What’s next for HMS Queen Elizabeth?

After the impressive entry into Portsmouth on 16th August, HMS Queen Elizabeth is now safely tied up alongside Princess Royal Jetty. She may look close to being the complete article, but there is a lot of work to be done before she can be added to the Royal Navy’s order of battle.

Despite being more symbolic than of military significance at this stage, QE’s entry into Portsmouth was a major public relations success for the RN. Rather out of the media spotlight for some time, the senior service has been overshadowed by the army-centric campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The formal naming ceremony for her younger sister, HMS Prince of Wales will be held on 8th September in Rosyth. Just before Christmas, it is expected HMS QE will commission in Portsmouth in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen. This date has been brought forward from the original plan to commission in 2018. These milestone events will help keep media focus on the RN and the carrier project.

Theresa May on HMS Queen Elizabeth

The visit of the Prime Minister to QE on her arrival in Portsmouth was a significant endorsement of the aircraft carriers that will eventually be a strategic national asset. Theresa May said, “Britain can be proud of this ship and what it represents”.

QE is still owned by her builders and has only completed the first part of her test and commissioning phase. The first phase of trials focussing on engines, steering, and auxiliary machinery was apparently completed very successfully. By coming to Portsmouth sooner than originally planned, her ship’s company can now get some well-deserved summer leave and a tricky re-entry into Rosyth is avoided. She will remain in Portsmouth for some time, probably around 8 weeks while planned engineering work is completed and issues encountered during trials are addressed. In the Autumn she will then sail for part 2 trials with a greater focus on mission systems, radars, communications, and electronics.

At this very early stage, QE is still more ship than warship, she has not yet even been fitted with her self-defence decoys, close in weapons systems (CIWS) and has no armament besides light machine guns.

For her arrival in Portsmouth, she embarked 5 Merlin helicopters but this was primarily for display and demonstration purposes.

Even when QE is a commissioned warship there will be a long process to fully train the ship’s company (pass Operational Sea Training), conduct flight trials and work up the air group before she can declare initial operating capability in 2020. Full operating capability (Carrier Strike) will not be achieved until 2023.

Next year 820 Naval Air Squadron will be the first operational squadron to embark aboard QE. Their Merlin Mk2s will practice their primary role of anti-submarine warfare, protecting the carrier from the underwater threat. In the last quarter of 2018 the first British F-35B Lightning will land on QE off the eastern coast of the United States. An 8-week flight testing period will be another landmark on the long road to restoring UK carrier capability.


In our next article, we will look more deeply at some of the concerns raised by critics arguing against the carrier project.



from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/whats-next-for-hms-queen-elizabeth/

HMS Queen Elizabeth comes home – in pictures

Today is a day to celebrate a great British achievement. HMS Queen Elizabeth arrived safely in her home port for the first time this morning. She remains several years away from becoming fully operational and there are serious challenges ahead, both for the aircraft carriers and the Navy as a whole, but the engineering achievement of her builders and the hard work of her ship’s company should be recognised. Here are some of the best images from her arrival.

About to enter Portsmouth for the first time. Accompanied by a Wildcat helicopter, part of the force protection effort

Through the narrows with no problem, passing Semaphore Tower and HMS Diamond

You can’t keep your eyes off her!

Sailors and contractors stand proudly to attention during procedure Alpha

“The pride felt when doing procedure alpha will be incredible! The day I go into Portsmouth, thousands lining the streets and the world media focused on this behemoth of a ship… that’ll be one of the proudest moments of my life, to be a part of history”  Rating serving aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth

Eased carefully aginst the pontoons at her new home – the Princess Royal Jetty

Royal Marine Band on hand to provide a rousing welcome

The First Sea Lord address. “This is a seminal day for the Royal Navy… A generation of workers have dedicated their best to building the Queen Elizabeth class… As we prepare to leave the EU, these ships will demonstrate our commitment to our partnerships and that the UK is outward looking and confident”

Defence Procurement Minister Harriet Baldwin in fine form and talking to media with gusto about the “growing Royal Navy” [cough]

from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/hms-queen-elizabeth-comes-home-in-pictures/

The reasons HMS Queen Elizabeth has two islands

Many have wondered why HMS Queen Elizabeth has two ‘islands’. Here we consider why she is the first aircraft carrier in the world to adopt this unique arrangement and the benefits it brings.

