced that the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force would operate the STOVL F-35B variant. Also announced was that the carriers would take the form of large, conventional carriers, initially adapted for STOVL operations. The carriers, expected to remain in service for fifty years, were designed for but not with catapults and arrestor wires. The carriers were thus planned to be "future proof", allowing them to operate a generation of CATOBAR aircraft beyond the F-35. Four months later on 30 January 2003, the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, announced that the Thales Group design had won the competition but that BAE Systems would operate as prime contractor.[25]

    The contract for the vessels was announced on 25 July 2007 by the then Secretary of State for Defence, Des Browne, ending several years of delay over cost issues and British naval shipbuilding restructuring;[26] the cost was initially estimated to be £3.9 billion.[27] The contracts were officially signed one year later on 3 July 2008 after the creation of BVT Surface Fleet through the merger of BAE Systems Surface Fleet Solutions and VT Group's VT Shipbuilding which was a requirement of the UK Government.[28]

    Then in August 2009, speculation mounted that the UK would drop the F-35B for the F-35C model, which would have meant the carriers being built to operate conventional take off and landing aircraft using the US-designed Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) catapults.[29][30]

    Strategic Defence and Security Review 2010

    On 19 October 2010, the government announced the results of its Strategic Defence and Security Review. The review stated that only one carrier was certain to be commissioned; the fate of the other was left undecided. The second ship of the class could be placed in "extended readiness" to provide a continuous single carrier strike capability when the other was in refit, or provide the option to regenerate more quickly to a two carrier strike ability. Alternatively, the second ship could be sold in "cooperation with a close ally to provide continuous carrier-strike capability."[7]

    It was also announced that the operational carrier would have catapult and arrestor gear (CATOBAR) installed to accommodate the carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter rather than the short-take off and vertical-landing version.[31][32]

    The decision to convert Prince of Wales to CATOBAR was reviewed after the projected costs rose to around double the original estimate. On 10 May 2012 the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, announced in Parliament that the government had decided to revert to its predecessor's plans to purchase the F-35B rather than the F-35C, and to complete both aircraft carriers with "ski-jumps" in the STOVL configuration.[33] The total cost of the work that had been done on the conversion to a CATOBAR configuration, and of reverting the design to the original STOVL configuration, was estimated by Philip Hammond to be "something in the order of £100 million."[34] In later testimony before a parliamentary committee, Bernard Gray, Chief of Defence Materiel, revealed that even though the carriers had been sold as adaptable and easy to convert for cat and traps, no serious effort had been made in this direction since 2002.[35]


    General characteristics

    The Queen Elizabeth class carriers will be closer in size to a Nimitz-class carrier (left) than the Invincible-class ships they replace (right)

    The ships' company is 679 rising to 1,600 with air element added.[36] At full displacement they will have a displacement of 70,600 tonnes. They have an overall length of 280 metres (920 ft), a width at deck level of 70 metres (230 ft), a height of 56 metres (184 ft), a draught of 11 metres (36 ft) and a range of 10,000 nautical miles (12,000 mi; 19,000 km).[37] Power is supplied by two Rolls-Royce Marine Trent MT30 36 MW (48,000 hp) gas turbine generator units and four Wärtsilä diesel generator sets (two 9 MW (12,000 hp) and two 11 MW (15,000 hp) sets). The Trents and diesels are the largest ever supplied to the Royal Navy, and together they feed the low-voltage electrical systems as well as the two tandem electric propulsion motors that drive the twin fixed-pitch propellers.[38]

    On the flight deck, the equivalent in size of three football pitches, are two small islands instead of a traditional large single island. The forward island is for navigating the ship, while the aft island is for controlling flying operations.[38] Under the flight deck are a further nine decks.[39] The hangar deck measures 155 by 33.5 metres (509 by 110 ft) with a height of 6.7 to 10 metres (22 to 33 ft), large enough to accommodate up to twenty fixed and rotary wing aircraft.[38] To transfer aircraft from the hangar to the flight deck, the ships have two large lifts, each of which are capable of lifting two F-35-sized aircraft from the hangar to the flight deck in sixty seconds.[40] The ships' only announced self-defence weapons are currently the Phalanx CIWS for airborne threats, with miniguns and 30 mm cannons to counter seaborne threats.[40]


