Tag Archives: HMSQE-class

A Look at the Biggest Royal Navy Deployment in at least 10 Years

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.

Marine Wake Island Avenger F-35B BuNo 169610 of the British Carrier Strike Group, with HMS Queen Elizabeth markings

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flattop, the Harrier carrier HMS Illustrious (R06), in early 2014 and the final British GR9/A Harriers themselves were withdrawn in 2010 with the disbanding of the Naval Strike Wing.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. 

Physical size comparison between HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), of today, and the old HMS Ark Royal R09, on the right

Continuity in ships’ tradition, across both sides of the Atlantic

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.

Aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Queen Elizabeth at Portsmouth this week

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.

That’s a lot of British flattop

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.

Boom, 130,000 tons of Royal Navy carriers. 

HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) is expected to deploy in 2021ish while HMS Prince of Wales (R09) is to follow in 2023

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 British fleet carriers HMS Indomitable (R92), HMS Indefatigable (R10), HMS Unicorn (I72), HMS Illustrious (R87), HMS Victorious (R38) and HMS Formidable (R67) at anchor, with other shipping, 1945. IWM MH 5309

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.

Photo via Chris Canvas

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?