This week saw the christening of the new Ford-class carrier, USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) sponsored by no less a person than Caroline B. Kennedy, JFK’s daughter, and the late President’s only living child.
As you may well remember, a smaller Ms. Caroline also sponsored the new Kitty Hawk-class supercarrier, USS John F. Kennedy (CVA-67) in May 1967, some 52 years ago.
While CVN-79 is expected to be completed in 2022, CV-67 has been on red lead row since 2007 and is nominally set to be preserved as a museum ship.
Meanwhile, in Portsmouth, HMS Prince of Wales (R09) was commissioned this week as the Royal Navy’s second 65,000-ton Queen Elizabeth-class carrier, the largest class of warships ever to carry the White Ensign.
The last HMS Prince of Wales (53), a King George V-class battleship, was famously lost 77 years ago this week on 10 December 1941 by Japanese air attack off Kuantan, in the South China Sea
The stricken battleship’s original bell, salvaged in 2002, is on permanent display in the National Museum of the Royal Navy’s gallery.
The relic will be scanned and cast by Cammell Laird to provide a new bell for the aircraft carrier that bears her name.
HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), the first semi-active big deck aircraft carrier to sail under the White Ensign since the F-4 toting HMS Ark Royal (R09) was retired in 1979, has returned home to Portsmouth after more than a month at sea working up with British-flown F-35s.
Upon coming home, she was met by her brand spanking new sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales (R09– the same pennant as Ark Royal’s!) for the first time.
The last time more than 130,000 tons of British carriers were in one place at one time was Bruce Fraser’s 1944-45 Pacific Fleet. His force included six Implacable/Illustrious-class fleet carriers, four Colossus-class light carriers, two maintenance carriers, and nine escort carriers, for a total of 320,000-tons of flattop real estate parking for 750 embarked aircraft.
The Commanding Officer of HMS Queen Elizabeth, Captain Steve Moorhouse said:
“Homecomings are always a special occasion, but to be returning to Portsmouth with HMS Prince of Wales welcoming us home makes this a particularly special occasion.
“This has been an extremely successful deployment for HMS Queen Elizabeth. Embarking UK F-35 Lightning jets for the first time and integrating them within the carrier strike group is a significant milestone and we are well set for an equally demanding 2020 and our first operational deployment in 2021.”
Recently, it was detailed that the HMSQE-class has deck parking for 45 F-35s, which is a serious (and seriously unlikely without USMC cross-decking) airwing.
Also of note, the Indian government is talking of moving ahead with a plan (and formal offer from BAE) to acquire a CATOBAR version of the class for their own use as well, in response to China moving towards a four-carrier fleet.
Which makes the planned first deployment of HMSQE in 2021 to the Indian Ocean a no-brainer.
Maybe there will be another British (Commonwealth) Pacific Fleet in the future?
The last Royal Navy carrier launch by a fixed-wing British-owned military aircraft was 24 November 2010 when four GR9 Harriers took off from the Invincible-class light carrier HMS Ark Royal, then operating in the North Sea, to land at RAF Cottesmore in Rutland.
It was expected to a decade from then to the time that British-flown F-35B Lightnings would fly from the then-unbuilt HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08).
That timeline actually just took eight years and 11 months as combined Royal Navy/RAF aircrews landed British-flagged F35s on HMSQE last week in preparation for continued flight ops during Westlant ’19 trials
Images were taken by LPHOT Kyle Heller, RN:
On Tuesday, elements of the RAF’s 617 “Dambusters” Squadron, based at RAF Marham in Norfolk, jumped from the new British carrier.
“The UK will declare Initial Operating Capability for HMSQE’s Carrier Strike by the end of 2020. The first operational deployment for HMS Queen Elizabeth, 617 Squadron, and a squadron of US Marine Corps Lightning jets is due to take place in 2021.”
The below ~4 minutes show what’s it like to fly an F-35 off the flight deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth with some great photography that displays, if nothing else, that the RN’s combat camera guys are on point.
For the first time in eight years, fighter jets flew from the decks of a British aircraft carrier this week, and here are some great images of F-35Bs conducting night flying trials off the new carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth look like storyboard shots for a space opera fight scene. Vipers on the Galactica et. al.
From the Royal Air Force:
The trials included state-of-the-art night-vision technology, with the pilots and aircraft handlers successfully guiding the supersonic fighter jets onto the flight deck. HMS Queen Elizabeth has been kitted out with specially-designed LED lighting on her flight deck to aid night time landings.
