HMS Queen Elizabeth’s extended stop at Invergordon explained

HMS Queen Elizabeth has been alongside in the deepwater port of Invergordon for more than 10 days now and there is growing speculation about the reason for her extended stay The planned stop at Invergordon had always been in the programme to allow refuelling and replenishment after 12 days at sea which included full power trials. Replenishment alone would not require 10 days so it is clear there are engineering issues involved.

It has been confirmed that while conducting sea trials sometime in early July she hit an item of debris in the sea. Whether it was a discarded fishing net or something else, the exact nature of the debris is unknown as it had cleared itself before the ship arrived in Cromarty. What is certain is that she did not hit a rock or a Russian submarine as claimed by some credulous online sources. On arrival, the shaft and propellers were quickly inspected by divers.

Repairs alongside and returning to sea soon

Mercifully the propeller shafts have not sustained major damage which would require dry docking and a complete charge to the trials schedule, not to mention at the accompanying negative headlines. However, in the course of the inspection, a defect was discovered that had the potential to have caused significant future problems if it had not been caught at an early stage. Divers have been working on the problem which is expected to be rectified soon. Unconfirmed reports suggest this involves one of the supports for the two shafts being slightly out of alignment. This reduces the efficiency of the propeller, causing vibration and noise. Engineering work that might have required dry-docking in the past can sometimes now be done underwater, thanks to pioneering developments by the offshore oil industry. QE had her propellers fitted underwater in the basin at Rosyth as she was originally fitted with brake blades that allowed the shafts to be turned to test the propulsion without moving the ship.

The supports for the QE propellor shafts seen here being mated with the hull while under construction in dry dock, February 2013. Photo via: ACA

There is confidence the ship will sail to resume trials in the next few days. These kind of issues are normal during the trials phase of any new vessel and are no cause for alarm. It should be remembered that QE is effectively a prototype design under testing and some way from being a fully capable warship. The trials programme was always flexible and likely to be subject to change. The ACA, who are still the owners of the ship, are understandably unwilling to discuss the details of every engineering problem that is encountered before the ship is handed to the RN and have not issued a specific comment on this issue.

In the internet age, a flagship project like the QE is subject to extraordinary scrutiny and speculation that earlier generations of innovators and engineers never had to endure. Apart from the pub landlords in Invergordon, these delays are frustrating for everyone but should not be a huge surprise, and there maybe more. Keep calm and carry on. There is every confidence QE will prove to be a sound ship and remains well on course to meet the original target of handing her to the RN by the end of this year.

The dry dock conundrum

These events do raise an interesting question. In future where will the QE carriers be dry-docked and, if HMS Queen Elizabeth had required urgent docking, what are the options? Unfortunately Portsmouth Naval Base does not have a dry dock large enough for the QE carriers. HMS Prince of Wales, currently under construction, occupies the dry dock in Rosyth. As QE’s departure demonstrated, moving in or out of the dock in Rosyth is a very complex process, requiring 11 tugs and can only be done within certain tidal and weather windows. The King George V graving dock in Southampton, which would be convenient for a Portsmouth-based ship, has been closed since 2005. The Harland and Wolf dry dock in Belfast is currently involved in wind farm construction and would require some time to be prepared. No 5 Dock at on Merseyside, or Incgreen Dry Dock, Port Glasgow (both owned by Cammel Laird) are just large enough for the ship. In these cases, it is unclear if there would be appropriate personnel and facilities available to support work on QE. The nearest foreign option would be in Rotterdam but relying on overseas facilities is likely to be highly controversial. The expansion of D-Lock at Portsmouth would probably be the ideal solution but the funds for this are likely to be hard to find. Expect to see the QE carriers reliant on Roysth when needing to go into dry dock in the long term.


from Save the Royal Navy

Crowsnest – the strike carrier’s eye in the sky

Crowsnest is the name for the project to provide a new airborne early warning system for the RN. Sea King Mk 7 helicopters operated by 849 Naval Air Squadron currently operate in this role and provide what is now called Airborne Surveillance and Control (ASaC). They are the last Sea Kings remaining active in UK service but are due out of service in 2018, by which time this type will have served for nearly 50 years.

