Queen Elizabeth, MAD Decisions, RN Blues and the F35b
It's about 920 feet in length, around 230 feet wide in girth with maximum planned displacement exceeding 70,000 tonnes and about as big as any ship can be at this location in the Firth of Forth Estuary. At first glance, it appears bizarre with its curiously shaped twin towers designed according the rules of 'radar contouring' to minimise detection by that means. It matches the largest oil tanker ever to safely progress towards this spot and where the combined efforts of A&P, Govan Shipyards, Cammel Laird and Babcock Fife have come together in a huge project to design, create and then ultimately unite the hull sections together at the Rosyth Dockyard in Fife. It's the biggest aircraft carrier ever built for use by the British Royal Navy with intent to enter service circa 2017 and expected to remain in service for fifty years. A second ship of similar design and construction, called 'Prince of Wales' is under construction with an entry date of service in 2020.
Features At A Glance.
At 72,000 tons and 932 feet long, the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier is longer than Nelson’s Column is tall and considerably wider than the M25 at its widest point. They’re the largest ships ever ordered for the Royal Navy.
The ship can generate enough energy to power a town about the size of Swindon and can produce 500 tons of fresh water a day whilst able to travel 500 miles a day.
The ship will be able to deliver 36 F-35b Lightning II strike fighters and a thousand troops from the largest piece of British sovereign territory afloat (approximately four acres).
Her sister ship, the Prince of Wales, is already in production.
Each ship has a life expectancy of around 50 years and is fitted out with more than three million metres of cable.
Each ship carries a price tag of £3.1 billion and is non-nuclear with advanced engine technology.
Each 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier will provide the armed forces with a four-acre military operating base, which can be deployed worldwide, operating the F-35 Lightning II and a wide range of helicopter types. At full capacity, the carrier will be able to launch an aircraft every 30 seconds.
Each ship is sufficiently versatile to be used across the full spectrum of military activity, from combat to providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief.
HMS Queen Elizabeth will have 679 permanent crew and capacity for 1,600 crew members when operational.
The ship features a new style of 'twin island' command points - one at the front for steering and one at the back for aircraft direction. Thanks to the cutting-edge technology on board, commanders on the bridge will be able to see 250 miles away.
The carrier's range is said to be 10,000 nautical miles and the ship is fitted with a long range 3D radar that is capable of tracking more than 1,000 targets at once or spotting an object about the size of a tennis ball travelling at 2,000 miles per hour.
Not Quite As Ordered.
When the Queen Elizabeth project was first conceived, one of the most senior requirements was that it should be fully NATO compatible and that implied, right from the start, that it should include the use of Catapult Assisted Take Off But Arrested Recovery or CATOBAR for short. It’s the system used on all ten US carriers and on the Brazilian Sao Paulo as refitted following purchase of the Foche from the French government. It explains why HMS Queen Elizabeth was conceived as a sufficiently large ship capable of allowing US and allied jet aircraft to land and launch from that floating airstrip. In the first set of design drawings, the Queen Elizabeth was designed to be a CATOBAR capable of allowing jet aircraft from other allied nations onto its deck but in the final version, it’s not even capable of using the substantially cheaper Lockheed F35c maritime variant when it eventually becomes available in 2023.
It all comes down to a government decision to abandon fitment of the catapult and arrestor gear on account of cost and where this ship might have been greatly enhanced by such installation. In an instant, the goal of NATO compatibility and the main reason for such a large ship was blown away and new problems surfaced as a consequence.
Without CATOBAR, it was impossible to employ the use of EC-2 Hawkeye aircraft and where the ship would need to rely more on the limited abilities of an all-weather helicopter based system currently in development and known as ‘Crow’s Nest’ with a delivery date of about 2020. Without CATOBAR, the employment of the superior F35c with greater weapons payload and range also became scrapped and the original order for the F-35b as a replacement for the Harriers remained in place. At the stroke of a pen, so many advantages originally meant for the Queen Elizabeth were lost.
Without CATOBAR, there is an intent to land the aircraft by means of what is called Shipbourne Rolling Vertical Landing or SRVL for short. We'll be the only nation ever using it and in a category of our own. Having said that, the technique was originally developed by Russian pilots flying Yakovlev 38 'forger' aircraft onto the decks of Kiev class cruisers during the height of the Cold War. In practice, it means reducing speed to less than 70 knots by means of the Vertical Landing thruster capability and where the normal airspeed capability of the wings is close to zero. Landing on the deck at this lower speed then uses the normal brakes of the aircraft to stop rather than external assistance by arrestor wires. Trouble is, such landings might be restricted by adverse weather when the deck is tilting badly and reducing the carriers operational capability.
I sincerely hope that a future government will reconsider this decision and fit the CATOBAR system in future and be able to deploy the F-35c maritime aircraft variant using the new EMAL system as fitted to the USS Gerald R. Ford and already pencilled in for use on the new USS John F. Kennedy (in building) and the new USS Enterprise planned for construction soon afterward.