Of course, Queen Elizabeth is not expected to be operational until 2021, and then only with a wing composed primarily of USMC F-35Cs
Next month will see the Westland 18, which will include the RN’s new Commando Merlin HC4 helicopters deploying onto the UK’s new carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.
Royal Marines Col. Lenny Brown, Commanding Officer, Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) talks about their new aircraft, roles and future operational capabilities including Joint Personnel Recovery (JPR) Deployed SAR and Maritime Intra-Theatre Lift and Air-to-Air refueling in the below interview with Janes. The UK is currently in the process of upgrading 25 AW101 Merlins to the HC4 configuration to replace the retired Commando Sea King. This upgrade includes cockpit modernizations and minor redesigns, standard naval changes like a folding rotor head, strengthened landing gear, deck lashing points, and a fast-roping point for the Marines.
No doubt the U.S. Marines deployed on the British flattop to evaluate its use as an F-35 platform (capable of carrying 24 in the hangar and six on deck), will appreciate the suds.
Incidentally, the U.S. Navy officially became dry under General Order No. 99, issued on 1 July 1914 by the 41st SECNAV, Josephus Daniels– leading of course to the term “cup of joe” for coffee.
The Brits love CH-47s (“wocca-wocca” in Tommie parlance) for expeditionary operations, and it is well-remembered that a single aircraft proved decisive in the Falklands in 1982.
With their new supercarrier HMS Queen Elizabeth lacking her F-35B air wing for a while, they can at least try fitting some of the huge Chinooks aboard– and they did!
From the RN Navy News:
For the first time ever a giant RAF Chinook helicopter has been stowed in the hangar of a British aircraft carrier.
With the nose protruding over the edge of one of HMS Queen Elizabeth’s two mighty aircraft lifts, the 99ft-long helicopter from RAF 7 Squadron was moved from the flight to the hangar deck.
So large are the lifts and hangar spaces on the new Portsmouth-based warship that there’s no need even to fold the rotors.
There ZH902 – a special trials variant of the Chinook – was joined by a second wocca-wocca, and two Merlins, all from the Aircraft Test and Evaluation Centre (ATEC) at MOD Boscombe Down, and a couple of Merlin Mk2s from 820 Naval Air Squadron.
All six helicopters are onboard Queen Elizabeth for trials, finding out what the operating parameters are of the airframes flying from the carrier at sea.
They were transferred to the hangar in advance of rough weather as the 65,000-tonne warship – the largest vessel ever built for the Royal Navy – made her way towards Gibraltar, keeping the helicopters out of harm’s way of the elements.
The painstaking process to bring the Chinooks in for the very first time took almost two hours, with the nosecone hanging precariously over the aircraft lift (powerful enough to raise or lower two F-35B Lightning II jets or half the 700-strong ship’s company). With practice it will take a fraction of that time.
“Even though HMS Queen Elizabeth is the biggest ship the Royal Navy has operated, she still moves around in the seas especially with the swell and winds in the infamous Bay of Biscay,” explained Cdr David Scopes, head of the carrier’s air engineering department.
Here we see the view from the bridge of the Type 23 frigate HMS Sutherland (F81) as she trails HMS Queen Elizabeth off Rosyth at a stately 16 knots.
Here is a wider shot.
And below is night time footage of the big carrier as she passes under the Forth rail bridge on her maiden voyage. At one point she reportedly only had about 40cm of room on each side during her exit from the builder’s ways.
HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales are the biggest warships ever built for the Royal Navy – four acres of sovereign territory, deployable across the globe to serve the United Kingdom on operations for 50 years. They will be the most advanced warships in the Royal Navy fleet.
As noted by Defense Industry Daily: “Queen Elizabeth has began sea trials after leaving BAE’s shipyard in Scotland on Monday. During the next six weeks her crew will test the vessel’s speed, maneuverability, power and propulsion, and weaponry before returning to its shipyard Rosyth for further testing and maintenance and then return to sea to test mission systems. She will later transfer to Portsmouth Naval Base to be handed over to the Royal Navy later this year.”
Her first F-35Bs, however, may not be ready until 2018 and she is not expected to be deployable with an all-Fleet Air Arm wing of them until 2023, using loaned USMC squadrons until then.
The huge new RN carrier and pending flag, HMS Queen Elizabeth, prepares to sail from Rosyth dockyard for the first time to begin sea trials after seven years of construction. The 65,000-ton carrier is the largest warship ever constructed for the Royal Navy.