The common sense solution

Crowsnest will not involve the purchase of any new aircraft. Instead, the RN will receive 10 equipment kits for fitting to some of its 30 Merlin HM2s. The £269M contract for these kits was finally placed in January (including £9M worth of spares). Development of the system has been underway for some time and flying trials have started using a Merlin HM1 test aircraft. The project will provide work for more than 200 people in the UK; Lockheed Martin (Havant), Thales (Crawley) and Leonardo Helicopters (Yeovil).

The Crowsnest system is an evolution of the well proven Cerberus tactical sensor suite and the Searchwater 2000 radar that currently equips the Sea King Mk7s. The radar is mounted in an inflatable bag on the port side of the helicopter and can be raised by rotating through 90º for landing. The Crowsnest system will employ a slightly adapted mounting but will work in a similar way. The Cerberus system has been successfully evolved over many years and is able to monitor up to 600 contacts simultaneously. The Searchwater radar is able to ‘look down’ and track small, fast-moving targets over land and water or ‘look up’ and track multiple aircraft. The “baggers” as the ASaC helicopters are affectionately called, proved their worth in Afghanistan, clocking up 3,000 flying hours and over 800 missions providing over-watch for NATO forces on the ground. At sea they have successfully provided reassurance for the RN and its allies in multiple operations since 1982.

The exact details of the range and capabilities of the new system are obviously not in the public domain but it will feature an improved human interface, better target identification and hardening against electronic jamming. The MoD has selected a very low-risk and affordable solution, building upon existing technology and fitting it on an aircraft that is already in service that will not need a new logistics or training pipeline.

In the current fiscal climate, Merlin/Cerberus was the only realistic option. Lockheed Martin had proposed a more sophisticated Merlin-based option using a podded AESA radar, derived from the F-35 but it was obviously more expensive. Many would have liked to have seen a V-22 Osprey based ASaC solution (tilt-rotor aircraft). This potentially offers better range and surveillance coverage than a helicopter. Unfortunately, this only exists on paper as a concept and would have added more time and cost to develop, as well as adding an aircraft to the inventory the UK does not (yet) possess.

The correct choice has probably been made but before the order was placed, the MoD had spent more than 17 years and around £40 Million on the Crowsnest project in an excessively drawn out “assessment phase”. In stark contrast to this lumbering process, the original helicopter-borne AEW concept was developed on a shoestring in a just 11 weeks and rushed into service in the wake of Falklands War.

In service, in time, mind the gap

The first Crowsnest kit is due to be delivered in October 2018 and fitted to an operational aircraft by June 2019. Initial Operating capability for the ASaC Merlins will be in 2020, although this is likely to consist of just 2 or 3 aircraft. Effectively there will be an approximately 18-month ‘capability gap’ where the RN has no operational AEW capability between 2018 and 2020.

824 Naval Air Squadron provides training for ASW Merlin aircrew and will also take on responsibility for ASaC training. Some 849 NAS personnel have already begun to convert from the Sea King to the Merlin, ready to take over the new Crowsnest aircraft when they begin deliveries next year. Full Operating Capability for Crowsnest (Ideally at least 6 aircraft and trained aircrew) should be achieved in early 2022, slightly ahead of the FOC for HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Carrier Strike role in 2023.

Kits not aircraft

With just 30 Merlin HM2 airframes available to the RN, it is unfortunate that the Crowsnest aircraft will have to be drawn from this fleet. To add to the pressures and delays, each HM2 will have to be withdrawn from service while Leonardo spends around 15 weeks adding wiring and mountings for the Crowsnest kit. Fitting out all 30 aircraft will have to be spread over several years.

Theoretically, the Crowsnest kit can then be installed in any Merlin in a process that should take around 24 hours, either ashore at RNAS Culdrose or in the spacious hangar of the QE class aircraft carriers. A Merlin changing from the anti-submarine role to ASaC will have its dipping sonar, sonobuoy carousel and ASW consoles removed before the ASaC equipment is added. It is expected that between 6 and 8 Merlins will have the ASaC kit fitted at any one time, with spares available at sea should an ASaC Merlin become unserviceable or lost. This appears to offer some useful flexibility as the carriers will need continuous ASaC capability most of the time. Unfortunately switching precious ASaC platforms to ASW (or vice versa) is far from ideal. The Merlin may have lower maintenance requirements than the Sea King, but 13 aircraft are being replaced by 6-8 kits fitted to aircraft in the existing fleet, a further significant and unwelcome fall in the total number of available airframes.

