RN CVF Concept
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Britain’s 1998 Strategic Defence Review (SDR) announced a big leap forward for the Royal Navy: plans to replace the current set of 3 Invincible Class 22,000t escort carriers with 2 larger, more capable Future Aircraft Carrier (CVF) ships that could operate a more powerful force. These new carriers would be joint-service platforms, operating F-35B aircraft, plus helicopters and UAVs from all 3 services. Roles could include ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance), force projection and logistics support, close air support, anti-submarine/ anti-surface naval warfare, and land attack.

The scale of the CVF effort relative to Britain’s past experiences means that the program structure is rather complex. It has passed through several stages already, and is being run and conducted within an industrial alliance framework. There is also a parallel international framework, involving cooperation with France on its PA2 carrier as a derivative of the CVF design. This DID FOCUS article covers that structure and framework, ongoing developments, and the ships themselves as they move slowly through construction, and eventual fielding.

Salve, Regina: The Queen Elizabeth Class

CVF, De Gaulle, Invincible
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The winning ACA “Design Delta” was fitted with a ski-jump to operate short take off and vertical landing aircraft like the F-35B STOVL Joint Strike Fighter. The design is being touted as able to accommodate catapults and arrester gear to fly conventional carrier aircraft, but by 2012 it became clear that the cost would be nearly GBP 2 billion for just 1 carrier conversion. The ski jumps were retained.

Once the new ships of the Queen Elizabeth Class are complete, Britain will possess a full-size carrier for the first time in several decades. These CVFs are slightly larger than the USA’s 50,000t America Class escort carriers, and France’s 43,000 tonne nuclear CVN Charles de Gaulle Class, and 3 times larger than the UK’s previous 22,000 tonne CVS Invincible Class. The CVF designs may not compare to the USA’s 90-100,000 tonne Nimitz Class and CVN-21 Class supercarriers, but fielding them will restore options and capabilities that the Royal Navy hasn’t had in decades.

BAE Concept – lost
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When fielded, the CVF design will be the largest ships in the world to use electric rather than mechanical propulsion drives. In addition to serving combat ships’ ever-hungrier electrical needs, and providing efficiency benefits, this all-electric approach improves survivability by decoupling placement of the turbines and generators from the propellers’ mechanical drive.

There is some irony in this choice of gas propulsion over nuclear power. The last ship named HMS Queen Elizabeth was one of the triggers for the British government’s 1914 acquisition of a controlling interest in the Anglo-Persian Oil Co. That interest, in turn, served a a key catalyst to develop the Middle East’s oil and gas reserves.

Thales Concept, 2003
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True to the Royal Navy’s recent history, the new carriers will be launched with vestigial self-defense capabilities, and upgraded later. BAE’s Artisan 3D radar will provide short to medium-range 3-D air surveillance out to 200 km, surface gun fire support tracking, air traffic control, and secondary navigation/surface surveillance. Its sensitivity reportedly extends to Mach 3 objects with tennis-balls size radar cross-sections. Thales’ S1850M D-band radar, which also equips Britain’s Type 45 anti-air destroyers and Franco-Italian Horizon Class anti-air frigates, will provide long-range air surveillance and volume search.

The Future Air Wing [NEW]

F-35B Lightning II
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The new carriers will have 2 core components in the air wing, and 2 important ancillaries.

F-35B fighters. The class will embark 12 – 36 of the new F-35B Lightning II Short Take Off, Vertical Landing fighters, depending on the fleet’s given mission. A full fighter complement would be 36, plus 4 AEW helicopters.

The F-35B STOVL was re-instated after a short-lived switch to the F-35C carrier variant in 2010 – 2012, sacrificing range, maneuvering limits, and internal payload. In exchange, the supersonic jets will be able to take off without catapults, and land without arresting wires. Britain’s F-35Bs will differ slightly from the USMC’s, with extra software to allow low-speed Ship-borne Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL) if a loaded plane is trying to land on a hot day. Those conditions sap lift, and the plane is too close to its weight limits to return with stores and significant fuel in a straight vertical drop. Britain’s carriers will also have corresponding modifications for those contingencies, including markings on their decks, and lighting set up to guide the pilots whether they land vertically or using SRVL.

Initial F-35B Block 3 load-outs will be limited, involving 2 AIM-132 ASRAAM or AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, and 2 Paveway-IV laser/GPS guided 500 pound bombs. British additions will eventually include up to 6 of MBDA’s Spear 3s, an adaptation of the Brimstone light strike missile with a 75 km strike range. The Minstry told a Parliamentary committee on May 20/13 that they also expected to deploy the long-range MBDA Meteor air-to-air missile from inside the F-35B’s weapon bay, but that weapon doesn’t have a scheduled integration date yet. Given current F-35 program schedules out to Block 4, the RAF is unlikely to see Meteor in F-35s before the mid 2020s.

The ships were also slated to operate some Harrier GR9 V/STOL (Vertical or Short Take-Off and Landing) fighters from their decks until about 2018, due to the F-35B’s expected lateness. Instead, the 2010 SDSR retired the British Harrier force almost immediately, while delaying the new carriers’ in-service date.

