The Queen Elizabeth carrier task force is set to leave on its first operational deployment on Sunday, May 2nd.
HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) has spent the past 40 months in a series of workups, trials, and visits to the yard to correct issues and is ready to head out on an Indo-Pacific cruise on what has been termed “the UK’s largest deployment of sea and air power for a generation.”
Besides the 65,000-ton carrier, the task force will be protected by six escorts to include a Dutch frigate and the Burke-class destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG-68) as well as an Astute-class SSN and two auxiliaries. Although she could theoretically carry as many as 40 aircraft, Queen Elizabeth will be carrying 18 F-35Bs (10 of which are from the USMC’s VMFA-211 “Wake Island Avengers” with the balance from the joint RN FAA/RAF-manned 617 Squadron), and, counting those of her escorts, 14 helicopters. Of note, this is the largest F-35 deployment for the type as a whole so far.
The Joint British force stacks up nicely compared to a traditional American CSG, although with much fewer aircraft and more escorts.
However, it is impressive for the RN in the respect that the country retired their last flattop, the Harrier carrier HMS Illustrious (R06), in early 2014 and the final British GR9/A Harriers themselves were withdrawn in 2010 with the disbanding of the Naval Strike Wing. Even so, the Invincible-class “carriers” were actually designed in the 1970s as something of a through-deck destroyer with limited aviation capacity and rarely deployed with more than eight Harriers (with a few notable exceptions such as the Falklands.)
With that, Queen Elizabeth is really replacing the capability lost to the Admiralty when the 53,000-ton Audacious-class carrier HMS Ark Royal (R09) flew off the last of her 892 NAS McDonnell Douglas Phantom FG.1s in November 1978. For those wondering, Ark’s “warload” was two squadrons of Phantoms and one of Buccaneers at the time, which would put her with 36~ combat aircraft.