    The ship's radars will be the BAE Systems S1850M, the same as fitted to the Type 45 destroyers, for long-range wide-area search, the BAE Systems Artisan 3D Type 997 maritime medium-range radar, and a navigation radar.[41] BAE claims the S1850M has a fully automatic detection and track initiation that can track up to 1,000 air targets at a range of around 400 kilometres (250 mi).[42] Artisan can "track a target the size of a snooker ball over 20 kilometres (12 mi) away". (Artisan will also be fitted to Type 23 frigates, the assault ships HMS Albion, HMS Bulwark and HMS Ocean.)[43] They will also be fitted with the Ultra Electronics Series 2500 Electro Optical System (EOS) and Glide Path Camera (GPC)[44]

    Munitions and ammunition handling is accomplished using a highly mechanised weapons handling system (HMWHS). This is a first naval application of a common land-based warehouse system. The HMWHS moves palletised munitions from the magazines and weapon preparation areas, along track ways and via several lifts, forward and aft or port and starboard. The tracks can carry a pallet to magazines, the hangar, weapons preparation areas, and the flight deck. In a change from normal procedures the magazines are unmanned, the movement of pallets is controlled from a central location, and manpower is only required when munitions are being initially stored or prepared for use. This system speeds up delivery and reduces the size of the crew by automation.[45]

    Crew facilities

    Crew facilities will include a cinema, physical fitness areas and four galleys manned by sixty-seven catering staff. There are four large dining areas, the largest with the capacity to serve 960 meals in one hour. There are eleven medical staff for the eight-bed medical facility, which includes an operating theatre and a dental surgery.[36]

    Carrier air group

    F-35B aboard USS Wasp during flight tests, October 2011.

    The vessels are expected to be capable of carrying forty aircraft, a maximum of thirty-six F-35s and four helicopters.[46] The 2010 SDSR anticipated the routine deployment of twelve F-35B's, but a typical warload will be 24 F-35B's and a number of helicopters.[47] The helicopters could be a Maritime Force Protection package of nine anti-submarine Merlin HM2 and four or five Merlin Crowsnest for airborne early warning; alternatively a Littoral Manoeuvre package could include a mix of RAF Chinooks, Army Apaches, Merlin HC4 and Wildcat HM2.[47] As of September 2013 six landing spots are planned, but the deck could be marked out for the operation of ten medium helicopters at once, allowing the lift of a company of 250 troops.[47] The hangars are designed for CH-47 Chinook operations without blade folding and the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor, whilst the aircraft lifts can accommodate two Chinooks with unfolded blades.[48]

    Fixed-Wing aircraft

    F-35 Lightning II

    With the retirement of the Harrier GR7/9 in 2010, there are no carrier-capable fixed-wing aircraft available in the Royal Navy or Royal Air Force.[49] Their expected replacement is the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.[50]

    As originally intended, the ships will carry the STOVL version, the F-35B. The aircraft will be flown by pilots from the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Air Force.[51] The aircraft are expected to begin trials flying from the Queen Elizabeth in 2018 with a carrier air wing fully operational by 2020.[33]

    For a period following the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the government had intended to purchase the F-35C carrier variant and modify one carrier to use the CATOBAR system to launch and recover these aircraft. This was because the cheaper F-35C variant has a greater range and can carry a larger and more diverse payload than the F-35B.[32][52] On 10 May 2012 Defence Secretary Philip Hammond announced in Parliament that the government had decided to revert to its predecessor's plans to purchase the F-35B rather than the F-35C, and to abandon the completion of Prince of Wales to a CATOBAR configuration.[33] The reason given was that, "conversion to ‘cats and traps’ will cost about double what was originally estimated – and would not be delivered until 2023 at the earliest." On 19 July 2012 the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond indicated in a speech in the USA that the UK would order an initial 48 F-35B aircraft to be operated jointly by the Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm.[53]