Redundancy and separation can be good

In a moment of inspiration back in 2001, an RN officer serving with the Thales CVF design team developing initial concepts for what became the Queen Elizabeth Class, hit upon the idea of separate islands. There are several advantages to this design but the most compelling reason for the twin islands is to space out the funnels, allowing greater separation between the engines below. QEC has duplicated main and secondary machinery in two complexes with independent uptakes and downtakes in each of the two islands. The separation provides a measure of redundancy, it increases the chances one propulsion system will remain operational in the event of action damage to the other. Gas turbine engines (situated in the sponsons directly below each island of the QEC) by their nature require larger funnels and downtakes than the diesel engines (in the bottom of the ship). The twin island design helps minimise their impact on the internal layout.

In a conventional single-island carrier design, either you have to have a very long island (like the Invincible class) which reduces flight deck space or, the exhaust trunkings have to be channelled up into a smaller space. There are limits to the angles this pipework may take which can affect the space available for the hangar. The uptakes can also create vulnerabilities, the third HMS Ark Royal was lost to a single torpedo hit in 1941, party due to progressive engine room flooding through funnel uptakes.

The twin island design has several other benefits. Wind tunnel testing has proved that the air turbulence over the flight deck caused by the wind and the ship’s movement, is reduced by having two islands instead of one large one. Turbulent air is a hindrance to flight operations and aircraft carrier designers always have to contend with this problem. Twin islands allow greater flight deck area because the combined footprint of the two small islands is less than that of a single larger one. By having two smaller islands it allowed each to be constructed as a single block and then shipped to Rosyth to be lifted onto the hull. The forward island was built in Portsmouth and the aft island built in Glasgow.

This arrangement solves another problem by providing good separation for the main radars. The Type 1046 long range air surveillance radar is mounted forward while the Type 997 Artisan 3D medium range radar is aft. Powerful radars, even operating on different frequencies, can cause mutual interference or blind spots if the aerials are mounted too close together. Apart from a slim communications mast, both the Artisan and 1046 have clear, unobstructed arcs.

The flag bridge below the main bridge can be clearly seen in the forward island. The emergency conning position and the large Flyco can be seen in the aft island. Note the tall funnels designed to keep exhaust gasses away from the flight deck

Bridge – forward

With separate islands it is possible to site the bridge further forward than in a conventional single-island design. This gives the officer of the watch (OOW) a better view of the bows and what is immediately ahead, especially useful when in confined waters. The QEC bridge is spacious and has very large windows with a wide field of view, similar to the Type 45 destroyers. Carpeted with a dark blue-grey finish and wooden trim around the control panels, it has a very different feel to the cream and pale grey interior of preceding Invincible class carriers. The QEC are fitted with a state of the art Sperry Marine Integrated Navigation Bridge System (INBS) including the Naval Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS-N).

The captain has a day cabin just behind the bridge for use at sea but as is usual on a carrier, his spacious main cabin is down aft with the other officer accommodation. There is a small lift that allows him to quickly get up or down from the bridge to the operations room which is situated seven decks below.

Like the Invincible class, the QEC has facilities for the Admiral commanding the carrier group and has use of his own ‘flag bridge’ below the main navigation bridge. It offers a good view and a useful space for his staff, away from the ship’s personnel.

When no admiral is embarked, the flag bridge is available for the ship to use and is a convenient place for meetings and to entertain guests. Note the circular wooden table, inlaid with the ship’s crest. US Navy photo.

The steering position on the bridge of fifth HMS Ark Royal seen in 2009, complete with classic chintzy seat cover.

Steering HMS Queen Elizabeth, 2017

Flyco – aft

The QEC aircraft control position, known as flyco is a major change in design philosophy. Instead of being just an appendage to the navigation bridge it has been designed in partnership with Tex ATC Ltd, one of the world’s leading providers of military and civilian airfield control towers. By siting the Flyco separately, it can be positioned in the optimum place to view aircraft as they approach the ship for landing. This is the moment when the pilot requires most help from the ship and a dedicated aircraft controller sitting in Flyco (usually a former pilot) can help talk the plane down if needed. The QEC flyco projects out from the aft island and has enormous 3-metre tall windows with providing a 290º view over the flight deck. Such tall windows allow a good view of high flying aircraft for all, including for the personnel sitting in the small raised gallery at the back of the Flyco. In some older ships, the cramped flyco position looked like an afterthought it was sometimes necessary to get right up close to the small windows to see high flying aircraft.

The 3 metre high, multi-layered armoured glass panels are slightly tinted for protection against glare and are strong enough to withstand a direct hit from the rotating blade of a Chinook helicopter.

Flyco can issue instructions to the aircraft handlers on the flight deck via their headsets but also using large LED displays mounted on the side of the aft island. It is also connected to the hangar control room below where orders are issued to prepare aircraft to be brought on deck. The Commander Air, “Wings” also has a day cabin in the aft island but does not have his own lift, like the Captain up forward. The aft island also features a ‘bridge’ which has replica ship controls and, in the event of damage to the forward island, could be used as the emergency conning position.

