Queen Elizabeth - A Carrier For The 21st Century
Ships Monthly|December 2017

Conrad Waters assesses the Royal Navy’s newest – and largest – aircraft carrier, and its progress towards delivery and entry into service.

The summer of 2017 has seen significant progress towards delivering the Royal Navy’s flagship aircraft carrier, Queen Elizabeth. On 26 June the huge vessel was slowly edged out of the nontidal basin at Rosyth Dockyard to commence initial sea trials in the North Sea.

Subsequently, on 16 August, she made a maiden entry into her home port of Portsmouth in a blaze of media publicity and under the gaze of thousands of onlookers. However, further work remains to be done before she is commissioned into Royal Navy service. And it will be even longer before she becomes an operational fighting ship.

BACKGROUND 

Queen Elizabeth’s origins can be traced back to the 1990s, when studies were undertaken to examine replacements for the Invincible class ‘Harrier carriers’. This programme gained momentum in 1998, when the Blair government’s Strategic Defence Review committed to acquiring two new, large strike carriers to replace the three, small existing ships. The new aircraft carriers were seen as central to a post-Cold War concept of operations that envisaged British forces being deployed across the globe on missions in an unpredictable world.

Although the concept was clear, agreeing the precise design and capabilities of the new ships was more complicated. There was much debate over the merit of continuing to use the STOVL (Short Take Off and Vertical Landing) method of aircraft launch and recovery adopted by the Invincible class, compared with the CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) system utilised, for example, in US Navy aircraft carriers. There were also questions over whether the ships could be afforded as the defence budget came under increasing pressure from the cost of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A construction contract for the new carriers was finally signed in July 2008. In an innovative development for British shipbuilding, the work was to be overseen by an Aircraft Carrier Alliance (ACA), comprising defence companies and the Ministry of Defence. Another significant feature of construction was the fabrication of blocks for the ships at yards around the UK. Final assembly was allocated to a specially enlarged dock at Babcock’s facility at Rosyth.

DESIGN 

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