Mk.7 ASaC
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AW101 AEW Helicopters. These AW101 Merlin Mk2 derivatives will scan the air to provide wide-area surveillance against enemy aircraft and missiles, and are critical to the carrier group’s survivability in medium high-threat situations. A carrier will typically embark 4 machines from the 8-machine fleet, leaving the rest for training and maintenance rotations. Existing British machines will be used, essentially removing them from their current roles; specifications do call for a 24 hour role change, but their Sea King predecessors have proven so valuable in naval and overland roles that reversion is unlikely. Costs are expected to range between GBP 230 – 500 million for system integration and manufacture.

The “Crowsnest” program will replace the Royal Navy’s 13 Sea King Mk7 ASaC helicopters, which will all retire by 2016, leaving a gap of about 6-7 years before coverage is restored. Crowsnest’s Assessment Phase 3 is in 2014, with a planned main gate approval in 2017. By 2020, the Royal Navy expects to have modified 4 helicopters, with radar trials beginning and 2 helicopters available for emergency deployment. Full Operational Capability and carrier deplopyment isn’t expected until late 2022 or 2023.

Lockheed Martin and Thales will compete as Mission System providers, but there are 4 radar types under consideration. One is the same Thales Searchwater 2000 radar as the Sea King, mounted on a rail system with the same inflatable Kevlar dome. The 2nd is Northrop Grumman’s Vigilance pod, carrying a modified version of the F-35′s APG-81. Option #3 will be from IAI Elta, whose Phalcon AEW system is in service on a number of platforms. Option #4 will come from Finmeccanica’s Selex ES. Italian carriers also use an AW101 AEW helicopter, with a Selex Heliborne Early Warning 748 surveillance radar mounted in an enlarged under-fuselage radome.

Apache, ahoy!
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Other Helicopters. Beyond the F-35Bs and AEW helicopters, the Queen Elizabeth Class will be able to deploy regular helicopters as required for missions, by trading embarked F-35Bs for helicopter space. Normal mission load outs are expected to include around 6 AW101 Merlin helicopters, which will handle transport and/or anti-submarine roles. They will actually be the 1st aircraft qualified on the new carriers.

Beyond the Merlins, Britain has already operated a number of different helicopter types from its previous carriers, including WAH-64D/ AH Mk.1 Apache attack helicopters which were used over Libya. The Royal Navy also cites Britain’s huge twin-rotor Chinook helicopters as an option, and AW159 Wildcats will be serving with the Army and Navy by the time the carrier is in service. The ship’s loadout could easily add a range of types.

UAVs. Britain doesn’t currently have a requirement for carrier-launched UAVs, but the requirement can be expected to arise early in the carriers’ service, and a 2013 speech by the First Sea Lord explicitly raised this possibility. If and when Britain moves in this direction, the USA’s ongoing experiments integrating advanced UAVs like the X-47B into their carrier operations will be helpful. The difference is that Britain won’t be able to use UCAVs that depend on catapults and arrester wires for launch and recovery.

The CVF Carrier Program

HMS Ark Royal
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The original design competition for the CVF was won by Thales Group UK in January 2003, with delivery intended for 2014 and 2016. By the time the 2010 SDSR was published, however, it became clear that this renewed and improved carrier capability would only be delivered around 2021. The SDSR also planned to mothball the Queen Elizabeth immediately, while converting Prince of Wales for catapults and arresting gear.

The Navy still plans to mothball 1 carrier, but the 2 ships will remain identical, foregoing “cats and traps” after studies showed that the single-ship conversion cost would be close to GBP 2 billion. A decision on whether to activate both ships, or to retain the 2nd ship in ready reserve unless the 1st is out of service, will be made in the 2015 SDSR.

Initial Operational Capability (IOC) for Britain’s new aircraft carrier is now expected in 2020. That capability includes the ship built and tested, with F-35B fighters qualified, AW101 Merlin Mk.2 helicopters qualified, and an emergency AW101 AEW capability of 2 untested helicopters. Further delays to the ship or to the F-35B could push that IOC date back.

Full Operational Capability, with a fully-functional AEW contingent, and all aspects of the ship ready for deployment to high-threat areas, isn’t expected until 2022.

Meanwhile, events since 2011 have left Britain with no fixed-wing aircraft carrier capability. HMS Ark Royal was decommissioned early in March 2011, and then scrapped. The Fleet Air Arm’s Harrier IIs were retired early, and then sold to the USMC in November 2011. Only HMS Illustrious remains. She will serve in the role of helicopter carrier until 2014, whereupon the flat-deck helicopter carrier HMS Ocean is scheduled to re-emerge from maintenance, and Britain’s last carrier is scheduled to retire.

Program Team: The Aircraft Carrier Alliance

Assembly required
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The original design competition for the CVF was won by Thales Group UK in January 2003, but Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon announced that BAE Systems would operate as prime contractor. These two companies formed the “Aircraft Carrier Alliance” (ACA), along with the UK Ministry of Defence. Formal agreement of the alliance principles took until Spring 2004. Thales UK will be responsible for system design of the platform, power and propulsion; they will also lead the team responsible for ensuring the ship’s readiness to operate aircraft.