The new Project 23000E “Shtorm” concept from the Russian Krylov State Research Center (KSRC) for a 95,000 ton conventionally-powered aircraft carrier has copied the twin island design. Shtorm is a Putin fantasy, unlikely ever to be realised as Russia has not managed to build a surface ship larger than a frigate since the 1990s. Italy is also building a new LHD ‘flat top’ with twin islands, although the aft island only contains a funnel.


For aircraft carrier veterans the completely separated bridge and flyco will take some adjustment. Because the ship’s course and speed need to be carefully coordinated with flying operations, the close proximity of the OOW to the flight controllers helped them work together. In the new arrangement, they will not be able to see each other and are reliant on the intercom. No doubt everyone will quickly adapt and the benefits of additional space for both navigators and flight controllers will outweigh any disadvantages. It is highly subjective, but some carrier ‘purists’ have said the twin islands make the QEC look “ugly”. Others see the QEC as quite beautiful and despite their quite angular shapes, represent just another step in the evolution of carrier design appropriate for the 21st Century.

The QEC will benefit from a ski-ramp to assist aircraft on take off and twin islands, both of which were invented by the RN. It is encouraging to see the RN retaining its place at the forefront of aircraft carrier innovation.

Main image: courtesy @fightingsailor via Twitter


from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/the-reasons-hms-queen-elizabeth-has-two-islands/

The reasons HMS Queen Elizabeth is not nuclear powered

Many people have wondered why the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers do not have nuclear propulsion like the US Navy’s Nimitz class ships. Here we consider the many good reasons why a conventional, although innovative propulsion system was selected instead.


Range and Replenishment
The primary advantage of a marine nuclear power plant is the unlimited range and available power it provides the ship. This range and power would be desirable for the QEC, but the costs and other factors largely outweigh these benefit. USN carriers are a few knots faster than the QEC, the speed of the ship can generate more wind over the deck to help heavily laden aircraft take off. This wind is less critical for QEC’s ski-ramp launched VSTOL aircraft.

When on operations, the ship’s air group will consume considerable amounts of aviation fuel. Even if the ship is nuclear-powered, she must be accompanied by a tanker to conduct RAS (Replenishment At Sea) at frequent intervals. If you have to conduct RAS with an auxiliary tanker anyway, it is not a big effort to refuel the ship at the same time. The escorts ships that will nearly always accompany the carrier are also conventionally-powered so nuclear powered carrier does not eliminate the need for RAS. The 4 Tide class tankers that will soon be joining the RFA can replenish the QEC with aviation fuel and diesel simultaneously, using rigs plugged into receiving points on the carrier’s port side. The US Navy has to operate in the Pacific where distances can be huge. Nuclear propulsion may make more sense in the vast Pacific but how frequently will the QEC be deployed over huge distances where there are no refuelling opportunities?

RFA Tiderace – carrier fuel station at sea. Note the two starboard side RAS rigs, ready to provide diesel and aviation fuel to the QEC. Photo: US Navy

Nuclear reactors cannot be quickly re-started from cold. A careful sequence of procedures is required to start the reactor and the steam plant to prevent heat stress from damaging the system. Since the 1970s when the RN began to move away from steam propulsion, it has enjoyed the benefit of gas turbine and diesel ships that can be started and shut down very quickly. This is a useful tactical advantage allowing quick departure from harbour when needed. It also has a lower manpower requirement as nuclear plants require constant monitoring, even when shut down.

Cats and steam
Except for the newly commissioned USS Gerald R Ford, US Navy carriers use steam-powered catapults to launch aircraft. Nuclear propulsion has the advantage of providing plenty of steam for the catapults. The older generation of RN carriers had steam turbine propulsion and their boilers also provided steam for the catapults. If the QEC had been fitted with catapults and traps, the intention was to adopt the Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) that has been developed in the US for the Ford class carriers. Considerable electrical power is needed but this system does not require steam, another reason that nuclear power is less critical. (Although EMALS offers a great leap in aircraft launching capability, the US Navy is struggling with developmental issues and the USS Ford may not be ready for combat operations until 2022 at the earliest). It is possible the QEC may one day be retrofitted with EMALS (Probably not in the next 20 years) but there is sufficient spare electrical generation capacity already available.


Building capacity and capability
The only facility in the UK building nuclear-powered vessels is BAE Systems yard at Barrow. The Barrow site has been running at full capacity for the last 10 years constructing the Astute class attack submarines and that will continue into the future as work starts on the 4 Dreadnought class ballistic missile submarines. Barrow is probably the only UK site with the skills and experience that could have constructed a carrier reactor, although their workforce is very much focused on submarines. Even if Barrow could have fitted such work into its schedule, the hull sections containing nuclear power plants would have had to be transported by barge to Rosyth for the assembly – a potentially hazardous journey.