Meanwhile, the Ford-class supercarrier PCU John F. Kennedy (CVN 79) has reached 50 percent structural completion this week with her 70-foot long lower stern lifted into place at Newport News Shipbuilding using the company’s 1,050-metric ton gantry crane. The carrier is on track to be completed with 445 sectional lifts, 51 fewer than Ford and 149 less than USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), the last Nimitz-class carrier.
A joint US Navy/Marine Corps “Proof of Concept” demonstration held off the coast of Southern California Nov. 18-20 put the largest force of F-35B Lightning II stealth STOVL strike fighters ever assembled at sea together by placing a full dozen planes from the “Wake Island Avengers” of VMFA-211, fleshed out by VX-23 and VMX-1 from Patuxent; along with a few MV-22B, AH-1Z and UH-1Ys aboard the USS America (LHA-6).
The F-35B Lightning II third developmental test phase (DT-III) evaluated the full spectrum of joint strike fighter measures of suitability and effectiveness in an at-sea environment.
In preparation of DT-III load testing, America‘s Weapons Department assembled two types of smart bombs. The team assembled 72 laser-guided Guide Bomb Units (GBU) 12 and 40 satellite-guided GBU-32s for the first time in the ship’s short history.
America, the ultimate evolution of the 1970s Tarawa-class LHAs and 1980s LHD designs, looks a lot like an Essex-class fleet carrier from WWII. In fact, they are the same rough size (45,000-tons/844-feet for LHA vs. 36,380-tons/872-feet for CV) though the old school flattops were much faster, carried an immense array of topside armament, and could squeeze 100~ piston engine planes on their deck.
However, a dozen or so F-35Bs with 5th Generation carrier-strike capabilities, when the bugs are worked out, should prove much more capable than a few squadrons of Corsairs or Hellcats.
Also, there is always the prospect of adding a second squadron aboard, giving an LHA a full 24 aircraft, which isn’t too far-fetched, after all, it should be remembered that 20 AV-8Bs of VMA-331 operated from USS Nassau (LHA-4) in support of Operation Desert Storm, flying 240 combat sorties and dropping 900 bombs. Sure, the F-35 is heavier than the Harrier, but LHA-6 is optimized for aviation operations, whereas Nassau was not.
Such an ersatz carrier group, augmented by a few DDG/CG assets to screen it, could fill several expeditionary contingencies short of all-out war. For instance, recent limited air operations off Libya, non-combatant evacuation operations offshore of a country with a deteriorating security situation, keeping sea lanes open against an asymmetric threat, or enforcing a naval quarantine.
Besides the meaning for U.S. carrier forces, being able to add some LHAs as mini-flattops in a pinch, this month’s trials with a dozen F-35s at sea shows the Brits what they have to look forward to. Though the beautiful 70,000-ton HMS Queen Elizabeth is to commission next year, the RN Fleet Air Arm has no real fixed wing assets to put aboard her at this time.
Queen Elizabeth is capable of carrying up to 36 F-35s in her hangars, and while the current plan is for the carriers to deploy with an air wing of just 12 jets, this may take a while to pull off. The Brits, who intend to ultimately have as many as 138 joint RAF/RN F-35s, will only have their first operational squadron in late 2018 and just 24 operational frames in inventory in 2023. Indeed, USMC F-35Bs are expected to deploy on QE until the UK gets theirs fully fleshed out.
And the gentlemen from the UK were on-hand on America this week.
“As we all know, we can’t choose the battle and the location of the battle, so sometimes we have to go into rough seas with heavy swells, heave, roll, pitch, and crosswinds,” said Royal air force (RAF) Squadron Leader Andy Edgell, an F-35 test pilot embedded at the Pax River ITF. “The last couple of days we went and purposely found those nasty conditions and put the jets through those places, and the jet handled fantastically well. So now the external weapons testing should be able to give the fleet a clearance to carry weapons with the rough seas and rough conditions. We know the jet can handle it. A fleet clearance will come — then they can go forth and conduct battle in whatever environment.”
In the meantime, in 2017, an up-gunned Expeditionary Strike Group consisting of a three-DDG strong surface action group and a more traditional three-ship Amphibious Ready Group centered around USS Wasp (LHD-1) with an LPD and LSD in tow, will deploy with a squadron of Marine F-35Bs.
Welcome to the new Navy.