Crowsnest will be a small upgrade in capability but having proved very useful in non-maritime environments, RAF ISTAR assets are stretched and we need to properly protect our aircraft carriers, there is a very strong case for expanding the number of aircraft, not of reducing them. The obvious solution is to utilise the 10 ‘spare’ Merlin HM1 airframes that have been mothballed for some time, even if not upgraded to HM2 standard. Even the modest funds to refurbish these aircraft do not seem to be available and the RN is again put in a position where it must rob Peter to pay Paul.


from Save the Royal Navy

HMS Queen Elizabeth – her first week at sea

On the afternoon of 26th June HMS Queen Elizabeth put sea for the first time. This was a significant milestone in modern Royal Navy history. She is the first British aircraft carrier completed since 1985 and the first true aircraft carrier in the world designed to operate 5th generation fixed wing aircraft.

A good week for the RN…

The RN still has many long-term problems and challenges but can look back on the past week with great satisfaction. Besides the successful departure of HMS Queen Elizabeth, The RN now has 3 ships assigned to NATO duties. HMS Sutherland will join the latter part of NATO anti-submarine exercise Dynamic Mongoose off Iceland, HMS Duncan is about to assume leadership of Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 which will enter the Black Sea. HMS Enterprise will deploy to the Mediterranean as the flagship of Standing NATO Mine Counter Measures Group 2. A Wildcat helicopter from HMS Monmouth working with RFA Cardigan Bay, operating in the Indian Ocean saved the life of a sailor from a sinking oil tanker. The second MARS tanker, RFA Tiderace was accepted off-contract from the builders in South Korea while the first ship RFA Tidespring has left dry dock in Falmouth as she progresses towards becoming operational next year. Finally, the order for the first three Type 26 Frigates was officially announced on 2nd July and steel will be cut in August.

The story of QE’s first week at sea is best told using the stunning official video and images of this mighty ship, in her natural element at last…

Leaving the basin

Monday 26th. 16.00 A fine demonstration of seamanship and teamwork. Eleven tugs took this ship out of the basin and through a very narrow lock with inches to spare. Not even a scratch on the paintwork.

Under the bridges

Monday 26th 23.40. Low tide at midnight meant the ship had to pass under the Forth bridges in the dark. As had been carefully calculated, she cleared the bridges with just a couple of meters of headroom. From a media perspective, the timing made a live broadcast of the spectacle a non-starter. Darkness made getting the “money shot” of the ship going under the bridges technically difficult. Her planned return to Rosyth, at some point halfway through her trials period, may provide another better photo opportunity.

At sea

Overall media coverage of QE going to sea was pretty muted. Her arrival in Portsmouth sometime in September or October will make a more compelling story as the ship comes into her home port where thousands are expected to be watching. Despite the great photos, it should be remembered that in some ways QE is akin to a newborn. Apart from light machine guns she is unarmed, is still owned by the builders and will not be an operational warship until 2020. Just one week into her trials programme she has not ventured far into the North Sea and returned to anchor at times. She has conducted short passages and racetrack courses testing ship handling and gradually building up to higher speeds, reportedly going above 26 knots.

This view of the two islands on her starboard side gives a real sense of scale. Note the communications mast in the lowered position ready to pass under the bridges.

Flying the blue ensign, at anchor in the Firth of Forth.

Looking purposeful and assured

The Queen joined by two Dukes. HMS Sutherland and HMS Iron Duke arrived to escort her for a couple of days.

Urban myths abound

The empty flight deck of QE on trials has inspired the further repetition of the urban myth that she is “aircraft carrier with no aircraft”. This is not the case and F-35s will fly from her next year. Although the F-35 programme is delivering more slowly than everyone would like, the UK will own around 20 of the aircraft by the time HMS Queen Elizabeth achieves initial operating capability in 2020. Even if there were squadrons of aircraft ready to go, the ship would not be embarking them on initial sea trials. The first aircraft to land on the ship was a Merlin helicopter on a simple sortie to deliver a few supplies and exchange personnel.