The UK has considerable experience building nuclear submarines but has never constructed a nuclear-powered surface ship. Theoretically, the PWR2 nuclear power plant fitted to the Vanguard and Astute class submarines could have been up-rated and adapted for use in the carrier. It would have required at least three PWR2 plants per ship, each of which generate around 27,500 shaft horse power. (The propulsion system of the QEC, as built today, can generate 100,000 shp). There would still have been considerable cost and complications in adapting the submarine plant and associated gearing and shaft arrangements for the ship. Alternatively, at great expense, an entirely new and more powerful reactor could have been developed specifically for the carriers.

Avoiding the French experience
France completed their single nuclear-powered carrier, the Charles de Gaulle in 2001 but she took more than 11 years to build (QE took 8 years) The de Gaulle was delivered 5 years late, expensive and beset by technical problems with her propulsion. The K15 nuclear reactor design, derived from existing submarines, proved underpowered and inadequate shielding exposed crew members to doses of radiation that exceed regulations. France is already studying options for replacing the de Gaulle, a ship that has spent more time in dock than operational.

Nuclear engineers in short supply
France struggled to build the de Gaulle, despite having a much larger nuclear industry than the UK, more nuclear scientists, engineers and technicians. The design and construction of two British nuclear carriers would probably have required expensively imported nuclear expertise from France or the US. The RN is already hard-pressed to find sufficient qualified personnel to man its existing fleet of 10 nuclear-powered submarines. In the current climate, there would be another struggle to recruit and retain more nuclear watch-keepers for two aircraft carriers.

Attractive conventional options
Despite the unhappy experience with the Type 45 destroyers propulsion, advances in marine engine technology make conventional power attractive. Accumulated experience, extensive testing and the selection of proven low-risk engines will ensure that QEC is very unlikely to have similar problems. The CODLAG (combined diesel-electric and gas turbine) arrangement adopted by the QEC is both efficient, reliable and allows great design flexibility. By using electric motors to drive the propellers, the diesel and gas turbine generators can be placed where convenient, rather than having to sit on the shaft line, as in traditional designs. The gas turbines are actually sited inside the sponsons on the starboard side of the ship with their exhaust uptakes going through the two island structures immediately above. The saves internal volume, allowing for bigger hangars. Nuclear power obviously removes the need for uptakes and funnels entirely but modern gas turbines and electric motors have a very much higher power-to-weight ratio than a heavy nuclear plant with lead shielding and reduction gears. Servicing simple diesel engines is an entirely different prospect to maintaining a nuclear plant. The QE’s gas turbines are also easily accessible and can be replaced with new units in a matter of days if required.

The PWR2 reactor was designed not to need refuelling and to have a life of around 30 years. Unfortunately, HMS Vanguard’s reactor has required refuelling after 22 years service at considerable expense because it appears her PWR2 core H may not last as long as expected. Since the QEC have a design life of up to 50 years, if nuclear-powered they would need a mid-life reactor refuelling refit. Even if a reactor can be made to last for that long, refuelling is a colossally expensive process and could take the carrier out of commission for at 3 years.


The lifetime cost of a nuclear-powered vessel is much higher than that of a conventionally powered vessel. Initial construction outlay is also greater because of the physical complexity and regulatory framework that the builders would have to work within. The bill for filling up QE with diesel fuel runs into hundreds of thousands of pounds each time, but the total cost of installing, maintaining and disposing of a nuclear power plant over the life of the ship, would far exceed that of the fuel. Disposal of nuclear vessels also presents a significant problem. The US Navy benefits from a dedicated nuclear vessel disposal facility in Puget Sound and the waste is stored away from populated areas in Idaho, deep in the vast land mass of America. Rather embarrassingly, the UK has yet to completely dispose of a single decommissioned nuclear submarine, although tentative steps to start this process have finally been made. Disposal is slow, costly and the storage of nuclear waste is controversial. A nuclear-powered carrier would one day create another expensive decommissioning headache.


Protest magnets
Some nations will not allow a nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed vessel within their territorial waters. This would not be a particular problem but highlights the additional political baggage and sensitivities that come with nuclear vessels. Aircraft carriers are high profile ships and are intended as a tool for trade and diplomacy in a way that secretive nuclear submarines actively avoid. There is a strong anti-nuclear movement and a nuclear-powered QEC would inevitably attract unwanted controversy and protest. In the very unlikely event the ship was sunk or damaged by enemy action or in a serious collision, the presence of a nuclear reactor presents a long-term environmental hazard that could leak radiation into the sea. While this calculated risk makes sense for submarines where there is no alternative source of air-independent propulsion that can provide the required performance, for a surface ship this is an avoidable risk.