Of course, there was never any intent to use nuclear power on the ships due to the high cost of installation and thus leaving the General de Gaulle as the solitary aircraft carrier with this means of propulsion in Europe. In my research, I looked at major ships of similar weight and size and where the Maersk Kendal, a cargo ship, could be judged as comparable in terms of fuel usuage. Using this as a guide, the Kendal would consume the equivilent of about £32,000 per day if running at its top speed of about 28 knots. More commonly, the Kendal runs at about half-speed or 14 knots and consumes fuel at a cost of £23,000 per day.
It’s nice to hear when the British Government is happy to announce that we’ve presented millions in foreign economic aid whilst clearly neglecting their duty to the taxpayers who have shelled out heavily to make it possible. The notion that one carrier task fleet with a limited number of ships is like the old fashioned ‘soundbite’ making it sound okay but it’s also a warning about placing too many eggs in one basket and where the decision to accept the second carrier into the fleet makes sense. It's a basic fact that aircraft carriers demand more servicing than most ships and require refits at least every decade. The Russians know this only too well since talk of refitting the Kuznetsov to nuclear status has never occurred due to foreign assignments and committments. Whether they will actually undertake such action once they receive the new Mistral class assault ships being built in France will be an interesting development on the International Stage. I have great hopes that a future and wealthier government sees sense and refits the two carriers in future.
In this context, the word MAD means ‘mutually assured destruction’ as first introduced in a telephone conversion between US President John Kennedy and Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1963 and during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s scary to realise just how close the World came to Armageddon at that time and where wise minds prevailed to avoid it. The resolution meant a climb down on both sides with US missiles withdrawn from Turkey and Soviet missiles withdrawn from Cuba. It’s become a lesson that none should ever forget since it is this ‘balance of power’ that has retained peace in the wake of two global conflicts that occurred prior to the nuclear age and murdered millions of people.
Decades later and with a new younger generation, we hear talk from some politicians advocating the apparently sensible notion of unilateral disarmament whilst failing to recognise how the concept of MAD means that the smart play in times of conflict is not to play and thereby rendering possible offensives redundant but it only works if the concept of MAD is maintained. It means nothing if an enemy can strike at the other with impunity.
In my view, it’s counter-productive for politicians to talk about unilateral disarmament as if any conflict involving such weapons are restricted outside of their national borders. The accidental nuclear explosion at Chernobyl should have taught us that lesson and again reinforcing the idea that the best prevention against deliberate use of nuclear weapons is to reinforce the notion that such use would be counter-productive and invite terrible retribution.
Being entirely clear on this, I truly wish the damned weapons had never been invented but it’s hard to backtrack through history and uninvent something that allegedly may have saved millions of lives caught up in the closing stages of the last global conflict. Nagasaki in my humble opinion remains as the ‘most unfortunate city’ since it was not the preferred target on that day.
Ultimately, the decision to be made in 2016 starts with the recognition that NATO is an alliance in which the credo of MAD is central and where we were once glad of US participation by supplying air bases and naval port facilities during the ‘Cold War’ era. The fact that US bombers and submarines can now operate on a global basis without assistance from other nations doesn’t alter the need for an independent and credible defence program. “Fixed defensive structures are a monument of man’s stupidity,” offered General George S Patton in the past but in the modern era; it’s maybe even more pertinent than before.
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Royal Navy Blues.
Sticking with a Royal Navy theme; it's generally accepted that the new Type 45 ‘Daring’ class of destroyers represent some of the most advanced naval ships in the World. At one hundred and fifty-two metres in length and with a crew of one hundred and ninety, they’re expected to be ‘at sea’ on 365 days of the year and ready to perform a wide variety of tasks ranging from humanitarian aid to that of military objectives.
Built to replace the Type 42 navy ships of Falkland Isles crisis fame; the new ships are said to be capable of tracking and destroying attacking aircraft in a manner that would have meant use of five Type 42s in the past. The last Type 42 vessel was decommissioned in 2013.
There are six Type 45s currently in the Royal Navy and the cost of each one averaged out at £1050 million including all research and development. The original order for twelve of these ships was reduced to eight and then six in recent years. This led to claims that this would leave the Royal Navy unable to fulfil its commitments but the principal reasons for the order reduction was cost and where the overall projected cost of the ships had risen by nearly 30% during the time of construction.
It’s bad news then to report that the new Type 45 ships are to receive new engines because the existing ones are proving unreliable and keep breaking down. With six of these ships in current service, (HMS Dragon is in refit at this time of writing), the cost to the taxpayer is likely to be considerable.
Lockheed F-35 'Lightning II' Aircraft.
The UK governent has taken delivery of a few Lockheed F-35 Lightning II aircraft whilst retaining them at Elgin Air Force Base in Nevada, USA. RAF and RN pilots have been flying the new Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft with the intent of these pioneers teaching others in the future. The cost of each aircraft (without engines or ordinance) is currently about £72 million pounds sterling.