Some in the media became overly-alarmed that Russian naval units and aircraft are likely to conduct surveillance on QE. Obtaining acoustic and electromagnetic signatures of naval vessels is a routine task conducted by most militaries on each other. From now, and for most of her sea-going life QE is likely to be escorted by RN units, possibly with an SSN nearby to ward off other submarines that may attempt to shadow her. So far QE has been operating in shallow and noisy coastal waters where submarines would struggle to glean anything very useful.

Laughably the Mail on Sunday warned that, QE transmitting on AIS during her trials posed a security risk and would “allow Putin to track her with a smartphone app”. (AIS is a statutory navigational safety requirement, even for warships in coastal waters for reasons of safety and common sense. Obviously, it can be turned off when needing to be covert, but a ship conducting trials is not attempting to hide).

Many media outlets continue to repeat the total falsehood that computers aboard QE use the insecure and outdated Operating System Windows XP, supposedly leaving her vulnerable to cyber attacks. Most of the RN surface fleet currently uses Windows for Warships, a much modified and more secure OS, based on Windows 2000 with little in common with Microsoft’s consumer offerings. However, QE does not have any Microsoft software on board and uses a completely new system called Shared Infrastructure. UK Defence Journal has investigated this matter in detail.

A fine day to be at sea. So far trials have been conducted in mostly benign weather conditions and calm seas

4.5 acres of flight deck

Friendly fire from an Army-centric press

Journalist Max Hastings, was the self-proclaimed “first man into Port Stanley” after the liberation of the Falklands, a victory only made possible by aircraft carriers. Frothing at the mouth in the Daily Mail, Hastings demanded the QE “be scuttled”. Almost every line of his anti-carrier rhetoric is false or a distortion of the truth. The Times, which should know better, ran an editorial probably delivered straight from Marlborough Lines, rehearsing old complaints that aircraft carriers are too expensive and the Army’s dire state is their fault. The Guardian was a slightly kinder in a rambling piece about past naval glories, trying to cast the carriers as an outdated throwback and concluding they are “ugly”. It was, of course, the same media who were (rightly) castigating David Cameron back in 2011 that we had no aircraft carriers during the Libyan campaign.

Back in 2014 we wrote an antidote to the all the partisan and ill-informed criticism we predicted the carrier project would receive as they progressed.

Another milestone reached. The first aircraft pictured taking off after making the first deck landing on the ship. A Merlin Mk2 of 820 Naval Air Squadron had the honour

Mine’s better than yours…

The Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon rather unwisely taunted the Russians by saying “you saw that old, dilapidated Kuznetsov sailing through the Channel, a few months ago, I think the Russians will look at this ship [QE] with a little bit of envy”. Although it is true that QE will eventually be far in advance of the ancient Kuznetsov, it should be pointed out that she will be unable to properly conduct combat operations before 2021. The Kuznetsov’s air group is unimpressive but she carries a battery of potent anti-ship missiles while, in part thanks to Fallon, the RN will have no heavyweight anti-ship missiles at all by next year. The Russian surface fleet is mostly old and they have not managed to build a new major surface combatant since the Soviet era. However, the Russian Navy is still very much more powerful than the hollowed-out Royal Navy by any measure. Their surface fleet may be semi-obsolete but it is their submarines that are the real cause for concern.

Perhaps the most evocative image of the week. QE with her escorts foreshadows the future when the RN will be able to field a carrier battle group again.


All images and Video courtesy of The Aircraft Carrier Alliance, MoD and Royal Navy/HMS Queen Elizabeth

from Save the Royal Navy

Outlook for the Royal Navy in the wake of the 2017 general election

The uninspiring and complacent election campaign run by Theresa May and the Conservative party delivered something of a shock result. Universally expected to increase their number of seats, the Tories lost their Parliamentary majority and are now forced to rely on the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland to remain in power.

As expected, defence issues got little attention in the election. Even in the wake of the London Bridge and Manchester terrorist attacks, internal security issues seemed to create little public and media discussion. The main public debate on defence, prior to the election was held at RUSI on 22nd May and was not even attended by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon. It was obvious that most of the audience and the journalists attending the debate were far better informed on the real issues than the floundering politicians on the panel.