Think of the paperwork…
Sensibly, all British nuclear submarines and facilities are subject to strict regulation and inspection. There is no avoiding this complication that would add further manpower, cost and security overheads to an already complicated aircraft carrier programme. Nuclear-powered submarines have to make use of specially prepared “Z berths” when alongside in the UK. These berths have to be certified as safe and secure and the local authority is required to have plans in place in the very unlikely case of a nuclear accident. Although her size prevents her from entering many ports, a nuclear-powered QEC would be further restricted as to where she could dock, both in the UK and abroad. Maintenance of nuclear vessels in the UK can only be conducted at certified “X berths”. Currently, they are only available in Devonport and Faslane. As Portsmouth-based ships, there would be further considerable investment required for nuclear-certified infrastructure at Portsmouth.

The selection of conventional propulsion for the QEC will undoubtedly prove to be the correct choice over the lifetime of the ships and maybe a big factor in ensuring they are affordable to operate and remain in service for many decades. It is difficult to imagine a scenario where a future aircraft carrier CO will be wishing his vessel was nuclear-powered.



from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/the-reasons-hms-queen-elizabeth-is-not-nuclear-powered/

HMS Queen Elizabeth likely to enter Portsmouth for the first time on 18th August

There are very strong indications that the future flagship of the Royal Navy, HMS Queen Elizabeth will be arriving in her home port of Portsmouth on the morning of Friday 18th August. This is not a certainty as the ship still has further trials to complete and other factors such as the weather could change the plan.

The Aircraft Carrier Alliance that constructed the ship had originally scheduled an approximately 11-week sea trials period, which began when she sailed for the first time on 26th June. Despite the issues with the propeller shafts that required 2 weeks alongside in Invergordon, other aspects of the trials are reportedly proceeding very well and ahead of schedule. Original estimates given out earlier this year had said she might arrive in the Autumn but better progress has been made than initially anticipated.

Harbour dredging operations and the construction of the Princess Royal Jetty where the Queen Elizbeth class carriers will berth in Portsmouth are all complete. Inshore survey craft, HMS Gleaner was recalled early from her planned work in Jersey and has been conducting a bathymetric survey of the harbour seabed and the Spithead anchorages. Her measurements will provide confidence that there is the adequate depth of water for a ship that has a draught of 11 m. Additional extra contractors have been brought in to Portsmouth Naval Base in the last few weeks to ensure shoreside facilities needed for the ship are ready, slightly earlier than had been expected.

Although nothing like as restricted as her departure from the basin at Rosyth, entry into the narrow mouth of Portsmouth harbour is also dependent on weather and tidal conditions. In the event of high winds, she may have to anchor in the Solent an await the right opportunity. High tide on the 18th of August is around 9.30am so expect the ship to pass the Round Tower at about that time.

When HMS Queen Elizabeth arrives in Portsmouth it will be another landmark moment for the Royal Navy and its centrepiece aircraft carrier programme.

Portsmouth City Council and the Police have been considering arrangements for this event for some time as large crowds are expected. Official sources are understandably reluctant to commit to a specific date and want to manage expectations. They will only say she will arrive “in the next few weeks”. Final confirmation of her arrival time will probably only be given out at relatively short notice.

Please note, like all naval movements, this plan could easily change and is subject to operational, technical or weather considerations.


from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/hms-queen-elizabeth-likely-to-enter-portsmouth-for-the-first-time-on-18th-august/

Getting jets to sea – more squadrons, more pilots please

As HMS Queen Elizabeth undergoes initial sea trials there is considerable discussion about her future embarked air group. Amidst endless media and online gibberish about “aircraft carriers with no aircraft” the UK is in fact, building up its fleet of F-35B Lightnings ready to go to sea. Here John Dunbar considers the concerns about the number of jets that will be available to form the Tailored Air Group, and how their efficiency might be maximised.

British F-35 numbers in service will be constrained, with around 48 front line aircraft in 4 squadrons, and a further 12 assigned to the Operational Conversion Unit (OCU). This suggests that around 16 jets will be routinely available for overseas or carrier deployment at any one time. (More could be embarked in emergencies, although achieving the theoretical maximum of 36 jets would be virtually impossible under existing plans.) The plan for the UK to buy 138 F-35s announced in SDSR 2015 sounds generous, but this figure is the total to be purchased over the entire lifetime of the aircraft (30 years?) and allows for replacement of older airframes.

Split buy. No thanks.