In February 2005 Halliburton subsidiary KBR UK Ltd was selected as the “physical integrator” to manage the overall project. Britain’s ACA membership expanded again in December 2005 to include naval architects FBM Babcock Marine, and shipbuilders and ship support specialists VT Group, plc (since bought by BAE), even as the ACA’s “Delta” design was formally announced as the baseline by the Ministry of Defence.

That’s the British corporate alliance. At the same time, a Power and Propulsion Sub-Alliance has been put in place, to handle all elements of the ship’s generating, electrical, and mechanical propulsion and stabilization systems. It comprises Thales UK (ACA representative), plus Rolls Royce (MT30 engines), GE (was Converteam: induction motors) and L3 Communications.

International Team: Et Vous, France?

PA2 Concept
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On the international level, there’s a co-operation agreement in place with France, whereby France’s larger PA2 carrier would have been based on the CVF design, to be executed by DCN-Thales. The two countries made a number of compromises in the final CVF base design, as well as some modifications to France’s larger 74,000t design. Under the agreement, France agreed to pay one third of the demonstration phase costs of the common base line design, in addition to staged payments of GBP 100 million in recognition of the investment the UK has already made.

In the end, France decided that it couldn’t afford to build and equip a new carrier, and PA2 was terminated in 2012. That shift may have played a role in Britain’s 2012 decision to have 2 identical British carriers available for use, ensuring 100% carrier availability rather than 65%.

On To Production

How it’s built
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Design work on the Queen Elizabeth Class is centered in Bristol, England and in 2 new design offices in Portsmouth, England and Glasgow, Scotland. As of August 2010, 6 shipyards across the UK were involved: Govan and Rosyth in Scotland, Portsmouth and Devonport in the south, and Newcastle and Birkenhead in the north.

Construction of British CVF carriers will be carried out in sections, and then the sections will be fitted together. Construction and assembly of the ships in yards owned by members of the new expanded Alliance, though BAE’s November 2009 buyout of its partner VT group has shifted ownership of several yards along the way. Present arrangements include:

Early CVF Workshare
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Final Assembly: BAE Shipbuilding’s Rosyth facility in Scotland, where the’ve invested in a new “Goliath” crane with 1,000t lift capacity.

Lower Block 1 (bow): Babcock’s Appledore and Rosyth facilities. Under a revised build strategy agreed in 2006, Babcock Appledore on Britain’s SW coast was given LB01, and also CB05/6.

Lower block 2: BAES Portsmouth facility.

Lower blocks 3 and 4 (stern): BAES Govan, on the Clyde near Glasgow. Block 3 used to be slated for the BAES Barrow facility, but submarine work was keeping that facility too busy. Barrow will continue to provide engineering support, as needed.

Lower Block 5 (stern): BAES Portsmouth.

Center Blocks: Cammell Laird is building CB02 and CB04. CB03 is being built by A&P Tyne. Babcock Marine in Appledore is building CB05 and CB 06.

Sponsons (the overhanging upper hull structure): Babcock Marine in Appledore. Babcock is also conducting CAD-based modelling, design and development work.

The 2 superstructure Islands: BAES Portsmouth now builds the rear island UB14, and BAES Govan was made responsible for UB07.

It was expected that substantial elements of the ship structure would be competed, and sub-contracting competition within the ‘superstructure blocks’ would be maximized. The above distribution is based on changes reflected in April 2012 ACA data, which is shown below along with installation schedules, key locations, and shipping routes:

CVF Workshare and Geography, 2012

See full-size graphic, 771k.

The CVF Program: Contracts and Key Events


CVF “adaptability” was a GBP 100M mirage.

CVF cutaway
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Sept 10/13: Innovation. First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas delivers a speech to industry at Britain’s DESi 2013 exhibition. The CVF program features prominently, both as a window into the Navy’s view of the program, and his challenges re: next steps. Some excerpts – see Additional Readings for the full speech link:

“And – last but certainly by no means least – we await expectantly the rebirth of the United Kingdom’s carrier capability. We look forward to the launch event for HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH next summer, which will be a real moment of national awakening. Why? Because she will be the first of two ‘big deck’ aircraft carriers capable of delivering a full spectrum of diplomatic, political and military options. Instruments of national power – symbols of national authority on the world stage – national icons. The Navy ‘back in business’.

Apache helicopters operate successfully from HMS Ocean off the Libyan coast back in 2011. An obvious blueprint for the future. Aboard Queen Elizabeth, they will be tiny. Unless, of course, a couple of squadrons embark. And why not? I challenge the Army to think that way. And these platforms are universal adaptors. Because our international partners can plug in as well. An obvious example would be the US Marine Corps operating their Joint Strike Fighters off our new carriers…. In July we saw pictures in the press of the first unmanned aircraft landing on a US aircraft carrier, USS George HW Bush, off the coast of Virginia. I am sometimes asked whether the absence of cats and traps precludes such options for us? I really think not, and I challenge industry to find ways to offer the Royal Navy better options from the Queen Elizabeth Class in the near future.”