Brexit and political uncertainty ahead

The election result leaves a Prime Minister with her authority badly undermined. Only the risk of letting Corbyn into power is preventing the Tories holding a leadership contest at this juncture. After interminable election speeches about “strong and stable government” we have the exact opposite, a situation that impedes prompt decision making and firm action, something that is urgently needed at the MoD. The pressures of Brexit, Tory leadership problems, conflict with the DUP coalition or inadequate working majority could all result in a government collapse. A very unpopular new general election in the coming months could be the result, or a Labour/SNP minority coalition government could be waiting in the wings which would, of course, be very bad news for the RN.

There has been some suggestion that political pressure will force Theresa May to abandon the policies of austerity and debt reduction and put more money into public services. Defence will likely be at the back of the queue should any new money be forthcoming. Assuming the Tories are able to remain in power, we can look forward to them mostly saying the right things, while continuing to underfund and defence with more of the inevitable hollowing-out of capability that results.

It is interesting to note that in the constituencies where the RN has its English bases, the incumbent MP was replaced. Tory Oliver Colville lost to Labour’s Luke Pollard in Plymouth Devonport. Tory Flick Drummond lost to Labour’s Stephen Morgan in Portsmouth South. The SNP’s spokesman on defence, Brendan O Hara, who is MP for the Faslane area had his majority slashed from 8,473 to just 1,328. SNP influence at Westminster was significantly curtailed as Scottish votes moved to the Tories. The Scottish public has grown heartily sick of the SNP’s relentless push for a second independence referendum while failing to address issues they already have responsibility for. This threat to the Union, damage to UK defence and the RN particular, seems to have been averted for now.

Despite Labour losing its third election in a row and having 56 seats less that the Tories, Corbyn’s surprise improvement has even seen hard left elements claiming he should be Prime Minister. There is undoubtedly a renewed vigour within so-called progressive or left-wing politics in the UK and the Conservatives will need to offer a much more positive vision if they are to win the next election. Many more moderate elements of the Labour party are supportive of the navy’s case and assure us they remain committed to Trident. After Corbyn finished promising free stuff to his adoring fans at the Glastonbury Festival (on Armed Forces Day), he reportedly said he “expects to be Prime Minister in six months” and would “scrap Trident as soon as he could”. It is difficult to predict how damaging a Corbyn government could be. The cabinet might consist of an anti-forces, anti-Trident, anti-NATO Marxist clique but the majority of moderate Labour MPs would probably obstruct the more extreme measures. The influence of the trade unions would also be a factor in ensuring naval construction programmes are kept on track.

The DUP – strong on defence

The social policies of the DUP and their links with Ulster Unionist militant groups will keep the party at the centre of controversy. They will be particularly hated by the hard left and Corbyn with his IRA sympathies. Conversely, the DUP is likely to make every effort to keep Tories in power and Corbyn out. Those concerned about defence may have cause to be grateful the DUP has significant influence in government. Of all the party manifestos, theirs offered the best vision and assessment the situation.

“The DUP does not believe that present defence arrangements are adequate enough to cope with the emerging threats in the 21st Century.”

The DUP are firmly behind Trident and NATO, are publicly willing to identify the threat from Russia and understand we can no longer rely so heavily on the United States for our security. They believe another defence review should be conducted which would be “honest about the nature of the threats we face and the consequences of failing to deal with them. Only then can we make the difficult choices about capability and affordability”. It would seem that is there is a “party of defence” then it is the DUP, and the whole of the UK could benefit if they are able to stiffen Tory resolve on this issue.

Getting the frigate programme underway

The Navy board can enjoy a brief moment of satisfaction that HMS Queen Elizabeth successfully put to sea and is beginning the long journey to restoring UK carrier capability. Looking ahead, getting the frigate programme on track must be an immediate concern. Harriet Baldwin, the defence procurement Minister, has indicated the order for first three Type 26 Frigates will be placed before Parliament closes for summer recess on July 20th. The announcement that steel for the first ship has been cut at BAE Systems on the Clyde is expected any day now. The Tory manifesto actually committed the government to a National Shipbuilding Strategy, which is critical to the future Type 31 frigate programme. An announcement on whether the government will fully implement the recommendations of Sir John Parker’s report is eagerly awaited.