The RAF is arguing for a split purchase between F-35B and F-35A. Only the F-35B variant being purchased currently can operate from the carriers. This may appear superficially attractive and allow for a clear delineation between naval aircraft and land-based fleets. Unfortunately, a split fleet would add to logistic support costs (the different F-35 variants only have around 25% of components in common) and result in an even smaller pool of aircraft available to equip the aircraft carriers. A more detailed explanation of why the RN should resist this RAF proposal can be found here.

Sortie generation rate

Historically, a carrier’s ability to project power has been based on the number of aircraft that can be carried, which in turn determines the number of sorties that can be generated, and the air wings resilience to combat losses and battle damage.

Sustainable fast jet sortie generation rates have remained relatively static at 1 per day for ground-based aircraft and around 1.5 per day for carrier-based aircraft. There are number of factors which limit sortie generation rate – at any one time only 60-80% of aircraft will be available (due to the need for repairs or overhauls); flight checks and maintenance can limit the number of flight hours available to anywhere between 1 and 5 hours per day and pilot fatigue, mission briefing and debriefing can also limit how many missions can be undertaken in a 24 period. Based on current doctrine and taking these restrictions into account, 12 F-35s might be able to generate between 10 and 15 sorties per day.

US super carriers with 80 aircraft are theoretically capable of delivering around 120 sorties per day (or more than 200 in surge conditions) whilst the QEC are designed to develop a maximum of 120 sorties per day in total, of which at least 20 will need to be reserved for helicopter operations to support anti-submarine and airborne early warning operations. In practice, these maximum sortie rates are rarely achieved.

In operations over Libya in 2011 the French carrier Charles De Gaulle averaged 11 sorties per day. During operation Desert Storm, the USS Carl Vinson averaged 55 combat sorties per day.

However, future F-35 sortie rates need to be seen in the context of the step change delivered by 5th generation aircraft. The F-35’s stealth and complex digital architecture allow it to carry out some missions without supporting electronic warfare assets or the need for fighters to provide protection from opposing air forces. Where twelve aircraft were needed in the past, four F-35 can now accomplish the same mission and have better survival rates.

Whilst it may be too early to say that the F-35 is three times more effective than legacy aircraft, the clear implication is that far fewer sorties will be required to deliver the same impact in strike missions. Evidence of excellent air-to-air kill ratios emerging from Red Flag exercises also suggests that F-35 will be able to attain air superiority with fewer numbers than 4th generation aircraft.

Barring a long-term crisis, RN is not expected maintain continuous F-35 deployment. To keep a QEC carrier permanently at sea would require 3 or ideally 4 ships, although one will always be available for deployment at short notice. Instead, it is likely that each carrier will deploy for a total of nine months in any given 27 month period (meaning one of the two carriers will be at sea for 18 months out of 27). It is this deployment pattern that the RN and Joint Lightning Force will need to resource.

Silver linings

There are further reasons to be optimistic. Whilst the choice of F-35B has been over-criticised for its higher cost, more limited range and lower weapons load, it does bring with it the benefit of collaboration with the United States Marine Corps who intend to buy 340 F-35Bs.

The USMC is showing much greater commitment to the F-35B than the US Navy is to the F-35C, and are clearly determined to maximise its capabilities. In doing so, the USMC is updating its ‘Harrier Carrier’ concept to utilise amphibious assault vessels as small carriers deploying 15-20 F-35B.

Remarkably, the USMC has published plans for these platforms to deliver a sustained rate of up to 40 sorties in a 14 hour period across a range of combat operations – more than 3 sorties per day, per airframe. Whilst this does include utilisation of forward operating bases to maximise effectiveness, it still suggests that the USMC has found a way to shatter the 1.5 sortie rate per day ceiling, a doctrinal approach that the Royal Navy would benefit from evaluating.

The US Marine Corps is leading the way developing F-35B operating doctrine. They deployed 12 aircraft on USS America in November 2016 and now have 10 operational aircraft forward-deployed in Japan.

There are a number of reasons why F-35B sortie rates can be increased. The much-reduced workload associated with flying the aircraft and the quantum leap in situational awareness from the fused data and sensor technology could significantly reduce the time need for briefing and de-briefing. This reduces pilot fatigue to the point where two or more sorties per pilot, per day become achievable. The USMC has also focused intensively on ALIS (the Autonomic Logistic Information System) which plays a big role in maximising availability by managing and pre-empting fault detection and organising spares logistics. The Royal Navy’s close collaboration with USMC should make that learning available early in UK F-35 operations.

It is also now certain that USMC F-35 squadrons will operate from the RN’s carriers in coalition operations. Not only does this offer significantly increased fire power, but also opens up the possibility of in-flight refuelling from USMC V-22 Osprey, a capability the RN would dearly like to own itself at some point in the future.

Structuring the Lightning force

If the RN is going to work with the USMC in developing new operational doctrines, it follows that innovation in the F-35 force structure should also be considered.

