The story reads like a press release from the Admiralty and the Air Staff, maybe because it is. The signatories are the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir George Zambellas, and the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford. But the op-ed in Britain’s daily Telegraph also gives some feeds and speeds of the freshly-christened HMS Queen Elizabeth, the largest and most capable aircraft carrier to ever fly the White Ensign of the Royal Navy.
At 65,000 tonnes, HMS Queen Elizabeth will pack a heavyweight military punch.
In the years ahead, she will be equipped with the Lightning II. Placing the UK at the forefront of fighter jet technology, Lightning II will provide a true multi-role aircraft that will surpass the majority of weapons systems in production today, or envisaged in the foreseeable future.
A fifth generation, survivable, low observable, multi-role aircraft, Lightning II will be able to undertake a wide range of mission types from both Land and Sea. In addition to the Carrier Strike role, the new aircraft carrier also has a deck big enough to airlift one thousand Royal Marine commandos or soldiers ashore by helicopter.
The naming of the ship is one thing; her building is still far from complete, and then she must be armed, manned, and equipped. She is two to four years from being an effective unit in the Royal Navy, depending on how things go with the inevitable budget cuts.
The Lightning II is the jet we know in the States as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The RAF/RN version will be V/STOL capable, using technology roughly similar to that in the now-retired Harrier and Sea Harrier aircraft that were the technological marvels of the Falklands War over 30 years ago. (The USMC still operates Harriers, as do some other navies, but the British ). A mock-up of the aircraft was present at the christening.
As well as military flexibility, HMS Queen Elizabeth and her embarked forces provide political and diplomatic choice, from a piece of independent, sovereign territory.
In disaster relief operations, she can be placed close in, to offer help in rebuilding shattered lives.
In times of crisis and tension, she can offer a visible coercive presence or position out of sight, a flexible means of escalating and de-escalating as the national or international will dictates.
And, able to roam across the international waters, she will offer a mobile sovereign air base.
HMS Queen Elizabeth will be the centre-piece of Defence’s Joint approach to warfare.
The air group which will operate from her 4-acre deck will be manned by both Royal Navy and Royal Air Force pilots. But her air missions will not be confined to fast jet carrier strike.
The embarkation of Army Apache attack helicopters in HMS Ocean for operations in Libya in 2011 already provides a blueprint for other types of inter-Service cooperation in the years ahead.
HMS Queen Elizabeth will not only host UK assets; we will work with our key allies to maximize our future capability.
The US long ago worked out joint maritime helo ops, initially in special operations, but increasingly across all services’ aviation arms. The British used V/STOL fighter-bombers and seagoing helicopters imaginatively and effectively in the Falklands, and they could get up to some quite interesting things with a powerful ship like this.
Indeed, HMS Queen Elizabeth will not only be the centre-piece of the nation’s maritime armada (named ‘the Response Force Task Group’), but the beating heart of the United Kingdom’s Joint Expeditionary Force.
And with her lifespan of 50 years she will enjoy a lengthy reign at the head of the nation’s future joint expeditionary capability.
During this long, value for money, working life she will be a platform for innovative technologies, both manned and unmanned. And, from a nation known for its inventiveness, this will include technology not yet imagined – after all, her last Commanding Officer has yet to be born!
HMS Queen Elizabeth is also serving as a turbocharger for deeper international partnership and coalition building.
Already Royal Navy and Royal Air Force personnel are being trained in ‘carrier skills’ in the United States. Our personnel are also serving within the French Carrier Strike Group.
These international exchanges — select American and French officers also serve exchange tours with allied air arms — serve the dual purpose of lubricating alliances with bonds of friendship forged on operations, and disseminating operational developments alliance-wide.
Of course, no British ship goes to sea without British traditions. In the case of HMS QE, this plaque shows that joint operations are built into her in the very shipyard:
As part of the arrangements with the US, the first UK Lightning squadron will form up in the United States in 2016, prior to returning to the UK in 2018.
Not only is this generosity of partnership enabling the UK to regenerate its carrier strike capability, it is also laying strong foundations with our key strategic partners as we look to share responsibilities in the years which lie ahead.
The ship is the latest in a line of illustrious British capital ships to bear this name. The second carrier in the class, well under construction, also will bear a historic name: HMS Prince of Wales. The most famous prior Prince of Wales, of course, was the ill-fated King George V class battleship which survived a gunfight with DKM Bismarck (unlike her squadronmate, the weakly-armored battlecruiser Hood) only to be sunk in
October December 1941 (Ugh. Embarrasing — Ed.) by Japanese land-based torpedo bombers.
The Telegraph also has a more technical description of the ship, likely to be of interest to us, linked in that article. Another excellent source of information on the ship is the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, an industry group of her builders.
While the ship is the first carrier of this size ever built by Britain (she is first of a class of two, and is approximately two to three years from commissioning and service), the USA has been building carriers this size or larger since the late 1940s, and the Russian Admiral Kuznetsov and former Russian carrier Liaoning (China, former Russian Varyag and Soviet Riga) are in this class.
Of course, not all the media is, shall we say, on board with HMS QE. The BBC irritated retired sailors and officers by referring to the HMS Queen Elizabeth as a “boat.” Well, that’s what you get with layers and layers of editors, one supposes.