For now, it appears it will be business as usual at the MoD. Michael Fallon remains in post and the previously announced procurement programme is officially unchanged. Unfortunately, financial reality is going to catch up with these promises soon. The £10 billion shortfall in MoD funding identified by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee before the election is actually worse than it appears. The MoD’s Senior Civil Servant, Stephen Lovegrove speaking on 27th June talked of £20 Billion of “efficiency savings” the department must find over the next 10 years. The MoD claim this alarming figure is nothing new, but part of their previously agreed framework. Some of the measures to find this money are already in hand, such as the rationalisation of the defence estate which will see the closure of HMS Sultan and RM Stonehouse. Only if Theresa May’s election promise that “defence spending will rise 0.5% every year until 2022” is honoured, will there be any hope of mitigating the devastating effects of this shortfall.


from Save the Royal Navy

The Story of the British Army’s Medium Weight Capability – Crowdsourcing

The last of the long form content articles on Think Defence to get a makeover is the story of ‘Scimitar to FRES to Ajax’ Have decided to broaden the scope to the struggle of the British Army to deliver a medium weight capability, normally, I would just get on with researching and writing, and publish …

The post The Story of the British Army’s Medium Weight Capability – Crowdsourcing appeared first on Think Defence.

from Think Defence

HMS Queen Elizabeth sails for the first time today. Here’s the plan.

This afternoon HMS Queen Elizabeth is due to cast off lines ready to depart from the fitting out berth in Rosyth Dockyard to begin sea trials. Taking the ship out of the basin and down the river Forth will be a complex and delicate evolution.

Before HMS Queen Elizabeth can put to sea, she has to have a certificate of seaworthiness. This is a basic safety requirement and ensures the hull is watertight and the propulsion and steering are functioning correctly. Although she has extensive automated centralised safety systems, fire-fighting, escape and lifesaving equipment must all be inspected and proved to be working correctly. The scale of the ship makes such tasks a considerable job, for example, there are 750 watertight doors on the ship, each requiring 3-4 man hours of testing. Checks to obtain sign off on this important paperwork have continued right up to the last minute before sailing. Some parts of the ship were constructed almost 8 years ago (in separate blocks around the UK, before arriving for assembly in Rosyth). For the past weeks, the ship has been a hive of activity as everything is re-checked and tested. Finally, before departure, temporary services such a ventilation, power supplies and lighting used by the building contractors must all be removed along with waste materials, scaffolding and tools.

Through the eye of the needle

A simple simulation showing the approximate plan for departure.

To leave the fitting out basin, the ship must be swung around using tugs and then carefully towed out through the very narrow tidal lock. A high tide is required to give the ship maximum clearance over the lock gates. There will just 50cm between the keel and the gates. This operation will be challenging, has extremely fine tolerances can only be conducted in light winds. The main hull of the QE will fit through the lock with a tiny clearance of just 35cm on either side. The blocks used to build the ship were floated in through this lock but the completed vessel is of course, much longer, heavier and has very large overhanging decks. The operation will call for the use of 11 tugs and considerable time has been spent planning the evolution and rehearsing in a simulator.

Ducking under the bridges

Once out of the basin the ship will go to anchor for several hours, awaiting low tide (just before midnight) which is needed to pass safely under the bridges. She will proceed at no more than 4 knots, any faster and suction effect pulls the ship toward the riverbed, a shallow water phenomenon known as ‘squat’. An extensive survey effort to determine the clearance under the bridges and depth of water has been conducted by an Army and Naval Hydrographic team. (You can read about it in more detail here). Modern laser range-finding methods have been double checked by the captain himself using his own sextant (patented in 1845).

Both road bridge decks flex in the wind and can move up or down by as much as 3 meters, depending on the wind strength and loads. The surveys concluded there is about 2 meters clearance between the highest fixed point on the ship (the main Type 1046 air search radar) and the road bridge decks at low tide. Once past the bridges, QE will anchor downriver in Kirkcaldy Bay for a time. As is standard with all new ships, various checks will be conducted to see how the ship has flexed or settled after being in open water for the first time. The process from leaving the fitting out basin, to anchoring off Kircaldy will take more than 10 hours.