The RAF has recently moved from 7 squadrons of 12 Typhoons to 8 Squadrons of 10 Typhoons, ostensibly because of improved availability of airframes, resulting from more effective maintenance. The Lightning fleet could follow suit, going from five squadrons of 12 F-35B to six squadrons of 10 F-35B. This could be undertaken in parallel with consideration of innovating the way in which the Operational Conversion Unit is supported.

Rather than having a squadron of aircraft dedicated to the OCU, 5 airframes each should be assigned (with maintenance crews) from 2 squadrons not scheduled for active deployment (preferably squadrons that have just returned from operations and who can feed learning into OCU development programmes). The aircraft remaining in each squadron will be more than adequate to meet weekly pilot flying hour requirements for the full complement of pilots, particularly given increased use and availability of simulators.

The Lightning fleet would then consist of 60 aircraft in 6 front line fighter squadrons (3 each for the RAF and Fleet Air Arm); with 10 UK based aircraft allocated to OCU duties. This can be achieved with the only additional cost being the extra pilots needed as instructors. That is a 25% increase in available combat aircraft derived from an additional 12-14 pilots needed for the OCU.

Lt Cdr. Ian Tidball, the first Royal Navy pilot to fly an F-35 in 2013. There will be a total of 26 RN and RAF pilots trained to fly the aircraft by the end of 2018.

This would also make a radical difference to RAF and RN flexibility in deployment without needing any extra aircraft in service. Rather than squabbling with the navy over the deployment of 16 aircraft, the RAF could be confident in being able to deploy 10 aircraft overseas at any one time, with 15 further aircraft available for UK based operations and training (excluding OCU). Acting in concert with Typhoon, small flights of F-35 can act as significant force multipliers – removing airframe competition for carrier use must be an attractive option to the RAF.

The Royal Navy could also be confident of having 15 F-35B as increasing deployment in increments of five aircraft up to an all-out effort of 30 F-35B embarked would be within the gift of the Fleet Air Arm as and when necessary. Alternatively, deploying with additional RAF or USMC F-35B in could enable a sustainable embarked air wing of 30 – 40 F-35B.

This more flexible structure would also start to allow distinctive doctrines to emerge, with the Royal Navy focusing on the high tempo expeditionary role modelled by the USMC, and the RAF focusing on longer duration deep strike missions supported by in-flight refuelling.


The F35-B is a revolutionary platform that invites further innovation to maximise its impact. A more flexible squadron structure alongside innovation in operational doctrine can help ensure that even with a modest air wing of 15 or 20 aircraft the Queen Elizabeth Carriers will pack a meaningful punch.



from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/getting-jets-to-sea-more-squadrons-more-pilots-please/

Up close with a US super carrier and the pilots fresh from combat operations

The arrival of the USS George HW Bush in British waters to participate in exercise Saxon Warrior with the Royal Navy provided a useful opportunity to meet US naval aviators who have recently completed combat missions against ISIS in the Middle East. Although they are very different, inevitable comparisons will also be made between the Nimitz class CVN and the Queen Elizabeth class CVF, which deserve to be put in perspective.

The US Navy’s Carrier Strike Group 2 have been in action in the Middle East for almost 7 months and there was a high tempo of operations with 99 days conducting combat sorties. With the fall of Mosul, ISIS has been virtually defeated in Iraq and there is some satisfaction that the aircraft from the Bush group have seen a job through to completion. Whatever your view on the complex issues of the Middle East, it should be recognised that hard-working sailors and aviators aboard the Bush have at completed their assigned mission, helping to destroy the evil of ISIS, as directed by their political masters.

Up to July this year, the coalition of 68 countries against ISIS (including 9 countries flying combat missions) conducted a total of around 25,000 air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq. The majority of the missions have used very accurate laser-guided munitions with a very clear aim of avoiding civilian casualties. Given the number of bombs dropped, the civilian death toll from coalition strikes has been low, although it would be very naive to believe any nation claiming there have been no civilian deaths caused by their air strikes.

A very rare air-air kill

The majority of missions flown by the F-18s from the Bush used the 500lb JDAM laser-guided bomb against Islamic State targets as requested by US allies on the ground. One mission stands out from the rest, on 4th June an F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down a Syrian Su-22 “Fitter”. The Soviet-era aircraft had been bombing US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighting the Islamic State.