Sept 10/13: Sensors. BAE’s Artisan 3D radar has begun integration trials at BAE’s old Somerton Aerodrome facility. Those trials involve providing tracks and radar video to initial versions of the QEC combat management system, while working with the QEC IFF system.

The Type 997 Artisan 3D radar will equip the new Queen Elizabeth Class carriers, as well as retrofitted Type 23 Duke Class frigates and the new Type 26 frigates. On the carriers, it will be used for air surveillance, target identification, and even air traffic control. Detection range is reportedly up to 200 km, and it’s designed to track more than 900 targets at once. Sensitivity is reportedly in the range of tennis-ball sized objects traveling at up to Mach 3, which sounds odd until you remember than stealthy missiles may have a radar cross section that in that range. Source: BAE Systems release, Sept 10/13.

Sept 3/13: PAC Report. The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee takes another look at the Carrier Strike program, including the AW101 Crowsnet AEW helicopter program. The core problem in the committee is that the members have now heard the Ministry say, several times, that they had a handle on things given their best information. Which then turned out not to be true. Their findings and recommendations mostly revolve around wanting correct information, and credible time and cost baselines. The tone can be inferred from these excerpts:

“The Department has a history of making poor decisions, based on inadequate information…. Carrier Strike remains a high risk programme…. Despite assurances from the Department, we are not convinced…. significant technical issues, costs and delivery dates for the aircraft are not resolved. There are also significant cost risks associated with in-service contracts for maintenance which have yet to be resolved…. We are also concerned that, according to current plans, the early warning radar system essential for protecting the carrier will not be available for operation until 2022, two years after the first carrier and aircraft are delivered and initially operated. And the MOD does not yet have the funding to replace the shipping needed to support the new carrier.

….Although the Department employs some 400 people on this programme, it may not have the right procurement skills to manage the risks in delivering Carrier Strike effectively…. We are concerned that the Department’s staff are wasting their time with bureaucracy and duplicated effort in having to make detailed checks on the operations of contractors, raising a question as to the quality of the contracting process.”

Sources: House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, “Carrier Strike: the 2012 reversion decision (HTML)”

July 24/13: AW101. The Royal Navy confirms 2 interesting things about its new carriers: the 1st qualified aircraft aboard, and the Merlin helicopter’s role beyond AEW. From “Royal Navy captures preview Of HMS Queen Elizabeth’s future role”:

“The two giant aircraft carriers will operate multiple aircraft, but the Merlin will be the first to be cleared for operational use, ahead of the F35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter…. Merlin helicopters will operate in the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) and Airborne Early Warning (AEW) roles, as well as providing force protection and conducting other roles, including evacuating medical emergencies and the all-important collection of mail.”

May 20/13: Hearings. The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee holds hearings related to carrier strike programs. Key witnesses include UK MoD Permanent Secretary Jon Thompson, Chief of Defence Materiel Bernard Gray, and Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff Air Marshal Stephen Hillier, who is now overseeing the F-35 program. Key factual points inlcude:

Contractors will still make a profit on carrier construction until costs hit GBP 7.74 billion – GBP 2.5 billion over the GBP 5.24 billion target cost. (That target is, in itself, significantly higher than the original GBP 3.x billion). The UK MoD is trying to renegotiate the contract to create more shared contractor risk, as an incentive to find savings. The contractors are less enthused.

All parties agree that the GBP 500 – 800 million estimate for catapult/arrester carrier conversion was poor work, with key items like inflation, VAT tax (which applies to Foreign Military Sales from the USA), and other basic figures left out.

They’re still trying to get a handle on the extra costs of their vacillation between the F-35C and F-35B; current estimates are down to GBP 74 million, but they won’t know until 2014.

A modification to MBDA’s Meteor long-range air-to-air missile will allow it to fit in the F-35′s weapons bay.

SRVL rolling F-35B landings will require unique deck markings, added F-35 aircraft software, and lighting on board ship.

The Royal Navy will still mothball its 2nd carrier, with reconsideration planned for the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review.

There are 399 MoD staff working on Carrier Strike, including the CVF, F-35, and Crowsnest programs: 250 are Military, 118 Civil Service and 31 Contractors.

Sources: House of Commons, “Oral Evidence Taken before the Committee of Public Accounts on Monday 20 May 2013.”

Feb 6/13: CV01. About 70 weeks after steel was first cut in Portsmouth, Queen Elizabeth’s 680t Forward Island and bridge set sail on a barge from the dock hall on HM Naval Base Portsmouth, all painted by specialists from Pyeroy, and ready for final assembly in Rosyth. BAE Systems.

Feb 5/13: Not Adaptable. The House of Commons Defence Committee says that Britain’s shift from the F-35B STOVL to the F-35C and back cost the country GBP 100 million. Most of that money was spent on budgets related to Britain’s new carriers, and the committee faults the government for rushed work on the October 2010 SDSR.

That is quite a lot of money to waste, and it’s true that after the Conservative/ Lib-Dem coalition took power, there was a strong push to get the SDSR out the door in a short period of time. These kinds of decisions are very complex, and the committee faults the Ministry for going along with this recommendation, without really understanding the changes involved.