HMS Queen Elizabeth Mast Pivot

The pole mast that carries communication aerials on the aft island was designed with bridges in mind. It is hinged so it can be tilted forward 60º by hydraulic rams.

The narrow lock that the ship must traverse to leave the basin at Rosyth.

The view from basin, looking South East down the Forth estuary towards the three bridges the ship must pass beneath.

Initial sea trials

HMS Queen Elizabeth is not yet commissioned into the Royal Navy, remains the property of the Aircraft Carrier Alliance flying the Blue Ensign until it is agreed she meets specification and is formally handed over. Captain Jerry Kyd has responsibility for the ship but must operate under the direction of the sea trials manager appointed by the builder. The initial trials will be conducted in two phases in the North Sea, mostly between the Moray Firth and Fair Isle. Phase 1 is expected to take around 6 weeks and will concentrate on proving the propulsion, power and auxiliary systems. The ship needs sea room for full power trials and will also be conveniently out of the public gaze, allowing the MoD to control information about her progress.

Another significant milestone will be achieved when the first aircraft to lands on the carrier. A Merlin Mk2 of 820 Naval Air Squadron have this honour, around 4 days after QE puts to sea and will provide the first opportunity to conduct personnel and stores transfers.

When complete, the ship will come alongside in Rosyth for the builders to rectify any issues discovered during trials. Assuming this only takes a few days, QE will depart again for Phase 2, which will focus on proving mission systems, radars and communications. Expected to take around 5 weeks, when phase 2 is complete QE will then set course for Portsmouth to make her grand entrance into her homeport for the first time. The dredging work and construction of the new Princess Royal Jetty is now complete and Portsmouth Naval Base is ready to receive the ship.

The sea trials plan is ‘subject to change’

The ship is essentially a prototype design and going to sea will inevitably throw up a few unexpected issues. The discovery of defects, or perhaps even fewer defects than expected, may result in changes to the program. However, if QE is able to keep to this approximate schedule then she would be expected in Portsmouth in late September or early October. It should be noted the project still remains well on schedule to meet the agreed target of delivering the ship to the RN by the end of 2017

Once home, QE is expected to remain in Portsmouth for around 8 weeks for further defect rectification. It is planned to conduct heavy weather trials in the North Atlantic in the first quarter of 2018 and HMS Queen Elizabeth should achieve Initial Operating Capability by the end of 2020. For more detail on the long-term plans, see the infographic – Timeline for delivering carrier strike


Last time it was done – from the BBC archive, HMS Ark Royal on sea trials in the North Sea, 1985.


from Save the Royal Navy

Up close with HMS Queen Elizabeth

In this photo-essay, we go aboard the largest warship ever constructed for the Royal Navy as she prepared to leave Rosyth to put to sea for the first time. This is not an exhaustive tour (the ship is made up of over 3,000 compartments) but gives an overview of some key features.

The scale of HMS Queen Elizabeth is obvious as you approach the vessel, but upon stepping aboard, the feeling of size and spaciousness is magnified by the unusually wide and high passageways around the ship. The immediate impression is that she is quite unlike HMS Ocean or her Invincible class predecessors and is very much a ship of the 21st Century. It is clear she is robustly constructed, designed to survive action damage and serve the nation for up to 50 years. Strength, safety and survivability are obvious from the equipment fit, heavy watertight doors and subdivision and designed to mitigate against fire, flood and blast.

Many critics have asked why build such big ships? Not only does this make aircraft operations easier, but spare capacity will allow for easier upgrading to support new generations of aircraft and UAVs in the coming decades. In extremis, large numbers of extra personnel and stores could be embarked.

Great consideration has been given to ergonomics and accessibility to minimise the overall manpower requirements and workload on the crew. For example in older vessels, storing the ship for sea would require most of the ship’s company to form a chain, manually pass boxes and strike them down into storerooms. On the QE, store ship can be done in a harbour with around 20 people thanks to automated lifts and carefully planned access routes. (Additional seamen would be required when conducting a replenishment at sea). Another example is the Highly Mechanised Weapon Handling System (HMWHS) that moves ammunition around the ship and requires only around 30 people to operate.