Lt Cdr Michael Tremel of the Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-87 ‘Golden Warriors’ made the first US air-to-air kill since a USAF F-16 shot down a Serbian MiG-29 in 1999, during the Kosovo campaign. Tremel, speaking to media for the first time aboard the Bush anchored in the Solent said “the whole incident lasted about eight minutes… I did not directly communicate with the Syrian Jet but he was given several warnings by our supporting AWACS aircraft… So yes, we released ordnance and yes it hit a target that was in the air, but it really just came back to defending those guys that were doing the hard job on the ground and taking that ground back from ISIS.” He recalled; “I didn’t see the pilot eject but my wingman observed his parachute.” Tremel is an incredibly modest and relaxed gentleman, it is others, not himself who are keen to make a big deal about what was a relatively simple air-air kill against an obsolete aircraft. “When you think about the shoot down in the grand scheme of things… we flew over 400 missions in support of friendly forces on the ground” he said.

Lt Cdr Tremel with his F/A 18-E jet. Tomahawk icons represent strike missions. The Air-Air kill is denoted by icon on the top right under the Syrian flag.

One aspect of the engagement does raise questions. Asked if it was a straight Sidewinder shoot down, Tremel admitted it took 2 missiles. The infrared guided AIM-9X Sidewinder short range air-to-air missile missed, apparently lured away by decoy flares from the SU-22. It was a second radar-guided AIM-120 AMRAAM missile that destroyed the aircraft. The AIM-9X is the latest version of a very well proven family of missiles and it would not be expected to be fooled by flares or fail against such an obsolete aircraft. (The UK uses the superior ASRAAM, although it shares some common components with the Sidewinder).

steam catapault

What we could have had… looking down the waist catapult on the angled deck.

USS George HW Bush v HMS Queen Elizabeth. Apples v Oranges.

Walking down the flight deck of the Bush there was a feeling of regret at how the UK has managed to squander its hard-won lead in innovation. Britain pioneered naval aviation, invented the steam catapult, the angled deck and automated deck landing system (the meatball in US parlance), not to mention the jet engine, radar and steam turbine, all of which are foundational to the Nimitz class super carrier. Although it is regrettable, the Queen Elizabeth class will not have catapults and traps and we must accept that CATOBAR is beyond the inadequate resources the government is willing to provide the RN. STOVL and F-35Bs are the only sensible choice for the RN, given its budget and manpower constraints.

Searching for a candid view of how the US Navy see the Queen Elizabeth Class carriers, one officer was asked if they perceive them as something like a larger USS America (LHA – Marine assault ship operating F-35Bs) or closer to the Bush and the CVNs? “It’s true her air group cannot deliver quite the same effect as us, but she’s another big deck. She will make a similar diplomatic impact to our carriers, they have great command and control facilities and some innovations we are keen to learn about” he replied carefully. “As far as we’re concerned they will help share the load and relieve some of the burden on the US fleet”.

In European terms, the QEC will be a huge jump in capability and will be a very big step forward for the Royal Navy. In pure combat terms, the QEC is still far behind the US Navy. The 12-14 jets aboard the QEC will not compare well with the 44 carried by the Bush on this deployment (with space for an air group of up to 90 aircraft). CATOBAR means the Bush also benefits from dedicated electronic warfare aircraft (Growlers), buddy-buddy air-air refuelling jets (adapted F-18s) and EC3 Hawkeye which have approximately double the radar range of the Crowsnest Merlin helicopters.

This capability does not come cheap. Despite having nuclear-powered propulsion, the food, aircraft fuel and spares bill for the Bush runs at around $10M per month when on operations. It would be instructive to know if the MoD has calculated and properly budgeted for the running costs for the QEC when deployed. Manpower is the biggest through-life cost. QEC will have just 1,500 with a full air group embarked which compares very well to the 5,300 required by the Bush. HMS Queen Elizabeth cost around £3.2Bn to construct, while the Bush cost $6.2Bn back in 2009.

Observing both ships at close quarters they are very different workplaces. QE benefits from a 10 year advance in technology and a design philosophy aimed at reducing manning to a minimum. It is slightly unfair to compare a seasoned 8-year-old ship that has been in action for 6 months and inevitably looks battered, with a brand new vessel. QE feels like a more comfortable ship with automation everywhere, while the Bush has a more workman-like interior. A good example is a comparison between the Chief’s mess aboard the Bush and the equivalent Senior Rates dining hall on QE. Both are cafeteria-style eating areas but QE’s is far larger, has carpets and a suspended ceiling. On the Bush the deckhands and pipework are all exposed, whitewashed bulkheads and a lino floor make for a tough, utilitarian atmosphere.

What the two ships will have in common, is the reach of carrier air power that extends across the globe. The ability to strike our enemies or to provide support to our allies by air from the sea is a capability that all the greatest nations aspire to.


https://spark.adobe.com/page-embed.jsPhoto Tour

from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/up-close-with-a-us-super-carrier-and-the-pilots-fresh-from-combat-operations/