The Ministry’s defense is that their CVF/ Queen Elizabeth Class carriers had been touted as “future proof”, able to include catapults if that became necessary during the ships’ lifetimes. That proposition was put to the test early, thanks to the F-35C switch. The Ministry’s retrospective conclusion is blunt, and discomfiting on its own terms:

“I think the fundamental misunderstanding that many of us had was that these carriers would be relatively easy to convert and had been designed for conversion and for adaptability. That is what we were told. It was not true. They were not. They were physically big enough to accommodate conversion, but it came at a higher price than was apparent at the time when the decision was taken… It is not my belief that they were genuinely designed for conversion, or that the contract allowed them to be designed for conversion.”

One wonders, then, why they were touted that way. UK Commons Defence Committee Acquisitions Report | Flight International.

Britain’s F-35 switching costs

Jan 25/13: Engines. Rolls-Royce announces that they’ve installed the 1st of 2 MT30 gas turbines into Queen Elizabeth.

The MT30s are derived from the Trent 800 that powers 777 planes. They’re installed as part of a Gas Turbine Alternator (GTA) which also includes an alternator and gas turbine enclosure, weighing 120t in total. Each turbine produces 36 MW/ 50,000 hp, and together they produce 66% of the carrier’s 109 MW maximum power. Diesels will produce the rest.


GBP 1.8b for refit? No, thanks – back to F-35B; Flight deck redesign will also go for naught; Field both ships now?; AEW gap at initial fielding.

CVF sense of scale
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Dec 28/12: CVF01. Queen Elizabeth’s 30,000t forward section is skidded 17m backwards, to join up with the 11,000t hull section LB04. The bow section had already been lifted onto the ship Dec 13/12, and blocks CB04a/b were lifted Dec 17/12. At this point, most of the ship’s hull is in place. ACA Flickr | ACA Blog.

Oct 23/12: Infrastructure RFP. The Royal Navy is inviting bidders to pre-qualifty for a GBP 60 million contract to add berthing spaces for the Queen Elizabeth Class. The project will include includes dredging the existing channel to make it deeper and wider, and adding a new electrical substation located near the refurbished jetty and docking space. Construction Enquirer.

Oct 16/12: CVF01. The 11,000-tonne Lower Block 04 (LB04) is rolled out of BAE’s Govan facility. It houses 2 main engine rooms, a hospital complex, a dentist, the galley, and accommodations including 242 berths. It was loaded onto a huge sea-going barge for its 5-day, 600-mile journey to Rosyth, where the carrier sections will be assembled.

LB04 is the carrier’s largest single piece, and Prime Minister Cameron takes the opportunity to show up for an “inspection” photo op. BAE | BBC | UK MoD.

Oct 2/12: Crewing. The first 8 sailors join Queen Elizabeth in Rosyth, led by Captain Simon Petitt. Royal Navy.

Sept 19/12: PDC Report. The Parliamentary Defence Committee publishes its report on Maritime Surveillance, which parenthetically includes Airborne Early Warning for the fleet.

Right now, Sea King Mk7 ASaC helicopters perform this role, but they will be taken out of service in 2016. The problem is that the Crowsnest project to field their replacement is in limbo while the Ministry tries to reconcile its future budget plans, and may not field anything before 2020 given plans for a “lengthy” project assessment phase. We aren’t quite sure why this requirement needs a lot of assessment time, but any delays beyond 2020 would put carrier fielding at risk. Meanwhile, there would be no successor to the Mk7s for use on overland or littoral surveillance missions. UK Parliament | Defense News.

Initial AEW gap looms

July 4/12: CVF 01. Assembly Cycle B has now officially begun, as massive Super Block 03 (SB03) has been moved 90 metres north to meet Lower Block 02 (LB02), which measures “only” 60m x 38m x 21m.

Assembly Cycle A saw the assembly of Super Block 03, comprising the mid-hull section (LB03) and 4 sections making up Centre Block 03 (CB03), plus associated sponsons. This finished in May 2012, and outfitting of the 9 major upper blocks integrated with LB03, including cabling, mechanical pipe systems, ventilation, and fittings and equipment, is scheduled to complete later in 2012.

During Assembly Cycle B, Babcock will integrate LB02 with Lower Block 01 (the forward sections from the keel up to the flight deck, including the bulbous bow), previously built by Babcock at its Appledore shipyard in Devon, and Super Block 03 (SB03) already assembled in the dock. Assembly Cycle B will continue until spring 2013.

Assembly Cycle C will then see assembly of the remaining blocks, including the stern sections and island structures, with the hull fully assembled by 2014. Babcock.

June 6/12: Back to 2? Portsmouth’s The News reports that the government is considering keeping both carriers in service, now that they’re the same configuration again.

” ‘Planning assumptions are that both carriers will now enter service,’ a defence source told The News… to be confirmed in the next defence review in 2015, is being welcomed by the navy as it will offer the UK a continuous, year-round carrier capability. It could also secure hundreds of jobs at BAE Systems in Portsmouth due to double the repair and maintenance work.”