    AgustaWestland Merlin HM1 in August 2012



    The AgustaWestland AW101 is a medium-sized multi-role helicopter. Two versions are in service with the UK armed forces, where it is known as Merlin. The utility version can carry up to thirty-eight troops or sixteen stretcher patients and the anti-submarine warfare variant has a dipping sonar and sonar-buoys, and a complete electronic warfare suite.[54]

    Both versions use a common airframe, with three Rolls-Royce Turbomeca RTM322 engines, their range and endurance using only a two engine cruise option, is 750 nautical miles (1,390 km; 860 mi), or six hours. However, range can be extended further when the five underfloor fuel tanks are supplemented with auxiliary fuel tanks fitted in the cabin. Armament depends on mission, but includes anti-ship missiles, torpedoes, three door mounted machine guns, multi-purpose rocket, cannon pods, air to air missiles and air to surface missiles.[54]

    AgustaWestland Lynx Wildcat AH1


    The AgustaWestland Lynx Wildcat, is scheduled to enter service with the Royal Navy in 2015.[55] The Wildcat can be equipped with several mission sensors, which can include: radar, active dipping sonar, electro-optical imaging, electronic surveillance measures and an integrated self-defence suite. The HM2 maritime version can be armed with air to surface missiles, torpedoes, depth charges, cannons and heavy machine guns. The aircraft has a maximum range of 520 nautical miles (960 km; 600 mi) and an endurance of four and a half hours.[56]

    Airborne early warning and control

    The 1982 Falklands War emphasised the importance of airborne early warning and control and led to the development of the Sea King AEW2, which was succeeded by the Sea King ASaC7. The latter will be retired in 2016[57] and planning for its replacement was identified at an early stage as an integral part of the next-generation aircraft carrier.[58] The programme became known as the "Future Organic Airborne Early Warning" (FOAEW), and contracts were placed with BAE / Northrop Grumman and Thales in April 2001.[59] In April 2002, BAE and Northrop Grumman received a follow-on study contract for Phase II of the project, by then renamed Maritime Airborne Surveillance and Control (MASC).[60]

    Royal Navy Sea King AEW2A helicopter

    The MASC assessment phase began in September 2005 and by May 2006 three study contracts were awarded for MASC platform and mission systems options: one to Lockheed Martin UK for a Merlin helicopter fitted with AEW mission systems, another to AgustaWestland to maintain the present Sea King ASaC7 and finally to Thales UK to upgrade the Sea King's mission systems.[38] Progress was delayed by the 2010 SDSR but 2013 will see the start of the assessment phase of Project Crowsnest, a bolt-on sensor package that can be carried by any Merlin HM2.[57] Although the main investment decision has not yet been taken, it is intended that Crowsnest will enter service in 2020 with a deployable capability "shortly afterwards".[61] A recent PAC report, however, has revealed the Main Gate decision for the Crowsnest to be around 2017.[62]


    During a speech on 21 July 2004, Geoff Hoon announced a one-year delay to allow contractual and cost issues to be resolved. The building of the carriers was confirmed in December 2005. The building is being undertaken by four companies across seven shipyards, with final block integration and assembly at Rosyth:

    • BAE Systems Surface Ships – Govan (Lower Blocks 3 and 4), Scotstoun (aft island) and Portsmouth (Lower Blocks 2, 5 and forward island)
    • Babcock Marine – Rosyth (Sponsons, Mast and Centre Blocks 5 and 6) and Appledore (Lower Block 1)
    • A&P Group – Hebburn (Centre Block 3)
    • Cammell Laird – Birkenhead (Centre Blocks 2 and 4)[38]

    Dockyard cranes at Rosyth viewed from across the Firth of Forth.