Hangar and Lifts

The ship has been designed from the outset to embark four squadrons of aircraft. Initially, there will be helicopter squadrons and then a single F-35 squadron. It will be well into the 2030s before the UK has enough F-35s to embark two squadrons (of approximately 12-aircraft each). US Marine Corps aircraft are likely to be frequent visitors and may even embark a full squadron at times. The air management organisation (on 2 deck aft), provides each of the four aircraft squadrons with their own spacious offices and mission planning spaces. There is also a large group briefing room/lecture theatre. The movement of aircrew from their accommodation to briefing rooms and on to their aircraft has been carefully designed to be as quick and easy as possible, in contrast to older carriers.

Control positions

Spacing out the main machinery into two almost separate systems is the primary reason for the unique twin-island design of the QE. This separation requires funnel uptakes that are a distance away from each other. This arrangement makes the ship’s propulsion particularly resistant to action damage. The Flyco is now entirely separate from the bridge and this will take some adjustment for experienced carrier operators who are used to having flying control team close to the navigation team. This also offers additional redundancy, as the aft island could act as an emergency conning position or forward island as Flyco if the other is damaged.

As currently configured, QE has 6 aircraft operating spots (this could be increased if needed in future). With around 45 meters between each spot, this provides a large safety margin. There 3 areas of the flight deck that have been coated with TMS (Thermal Metal Spray). This coating prevents damage to the steel deck plates from the fierce heat of the F-35B jetwash, when landing vertically and conducts the heat away, preventing damage to aircraft tyres.

The F-35 is coated with radar absorbent material which is relatively fragile. The aircraft must be handled more carefully than older generation jets. Some critics have suggested it will degrade rapidly in the harsh marine environment (it is reportedly standing up well to harsh desert wind and sand in the US). The flight deck has blue markings down the aft port side where F-35s can be parked overhanging the deck, although they will be probably kept down in the hangar as much as possible. When on the flight deck, it is planned helicopters will usually be parked on the starboard side, clustered around the islands.

QE is designed to operate up to 40 aircraft in her main Carrier Strike role. When operating in the Littoral Manoeuvre role she can embark a maximum of 43 helicopters. It should be noted that it will be some years before the UK has enough aircraft to send to sea in these numbers. The mix of aircraft types embarked will vary depending on the mission and availability – this is the concept is known as the Tailored Air Group.

Living on board

Without the air group or an embarked military force, the regular ship’s company now amounts to more than 700, of which around 100 are officers. There appears to already have been a small rise in the number of personnel required, beyond the original target of 679. Delivering such a high-profile project as the QE class aircraft carriers in a glare of publicity demands the RN get it absolutely right. Particularly at senior levels, many of those appointed to serve on the QE represent the cream of the RN surface fleet. There is considerable accumulated naval experience and for some this represents the culmination of their career and ambitions. For a few, QE will be their first experience of going to sea, sailors ages range from as young as 17 right up to 58 year old veterans. During this tour the ship was buzzing with activity but talking to members of the ship’s company both junior and senior, there is an assuring sense of calm professionalism and pride.

The crew have been living on board for over a month and this helps build team spirit and an emotional attachment to the ship. The Commanding Officer, Captain Jerry Kyd must establish a positive ethos and reputation that will lay the foundation for potentially 50 years of service to the nation. After completion of the ‘fast cruise’ in early June, the ship’s company continued to conduct drills and tests to build confidence before sailing, even as civilian contractors completed the final work on the ship.

The ship must become a home before it is a warship and the accommodation standards are the best in the Navy. Building on the pattern set by the Type 45 destroyers, junior rates have 6 berth cabins with bunks that are 3 ft wide, an improvement on the narrow beds fitted on older ships. The large single mess squares adopted on the Type 45 destroyers have been adapted slightly as some feel this can be a little impersonal. The junior rates messes on QE are divided into smaller communal areas for relaxing. Good accommodation is an important factor in efficiency and morale. It also aids retention of sailors in a navy short of people, competing with comfortable civilian jobs ashore.

More images at large size available here: tour

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from Save the Royal Navy