May 24/12: Melting decks. After the Daily Mirror brings up the issue of F-35B exhaust and how it affects carrier decks, the UK MoD responds by saying that the extra cost of paint was seen as manageable, in comparison to full carrier modifications. It’s actually about more than just paint, as the deck coatings make a difference to carrier operations if they’re melted off.

The USA is developing a new deck coating to try and withstand the F-35B’s higher temperatures, compared to the Harrier’s less powerful 4-nozzle Pegasus engine. The MoD is at least correct that this change would be less expensive than an EMALS catapult fit, which carries technical risks of its own. Daily Mirror | UK MoD.

May 10/12: Back to F-35B. Britain’s government confirms long-standing rumors that it would abandon the F-35C and its associated catapult modifications to 1 carrier, returning to the ski-jump deck and F-35B STOVL variant. That will mean reversions and changes to the carriers’ evolved design and lighting, some of which were described in the Jan 25/12 entry. Aircraft are less affected. The UK had already ordered and paid for an F-35B test plane, before the switch to the F-35C. Those flights will now continue, and F-35B flight trials are scheduled to begin from a British carrier in 2018.

A DSTL report has explained some of the capabilities Britain would lose by abandoning the F-35C (vid. April 20/12 entry), but the government justifies their decision by saying that the F-35C’s improved capabilities would come at too steep a cost. Staying with the F-35C, they say, would delay Britain’s return to carrier capability from 2020 – 2023 or later, cost nearly GBP 2 billion to modify 1 of their 2 carriers, and leave the Royal Navy with no carrier capability if their converted ship needs maintenance. In contrast, the F-35B gives Britain the option of taking its 2nd CVF carrier out of strategic reserve, and using it during long refit or maintenance dockings for their primary ship.

The F-35C would also have offered compatibility with American and French nuclear-powered carriers, but the government sidestepped that by saying that the F-35B provides commonality with the US Marines and Italy. UK MoD.

Back to F-35B

April 20/12: F-35B vs. C. A UK DSTL document marked “Secret – UK eyes only” looks at the larger trade-offs between the F-35C and F-35B:

“The Daily Telegraph has seen a… document setting out secret contingency planning for future military operations… The highly-classified report shows that planners have grave doubts about the [F-35B's] capabilities… the MoD will have to spend an extra £2.4 billion buying 136 aircraft compared with 97 [F-35Cs]… The reduced range means the jump jet can spend less time over its target than the conventional jet. For a target 300 nautical miles away from the aircraft carrier, the jump-jet can spend only 20 minutes over its target before turning back, compared with 80 minutes for the conventional jet.”

That GBP 2.4 billion compares well to the GBP 1.8 – 2 billion cost to add an electromagnetic catapult to a CVF ship. Daily Telegraph | Defense Update.

March 12/12: Conversion – GBP 1.8 billion? The Telegraph reports that:

“Estimates for adapting HMS Prince of Wales so that it can be used by the Joint Strike Fighter are understood have risen from £500 million to £1.8 billion.”

That may be an unaffordable price, and force a shift back to F-35B jets. Fortunately for Britain, the F-35B has been taken off of its program probation already. Unfortunately for Britain, the sale of its recently-upgraded Harrier force to the USMC, at a bargain-basement price, for use as spares, will look especially bad if there’s a switch back to a STOBAR carrier design. The government’s response will likely be to cite Harrier operating & maintenance costs as too high to sustain.

March 1/12: Conversion. Labour Party shadow defense minister Jim Murphy sends a letter to British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, asking if the government is considering abandoning the F-35C decision made in the October 2010 SDSR, and reverting to the F-35B. The letter telegraphs the growing pressure created by cost estimates of the carrier refit, as well as the costs of the F-35, which is now expected to exceed the GBP 57 million (about $90 million) budgeted per plane.

The UK MoD reiterates its commitment to a carrier strike force, and says they’re reviewing all programs before the 2012-13 budget is announced, around Easter. The Guardian | The Telegraph | Defense News.

Feb 22/12: UK Rafales? French DGA head Lauren Collet-Billon tells a press conference that the extent of carrier cooperation with Britain will depend on Britain’s final plans and choices. With respect to fighter jets, Defense Aerospace quotes him saying that the F-35:

“…is an ambitious program, and like all ambitious programs it faces a number of challenges… If one day we have to lend Rafale Ms to the Royal Navy, why not? Personally, I’d find that very pleasing.”

January 2012: CVF 02. British Commander-in-Chief Fleet Admiral George Zambellas officially cuts the first chunk of steel for Prince of Wales Lower Block 02, at BAE System’s facility in Portsmouth. Overall production on HMS Prince of Wales began in Glasgow in May 2011, however, when steel was cut on Lower Block 03 at BAE’s Govan yard.

Prtsmouth is also building Queen Eizabeth’s Lower Block 02, Lower Block 05 stern section, and forward island. BAE Systems.

Jan 25/12: Deck & lighting redesign. BAE Systems’ simulator at Warton, UK is being used to refine landing procedures for the proposed F-35C, and is helping to redesign the flight deck’s array of lighting systems, deck markings, and arrester gear. BAE’s simulator has been programmed to use the F-35 and the CVF layout, but the pilots are US Navy F-18 pilots.