    In December 2007, eight diesel engines and electricity generators, four for each ship were ordered from Wärtsilä.[63] On 4 March 2008, contracts for the supply of 80,000 tonnes of steel were awarded to Corus Group,[38] with an estimated value of £65 million. Other contracts included £3 million for fibre optic cable, over £1 million for reverse osmosis equipment to provide over 500 tonnes of fresh water daily, and £4 million for aviation fuel systems.[64] On 3 April 2008 a contract for the manufacture of aircraft lifts (worth £13m) was awarded to MacTaggart Scott of Loanhead, Scotland.[65]

    In mid May 2008, the Treasury announced that it would be making available further funds on top of the regular defence budget, reportedly allowing the construction of the carriers to begin.[66] This was followed, on 20 May 2008, by the government giving the "green light" for construction of the Queen Elizabeth class, stating that it was ready to sign the contracts for full production once the creation of the planned shipbuilding joint venture between BAE Systems and the VT Group had taken place.[67] This joint venture, BVT Surface Fleet, became operational on 1 July 2008.[68] VT Group later sold its share to BAE Systems which renamed the unit BAE Systems Surface Ships. It will undertake approximately forty per cent of the project workload.[38]

    On 1 September 2008, the MoD announced a £51 million package of important equipment contracts; £34 million for the highly mechanised weapons handling system for the two ships, £8 million for supply of uptake and down-take systems for both ships, £5 million for air traffic control software, £3 million for supply of pumps and associated systems engineering, and £1 million for emergency diesel generators.[69] On 6 October 2008, it was announced that contracts had been placed for "the carriers' Rolls-Royce gas turbines, generators, motors, power distribution equipment, platform management systems, propellers, shafts, steering gear, rudders and stabilisers".[70]

    The construction of the two carriers involves more than 10,000 people from 90 companies, 7,000 of them in the six shipyards building the sections of the ships.[71]

    Queen Elizabeth

    Lower section of Lower Block 1 (Bulbous bow) of HMS Queen Elizabeth at Rosyth

    The first steel cut for the project, in July 2009, signalled the start of construction of Lower Block 3 at BAE Systems Clyde, where production of Lower Block 4 started in January 2010.[72] Meanwhile, construction of the bow Lower Block 1 was carried out at Appledore, North Devon, and was completed in March 2010.[73] When the four lower blocks are completed they will be transported to Rosyth to be assembled.[74]

    On 25 January 2010, it was announced that the Cammell Laird shipyard has secured a £44 million contract to build the flight decks of the carriers.[75] That same day, construction began in Portsmouth of Lower Block 2 for Queen Elizabeth. The structure will house machinery spaces, stores, switchboards and some of the ship's accommodation. The block will weigh around 6,000 tonnes and will stand over 18 metres (59 ft) tall, 70 metres (230 ft) long and 40 metres (130 ft) wide.[76]

    Queen Elizabeth class forward island being attached to the main body of the aircraft carrier

    On 16 August 2011, the 8,000-tonne Lower Block 03 of Queen Elizabeth left BAE Systems Surface Ships' Govan shipyard in Glasgow on a large ocean-going barge. Travelling 600 miles (970 km) around the northern coast of Scotland, the block arrived at Rosyth on the evening of 20 August 2011.[77] Her forward island was built at BAE Portsmouth and attached on 14 March 2013; the aft island was attached in June 2013.

    As of September 2013 Queen Elizabeth is 80% complete internally[47][78] and her launch is scheduled for the summer of 2014.[79] She will then be fitted out and handed over to the Royal Navy in "early 2017".[80] Sea trials in 2017 will be followed by the first F-35 operations in 2018[80] and an "operational military capability" in 2020.[80]

    Prince of Wales

    The Strategic Defence and Security Review of 2010 declared that the UK needed only one carrier, but penalty clauses in the contract meant that cancelling the second vessel was more expensive than building it. So the SDSR directed that the second carrier should be built and then either mothballed or sold.[81] Defence Secretary Liam Fox cut the first steel for Prince of Wales on 26 May 2011.[82] The Prince of Wales was to be converted to a CATOBAR configuration as a result of the SDSR. The costs of conversion escalated to £2bn[80] so in May 2012 the government announced that it would revert to the original STOVL configuration.[80] The RN's 2012/13 yearbook stated "both carriers are likely to be commissioned and may even be capable of operating together".[83] A final decision on the fate of the second carrier will be taken as part of the 2015 SDSR;[80] under current plans it will be commissioned in 2020.[84]

    See also


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    Warning: Display title "<i>Queen Elizabeth</i> class aircraft carrier" overrides earlier display title "<i>Queen Elizabeth</i>-class aircraft carrier".

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