ACA’s Pete Symonds says that the flight deck is being redesigned, and the new design has reached “level 2 maturity.” It will use the American landing light system as its base, but must move other gear for a “land and stop” sequence instead of the F-35B’s “stop and land”. Meanwhile, the JCA Team’s Wing Commander Willy Hackett is focused on the GPS-aided JPALS landing system, combined with new symbology in the helmet-mounted display. UK MoD.


Parliamentary report; Babcock’s highly mechanized weapons handling system (HMWHS); ECDIS picked; QE Lower Block 03 moved; FS DeGaulle into maintenance.

Take me to the river…
(click to view full)

Nov 29/11: PAC report. Britain’s House of Commons Public Accounts Committee publishes its 56th report of Session 2010-12, “Providing the UK’s Carrier Strike Capability,” on the basis of evidence from the Ministry of Defence. The committee notes that costs have increased since inception from GBP 3.65 billion to receive 2 carriers in 2016 and 2018, flying F-35B STOVL fighters, with all-year availability of carrier assets. They now sit at over GBP 6 billion, for 1 operational carrier, flying heavier F-35C fighters, but with no carrier capability until 2020, and reduced availability. Some excerpts from the statement and report:

“The decision was taken on proper policy grounds, not on the basis that the UK was locked into contracts which would have cost more to break than to maintain… So far the Aircraft Carrier Alliance has delivered 98 per cent of the work originally planned and the project achieved 48 of the 53 target milestones in 2010-11 on time. In cost terms, the project is currently forecast by the Alliance to cost [GBP] 5.461 billion, [GBP] 219 million higher than the contracted Targeted Cost, with a planning trajectory to meet the Target Cost.[21]… The cost of up to [GBP] 1.2 billion for conversion of the operational carrier remains an estimate and the Department does not expect to have a better understanding of costs for 18 months… the Department is exposed to the price the US Navy will pay for their [EMALS] systems.[28] Furthermore whilst the USA is building a system with four catapults the UK requires a system with only two catapults… The conversion of the carriers to using catapults and arrestor gear will push back the in-service date by two years to 2020 and sortie rates will not reach the maximum full operating capability until 2031.[31] When the carrier is introduced it will be able to operate at sea for only 150 to 200 days a year, compared with the original plan to provide carrier capability for 435 days a year using two carriers.”

On the procurement end, the committee adds that:

“There is no one person responsible for delivering the Carrier Strike project below the Accounting Officer. The Senior Responsible Owner (SRO) has a co-ordinating role, rather than real budgetary and implementation authority. This Committee has consistently identified the Department’s weak SRO role as a systemic problem.”

The committee is chaired by opposition MP Lady Margaret Hodge [Lab. - Barking]. PAC release | Full PAC Report | Wales Online.

Nov 1/11: Fire. A piece of welding equipment catches fire in a compartment on Deck 8 of what seems to have been Lower Block 03, forcing about 40 firefighters to show up. Fife Constabulary said no-one was injured in the fire, which was traced to an extractor fan, and appears to have been just a minor incident. BBC | Daily Record | Dumferline Press | Fife Today | UKPA.

July 29/11: CVF 01. BAE Systems moves the 8,000t Lower Block 03 mid section of HMS Queen Elizabeth out the company’s shipbuilding hall at Govan. The block is then loaded onto 1 of the 2 biggest sea-going barges in the world in preparation for her 600 mile journey to Rosyth, where the aircraft carrier will be assembled. ACA.

July 18/11: DeGaulle gone. France withdraws FS Charles de Gaulle from Libyan operations, as the ship prepares for maintenance in the fall. Once it enters maintenance, neither Britain nor France will have an operational aircraft carrier. Despite pledges of cooperation in this area, in order to offset the absence of CVF carriers (vid. Nov 2/10), they may need to get used to this. the de Gaulle will be undergoing a full reactor refueling around 2015, that will remove her from service for well over a year. Reuters.

May 26/11: CVF 02. Ceremonial 1st steel cutting for Prince of Wales, the 2nd CVF carrier, at BAE’s Glasgow shipyard. UK MoD | ACA.

Prince of Wales begins.

April 28/11: GBP 7 billion? A BBC report states that:

“The firms building the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers say the cost has risen by at least £1bn and possibly almost £2bn, the BBC has learned. This could push the final cost of HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales to about £7bn – from the agreed £5.2bn.”

A corresponding blog post points out that even GBP 5.2 billion for the 2 ships is up from the GBP 3.9 billion budget announced when the contract was signed in July 2008, and says that the Ministry believes the project can be brought in for GBP 6 billion if just one carrier is modified with catapults. Other analysts, and the shipbuilders themselves, seem to be less sanguine. In response to the BBC report, the UK MoD would only say that:

“Final costs are yet to be agreed and detailed work is ongoing. We expect to take firm decisions in late 2012.”

March 29/11: Sub-contracts. BAE Systems Integrated System Technologies Ltd. issues a contract to Northrop Grumman’s Sperry Marine to build, install, and test Integrated Navigation Bridge Systems (INBS) with an electronic chart display and information systems (ECDIS-N). Northrop Grumman Sperry Marine has already completed the initial design phase of the contract, including change requests, and is currently designing a Navigation Lights, Shapes and Sounds (NLSS) under an option in the production contract. Deliveries are scheduled to be complete in 2018, and Terms of the contracts were not disclosed.

The Queen Elizabeth Class’ INBS/ ECDIS-N (UK) system is based on Sperry Marine’s VisionMaster FT offering, and the multi-function workstations will include navigation planning, electronic charts, and radar displays, as well as a comprehensive set of software, and tie-ins to the carriers’ sensors. The system fully meets UK MoD specifications, NATO standards STANAG 7170 and STANAG 4564, and International Electrotechnical Commission standards IEC 62288 and IEC 61174. Northrop Grumman.

Feb 13/11: CVF 01. BAE Systems’ Govan yard near Glasgow moves 2 giant sections of the Queen Elizabeth’s hull together for the first time. A team of 20 employees moved the 1,221 tonne block over 100 meters in just 1 hour, to line up with the rest of the block and form Lower Block 03 (mid section of the hull up to the hangar deck). Workers will now continue to outfit the block, which on completion will weigh over 9,300 tonnes and stand over 23 metres tall, 63 metres long and 40 metres wide. The structure is already so big that it fills an entire hall at Govan and now extends beyond the doors onto the yard.

Lower Block 03 will be shipped to Rosyth in the latter part of 2011, and work also continues at other yards. BAE Systems is building the largest and most complex section (main stern) at Rosyth on the Clyde, and work is well underway at Portsmouth to build the forward and lower stern sections of the hull, as well as the pole mast. Integration and testing of the ships’ complex mission system is underway at the Company’s Maritime Integration and Support Centre, while another team of BAE Systems engineers on the Isle of Wight tests the advanced communication systems. The Company is set to begin work on the 2 island structures, which house the bridge and traffic control facilities, towards the end of 2011. BAE Systems.

Jan 17/11: CVF 01. Shipyard workers in Portsmouth are beginning the 2nd major phase of construction – building the massive stern section of HMS Queen Elizabeth. The BBC report also identifies HMS Prince of Wales as the ship that will be placed in reserve. BBC.

Jan 14/11: HMWHS. Babcock’s highly mechanized weapons handling system (HMWHS) for the new carriers has successfully completed factory acceptance testing. The HMWHS and its 56 track-mounted “moles” move palletized munitions around the deep magazine and weapon preparation areas, and to a series of weapons lifts that connect the magazines, hangar, weapons preparation area, and flight deck.

Because space on board is always at such a premium, it’s a very complex machinery set designed to get the very most out of all available space – even if that makes retrieving specific items something like solving a Rubik’s Cube. It’s a maritime application of shore-based commercial warehousing processes using automated systems with all-electric controls, and as one might guess, there’s a notable software component as well. Babcok’s release discusses a number of the system’s unique features.


2010 SDS mothballs a carrier, switches to F-35C; Sub-contracts; QE bow ships; UK-French cooperation pledges; Parliamentary report pegs cost at GBP 5.25 billion; Lord Hesketh’s criticisms and resignation.

Enter the F-35C…
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Dec 15/10: Britain’s Harrier fleet is officially retired. The Guardian | Mercopress.

Harriers retired

Nov 22/10: Parliament reports. Britain’s Parliamentary Treasury Committee reports on defense purchasing policy in general, with special attention to the Queen Elizabeth Class. Some excerpts:

“These carriers will cost around [GBP] 5 billion.[96] Only one will be operational, while the other will be placed at ‘extended readiness’.[97] The operational carrier will now have catapult and arrestor gear installed… It became clear that it wasn’t possible to get out of the contract. It would have been possible to have done alternatives. It would have been possible not to have built the carriers and to have built other ships instead. But that would have been less good value for money, and in the end, the judgment was that the carrier strike force was part of the long-term strategic needs; that, looking 10 to 20 years ahead, this was something that would be part of the adaptable posture that we have adopted and, therefore, that we would go ahead with building the carriers. But there were alternatives and those were considered but they were thought, in the end, to be less good from a strategic military perspective and less good from a value-for-money perspective…

If both carriers were completed the stated cost would be [GBP] 5.25 bn. If the Prince of Wales was cancelled, BAE said the direct cost would be [GBP] 4.86 bn, plus an additional [GBP] 690 million of consequential costs. The letter also warned that the loss of a second carrier would precipitate the closure of at least one BAE Systems shipyard, and 2,500 job losses in BAE Systems in Scotland and the South East, as well as several thousand in the wider supply chain. The Chancellor told us that this was “of all the problems we faced, probably the greatest.”[108]… It is argued that the aircraft carrier contract was unbreakable not just for legal reasons, but also because it was inextricably linked to the strategic need to maintain a stable supply of work for the sole warship-producing supplier in the UK… The Treasury should draw on the lessons from the contract to analyse all future Ministry of Defence procurement to ensure that value for money is being obtained, particularly when little competition exists in the market.”

Revised costs

Nov 10/10: Conversion. London’s Telegraph newspaper reports that:

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